Answered Questions – Genesis 15:13

On the Open Theism Facebook page, John asks:

How do we explain Genesis 15:13 “God said to Abram, ‘know for certain that your descendants will be enslaved in a Foreign land for 400 years?”

In response, an article was posted by Gregory Boyd:

This passage may constitute a conditional prophecy which could have been modified had circumstances called for it. Many if not most prophecies in the Bible are conditional (cf. Jer. 18:7–10). They are not mere previews of an unalterable future. They rather reveal God’s present intentions, assuming things don’t change.

On the other hand, the passage may indeed constitute an unconditional prophecy. In this case the passage reveals a now-unalterable feature of God’s providential plan. The sovereign Lord of history who is ultimately in control of the movement of the nations (Acts 17:24–28) deemed it wise to ensure that his future people would be in captivity for four centuries. It is important to note, however, that the Lord would not need to control and/or foreknow every other detail about human history to accomplish this. The Lord of history who grants whatever degree of freedom he wishes to grant to his human subjects can control and foreknow aspects of the future and guide history toward his desired goal without micro-controlling and foreknowing every detail along the way.

4 comments

  1. Funny thing with this passage is that it’s the one I’ve always had the biggest hang up with in regards to Open Theism. I don’t know why. Everything else makes sense, especially the Judas prophecy. It’s amazing how simplistic the answer to this is though. I think it all has to do with my concept of God not being strong enough to pull something like this off in MY own head, and that is due to always being told when I was growing up that God knows everything, which is why he would be able to achieve something like this, etc. Very deterministic (my initial thinking). It definitely will take some time to wash all of that muck out from in between the ears. Thanks!

    1. I just came across this answer, and I as well have been hung up on this. I am hung up for a different reason. I struggle seeing this as a conditional prophecy, because, God says ” know for certain.”. Then, if it is an unconditional prophecy, why would God deliberately subject his people to the cruelty, bondage, and mistreatment? How is this wise, when he is the Redeemer. He seeks to set free, not bind up. I too am having to unlearn a lot of bad theology, and by the grace of God I am growing, but this one drives me nuts. Any answers, or suggestions?

      1. A few things to keep in mind: Israel never was “enslaved for 400 years”. If we examine Exodus, we see the oppression really starts in Moses’ generation. The likely terms of actual enslavement is perhaps 80 years (the stated age of Moses in Exodus). Likely, God is not prophesying enslavement, but foreign rulership (which gave Israel the prosperity to breed per Exodus 1:7). Some argue that God uses Egypt to help protect Israel as they grow into a mighty nation, which is a fitting explanation.

        Additionally, another text puts the term in Egypt at 430 years. This would mean the 400 years is not so much a firm prophecy, rather than a loose prediction(?) with room for variance. See: https://godisopen.com/2016/04/21/loose-prophecy-dates/

        A alternative view is that the 400 years was a later addition to the Genesis text, a scribe adding their own parenthetical remark.

        1. I appreciate the time you take to respond. I don’t have Facebook, so this has been my only outlet for Open Theism answers. I am at the tipping point to becoming a full fledged open theist. It just seems to make the most sense. I have also just finished reading Michael Saia’s Does God know the future. That is one of, if not the best book regarding open theism. I have read The God of the Possible by Greg Boyd and The God Who Risks by John Sanders. They are all good, but Saia’s section on prophecy is the best. Thank you for your site. Thank you for your time and response. I look forward to growing closer to Christ. Thanks.

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