Genesis 15:13 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Gen 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.

Gen 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.

Genesis 15:13 reads as if God is foretelling the future. God tells Abraham both that his offspring will be oppressed and adds a timeframe. If this is just a general foretelling of the future, it serves as evidence that God has omniscience of future events (especially if firm time frames are used).

In Genesis 15:13, God explains to Abram (Abraham) that his decedents will be “afflicted” for 400 years. The context of this is Abraham wondering how God will prove to him that he will have decedents as numerous as the stars. In the text, God has Abraham gather animals for sacrifice, and then Abraham passes out and goes into this vision.

This vision is possibly meant to calm Abraham’s fears that his lineage would be cut off. God’s assures that both Abraham’s decedents will be alive for 400 years and under foreign rule for this same timeframe. These facts seem to be presented to alleviate Abraham’s fears.

God could be offering Egypt (or another foreign nation) as protection of Abraham’s family, as Abraham’s decedents multiply. That might be the purpose of this prophecy. This is in fact what happens, as Israel multiplies at so fast a rate that a future Pharaoh attempts to cull their newborns.

If this is the case, then the foretelling of the future is actually a prophecy that God fulfills in order to bread Israel into a mighty nation. God would be able to do this through His own power. If true, Genesis 15:13 is God promising protection rather than just telling visions of future events.

A few items of note. First, Israel is never “afflicted” for 400 years. The oppression described in Exodus 1 only starts within the generation in which Moses is born. Israel, then, only suffers about 80 years of slavery and oppression. Second, Exodus puts the timeframe in Egypt at 430 years (Exo 12:40). Each of these facts mean that the “prophecy” in Genesis 15:13 only came true in a loose sense. It is not as much a vision of the future, as a general prediction of the future. This prophecy is “fulfilled” in the sense that it generally was accurate, but a vision of the future would be expected to better predict the details.

This being the case, Genesis 15:13 is not good evidence that God has omniscience of future events.

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