12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Genesis 15:12 - 16
ESV - 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 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.
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The Amorites (as descendants of Noah's son Ham (Genesis 10:6-15) had been subject to God's curse ever since the time after the Flood, when Noah had cursed Ham and his descendants (especially through Ham's son Canaan) as a result of Ham having seen Noah lying drunk and naked in his tent (Genesis 9:20-27). In my opinion, despite this curse, a long interval of time was still needed before divine punishment of those people was carried out through the people of Israel -- both because the idolatry and sinfulness of the Amorites had not yet progressed to a degree that it would have been impossible to question God's justice in their subjugation by Israel, and because Israel -- which numbered only 70 individuals at the time that Abraham's grandson Jacob and his descendants went down to Egypt (Exodus 1:5) -- was not yet strong enough to defeat the Amorites (as well as the other heathen nations occupying Canaan), and to maintain that conquest over time. From another perspective, the extended interval could also be viewed as a sign of God's mercy, offering a chance for the Amorites to repent, but there is no indication that they availed themselves of that opportunity.
I tend to hold to Tim’s 2nd reason that God’s compassion made Him slow to act in judgment. God was patient with the Amorite nation in Canaan and delayed judgment so that they might have more time to repent (2 Pet. 3:8-9; Matt. 23:32). God wouldn’t take the land of the Amorites from them and give it to Abram’s descendants without first giving them every chance to repent. Holy God will deal fairly with people (Jonah 3:3-4:11). Those who condemn Israel (and God) for the way the Canaanites including the Amorites were treated seem to forget that God gave them centuries to repent of their wickedness.
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