Why did God wait 400 years to give the Israelites the land of Canaan?

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God promised Abraham And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:8. Yet, God did not do so immediately and they waited for 400 years to see this promise fulfilled.

God told Abraham the timeline of the promise to be fulfilled in Genesis 15:13-16, “And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

According to this verse, there were two main reasons that God said they would wait for 400 hundred years. God allowed Israel to be in bondage for 400 years before giving them Canaan. In His wisdom, God allows trials in order to teach His people to come out more blessed and better able to appreciate the blessings. Often times, when we get the blessings immediately, the gift does us more harm than good as we become selfish and entitled. God was teaching His people patience and trust in His word.

God also is a just God  (Deuteronomy 32:4) and  would not displace a nation simply to give another nation the land. The Lord eventually allowed the Israelites to conquer the Amorites who had grown exceedingly wicked. The mythological literature of cannon that was discovered describes their gods as blood-thirsty, deceptive, and immoral beyond imagination. And the inhabitants also were so evil that they sacrificed their children to their gods, worshiped serpents, and practiced immoral rituals in their temples. Their sanctuaries housed professional prostitutes of both sexes.

The Lord said, “For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 18:25-30, emphasis added).

God gives nations a chance to choose that which is right and to mend their ways but if they refuse godliness and adopt immorality, idolatry, covetousness, sexual impurity, etc., then God has no alternative but to let them reap the consequences of their own wickedness. The Lord applied the same principle of judgement to the Israelites, (2 Kings 21:10-15).

The lesson in this story is also of value to us today as we wait for the heavenly country.  Just as the Israelites had to wait much longer than expected and go through many trials before entering Canaan, so we must wait for the return of our Savior who will take us to our ultimate Promise Land. 

But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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