“As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years… 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
First, God told Abraham he would make him into a great nation (Gen. 12:2), and then He withheld the birth of Isaac for twenty-five years. Then God told Abraham to “look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever” (Gen. 13:14-15), while in chapter 15 God tells Abraham his descendants would live as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years before they would come back and possess the land. I’ve discovered that reading the Bible is a bit like reading a spy novel; you really don’t know how all the pieces fit together until you’ve read the last chapter. Of course, the same thing could be about my life. I won’t really know how all the parts fit together until I’ve lived the final chapter.
This is what challenges me about Genesis 15—sometimes when I think I’ve missed God’s direction for my life, it turns out that God has factored in my detours. Furthermore, about the time I think my detours are a result of a sin, I often find they are God’s gift to prepare me for my promise.
Until your life is over and there are daisies over your grave, you cannot truly miss God. And even if you try to hide from Him like Adam and Eve did, He still has a way of finding you! He knows the detours you will take and factors them into the equation of your life. Ps. 139:16 says God has counted all our days, and He even makes allowances for the times we think we’ve missed His will and direction. Time away from our Promised Land is a time for growth. The Israelites needed to grow large and strong as a nation and a family before the appointed time when God would release them to possess their inheritance. We may think the days and years we’ve spent doing things other than possessing our promises are wasted years, but this is not true in the economy of God.
Sometimes the detours in your life are simply God preparing you for your future, as He did with the Israelites. But God not only prepares us, He prepares the place we are going to inhabit. This hit home when I finally saw Gen. 15:16, where God told Abraham his descendants would return after four hundred years, “For the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction” (New Living Testament).
God will not punish a nation or an individual until the time warrants their destruction, or as the NIV phrases it, reaches “its full measure.” Not only is God preparing you and me for the next phase or our lives, He is also waiting patiently for others to find their place in His will. God would not give the land of Canaan to the Israelites because the Amorites did not yet deserve to be removed. God’s loving patience with others may be the reason I’m in the middle of a detour. But that is good, for ultimately God takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). God’s patience with sinners does not mean He approves of their behavior, but that He is allowing them time to repent. And until the time and place was prepared, the Israelites were not ready to inherit the land of God’s promise. Likewise, until others have had a chance to obey the Lord, it may not be time for us to move in and accomplish His will.
Phil. 1:6 says, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (NLT). So take heart if you do not know your future. Don’t despair if you think you’ve taken one detour after another in your travels with the Lord. God knows where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going. And if you find yourself on a detour, you might as well enjoy the scenery along the way.