12 ¶ And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13 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; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
God is going to make this covenant with Himself and it is important that Abram have nothing to do with this part. He puts Abram to sleep and it is a deeper sleep than Abram had ever known. It is called an horror of great darkness. God put Adam to sleep when He created Eve.
Genesis 2:21 ¶ And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
But, think of the deep sleep you are in within a nightmare where you see things so clearly but cannot move or respond and feel so utterly helpless. Job’s friend, Eliphaz, speaks of frightening visions in sleep, in Job, chapter 4, and Daniel in chapter 10 of that book, as well. Fear and dread, horror, overwhelm a helpless Abram who is in a deep sleep and unable to perform any part of this covenant now.
We are saved by God’s covenant and, by the cross, He has accomplished both parts of it. Our will has no part in our being saved.
John 1:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
God tells Abram that his seed will be servants in a foreign land, which we know to be Egypt. They will be afflicted for four hundred years and will serve the people of that land. This is an about, not an exact 400 years, ten months, 23 days, and two hours type of statement.
Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
And then, Luke recounting what Stephen said, alluding to what Moses had written from God’s words;
Acts 7:6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.
If I wrote you a lesson that said, “in the thousand years since the Norman invasion of England,” and then, in the lesson later wrote, “in the nine hundred and fifty years since 1066, when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at Hastings,” would that be a contradiction or would you understand what I said as meaning the same thing?
Here is Paul referring to this bondage bracketed between the covenant and the giving of the Law.
Galatians 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
Rabbis have written that the affliction begins when Ishmael, the offspring of Abram and Hagar, an Egyptian, begins to persecute Isaac, the son of the promise. They regarded the four hundred years to start from that point.
God also tells Abram that four generations will come into being in Egypt before returning to the land that is promised, The Promised Land of Canaan. For instance, Levi, Jacob’s son, and his son, Kohath, and his son, Amram, and his son, Moses. These were four generations that sojourned in Egypt. It is then important to see that God is talking about two different things; four hundred years of affliction and four generations in a foreign land. As the Bible clearly states in Exodus the Hebrews come out of Egypt with a great deal of wealth given to them freely by the Egyptians.
In a parallel to the Christian’s life we see that Abram’s offspring must suffer before they can reign. This is a doctrine clearly enunciated in Paul’s letters to Christians, as it was reflected in Jesus’ ministry on earth; the cross before the crown. If you read the account in Matthew and Luke of Satan’s temptation of Christ you will see that Satan tried to reverse the order. (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).
There is a clear doctrine set forth here that shows that God will put up with just so much foolishness from a people before he ‘drops the hammer’ in a manner of speaking. The Hebrews are being built as a people nursed in Egypt while the inhabitants of Canaan grow more and more wicked and when the right time comes God will cause His judgment on Canaan to come about. Later, He will give Israel hundreds of years to ‘get right’ before He removes them from the land.