The Incomplete Sin of the Amorites? (Gen. 15:16)

 I was studying 1 Thessalonians 2:16 this morning where Paul says this about those Jewish opponents of the Messiah and the gospel: “…they always fill up the measure of their sins” (NASB).  There is a lot going on in the context of this phrase; too much to summarize here!  However, the phrase itself is probably an allusion to Genesis 15:16, where Yahweh tells Abram that “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (NASB).  One reason we can say that Paul might be alluding to Genesis 15:16 is that in the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek word for “complete” (ἀναπληρόω) is the same word as “fill up” in 1 Thes. 2:16.  If Paul is indeed alluding to Genesis 15:16 in 1 Thes. 2:16 it’s quite a heavy statement – putting the NT Jewish opponents of the gospel in the same category as the Amorites, who were Canaanite enemies of Israel in the OT!

But back to the phrase in Genesis 15:16: “…the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”  What does this figure of speech mean? Here are two helpful descriptions of it:

The last clause of the verse [v. 16] explains why God was not giving them [Abram’s offspring] the land right away: the wickedness of the Amorites has not “reached its full measure” (v. 16b). “Amorites” fluctuates in meaning either designating the whole of Canaan’s populations (v. 16; Amos 2:10) or one of many diverse groups inhabiting the land (v. 21; see vol. 1a, pp. 446, 456). The prophecy implies that the returning Hebrews will be instrumental in God dealing with the sin of the Amorites. The reference to the “fourth generation” may be a double entendre; the notion of a completed exile converges with the idea of the Amorites’ complete moral decay. The extent of Amorite depravity is condemned in Mosaic legislation (Lev 18:24–25; 20:22–24; Deut 18:12; cf. 1 Kgs 14:24; 21:26; 2 Kgs 21:11) and illustrated by the violence and sensuality of their religious myths (e.g., Baal cycle from Ugarit). By delaying his judgment against the Amorites, the Lord expresses forbearance toward the nations. Retribution against their sins only at “its full measure” attests that judgment is neither capricious nor unwarranted (cf. 18:20–25). Nevertheless, divine temperance toward their iniquity reaches an appropriate point of intolerance. [K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 175.]

Here’s an excerpt from the UBS Translator’s Handbook on Genesis:

For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete: this clause suggests a reason for God’s action against the Amorites that is not explained in detail but must be stated explicitly in translation to make it clear. The sense is that the Amorites are evil, but their sin has not yet reached the point where God has decided to drive them out of the land. The nature of the wickedness of the Canaanites is described in Lev 18; see particularly verses 24–28. tev provides a model that places God’s action at the beginning and end, “because I will not drive out the Amorites until they become so wicked that they must be punished.” Various translations use different expressions to convey the idea of iniquity becoming *complete; for example, “because the bad behavior of the Amorite people who live here now has not reached its full mark yet” and “This will happen when the Amorite people who live here now have become really bad; when they become really bad, I will punish them and I will bring back.…”  [William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 344.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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