Genesis 15:16 “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

One of the reasons people give for their not believing in God is the terrible sufferings of some men and women in the world. No doubt there are people who suffer in unspeakable ways, and we believe we do have a real sense of compassion towards them – why, we’d be monsters if we didn’t! As a congregation of Christians and as individuals we support a ministry of mercy to people in pain in Africa and in the Philippines. We initiated a home for people with learning difficulties in this town moved by their need and that of their parents. We are also convinced of one non-negotiable truth through some words of the Lord Jesus Christ – that neither is it because of their parents’ sins nor because of their own sins that these sufferers have had to endure such calamities as brain damage, paralysis, blindness, poverty, or some genetic condition. Rather, this world where we must spend our brief lives is a fallen and groaning creation; we are all dying men and women because of the sin of our father Adam and our own transgressions. Jesus wept in the presence of bereavement, and so do we.

All those words of introduction lead me to a contrasting point I want to make. It is this, that we are not personally so perplexed when facing human suffering because this is a fallen sinful world. We are troubled when considering God’s apparent lack of reaction to evil and wickedness in the world. Men break God’s laws, they blaspheme his name, they worship themselves or they worship idols made out of stone and wood. They treat their fellow men, women, children and even animals with utter callousness. I couldn’t mention now some of the horrors that vulnerable women and children have had to suffer in the last 24 hours at the hands of bestial men. They are simply too shocking. Why should God allow this sort of thing to happen if he is sovereign, and a God who hates wickedness? He is not a God who shrugs in indifference at evil is he? Why does he seem to do nothing? Why doesn’t he visit them with judgment, striking them down in his anger? How can God be a righteous and just God and allow Hitler to erect an Auschwitz? A little girl was abducted from her holiday bed in Portugal two years ago and has disappeared. Her parents have been searching for her ever since. Why didn’t God protect her and smite down the abductor? Why didn’t God fry Hitler in a shaft of lightning? Why does God in heaven appear to be indifferent to pain on earth?

In this passage before us God is giving Abram a survey of the immediate future. He can do this for one reason, that he is a God who knows the future, and is in control of the future. You read these words of the Lord to Abram and there is no way you can come away from them believing the modern error of the so-called ‘openness of God.’ In other words, there are men in the professing church today who deny that God determines the course of history unilaterally. The future is ‘open’ they claim, both to man and God. Could you derive that theory from the words of God recorded here? Listen! “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 ill-treated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure’” (Gen. 15:13-16). Abram is told by God that his descendants are going to spend 400 years in slavery in Egypt, but God will take note of this abomination, and will punish that evil society (v.14), and then he will deliver them and they will enter this land. In other words, God shows that he is in control of the history of the world, while yet allowing men and women true responsibility for their actions and giving them that freedom that all true responsibility requires. The Egyptians freely enslaved the Israelites. Pharaoh freely decreed that the men children should be killed, and God witnessed all that and was moved to anger by it. So we believe in human freedom, but we also believe in a sovereign God of the past, the present and the future, who works according to his will on earth. We believe in them both.

So Abram’s seed will finally return to the land of Canaan, the place God has promised to them. But why would there have to be this long delay of hundreds of years before they left Egypt, the land was conquered and the Amorites and the other people driven out? Why such a long period during which these evil men created such pain in the world? We are told one great answer here. The reason for the five hundred years was not primarily that the people of God should grow numerically and in strength in preparation for the conquest, but rather it was this unexpected reason which God gives to Abram in our text; “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (v.16).

In other words, the promised land had been dominated by an exceptionally cruel and bestial culture for hundreds of years. The Amorites who dominated that land practiced such abominations as the slaughter of virgins and first born children in sacrifice to appease their gods. They were a people who callously tortured and destroyed with long lingering deaths both men and women whom they considered their enemies. They were a nation whose morals and scruples were paper thin. They lived like that for centuries and we have proof of that from archaeology. They were a blot on human history. They were a stench in the nostrils of God, and yet we are told that he did nothing about this for a long time. Why was that? How could the
righteous Lord sit back and do nothing? Surely it matters to him how creatures made in his own image behave? Don’t they live and move and have their being in him, sustained by him? Isn’t their breath in God’s hands? Then how can he supply the energy to hurt others so unspeakably? Surely he should smite them down at once? That is the issue before us, and here we find the divine explanation.

Remember it is God who is speaking, not Abram. We may not escape from this question with the answer that God is simply helpless, wringing his hands in horror but unable to intervene. There is no doctrine of the so-called ‘openness of God’ taught in the Bible. It is quite clear from his words to Abram that God knows all that is going on. Nothing escapes the one who hates sin, yet God is waiting patiently for a certain moment in their history, a time when the wickedness of these Amorites has reached its full measure. That is, a time comes both for individuals and for civilizations when God says, “That’s it! Enough!” Until that moment sinners are spared judgment. They are benefiting from the longsuffering and patience of God.

Think of it like this, that there is a huge divine reservoir which combines two elements, pent-up justice against sin and pent-up restraint intermingling, the one with the other. Imagine it to be like a vast sea – you can’t see the other side, like the Great Lakes of North America – and God has put a definite mark on the edge of that reservoir, and the waters are imperceptibly climbing up year after year to that point. Every sin of yours is adding another drop to the just restraints of God. Drip . . . drip . . . drip . . . day after day. In this case the wickedness of the Amorites was steadily filling that fulness for at least five hundred years. Then, when the waters of the divine rectitude and divine longsuffering have risen to reach the mark that God has made, then the sluice-gates of justice will open wide and a tsunami of judgment will come crashing down from heaven and engulf the evil Amorites. In other words, the reason for the long delay was that the Holy One was giving them opportunity over all those decades to turn in repentance from their sins and cry aloud to him for forgiveness. They should change, behaving like Rahab the Canaanite prostitute in Jericho, confessing the Lord to be God, turning from sin, serving and helping the servants of God. They must do that during the years of restraint. They must do what Ruth from Moab did and abandon their false gods, joining the people of God and make the God of Israel their own Lord. Or like the Queen of Sheba who made a long journey from Africa to talk with Solomon. God is giving them such a period in which to change. This is what God said to Abram that he was still waiting, because the Amorites had not reached that time. How vast his longsuffering! That is why Hitler and all the fiendish men of the world are not immediately cast into hell once their evil is known. Their sin has not yet reached its full measure, and God is waiting and waiting and waiting for godly sorrow and deep repentance and a humble new life. Yet – be warned sinner – there is a time when the waiting will cease, a point will be reached for God to come in judgment.



For centuries God spared the Amorites, and before they walked the earth, during the time of Noah God spared a world of men whose every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. The ark was built before their eyes. It took 120 years to be prepared. It was one of the wonders of the world, a site for every mocking tourist to visit and fall apart with laughter, a man-made folly. Noah and his sons spoke to all who came near them and they preached the righteousness of God to them all, but none took it seriously. They were dismissed as cranks, and so the world steadily filled up the measure of its iniquity.

Or consider again God’s own people when they came out of Egypt, how quickly they began to complain and whinge against Moses and Jehovah God. It was not long before they expressed their longing to be back in Egypt. How soon before they making an idol, a golden calf, and falling down and worshipping it? It was a matter of months after leaving bondage, though they had seen the walls of the Red Sea standing each side of them as they escaped, and then how the Sea had crashed down over Pharaoh and his army and destroyed them all. Still, throughout the journey through the wilderness they rebelled against God month after month until their last contemptuous actions filled up God’s wrath to the very brim and down fell his judgment upon them so that they never reached the promised land. They died in the wilderness; their bones littered the desert floor.

Was it any different when the Son of God came into the world? Did the descendants of these people welcome their Messiah as he was teaching and healing and going about doing good? No, you remember how his fellow countrymen hated him. He had borne with them, and pleaded with them, and wept over them, yet the Lord of glory was despised and rejected of men. So on one occasion the Lord Jesus said these words to the Pharisees; “you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers” (Matt. 23:31&32). It is the same image that Jesus is referring to. The final divine rejection of the Jews had not yet occurred, but it would only be another 40 years before it happened, when the measure of the sins of this people reached the divine marker. Until then it would be the murder of the Son of God and then the murders of his followers and all that was filling up the measure of their sin until judgment fell on the Jews. David Dickson, the Scottish Puritan, comments on these words of Jesus in this way; “There is a measure set to be filled up with the sins of the Lord’s enemies, and till this cup be full to the brim, they shall be allowed to go on. But when this cup is full, then the cup of God’s wrath shall be full also, and run over upon them to their destruction. Therefore, says the Lord Jesus, ‘Fill up, then, the measure,’ that is, ‘Go on till you kill me, as your fathers did the prophets’” (Matthew, David Dickson, Banner of Truth, 1981, p.315). The forefathers had been filling up the sin of the Jews in their hatred of all the messengers Jehovah had sent into the world, but not until they killed the Son of God and his apostles did they reach the limit set by God, and then the wrath of God descended upon them. Jerusalem and its temple would be razed to the ground, not one stone of the temple left upon another, and the old covenant would be over for ever.

You consider how Paul comments on this so vividly writing to a group of Christians in the first letter to the Thessalonians, one of the earliest pieces of writing in the New Testament; “You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last” (I Thess. 2:14-16).

So this judgment is spoken of in the Bible. In the Old Testament you find it in the book of the prophet Joel where God is portrayed as looking on the world as a landowner looks down on his vast estate as the harvest time approaches. He is waiting to give orders to his men to begin the harvest. He waits and waits, and then he judges that the time has arrived;
God gives the order to the hosts of heaven, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness” (Joel 3:13). In the New Testament you see it so simply and personally in the parable that Jesus taught of the barren fig-tree. Its owner decided to cut it down because again it had produced no fruit, but it was reprieved, not because there were any buds and some tiny figs. No, it was still barren, and yet it was reprieved for a year through the intercession of one who cries to the owner to spare it and give it one more chance. The man cried, “Spare it one more year. I will dung it and encourage it to be fruitful.” That fig-tree was you; God was the owner, but Jesus is crying for you to be given one more chance. I say that God spares the wicked for a time.



It is not because God didn’t notice what we’d done that we’ve been spared his instant judgment. “Can any hide himself in a secret place that I shall not see him, says the Lord? Do not I fill the heaven and the earth, says the Lord?” God has seen, and it is not because God has forgotten that you have been spared. You have kept no record of what you’ve done, but the recording angel in heaven as noted everything that all of us have done. Again, you have not been spared because the many good works you have done far outweigh your bad deeds. No. I am glad you have done good works, though not one of them has been uncontaminated by sin. Your sins stand alone, and are everlasting actions unless God himself puts them away. They may be buried for a while but they will be raised along with the sinner.

The real reason you’ve lived on in unbelief for so long is this, the full measure of your sins has not been reached. Let me use a familiar illustration; you go to the filling station to fill your tank with gas. You insert the nozzle in your tank and you begin to fill it up watching the dial turning around, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . .” on and on the numbers turn. Why don’t they stop? Because the top of the tank has not been reached. When the tank is full then there is an automatic cut-off that will mark the end of the filling. That is it! It is full!

How many sins filled the measure of Adam and Eve’s wickedness? Just one . . . a single great act of defiance, doing the one thing that God had told them not to do. One is enough to turn a righteous man into a rebel. One virus in the human body is enough, one mosquito bite, one spoonful of arsenic, one germ is enough to bring death. A single sin is the transgression of God’s law. One long crack and a plate glass window is irreparably broken. There is no reason why any man should be allowed to sin more than once, to go on sinning up to a certain point. However much or however little we may have sinned each single transgression and disobedience has to receive “a just recompence of reward.” Only the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God can make a sinner stand before the King, eternal, immortal, invisible. It is not divine forgetfulness that has spared you until today so that you hear of the Lamb of God, it is divine compassion and infinite pity that takes no delight in your perishing. To that alone you are in debt.

How full of transgressions is your life? The same measure of sin doesn’t fill every sinner. With God it is not one size fitting all. One sin of Adam declared he wouldn’t have God tell him how to live his life, and yet how vast the sins that filled Pharaoh’s lifetime, and Herod’s, and the Pharisees’ lives, and the lives of suicide bombers. Some were cut off in early days as the full measure of their sins was reached. Judas was a young man when the measure of his sin was full. God sets the measure in different places according to the privileges and warnings a man has had. All are unique; none can know that they either have many years to go before their measure will be filled, or a single day, but sooner or later the end will come and then God will cry, “Swing the sickle.” Death, dressed in black, carrying his scythe will swing his arms and down we’ll fall, and none can prevent it. Woe to the man who himself bears all that burden to the great white throne and the holy Judge who sits upon it! I have wonderful good news for you, that today is not that day. Isn’t that the best news any sinner heard? This is a day of God’s longsuffering. It is a day that gives you space for repentance. It is a day when I proclaim God’s willingness to freely pardon you for all that load of accumulated guilt. Turn from your sins and lay hold of eternal life. The longer you delay, the greater the burden will be. Take no comfort in a long life. Take no comfort in ‘touching wood’ as you tell someone you have reached retirement age without a major illness. We all sit here together in the house of God, and all of us are sinners – without a single exception. You who yet are unpardoned and unforgiven are with us for one reason only. It is because the measure of your sin has not yet been filled. You are forty, but the measure of your sin is not yet full. You are sixty, but the measure of your sin is not yet full. You may see another decade, you may not, but if so then yet how quickly those ten years will pass. Will they be ten more years of an unbelieving life for which God will call you to answer? The higher the measure, the longer it takes to fill, and so the equivalence of punishment will come. Some are whipped with many stripes and others with fewer. One thing is sure, what a man sows that will he also reap.

Sinner, have you considered that the one reason you are here today is that the measure of your iniquity is not yet full, but come it will? If you were sitting in prison with five other men and the only reason you were there eating fish and chips with them was that the appointed day of your hanging had not yet come then one thought would be dominating your life, “Just a few more days to go . . . just so many more hours and then the hangman will come to the prison and this brief life will be over.” Could you brush that thought out of your mind? Death and what lies beyond it looms nearer and nearer. You wouldn’t bother to be complaining about the quality of the fish and chips. You’d have deeper things on your mind, eternal things, wouldn’t you? “Is it right between my soul and God?” Yet we are all told this, that, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (Jn. 3:36). In other words we are told that unless our sins have been dealt with we are all under the wrath of God this very day.



It’s astonishing that God waits. I have seen many a man and a woman growing increasingly angry because they’ve been kept waiting ten minutes by a member of their family. Yet here is this extraordinary spectacle of the mighty Creator of this cosmos and he is waiting. Peter himself comments on this fact, that apostle who saw how patiently his Saviour waited for him to weep over his sins. Peter says, “God waited patiently in the days of Noah” (I Pet. 3:20). You have sinned, and God has no obligation to wait until you’ve truly repented. None whatsoever. He was obliged to show his justice; to be fair and straight, yes, but not to go on waiting for you while you continu
ed to ignore him and sinned, and sinned again, and sinned yet again until the measure of your sins was full. God had no obligation to wait, and yet God waited . . . patiently for some mark of concern in you, a word of repentance, a sigh, a sob. You sinned again, and he waited again. Would there be evangelical repentance? Would you hang your head and look at the floor and beat your breast and cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? No. Yet God still waited and watched again. Would you come to yourself? You had wasted your life in a distant city on women and drink and now have nothing but pigs to look after and an empty belly. Will you go back to your father? God waited and watched patiently without any need at all.

Your life has already been forfeited. By the very first sin of which you’ve been guilty you became a law-breaker and the sentence has been passed; ‘The soul that sinneth shall die.’ Why aren’t you consumed? It’s because of the Lord’s mercies. Justice requires our doom. Mercy alone spares us. Remember God has no obligation to exercise his mercy. If our only plea is for mercy then we’re not presenting anything else – anything that we’ve done. We’ve nothing at all to bring him. We have no excuses; there are no mitigating circumstances. Our guilt is real and our punishment is just. How can we be spared? Mercy only. Just the divine mercy. We cast ourselves on that. But the exercise of mercy is optional with God. When the angels rebelled there was no obligation for God to show mercy. The fallen angels were treated in strict fairness and total impartiality. So too with you; God has no obligation to wait and wait for a whole lifetime until the measure of your sins is full. Yet he has waited for you until now. What grace! What mercy beyond degree.



You may not realise that the water pressure differs in different parts of our town. In the houses on the top of the hill the water pressure is low and a house’s water tanks fill slowly. At the side of the harbour the houses are at sea level, the water runs down the hill and the pressure is much higher and water tanks fill rapidly. There is differentiation, and it is like that with sinners. In some men their iniquity fills up rapidly. When they are young they curse and swear and steal and lie. In their teens they fight and break the seventh commandment. Soon they are young offenders and are institutionalized. It is not long before they become hardened criminals. With what boldness and disdain do they live their godless lives and rapidly fill up the measure of their iniquities. They are dead with an overdose before they are thirty, or they are killed through drunken driving or in a knife fight.

Others are far less vicious; their crimes are zero but they are still rapidly filling up the measure of their iniquities too. They are content without God; they abandon all the privileges of the godly upbringing they’ve known, just like some of the kings in Israel whose fathers had done what was right in the eyes of God while they worshipped idols. The guilt of every unbeliever is filling rapidly. What light have many of you had on who God is and what you must do to inherit eternal life. What gospel privileges have you squandered? What means of encouragement have you enjoyed in camps and conferences and under Bible ministry. What parental influence have you disdained? The tally of your guilt has been increasing just as rapidly as the violent man’s guilt and the rapist’s and the drug peddler’s. Hasn’t God sent warnings into your life? For example, did you know a time when you crashed your car and yet you got out without a scratch? The car was a write off. A policeman said he was amazed that anyone could survive, and yet you did. Did you have a serious illness and yet you made a full recovery? I am asking whether you improved those experiences by crying to God for help? Or did you shrug them off unchanged?

There are no threatenings in the Bible more terrible than to those who’ve been chastened by God, passing through crosses and losses and yet showing no spiritual improvement from them and yet hardening their hearts. That is what you are doing against the justice and mercy of God. You have suffered deprivation and loneliness, and yet this has not caused you to cry mightily to God. You have gained no advantage at all from all the ways God has dealt with you, and so, rapidly, your sin is reaching its full measure.



There is a striking picture of this in the book of Revelation chapter 14. John sees someone ‘like a son of man’ with a crown of gold on his head. In his hand he holds a sharp sickle. Then we read this, “Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth's vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia” (Rev. 14:15-20)

What are these sickles? They are symbols of the instruments God uses to execute his judgments on the earth, the sickles of disease, and aging, and war, and famine, and flood, and forest fire, and economic collapse, and crime, and heresy, and the betrayal of leadership. The angel has them, but he cannot bring them into action until the divine word is given, and it is given when God judges that the time to reap is come, and the harvest of the earth is ripe. Then the sickles are swung and the grapes are gathered and thrown into the great winepress of God’s wrath.

I want you who are unconverted to consider that it will not be long before you too are ripe for judgment, that attaining your full measure is not far off. There were the sins of childhood, and the sins of adolescence, and the sins of early manhood and the sins of maturity. There have been the sins of thought and word and deed and of omission. What heaps of sins there are and the measure of them is nearly full. We may be exemplary in the self-assessment of our taxation, but of our daily living, as those seen by God, what poor judges of ourselves we are. In truth, we are much nearer the full measure of our iniquity than we think we are. You are imagining that just the bottom of that divine reservoir is full, and that you can still see the remains of the old village school and the cottages as the waters lap their windows, but in fact the buildings are five fathoms deep under the black water, and the waterline is approaching the point that God has set for you.

There could be one person here of whom it is true that there is just one more single sin and then he has filled the measure of his iniquity. Just one more porno film to watch on the Internet and the mark will be reached. One more lie and the measure will be full. One more angry bitter word and the full measure will be rea
ched. One more theft, one more bout of drunkenness and it will be full! The next time you put that stolen money in your pocket you will find yourself in hell. The next time you drunkenly put that pint of beer to your lips you will drink yourself into eternal damnation. O beware! That is why God has brought you here, to sound an alarm in your ears. Do not take the final step. You are on the edge of the precipice, tottering on the brink of eternal ruin. I would save you from it and so I warn you.

Do you realise this? Though you have all the strength of a sinning life to add sin after sin to your record it is not in your power to remove one sin that is already in the measure. This measure takes but it does not give. It is like the parking meters or toll meters that wait as we put in coin after coin after coin. Taking everything we put in but giving nothing back, for the sign says, “No change given!” You put in until the designated sum is reached. You say to me, “But what if I never sin again?” What is that? If you never sin again then you will go no further into debt, true, but what of the debts you have built up throughout your life? What of that mountain already there and all your tears can’t wash it away. All great Neptune’s ocean can’t remove the stain. No Niagara can cleanse your life of all that blame and shame. Not a sin can be removed, but still you keep putting them in, sin after sin. The measure is filling and one day will be full.

Then you shall die in your sins. Let me say that again. “Then you shall die in your sins.” Who am I to say that? No one but the servant of Jesus Christ, and in John’s gospel and in chapter eight and in verse twenty-one he says, “You shall die in your sins,” and then three verses later, like one thunder-clap following another, he says, “You shall die in your sins.” Who is the Lord Jesus Christ to say that to you? I will tell you. The preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, the man who told the parable of the prodigal son. The mighty healer who never failed to heal anyone brought to him. The one who spoke and the winds and the waves obeyed him. He who raised the dead. The long-expected Messiah. The one who himself died as the Lamb of God, and rose on the third day, and showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. He is the one who said that after a man has filled up the measure of his sins then he will die in his sins.

You may die in the gutter like Lazarus the beggar; you may die at the stake like Cranmer; you may die at sea like many a missionary on his way to the South seas; you may die under a hail of stones; you may die suddenly or die after a long protracted disease. Die you will somehow or other, but none of those deaths will keep you from glory, but the worst of all deaths is to fill up the measure of your iniquities and die in your sins. But I cannot send you away like this. I have one more thing to say.



I told you that you were unable to remove one sin from that measure, and that is true, but there is one, the ever-blessed Son of God, and he can empty it! He is able to remove the measure of your sins, just as they are, full to the brim and almost bursting. He will not scoop out a little but can remove them all. He can remove every drop in his mighty hands and carry it all far away and leave not a drop, nor even any dampness. He will pour it all into his own sepulchre where it will be buried so deep that even the eye of God shall never see it again. One cries, “Ah, would he do that for me? Would he take away the entire fulness of my sins?” Yes, he will do it with your sins now, at this very moment if you entrust them all to him alone. Believe upon him. Entrust yourself right into him. Give up your sins. Give up your self-reliance. Cast yourself upon him. Those dear arms that were outstretched for the sins of the world are certainly strong enough to bear away the whole weight of your sins. Those hands that were pierced for you will let no sins escape and the full measure of all your iniquities will be gone for ever, if you lay them all on Jesus the Son of God. Close with him. Come close to him now and plead with him that he will take away all the full measure of your sin, and don’t stop asking him until you know that he has.

24th May 2009                         GEOFF THOMAS