Genesis 15:13-16 - "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers ..."

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 for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors 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." (Genesis 15:12-16)

Did God make Abraham's descendants slaves?

There is archeological evidence that the Hebrews were subjected to being menial laborers by the Egyptians. As to whether they became outright slaves is subject to interpretation. The question this verse brings up is why would God subject Abraham's descendants to becoming slaves? This after promising his descendants so many riches - that they would control cities and so many lands?

Archeological digs in parts of Egypt, near the great pyramids and elsewhere, have indicated Hebrew settlements. These indicate that the Hebrews were part of the laboring class that helped build the pyramids and other Egyptian cities. Does this mean they were literally slaves?

It could mean that, because that work appears to have been pretty difficult, and the Hebrews were definitely migrants in that region, after they had to escape famines and droughts. But it could also be that they were migrants that chose to stay in Egypt because there was plenty of food to eat. So they could survive during harsh times in their homeland.

But suggesting that the Supreme Being personally cursed a nation of people to slavery would indicate cruelty that is difficult to embrace.

The narrative doesn't make much sense, does it? That God would be this cruel? This might be like saying that God subjected the people from Africa to several hundred years of slavery in America. Such a notion is preposterous. Or it might be like saying that God subjected the Jewish people in Northern Europe to Germany's concentration camps.

Yes, this verse does indicate that it was not God that subjected them to slavery, it was the Egyptian rulers, which God says, "I will punish."

This is similar to saying that the people of Africa were enslaved by people and governments of America and elsewhere who enslaved them. Yes, God is not responsible. Those who gained positions of authority were responsible.

Certainly in the same way, we know that Hitler and those German officers who supported him and his decisions were responsible for Jewish people being imprisoned and slaughtered.

What does this mean? It means that God did not personally subject these people to their conditions, just as He is not subjecting people who are suffering in critical situations today.

The issue is that the physical world is a world of freedom of choice, along with consequences. Those who use their freedom of choice to subject others to suffering will themselves suffer in a future lifetime, in ways that allow them to understand the kind of suffering they subjected upon others.

This is called learning. The physical world is a place of learning, and each of us can utilize our freedom of choice to learn to love others and help others, or use that freedom to hurt others. It is really up to each of us.

But those who subject others to suffering will suffer consequences, as is indicated in this verse. But it is not that the Supreme Being is personally attacking people or punishing people. This physical world is designed - or programmed - with the facilities that automatically enforce us to receive the kind of suffering that we inflict upon others.

This reception, however, requires multiple lifetimes. Each of us lives in a physical body for a temporary period of time. At the end of that lifetime, our spirit-persons return to learning centers in the spirit world (not the same as heaven). There we prepare to return to the physical world to undergo another lifetime of learning in another physical body.

The next physical body and lifetime are designed to teach us what we need to learn. That lifetime may be a life of privilege or a life of hardship, depending upon the condition of our consciousness, and the consequences of our prior choices.

Through many lifetimes we may become elevated and have the potential to return home to the spiritual realm.

Why do we attribute suffering to God?

Therefore, it is not wrong to attribute the design and resulting events in the world to the Supreme Being. But we must know that the Supreme Being does not take sides. He is on everyone's side. He wants all of us - each of us - to succeed. Sometimes the soul will take on a body that is abhorrent and sometimes the soul will take on a body that is favorable to learning and growing spiritually.

But each of those lives offers the soul learning experiences. And the Supreme Being still loves each of us unconditionally. He is not personally against any of us.

Yet certainly, we can attribute to the wisdom of the Supreme Being the ability of the physical world to inflict consequences upon us for decisions we make that end up harming others. But it is the system, not a personal vendetta by God.

This is the misinterpretation of these texts, where it makes it though the Supreme Being is favoring the Hebrews somehow. Even if it is obvious from these texts and others that the Hebrew people have also suffered quite a bit within the physical world.

What about the covenant?

This verse has been taken out of the context and lessons that were originally intended from this. Why would the Supreme Being be involved in warning Abraham about something that is supposed to take place four centuries later? Why would that be important to Abraham that God would appear to him to make such a promise?

And why, if the Supreme Being was making a covenant to give the land of Judea to Abraham's descendants, would He have allowed Abraham's descendants to become slaves for four hundred years? And what great possessions would they be coming away with?

There are so many holes in this interpretation and translation of these verses.

Is Genesis a single book?

Genesis is not one book, but rather a rewritten mixture of many ancient manuscripts - as many as nineteen - that have been patched together by scribes centuries after their initial recordings. Prior to that, the teachings were passed down orally though a number of lineages of teachers and their students. This oral tradition did not come from a single lineage either. There were several different oral versions that were woven together by scribes to make it appear as though it were a historical chronology.

Genesis was only compiled into a single document by scribes that worked for Judean tribal rulers around 600 B.C. This was during a time when these tribal rulers were seeking to substantiate and consolidate their authority by claiming they were the inheritance of a great promise by God to give them - these tribal chiefs - domination over certain lands and peoples.

So what did God say then?

Let's look at the Hebrew more closely to decipher what is being described:

The first dubious translation is the Hebrew root word זרע (zera`), translated to "descendants." This word actually relates to not only offspring and seed, but to sowing and "of moral quality - a practitioner of righteousness" when used in its figurative context, according to the lexicon.

The Supreme Being was not fixated upon Abraham's family descendants as proposed by the scribes. Rather, the spiritual communication from God to Abraham concerned Abraham's followers, and the teachings that were the cornerstone to Abraham's service to the Supreme Being. This is also confirmed by the figurative definition of זרע (zera`), as the Supreme Being often spoke figuratively.

Why would the Supreme Being speak figuratively as He communicates - especially within a dream? Because human language is a language used to describe physical realities, while the Supreme Being illuminates us on spiritual issues - issues that transcend the scope of the physical realm.

Since the communication regards spiritual topics and not mundane issues such as preserving one's physical family, we must accept that God is not discussing the descendants of Abraham's temporary physical body. Rather, the discussion revolved around Abraham's followers, who were supposed to continue to pass on the teachings that Abraham was imparting to his followers.

This is also confirmed by the use of זרע (zera`) as "sowing" because Abraham is sowing seeds of knowledge within his followers.

Here are the terms that follow this:

גר (ger) relates to being strangers
ארץ ('erets) relates to land, earth or world
הם (hem) refers to belonging - citizenship
עבד (`abad) relates to being enslaved
ענה (`anah) refers to being oppressed

What is the enslavement?

While these terms have been translated as if Abraham's descendants will be enslaved in a foreign land, the text is actually referring to another kind of enslavement and oppression.

The Supreme Being is referring to Abraham's followers - because they followed him - first being rejected by many and then becoming oppressed laborers, by a particular (foreign) culture and the trappings of materialism within that culture.

This concept of enslavement and oppression has been misunderstood and misinterpreted throughout these ancient texts. When we become focused upon the pleasures and trappings of the physical world we become enslaved by them. With this enslavement comes oppression, as we become trapped by the attractions of materialistic facilities and appeasements.

This is despite the fact that our spiritual selves are foreign (strangers) to the physical world. The physical world is not our home. We are spiritual in essence and our bodies are temporary. To add to this, those who followed Abraham are even moreso strangers to the material world, because Abraham's teachings focused upon loving and serving the Supreme Being - an act contrary to a materialistic, hedonistic lifestyle.

One might say, for example, that many sectarian institutions today (and most of us otherwise) have become enslaved and oppressed by the western culture, with its various hedonistic technological trappings. Without personal spiritual engagement, this enslavement leads to a loss of consciousness of the very teachings of the scriptures - namely our spiritual identity and our innate spiritual inheritance to love and serve the Supreme Being.

The Supreme Being was warning Abraham that his followers will stray and become enslaved and oppressed into the future by a society and culture that focuses one away from the Supreme Being.

Yes, this could include becoming part of ancient Egyptian society. And yes, there is evidence that many Hebrews chose to become part of the Egyptian society, and were not necessarily forced into slavery. Yet we also know that some became indentured, due to their lower societal stature (being immigrants in Egypt). But they also came to be enamored by the wealth of the Egyptians - much like many people from economically poor cultures today have become enamored by the Western culture.

Four hundred years?

The translation indicates four hundred years. But is this a precise measurement? The Hebrew root words used in this are ארבע ('arba`), מאה (me'ah) and שנה (shaneh).

In fact, the Hebrew word שנה (shaneh) does not necessarily indicate years. It is a division of time. And the word מאה (me'ah) indicates a simple number or part of a larger number - it does not necessarily mean one hundred. If anything, it indicates a fraction - 1/100th.

ארבע ('arba`), however, does indicate "four," but also can mean "multiple." So rather than precisely four hundred years, the text indicates multiple generations of followers: מאה (me'ah) and שנה (shaneh) indicate a specific and non-specific period of time - which would normally refer to several generations into the future, because generations are variable to the number of years each generation lives.

In the next phrase, the Supreme Being is not talking about punishing those who enslave Abraham's followers. The word דין (diyn) is being used here, which refers not to punishing, but rather to someone who is in charge, judgment or governing. The Supreme Being is indicating that even though Abraham's followers will be enslaved and oppressed in the "foreign" culture - God is ultimately in charge, and thus will be there for them when they seek to return to Him.

The word "nation" is used - taken from the Hebrew root גוי (gowy). Yet this word does not refer to a specific "nation" as we like to refer to today. It refers to a populace, a society or a culture of people.

This society or culture being discussed is the culture of people who reject the Supreme Being - a materialistic society. Those who live within that culture - being atheists - will still have to live under the governance of the Supreme Being. It is not as if they will not also be judged and contend with the rules of the physical world. They are still under God's ultimate control even though they deny Him.

The phrase "great possessions" is also inaccurate. The word רכוש (rĕkuwsh) is being translated to "possessions" while גדול (gadowl) is being translated to "many" or "great." Is the Supreme Being really interested in predicting how many material possessions the followers of Abraham leave their enslavement with? No.

In fact, the word רכוש (rĕkuwsh) refers also to something acquired, as in wealth or other substance. The Supreme Being is not talking about Abraham's followers leaving their captors with a whole bunch of gold and silver and livestock or something. That is a ridiculous notion - this would make Abraham's followers out to be materialistic looters.

Can we rise above materialism?

What the Supreme Being is communicating to Abraham is that those of his followers who rise above their enslavement and oppression by following the guidance of the Supreme Being will come away with spiritual wealth - their loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This wealth is the greatest of riches, and this is the wealth that the Supreme Being and His followers value and perpetually discuss through scriptures.

In the last part of this verse, the Supreme Being then discusses Abraham's future. Is the Supreme Being really interested in talking about how Abraham will be buried at a ripe old age? What kind of Supreme Being is this? This sounds like we're talking about a genie or something - granting Abraham a ripe old age as part of his three wishes.

The keywords in the beginning of this phrase that are dubiously translated are אב ('ab), שלום (shalowm), קבר (qabar). אב ('ab) does not refer to Abraham's fathers. Why would the Supreme Being be talking about Abraham going to his fathers?

Remember that the physical body dies within a few decades, and in ancient times, a little later. But they still die, and then they decompose. The spiritual person lives on, separated from the physical body. In other words, we are not these physical bodies. They are like vehicles we drive for a while. Thus, the fathers of our body are not our fathers.

The Supreme Being is not interested in dead bodies. This is a spiritual invocation. The word אב ('ab) refers to, as stated clearly in the lexicon, "of God as Father of His people." The Supreme Being is telling Abraham that Abraham will follow his own spiritual teachers and return to God and the spiritual realm after the death of his physical body.

What is the real covenant?

This is confirmed by the use of שלום (shalowm), meaning "completeness, soundness, welfare, peace" as well as "friendship - with God especially in covenant relationship" according to the lexicon. This word indicates that Abraham will be returning to his fulfilling relationship with the Supreme Being.

This is God's real covenant with those who choose to use their lives to come to know Him and learn to love Him.

But doesn't קבר (qabar) refer to the burial of the physical body? How does the burial of the physical body relate to Abraham returning to his relationship with God in the spiritual realm? Because this will happen after Abraham's body is buried.

Now the words טוב (towb) and שיבה (seybah) are used, with שיבה (seybah) being repeated. The translators suppose this refers to Abraham being buried at a ripe old age. This is incorrect however. The Supreme Being is not interested in telling Abraham how long he will live in his physical body.

The Supreme Being is telling Abraham that he will live eternally after his body is buried and he returns to the spiritual realm. This is a special benediction, that is consistent with other communications by the Supreme Being - that should we chose to return to our original loving relationship with the Supreme Being in the spiritual realm, we will live there eternally, and will never return.

Again, this is God's promise to Abraham - His covenant. And the so-called "promised land" is the spiritual realm.

What about those who stray?

As for those followers of Abraham who become enslaved and oppressed by the culture of materialism - in other words, they do not strictly follow Abraham's teachings - God says they will also return to Him. But later, after multiple additional lifetimes.

This is communicated with the word דור (dowr), which is incorrectly being translated to "generation." While the word can mean generation, it also can mean "period, habitation, dwelling, age" according to the lexicon. The correct translation would thus be "lifetimes."

These physical bodies are temporary. Each of us is a spiritual person, who lives before and after the body. Those of us who are enslaved by the self-centered trappings of the physical world are destined to return to another physical body after the death of this body. Each successive body reflects our level of consciousness. This is why some may occupy animal, plant and insect bodies, while others occupy human ones.

A soul who takes on a human form is evolving spiritually. The human form provides the opportunity to perfect our consciousness - to return to the spiritual realm and leave the physical world. Those of us who accept the teachings of Abraham, David, Moses, Jesus and other messengers of God will continue to evolve until our consciousness is pure enough to return to the spiritual world.

In other words, those followers of Abraham who fall down - becoming enslaved by the trappings of the physical world - will also have a chance to return to the Supreme Being and the spiritual realm. But that progression will require additional lifetimes - which the Supreme Being is communicating here to Abraham.

The word "here" is being translated from the Hebrew word הנה (hennah), which refers to the place being discussed. The Supreme Being was discussing Abraham returning home to Him in the spiritual realm, so "here" in this case, refers to the spiritual realm.

The reason for the delay in their returning home to the spiritual realm? The word עון (`avon) is being used to indicate "iniquity" but this word means "perversity, depravity, guilt or punishment of iniquity" and "consequence of or punishment for iniquity" according to the lexicon.

What is consequence learning?

Yes, this physical world is a place of consequences. The rules established by the Supreme Being is that each of us must be held to the consequences of our activities. Should we steal, something will be stolen from us. Should we hurt someone's body, our body will have to be hurt - if not in this lifetime, in the next. This is not to punish us: This is to teach us (understanding that we are not these bodies). It is to enable us to understand how it feels when we subject others to our self-centered desires.

Sectarian institutions have misinterpreted this as being facilitated by human enforcers. The "eye for an eye" reference is not that some law officer will enforce this. This is describing the consequence system of the physical world, which rewards a person precisely what they do to others with an equivalency - if not in this lifetime, in the next.

This law of consequence is also called consequence learning. It is known to child psychologists as the preferred way to raise children - not punishing them, but teaching them the consequences of their actions in order to teach them.

The Supreme Being does the same thing, but to a perfect degree within multiple lifetimes. We all have to pay the consequences of our self-centered activities (activities of service to God are exempt from consequence).

In other words, a person who enslaves a person in one life may well become enslaved in their next life, to the very same degree. This allows that person to come to understand what it feels like.

Of course, there are exceptions, especially for those who come to learn without the precise consequence. Such a person is often described as having a change of heart - also referred to as repentance.

What about the Amorites?

The translation of this text indicates that this is all related to the "Amorites" - a nation that the Israelites battled for centuries over land disputes. But does this text really refer to a particular nation? Those Judean emperors and their scribes wanted to make it so, but this is not the reality.

The word אמרי ('Emoriy) literally means "a sayer" - derived from the root word אָמַר ('amar), which means "to say, speak, utter" - "to say, to answer, to say in one's heart, to think, to command, to promise, to intend."

The text is not taking about Abraham's followers being enslaved by the Amorites. Rather, it is talking about the consequences of their wayward intentions and teachings - which within multiple generations had lost the message Abraham had given them. The consequences of their misguided teachings would take multiple lifetimes before they would be able to return to the spiritual realm, according to this revelation by the Supreme Being to Abraham in a dream.

And God is not talking about precise lifetimes here. The word רביעי (rĕbiy`iy) can mean fourth, but it can also mean "four square" or "fourth part." We must understand this use within the context of how we often will say "a couple." A person might say "it happened a couple of times." Does this mean precisely two? Typically not. It means multiple times, possibly two, but also possibly three or even four sometimes.

This variable allows for change - and choice. We each have the freedom to choose to change. When we make such choices, consequences can also change. This is the nature of God's love for us.

In the same way, to say "four square" or the "fourth part" would refer to a lengthy period, beyond "a couple." It means "multiple." In other words, those followers of Abraham who strayed - becoming enslaved by the trappings of the physical world - and misleading others with their words - would also have a chance to return to the spiritual world after multiple lifetimes.

The number of lifetimes it might take depends upon each of us. No one is devoid of choice. Each of us has the choice to return to God and the spiritual world or not. Thus, the Supreme Being cannot specifically state precisely how many lifetimes it will take for the wayward followers of Abraham to get back on track.

At the same time, the Supreme Being is confident that we will all get back on track. Sooner or later, each of us will realize that we need Him to be fulfilled. We need our relationship with the Supreme Being to be complete. This is why each of us spends our lives looking for love - we are each looking for our lost relationship with the Supreme Being.

Yet each of us must learn this for ourselves. The Supreme Being set up the physical world so we would eventually learn this. But on our own time. When we are ready.

This is because love requires freedom. We must have the freedom to choose. Yet the Supreme Being is confident that each of us will eventually choose to return to Him, because this is the only thing that will make us happy.

And God wants us to be happy.

God's statement, then, would more appropriately be translated to something like:
"Know for certain that your followers will become strangers to the material world, but will be enslaved and oppressed by the world through multiple generations. Yet I am still in control and they will eventually become freed and rich in wisdom. You, however, will return to Me in the spiritual realm once your body is buried, to follow your teachers and live eternally. Your followers will also return to Me, many after multiple lifetimes, for the consequences of wayward acts and misleading others must first be met." (Genesis 15:13-16)

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter 15 of the New Book of Genesis.