|Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 20, May 13 to May 19, 2007|
If you have a Bible you may want to turn to the first book in the Bible, Genesis, where we have been studying the Life of Abram on Sunday mornings here at South Baton Rouge. The particular passage we are interested in is found in chapter 13, starting at verse two. Please listen now as I read that passage to you out of the English Standard Version.
Now the account of Abram and Lot's troubles follows the opening account of Abram's call in 12:1-9 and of his brief journey into Egypt during a famine, as recorded in 12:10-20. After narrowly escaping the loss of his wife - on account of his own deception, mind you - Abram and Sarai leave Egypt, with all the possessions given to them by Pharaoh, and return to the land that God had originally promised to their descendants - the Land of Canaan - where Abram again worshiped the Lord, as he had done before.
Now the events of chapter 13 can be broken up fairly evenly into three parts. In the opening 7 verses we get a very quick summary and description of the problem which will become the main dramatic tension in the chapter. Following that, there is a description of how the tension is resolved in verses 8-13, followed by the Lord's response to all these things in verses 14-18.
Let's just think about the first section for a moment - the account of how the trouble between Abram and Lot gets started. Moses, the author of Genesis, makes it clear that Abram was a very wealthy man in verse 2. And from earlier descriptions of Abram, it would seem that he was fairly well off before all the events of chapter 12, no doubt. But if he was well off before, he was extremely well off now - after receiving all that he did from Pharaoh - most especially the livestock.
Now looking at all these things, on the surface at least, one might conclude that the things Abram received from Pharaoh before leaving Egypt were a great blessing. And I suppose in some sense they were. But they weren't a pure blessing. At the very least they seemed to have been a mixed blessing. Why? For at least two reasons. One has to do with the things that transpire between Abram and Lot, which we'll see in just a moment, and the other has to do with events that transpire later on between Sarai and Hagar.
The problems that arise in both of these areas can be traced in large part to this event of Abram having received these gifts from Pharaoh. The greatly increased wealth of Abram - at least in terms of the livestock - surely contributed to his grazing problems with Lot. And, while we can't say for sure, it is a good chance that among the maidservants Abram received from Pharaoh, was a certain woman named Hagar. But more about her later on.
And so, after we are reminded of Abram's great wealth - especially in livestock - in verse 2, we are told in verse 5 that Lot, his nephew, also had flocks and herds and tents - so much so that the combination of his wealth with that of Abram's meant that conditions there were pretty crowded. There was only so much good pasture to graze in. And water in that part of the world was not always easy to find.
And somewhere in the midst of all that disagreements and fights began to break out among some of the herdsmen as they no doubt competed to get their individual herds to the same patches of turf.
Now, in addition to relating all of this to us, Moses adds the comment in verse 7 that "at that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land" - which does a couple things. It reminds us that Abram does not yet possess this land he has been promised. There are other peoples about the place. And it also heightens the tension as we see that Abram and Lot are not alone, and are having to work their problems out in the midst of other people who surely have herds and flocks of their own.
Well, Abram can see the quarrels breaking out between some of the herdsmen, and he can see where all of this is heading and so, before things escalate, he decides that he is going to do something about it. And, interestingly enough, he doesn't do the thing that he had every right to do. You see, Abram was the Patriarch. He had seniority in the whole "Abram Clan Thing" that was going on there. And so, he had the right and could very easily have settled the whole matter by ordering Lot to go off somewhere - and that would have been the end of it.
But Abram was wise enough to know that while he could have handled things in that way - with a kind of strong-arm approach - the results of such a thing would not have been good in terms of the on-going relationship between he and Lot. And so Abram chooses a better way. He decides to open himself up to a potential risk. He decides that, rather than claim his rights, he will relinquish them.
And so he makes this incredibly generous offer to Lot. He gets Lot to look around at all the land before them, and he tells him to choose. He can have whatever he wants, and Abram will take the leftovers. And so, while Lot was most likely staying near Abram out of some sense of obligation, at least up until this point, he now has Abram's permission to move on, to separate and establish himself, on his own, in another place.
And so Lot takes a look around and, looking toward the Jordan valley, he sees land that was well-watered and lush and which seemed to be perfect for he and his people and livestock to live upon. Indeed, the land must have been pretty good because it is described as something that was "like the garden of the Lord" - in other words, like Eden, or at least like the fertile land of Egypt, from which they had just come. The point is - it was great land.
Now, it is a fair question to ask why - if the land was so great - no one was on it. How is it the case that such wonderful land was just sitting there, un-used? And, at least as far as the people of God were concerned, there are some possible explanations for this. The first one is that the land that Lot had set his eyes upon was land that was either right on the border or else was just outside of the land of Canaan. And Abram, knowing God's promises pertained to a particular land, chose to remain WELL INSIDE that land and not skirt the borders, even though better pastures were just "over the fence" so to speak.
A further consideration may have been the presence within those border lands of certain cities that had developed certain reputations - like Sodom and Gomorrah - and whose reputations most certainly would have proceeded them. And so, rather than snuggle up next to these places - which would be like snuggling up next to a rattlesnake - Abram remains where he is, keeping these places at arms length.
And so, as we have already seen, alongside these realities was the fact that up until this point, Lot is still fairly closely connected to Abram. And while that situation remained, then Lot's decisions about land and location would be greatly affected by Abram's decisions. If Abram wanted to go to a place between Bethel and Ai, then Lot would go too, even if it was crowded and even if it meant poorer quality land - at least for a time.
However, Abram's magnanimous gesture changes all that. His generosity has opened up new possibilities for Lot. And so, now having the permission to go that he perhaps had wanted for a while, Lot now allows his enthusiasm and greed to get the better of him and promptly chooses the best land he can see, even if it IS on the borderlands, even if it is in the midst of places that were, at best, questionable.
But Lot does not seem to be concerned about these things. Nor does he seem to have any concern for Abram in his choosing, but simply takes all of what he feels is best, for himself. Which would be sort of like having half a cake on the counter in front of you and someone else is there with you and you offer for them to go ahead and get what they want first - and the person then proceeds to cut off an enormous slab of cake, getting all the best parts of the icing, and leaving behind a little sliver for you to cope with. Now that's not an exact parallel - but that is the same sort of attitude at least that we see being demonstrated by Lot. In response to Abram's self-deferential behavior, Lot engages in a very self-preferential sort of way.
Nevertheless, that is how it goes and verse 12 tells us that Abram settled "in the land of Canaan" while Lot settled among the cities of the valley, moving his own personal tent very close to Sodom - whose citizens verse 13 reminds us - were desperately wicked people.
Well, once Abram and Lot have parted company, God then appears on the scene to say some important things. He tells Abram to look around and, whereas Lot concentrated on a bit of turf lying to the east, God tells Abram to, in effect, look in every possible direction - including in the direction that Lot has gone. And God then tells Abram that all the land he sees before him is set apart for he and his offspring forever. And, in case Abram is still not clear on what this all means, God spells it out for him: his offspring will be as plentiful as dust.
Following this, and on the strength of the promises just given, God commands Abram, once again, to get up and travel the length and width of the land and personally inspect the inheritance that has been bestowed upon him. In short, he tells him to walk all around — just like he owns the place. So he does, and eventually settles by "the oaks of Mamre", where he again worships God.
Well, what does this story mean? How is it important for God's people today? In order to answer those questions we need to make two important stopping points along the way. The first stopping point is to ask the prior question: What might this story have meant for the people of God who first received it as a story? As we saw last week, the people in view here would have been the nation of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, and on the verge of entering the Promised Land. So what would have been the value of this story for them? Well, a couple things come to mind....
1) One thing that comes through here is that they see their forefather, Abram, acting in faith once again. It took faith for him to be willing to relinquish his rights and let Lot have first choice in the matter of land. He had to be willing to trust God as he hands Lot this "blank check", so to speak. He has to believe that whatever "leftovers" he gets, as regards the land, God can be trusted to look after him - whatever that might be - and that his portion will be enough. And so, hearing this account after the previous one, God's people under Moses would seen their ancestor's weakness and doubt, followed by his confidence and trust. Once again, Abram is acting like a man who believes God, and trusts his ability to deliver on his promises. And, subsequent to all this, they see God's continued determination to bless their forefather.
And let me tell you, that would have been deeply significant for the people of God under Moses who - like Abram - did not have a perfect track record either when it came to trusting in God's promises. They needed to see that their own faithlessness had NOT nullified God's determination to bless them and to still bring them into a good land.
2) The other thing they would have seen is, once again, Abram's "symbolic" conquest of the land as he went to and fro, through the whole place. As we have seen before, Abram's initial journey to and through the land - from north to south - was very much a forecast of coming attractions so that when Joshua finally comes along and leads the nation of Israel into their land he will retrace Abram's steps from south to north, even worshiping at the same places in which Abram did. In the verses before us this morning, we see a similar sort of thing happening. And as God's people heard this account, they would have heard that here Abram is, much smaller than them, and yet he freely moved about this land that was filled with people of other nations. Surely God's people under Moses — now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, could be confident that God would grant to them the same freedom to move about within the land and to take it as God had determined.
3) Finally, at an exemplary level, they see Abram acting with great generosity toward his nephew, placing relationships ahead of his own personal rights, and public peace above any concerns about personal prosperity.
Well, the second stopping point in our effort to understand the value of this story for us, is to trace our path through the New Testament Scriptures to see how God's supreme revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ contributes to our ability to understand and apply rightly some of the truths contained within this account of Abram and Lot.
And so, when we look at Jesus, what do we see? We see the person whom Paul described as "the" seed - the ultimate descendant of Abram to whom the promises were made and in whom they would be fulfilled - but we see that Jesus acting in ways quite similar to his own earthly ancestor, Abram. We see Jesus, who trusted his heavenly Father implicitly, also refuse to claim what was rightly his, in order that he might be free to live and act in ways which honored his Father, and in order that he would redeem people made in God's image. Listen to the very striking language of Paul, as found in the Letter to the Philippians:
Philippians 2:4-11 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,1 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,1 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Because Jesus trusted his heavenly Father, he was free - like Abram was free - to be generous, free to let go of everything, free to obey - even to the point of death itself. And so he did - and God responded by exalting him, and giving him the name that is above every name.
And this, then, is where the connection with us becomes apparent. Because we are the people who look to Jesus and to what his obedience has accomplished on our behalf — dealing with our sin, dealing with the wrath of a Holy God, crediting us with His righteousness. We look to Jesus for all these things, placing our confidence in him. And we know that it is in and through Jesus that we are counted as Abraham's offspring - As Paul says in Galatians 3:29,
If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise...
Jesus himself has secured and received the full inheritance of Abram, and we who are in him, who are united to him by faith, are co-heirs of that inheritance. Listen to the language of Paul in Ephesians 1,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world........In him we have obtained an inheritance.....In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Listen to similar words found in 1 Peter 1,
Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy; he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.....
And so, in Jesus, by faith and through believing the Gospel, we are recipients and heirs to the great promises which God first made to Abram - and which were enlarged through the OT - and which find their fullness in Christ himself - for whom and to whom are all things. And what that means is that just as Abram's renewed confidence in God's promise meant that he was free to be generous toward Lot and just as Christ's confidence in his Father's promises meant the he too was free to relinquish his rights and so be willing to humble himself and endure the ordeal of the Cross, so should our own confidence in God's mercy and promises create a similar freedom within ourselves.
Now there are countless ways that this sort of thing might work its way out in our lives, but let me just highlight two specific areas where we might practically apply these things. Firstly, these things ought to affect us in terms of our generosity. If we can learn - as Abram did, and Jesus himself did - to believe and trust in God's kind intentions toward us, and in his ability to provide and care for us as inheritors of his promised blessings - then we can afford to hold on to our things and even our time much more loosely than we might otherwise. We can afford to be generous and to give sacrificially - in both material and personal ways - as we respond to recognized need in the world around us, and in the community in which God has placed us here in South Baton Rouge.
A second, and related, implication of this is that for the reasons just given we can not only afford to be generous and sacrificial, but we can be more bold and even confident in terms of our obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in various aspects of our lives. It is when we doubt the promises of God, and his ability to deliver on them, that we often waiver in our obedience. Here you are, faced with a difficult situation. And the source of the difficulty, often, is not so much knowing what ought to be done - that much is pretty clear. But what is not clear is what will or might happen if we do the right thing in a world that does not always value people doing the right thing.
But if we believe, like Abram, that God's promises are real, and that the inheritance we have in Jesus is secure, then we are free in that knowledge to respond to God's word with obedience, even radical, unheard of, confident obedience. And so, trusting in God's promise and provision can have a direct impact upon us in terms of our generosity and our obedience. And beyond that, trusting in God's promise can have an impact in all those moments when we are NOT brave in our obedience but, instead are cowardly and compromising or when we have not been generous but, instead, have been self-serving.
Even and especially during such times when we are faithless we can benefit immeasurably from the Lord Jesus Christ because the generosity and grace by which we first became his, are the same generosity and grace that forgives, and upholds, and sustains us - in spite of, and in the midst of our sin and failure. So, whether we are being faithful, or faithless, in either circumstance we are to look continually to the promises of God which are ours in Jesus Christ.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to Reformed Perspectives Magazine, please select this link.