Abram & Lot separate

Scripture: Genesis 13

 

Title: Abram & Lot separate

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Abram’s choice
  • Lot’s choice
  • God’s choice
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Please turn with me to Genesis chapter 13, page 16 near the front of your pew Bibles

–         Today we continue our series on the life of Abram

–         Last week we heard how our journey of faith is often a cycle of two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back and so on

–         In Genesis chapter 12 Abram took a step backwards in going to Egypt

–         He got scared and instead of trusting God he relied on his own cunning, deceiving Pharaoh and putting Sarai’s life at risk to save himself

–         But God was with Abram and set him and Sarai free from Egypt

–         This week Abram returns to the Promised Land and takes a step forward

–         From Genesis 13, verse 1 we read…

 

Abram went north out of Egypt to the southern part of Canaan with his wife and everything he owned, and Lot went with him. Abram was a very rich man, with sheep, goats, and cattle, as well as silver and gold. Then he left there and moved from place to place, going toward Bethel. He reached the place between Bethel and Ai where he had camped before and had built an altar. There he worshiped the Lord.

Lot also had sheep, goats, and cattle, as well as his own family and servants. And so there was not enough pasture land for the two of them to stay together, because they had too many animals. So quarrels broke out between the men who took care of Abram’s animals and those who took care of Lot’s animals. (At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were still living in the land.)

Then Abram said to Lot, “We are relatives, and your men and my men shouldn’t be quarrelling. So let’s separate. Choose any part of the land you want. You go one way, and I’ll go the other.”

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole Jordan Valley, all the way to Zoar, had plenty of water, like the Garden of the Lord or like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord had destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose the whole Jordan Valley for himself and moved away toward the east. That is how the two men parted. 12 Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, and Lot settled among the cities in the valley and camped near Sodom, 13 whose people were wicked and sinned against the Lord.

14 After Lot had left, the Lord said to Abram, “From where you are, look carefully in all directions. 15 I am going to give you and your descendants all the land that you see, and it will be yours forever. 16 I am going to give you so many descendants that no one will be able to count them all; it would be as easy to count all the specks of dust on earth! 17 Now, go and look over the whole land, because I am going to give it all to you.” 18 So Abram moved his camp and settled near the sacred trees of Mamre at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

This morning’s message is structured around three choices…

–         Abram’s choice, Lot’s choice and God’s choice

–         First let’s consider Abram’s choice

 

Abram’s choice:

Who can tell me who this is? [Wait]. Yes, that’s right – it’ Selwyn Toogood

–         And what show is he compering here? [Wait]. Yes – “It’s in the Bag”

 

It’s in the bag was a game show where contestants had to make a choice: either the money or the bag

–         Choosing the money was choosing certainty because you knew exactly how much you were going to get

–         Whereas choosing the bag was uncertain because you never knew what was in the bag – you might get a trip to Fiji or a paper clip

 

The choice was pretty easy at the beginning – “$5, the money or the bag?”

–         Most people chose the bag at that stage

–         But as the money offered got higher the choice became harder

–         By the time Selwyn was saying “$500, the money or the bag?”, the contestant was thinking pretty hard about their choice

–         (You have to remember that in the 1970’s $500 was a more considerable sum than it is today)

–         The interesting thing was that most of the time the audience were telling the contestant to take the bag, even though the prize was unseen

–         Choosing the bag was an act of faith in that one was choosing what they could not see, rather than settling for what they could see

–         To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see [1]

 

Last week we heard how Abram was tested by famine and didn’t respond so well

–         Nevertheless God blessed Abram and he left Egypt a rich man

–         This week we hear how Abram deals with the test of prosperity

–         You might not think that prosperity is much of a test but actually it can be a more subtle and dangerous temptation than poverty

 

Abram’s nephew Lot had gone to Egypt with his uncle and had also become wealthy through his association with Abram

–         When Abram & Lot return to Canaan they have so much livestock there isn’t enough grazing land to sustain their flocks

–         Consequently, Abram & Lot’s herdsmen started having arguments over pasture – they were afraid of missing out on grass

–         What will Abram do to solve the problem this time?

–         Will he repeat the mistakes he made in Egypt or will he learn from them?

–         Well, in Genesis 13, it appears Abram has learned from his mistakes

–         In an act of practical faith and love, Abram says to his nephew Lot…

 

“We are relatives, and your men and my men shouldn’t be quarrelling. So let’s separate. Choose any part of the land you want. You go one way and I’ll go the other.”

 

Sometimes separation is a bad thing, it’s destructive

–         And other times it is a good thing, it’s creative

–         Good separation is about creating healthy boundaries that bring order and function to relationships – like when God separated light & darkness, land & sea and so on to bring order to the cosmos in Genesis 1

 

Abram had the wisdom to see that separating and establishing clear boundaries was the most sensible option available to them

–         If he and Lot didn’t separate it was just a matter of time before tensions escalated and someone got hurt

–         The catch was deciding how to divide up the land (or where the boundaries would lie) so the separation was amicable and there were no further disputes in the future

–         Abram’s solution was to empower Lot by inviting him to choose first – that way Lot could never turn around later and cry ‘unfair’

 

There is no deception or self-interest on Abram’s part, as there had been in Egypt

–         Abram was Lot’s uncle and therefore his social superior

–         Abram was also richer and more powerful than Lot

–         So on all counts he could have simply told Lot to take a hike and chosen the best land for himself – but he doesn’t

–         Abram follows the golden rule of loving your neighbour as yourself and treating others the way you want to be treated (this was before the golden rule had been articulated)

–         Abram puts peace before personal gain

–         He does not seize the best land for himself, he submits the choice to Lot

–         He does not grab, he gives. He does not take, he waits

 

If this was a game of “It’s in the bag”, then Abram chose the bag (the unseen)

–         He didn’t know what Lot would choose

 

There was some risk involved with what Abram did here

–         Before going down to Egypt God had promised the land of Canaan to Abram

–         What if Lot had chosen to go toward Canaan?

–         What would become of God’s promise then?

 

But Abram doesn’t worry about that – he simply trusts God to work it out

–         God has made the promise and so God is able to find a way to fulfil that promise

–         This shows that Abram is trusting God and not relying on himself

–         Not forcing his way but letting God open the way for him

 

As John Walton notes…

–         “Abram gave up a chance for the land, eventually to gain the land” [2]

–         Just like David gave up a chance for the crown (by sparing Saul’s life), eventually to gain the crown

–         Just as Christ (when tempted by Satan) gave up a chance for the kingdoms of this world, eventually to gain God’s kingdom, something far greater

 

This is often how it is with God – he promises us something but he doesn’t give it to us straight away – he makes us wait

–         And while we are waiting we may see opportunities for a short cut to God’s promise

–         But God’s promise is not an entitlement (it is not ours by right)

–         The land, the crown, the kingdom (heaven) – they are all gifts

–         They can’t be earned or demanded or taken by force

–         They can only be received by faith

–         The fulfilment of God’s promise comes to us as a gift, not by graft

 

Eric Liddell was a man of Christian faith

–         He was also a great runner

–         His athletic ability led him to the pinnacle of his sport when he qualified to represent Scotland in the 1924 Paris Olympics

–         He was scheduled to run the 100 metre race but when he found that the heats were on a Sunday he refused to participate, feeling that it would dishonour the Lord’s day

–         Eric Liddell was criticised for this – he came under much pressure from some pretty influential people, including the then Prince of Wales

–         But Eric did not budge

–         Through a series of events he ended up running in the 400 metre race, which he not only won, but also set a world record in [3]

 

Now in using this illustration I’m not saying you shouldn’t play sports on Sundays – that’s a conscience issue between you and God

–         The point is: Eric Liddell didn’t short cut his values or beliefs

–         Yes, he wanted to win – but not at any cost, not like that

–         Eric Liddell trusted God and gave up the opportunity for a gold medal in the 100 metres, eventually to receive a gold medal in the 400

–         Sort of like Abram trusted God and gave up the opportunity for the best of the land, only to receive the land in promise to his descendants

 

Okay, so that was Abram’s choice – he went with the bag (the unseen)

–         What about Lot, what did he choose?

–         Well, it seems he went with the money – that is, with what he could see

 

Lot’s choice:

In verse 10 we read…

–         Lot looked round and saw that the whole Jordan Valley, all the way to Zoar, had plenty of water, like the Garden of the Lord or like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord had destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose the whole Jordan Valley for himself and moved away towards the east.

 

The Jordan Valley, chosen by Lot, appears to be on the south eastern edge of the Promised Land, or perhaps just beyond it – so Lot did not choose Canaan

–         Now you will remember that Lot’s father died and Abram took Lot under his wing, protecting and providing for him

–         As we’ve already noted, Abram was Lot’s superior so one might half expect Lot to defer to his kindly uncle

–         We might think Lot would say, ‘Thanks uncle, that’s a generous offer but I’ll let you choose first’ – yet he doesn’t do this.

–         Instead Lot chooses the best land for himself

–         The Jordan Valley was well watered by streams and brooks and springs from the base of the Jordanian rift – so if it didn’t rain there was still a water supply to grow pasture and refresh flocks

–         By contrast, the land left to Abram, where Bethel & Hebron are located, depend upon the Lord to send rain [4] – so without rain there is famine

–         Living in Canaan required more faith in God than living in Jordan

 

The text doesn’t explicitly criticise Lot for his choice – after all, by choosing to move away from Canaan, Lot left the Promised Land available for Abram

–         At the same time the text does indicate in subtle ways that Lot’s choice wasn’t good from a spiritual point of view

–         Verse 11 tells us Lot moved East which raises a red flag for us the reader

–         So far in Genesis, to move east is to move away from God

–         For example, in Genesis 4 when Cain killed Abel, we read that Cain went away from the Lord’s presence to the east of Eden

–         So Lot’s moving east associates him with Cain

–         Another clue that Lot has chosen poorly is found in verses 12 & 13 of Genesis 13 where we are told Lot settled near the city of Sodom, whose people were wicked and sinned against the Lord

–         Wide is the path and broad the way that leads to destruction

–         But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life [5]

–         Lot chose the wide path and not the narrow road

 

Abram chose by faith (not seeing) whereas Lot chose by sight – by what looked good to his eyes – but appearances can be deceiving

–         It’s like Bob Dylan said, “What looks large from a distance up close ain’t never that big”

 

God’s choice:

If this was a game of “It’s in the bag” then Abram has chosen the bag, Lot has chosen the money and God has chosen Abram

–         In verses 14-17 the Lord spoke to Abram re-affirming his promise…

 

14 …“From where you are, look carefully in all directions. 15 I am going to give you and your descendants all the land that you see, and it will be yours forever. 16 I am going to give you so many descendants that no one will be able to count them all; it would be as easy to count all the specks of dust on earth! 17 Now, go and look over the whole land, because I am going to give it all to you.”

 

The technical word when God chooses someone is ‘election’

–         Not election in the sense of a democratic process

–         But election in the sense of divine appointment, divine choice

 

God’s choice of Abram came first, even though we are talking about it last

–         It was God’s choice (his promise to bless Abram) that gave Abram the faith to leave his home to come to a land he had not seen

–         It was God’s choice (his election of Abram) that gave Abram the faith to allow Lot first pick of the land

–         God’s choice of Abram enabled Abram’s faith in the first place

–         If Abram hadn’t known beforehand that God was going to provide for him he may have been less generous with Lot

 

We are often driven by a belief in scarcity – we are afraid of missing out

–         Both Abram & Lot’s herdsmen were afraid of missing out on grass for their flocks

–         When we are kids and there is a lolly scramble we rush to grab as many sweets as we can

–         Or when we are driving and someone cuts us off or steals our park we might get angry with them

–         One of the reasons that house prices are so high is our fear of missing out

–         Fear that we won’t be chosen just keeps driving the price up

–         I could go on but you get the point, our fear of missing out affects our behaviour in negative ways

–         It makes us less compassionate and more competitive

 

But when we know that God has chosen us for something good we have faith it will work out – that God will provide enough for everyone

–         We may have to wait – we may not get what we want straight away but our underlying belief becomes one of abundance, not scarcity and the peace which comes from faith is our guide

–         Easier said than done – I know

 

God’s instruction to walk through the land is significant

–         In the Ancient Near East kings asserted their right to rule their territory by symbolically tracing out its boundaries

–         The instruction for Abram to walk through the land therefore symbolises Abram’s legal acquisition of it [6]

–         The implication here is that land belongs to the Lord Almighty and it is his to allocate as he sees fit

 

As in chapter 12, when God appeared to Abram at Shechem, so here in chapter 13 Abram’s response to the Lord’s promise is worship

–         After surveying the land Abram settles at Hebron, where he builds an altar to the Lord

 

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard about three choices

–         Abram’s choice to trust God with what he could not see

–         Lot’s choice to take the easy money and run

–         And God’s choice which makes faith possible in the first place

 

Abram’s behaviour in Genesis 13 reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 5,

–         Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

 

We often think of meekness as weakness or timidity when the opposite is true

–         The meek are not weak – they are often very powerful and courageous

–         But their power is not reckless or self-serving – it is controlled and compassionate

–         The meek are capable of showing great restraint and putting others first

–         By God’s grace Abram is meek in his dealing with Lot and Abram inherits the land

 

Reflection / discussion questions:

 

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

 

2.)    Imagine you are a contestant in the show “It’s in the bag”. At what point do you choose the money over the bag, or do you always choose the bag?

–         Why do you think Abram chose the bag (the unseen)?

 

3.)    How does Abram handle the conflict created by his and Lot’s prosperity?

–         When is separation a good thing?

–         How did Abram ensure an amicable separation with Lot?

 

4.)    How does the text indicate that Lot’s choice was not good?

 

5.)    God chose (elected) Abram.

–         How did God’s choice (election) of Abram enable Abram’s faith?

 

6.)    How might a belief in scarcity (that there isn’t enough to go around) affect our behaviour?

–         How might a belief in abundance (that God has provided enough for everyone) affect our behaviour?

 

7.)    How does the beatitude ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ relate to Abram?

–         What other beatitudes might relate to Abram?

 

[1] Hebrews 11:1

[2] John Walton, NIVAC ‘Genesis’, page 435.

[3] Eric Liddell’s story is used in reference to Abram in John Walton’s NIVAC commentary on Genesis, page 435.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 221.

[5] Matthew 7:13-14

[6] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, pages 222-223.

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