Physical SCARCITY and emotional STRIFE are litmus tests of our heart.
They prove whether our faith is resting in God alone, or propped up by his blessings. They expose the false gods of the heart and reveal our insecurities and discontentment. Scarcity and strife force us into a decision: To choose for ourselves, or trust God to choose on our behalf.
Abram and Lot faced these litmus tests in Genesis 13 when their herdsmen were in conflict over scarce land and resources. Abram’s dealings with Lot show the fruit of genuine repentance and a growing faith. Although the entire land was rightfully his, Abram did not consider it his right to hold close to his chest. Instead, he risked losing the best portions of land to Lot, “entrusting himself to (God) who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Through this family conflict, Abram proved that He trusted God as his shield and his very great reward (Gen 15:1). His peace efforts were motivated by GRACE, rather than by PRIDE or FEAR. Abram was confident of his place in God’s family and chose God’s blessing over what he could see with his eyes or grasp with his hands. As for Lot, he selfishly chose for himself, based on what his eyes desired.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Our text is Genesis 13:
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.
5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company:12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.
14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord. (Gen 13)
The fruit of genuine repentance
Abram’s faith is a work in progress. In the previous scene, famine and fear propelled him into hasty schemes in Egypt when he chose to trust himself instead of Yahweh (Gen 12:10-20). After grasping at every straw of self-protection, Abram left Egypt in a cloud of disgrace. Today however, we get a snapshot of a repentant man who returns to his previous altar and calls again on the name of the Lord (Gen 13:3-4). Abram shows us that repentance is the only way back when we have backslidden or wandered from the Great Shepherd of our souls. A humbled Abram once again places his confidence in the Lord’s promises and treats his nephew, Lot, with the same undeserved grace that Yahweh showed toward him.
Abram offered Lot an olive branch plucked from the tree of grace.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).
Genesis 13 is a cameo of a peacemaker in action. It is also a picture of the gospel of grace two thousand years before Christ was born.
Lot should have deferred to his uncle since he owed his existence to Abram (Gen 11:27-28), but in response to this insult, Abram held out an olive branch to his nephew. He overlooked Lot’s offence and gave up his legitimate right to all the land for the sake of reconciliation. Abram valued family relationships more than wealth, pride or status. He took the initiative to be a peacemaker even though he was the older, wiser and more powerful man (Gen 13:8-9).
It is impossible to make sense of Abram’s generous response when we consider Mesopotamian culture, which gave a patriarch absolute authority over his household.
Yet, against the grain of human nature and his culture, Abram repaid Lot’s insult with blessing. Perhaps it had something to do with his recent experience of the grace and forgiveness of God.
Abram responded as a man who knew that he was the heir of God’s blessing which he valued more than anything (1 Peter 3:9; 14). His eyes gazed beyond tents, grass and soil– to a heavenly country –“the city with foundations whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10; 16). Even without Scripture to read and before the law of Moses, Abram knew these Biblical truths: “Whoever would love life and see good days…let him seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11). “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:17-18; 19-21).
Unlike Lot, Abram was not ruled by what his eyes saw, but believed that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (1 Peter 3:12).
Abram did not act out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but rather, in humility, valued Lot above himself (Phil 2:3-4). Abram could not have imagined that his descendant would be the Lord Jesus himself “who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”(Phil 2:6; 7; 8). Abram unwittingly had the same mindset as Christ Jesus in his dealings with Lot.
Abram became a minister of reconciliation, just as we are entrusted to be. Our motive for peacemaking is God’s grace, which has been lavished on us when we least deserved it:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18-19).
Lot chose for himself.
Verse 10 and 11 are pregnant with irony. Lot allowed his worldly eyes to be his guide. Just as Eve “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye”, Lot’s desires ruled him (Gen 3:6). Instead of seeking the counsel of God or Abram, He chose the best land for himself because he could see how lush it was, “like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt”. Ironically, it was Abram’s faithless sojourn in Egypt that had given Lot a taste for the plains of the Jordan.
The land of Lot’s choice was physically fertile, but spiritually barren.
Sodom and Gomorrah’s wickedness is an echo of Genesis 6:5 which describes the great sin of the human race before God destroyed the world with a flood. Verse 10 is an omen of what lay ahead for Lot. He may have initially camped near Sodom, but the next we hear of Lot, he has permanently settled inside the city of Sodom, along with his family. Sin is progressive.
Lot chose to sow his seed in Sodom, and he and his family reaped more wickedness than they could handle (Gen 14:12; 19:4-5; 6-8; Gen 19:30-33). It is impossible to miss the very real danger Christians face when we allow ourselves and our children to set up ‘camp’ close to wickedness as Lot did. We cannot avoid living in the world, but we will not survive as Christians if we allow our culture’s passions, possessions and power to captivate our eyes and our hearts. Lot teaches us that we must remain holy and separate from the rebellion of our culture. Do we realize how much our choices affect our families and future generations? Do we trust the Lord’s choice for our lives, or do we choose for ourselves?
Living by faith and not by sight
Because Abram was not mesmerised by “all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life”, God lifted his eyes to the horizon to survey the land He had picked out for him and his offspring (1 John 2:16; Gen 13:14-17). Like an estate agent, he invited Abram to walk the length and breadth of the land and told Abram that there would be no purchase price for this property: “I am giving it to you” (Gen 13:17). It would be another 25 years before Sarah would give birth to Isaac, the first seed of the promise, and about 470 years before Abram’s descendants would finally cross the Jordan river to take possession of Canaan (Josh 14:7; 24:29). Abram lived by faith and not by sight.
Live it out!
Do you see it as your role to be a channel of peace and reconciliation in your family, church and community, as Abram was? Read these New Testament passages and ask how you can practically be a peacemaker.
Father, give me faith to desire a better country—a heavenly one. Give me eyes to see beyond appearances, conflict and scarcity to your faithful provision and promises. Give me eyes of faith to see that that you alone are my shield and my very great reward. Help me to humble myself under your mighty hand, so that I will make the first move towards peace where there is strife and entrust myself to you–the one who judges justly.