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Post Series on Genesis 13:1-18:

  1. Picking up the Pieces After Sin By Promise (Genesis 13:1-4)
  2. Leaning on God’s Sovereignty and Grace By Promise (Genesis 13:8-13)
  3. Living and Walking with God By Promise (Genesis 13:14-18)

As we look at Abram in Genesis 13:8-13, it’s important to remember his context. This great patriarch’s story so far has been a roller coaster of spiritual ups and downs. He began as an idol-worshiper (Joshua 24:2) whom God called by grace to leave his life behind to move across the world to the land of Canaan. Abram obeyed and worshiped the living God in the sight of the Canaanites who were in the land.

Then, at the first sign of trouble in the Promised Land, Abram flees to Egypt and tells a whopper of a lie that would have prostituted his wife out and brought all of God’s covenant promises to nothing. But then God showed up, plaguing Pharaoh until he let God’s people (Sarai, Abram’s wife) go. Innocent, pagan Pharaoh sharply rebuked Abram, forcing Abram out of Egypt and back to Canaan to pick up the pieces.

Now, Abram is faced with yet another trial: the strife between his own herdsmen and his nephew Lot’s herdsmen. And this is a trial that brings tremendous danger on everyone, for we read in Gen. 13:7 that “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.” If Abram and Lot are not able to sort out their problems, the pagans in the land would be quite happy to divide and conquer them.

Up and down, down and up. Where will Abram’s life go next?

Well-Intentioned Foolishness

Abram wants to solve the problem, but he commits one of the most well-intentioned mistakes of his entire life:

8Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go the left.” 10And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. (Genesis 13:8-13)

At first glance, this sounds like a wise solution to the problem: rather than continuing their fighting and bickering, Abram simply offers that the two men and their households divide up the land. And, as a magnanimous uncle, Abram offers Lot the first choice of the land. Many commentators approve of Abram’s move, even calling it a gesture of faith, as Abram waited upon God to give him his inheritance.

But the problem is that God’s Promised Land of Canaan was not Abram’s to give–it was Abram’s to receive. God had commanded Abram to live in Canaan, and, just as it was sin for Abram to leave Canaan in the middle of a famine to escape to Egypt, so it would have been sin to give away the Promised Land to his nephew Lot.

John Sailhamer comments:

Abraham’s separation from Lot also carries on the theme of “the promise in jeopardy.” As the story reads, Abraham is on the verge of giving the Promised Land to Lot (“If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left,” 13:9). What is particularly striking about Abraham’s offer is that, in a subsequent narrative (19:37-38), Lot is shown to be the father of the Ammonites and the Moabites. Abraham is about to hand the Promised Land over to the same people who, in the author’s own day (e.g., Nu 22-25) and throughout Israel’s subsequent history (Dt 23:3-6; Ezr 9:1), were the primary obstacle to the fulfillment of the promise. Because of Abraham, the promise now teeters on the whim of the father of the Moabites. But, as the narrative shows, Lot chose to go “east” (13:11), so Abraham remained in the land (13:12). God’s promise is secure, in spite of Abraham. (The Pentateuch as Narrative, p. 143)

Badly-Intentioned Foolishness

But as foolish as Abram was to offer Lot the choice of the Promised Land, at least his offer was well-intentioned. Lot’s choosing, on the other hand, was not so well-intentioned.

Lot made his choice by using the worst possible resources: his eyes. Instead of asking YHWH himself to guide him to his own inheritance, Lot simply chose the best portion that he could see, the well-watered land to the east. To Lot, the land in the East was “like the garden of the LORD.” The data he collected with his eyes was more than enough to make his decision.

But Moses, the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), is practically screaming his warning against going to Sodom in the text. He writes that the land was “like the land of Egypt,” a note of concern both from Genesis 12:10-20 as well as from the book of Exodus that would come next. Moreover, Moses notes that “This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” Finally, in v. 13, we read a last condemnation of Lot’s decision: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.”

Lot’s greed will cost him dearly. In the very next chapter, he is captured by the Babylonians (Amraphel the king of Shinar, which is Babylon; cf. Gen. 11:2; Dan. 1:2) and their allies–a story that would be repeated hundreds of years later. Then, in Genesis 19, God unleashes his wrath to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah off the face of the earth.

From there, Lot’s daughters become so desperate to have children because they believe that they are the last people on earth, and so they get their father drunk and sleep with him, producing Moab and Ammon, the fathers of nations that (as Sailhamer mentioned above) would plague God’s people throughout their history.

God’s Sovereignty and Grace By Promise

What a mess, huh? The deeper we get into Abraham’s story, the more we realize that we are not so much reading the shimmering, pristine story of a man who obeyed God perfectly to usher in God’s salvation by his own power. We are, in fact, reading God’s story. We see a God who makes a promise to bring salvation, and who faithfully keeps his promise even in spite of the faithlessness of his people.

God is sovereign and gracious over Lot’s foolish decision, preventing Lot from taking for himself the land that God had promised to Abram. Although Abram puts the promise in jeopardy, God works in and through the greedy sinfulness of Lot to preserve and protect his promise.

And God is even gracious to Lot, for Abram’s sake. God sends Abram to rescue Lot from the Babylonians, and God sends three messengers to pluck Lot and his family out of Sodom and Gomorrah before the fire and brimstone come.

But as we push through this story, we see God teaching Abram more and more to live by promise. Abram has been shaken by trials, by discipline, and by strife, but at every turn, God persuades Abram to live by promise.

God has promised to be faithful; Abram merely needs to trust and obey. And so, in tomorrow’s passage, we will see how God confirms and reassures his promises to Abram, encouraging and strengthening him to continue on his way, walking and living by promise.

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