Post Series on Genesis 13:1-18:
- Picking up the Pieces After Sin By Promise (Genesis 13:1-4)
- Leaning on God’s Sovereignty and Grace By Promise (Genesis 13:8-13)
- Living and Walking with God By Promise (Genesis 13:14-18)
In Genesis 12, we read about how the great giant of the faith Abraham wilfully disobeys God’s command to be in the Promised Land by going to Egypt to escape a trial by famine. So now in Genesis 13, after Abraham received God’s fatherly discipline by having his sin exposed and rebuked by the pagan Pharaoh, he faces the task of picking up the pieces after his sin.
The story we read, though, is not a strange, out-of-the-ordinary experience for believers. Christianity is not–cannot–be about perfection. The question is not whether we will fail, but how we will fail, and, especially, how we will respond. Will our guilt, shame, and pride force us deeper into sin, or will we willingly embrace God’s grace and return to following him obediently?
The answer does not depend on our good intentions to do better, nor even in the depth of our remorse. Rather, the answer hinges on God’s promise to us. God promises that if we confess our sins, he will be faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God gives us grace to pick up the pieces after sin by promise.
Returning to Where We Left the Road
In Genesis 13:1-4, we read:
1So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.
2Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.
5And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. (Gen. 13:1-7)
In v. 1, we learn that Lot had accompanied Abram into Egypt. Not only did Abram put himself, his wife, Pharaoh, and God’s covenant promises in jeopardy, but Abram put his nephew Lot in jeopardy as well.
And, in v. 2, we are reminded of the wealth that Abram gained in Egypt (cf. Gen. 12:16, 20). While God was gracious to bless Abram in spite of his sin, that wealth will get Abram into trouble, as we will discuss tomorrow.
But what is fascinating here is that Abram returns not simply to the Promised Land of Canaan, but specifically to the place that he had pitched his tent and “made an altar at the first,” between Bethel and Ai.
Personally and spiritually, this place had deep significance for Abram, as it marked a major milestone in his faithful obedience to YHWH. There is also, however, a figurative significance for us, as the story here reminds us that when we stray from obedience to God, we must return to the place where we left the road rather than trying to plow ahead forward, hoping to find the road somewhere along the way.
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
We have all seen this when doing arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start again, the faster I shall get on.
There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plan that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 28-29)
For us, this means repentance (a word that literally means “to turn”). We need not only to repent to God from our sin, but also to repent from our sin to those we have hurt or neglected along the way–all the way back to the beginning of where we originally went off the road.
And until we have done that, we cannot really return to serving and worshiping the Lord. Jesus himself said:
23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Turn. Repent. Return to where you left the road. Make amends. Reconcile with anyone who has anything against you.
And then, return to worship.
Returning to Worship
The practical reason for Abram’s returning to the place between Bethel and Ai was that he had built his first altar to YHWH there. So, as soon as he arrived, we read that he “called upon the name of the LORD” at the altar–which meant that Abram began again to worship by sacrifice and by proclamation. (Recall that the phrase “called upon the name of the LORD” also signifies that Abram “called forth the name of the LORD” in the sight of the watching Canaanites.)
This is no small detail. Not only was it critical for Abram to return to worshiping YHWH for the sake of his own spiritual condition, but his single-most influential missionary activity was witnessing by offering right worship to the true, living God. Abram was engaged in the mission of God by offering worship in the sight of the Canaanites.
The worst thing that we can do when we feel guilty is to refrain from worshiping YHWH. God calls us to worship him not as perfect people who boldly come before him our own merits, but as an imperfect, sinful people who have been cleansed and have received the perfect righteousness imputed from Jesus Christ himself.
Believe the promises, and return to worshiping the Lord.
Returning to Face our Problems
And yet, in Abram’s story, we do not read about “happily ever after.” Abram returns in obedience to God, and he returns to right worship of the true God, but he returns to face problems–new problems and old problems.
In v. 5-7, we read that Abram and Lot had newly acquired so much wealth (much of it in Egypt; cf. Gen. 12:16) that the land they shared could not support both of them. As we will see tomorrow, this resulted in splitting up this family and sending Lot to Sodom, the single-most devastating choice that Lot made in his entire life.
But also, we read in v. 7 that the old problems of enemies in the land had not changed–and in fact, it seems that the problem had become worse. In Gen. 12:6 we read that “At that time the Canaanites were in the land,” but here in v. 7 we read that “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.” Not fewer but more enemies!
Picking Up the Pieces After Sin–By Promise
So, if Abram had to undergo the pain of repenting from his sin, dealing with family strife, and living under the looming shadow of his enemies, what caused him to return at all?
Quite simply, Abram was living by promise. God had promised him the land of Canaan, and Abram was willing to walk by faith (however fledglingly at times) to receive that promise. He didn’t know what God might do along the way, and he didn’t know how God would handle the consequences for his own sin as he had abandoned that promise for a time by going to Egypt, but Abram was willing to walk according to faith in God’s promise.
Today, we are living by God’s promise that we are to inherit Jesus Christ himself in the new heavens and the new earth. The promise of that pearl of great price ought to motivate us to sell everything we have–and to face the pain and difficulty of picking up the pieces after we sin–in order to get Jesus.
May God give us the grace to pursue hard after Christ regardless of the cost, to run that we might win the promised Prize.