Gen 13:1 – 4
So Abram went “up” from Egypt to the Negev (the southern desert region in the land of Canaan), where he was prior to going “down” into Egypt. He went with his wife and all his possessions, and Lot went with him. Why does Lot persist in the drama following Abram about everywhere he went? Because Moses, the author of Genesis (which is the book of beginnings), is trying to keep track for his audience the ancestry and origin of two adversarial neighboring nations to Israel that would come out of Lot’s incestuous relations with his daughters in Gen 19:36-38 – Amon and Moab.
So Abram with God’s help and favor had become wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
In verse 3 and 4, Moses again recasts for his immediate audience (the children of Israel on their way to enter into their promised land – Canaan) the picture of their father Abram travelling from place to place between Bethel and Ai (Joshua 7:2) within Canaan, the land they were about to go in and take over. And here Abram retraces his steps back to the first Alter that he had built.
There Abram called on the name of the LORD; and this was not some casual mindless ritualistic religious routine, but a seeking with the earnestness, ferventness, and single minded devotion of one who had no other source of help except from the LORD who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2). Like the Psalmist whose bones and life wasted away with groanings when his fellowship with God was broken (Psalm 32:3-6), so was Abram in the lack of fulfilment, fear, and emptiness that he felt within until he turned aside, abandoning all else, to cry out to the Rock that is higher than all human devices (Psalm 61:1-3). This is how to heal a fainting – depressed heart, and how to take firm refuge from any foe, under the shadow of His everlasting wings (Psalm 63:7).
Is it any wonder why we do not have it written anywhere that Abram’s nephew Lot, or that his wife Sarai called upon the name of the Lord? Well, the text does not explicitly say that they did not; but sometimes close family and friends of those who have an intimate relationship with God can chose to remain but visitors and acquaintances to the Lord’s presence and fellowship, and yet choose to rejoice in the light of someone else’s spiritual fire. They knew about the Lord of Glory, but they did not know Him personally.
This is what Pastor Matthew Henry (in his concise commentary) had to say about this drama between Abram and Lot, and their herdsmen;
“Riches not only afford matter for strife, and are the things most commonly striven about; but they also stir up a spirit of contention, by making people proud and covetous. Mine and thine are the great make-bates of the world. Poverty and labor, want and wanderings, could not separate Abram and Lot; but riches did so. Bad servants often make a great deal of mischief in families and amongst neighbors, by their pride and passion, lying, slandering, and tale bearing.
What made the quarrel worse was, that the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land. The quarrels of professors are the reproach of religion, and give occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme. It is best to keep the peace, that it be not broken; but the next best is, if differences do happen, with all speed to quench the fire that is broken out. The attempt to stay this strife was made by Abram, although he was the elder and the greater man. Abram shows himself to be a man of cool spirit, that had the command of his passion, and knew how to turn away wrath by a soft answer.
Those that would keep the peace must never render railing for railing. And of a condescending spirit he was willing to beseech even his inferior to be at peace. Whatever others are for, the people of God must be for peace. Abram’s plea for peace was very powerful. Let the people of the land contend about trifles: but let none of us fall out, who knows things better, and look for a better country (Hebrews 11:16). Professors of religion should be most careful to avoid contention.
Many profess to be for peace who will do nothing towards it: not so Abram. When God condescends to beseech us to be reconciled, we may well beseech one another (2 Cor 5:20). Though God had promised Abram to give this land to his seed, yet he (Abram) offered an equal or better share to Lot, who had not an equal right; and he will not, under the protection of God’s promise, act hardly to his kinsman. It is noble to be willing to yield for peace’ sake.”
Again Pastor Matthew Henry continues;
“Abram having offered Lot the choice, he at once accepted it. Passion and selfishness make men rude. Lot looked to the goodness of the land (the well-watered plains of Sodom); therefore he doubted not that in such a fruitful soil he should certainly thrive. But what came of it? Those who, in choosing relations, callings, dwellings, or settlements, are guided and governed by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life, cannot expect God’s presence or blessing.
They are commonly disappointed even in that which they principally aim at. In all our choices this principle should rule, that is best for us which is best for our souls. Lot little considered the badness of the inhabitants. The men of Sodom were impudent, daring sinners. This was the iniquity of Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness (Ezekiel 16:49). God often gives plenty to great sinners. It has often been the vexatious lot of good men to live among wicked neighbors; and it must be more grievous, if, as Lot here, they have brought it upon themselves by a wrong choice.”
Thus we must strive to learn how to be led by God’s Spirit and the things that please Him rather than our eyes, and the current of things that are popular in this world. Abram knew that it was not the luxurious appearance of the real-estate that made him wealthy, but the fellowship and blessing of God’s covenant and abiding presence.
As soon as Lot departed from Abram, the LORD spoke to Abram, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see (including the land where Lot is presently heading to) I will give to you and your offspring forever”. “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”. “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you”.
What an assurance from God spoken to Abram who could easily, as a man, must have been tempted to feel both foolish and short-changed by this transaction that he had just had with his nephew Lot. But with such a lavish promise and reassurance like this from God, Abram returned to high spirits and proceeded in obedience to sojourn across the length and breadth of the land of Canaan.
So Abram went and lived near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron (Numbers 13:22, Joshua 10:3) where he pitched his tents. There he built and altar to the LORD. Observe here that it was Abram’s first priority to build an altar to the LORD wherever he choose to settle. And what can we learn about this and other altars which Abram built to the LORD? We believe that we can gain great insight from Exodus 20:22-26 when Moses gave the children of Israel instructions from God regarding altars.
Verse 24 says “Make an altar of earth for Me, and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle….”
Verse 25 says “If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.”
So what is an altar? The altar which Abram built? Nothing more than a heap of earth and stones, perhaps with some wood upon it to burn the sacrifice. It is not the aesthetic and ornamental design of the building itself that made it special. It is what took place at the altar, and what it represented that made the altar special. For Abram the altar was a place of offering gifts and sacrifices to God, and a place of prayer. The altar represented Abram’s consecration and devotion to God. The altar was no place for idle trifle, or casual experimentation, for as in the case of righteous Abel, the sacrifice on the altar represented Christ the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundations [katabole] of the world (Gen 4:4; Rev 13:8. Read our commentary on Genesis chapters 1 and 3). And so like Abram we too must come to the LORD’s altar, with all reverence and sense of gravity, where Christ our Passover lamb has been slain, throwing off the fleshly ways of sinful living, and walking in the Spirit-filled pattern of godly self-examination, and of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:7-8).
Obviously the prayer altar of the New Testament Christian is different for the sacrificial altars of Old Testament saints, and we are certainly not recommending that any of our readers should erect any sacrificial pile of rocks for animal sacrifice. There is no need for any other animal sacrifice since Christ has been sacrificed by the eternal Spirit of God to bring us into the fellowship of God’s sonship through faith in Him (Hebrews 10:5-10).
Life Applications from Genesis 13
1) What should we do in moments when it feels like we have lost our way? Mis-steps have been made, and we are full of uncertainty, second-guessing ourselves with fears, regrets, and unfulfillment from poor decision making? More than once Abram found himself in such a situation (Gen 13:3-4; Gen 12:8; Gen 13:18), and his best response to such situations was to go to the altar of fellowship, of prayer, of sacrifice, and of his personal consecration to God. This is also what the Psalmist did in the whole of Psalms 32 to deal with the problem of a sin-ridden conscience (verse 1-5), and to obtain protection and divine direction (verse 6-9). And the end result was always the restoration of fellowship and of rejoicing in God’s abiding presence (verse 10-11). This is the solution that we too should whole-heartedly pursue after.
2) What is our attitude in the midst of strifes, contentions, and misunderstandings concerning rights of way? And especially when the issues come up among professing Christians, and concern the issues of material gain? Genesis 13 shows us how Abram handled this clash and confrontation between his nephew Lot’s herdsmen and his. His method was not to throw more fuel into the already burning fire. Abram acted not in hastiness or in the heat of passion. A peaceful resolution was more important to Abram than the material gain concerned. Abram could only do this because he knew that Adonai was in a covenant of blessing with him. Abram was even willing to suffer loss in the transaction just to keep peace, rather than fight for his own rights which would have been the natural thing to do. Here we have Abram’s own example for our consideration, and it even aligns with what our Lord Jesus taught in the New Testament. And the truth is that God who was with Abram did not let him come out the loser in that transaction; and that same God will strengthen and hold us up as we choose the higher and godly road in resolving conflicts and disagreements.
3) Like in Abram’s case, it appears that when we separate from the wrong company, God’s guidance and directions to us become clearer. And thus we must seek the Lord constantly so that we may always remain in good company, and be separated from evil associations and influences that shut off our sensitivity to divine guidance.
4) It is not the luxurious or gorgeous adornment of our prayer altar that makes it effective and powerful. It is the priority that we give to fellowship; our attitude, our devotion, the reverence that we show to Adonai in practice. God tests our hearts (Psalm 7:9), and knows sincerity, when we truly come to the altar to find mercy and grace to help in our moments of need (Hebrews 4:16). This is a call to fellowship, to devotion, and to prayer, and we will do well to respond in the same manner that godly men in the past have responded to God’s call.
5) And what can we learn from the greedy choice of Lot, Abram’s nephew. In truth, the illusion concerning wealth is a reality in the heart of every man and woman. It is even worse when we as people are in the habit of separating the subject of money from God and the lifestyle that he demands from us. Lot’s choice for material security and wealth over fellowship with God led him to the land of Sodom, a place of grave spiritual darkness and sorrow.
So what is wealth really worth to us? Is it worth walking away fro the fellowship of the Holy spirit? We have Lot’s example here before us, and we shall see how dearly he paid for his materialistic choice. This should warn and advise us in our life’s choice as we make choices that border around choosing between mammon and God. We can learn something positive even with the negative example of Lot.
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