Rev. Izzy Harbin
Genesis 13:8-12,14-18 God's Promise to Abram
8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. 9 Is 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 to the left.” 10 Lot looked about him and saw that the plain of the Jordan 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 had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. 11 So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward; thus, they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom.
14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.
In our passage for this Sunday, we have another occasion where separation is occurring, this time between Abram and Lot. After spending time in Egypt during one of the many famines that seem to occur during the early history of the Israelite people, Lot and Abram must decide where to settle. Lot, in surveying the land, saw the bounty before him in the plain of Jordan near Sodom and Gomorrah and chose to settle there. Abram settled in the land of Canaan.
While not obvious, this separation sets Abram up for his next encounter with God. When God tells Abram to leave Ur, his homeland, God intends to lead him to a particular destination. Abram, Lot, and others leave Ur of the Chaldeans, their homeland, and intend to go all the way to Canaan but stopped in Haran. We don’t know how long Abram, Lot, and the others were in Haran, but God comes to Abram and says, “Time to go.” Abram and Lot pack up their things and head on to Canaan, their original destination. When they arrived, God told Abram that all that he could see would become a possession for Abram’s people. When famine strikes the land, they traveled down to Egypt. Upon return, Abram and Lot must now divide their households because the land will not support both of them. Without any prodding from Abram, Lot chooses to take the land in the plain of Jordan. God’s plan for Abram is thus fulfilled in that he settles once again in the land of Canaan.
It is critical to know that the land where Abram settles is already occupied. The Canaanites were generous with Abram and allowed him to settle in their land. This was how God intended for it to be. From chapter 11 up to chapter 15 we read about the various movements of Abram and Lot and their families, the famine and retreat to Egypt, the return of Abram and Lot, the settling of Abram and Lot in two different locations, the kidnapping of Lot and his possessions, and how Abram orchestrated a rescue and in the process received a blessing from the King Melchizedek of Salem who met Abram and Lot upon their return saying, “Blessed by Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
It was after this blessing and after everything returned to “normal” that God returned to Abram (in chapter 15) and blessed Abram, made a covenant with Abram, and changed Abram’s name to Abraham.
Why did Abram and Lot need to separate? What is it about this separation that furthers God’s agenda here on earth?
The text is vague, but a careful reading helps us see that each of these men needed to become independent of one another. They each had their own role to play in establishing the people of Israel. Lot’s role would be diminished while Abram’s role would be heightened. It was always about Abram, and Abram’s ability to continue loving God regardless of the circumstances.
At it simplest, the writers of the text portray God as a promise keeper. God told Abram that he would lead him and guide him to a land that would become a perpetual holding for him and his people. He did not promise this to Lot. The covenant God made was with Abram, not Lot. The fulfilment of the covenant comes through Abram’s faithfulness, not Lot’s. Abram consistently chose the path of righteousness, of being in right relationship with God, while Lot was more concerned about physical comfort and gain.
In the one verse that I left out of the passage for this week, it interjects rather abruptly that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked. It might be that this tidbit of information is provided to us as a way of understanding the heart of Lot and his motivations for choosing the plain of the Jordan. Yes, the land was choice land, but why would anyone want to position themselves near a wicked people unless they saw it as an opportunity to grow and prosper among them.
God also uses this separation between Abram and Lot to clearly define their stories as they move in different directions. Abram becomes the father of all nations. Lot’s story takes a dramatic turn when he loses his wife during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroys his family unit when his daughters violate their father. We can look at these events and see how Lot’s life takes a dramatic turn from the parallel path of Abram. It is as if we are seeing two halves of the same coin.
The story of Abram is critical to our understanding of our own calling. It isn’t always clear where God is telling us to go, but he has invited us to journey together. We don’t always see a clear path to our future, sometimes we must make pitstops along the way, or journey to another land because of famine. But eventually, God brings us to the place he has called us to reside. God is showing us, even now, that if we are faithful, space will be provided for us. With every step we take, we are following God’s plan for our lives, personally and corporately as a church. These are exciting times. We have been given a unique opportunity to experience God up close and personal through this journey. As we pay attention, listen to God’s call, and follow without hesitation, I believe, just like Abram, we’ll make our way to the promised land.
At the time when Abram is blessed by King Melchizedek, the King of Sodom is also present. Abram, out of generosity to the blessing of King Melchizedek, gives him 10% of all he owns. The King of Sodom wants the people, but not the goods. Recognizing the trap created by the King of Sodom, Abram proclaims, “I have sworn to the Lord, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say ‘ I have made Abram rich.’” Abram was clear he didn’t want to have anything to do with the King of Sodom or anything that was wicked.
The offering he gave to Kick Melchizedek, however, was an offering of good will. King Melchizedek didn’t ask for anything but received a return blessing for his own generosity.
This trait, central to the figure of Abram, is a trait that should be instilled in all of us, that of generosity of spirit. In the ancient world, the idea of sharing of one’s possessions was key to the success of any community. When all shared of their possessions, the whole community thrived. The promise to Abram from God for the possession of land in Canaan wasn’t just about blessing Abram with something that he would keep for himself, but it was about blessing the whole of the community yet to come. The promise, the covenant, made with Abram was about the whole community’s survival and ability to thrive in a foreign land.
There are so many lessons we can take from God’s interactions with Abram. We may not be transporting hundreds of people across the desert with countless livestock and provisions, but we are traveling together toward something new; something important for the life of our whole community. Just as Abram called on the whole community to help rescue Lot from his captors, we call on the whole community to participate in the unfolding of God’s kingdom in our midst. We pray that the whole community of First Congregational Church will be joined together for the promises that God has in store for us.