Adventures in Faith - Abraham 3. Dancing With the Devil
Genesis 13 God often reveals himself to us in a crisis situation. None of us would choose to go through a crisis in order to learn more about God. But we rarely have a choice. But we do have a choice about whether we will learn from a crisis and use it as an opportunity to grow closer to God.
In our study of the life of Abraham, we have come to one of those crisis moments. It happens just as he and Sarah return from their ill-fated trip to Egypt to escape the famine. While there, he had lied to save his life. The lie worked for a while until God intervened. Then Abraham was forced to leave the country after having been publicly humiliated by the Pharaoh. But he left a much richer man than he came. In spite of his sin, God had blessed him with great wealth in Egypt. It is his great wealth that will now bring him great trouble.
1. The Problem: Quarreling and Fighting v. 1 - 7 If Abraham hadn't gone to Egypt in the first place, he wouldn't have this problem now. It's his compromise and deceit that made him and Lot so rich that they could no longer live together. The Bible tells us that the land could not support both of them. Evidently the Canaanites and the Perizzites controlled most of Palestine, which meant that Abraham and Lot had to live in the neglected areas. That would have been no problem when they were middle class herdsmen, but now that they have moved up the ladder, they both need some breathing room. In this case the problem is having too much money. The herdsmen didn't start quarreling until the flocks got too big. When they were both middle-class herdsmen, everyone was happy.
For the Love of Money Money is good, and we need it, but it doesn't solve everything. In fact, some of the unhappiest people I know are people with more money than they know what to do with. Money in and of itself isn't evil. But the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It stirs up trouble, breaks up marriages, destroys friendships, ruins businesses, splits partners, corrupts families and divides churches. The Bible gives 4 prominent reasons for fighting among the people of God: " Excessive Prosperity - Genesis 13 " Arrogance and Pride - Romans 14 " Selfish Ambition - Matthew 20: 20 - 28 " Moral Compromise - Joshua 7
4 facts to recall when you are faced with a quarreling Christian: " Satan loves to divide the saints and sow discord among the brethren. " God commands us to keep the unity of the Spirit because it is a testimony to the watching world. " The Bible warns against those who would destroy that unity through greed, pride, slander, gossip and innuendo. " Such individuals should be warned and if they do not repent, they should be removed from the body.
These are strong words, but I am persuaded that they are absolutely biblical. When sin is tolerated and not judged, it spreads like a cancer and the whole body is harmed. There are times when you have to put principles ahead of friendship. Love must be tough enough to stand against moral evil even when it comes from those we love the most. Sometimes you simply can't live together in peace. Obviously, we ought to do everything possible to solve our problems, but sometimes our best just isn't good enough. This side of heaven we aren't always going to see things eye to eye. In that case, it is better to separate than to go on fighting continually. That's what happened to Abraham and Lot.
2. The Solution: Dividing the Land v. 8, 9 In this case, the crucial question is, Who's going to make the first move? It's at this point that we see Abraham's greatness. Somebody's got to step in and stop this nonsense but it won't be Lot. He's too worried about getting the best land for himself. Even though Abraham had the right to choose first, he gives up his right in order to settle the conflict. "For we are brothers" - Most of our problems in the church would be solved if we would just remember those 4 little words. We tend to forget that in the heat of battle, don't we? Somehow brothers become adversaries and friends become enemies. Abraham's solution is the only one that will work under the circumstances: "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." There's no need to quarrel because Canaan is big enough for both of them. But in the end, they couldn't stay together. So Abraham offers Lot his unrestricted choice of the land. By human standards, this makes no sense. Why did he do such a thing? A. He wanted to solve the problem peacefully. B. He was willing to lose in the short run in order to keep the peace in the long run. C. He believed that God would take care of him no matter what happened.
To get ahead, you've got to climb to the top, look out for number one, win through intimidation, dress for success and learn the tricks of the trade. But the world's way and God's way couldn't be more different. God showed us his way at Bethlehem. Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross" Philippians 2: 8 The way up is down! When will we learn this simple truth? Sometimes you have to lose in order to win. Often you must go down in order to rise.
3. The Choice: Sodom vs. Canaan v. 10 - 13 So now Lot can choose any part of the Promised Land. North, South, East, West-it doesn't matter. It's like winning the toss in cricket. The choice is his. It seemed to Lot that the Jordan valley was like the Eden come to life before his very eyes. As he gazed, he saw lush fields for his cattle, plenty of room for vineyards, vast open areas for houses and above all else, he saw that there was plenty of water. So Lot makes his choice based on the availability of water. As he and Abraham part company, Lot moves toward Sodom while Abraham moved toward Hebron. One man went east, the other west.
Who Won? Who got the better of this deal? From outward appearances, it certainly looked like Lot won. After all, he got the best land and Abraham had to take what was left. But Lot "pitched his tents near Sodom." You can't compromise with evil and come away clean. You can't sleep in the sewer without getting dirty. You can't dance with the devil without paying the devil's price.
You Can't Dance With the Devil By choosing to live near Sodom, Lot was exposing himself and his family to gross moral evil. I'm sure if you asked him beforehand, he would have defended himself by saying that he never intended to make friends with the men of Sodom. He only lived there because that's where the best land was. Either he was ignorant of the sin of Sodom or he just didn't care. But if he didn't know, he should have known because the men of Sodom reveled in their perversity. Moral compromise often begins with a tiny step in the wrong direction. No one ever intends to fall into sin. But it happens so subtly that before we know it, our lives are entangled in a web of deceit and iniquity. James 1: 14, 15 graphically pictures the steps to spiritual death: "But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." Mark the progression carefully: Temptation - Desire - Sin - Death
Stepping Toward the Light What starts with a fleeting thought, if not immediately resisted, progresses into action, which leads to sin, which results in death. By the way, don't ever let anyone tell you that temptation is wrong. Temptation isn't wrong, it's normal. If you're not ever tempted, you're already dead! Each temptation of life brings you face to face with a moral choice. Either you give in or you stand your ground and say no. Each time you give in-even a little bit-you grow weaker, and each time you resist-even a little bit-you grow stronger. Where did Lot go wrong? He made his choice based only on what he could see at the moment. Because he couldn't "see" the evil of Sodom, it didn't bother him at all. Because his eyes were filled with the desire for the lush fields of the Jordan Valley, he made the wrong choice and paid for it dearly. Later on, he would lose everything he had and barely escape with his own life when God finally judged Sodom.
4. The Aftermath: God Speaks Again v. 14 - 18 Abraham must have been amazed when he heard this. God now speaks to the very point of his need. First, he promises to give Abraham all the land. Second, he promises to give Abraham descendants so numerous that no one could ever count them all. Third, he encouraged Abraham to go take a prayer walk through Canaan and survey the land the Lord was giving him. Think about this. Lot has chosen the best land, but God promises to give all of it to Abraham. He and Sarah have no children, but God promises a descendants like the dust of the earth. The wicked Canaanites control the land, but God is giving it to Abraham.
God Honours Those Who Honour Him What is the significance of all this? Two points come quickly to mind. First, God has made an eternal promise to the Jews that they will live in the Promised Land. The Promised Land belongs to Israel and to no one else. God signed over the title deed 4000 years ago, and no one can take it away. Second, God honours those who yield their rights because they believe in God's promises. If you're looking for a big application, here it is. Because Abraham didn't demand his own way, God gave him back everything he lost and then some. Who "won"? Did Lot win? Well, I think it's fair to point out that as this story ends, you might argue that Lot did in fact win. After all, he's got the best land. But Abraham's got the Lord. That reminds me a story that Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa likes to tell. "When the white man came to Africa, we had the land and he had the Bible. But now we have the Bible and he has the land. We shall see who got the better deal." That's exactly what Genesis 13 is teaching us. You may win in the eyes of the world, but end up losing everything. Jesus asked "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?". (Mark 8:36). Lot won in the short run, but his victory didn't last long. Abraham won in the long run. He got all the land anyway, and he also ended up with the Lord. God gives the best to those who leave the choice to him.