Alone, but with God
- Hebrews 6:13-20
- Genesis 13:5-18
A Sunday school teacher asked if any of his students could remember an instance in Scripture of anyone making a bad decision.
“I do,” replied a boy, “Esau made a bad decision when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.”
A second said, “Judas made a bad decision when he sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver.”
A third replied, “Ananias and Sapphira made a bad decision when they sold their land and then told Peter a falsehood about it.”
A fourth observed. “Our Lord tells us that he makes a bad decision who, to gain the whole world, loses his own soul.”
Something of this last example happened in the life of both Abraham and Lot. It was Abraham’s idea to lie about Sarah in Egypt to save his own skin. By the grace of God, he and his whole company, including Lot, was saved from this lie, and brought back to the land of promise. Being back to where he belonged Abraham called upon the Name of the Lord. From the whole framework of the Scriptures one can deduce that Abraham made confession of his sins. In the tone of the lost son he went back to his father’s house only to realise that, as one commentator puts it,
“Swine-husks are often the hors d’oeuvres before the fatted calf. The only way to get back into the will of God is to go back to the very cause of the departure, confess it, forsake it, and return to the place of fellowship.” (Donald Grey Barnhouse)
Lot was with Abraham and went through the ordeal in Egypt. But later had to make a choice: he pitched his tents near Sodom. He gained the world, but lost his soul. That seems the difference between Abraham and Lot: Abraham went back to the place where he worshipped the Lord; Lot went to the place which seemed good and green and lush – but endangered his walk with the Lord.
The privileged Lot
The custom of the middle east was to adopt the son of your brother when he died. I see no reason to think that Abraham committed as sin to bring Lot along into the Promised Land in the first place. He had done what was culturally demanded of him. It is therefore reasonable to think that Lot shared in the blessings of God which he made to Abraham – not by his own choice in the first instance, but by God’s provision for him.
In a sense, then, Lot was in a very privileged situation: the childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, had someone in their household who shared what they had as if he was their own. Lot was first in line to inherit if Abraham died, because women did not have a particular high legal standing those days.
It might even be that Abraham looked at Lot like his own son. Remember, Sarah was barren. It was quite possible that Abraham interpreted God’s promise to him to have many descendants as something that will come about through Lot. At face value it was the only possible way.
In many respects Abraham specially care for Lot. The very fact that they both became rich tells the story of care from Abraham’s side. Instead of keeping everything to himself, he shared with Lot. Abraham was the older man, Lot the younger who had the future and therefore he had to be set up well to be in a position to take it further should Abraham die.
The grand plan of God
Man proposes, but God disposes. Abraham and Lot’s plans were not the plan of God.
It must have been a hard decision for Abraham to one day face Lot with a proposal to part ways, but the tension between them became untenable. We know the awkwardness which sometimes creeps into a relationship: at first it’s hard to talk about, but in the end everyone knows that the festering sore has become impossible to ignore. Maybe Abraham and Sarah spoke about this many a time when they couldn’t sleep. Did they discuss the consequence of parting ways with Lot and what it would mean in terms of the promises of God? At that stage it seemed that Lot was the only one through whom the promises would become a reality.
So, he approached Lot:
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.” (Genesis 13:9, NIV)
In this Abraham still held on the that of the promise: the whole land will eventually belong to his descendants. It was the how it would happen that changed.
Surely Abraham would have had the right to make the first choice. Lot was only the junior partner, yet he got the first choice. But Abraham had learned in Egypt that God’s choice would be the best for him.
Now the theme of Abraham’s life is developing. When, many years later, God tested his obedience to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac, on the mountains of Moriah, he said: “God will provide.” This is the language of faith, the language of one who has seen and experienced the hard knocks of disappointments of own decision-making.
There on the heights of the Judean mountains, looking down on the Jordan valley with its green pastures and all its promises, both men stood: they had choices to make.
A bad choice
The Bible pictures Lot as a man without real principles. The first choice he could make was to submit to the leadership of Abraham and order his herdsman to stop the quarrelling. He chose to follow material wealth and comfort above the company of the chosen friend of God and the blessings it would have brought him. To him everything looked like the garden of Eden, and even Egypt with it’s green pastures all along the Nile River, constantly fed by a life-giving stream of water all year round.
Isn’t it interesting that for shallow Christians things can sometimes appear to have both spiritual as well as worldly value? It’s like with the seed which that fell on the rocky ground: it sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow, but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Of these people the Lord said:
But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Mark 4:17, NIV)
We know this very well; the church has such members. They understand the power of prayer, but only when they are in need – you see them at days of prayers for rain or a national disaster, or when death and sickness have come near them. When the blue skies return to them, they disappear. They sit on two chairs and talk both languages – they see Sodom but think it is the Garden of Eden; they live in Egypt, but have friends in Paradise. If tempted by the devil they would have jumped from the mountainside trusting that angels would be there to catch them.
The promise of the evil one is a hollow promise: the green pastures soon turn into the salt pits of God’s destruction upon this world. The argument goes that they can serve God there too. Don’t the green plains of this world need witness too? The question is: Did Lot witness for the Lord while he was pitching his tents there? Do you witness for the Lord when you go there, or is it just a very convenient way of saying you can’t really make a choice to follow Christ with an undivided heart?
Both men, Abraham and Lot were rich, but Lot’s riches owned him and dictated his actions – he wanted more! What Abraham owned did not posses him – he was content with God’s choice for him. Lot eventually lost everything – even his wife – and fled the city with his tail between his legs: humiliated and only just alive. Paul writes:
… Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.(2 Timothy 4:9–10, NIV)
The word for “go one his way” is the same word used in Luke 8:14 for the seed that were choked by life’s worries. I think there is a similarity here: Demas, once a co-worker with Paul was not whole-heartedly in it: he loved the world and eventually deserted Paul and went his way. Don’t go there! Peter writes:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time (or: the rest of your life) in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1–2, ESV)
Wandering off can be a process. First, Lot just look towards Sodom. There was something in this “looking”; Abraham also saw what Lot saw, and he knew what Lot knew looking at Sodom. Lot’s looking was driven by a heart that saw worldly riches and pleasures. Secondly, he then chose to go and live “near Sodom”. Why? He also knew it was a utterly wicked city. He would not initially mix with them. Thirdly, it did not take him too long to find himself living right in the midst of them. 2Peter 2:7-8 says he was tormented by the lawlessness of the people of Sodom, but it seems his wife and daughters were not. Then, the last in this downward journey, he became part of them. Genesis 19:1 suggests that he became an elder of Sodom as he sat in the gateway of the city. The next time we see him as a refugee fleeing for his life, having lost everything but his life.
There is nothing this world has on offer which is lasting. The pie in the sky when you die does not apply to believing Christians; it applies to half-baked Christians, and those who reject the authority of God in Jesus Christ. Don’t go there!
Man proposes, but God disposes
After Lot’s departure Abraham found himself alone – but with God. If ever he had hoped that God would bring his promised blessings to fruition through Lot, he now needed to rethink everything from scratch. One can only wonder what kept his mind ticking in sleepless nights ahead of him. He was getting older, his wife was barren and there was no successor in sight.
We have an interesting text straight after Lot left Abraham: the Lord commanded Abraham to look up. Lot had also looked up; Abraham’s looking up was not what the world had on offer for him. The text says:
“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward … Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14, 17, ESV)
Yes, Abraham did lose Lot, and he probably did not get what he would have chosen for himself, but he gained the renewed assurance from the God of glory who saved him from worshipping lifeless idols that his promise still stands. Interesting, when Jacob was fleeing from Esau he slept in Bethel. His head rested on a rock. This was nothing compared to the green pastures of the Sodom valley. It was dusty, dry and rocky country – but it was God’s country!
Abraham stood on the rocky outcrops and what he saw was probably not much to be desired. But God was with him. There he could build an altar to the living God. He once again learned to trust God – even if his soul was downcast and he longed to have Lot with him. But he was dependent on God to provide every step of the way.
For us who live on this side of the cross of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all the promises of God, the One who has gone ahead of us to prepare our heavenly promised land, there is also a “Look up!” Hebrews 2:9 says:
But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9, ESV)
For our journey we have the heroes of faith, including Abraham listed in Hebrews 11, but we have the One who fully completed the race and has overcome in the most definite sense, Jesus Christ, our Lord and we, look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)
Him we consider so that we will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:3). The world we are living in speaks to us in a conflicting discord of voices. They come from without and within—from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. If we listen to them we become confused and ineffective as Christians. The cure for that is to lift up our eyes to Jesus and listen to Him only.
More than that, Abraham went back to the tree of Mamre, that place where he built the first altar to the Lord, the place where the Canaanites worshipped their gods of fertility. God promised him that land. At time it was filled with evil, but Abraham worshipped God. It reminds us of something Jesus Christ said when He visited Samaria, which is geographically not far from Bethel:
Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. (John 4:35, ESV)
Look up! To inherit this land of promise means to see that the harvest is ripe. There’s work to do. But Christ also said:
And look, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Look like Abraham; see what he saw by faith. We are not alone. Jesus said, “Look, I am with you.” The land, the world, is not settled yet. There’s work to do.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 August 2014