|THE BIG VALLEY
Series: Abraham - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 12, 2017
If you had to choose… Which is the greatest superhero of all time?
This morning we are at Genesis chapter 13 continuing our study of the life of Abraham.
In a lot of ways Abraham is larger than life - one of the most significant people in history - certainly in the Bible. Judaism - Islam - Christianity - all trace themselves back to Abraham. Abraham’s a man that God used in incredible ways. God spoke with Abraham. Ate with Abraham. Made promises to Abraham. Blessed Abraham. God holds Abraham up as an example to us of a man who lived rightly before God.
Scripture can be divided at Abraham. Everything before God called Abraham. Everything after God called Abraham.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis introduce us to the origin of everything. God - Who creates out of nothing - everything that exists. Forms this planet. Forms us - male and female in His image - Adam and Eve. Places Adam and Eve in the garden He causes to exist for them to dwell in - with Him. God gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to live with Him without sin. Pretty sweet.
Then there’s the Fall - sin - enters our race. Adam and Eve trusting themselves verses trusting and obeying God. Which is what we struggle with - living life according to our will or God’s will.
Yet in the midst of that God gives us hope. Back in the garden in Eden God declares - not only the consequences of our sin - but gives us a glimpse of what God will do to destroy Satan and his work and to restore us to a relationship with God. What is the first glimpse we get of Jesus and His work on the cross. What is a crushing - total - epic defeat of Satan.
Before God calling Abraham - Genesis 1 to 11 - sets the stage for what comes next. How we get to Abraham.
Genesis 12 is the beginning of the account of God calling out a people - God choosing a people - choosing a family - choosing a line descendants - the calling out of the people of God who are to live by faith in Him through whom God will bring about blessing and salvation. Genesis 12 is the starting point of God’s unfolding purpose for His people - Israel - and in the fullness of time - us - the Church.
Meaning that our lives - your life - is not some series of random events just lurching along. What begins in Genesis 12 - God’s blessing extends from Abraham to us and through us. Our lives have purpose and meaning. We - you - are a part of what begins when God calls Abraham.
The reason we’re studying Abraham is not because he’s some super spiritual - Bible superhero - type guy. We’re studying Abraham because - even though God had called him - Abraham struggled with faith just like we struggle in our faith. His faith wavered. He messed up. He had lessons to learn.
And through all that - perhaps the greatest example and encouragement we can get by looking at Abraham’s life is that - through everything Abraham went through - God stayed with him - God stayed faithful to His promises - and through all those struggles Abraham grew in his relationship - his faith in God. And God uniquely used Abraham as God desires to uniquely use each one of us.
Abraham is an example to us of a man who lived by faith as God calls us to live by faith. There is a lot we can learn by studying Abraham.
Genesis 13 - verses 1-4 bring us to Abram’s Failure and God’s Graciousness.
Let’s read together: So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And 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, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
In verse 1 “so” takes us back to where Abram ended up last Sunday at the end of chapter 12.
God had made a covenant with Abram. What theologians call the Abrahamic Covenant. An agreement that included what God promised Abram that He - God - would do.
God was going to give Abram a land to dwell on with God. And, descendants to dwell on that land. Descendants that God was going to incredibly bless and through whom Abram and his descendants would be a blessing to all the nations of the world - even us.
What God asked Abram to do - to receive what God was promising - was to leave the country he was living in - leave his relatives - leave his father’s family - leave behind his old life and head out - by faith - to the land that God was going to show Abram.
Which Abram did. Abram traveled from Haran all the way down to Shechem and Bethel and Ai. Pitched his tent. Built altars. Worshiped God. Lived there with God. Experienced God’s blessings.
Then there was a famine in the land. Abram - rather than seeking God - trusting God - for what God would have him do. Abram trusts himself. Heads south to Egypt. He instructs his wife Sarai to lie to Pharaoh - or at least bend the truth - to say she was Abram’s sister.
Abram forces his wife into an adulterous situation - potential sin against God - in order to save his own neck. So rather than being a channel of God’s blessing to Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt - because Abram is trusting in himself and not God - Abram actually becomes a means of great suffering. God strikes Pharaoh and the Egyptians with severe plagues.
So, Pharaoh kicked Abraham and Sarai and the whole clan out of Egypt. Gives orders and Abram and his whole household get escorted to the border and dumped there in disgrace. Never would have happened if Abram had just stayed in Canaan faithfully trusting God.
That’s where chapter 12 ends up. The place of failure and disgrace and shame where sin takes us.
“So - after God’s covenant - God’s promise - and Abram’s failure at trusting God - Abram went up from Egypt…”
Back to the land that God had promised him in the first place. This is a little closer view of where all that is.
Up from the Negeb - the great southern desert - to a place between Bethel and Ai. Which is where he’d started from before he’d gone to Egypt. The place where Abram had been worshiping God. There - verse 4 tells us - Abram once again called upon the name of the Lord.
How many of you have played golf? Even mini-golf? Or, at least made the attempt? Windmills, volcanoes, and torn up carpet… oh my. Would you say that there’s a huge difference between playing golf and wandering around a grassy area chasing a small white ball with a club? The six stroke mercy rule could easily be 12 strokes plus.
Golf can be frustrating. Yes?
But, one of the great things about golf is that every hole is a new opportunity. We get to start over again. It doesn’t matter how many balls the windmill ate. Standing at the tee we’re a new person ready to take on the volcano.
Which is like our relationship with God. Isn’t it? The only difference is that God doesn’t keep a cumulative score.
Abram royally messes up by not trusting God. Everyone gets messed up by his sin. And yet, here he is again - back at Bethel and Ai - in God’s promised land - starting over.
In verse 4 - he goes back to where he’d built the altar - where he was before he messed up - back to the first place to do what he should have done in the first place. Abram calls on the name of the Lord.
What Abram does is an example for us of what we need to do when - not if - but when we mess up by trusting ourselves and not God.
We need to humble ourselves before God. To come clean. Do a reality check on where our sin has taken us. The self-destructive disaster that sin is. Agree with God. I messed up. I sinned. I blew it.
Humble ourselves before God and then we need to call on the name of the Lord. To turn totally back to Him. Do a 180 - totally rejecting our sin and crying out to God. Counting only on God with His resources and wisdom. Trusting Him. Believing Him. Putting our lives in His hands alone. Total surrender to God for whatever God wills to do with us.
That’s the point where the new hole begins - where by God’s grace we get to T-off again. Only if our lives are in His hands not ours.
Look how Abram arrives at Bethel and Ai. Verse 1 - he arrives with his wife - nephew Lot - and all that belonged to him - all his livestock and possessions. His silver. His gold. Whatever he went down to Egypt with he came back with.
And when Abram was in Egypt Pharaoh had given him even more livestock and more servants. All that - it seems - Abram was able to bring with him out of Egypt. Verse 2 - he’s not just rich. But, he’s very rich.
Let’s be careful. Is God blessing Abram because of his sin? We need to sin more so we get blessed more!
Let’s be careful. None of what Abram had did he deserve. What Abram possesses is about God blessing Abram because God promised to bless Abram for God’s purposes and God’s glory not Abram’s.
The prophet Jeremiah - writing in the midst of the train wreck that was the Kingdom of Judah - 587 or so BC - Jeremiah writing at the time God was using the Babylonians to judge God’s people because of their sin. Jerusalem is about to be torn apart and made into ruins. The Temple is about to be plundered and burned. The people are heading in to exile.
Bottom line: Because of the people’s sin things are not good. The windmill just ate the little blue ball.
Jeremiah - in the midst of all that - Jeremiah writes in the book of Lamentations - lamentations meaning grief, sorrow, mourning over all that - Jeremiah writes: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your… faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22,23)
In the midst of the disaster we make of our lives there’s hope because God is steadfast in His love - compassionate. God who is merciful. God is faithful even when we’re faithless. Steadfast - unswerving - unmoved from His purposes - His promises. God will bring Israel back to the land. He will restore His people. Not because they deserve it but because God promised to do so. To God alone be the glory.
God giving to Abram what he does not deserve is God’s grace. The undeserved blessing of God. God preserving what could have been lost in Egypt and graciously supplying more. Why? Because God promised to bless Abram. God will continue to do what God has promised to do in and through Abram and to supply all that is necessary to accomplish God’s purposes. God is steadfast even if Abram is not.
Paul writes - in Philippians 4:19,20 - that when we learn to trust God - to call out to God - to put our lives in His hands - Paul writes that “...my God will supply every need of yours - not some or a few but - my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Because of Jesus - Who He is - what He has done on our behalf - To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. God supplies - His grace is given not because we deserve it but because of God’s purposes - His promises - according to God’s will - for God’s glory alone - Amen.”
Isn’t that an amazing reality to marinate in? Redemption - renewal - restoration - isn’t about our deserving it. But about what God promises to do in our lives if we will trust Him with our lives. Be encouraged by that. Whatever the issue call on the name of the Lord. Go to God.
Verses 5 to 13 record The Test of Abram’s faith.
Dwelling in Canaan - test number one was the… famine. Should have trusted God. This is test number 2 of Abram’s faith. Meaning how well did he learn lesson number 1? We’ll see.
Verses 5 to 7 are the test question. Let’s read together: And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and 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.
Here’s the test question: How will you respond when your resources get stretched? Ever been there? Funds - resources - that don’t quite cover the need?
The conflict between the herdsmen of Abram and the herdsman of Lot ultimately is a test of trust. The choice between trusting God to meet the legitimate need of adequate grazing land or trusting themselves to grab whatever grazing land is available - even at the expense of their own family and the testimony of God’s love.
God’s people are tested. We get tested. According to our ability there are insufficient resources. Seems like it’s almost planned to always be like that. Who will we trust? How will we respond? Tough question when we’re talking about putting food on the table.
James writes - James 4:1: “What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
Great question. Yes?
Quarrels and fights touches every human relationship - from nations down to communities - our neighbors - to relationships at work or school or in the church - to families and marriages - parents and kids. Volumes have been written about how to resolve quarrels and fights - conflict. We all struggle with this.
The word here for “passion” is “hedoneh” - which is where we get the word... “hedonism.” The idea that our own pleasure or happiness is the highest good.
James’ answer? The source is within us. We’ve met the enemy and he is… us. The source our quarrels and fights is us.
Reading on down through James chapter 4 - James describes what this self-serving - self-trust looks like. James writes that in our desire to please our selves we end up endlessly pursuing things that never satisfy. We see what other people have and we want it. When we pray - our prayers are focused on what we want and not what God wants. Then we get all frustrated because God doesn’t give us what we ask for. Ultimately we get trapped by the world - caught up in living and thinking and doing things that are self-destructive and carry us farther away from God.
Life is all about me. You only go around once in life. Grab what you can for as long as you can while you claw and scratch your way towards the top of the heap. Mortgage the kids future with credit card debt - fudge on our stewardship. Don’t have time for God ‘cause I’m out doing what makes me feel good about myself. Who cares what our self-gratification is costing others. As long as I get what I want.
Would you agree with this? Having stuff is not necessarily wrong or bad. Stuff is not bad. But when we focus on having stuff - pursuing even the right stuff for the wrong reasons - serving ourselves - so that we're pursuing legitimate needs by illegitimate means we're in serious trouble. Agree?
So God’s people are tested. According to their ability there are insufficient resources. Who will they trust?
Verse 8 brings us to Abram’s answer to the question.
Let’s read together: Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 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.”
With apologies to Sister Sledge. We are family. We’re brothers. We’re sisters. Siblings in Jesus. We’ve got the same God. There shouldn’t be any conflict between us. Especially not in front of the pagans - the Canaanites and Perizzites.
Let’s be clear on what Abram is offering Lot. All the land - the land of Canaan - the highlands towards the Mediterranean coast - even the land that Lot chooses - all the land that Abram is offering Lot - all of that is what God has ultimately promised to Abram.
There’s even more here. At this point in the account - next to Sarai Lot is Abram’s closest relative. Meaning he’s Abram’s potential heir. Potentially Abram is offering Lot the very promise that God offered to Abram. That’s huge. Wouldn’t we understand if Abram held back just a tad?
When Abram was confronted with a famine - test #1 - Abram took matters into his own hands. Rather than trusting in God to provide he chose to head south to Egypt. Here he faces the test of conflict over perceived insufficient resources - a conflict driven by people trusting in themselves rather than God.
Abram’s answer to the test question is to leave things in God’s hands - to trust God. “Lot - choose whatever you want. God’s given us all this land. God will take care of us. Whatever you choose. I’ll take what’s left.”
Verses 10 to 13 are Lot’s answer to the question.
Let’s read these verses together: And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley 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 destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.
Notice two things.
Lot was with Abram on the journey from Ur to Haran - from Haran to Shechem - to Bethel and Ai. He probably heard from Abram about God’s offer and promise. The answer to the question, “Uncle Abe, why are we heading to Canaan?” “It’s a God thing.” “Are we almost there?” “Remember Lot, with the Lord one day is as a thousand… years.” Try that sometime. See if it works.
Lot was with Abram when Abram pitched his tent in Bethel and Ai the first time. Was there when Abram built his altars and worshipped God.
Lot had a front row seat when Abram stumbled in trusting God. When they headed down to Egypt. Saw Auntie Sarai taken into Pharaoh’s home. Witnessed God strike the Egyptians with plagues. Got herded out of Egypt with the rest of the family.
Lot returned with Abram to Bethel and Ai. Worshiped with Abram as Abram learned and humbled himself before God. Cried out to God. Saw God’s reward of Abram’s faith. God’s gracious provision and blessing and renewed hope and opportunity.
And yet - Lot - like so many people who are touched by God’s grace - Lot struggles to respond to God’s grace by trusting God. Maybe he figured all that just wasn’t his “lot” in life. That’s all about Uncle Abram’s faith not mine.
Lot lifts up his eyes. Looks down the hill into the Jordan Valley. What very well could have been this view. The Jordan valley is a whole lot like our central valley. This could be up on the hills just east of here looking down on us. That could be the Merced River.
The valley is paradise. Comparable to the garden in Eden. Or like the land of Egypt in the direction of Zoar. Meaning - looking down towards the south end of the Jordan River valley towards the town of Zoar - that all looks like the Nile River. A well irrigated ag region. Maybe Lot is thinking about the prosperity and wealth and power that he saw when he was in Egypt.
Lifting up his eyes Lot makes his choice - trusting his eyes - trusting himself not God. Choosing what looks good to him. The source of quarrels is what? Us - pursuing what looks good to us - without trusting God.
Second, notice God’s description of the valley.
The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. But it still has to be… mowed.
Verse 10 tells us that when Lot looked south he saw a lush ag region. Verse 12 tells us that Lot pitched his tent as far as Sodom - a city in the midst of great opportunity.
God’s description is different. The men of Sodom were wicked - meaning sinning greatly against the Lord.
The town of Zoar - that looked so good to Lot in midst of all that great ag land - Zoar is the town Lot had to flee to when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s sobering.
The valley is lush - until God wipes out Sodom and Gomorrah - because of their sin against God. Then it gets not so lush.
The valley looks like the garden in Eden. But, we got kicked out of the Garden because of sin.
In Scripture the name Jordan is often used to symbolize death.
For example, when God’s people come out of bondage in Egypt - wander for 40 years in the wilderness because of sin - not trusting God - they cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. Symbolically - crossing the river means dying to what lies behind - sin and bondage - and passing through death into life - God’s Promised Land - their future dwelling with God.
Remember the Gaither song? “And then one day I’ll cross the river, I’ll fight life’s final war with pain; and then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.” (1)
For us Christians the whole idea of “crossing the Jordan” is based on that Old Testament image - passing through death into life eternal with God Our dying to self and the sin of our past and coming into new life in Christ. The Jordan is death.
Point being - Lot’s answer to the question - Lot trusting in what Lot thinks is best for Lot - Lot chooses what looks good to him. But, what he’s really choosing is a place of sin and death.
Verses 14 to 18 are How God Grades Abram’s Answer.
Let’s read together at verse 14: The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 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.
This is more than just getting a passing grade. This is a 110% A plus plus - you go the head of your class kind of grade.
Looking at verse 14 Who tells Abram to lift up his eyes? God.
What a contrast. Lot lifting up his own eyes verses Abram waiting until God said, “Abram. Lift up your eyes.” God showing Abram what Abram needed to see - the resources God will provide as Abram trusts God.
God’s grading of Abram’s answer is God renewing His promise - the Abrahamic Covenant - the promise God made to Abram back in Haran - back in Genesis 12.
In verse 14 - God renews His promise of land.
God tells Abram to look in every direction - north - south - east - west. Even in the direction of land that Lot had grabbed for himself. All that land - as far as the eye can see. And looking from the highlands of Canaan - where Abram’s standing - a person can look pretty far. If that’s not enough God tells Abram to go on a journey. Walk as far as you want in any direction and that land is yours. I’m giving it to you and your descendants forever.
In Scripture land is consistently symbolic of dwelling with God - the fullness of life that comes when we dwell with God. God’s presence and power in our lives. Real joy in life. Knowing God’s love and graciousness and mercy. What really satisfies our hearts.
In Ephesians Paul prays for those who’ve trusted in Jesus as the Savior. Paul prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
All that fullness is ours when we trust God.
In verse 16 - God renews His promise of descendants and blessing.
Ever dust your house? Dust is endless. The Hebrew word here for dust is “afar” - which can also mean dirt. We can estimate the weight. Talk about volume. But, ultimately how many particles of dust and dirt are there on the earth? Lots.
“Abram - I’m going to make you fruitful beyond anything you can possibly imagine. While you’re living you’re going to see some of it. But, after you’re dead and buried - down through the ages of history - people are going to rise up and say, ‘I was blessed because of that man. God did something in my life because of Abram.’”
And isn’t that true today? Here we are almost 4,000 years later studying the life of this man - who in many ways is our spiritual father - and we’re being blessed by God. Talk about a legacy - having your life count for something. That’s the blessing of God.
Verse 18 tells us that - after God had shown him all these things - reassured him of His promises - Abram came down and pitched his tent by the oaks of Mamre - which are in Hebron.
Location map and a picture of what Hebron looks like today.
The word “mamre” means “fatness” or “strength.” “Hebron” is a word that means “association” or “fellowship.” It’s descriptive of a place where a person’s soul is made fat - strengthened - supplied with all that’s needed.
Meaning a place of spiritual supply and fellowship with God where Abram pitches his tent and builds an altar - worships God - dwells with God - experiences the strength and supply of God in his life.
All of which is a description of what happens to us when we trust God.
When our resources and abilities come up short or we think that somehow by our whit, wisdom, and working we can make it all work out - what’s here is a description - a promise - of what God does when we set ourselves aside and cry out to God - when we wait upon God to move us forward graciously taking care of everything that needs to be taken care of.
Processing all that…
Ever watch The Price Is Right? The game is played how? People are given their one moment on the stage of life - shown fabulous prizes - the treasures of the world. They’re supposed to decide how much each prize is worth - to evaluate the worth - the value of the prize. The people who win are the one’s who know how valuable each prize is.
“Come on down!”
Lot made an evaluation. For Lot the price was wrong. He placed the greater value on the wrong prize. Abram waited on God to show him what was really valuable. To have God lift up his eyes. To gain insight from God’s perspective. What God gave Abram was immeasurably more valuable than what Lot chose for himself.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon tests and evaluates everything that the world considers valuable. King Solomon had the opportunity and the resources to leave no stone unturned. Everything that seems to offer so much - so much pleasure and fulfillment. All of the wisdom and knowledge and philosophy of man. All of what is so tempting for us to work for - to consider as meeting our needs - to see as necessary for our security, our future, our posterity. What we quarrel over and get so nutted up about.
Solomon’s answer to what really is valuable: “The end of the matter; [when] all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14)
God sets price. Judges what’s good or evil. Not us. Fear God. Obey God. Trust God.
I don’t know what choices you’re up against. You and God know that. I know some of what I deal with. You know where your resources are stretched or what’s going on in your life that’s beyond your ability to process. Or maybe you’ve come this morning and you’ve been working really hard at working things out and still fighting what seems like a loosing battle.
Take a lesson from Abram. The answer is always to turn to God. To cry out to God. To wait on Him. To trust Him. And God - Who is gracious and steadfast in His promises - He will - in His only God can do it way - He will take care of you.
1. William and Gloria Gaither, “Because He Lives”
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.