The account of Abram and Sarai in the Old Testament book of Genesis is the historical record of two people who responded to God’s call and lived their faith in plain view of contemporaries. The Bible provides an informational overview of their lives. With careful study, however, it becomes obvious that Abram’s early faith in God’s promises grew through real life challenges (Read the text: Genesis 13).
GOD USES CIRCUMSTANCES TO STRENGTHEN FAITH
The life of faith requires choosing to trust God in spite of real-life challenges and testing. Abram was no exception. You will remember that drought and accompanying famine drove Abram and Sarai to Egypt in search of provisions for their family, herdsmen and livestock. Through an astonishing encounter with the pharaoh of Egypt, they re-entered the land of Canaan with impressive wealth.
The situation could easily have been disastrous for Abram who rightly claimed that his wife Sarai was his sister (Gen. 20:11-13).
Instead the text leaves no doubt that while in Egypt, God used pharaoh to greatly prosper Abram who returned to Canaan a “very rich” man (literally, heavy with goods). Because of God’s intervention through the plague on pharaoh’s court, Abram’s name grew in esteem and his recently acquired wealth was obvious to surrounding neighbors.
Abram resettled his household in the valley between Bethel and Ai described specifically as, “the place of the altar which he had made there at first” (13:4). The altar provides a geographic marker highlighting Abram’s return to the location where he had previously pitched tents.
At that altar Abram, “called on the name of the Lord” (v. 4). While some commentators suggest Abram’s actions indicate that he sought restoration of fellowship with God after a so-called “lapse” in Egypt, the text does not necessarily support this assumption. The fact that God had protected, preserved and prospered Abram in Egypt seems to counter that argument.
The phrase, called on the name of the Lord, simply communicates that Abram prayed to God. It is the same language used when Abram first entered the land (Gen. 12:8). His practice of worshipping the One-true God continued as before. The altar he had previously built was a monument that testified to his commitment to the One-true God.
Abram returned with deeper insight into the character of God and new confidence that the Lord could be trusted in every situation. His act of worship underscores his focus on the future and everything God had planned for him. Abram’s worship is exemplary for all who choose to live the life of faith and eagerly anticipate God’s unfolding plan.
GOD USES INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT TO TEST FAITH
In Egypt, God not only prospered Abram, but also his nephew Lot by association. As their flocks and herds multiplied, finding adequate grazing land in proximity to their campsite became more difficult resulting in sustained conflict between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot.
One of the reasons for the difficulty was that the Canaanites and Perizzites already had firmly established grazing areas. Because Abram was a peace loving man who chose not to create conflict with the inhabitants of the land, he did not infringe on these territories. As a result, areas large enough in close proximity to support the herds of both men were limited. Tradition states that the conflict between Abram and his nephew’s herdsmen arose because Lot would not respect the recognized pastures of neighbors.
The logical solution was for Abram to put some distance between himself and Lot before the tensions between them escalated and potentially spread. Suggesting they separate, Abram gave his nephew first choice of available land. Abram’s proposal that Lot go one direction and he another was a pragmatic decision designed to relieve tension and engender peace between the two families.
“So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren’” (13:9).
Abram was not giving away any of the land God had promised him and his covenantal descendants. At the time, both he and Lot were foreigners living in the Promised Land that would not become the real property of Abram’s descendants until their exodus from Egypt.
Allowing Lot first choice in the relocation, Abram not only demonstrated generosity, but also minimized the potential for future conflict by eliminating the possibility that Lot could later claim he had been mistreated.
Abram’s generous proposal was a practical act of faith. Abram was confident that God would keep His promises and continue to prosper him regardless of Lot’s choice. Lot’s choice, however, demonstrates the stark contrast between his character and that of his uncle Abram.
From their vantage point, Lot saw the lush Jordan Valley and seized the opportunity to better his circumstances. He exhibited little concern for Abram who had been a guardian since his father’s death in Haran.
The verdant valley some 15 miles from Bethel looked like the Garden of Eden (v. 10). The area around Zoar near the southern tip of the modern day Dead Sea must have reminded Lot of Egypt. The parenthetical statement, “before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,” reveals that what appealed to Lot would be short-lived (v. 10).
Lot made his decision, packed his belongings and moved east with his immediate family to the Jordan Valley. In spite of the fact that the Jordan Valley stretched 75 miles north to the Sea of Galilee, he settled near Sodom and Gomorrah that were two cities described as, “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord (v.13).
It is significant that the passage records, “Abram dwelt in Canaan and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain” (v. 12). The land God promised Abram seemed to hold little interest for Lot. Of his own accord, Lot removed himself from the land of Canaan and any covenantal blessing when he separated from Abram.
Unlike his uncle, Lot was self-centered, self-seeking and self-gratifying. His choice is indicative of his character that would lead to his downfall (Gen. 19).
Abram walked by faith, trusted the One-true God to fulfill His promises and continued to enjoy the fullness of Yahweh’s blessing—even in what appeared to be a less than desirable location.
GOD REWARDS ACTIVE FAITH
After Lot moved to the Jordan Valley, God encouraged Abram by renewing His original promise. Possibly from the same vantage point where Abram had viewed the land with Lot, God now instructed Abram to do the very same thing, “Lift up your eyes and look” (v. 14).
With the land in view, God reiterated His promise to Abram giving all of it to his covenantal progeny. In addition, God reaffirmed His promise to bless Abram with innumerable descendants that would populate the land.
“And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.
And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you’” (13:14-17).
Whether reminiscent of the ancient legal practice of pacing-off the dimensions of a property prior to purchase or as a tour of inspection after the fact, God commanded Abram to arise and walk through the whole land. Either way, Abram believed God and by faith, did as commanded. Although the Canaanites inhabited the land and Sarai was barren, Abram believed God and obeyed.
Afterward, Abram settled by the terebinth (pistachio) trees of Mamre about two miles north of Hebron. A well-watered and fertile area situated around 3,000 feet above sea level, it was an ideal location and became the primary residence of Abram for the remainder of his life. As was his practice wherever he traveled, Abram built an altar to the Lord that demonstrated his faith in God providing a testimony to the surrounding population.
Lot’s choice reflected his self-centeredness. He audaciously took what he thought would make him happy and received what he desired, though transient. Abram, on the other hand, trusted God. His choices exhibited a virtuous character that pursued peace and demonstrated faith in God’s power to fulfill His promises.
In Abram’s case, God used a famine to strengthen his faith and interpersonal conflict with Lot to test his resolve to persevere in faith. In both instances, Abram learned that living the life of faith involves choosing to trust God in every situation and determining to do the right thing in trying circumstances.
Because Abram acted on faith, God blessed him with not just a prime location for his residence, but the entire land of Canaan as an eternal inheritance (17:7-8).
What can Christians living in the 21st century learn from Abram and Sarai’s experiences? God uses our life circumstances to develop strong and enduring faith and permits people around us to test our faith.
From Abram and Lot’s conflict, we are reminded that God rewards active faith with observable blessings that carry long term benefits. The choices you make today will impact your children, grandchildren and descendants far into the future. Even though hard choices are required, let your faith be a stellar example to all in your sphere of influence.
1) Abram gives Lot first choice (1887). (Image used for illustrative purposes.) (Photo credit: Wikimedia/Public domain/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios).
2) Lot Chose for Himself all the Plain of Jordan. (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Terebinth Tree of Mamre, Hebron. (Image used for illustrative purposes.) (Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images/[No restrictions]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) Pistachio Branch. (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.