Monday, July 19, 2010

Genesis 12: I will make your name great

By the time Genesis 13 rolls around, Abram had already begun to gain quite a bit of wealth in livestock, silver and gold. After his adventure in Egypt, Abram wisely headed back toward the promised land, passing through the Negev and gradually making his way back to the area between Bethel and Ai, where he had previously built an altar to God. His nephew Lot was still with him, and Lot had also become a man of substance, with flocks, herds and tents. In fact, the place where they were staying could not support the both of them, and inevitably, quarrels broke out between the herdsmen of both men. This is not good in itself, for, as Abraham noted: "Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers." (Genesis 13:8 NIV) Also, since the Canaanites and Perizzites were also living nearby, they could not afford to become enemies and risk further conflict.

Generously, Abraham gave Lot the pick of the land. Lot could have insisted that Abram pick first; after all, Abram was his uncle, and his elder. However, Lot took one look at the plain of the Jordan, which seemed like Eden in its well-watered lushness, and chose for himself the whole plain. So Lot set out for the east, while Abram stayed in Canaan.

It may have seemed that Abram got the worst of the bargain. Someone once wrote that "Lot chose grass, while Abram chose grace." For, nearly as soon as Lot left, God said: "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever." (Genesis 13:14-15) God also promised Abram that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth..that is, more than he could count. God told Abram to walk through the land, and Abram moved near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, and built an altar to the LORD. We get the sense that God is beginning to make good on His promise to make Abram's name great. Further events in Genesis 14 will continue this trend, but for a moment, let us skip ahead to the present and note that Abraham's fame has indeed spread throughout the world, most particularly as a man of faith who obeyed God, and also as a pivotal figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islamic history. God did, indeed make Abram's name great.

As for choosing grass versus grace, I always felt kind of sorry for Lot, whose ownership of land near Sodom will be temporary at best. However, Genesis 13:13 (NIV) indicates that it was a well-known fact that "the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD." So Lot went into this decision with his eyes open. In fact, it seems that his eyes were almost all he used to make this decision. It looked good, so he went for it. More about Lot is coming up later. Interestingly, Scripture later calls Lot a righteous man, who is concerned about the great sin around him. Yet he could not keep himself from being pulled into it.

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