Choices

Genesis 13

Copyright © 2005 Jeremy Myers

I. Abram's Choices (13:1-9)

    A. Finances or Family?

    B. Tightfisted or Trust God?

II. Lot's Choices (13:10-13)

    A. Wealth or Wisdom?

    B. Sodom or Separation?

III. God's Choice (13:14-18)

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I chose the one less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference.

These immortal words by Robert Frost in his poem The Road Less Traveled could have been pulled straight from Genesis 13. In this chapter, we have two men and a fork in the road. Where before these two men had traveled together down a long and dusty road, they now choose to take separate and different paths. One chose the well traveled road to Vanity Fair. The other went to a lonely countryside. The first ends up losing his possessions and family. The other gains blessing and honor. What was the difference? It was all in the roads they chose to travel.

I don't know if you ever view your choices as forks in the road of life, but it is helpful habit to get into. Every single choice you face every single day is a fork in the road. How you react to life's circumstances can make you bitter or better. How you react to others can make you hurtful or helpful. How you respond to God will either make you corrupt or Christ-like. It all comes down to choices.

And so we can learn a lot from men and women in the Bible by watching the choices they make, and the consequences that result. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that the accounts in the Bible were written to us as examples for our instruction. So as we watch these two men in Genesis 13 make their choices, watch in the chapters to come for the consequences that follow. The two men are, of course, Abram and Lot. They have traveled together since Ur. They went to Haran together. They left Haran together and came to Canaan together. We aren't told in chapter 12 if they went to Egypt together or not, but in all likelihood, they did. And now they return to Canaan where both men face choices. Abram's choices are presented first in verses 1-9, but the scene is set in verses 1-5.

I. Abram's Choices (13:1-9)

1Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. 2Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Abram is backtracking his steps. In chapter 12, he began in Bethel and Ai, and built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord (12:8). Then a famine came, and rather than trust in God to provide, he fled to Egypt. It was there that he and Sarai lied to Pharaoh, but even then, God was with them, and blessed them, and gave them much wealth through Pharaoh. So now, as verse 2 says, Abram was very rich. He was already being blessed by God even though Abram has not shown much faith in God. But God is about to test Abram again, only this time, with a family member. In this case, it was Abram's nephew, Lot.

5Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.

It appears that Lot, though wealthy, is not quite as rich as Abram. Lot had flocks and herds and tents, but there is no mention of the silver and gold that Abram has. Because both Abram and Lot are wealthy, strife between the two results, and Abram is left with a choice.

A. Finance or Family?

6Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. 7And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.

Considering all of the livestock of both men, the land around Bethel and Ai did not contain enough water and vegetation to feed all the animals. The situation was getting so bad, that the herdsmen were even beginning to quarrel with one another. And when allies quarrel, enemies like the Canaanites and Perizzites take notice. So Abram and Lot realize that rather than fight against one another, it would be better for them to go separate ways. And it is here that Abram faces a choice. God has promised all the land to him. He hasn't actually acquired any of it yet, but in order to maintain peace with his nephew, Abram is going to have to let Lot live on the land.

That's the first choice. It's a choice between finances or family. Is money, and land and what belongs to him more important than his family? Is he willing to forsake his finances to benefit his family? Is he going to provide for his relative or isn't he? Abram of course wants to provide for Lot. He wants to give not only peace, but also vegetation to feed his animals. He's not going to send Lot back to Haran. So Abram decides that even though all the land has been promised to him, he is going to let Lot stay on some of it.

The things God gives to you are not just for you. God gives you and I things so that we can provide for others. Especially those of our own family. The New Testament teaches that if we do not take care of our family members and relatives, we are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8). It is a sad day when parents would rather buy a new truck than buy their kids a pair of shoes. It is a sad day when children prefer to shuffle their parents off into nursing homes and forget them than provide from them in other ways. It is a sad day when sisters and brothers do not financially help family members who have lost jobs or are without work.

I know that there are always extenuating circumstances in such situations. We are not to be welfare systems enabling our family members to be lazy and irresponsible. Nor are we to destroy our immediate family members to take care of an extended family member. And sometimes certain family members do require much more medical attention and aid than we are able to provide. I understand all of this. But the Bible teaches that other than God, there is no higher priority in a person's life than their very own family. Family has higher priority than a job, than a career, than recreation, than possessions and toys. I heard this week that most Americans spend 22% more money than they make in a year. They do this by putting it all on credit cards. And the reason they do this is because of the recreation, the toys, the nice cars and the big houses they all want to buy.

A man called me this week from Pennsylvania. He mentioned that where he lives, many people work 70 to 80 hours a week in order to buy the $400,000 homes and the luxury cars. They do this, they say, "to provide for their family." But most families would rather have a dad in the living room than a Dodge Viper in the garage. Possessions and grand vacations do not make a strong family. Parents and families should spend less money, and more time with each other. Make family a priority over finances.

Abram recognized this. He made Lot a priority. He decided to sacrifice some of his own land that had been promised to Him by God, and give a portion to Lot for his own flocks and herds. Abram did not want his wealth to cause friction and strife in his family. But now he faced another decision about how generous to be?

B. Tightfisted or Trust God?

This was his second choice. Should he be tightfisted and hold on to what was rightfully his, and give Lot only a little portion, or one of the worst portions of the land? Or should he trust God to provide, not only for himself, but also for Lot?  He knows he needs to give Lot some land, but which part? The best part was the Jordan Valley. It was rich and lush and green. There was plenty of water and vegetation. It was be a wise financial decision to keep that part for himself.   But Abram is beginning to learn to trust God. He has seen how God has blessed him time and time again. He has seen God provide for him at every turn. So Abram decides to leave the matter in God's hands by letting Lot make the choice of where to live.

8So 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. 9Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left."

Here they are - at a fork in the road. They cannot both take the same path. They must separate. Abram decides to let Lot choose where he will go. This was again another wise decision by Abram. His actions avoid further misunderstandings and disagreements.  It is like when parents allow their children to cut pieces of dessert for one another. The best approach is to let one child cut the pie, and let the other child choose which piece he wants. This is kind of what Abram is doing. He says to Lot, "I will divide the land down the middle, and you pick which piece you want."  Abram is acting as a peacemaker by being generous with Lot. He is taking the initiative to mend relations with his nephew and make sure that things do not get worse.

I have found that this is one of the best ways to solve strife and relieve quarrels. First, you must take the initiative to be the peacemaker. And take the initiative by being overgenerous. Give more than is necessary. Give more than what is required. As Jesus said, "Go the extra mile."

Most people say, "Yeah, but I'll get walked on. I'll be taken advantage of." And what do you call this that happens to Abram? Is he standing up for his rights? No. Is Lot taking advantage of the situation? Yes. Is Abram losing the best part of the land promised to him? Yes. Is Abram getting cheated? Yes. But what was the outcome? Peace. Abram wanted peace. And he was willing to be cheated a little bit, and taken advantage of if genuine peace would result. This is not a hard and fast rule to live by, especially in dealing with the world. But when it comes to disharmony and turmoil among family members, there is no such thing as being too generous.

Abram has faced two decisions, and in both, he chose wisely. He chose what was best. He chose according to God's will. The outcome of these decisions will be made evident later. But in verses 10-13, Lot has his own decisions to make, and he has not learned much from his uncle. The first choice he faces is between wealth or wisdom.

II. Lot's Choices (13:10-13)

A. Wealth or Wisdom?

10And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. 11Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. 12Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. 13But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.

If you've seen pictures of the plain of Jordan now, it is one of the most desolate and barren places in the middle east. Certain places along the Jordan river are lush and green, but the Dead Sea region is - as the name implies - dead. But it was not always this way. Verse 10 says it was well watered everywhere. It was like the garden of Eden, full of vegetation and trees. It was also a desirable place to live because Sodom was sitting right along one of the major trade routes of the Middle East. Caravans would regularly travel along this road, and in Lot's mind, this meant more riches and wealth.

But verse 13 reveals that although his decision was good financially, there was not a lot of wisdom involved, for the location he chose to live was near Sodom. His acquaintances, the people he would be dealing with on a day to day basis, were not known for their upright, moral conduct. Instead, it was widely known that they were exceedingly wicked and sinful. It's great land, but the neighbors were terrible. Can't you just hear Lot describing his move?  "Yeah, the new house is nice, but the neighbors are just terrible!"  In choosing the lush land, Lot reveals that he did not have a lot of foresight about how he and his family would be corrupted by the people of Sodom.

And as one bad decision leads to another, verse 12 reveals the worst decision yet. Though he knew the people of Sodom were wicked and evil, he chose to live near them, rather than separate himself from them.

B. Sodom or Separation?

12Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.

This verse has an ominous tone to it. And for good reason, since we know what will happen to Sodom in a few chapters. Lot chose to take his family to a place that was rich and green, but there was a fly in the pudding, for many other people saw the Jordan Valley as a wonderful place to live, and many of them were wicked and sinful. He chose the seductive region. But Lot figured he could protect his family from such evil influences, and so chose to go to the Jordan Valley anyway. He even stayed out of the city. It says he pitched his tent as far as Sodom, but he did not actually move into Sodom…yet. You will often discover that those who ride the fence soon sit on the fence, and then are on the other side of the fence. So don't compromise.

I know that some Christians are able to live in Las Vegas with no problem. Like Lot's move to Sodom, moving to Vegas makes good financial sense. Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the country, which makes real estate there skyrocket. Also, there are plenty of jobs - because of all the people moving in, and the salaries are very high. Furthermore, like Sodom, the world comes to Vegas. And, like Sodom, Vegas offers all kinds of pleasures and thrills. It promises wealth and luxury.

But also, like Sodom, Vegas is a place of sin and wickedness. It is even known as Sin City. City promoters are not even trying to hide that fact anymore. Television commercials inviting people to come to Vegas now tell you that you can be anything you secretly want to be in Vegas, and do anything you secretly want to do. And whatever it is you do, that's okay, because "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."  Now I know that there are many Christians in Vegas. There are many good churches in Vegas. Vegas is not yet as bad as Sodom was. But I myself would never want to live there because of the dangers and temptations it would present, not only for myself, but also for my family.  I want to protect my family and separate ourselves from those sort of influences.

Of course, on the other hand, there are many who believe that the United States is the Sodom and Gomorrah of the world. And that may be true. When sexual promiscuity in almost every movie, when television airs homosexual dating shows, when you read the headlines of the magazine covers at the grocery checkout isles - it makes a parent wonder how to raise up Godly children in such an ungodly culture. Are we living in Sodom?  Well, not yet. But we may be camped on the edge. Parents who understand this will take steps to separate themselves and their children from our cultural Sodom and Gomorrah. Maybe this will involve more careful movie selection.

Maybe this will mean we monitor what our children watch on television. Maybe it will require us listening to our children's music with them to see what words their minds are being programmed with.  It will definitely mean parents taking the time and effort to be involved in their children's lives and counter ungodly influences with daily devotions and regular church attendance. I'm not encouraging parents to be legalistic, but most parents are in no danger of that. Rather, like Lot, most parents are in danger of losing their children because they have set up their tent in suburbs of Sodom.  If we do not separate ourselves from Sodom, Sodom will separate our children from us, and from God.

"Come out from among them and be separate," says the Lord. This is something Lot did not do. He chose poorly. He chose wealth over wisdom and Sodom over separation. These choices are very different than the ones Abram made. And we will see the results of their decisions in later chapters.  But right here in chapter 14, we see a result for Abram right away. In verses 14-18, God makes a choice. Or rather, He reiterates a choice He has already made in chapter 12. He once again chooses Abram to receive blessing and honor. God reminds Abram that all the land will eventually be his.

III. God's Choice (13:14-18)

14And 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; 15for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. 16And 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. 17Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you."

This shows that God is pleased with how Abram handled himself in that situation. God has already chosen Abram out of the people of the world to bring forth God's chosen people and eventually, the promised Messiah, but here God reiterates his choice. He reminds Abram of this.  And God even adds to the promise. Whereas in chapter 12, the promise was only that land would be given to Abram's descendants, God adds three elements in these verses. First, there is the promise was that Abram would have countless descendants. Second, they would be given all the land Abram could see or set his foot upon. Third, it wouldn’t just be a temporary possession, but they would possess the land forever.

Abram would be much encouraged by this. Maybe Abram was feeling a bit cheated. Maybe Abram was feeling a bit discouraged. Here he had let Lot tag along with him for years. Lot had surely benefited from Abram's wealth. Lot probably knew that God had promised this land to Abram.  And now Lot stabbed Abram in the back and takes the best portion of the land for himself. So it is a wonderful opportunity for God to remind Abram of the promise. All of this land will belong to Abram and his descendants. God tells Abram to look North, South, East and West, and everything he sees will be his. Abram will have countless descendants, and they will own this land forever.  Abram has done the right thing. He made the right choices. And his nephew took advantage of it, and made a land grab. God is now encouraging Abram.

This is the way it is with us too. It often seems that in this world, it truly does happen according to the saying, "The nice guy finishes last." And while that may be true in the eyes of the world, in God's eyes, things are completely different. In God's eyes, the one who is first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  The one who gives will receive, and the one who takes, even what he has will be taken from him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says that the eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. When He finds such men and women, He chooses them to receive great blessing, and accomplish great things for His name.  After receiving a reminder of this promise, Abram responds with worship.

18Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.

Hebron was not the lush, verdant Jordan valley, but it was a nice place to live as well. Here is how one historian describes Hebron in Abram's day:

If Lot had the tropical luxuriance of Sodom, Abraham [sic] had the refreshing breeze of the hills, whose soft slopes were sprinkled with stretches of gray olives, and picturesquely mingled groves of pomegranates, figs, apricots, and almonds; while round him spread waving patches of wheat and barley, varied by green gardens and vineyards so famous, that the Jews believed the vine had been first planted by God's own hand on these fertile slopes. His flocks, moreover, had only to wander to the next heights, beyond this quiet retreat, to have before them unlimited upland pastures.

That doesn't sound too bad? I imagine that after God's words, Abram thought to himself, "Well, if it's my land, I'm going to move somewhere nice." So he moved to Hebron and worships God there.  This chapter begins and ends with Abram worshipping God. It shows his heart is fully fixed on God. His decisions revealed that too, and he is already experiencing some of the benefits of his decisions. In chapter 14, Lot will begin to face some of the consequences of his.  What decisions are you facing? What choices must you make? Learn from Abram's wise decisions and Lot's poor ones. Choose family over finances. Choose generosity over greed. Choose wisdom over wealth. Choose separation over sin. Choose in these ways, and God will choose you.  The world will be headed in opposite direction, but you will be on the road less traveled.