Great Moments in Bible History
Solving a difficult problem
Not How Family Should Behave
One of the less well-known characters in the Bible is Abraham’s nephew Lot. When God told Abraham to leave his country, his relatives, and his family and go to a land that God would show him, his nephew Lot came along with him. Lot was not mentioned in our previous story of Abraham’s visit to Egypt and the embarrassing lie that he told, but we learn in Genesis 13 that as they left Egypt Lot was still travelling with Abraham. Today’s story begins with a problem, but ends up showing Abraham in a much better light than our last one did.
The problem began because both Abraham and Lot were wealthy. In that society wealth meant that they had many flocks and herds. Those flocks and herds needed grazing land. They were living at the southern end of what today is Israel. That is a very dry area, so grazing land was in short supply. They each had numerous herdsmen to tend their flocks and herds and those herdsmen began fighting over the grazing land.
Abraham was the first to point out the problem. “ Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen” (Genesis 13:8). To emphasize how embarrassing the problem was, our author tells us, “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.” Those were the idol-worshipping inhabitants of the land who knew next to nothing about the God of Abraham. What little they knew about Him they learned by watching Abraham. The fighting between the herdsmen of those two families did not make Abraham’s God appear very attractive!
Solving such family problems is not easy. In this issue we will see how Abraham’s faith in God enabled him to propose a solution that really worked. It was not like so many of our solutions today. It did not just push the problem off to be dealt with later. It permanently solved the problem.
A Very Generous Offer
Being the older member of the family, Abraham had the right to dictate a solution. But instead of using his seniority rights, he made a surprising proposal, “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” (Genesis 13:9). Abraham gave his nephew first choice! Whichever piece Lot chose was fine with Abraham. He would just take whatever was left.
Lot did what many people would have done in his shoes—he picked the best for himself. “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” (verses 10-11).
Abraham kept his side of the bargain. He took what was left—the land of Canaan.
This outcome illustrates why so few people are really willing to make peace. Abraham—the peace-maker in this story—ended up with the short end of the stick. Lot will get rich by moving to an area that has abundant pasture land. Abraham will have to make do with less. Who is willing to agree to a deal like that?
Jesus expected His followers to behave like Abraham. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.... Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42). This is even more extreme selflessness than Abraham’s!
The key to Abraham’s generous behavior in this story is his faith in God. Unlike in the previous story, in this one Abraham lets God deal with the situation. Although Abraham gave Lot first choice, he understood that God was actually the one in control. Which land Abraham was left with would really be up to God. By faith Abraham chose not to choose. He let God do the choosing for him.
In fact, Abraham had already turned his back on the things the world values. When God called him to leave his country and his family he obeyed and showed that his goals and desires were different from everyone else’s.
To someone who lacks faith in God, Abraham’s generosity will be very difficult to copy. In fact, it will be impossible. The behavior Jesus demands of His followers is only available to people who truly trust in Him.
But to someone who has that faith, there is a great freedom in leaving such decisions to God. Abraham did not have to worry about the decision. He did not have to calculate where he could make the most money. He simply left the decision (and the worrying) to God.
On the other hand...
Winning the Lottery
Have you ever really, really looked forward to something, but then when you got what you wanted, discovered that it was a big disappointment? I saw a video on the Today I Found Out YouTube channel that gave an amazing illustration of such disappointment. The video looked at a large number of people who had each won a big lottery payout. Many of them (perhaps the majority) had terrible experiences as a result. Some who won the biggest payouts declared, “Winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Abraham’s nephew Lot might have understood their feelings. When he chose to move to the lush Jordan valley it must have seemed to him like winning the lottery. If money solves problems, then moving to that valley was a big win!
What Lot did not realize was that money would not solve his problems (nor will it solve ours today). Jesus warned, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Lot’s mistake was that he made his choice assuming that money was all that mattered in the decision.
After Lot made his decision, he “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12). Sodom was the big city in that valley. Because of the lush neighborhood it was situated in, Sodom was wealthy. And if you want to become wealthy yourself, you have to go where the wealth is. Lot eventually moved into Sodom itself. At that point he no longer had to live in a tent, but had a regular house to live in.
But our author adds an ominous warning, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (verse 13). Lot apparently did not give much thought to the question of what might be the results of living in such a sinful environment. He will pay a terrible price for his thoughtlessness.
In later chapters we will consider the results of his decision, but we can summarize them by saying that he ended up losing all his possessions, losing his wife, and having his daughters turn out just as immoral as the people he was living with.
The apostle Paul said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
No doubt by the end of his life Lot would have agreed with Paul. Indeed, he might well have said, “Getting to live on the lush land of the river valley was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”