14. Lot Looks Out For Number One (Genesis 13:5-18)
This week, as I was preparing for this message, I was reminded of a recent best seller entitled, Looking Out For Number One. Thinking that this book might provide me with some illustrative material, I went to the library to check it out. All the volumes were missing from the shelf. I take it that many today are operating on this premise.
Lot never read any books on the subject, but he had it down to a science, as we can see from the account of Moses in Genesis chapter 13. Here, the time for Lot and Abram to separate had come. In their parting we find a contrast between these two saints in their motives and actions, a contrast which serves as a warning for those who think that God blesses those who look out for themselves at the expense of others.
A Relationship Is Strained
As they came out of Ur with Terah, Abram and Lot seemed inseparable, even when God had commanded Abram to leave his relatives behind.
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’ (Genesis 12:1).
But finally, the ties between the two were weakening. Essentially their separation was caused by three factors which are recorded in verses 5-7:
Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents and the land could not sustain them while dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land (Genesis 13:5-7).
The first problem was the success of both men as keepers of flocks. Both Abram (13:2) and Lot (13:5) had prospered. Now their flocks and herds had become so large that they could no longer dwell together (13:6). This was especially true for nomadic tribesmen who must travel about looking continually for pasture for their sheep and cattle.
The second problem was the strife which seemed to be steadily growing between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot (13:7). Each man’s herdsmen sought water and the best pasture for the animals of their master. This competition inevitably led to conflict between the herdsmen of Lot and Abram.
It would probably not be far from the facts to suggest that some irritation already had become evident between Abram and Lot themselves. This may be implied by Abram’s words in verse 8. This also would be true to life. Whenever there is contention between followers, there most often will be strife between the leaders also.
If the first problem is the success of both Abram and Lot, and the second is the resulting strife, the third is the fact that the land where they sojourned was shared with others; namely the Canaanites and the Perrizites (13:7).
It is all too easy to forget that none of the land of Canaan as yet belonged to either Abram or Lot. When Abram and Lot separate in this chapter, they part paths; they do not divide real estate. They are both living in a land which is occupied by the Canaanites and Perrizites.
This seemingly incidental remark from the pen of Moses not only reminds us that Abram was a sojourner, dwelling in a land that would some day belong to his seed, but it may also suggest that the strife which existed between he and Lot was a poor testimony to those who looked on with interest. Further, Abram and Lot not only had to share pasture between themselves, but were at the mercy of those who had prior claim to the land.
I smile as I read these verses, for God works in strange and sometimes humorous ways to accomplish His will. Long before, God had told Abram to leave his country and his relatives. At that time, leaving Lot was mainly a matter of principle. Abram was to do it because God had said to. Now, years later, Abram reluctantly acknowledged that a separation must take place, not as a matter of principle, but out of practical expediency.
My friend, one way or the other God’s will is going to be done. It could have been done by Abram in Ur, but it was not. God providentially brought an irritation and competition between Abram and Lot which forced a separation to occur. Sooner or later, God’s purposes will come to pass. If we do not see the need for obedience, God will create one. You can count on it.
A Request Is Made
No doubt the problem which caused Abram and Lot to separate had long been evident. I would imagine that Abram had frequently discussed it with Sarai, his wife. The text does not tell us any of this, but I suspect that Sarai’s words were to Abram the same as countless wives have reserved for such a time as this: “I told you so.”
Often, the course of action which is inevitable is obvious to our mate long before we are willing to accept the reality of our circumstances. Sarai may well have posed a very different solution than the one Abram formulated. She might have said to Abram, “Tell Lot to hit the trail.” “God didn’t call Lot to Canaan, Abram, but you.” “Let him leave!” All of this, of course, is mere conjecture on my part. But any student of human nature would have to find it at least a realistic possibility.
Abram’s solution could not have been more gracious or godly. His motivation seems to be ethically, and not economically, based.
Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right, or if to the right, then I will go to the left’ ( Genesis 13:8-9).
More than anything, Abram wanted to maintain peace and heal the strife which had come between himself and Lot. The overriding principle is that of the unity of brotherhood that must be preserved. Strangely, though very practically, this unity is to be preserved by separation. Someone must leave, either Abram or Lot.
Seemingly, it was obvious that they must separate. The only question was who would leave, and where would he go? Abram left that decision to Lot. Whichever way Lot chose, Abram would act correspondingly. The offer gave Lot the advantage, and left Abram vulnerable.
A Resolution and Its Results
It would seem that both men were standing on a high spot from which all of the surrounding land was visible when Abram made his offer to Lot. Lot’s decision was made on the basis of cool calculation. With the eye of an appraiser, he looked over the land, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the options:
And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other (Genesis 13:10-11).
As the father of five children, I can appreciate what went into the look of Lot as he surveyed the land about them. Any of my children could work for the Bureau of Standards. With a mere glance, each can easily gauge the quantity of root beer in any glass. Without any apparent effort they reach out for a glass and the first to grab always ends up with the largest, no matter how small the difference. That same kind of look was evident in the eyes of Lot.
He fixed his gaze on the beautiful Jordan valley. Its beautiful green evidenced the presence of the plentiful waters of the Jordan for irrigation. The parched hills and dusty ground beyond were of little interest. There was scarcely any water there.
Literally, this Jordan valley was a paradise. It was just like that ‘garden of the Lord’ (13:13). It, too, seems to have been provided for by irrigation, rather than rain (Genesis 2:6, 10ff.). The Jordan valley was also like the land of Egypt. One did not have to live by faith in such a place for water was abundant, and one did not have to look to God for rain.
And so Lot’s choice was made, clearly the shrewd decision, and seemingly the choice that gave him the decided edge in the competition between himself and Abram. It was, in my mind, a selfish decision—one that took all of the best and left Abram with that which seemed worthless.
The simplest and fairest separation would have been to make the Jordan river the boundary between the two men. What would have been more fair than to have chosen one side of the river to dwell in and to leave the other to Abram? But Lot chose ‘all the valley of the Jordan’ (verse 11). He did a masterful job of looking out for number one. He could have written a book on that subject.
Abram and Lot have now separated. Abram dwelt in Canaan, while Lot edged more and more closely to Sodom.
Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:12).
Lot had considered very carefully the economic factors of his decision, but he totally neglected the spiritual dimensions. God had promised to bless Abram, and others through him as they blessed Abram (Genesis 12:3). As Lot went his way, I believe he patted himself on the back for putting one over on old Abe. He must have been soft in the head to give such an advantage to Lot, and Lot was just sharp enough to cash in on it. But in the process, he did not bless Abram, but belittled him. That necessitated cursing and not blessing (Genesis 12:3).
Furthermore, Lot had not considered the consequences of living in the cities of the valley. While the soil was fertile and water was plentiful, the men in those cities were wicked. The spiritual cost of Lot’s decision was great. And, in the final analysis, the material benefits all become losses, too.
Lot did not intend, I believe, to actually live in the cities of the valley. At first, he simply set off in that general direction (cf. verse 11). But once our direction is set, our destination is also determined for it is now only a matter of time. While Lot lived in his tents at first (13:2), before long he has traded in his tent for a townhouse in Sodom (19:2,4,6). He may have lived in the suburbs initially, but at last he lived in the city (19:1ff).
Some decisions may not seem very significant, but they set a particular course for our lives. The decision may not seem very important, but its final outcome can be terrifying and tragic. And often the appearance is that his choice is one that is certain to be to our advantage. Material prosperity should never be sought at the cost of spiritual peril.
How time can change our perspective of prosperity! When the decision was made to settle in the Jordan valley, it was a virtual paradise (13:10). Moses, however, included a parenthetical remark which put this beauty in a very different light: “This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 13:10).
How different things appear in the wake of divine judgment. A beautiful paradise, and so it was—until God brought down fire and brimstone upon it (19:24). From that day on it was a wasteland.
Far more than the loss of his possessions and his prosperity, Lot paid a terrible price for his short-lived pleasure. According to Peter, Lot’s soul was continually vexed by what he saw in that city (II Peter 2:7). Even when the saint is surrounded by sensual pleasure, he cannot enjoy sin for long. And more tragic than anything, Lot paid for his decision in his family. His wife was turned to salt because of her attachment to Sodom (19:26). His daughters seduced Lot and caused him to commit incest, no doubt a reflection on the moral values they had learned in Sodom (19:30ff.).
Reassurance for Abram
It is of interest that God did not speak to Abram (so far as Scripture informs us, at least) until after he had made his decision to separate. This fact is not incidental, but fundamental, for we read, “And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, … ” (Genesis 13:14).
God’s call of Abram (12:1-3), so far as we can discern, was to Abram alone. So also was the confirmation in chapter 13. God had commanded Abram to leave his relatives (12:1). Blessing could not come apart from obedience to God’s revealed will, and neither would reassurance. Humanly speaking, the only thing which stood in the way of divine blessing was human disobedience. God removed that barrier by providentially separating Lot, and now the promise of God is restated.
‘… Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you’ (Genesis 13:14b-17).
Lot had ‘lifted up his eyes’ (verse 10) and beheld the land before him with the eyes of one weighing financial promise, Abram was commanded to look through the eyes of faith in God’s promise.
Abram here may have stood on some elevated spot, surveying the land that was his, and perhaps also that land which Lot had chosen to occupy. If I had been standing in Abram’s sandals, I would have had many second thoughts. Had I not given up my golden opportunity? Did Sarai think that I had played the part of the fool? Had I failed her; had I failed God in my decision? A look at the luxuriant green of the Jordan valley against the brown barrenness of the waterless hills might have inspired such thoughts.
Yet God assured Abram that all the land he beheld was to be given him. Lot may have chosen to live in Sodom, but God had not given it to him for a possession, nor would He. Lot was to be a sojourner in Sodom (cf. 19:9) and not for long, either. Giving Lot the advantage was not giving up his hopes for the future, for it is ultimately God Who brings blessing to men by His sovereign choice.
As Abram stood, looking over the land, he could perhaps see the rich black dirt of the Jordan valley where Lot was headed. Also he could see the dust which blew about him, typifying the land where he would live. But God used that very dust as a testimony to the blessings that would come. His seed would be as plentiful as the dust which dominated the land where he lived. No longer was he to look on that dust with doubt, but with hope, for it was to be the symbol of future blessing.
God’s final word to Abram in this visitation was to survey the land which would someday be his. For now he was not to possess it, but to inspect it with the eye of faith. The promise, “For I will give it to you” (verse 17) is future. It was not until the occupation of the land by the Israelites under Joshua that this promise was fulfilled. God’s promises take time to be possessed, and this is because God has planned it that way.
How gracious God is to speak words of comfort and reassurance when all appearance of blessing seems out of reach. How good to be reminded that God’s Word is reliable and that His promises are as certain as He is sovereign.
Abram’s response revealed a growing faith in the God Who called him. He moved his tents toward Hebron, settling near the oaks of Mamre. It was a plot of ground which belonged to another, not Abram (cf. 14:3), but it was where God wanted him to be. There Abram built an altar and worshipped his God.
How different were the paths of these two men after they separated. The one was almost imperceptibly edging closer and closer to the city of Sodom, to live among godless and wicked men, and all for the sake of financial gain. The other was living the life of the sojourner, dwelling on those barren hills, with his hope in the promises of God. One lives in his tent and builds an altar of worship; the other trades in his tent for an apartment in the city of wicked men. Here was a decision which bore heavily on the destiny of two men, but, far more, on the destiny of their offspring.
The decisions reached by Abram and Lot are the same as those which confront every Christian. We must decide whether to trust in the sovereignty of God or in our own schemes and devices. We must determine whether to trust in the ‘uncertainty of riches’ or in the God Who ‘richly supplies us’ (I Timothy 6:17). We must decide whether to invest in the ‘passing pleasures of sin’ or the future ‘reward’ which is promised by God (Hebrews 11:25-26).
These decisions are clearly contrasted in the separation of Lot and Abram. Lot chose to act on the basis of utility; Abram on the basis of unity. For the sake of unity, Abram was willing to be taken advantage of (cf. I Corinthians 6:1-11, esp. verse 7).
Abram acted on the ground of faith in a God Who had promised to provide. Lot chose to direct his life on the uncertain foundation of financial security. Abram was greatly blessed, and Lot lost it all.
Lot chose to dwell in a city which seemed like paradise (13:10), but was filled with sinners. Abram decided to live in a deserted place, but where he could freely worship his God.
Abram beautifully illustrates the truth of two New Testament facts. First, he provides a commentary on these words, spoken by our Lord:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (Matthew 5:5,9 NIV).
Abram was a man of meekness. He was not a man of weakness, as chapter 14 demonstrates. He did not have to forcefully snatch blessing, but faithfully wait for it from God’s hand. He was one who was given to peace, rather than to sacrifice it for prosperity.
Then, too, we find this incident in the life of Abram instructive when compared to these words from the apostle Paul:
If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the some mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5).
Abram was successful because he was a servant. He did not get ahead in life because he climbed the hill of success over the wreckage of men’s lives who got in his way. He was exalted by God because he placed the interests of others ahead of his own.
He did not consider Lot better than himself, as some translations wrongly suggest. Surely our Lord, Who is the supreme example of humility, did not consider fallen and sinful men better than He, the infinite, sinless God. Rather, He asked to secure their benefit at His expense. He looked to God for blessing and for justice (cf. I Peter 2:23).
The world’s way of getting ahead is to look out for number one. That was Lot’s way, as well. God’s way to blessing is looking up to Number One, and looking out for others (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Such a life can only be lived by faith. Such a life can only cause our faith in God to grow.
The beginning point for every man, woman, and child is to look to God for salvation. We cannot, we dare not, trust in our own shrewdness to get us entrance into God’s kingdom. Often what we perceive to be ‘paradise’ is soon to be destroyed by divine wrath. Faith recognizes our sinfulness and trusts in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for eternal security and blessing. Our own best efforts are doomed to destruction. Only what God promises and provides will endure.
May God enable each of us to trust in Him, and not in ourselves.