If you've been here for the last three weeks, you know we've studied the six literal days of Creation, the fall of mankind, and the stories of Noah and the Flood and the Tower of Babel. That completed the first major division of Genesis. The second major division of Genesis begins here in Chapter 12. It is the history of the Hebrew patriarchs as it traces the formation of the Israelite people. The four major characters of patriarchal history are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The rest of Genesis centers around these four individuals. We'll all be very familiar with these men when we finish this study.
The first great Hebrew patriarch, who later became known as the "father of the Hebrew people," is Abram. We know him better as Abraham which is what God changes his name to later in Chapter 17. Abram is a "man of faith." It is the key theme of his life that is given prominence in the New Testament record in Romans 4, Hebrews 11 and James 2. Abram's faith is an active faith that led him to obey.
Let's back up and pick up our story. Evil continued to increase from the time of the Flood to Abram. We know that the people during this period worshipped many gods, including Abram's family. Immorality was rampant. So God, who intended to save humanity, decided to begin anew in one family "through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed."
God chose Abram's family to bring salvation to the rest of mankind. Abram lived in the city of Ur, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Sumer. Around the year 2000 BC God called Abram. He is told to leave, forfeit his country, kindred and his father's house. We cannot overemphasis the importance of the call of Abram in the Biblical record of redemption. The entire Biblical story can be organized around the fulfillment of God's promises to Abram as these involve the development of a people (Israel) to whom is given a land (Canaan) and through whom comes a blessing for all nations (the Messiah).
On a map we can trace the steps of Abram from Ur to Haran (north of Canaan) through the land of Canaan, into Egypt and back into Canaan. God promised this land to Abram and his descendants. In contrast to the sea, mountains and deserts that surround it, Canaan offers fertile soil, water and a pleasant climate. (It is shaken by an occasional earthquake.)
Canaan is the southern tip of an area known as the Fertile Crescent. This narrow semicircle of land in the Near East receives enough moisture to grow crops. From this well-favored strip of land rose the great nations of the Old Testament.
Canaan (or Palestine) is in a strategic location. God chose a prominent place for His people to prove themselves to be a "Holy" nation. The Land of Canaan is strategically located between the great civilizations of the Near East. Egypt is to the southwest, Phoenicia and Syria to the north and Assyria and Babylonia to the east. Canaan could not isolate herself from her neighbors. From here they are forced to get involved in world politics. In war time they are never safe. Everyone had to pass through Canaan to conquer anywhere.
There are advantages to being crisscrossed by surrounding cultures. Here the young Hebrew nation can be enriched by the art, literature, building techniques and scientific accomplishments of other nations. Canaan was a teeming center of trade in the Ancient Near East. Canaan had honey, olive oil, wine, spices, tar and petroleum to offer to traders in exchange for their goods.
God leads Abram to this land along with Sarai, Lot and their entourage. At Shechem God tells Abram that this land will be given to his descendants. Abram builds an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. I don't know how impressed Abram was with this new land. It was certainly better than the desert areas to the east and south, but soon after entering this promised land there is a severe famine. Famines were not an uncommon event to this area and the thing to do was to head southwest into Egypt where the crops did not depend so much on the rainfall as they did on the Nile River for their moisture. God had led Abram here into Canaan, but the writer doesn't say God led Abram into Egypt. Once God gets Abram to Canaan He seems to let Abram make the rest of the choices.
Abram chooses to go into Egypt to escape the famine. Upon reading through the text of this lesson the first time, I couldn't help but notice how often Abram built an altar unto the Lord. When I read through it the second time, I noticed that Abram does NOT build an altar unto the Lord when he goes down into Egypt. Granted, this is not the land that God had promised him, but I would think he would be thankful enough to get to a land where there was plenty of food that he would want to thank God by sacrificing to Him. But, Abram chooses not to, or perhaps it doesn't even enter his mind. And here's where the trouble begins.
Here we see Abram, the champion of faith, heralded many times even in the New Testament for his faith, slip a little. We see he is but a mortal man, imperfect, subject to mistakes just as we are. I'm thankful God sees fit to have Moses include this part of Abram's life for us to see. For although Abram deceives Pharaoh by telling him Sarai is his sister and not mentioning she is his wife, God still loves him and does not take away His promise to him. God still takes care of him even though he is not so perfect. I'm not even sure Abram sees this lie, deceit, as a sin. He shows no remorse. In fact, he repeats the deceit in Chapter 20 to king Abimelech.
Upon returning into Canaan, Abram and Lot decide this land cannot support both of their herds. Abram tells Lot to choose which part of the country he wants and Abram will take the other part. This is very magnanimous of Abram. We'll all agree that Lot, being the nephew, the younger and not the patriarch of the family, should have thanked Abram politely for offering him first pick, but then should have insisted that Abram choose first. Either these men were men of few words or the Bible doesn't record the whole conversation. We know the herdsmen had been arguing. Either for greed or lack of manners, Lot goes ahead and chooses what appears on the surface to be the best choice of land for himself, his family and herds.
Could there possibly be another reason why Lot was so quick to choose? Allow me to speculate some here. Perhaps Lot was so quick to make this decision because of a previous decision. What do we know of these men's lives? They have a similar background. They are both from the same country, same household. They have had similar educations, similar wealth. There probably wasn't that much difference in their age. One difference is their wives. We know from Hebrews 11 that Sarah, Abram's wife, was a woman of faith. What do we know of Lot's wife? Does any one know her name? NO. What does it say about her in the New Testament? Luke 17:32 says "Remember Lot's wife." That's all the New Testament says about her. Remember Lot's wife. What is it we remember about her? Her worldliness. She had to look back to see Sodom as it was being destroyed even after being warned of the consequences. Do you see what I'm getting at? Perhaps Lot felt compelled to choose the most suitable looking land in order to best get along with one of his earlier choices - his worldly wife. Now that's a lot of reading in between the lines on my part to justify Lot's choice of choosing his land first. But so many of the times aren't our decisions greatly influenced by our previous decisions? Don't our husbands base many of their choices on what will be most pleasing to us? We're one of their earlier choices. Don't we sometimes subtly pressure our husbands into making choices they would not normally make just to make us happy? Amos, in chapter 4 and following, warns us about our attitude toward material things and even about pushing our husbands to provide us with those things. So, before we blame Lot totally for his decision to choose first, perhaps we better consider what other things might be pressuring him.
Choices. If we had the ability to see into the future, our decisions would all be easy to make, wouldn't they? As we go through Genesis we are going to see a lot of decisions made. I wonder, if we kept a running tally, if all the good decisions were made after God was consulted, and if the bad ones were made without a thought toward God. Abram remembers God when he first enters Canaan and again when he returns, but it isn't mentioned if he consulted God or thanked God when he goes down into Egypt and deceives Pharaoh. We don't see Lot stopping to pray to God to ask for wisdom before choosing his part of the land. It does prove to be a bad decision by him in Chapter 14 when he is carried off into captivity after the war of the kings. And it will bring him more trouble later in chapter 19.
Now a difference in wives is probably not the only reason Lot chose to choose his land first. There seems to be a difference in vision between this uncle and nephew. Lot took what he could physically see was good. The Jordan Valley looked on the surface to be the better choice. Abraham could see goodness in what was unseen -- with a vision of faith. The same faith, that led him to leave his country and kindred, led him to accept this less appealing land as acceptable. The Lord reaffirms His promise to Abram, telling him this land will be given to his descendants and that those descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth. And once again Abram builds an altar to the Lord.
Abram left his own country, father's house and kindred, took at the command of God a journey to this promised land, and didn't cease till he arrived in it. We need to follow his example...not to leave our country and kin, but to cast aside whatever physical things are weighing us down, come out from among the workers of sin, set out for the kingdom of God, and not rest till we reach the heavenly promised land. Abram had to exchange the known for the unknown and find his reward in what he could not see. This is that vision of faith instead of physical vision that we talked about earlier. In the same way, we have to exchange what we know, this world, for the unknown, heaven, to find our reward. How many set out for the Kingdom of Heaven, make good progress for a time in their journey, but get side-tracked, perhaps because of a poor decision that we forgot to consult God about? On our journey to that unknown we will be faced with decisions, choices to make. Let's decide today to make every decision only after consulting the Lord.
Over four centuries after Abram's time, his descendants came out of Egypt, back into Canaan to take the land that the Lord had promised Abram. The Israelites had to make a decision - whether to serve false gods such as they had seen in Egypt and now saw in Canaan or to serve the one true God who had led them out after a series of miracles. Joshua, their leader at this time, gives them some wonderful words of wisdom in chapter 24:15 that is familiar to us. He says, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." The people adamantly answer, "We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God" (Joshua 24:21, 24). And the Bible says the Israelite people did serve God all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR