After being a bit tough with Abram last week by focusing on how he twice lied—and had Sarai lie—in saying she was his sister rather than his wife in order that his life might be spared, this morning I’m going to make a 180º turn and praise Abram. For what we see him doing in this morning’s passage is truly remarkable. Presented with a situation in which he and his nephew, Lot,[1] need to part ways, Abram—who is Lot’s senior—nonetheless allows Lot to choose the portion of land in which he would like to dwell. By his actions, Abram presents us with an example of what valuing others above ourselves looks like in practice.

As we noted last week, verse 2 of Genesis 13 states that while in Egypt “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” Apparently, so had Lot. As stated in verse 5, “Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.” So much so that, verse 6, “…the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together.” Consequently, verse 7, “…quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s.” What is more, it wasn’t only Abram and Lot who were living in the land, but the “Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.” Therefore, life had become overly crowded in the land of Canaan.

And it is at this point that we learn how Abram valued his nephew, Lot, above himself. For, as recorded in verses 8–9, “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.’” Abram’s answer to the conflict he’s experiencing with Lot on account of the land is to make him a magnanimous offer. After reminding Lot that they were close relatives and imploring that they not quarrel, he told Lot to choose whatever portion of the land he would like. If Lot chose left, Abram would go right; if Lot chose right, Abram would go left. There was plenty of land for both of them so they needn’t quarrel. They could each choose a portion and part amicably as the family they were.

What we learn next, however, is why Abram’s offer was so magnanimous. For at least from where they stood, one part of the land was clearly more desirable than the other. And Lot, for his part, wasn’t nearly as magnanimous as his Uncle Abram. As stated in verse 10, “Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.” One part of the land was so lush that it was reminiscent of the original Garden of Eden where God had placed our first parents, Adam and Eve.[2] Or, to use another example, it was lush like the land of Egypt, home of the mighty life-giving Nile River. Notice, too, the parenthetical note at the end of verse 10 referencing future events and stating that all of this took place “before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” For what we know is that the part of the land that was so lush and green was home to two cities that the LORD would later destroy due to their wickedness. If we can jump to verse 13 for a moment, we read that at this time, “the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” With the advantage of hindsight, we can see the editorial foreshadowing concerning the destruction that was to later come upon both Sodom and Gomorrah. For as one commentator notes, “The names of Sodom and Gomorrah became proverbial for vile wickedness and for divine judgment on sin.”[3]

Yet wicked though these cities may have been, the land they were on was, again, “well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (verse 10). We should remember, as we saw last week, that Abram and Lot along with their families had gone down to Egypt to escape a drought. And here before Abram and Lot stood land that was reminiscent of that in well-watered Egypt from which they had just returned. Given that, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that when presented with a choice by his uncle, verse 11, “Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.” He chose the portion of land that was green and lush and well-watered. And, having done so, “The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” So Abram remained in the land of Canaan, a land that many years later would take on the name of his grandson, Jacob, whose name the LORD would change to Israel—although it would not belong to Israel until many years later when Joshua would conquer it. Lot, for his part, set out for the rich plains near Sodom.

Now before turning to the rest of our passage, I want to note briefly that some time after Abram and Lot amicably parted ways, Abram had to come to the rescue of his nephew. In chapter 14 we’re provided with an account of four kings[4] living in the land who joined ranks and went to war against five kings,[5] including the king of Sodom who lived in the land where Lot had settled. In short, the five kings were defeated by the four. As Genesis 14:11–12 recounts, “11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.” When a man who was able to escape went and told Abram what had taken place, Abram “called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.”[6] Even at this early stage, God was already beginning to make good on his promise to make Abram great as he gave him victory with but 318 men over four kings—who had defeated five kings. This was a victory given Abram not by human strength but by the LORD.

Subsequently, Melchizedek, priest of the God most high, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram, noting that his victory had indeed come from God Most High.[7] The king of Sodom also came out to meet Abram[8] and said to him, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”[9] Abram, however, refused this offer saying, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me….”[10] We see by Abram’s response that whereas Lot had chosen to live near the land of Sodom,[11] Abram wanted to have nothing to do with him and did all in his power to distance himself from him. Any wealth Abram might gain would be due to the LORD’s provision, not that of the king of Sodom.

With this added account, we’re provided a glimpse into various moral qualities in Abram’s character:

First, despite being the head of his family, Abram allowed Lot, his nephew, to choose the seemingly better land to dwell in.[12] This exemplifies the qualities of humility and also of his being a peacemaker;

Second, when Lot subsequently was captured, Abram went to his rescue.[13] This illustrates the qualities of both loyalty and courage;

Third, when praised by Melichizedek for what he had done, “Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”[14] This illustrates the quality of stewardship that acknowledges that all that we have comes from the LORD and, consequently, Abram chose to give back a portion to God’s high priest in acknowledgement of this. As one commentator notes, “A tenth was a king’s share…. By offering Melchizedek a tenth Abram responded to Melichizedek’s action by showing that he in turn acknowledged his kingship in Salem.”[15] You probably know that the word “tithe” means “tenth.” So when we offer a tithe as an expression of our worship, we are acknowledging our gracious Lord Jesus as King!

Fourth, when told by the king of Sodom to keep the goods acquired while rescuing Lot, Abram refused. This illustrates the qualities of wisdom and proportionality as Abram recognized that, unlike Melichizek, the king of Sodom was not noble but wicked. Again, Abram knew that he had been able to rescue Lot by God’s strength, not man’s, since he only had 318 men with him. Therefore, he neither wanted to be obligated to the king of Sodom nor did he set out to plunder anyone, but he sought only to rescue his nephew and therefore was content to receive what they had eaten as recompense.[16]—So have I sufficiently made up for picking on Abram last week?!

Well what I’d like to turn to now is the LORD’s next appearance to Abram recorded in Genesis 13. Starting with verse 14 we read: “14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring[17] forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.’” In these few verses we see God reassuring Abram that he would give him and his offspring not only the immediate land of Canaan he was on but “all the land” he could see, both “to the north and south” and “to the east and west.” What is more, he was told to go and “walk through the length and breadth of the land” for the LORD was giving this land to Abram. Therefore we see that the land was a gift that the LORD promised to provide him. In other words, the land was an expression of God’s grace to Abram who had done nothing to earn or deserve it.

And whereas when the LORD first appeared to Abram in Genesis 12, he had told him that he would make him into a great nation—and bless him—and make his name great—and make him a blessing to the extent that “all peoples on earth” would be blessed through him,[18] here the LORD went on to tell Abram that his offspring would be “like the dust of earth.” In other words, Abram’s offspring would be beyond counting. Think about it. If we picked up a handful of dust, how could we ever possibly count all of those particles of dust? Yet Abram’s offspring would not be as many as a fistful of dust but “like the dust of the earth.” That’s a lot of dust; that’s a lot of offspring. And we should keep in mind as well that at this point, 75 year-old Abram and 65 hear-old Sarai still had no children. Therefore, how difficult this further affirmation from God, promising innumerable descendants, must have been for Abram to understand.

The passage ends in verse 18 with Abram yet again building an altar to the LORD near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron where he pitched his tents. And with this we are reminded yet again of another admirable quality in Abram’s character—he was a man of faith who expressed his faith and trust in God by worshiping his LORD.

I’d like to return now to the first two admirable qualities we noted in Abram, those of peacemaking and humility, when he graciously offered his nephew, Lot, his choice of the land in which he would like to dwell. Regarding peacemaking, we recall how Jesus taught about its importance in his Sermon on the Mount, declaring “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”[19] Because God is the Prince of Peace,[20] all who seek to emulate him will be known as his children. To be peacemakers is part of our call as believers. As Psalm 133 also affirms, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”[21] In choosing to allow Lot to choose the portion of land he desired, Abram was exemplifying what it means to be peacemaker. Later on we’ll see how his life evidenced the further truth taught by James, Jesus’ brother, that “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” [22]

But as we’ve already stated, in offering Lot his choice of the land in which to dwell, Abram further demonstrated a humility that indicated that he valued his nephew, Lot, above himself. By rights, Abram as the head of the house, should have chosen the well-watered portion of land. But instead he humbly allowed Lot the right of first refusal. To use the language of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2, this quality of “in humility, [valuing] others above [ourselves]” is one that all followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that all followers of Jesus Christ are exhorted to display. For in this passage from Philippians, Paul begins by reminding these believers that they are united in Christ—“ if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ.” Because of our union with Christ, believers are one with him as he is one with the Father and Holy Spirit. This means, therefore, that believers are also one with each other. For Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit that by this union we might become like him, loving him and one another not only now but for all eternity.

So, again, the entirety of verse 1 of Philippians 2 states that if we have “any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,” then, verse 2, we are to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” And how do we do this? The same way that Abram did. As stated in verses 3–4, Paul exhorts Christ’s church, “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Why? Verse 5. Because this is what Jesus did. Therefore, in our relationships with one another, we’re to have the same mindset as he.

The key in all of this is to learn, as Abram was learning and would continue to learn, that God who made us; God who saved us; God who is sanctifying us, conforming our selfish hearts into the shape of his selfless heart, is worthy of our trust. He is worthy of our devotion. He is worthy of our obedience.

Dear sisters and brothers, if we trust in God—if we trust in his providence, in his ability to rule and care over the world he has made, then we in humility are to be selfless and value others above ourselves;

If we believe our lives are in his hand, in humility—to use another translation of this verse—we can count others better than ourselves;[23]

If we believe all that we have comes from his gracious hand, then, in lowliness of mind—to use yet another translation—we can esteem others better than ourselves;[24]

If we recognize that the longer and better part of eternity isn’t this earthly portion in which we, like Abram and every other saint who has ever lived is but a sojourner, then we in humility—to use one final translation—can count others more significant than ourselves.[25]

For ultimately, what we learn in the Scriptures that our Maker and LORD has left us is that we have been given life that we might know, love, honor, and serve him and that we might know, love, honor, and serve one another. If this is our purpose, than let us, like Abram, seek to value others above ourselves in order that we might show ourselves to be children of our kind—and gracious—and selfless Father in heaven who gave us his Son and Holy Spirit, that we might be stripped of sin and death and instead receive his righteousness and eternal river of life.

Let us pray.

 

 

 

[1] That Abram is Lot’s uncle is stated in Genesis 11:27–28: “27 This is the account of Terah’s family line.

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.” Apparently after the death of Haran, Lot’s father, Abram took Lot under his wing as indicated in Genesis 12:4–5: 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

[2] This original garden was also well-watered as indicated in Genesis 2:10a: A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.

[3] NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 13:10.

[4] The names of these four kings are stated in Genesis 14:1: At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar [part of modern Iraq],[That is, Babylonia] Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam [part of modern Iran] and Tidal king of Goyim. [The other two kings are probably part of modern Turkey.]

[5] The names of the five kings are stated in Genesis 14:2: these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).

[6] Genesis 14:14–16.

[7] Genesis 14:18–20:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Salem may have been a shortened form of ancient Jerusalem and means “peace.” See Hebrews 7:1–3: 1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

[8] Genesis 14:17: After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

[9] Genesis 14:21.

[10] Genesis 14:22–24.

[11] The Apostle Peter later notes God’s ability to rescue those who are his by referencing Lot whom God delivered from Sodom and Gomorrah when he later destroyed these cities. See 2 Peter 2:4–9: For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.

[12] Genesis 13:8–9:So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

[13] Genesis 14:14–16: 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

[14] Genesis 14:20b.

[15] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 14:20.

[16] Genesis 14:21–24: 21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

[17] Here and in verse 16 “offspring” may also be translated “seed.”

[18] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[19] Matthew 5:9.

[20] The New Testament recognizes Jesus Christ as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

[21] Psalm 133:1.

[22] James 3:17–18: 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

 

[23] Revised Standard Version: “but in humility count others better than yourselves.”

[24] King James Version: “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

[25] English Standard Version: “but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”