Because Iraq has been in the news so much over the past few months, my knowledge of geography in that region of the world has improved. So when I started looking at the Old Testament lesson for this morning that gives details of Abram and Lot’s journey from Ur to Canaan, I was fascinated by where they traveled. The ancient city of Ur from which Abram and Lot left was located about 220 miles SE of modern day Baghdad. This was, at the time, one of the most developed cities in the world.
Their journey started when Terah, Abram’s father, left Ur taking with him Abram and Sarai and Terah’s grandson, Abram’s nephew, Lot. In this journey from Ur to Canaan, the importance of water is shown because rather than cut across the Arabian peninsula, they followed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers northwest over to the Mediterranean Sea and then down the coast to Canaan.
From Ur they followed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers northwest, through present day Iraq until they came to Haran, located in present day Turkey. Here they stayed until Terah died. It was at this point that God called Abram to leave and head to a land he would show him where he would make him the father of a great nation. We read about this call in Genesis 12.
Abram and Lot left Haran in southern Turkey and headed northwest to Aleppo, located in present day northern Syria. There is today a mosque in Aleppo that is said to contain the bones of John the Baptist. From here they came down along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea until they reached Canaan.
When they arrived, they discovered a famine in the land so Abram traveled to Egypt, taking Lot with him. The account we read this morning from Genesis takes place when they returned to Canaan from their time in Egypt. In total, they traveled about 1500 miles or 2400 kilometers, starting from Ur and going to Canaan, on to Egypt and back.
It is interesting to note that as they traveled, their wealth increased. How did this happen? They traveled with their herds of sheep and goats who kept on producing. They lived a nomadic lifestyle. They had a traveling farm. Each day the scouts would go ahead to find the next good place to graze the sheep and goats. When the decision was made, early in the morning the tents would be pulled down and they would set out to the new place to camp. They traveled with the herds until they arrived at the next spot where they would set up tents and rest until the scouts found the next good grazing spot with water and grass for the herds.
They managed the herds as they traveled, protecting their herds and flocks from wild animals and others who would try to steal from them. They were armed to protect themselves. With good management: protecting the sheep and goats and finding good grazing land and water for them, breeding and caring for newborns, with all these things, they became wealthy men as they traveled. Their herds and flocks increased as they made their way. They traded with others they met along the way. They were a traveling business.
When they finally arrived in Canaan, they discovered that the land was going through a famine. So they packed up their tents again and set out for Egypt. By the time they returned to Canaan, they had both become quite wealthy and now their herds were too large for them to travel any longer together. When the scouts found a place to water and graze their flocks, the place they found was not large enough for both their flocks and herds. So the herdsmen began to fight with one another.
5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
Choice is the focus of this sermon, the third in our series of sermons on Intimacy with God. Last week I talked about God’s desire to be in an intimate relationship with us. God initiates an intimate relationship with us and it is his effort that allows us to be in an intimate relationship with him. But an intimate relationship with God does not just happen. There are things we must do. There are choices we must make.
God initiates and God is constantly at work to draw us to himself. But that will not happen unless we participate in the process. In this series of sermons, we will look at a number of things we must do to participate in the process of developing an intimate relationship with God. Today we will look at choices we make. Abram and Lot had to make choices. The rich young ruler we read about in Luke had to make a choice. We have to make choices daily and the choices we make will determine whether or not we are drawn into an intimate relationship with God.
Because their herds were growing, Abram and Lot had to make a choice. They had to separate.
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. 9 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.”
Let’s look at the choices Abram made and then at the choices Lot made.
Abram made a critical choice even before Lot chose which direction he would take and that was to allow Lot to choose and then Abram would take whatever Lot did not want. That is actually quite an incredible choice.
Abram was the elder. He was the uncle of Lot. He was the more powerful of the two. By all rights he should have told Lot where he was going and told Lot to go in the other direction. But he chose not to do that.
Why did he make that choice? Was he just a good hearted man who didn’t want to have any conflict?
What was the choice to be made?
As they looked out over the Jordan Valley from what is today Bethel, they could see the lush plains and fertile land below them. The plains lay to the east and to the west was the hill country. Where would it be easier to find grazing land? In the plains along the Jordan River of course. Where would it be easier to grow your herds and flocks? In the plain along the Jordan River.
So why didn’t Abram make that choice for himself? Why did he allow Lot to make the obviously better choice and then settle for what was left?
There is another piece of interesting information about the choice Abram made. The eastern boundary of Canaan was the Jordan River. To the west of the Jordan River, in the hill country, was Canaan, the land God had promised to Abram. So the more desirable choice was not the land God had promised to Abram.
What was Abram’s thought process as he made the decision, the choice to allow Lot to have first pick of what he wanted? East of the Jordan was obviously the better part of the land for sheep and goats. But God had promised him Canaan, the land on the west of the Jordan River.
But was this such a great promise? After all, when Abram first set eye on Canaan it was in the middle of a drought and famine and he had to leave to go to Egypt. What kind of a promised land was this?
This choice Abram made is one of the reasons he is called by Paul in Romans the father of our faith. Abram did not make a blind decision. He knew what the choices were. God had promised him Canaan and yet Canaan did not seem to be all that much of a bargain. God had promised him Canaan and yet if it were left up to him, he would have chosen east of the Jordan River.
But Abram trusted God and allowed Lot to choose. Letting Lot choose was in fact Abram’s decision to take the land of Canaan because he knew what Lot would choose. Where did Abram’s faith come from? What allowed him to keep on trusting God when there was not much evidence that God’s promises were working out?
He and his wife were still childless. The land God promised him did not seem to be the best deal in the world. But Abram trusted God. Where did this trust in God come from?
Read with me in Genesis 12
7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.
18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.
Abram was in the habit of building altars. What was the function of these altars? In the case of Abram, it seems that he built the altar when he arrived in Canaan as a way of claiming the land God had given him. When Abram received a special revelation from God, he built an altar. He built two altars, at the perimeter of his wanderings in Canaan so wherever Abram went, there was an altar where he could call on the name of the Lord.
Sacrifices, in history, predate altars and altars predate sanctuaries. So what Abram was doing when he built altars was to build a place at which he could worship God. It was like building a church wherever he went. In Genesis 12 he built an altar east of Bethel and in Genesis 13, after his return from Egypt, he went again to this place and worshiped God. He built altars and whenever he came again to an altar he has built, he used it as a place from which he could call on the name of the Lord.
Abram made choices in his life and one of his choices was to seek God, to build altars wherever he went so he could “call on the name of the Lord.”
In Abram’s life he made some bad choices. He tried to pass off his wife Sarai as his sister to prevent his being killed by the Pharaoh of Egypt. That was a bad choice.
Later when he and Sarai continued to be childless, he made a choice and slept with Sarai’s maidservant, Hagar, and Ishmael was born. That was not a good choice.
Abram did not always make good choices, but he sought God. He trusted God, not always completely or perfectly, but he trusted God nonetheless.
God told Abram
Go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
Abram trusted God that God would show him, not Lot, but Abram the land where he would make him into a great nation. And so it was. When Lot chose the fertile plain of Jordan east of the Jordan River and Abram took the hill country west of the Jordan River, that meant that every step Abram took was on the land God had promised to him.
Abram trusted God and was blessed by God. Abram chose to call on the name of the Lord wherever he went and was blessed with an intimate relationship with God.
Now let’s look at the choices Lot made. As in the life of Abram, there is a pattern to the choices Lot made.
His first choice was to take the lush plains of the land to the east of the Jordan River. This was not a bad choice. It seemed to be the best choice to be made.
10 Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. 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.
And then in verse 13 there is some fairly obvious foreshadowing.
13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
Despite the reputation of Sodom, Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.
In the next chapter, Genesis 14, one of the liabilities of living in the lush plain east of the Jordan River becomes obvious. It is kind of like moving into a beautiful new villa in the summer and then discovering that when fall comes and school begins, there is deafening noise all day long just on the other side of the trees coming from the school you had not really paid attention to in the summer.
Or maybe it is like having a vacation somewhere in the summer and loving it so much you decide to move there and buy a house, only to discover that the winters are cold and harsh and all the people you enjoyed interacting with in the summer are nowhere to be found in the winter.
Lot made a choice but failed to see the consequences of his choice, the liabilities of his choice. One of the liabilities of living in the lush plains east of the Jordan River is that it was a difficult place to defend yourself and Lot was captured, along with all his possessions in a war.
When this is recorded in Genesis 14, we discover that between Chapters 13 and 14, Lot has moved.
12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
Lot went from living among the cities of the plain near Sodom to living in Sodom.
The next time we hear of Lot, is when the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah is at hand and the angels come to Sodom to rescue Lot and his family.
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.
What does this mean that Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city? The gateway of the city was a place for doing business and the fact that Lot is sitting here, doing business, reveals that he has been accepted by the men of this city.
Lot went from living among the cities of the plain, near Sodom, to living in Sodom, to integrating himself with the city.
Lot made a series of choices despite the admonition in verse 13
13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
Did Lot choose disobedience to God? Was he wrong to have chosen the lush, fertile plains east of the Jordan River? I don’t think so. Lot did not choose disobedience, he drifted into it.
He made a series of unwise choices, moving closer and closer to Sodom until he was caught up in its destruction.
Look at where he ended up. He fled Sodom with his wife and two daughters to escape God’s judgement against it. His wife was killed in the process and his daughters got him drunk on two successive nights so they could sleep with him to get pregnant.
How is it that Lot made so many unwise choices? Nowhere is it recorded that Lot ever built an altar. We can’t say he never built an altar. But at least from the perspective of the writer of Genesis, the contrast between Abram and Lot can be explained by the fact that Abram built altars and Lot did not.
Lot chose always what seemed easiest to him and he did so without consulting God, without seeking God to get his wisdom and guidance. It doesn’t seem that Lot’s relationship with God was an intimate one.
There are times when choices are black and white. Joseph was faced with the temptation of sleeping with Potiphar’s wife and chose to flee that temptation. The rich young ruler we read about in Luke this morning had to choose between his money and following Jesus.
But many of our choices are not that clear cut. Like Lot, we can drift into disobedience without making such clear-cut decisions.
Let’s say you are living in your country and you hear that if you go to Europe, you can make a lot of money with which you can support your family. So you set out on a journey. At the beginning of this journey, you have certain standards, morals, things you would not do.
You raise the money from your friends and family to begin the journey and set off. Then you discover that you have to pay bribes in order to keep going on. This can be rationalized as just the cost of making progress so you move on. People along the way try to take advantage of you, stealing money you have, stealing your papers, your possessions. So you make alliances with people you would never have associated with back home. But you do it to find protection for yourself.
As you go along, you discover that you need more money than you thought you needed and so you begin to practice deceit, telling some good-hearted person you meet that you have a wife and child that need medical help – when in fact you have no wife or child. But you practice deceit so you can get the money you need to continue.
Eventually you begin to transport and sell drugs, something you thought you would never do. You get involved in prostitution, going around and finding clients for the pimp who is managing the women.
If you stop and look back, perhaps you wonder at what you have become. “How did I get this way?” And the answer is that you have drifted into disobedience. Each decision along the way has been a little step closer to Sodom. You moved to living among the cities near to Sodom to living in Sodom and before you know it, you are now doing business in Sodom, sitting in the city gates.
And like Lot, what awaits you in the future? If you get to Spain, what will happen? The illegal life will continue. You will be selling illegal CDs and other goods. You will continue to hide from the police, running away whenever they come near, being ready to flee from your apartment when you hear them coming.
Drifting into disobedience is not the way to develop an intimate relationship with God. Last week a man asked me to pray for him so that he could get money to travel to Spain. I asked him if he knew that going to Spain without legal papers was an act of disobedience to God. I asked him if God wanted him to pay smugglers to get him illegally into Spain. So, I told him, how could I pray for God to provide him with money so he could use it to disobey God?
There is the way of Lot, the choices of Lot. Choices that seem like they will lead to a life of ease but at the end will prove to be choices that will lead to suffering and misery. Choose instead the way of Abram.
Build an altar this week. Sit down this week with God and ask him what he wants you to do. Open your mind and heart and ask him what he wants you to do. Don’t tell him this is what you are doing. Ask him if he really wants you to live the illegal life your are living.
Abram and Lot both made choices. They both made some bad choices. What made the difference? Abram built altars. Abram was willing to make a difficult choice, taking the hilly country of Canaan rather than the lush plains of the Jordan Valley. And the reason he was willing to make the difficult choices was because he had a trust in God that came out of his habit of building altars and calling on the name of the Lord.
I encourage you this week to take some time and to call on the name of the Lord. Don’t tell God what you are planning to do and then expect him to bless you. Ask God what he wants you to do. Present you plans and then listen to his voice as he directs you in what you should do and where you should go.