So far we’ve seen how, in the beginning, God created a world which was the ideal home for Adam and Eve and all their descendants to live in. The world was full of good things for them to enjoy; and the Garden of Eden, in particular, was filled with trees and plants which were pleasing to the eye and good for food. They had it all and God had been good to them.
But, even though the Lord had been good to them, they still disobeyed him. They listened to the Tempter and they ate the forbidden fruit. And God’s good world was spoiled. And we saw how God announced that there would therefore be trouble in the home. Husbands and wives would fight against one another and having a family would be difficult and painful. And there would be trouble at work. Work would be hard and difficult and frustrating. So, there would still be families. And there would still be work. But family life and work life was spoiled like everything else in the world because of human sin. And at the end of a hard and difficult life, there would be death. Death will come to all.
And we saw how sin, and the misery that accompanies it, spread throughout the world. So, Cain killed his brother, Abel. And then there was Lamech who took several wives for himself instead of only one. And having murdered a young man, this same Lamech boasted about it instead of being ashamed at what he had done. And though, in those days, people lived long lives, nevertheless the list of Adam’s descendants in chapter 5 reminds us that death comes to all.
So, there’s sin and there’s misery throughout the world. And in chapter 6 we read how God was sorry that he ever made us because he saw that every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil all the time. Every inclination. Only evil. All the time. So, God was determined to wash the world clean with a flood and to start over again. And that’s what he did in the days of Noah. Every living thing died in the flood apart from Noah and his family and all the animals with them in the ark.
But, after the flood, things were no better than they were before. Noah and his sons soon showed that they too were sinners. And then we had the story of the Tower of Babel in chapter 11 and the people who wanted to be like God. Do you remember? They wanted to climb up to heaven by building a tower. And instead of praising the Lord who made them, and glorifying his name, they wanted to make a name for themselves so they their name would be known around the world.
Well, at the end of chapter 11, the name of Abram appears for the first time. And, in chapter 12, we saw how God chose Abram and called him to leave his father’s household and go to the land he would show him. And do you remember the promises he made to Abram at that time? He was going to give him many, many descendants so that a great nation would come from him. And God was going to give him and his descendants a land to live in which would be their home. And we thought about how those promises were fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way because the Jews are descended from Abraham and God gave them the land of Canaan to be their home. But we also thought about how those promises are fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way because the promise of descendants points forward to the church and to all those who share Abraham’s faith. And the promise of land points forward ultimately to the Promised Land of eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth which we read about in the last book of the Bible where all of God’s believing people will live for ever and ever.
And, of course, in chapter 12 God also promised Abram that all peoples on the earth will be blessed through him. And Christians have always understood that the Lord was referring in that promise to the coming to the Lord Jesus Christ into the world, because the Lord Jesus — according to his human nature — was descended from Abram; he was Abram’s offspring. And all who believe in him are blessed by God because God gives to all who believe in Jesus Christ the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life.
So, that’s where we got to before I went on holiday. Today we come to chapter 13. And really this chapter can be divided into three main sections. First of all, there’s verses 1 to 4 and the introduction to the chapter. Secondly, there’s verses 5 to 12 which tells us how Abram and Lot had to split up and go their separate ways. And then thirdly, there’s verses 13 to 18 where the Lord repeats his promises to Abram. And from those three sections I want to draw out three points about Abram and the example he leaves believers today. And then I want to make one final point at the end to show how this chapter points forward to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Verses 1 to 4
So, first of all, there’s verses 1 to 4. And in verse 1 we read how Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev. What was he doing in Egypt? Well, do you remember in chapter 12 how Abram and his wife, Sarai, went down to the land of Egypt because there was a famine in the land of Canaan; and they needed the food that was only available in Egypt. Now, in verse 1 of chapter 13, we’re told that they left Egypt and went up to the Negev which was in the land of Canaan. In other words, he’s back in the Promised Land. And we’re told that Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. Where had all this wealth come from? Well, back in verse 16 of chapter 12 we were told that the Pharaoh of Egypt treated him well while he was there and he acquired sheep and cattle and donkeys and menservants and maidservants and camels. So, he left Egypt as a very rich man. And you’ll see from verse 1 of chapter 13 that his nephew, Lot, is still with him.
Well, from the Negev, he travelled about from place to place, until he came to Bethel and to the altar which he had built between Bethel and Ai which we first read about in verse 8 of chapter 12. And, at the altar, he called on the name of the Lord In other words, once again he engaged in public worship.
Now, if you glance at the end of the chapter, you’ll see in verse 18 that Abram later moved to Mamre where he built another altar to the Lord. So, this chapter begins with worship and it ends with worship. Wherever Abram went, and wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar to the Lord and he worshipped him.
Well, I said the last time that the tent and the altar sum up the believer’s life, don’t they? The tent reminds us that we’re pilgrims on the earth. This world is not our true home. It’s our temporary home; and we’re looking forward to the time when we will come to our true and eternal home in the presence of God in heaven. So, like Abram, we’re pilgrims, longing for a better country, a heavenly one as the writer to the Hebrews puts it.
And the altar reminds us that we’re worshippers. Our chief end in life — as our Catechism teaches us — is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. And one of the main ways to glorify him and to enjoy him in this life is by meeting together for worship.
So, this little note about Abram calling on the name of the Lord reminds us of our duty to worship the Lord and to praise him and to give thanks to him for his goodness to us.
And then look briefly at the end of verse 7 which reveals a little of what life must have been like for Abram in those days. At the end of verse 7 we’re told that the Canaanites and the Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. In other words, Abram was surrounded by pagan nations. He was surrounded by unbelievers. But Abram didn’t let the presence of those pagan nations put him off. He continued to worship the Lord and to do so in a public way by building these altars and by calling on the name of the Lord.
And so, Abram leaves us an example to follow. Even though we may find ourselves surrounded by unbelievers, we ought not to let the number of unbelievers put us off, but we must continue to do what Abram did and worship the Lord. And as we do so, we’re testifying to the world around us that we believe in a God who deserves our praise and our thanks for all his goodness to us.
Well, sometimes Christian speakers talk about how Christians need to be counter-cultural. And what they mean is that we need to stand out from the crowd and by the things we do and by the way we live our lives, we can show the world that we’re different. Well, there’s nothing more counter-cultural than for us to meet together every Sunday morning and evening and to bow reverently before our God to worship him. People may scratch their heads and wonder what a strange thing it is for us to sings psalms and hymns together instead of the latest pop songs. And they might think what a strange thing it is for us to bow in prayer and to talk to someone we cannot see. And they might think what a strange thing it is for us to read the Bible and listen to sermons. But, of course, we do these things because our God has commanded us to do these things and we believe he’s deserve to be obeyed and worshipped.
This chapter begins and ends with worship because Abram believed it was right to worship the Lord. And therefore he leaves us an example to follow.
Verses 5 to 13
Let’s move on now to verses 5 to 13 where we learn that Abram and Lot needed to separate. And this section teaches us that Abram was not only a worshipper, but he was also a peacemaker.
In verse 2 we learned that Abram had become a very wealthy man, with lots of livestock. And in verse 5 we’re told that Lot too had become a rich man. He too had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them both. You know, there were so many sheep and goats and donkeys and camels that there wasn’t enough grass to feed them all. There may not have been enough wells to water them all either. And so, look at the outcome in verse 7: quarrelling broke out between Abram’s men and Lot’s men. The men Abram hired to look after his livestock began to argue with the men Lot had hired to look after his livestock. And we can imagine them losing their temper with one another, and shouting at one another. And, of course, if it was allowed to continue, we can imagine that very soon they’d be fighting one another.
But Abram comes forward as a peacemaker. Look at verse 8:
So Abram said to Lot: ‘Let’s not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.’
So, he takes the initiative and he wants to put a stop to this quarrelling before it gets out of hand. And he has a suggestion. Verse 9:
Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company.
Now, it’s a very simple solution. He’s saying to Lot that there’s plenty of land, more than enough for both of them. So, if they separate and go in different directions, there will be enough for his livestock and there will be enough for Lot’s livestock. Instead of arguing, it’s better for us to separate.
And then look at the rest of verse 9. Abram continued and said:
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.
In other words:
Lot, I’m leaving it to you. You decide. Take your pick. Whatever you choose is fine with me.
And in verses 10 to 13 we read how Lot looked up and he looked out at all the land in front of them. And from their vantage point, Lot was able to see the whole plain of the Jordan. And he could see that it was well-watered, which is what a farmer needs if he’s going to water his livestock and grow any crops. And this plain was so well-watered — so lush and green — that it seemed to Lot as if it was the garden of the Lord. That is, it was like the Garden of Eden. It was like Paradise. And it was like the fertile fields of Egypt And then there’s a little parenthesis. Do you see that? The words in brackets. And Moses is saying to the reader that this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. In other words, it before the land was scorched by the burning sulphur which the Lord poured out upon Sodom. When Lot looked out on this land, it was still lush and green and well-watered. It was perfect. And so, Lot chose it for himself. And off he went, completely happy with his choice.
Abram has shown that he was a peacemaker. He managed to keep the peace between himself and his nephew, and between his men and Lot’s men.
Now, we need to understand that, in this fallen world, disputes will happen all the time. Husbands and wives can testify to this: Though husbands and wives love one another and love one another more than they love any other person in the world, nevertheless, from time to time, husbands and wives can wind each other up and they can become impatient with one another and they can fall out. So, if loving husbands and wives can fall out, anyone can fall out. So, disputes are bound to happen in this fallen world. But the important thing is for us to be peacemakers and to take the initiative to make peace with anyone who has fallen out with us just as Abram did. And this is our duty as believers. Blessed are the peacemakers, the Lord Jesus said, for they will be called the sons of God. He also said:
if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother.
Before coming to worship the Lord, go and make peace with the person who is upset with you. If it is possible, said Paul to the Romans, live at peace with everyone. So, disputes and quarrels will arise in our families and in our church. But we ought to be like Abram and try to sort things out before they get out of hand.
But there’s another thing to notice here. Abram was Lot’s uncle. He was the elder of the two. And therefore he had the right and the authority to choose first. He could have looked around and decided which land he wanted for himself. And he could have chosen first and left Lot with whatever was left. In other words, he could have put himself first and snatched the best for himself. But he didn’t. He let Lot have first choice. And in doing so, he points us forward to the Lord Jesus who did not put himself first, but who put us first when he went to the cross and suffered and died to pay for our sins. The Lord Jesus could have put himself and his own safety first. He could have thought about what was best for himself. But instead, his first thought was: what was best for us and how he needed to suffer and to die in order for us to have everlasting life.
Abram leaves us an example of being a peacemaker and of doing what we can to sort things out with someone who has fallen out with us. But he also points us forward to the Saviour who did not put himself first, but who put us first when he died for us on the cross.
Verses 14 to 18
Well, let’s move on to the third section, verses 14 to 18. Lot has made his decision and he’s gone off to live in the land he chose for himself. And we read in verse 14 that the Lord spoke to Abram after Lot had left him. Now, maybe Abram was feeling a little sad. Perhaps he was wondering what would happen to him now. Perhaps he was going to miss the company of his nephew. Perhaps he was going to miss his help. Perhaps he wished he had been able to live in the land Lot had chosen. We don’t really know what Abram was thinking or feeling at that moment. But, whatever it was, the Lord chose that time to speak to him and to re-assure him.
And what did the Lord tell him? Well, he told him nothing new. He didn’t reveal anything new to him. All he did was to repeat what he had already said to Abram in chapter 12. So he promised to give him the land. That’s in verses 14 and 15:
Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south and east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever.
And he also promised to give him many descendants. That’s in verse 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.
Essentially, he was repeating the promises of chapter 12.
And the point I want to make here is that this is what the Lord does when he wants to re-assure us and to comfort us. He doesn’t reveal anything new to us, but he reminds us of what he’s already promised us. He doesn’t need to give us new revelations. Instead he reminds us of what he’s already promised us in his word. And so, whenever we’re upset, or anxious, or afraid, or troubled, we ought to turn to God’s word and to seek comfort and consolation from it and from all of God’s promises to us.
So then, we’re learnt that Abram was a worshipper and we too should follow his example. And Abram was a peacemaker and so should we be peacemakers. And God directed him to his promises to re-assure him and we too should turn to God’s word and to all his promises to find the comfort and re-assurance we need. The final point I want to make today is to show you how this chapter points us to the good news of Jesus Christ. Look again at God’s promise to Abram in verses 14 and 15. God said to him:
Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south and east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever.
All the land that you see I will give to you. Abraham didn’t have to buy the land with his riches. He didn’t have to earn the land by his hard work and labour. He didn’t have to do anything in order to get the land. God was going to give it to him. It was going to be God’s gift to him.
And look at verse 7 again: The Canannites and the Perizittes were living in the land at that time. In other words, the land was already occupied at that time. So, how was Abram ever going to take possession of it? Well, he wasn’t going to be able to do it on his own or with his own resources. He wasn’t going to be able to do it by his own might: he was only one man against all the other nations who lived there at the time. No, he wasn’t going to be able to take the land by himself. But God was going to give it to him.
And this points us forward to the good news of Jesus Christ because in the gospel God promises to give his believing people the promised land of eternal life. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us. We can’t buy our way into it. We can’t earn our way into it. We can’t climb up to heaven by our good deeds and hard work. There’s nothing we ourselves can do to enter eternal life. But in the gospel, God promises to give us eternal life. It’s his gift to us.
And so, here’s Abram. The Canannites and the Perizittes are already in the land. Lot and his men have left him. So, how on earth will Abram ever be able to take over this land? Well, he won’t be able to do it himself. But God was promising to give it to him and to his descendants after him. And how can any of us ever hope to reach heaven? What can we ever give to God to win his favour? What can we ever do for God to make up for our sins? Well, there’s nothing we can do for him. But the good news is that we don’t need to do anything to make up for our sins, because Jesus Christ our Saviour died to pay for all our sins. And eternal life is God’s gift to all who believe in his Son.
And so, the chapter ends with Abram, building an altar to the Lord so that he would be able to worship the Lord and give thanks to him. And that’s what we ought to do: we ought to believe his promises to us and we ought to give thanks to him for all that he has done to give us everlasting life.