The First Return from Egypt

Reading: Genesis 13:1-18

    Abram and Sarai left Egypt richer. They bounced around for a bit and finally settled right back on the land that Yahweh had called them to inhabit, right back at the very place they had originally set out from when they headed toward Egypt. All that travel, all that risk, all that time which could have all been a waste but for God’s grace. The chosen couple returned to the chosen place and one would think that big things are to follow. 

    Instead of miracles or blessings, instead of cosmic events that shift history, instead of everything good that we would expect when all the right people are in the right place at the right time, instead what happens is conflict. Instead of good, instead of relationship, instead of God’s work, what happens is fighting, quarreling, disagreements over resources. 

    It becomes clear that people this rich need more space to support their lifestyles. Abram suggests a separation from his nephew Lot to avoid conflict and even generously offers Lot the first choice of the land (which was still inhabited by other peoples, by established nations and families larger and richer than Abram’s).

    Lot looks around and sees that one half of the land is greener and therefore more likely to easily support himself and his livestock. He chooses and moves away from Abram. And boy is the foreshadowing here subtle: “This was before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”, “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against Yahweh”. The author of Genesis is point blank saying Lot made the wrong choice.

    The thing is, I am having a hard time identifying the right choice. Was Lot supposed to stay with Abram? Would it have been more moral of him to give up some of his worldly possessions to ensure he stayed close to where he knew God was working? Should Lot have picked the less valuable land as an act of kindness or respect toward Abram? Was it that Lot knew of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and decided not to respect how that evil could influence him? Perhaps it was some combination of all of these factors? I really don’t know. All I know is that Lot chose something for himself that he thought would make his life easier. He chose a path that looked smooth and ended up wrecking his life and legacy.

    After Lot leaves Yahweh says to Abram, “All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” All the land that Abram could see included the land that Lot had just moved to, it also included the land that Abram would inhabit to keep from conflicting with Lot and his herdsmen. It also included land ruled by kings and full of populated cities. This promise is a goof thing for Abram, but it also makes conflict unavoidable. At some point, someone is going to disagree with Yahweh’s pronouncement of ownership.

    As part of his promise Yahweh tells Abram to walk the length of the land. 

    So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to Yahweh. That is the actual wording. Abram is told to walk through the land, to travel the length and breadth of Yahweh’s promise. And Abram picks one place and sits down and says, “Hey thanks God, this is great.” It reminds me of Jonah the unwilling missionary who was supposed to warn a city of their coming judgement. Ninevah was so big it took 3 days to travel through. Jonah walked for one day, told the people that could hear him that judgement was coming and then Jonah left. 

    This half-hearted obedience is not obedience at all. But we tend toward that don’t we? We hear what we want to hear. We act in the way that we had planned on acting all along. We say, “Yes thank you” to God but we do not grasp onto his full promise, just the tiniest part that we can easily grasp. Abram’s actions scream disbelief. They show that while he is perfectly happy to accept Yahweh’s gift of this land, he will do nothing to take ownership.

    I think it boils down to this: Abram had Sarai lie about her relationship to him because he wanted to avoid conflict with the Egyptians. Abram had Lot move away because he wanted to avoid fighting with Lot. Abram found one empty spot in the promised land and lived there because he wanted to avoid conflict not only with Lot who was now inhabiting a section designated as his own separate from Abram, but also with the locals, the people who were there first. Abram’s obedience to Yahweh depends on how much he will have to confront the people around him.

    It’s a relatable predicament. This situation hits close to home. I too will obey God up until the point where I am forced to inconvenience other people in some way. Then suddenly my self-preservation and fear of offending kicks in and man are those instincts powerful.

    Abram’s story is not centered around one man’s incredible will power. Yahweh does not promise Abram babies and land because Abram is obedient. Abram’s story is about redemption. It is the story of man who moves from being utterly unable to believe in Yahweh’s promises and provision to having absolute faith that obedience in God is the only path that leads to life.