Oct 09, 2016
Genesis 12:11-13:13

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Aside from his faith, Abraham is often known for two things: the tent and the altar. As it pertains to the tent it’s significant to note, prior to “God’s appearing” (before he experienced God’s amazing grace) we were introduced to Abram the urbanite… He was a city-slicker living in Ur of the Chaldeans (an advanced metropolis) who made idols to the moon-god. Abram enjoyed the comforts and security of the city - the hustle and bustle of Gotham. 

And yet, all of that ultimately changed when Abram chose to obey God’s call and leave the city of Haran for “a land God would show him.” Understand, Abram left his home in the city and became a nomad not only because he was a shepherd, but because he wanted the freedom to walk with God no matter where that journey might have taken him. 

You’d be correct in saying Abram choose an exciting odyssey with God over a stable home on this Earth which is why the tent came to represent his relationship with the world around him. As we noted last Sunday, while called to a land of promise, this land was nowhere to be found on this Earth. In Hebrews 11:10 we’re told Abram “waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

The interesting point to make concerning Abram’s life is that he never settled down. Abram never found a place to call home in this world for his heart longed for a future destiny in heaven! Abram exchanged all this fallen world had to offer because he knew it could never provide or compare to the life he’d found walking with God.

In much the same way that believers are described by the Apostle in 1 Peter 2:11 Abram became known as a “sojourner” who’s home was not on this earth… He was a “pilgrim” simply passing through! As it pertains to the powerful and personal implications of having such a perspective, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The Christian knows no change with regard to God. He may be rich today and poor tomorrow; he may be sickly today and well tomorrow; he may be in happiness today, tomorrow he may be distressed - but there is no change with regard to his relationship to God. If He loved me yesterday, He loves me today. My unmoving mansion of rest is my blessed Lord. Let prospects be blighted; let hopes be blasted; let joy be withered; let mildews destroy everything; I have lost nothing of what I have in God. He is my strong habitation whereunto I can continually resort. I am a pilgrim in the world, but at home in my God. In the earth I wander, but in God I dwell in a quiet habitation.”

Which then explains why Abram is also known by the altar… If the tent represented his horizontal relationship with this world, the altar represented his vertical relationship with God. Everywhere Abram goes throughout the land he’s constantly erecting altars and making offerings to God; and yet, as we noted last Sunday, this was not always a good thing. 

As we study his life you’re going to discover there were two distinctly different motivations behind the altars Abram builds. On certain occasions Abram will erect an altar as a response to something amazing God did or said. On others we’re simply told he builds an altar in order to “call on the name of the Lord.” Ironically, it’s on these occasions God never seems to answer!

Now on the surface these secondary altars and offerings designed to coincide with Abram’s appeal to God seem innocent enough (full disclosure every pastor I listen too presents these moments in a good light); and yet, I’m convinced what Abram was doing in these situations was not only terrible, but isn’t worthy of being celebrated or for that matter emulated! 

Consider that these altars were not built as a response to God’s goodness nor were they motivated by his faith in God’s promises; instead, these altars were Abram’s attempt to get something from God through an offering. Abram was seeking to earn God’s favor! 

In a profound way Abram was reverting back to a pagan form of worship he’d come to know in UrBuilding an altar, making an offering, then calling out for God’s intervention! While this may sound like a responsible approach, the True God finds it to be abominable!

There should be no surprise that God doesn’t respond to Abram in these instances for this is not the way God interacts with man. Abram’s relationship with God was intentionally top-down and never bottom-up. It was a relationship based in God’s favor given and never earned. It was a relationship initiated by God’s grace and never through Abram’s merit. 

Understand why this approach was doomed from the beginning… If God responded to Abram’s call on account of his offering then it would have validated and legitimized the offering; and yet, there is no offering man can ever make to gain access to God. 

Consider, in the garden, it was God who offered the very first offering in order to cover the nakedness of sinful man (Adam and Eve). God’s point in doing so was to illustrate the fact that He would have to make an offering for man - for man to ever have access back to Him. And it’s with that context in mind that every offering man has ever made to God since falls into one of these two categories: 

(1) They’re made as a response to the access provided through God’s sufficient offering (concerning the O.T. it was looking towards the cross - today it’s looking back… Example: The sacrifice of Abel), or (2) They’re made as an attempt to gain access to God apart from His sufficient offering (Example: The religion of Cain). Fundamentally, one approach is accepted by God for it is based in a faith in Jesus while the other is completely rejected for it claims a way other than faith in Jesus!

Keep in mind the two different motivations behind Abram’s altars and the two vastly divergent results illustrate two important points… First, God will never allow our relationship with Him to become based on anything other than His grace. It’s Jesus alone or it’s nothing!

And secondly, our offerings (whether they be monetary offerings, offerings of praise or service, etc.) are only acceptable to God when they manifest as a faithful response to His grace in that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Friend, as with Abram, there was nothing you did to initiated God’s first contact, nor is there anything other than the natural response of obedience you can do today to continue that contact moving forward. Your relationship was initiated by God and will be sustained by God as long as you’ve placed your faith in Jesus and walk with Him.

Psalms 40:5-6, “Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; my ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.”

Without further delay let’s pick back up where we left off in Genesis 12… Abram has left Haran and made it to the land God had called him to possess. And yet, while in Bethel, a “severe famine” is making life difficult. Will Abram trust in God’s promises or will he move South for greener pastures? Sadly, his trust waivers and we read in Genesis 12:10 that “Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

Genesis 12:11-20, “And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.’

So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.’ So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.”

A few weeks back when we were first introduced to Abram I made the point that Genesis records for us more of his failures than it does his triumphs. There is no doubt this story is a perfect example of this point! Seriously… What a coward! I mean really think about it… 

Not only has Abram attempted to barter with God through pagan worship, failed to trust in God’s provisions, left the land of promise for Egypt… But then, as he makes his way South, fearing the Egyptians might kill him so that they can make sexual advances on his wife Sarai, what does he do? Abram creates this ruse that he and Sarai are siblings so that he can save his own hide without even the slightest concern for how this might effect her!

Then, to make matters even worse, when they do arrive in Egypt and Sarai does garners the attention of the “prices of Pharaoh” because “she was very beautiful” just as Abram feared, what does this mighty man of God do? Does he break off the ruse to protect the integrity of his wife? Does he choose to fight for love and honor? Is he chivalrous in any way? No! 

We’re told Sarai “was taken to Pharaoh’s house,” presumably to become part of his harem, and Abram does nothing to stop them! Sure we’re told he was “treated well” as a result, but don’t mistake the fact that Abram appears willing to stand idly by and allow his wife to be sexually solicited by Pharaoh! I’m telling you Abram should be embarrassed. 

Here we have the “father of faith” withering in fear! There is no doubt he should have never left Canaan to start with, but what’s happening in Egypt is inexcusable. Abram fails to step up and even be a man. He failed to defend his woman! Honestly, Abram is no Prince Charming. You might say he’s the type of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry.

Aside from the obvious, what makes Abram’s actions so egregious is how condescending he appears to be towards Sarai. He doesn’t seem worried about her getting pregnant because they had been trying for years with no success. As mentioned before the Scriptures clearly tell us Sarai was “barren.” For all we know Abram may have blamed her for their infertility.

Here we have a foolish, selfish, fearful husband who cared more about himself than the wellbeing of his own wife; and yet, while Abram had sidestepped his husbandly duties, how amazing it is that God would not remain idle… Notice “the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife” so much so that “Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife.’” 

While I have no idea what “great plagues” God brought down on “Pharaoh and his house,” and while our text doesn’t inform us how Pharaoh was able to associate these plagues with Abram’s ruse, there is one thing I can say with certainty… God defended Sarai’s honor even when Abram failed to love his wife in the manner a husband should love!

Genesis 13:1-4, “Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

There is no doubt that Abram played the fool in Egypt (a place he should have never gone in the first place). Additionally, it’s sad this great man of faith eventually had to be rebuked by Pharaoh (a wicked pagan) and kicked out of the land before he’d return to the place God had promised him. And while there are those who point out God’s grace in the fact that, in spite of these misgivings, he returned from Egypt “very rich” - I don’t buy it!

Please understand this truth… God will never bless disobedience! As a matter of fact, nothing good is ever spawned in our lives when we fail to trust God’s promises. While it’s true on the surface Abram appears to be blessed in spite of his disobedience, the brutal truth is that none of the things he attained in Egypt proved to be a blessing.

It’s interesting to note this phrase “very rich” in the Hebrew literally means “to be overloaded with.” Abram was a sojourner and yet now his ability to move freely was limited. Beyond this, it would be more difficult to directly attribute his stature and standing as being purely a work of God because so much of what he presently owned had been given to him by Pharaoh. 

Sadly, as we’re about to see, all of this stuff Abram received is going to directly contribute to a separation between he and his nephew - which eventually ends very poorly for both Abram and Lot. Additionally, keep in mind, this one act of disobedience ends up setting the stage for one of Abram’s greatest failures. Of all the things he brings back with him from Egypt we’ll later discover he returned to Canaan with a young handmaiden named Hagar.

Genesis 13:5-13, “Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.

So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.’ And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. 

And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.”

Once again in verse 4 we read that Abram returned to “Bethel… to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there he called on the name of the Lord.” It would appear, in the context provided in verse 5, the reason Abram is once again “calling on the name of the Lord” is this “strife” that had emerged between he and Lot’s households. 

Because of all the stuff they had acquired in Egypt the text is clear they “could not dwell together” because “the land was not able to support them.” Ironically, while Abram is once again “calling out to the Lord” in Bethel, as before, we read God remained silent. Why? 

There are those who make the case that God remained silent because Lot was still with Abram. Those who argue this point refer back to God’s initial command for Abram to “get out of his country, from his family, and from his father’s house” (Genesis 12:1). Proponents of this view even make the case that this “strife” was actually God’s way of finally getting Abram to be obedient… To separate from someone he shouldn’t have been involved with.

And yet, I’m not sure I buy into this explanation… If this is truly the reason for God’s silence, then how do you explain the fact God spoke to Abram when he was in Shechem even though he allowed Lot to travel with him from Haran? If God doesn’t honor disobedience how can you make the case He honors partial-obedience? I’m not sure you can.

We must consider why it is that, despite His original command to leave his “family,” God doesn’t appear to have any issue with Lot joining Abram as they made their way from Haran into the land of promise? While Genesis might not explain why this was the case, the answer may actually be found in 2 Peter 2:7 when the Apostle refers to him as “righteous Lot!” 

I am convinced that, while we have no mention of God appearing or specifically calling Lot, it seems likely, via the witness of his uncle Abram, he also places his faith in the coming Savior. As with Abram, it’s the only way Lot could have been referred to as being “righteous.”

To this point did you notice a word Abram used to describe Lot… In verse 8 he says that they were “brethren.” In the Hebrew this word literally means they were “brothers of the same parents.” It’s clear Abram made a relational distinction between he and Lot that ran much deeper than simply being uncle and nephew.

I hope you know faith in Jesus creates a relational bond between people that runs much deeper than blood… The fact we’ve all been saved by the same grace yields a commonality that transcends all other differences. That followers of Jesus possess a bond of Spirit that makes us brothers and sisters, part of the same family of God regardless of gender, ethnicity, social-economic or educational status, political persuasions, nationalities, or all the other ways the world seeks to separate us. Abram and Lot were “brethren” because of Jesus.

Sadly, and especially in light of the fact God had not provided any specific instructions, for Abram and Lot, even though they were “brethren,” it was simply easier to “separate” than work through their “strife.” In the Hebrew this word “strife” means “to quarrel or dispute.”

Disobedience had led them to Egypt. Disobedience had resulted in a dynamic where they both had attained more possessions than the land could support. How interesting it is that a failure to trust God’s promises had led to a dynamic whereby there was “strife” between brothers, and that the easier path was separation instead of reconciliation!

Please understand… Separation is always the natural result of strife! Why do you think so many churches split? It’s strife over governmental authority, missional approach, or doctrinal beliefs. Why do you think some 50% of marriages fail? It’s strife over money, jobs, where the family lives, sex, parental approaches. In your own life why is it that some of your friendship have fallen into disarray? It’s strife over politics, hurt-feelings, even envy. 

While it’s true the natural approach to strife ends up being separation (it’s what Abram and Lot did and it’s simply easier), here’s the irony… Separating with the person you have beef with never actually solves the problem! Strife still remains and worse yet it festers. Consider what ultimately resulted in this separation of Lot and Abram… Lot’s descendants would become two nations (the Moabites and the Ammonites) who would be at constant war with the descendants of Abram! In actuality their separation ended up creating greater strife! 

That’s why instead of simply separating from the person you have an issue with the ultimate remedy is to address the underlying issue creating the strife. Once again think about Abram and Lot… What was the cause of their strife? It was all the stuff they had accumulated while in Egypt. Instead of separating what should they have done to solve the problem? They should have gotten rid of all that stuff so they could remain together.

While the application of this point could center on church-life or friendship, I want to apply this larger concept to marriage in order to illustrate how this works. If there is strife in your marriage please understand your natural tendency will be to separate. Sure, we recognize ultimate marital separation manifests in divorce, but it’s important to realize smaller separations begin much earlier. These micro-separations might simply entail being out with your friends a few extra nights a week, going to bed early to avoid conversation, or drowning yourself in Netflix all in the attempts of avoiding marital conflict. 

And yet, while it’s true this is the path of least resistance, understand this approach is as counterproductive as yelling, assigning blame, or constant argumentation. The only real solution to strife (and the one that will insure separations don’t result) is to instead isolate the underlying reason causing the strife and then deal with it accordingly. 

If the strife at home is the stress you’re experiencing at work or the late hours you’re spending in the office… The remedy isn’t to blame your wife and kids or for that matter veg out and avoid interactions. The remedy is to find another job or create proper boundaries. 

If the strife at home can be attributed to a difference in parental approach… The remedy isn’t to accuse the other spouse of being soft, claim your daddy’s approach is fine because you turned out well, or for that matter advocate your role altogether. Instead the remedy is to work on a compromise or a strategy for handling disciple you both can agree on. 

If the strife at home is the burden of your mounting financial obligations… Maybe the remedy is to sell everything, pay off your debt, and downsize to something more manageable. It’s amazing but almost 30% of marriage fail directly because of finances. Yes, you might want that new house, car, or fishing boat - but do you want it at the expense of your family?

Once again… The easiest thing to do when strife exists is to allow space to develop between you and those you love; and yet, as we’ll see in the weeks to come illustrated by the lives of Abram and Lot, separation is not only unhealthy, but it never works out well in the end.

The altar and the tent… Abram’s relationship with the world and heaven! How sad it is when you consider that on account of his disobedience and then the decision to separate instead of work through strife Abram ends up loosing out on his brotherhood with Lot. 

You know the really cool thing about this journey we’re on with God (this journey of faith) is that we get to travel it with people we also get to enjoy the destination with! Never forget… There are only two things you can take with you to heaven: (1) Your memories, and (2) The friends you make them with! 

Why would you allow petty strife to rob you of the incredible joy of having people in your tent today you’ll also have the pleasure of enjoying heaven with sometime in the future?


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