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Abraham and Lot
10/16/94 and 6/13/04
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Genesis, chapter 13, and follow along as I read verses 5-13. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
5 Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents,
6 so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together,
7 and there was strife between the herders of Abram's livestock and the herders of Lot's livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land.
8 Then Abram said to Lot, "Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred.
9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left."
10 Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the LORD had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
11 So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward; thus they separated from each other.
12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom.
13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Uncle and Nephew
The Lord would later change Abramís name to Abraham, so purposes of this sermon I will just call him Abraham. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees, which was located in modern Iraq, so Abraham was an Iraqi. Abraham had a brother, Haran, who died, but Haran had a son, Lot. Abraham and his extended family, including his father Terah, his other brother Nahor, and his nephew Lot, moved from Ur into what is now Syria. Then, Abraham moved again into the land of Canaan. Lot went with him.
Abraham loved Lot. They were uncle and nephew, but they were much closer than most uncles and nephews. At this point in scripture, Abraham had no children of his own. Lot was his son and heir. Abraham took over the care and education of the young man.
Abraham was a godly man, and we have no doubt that he attempted to raise Lot in the way of God, but he failed. We wonder if Abraham is perhaps somewhat at fault here. Perhaps he felt sorry for this young man who had lost his biological father, so Abraham gave him too much, and Lot grew up as the stereotypical spoiled brat. He was a young man of great expectations, at least as far as anyone had great expectations around 2000 BC. Abraham was a man with a golden touch. All his business enterprises prospered, and Lot prospered along with him. Under the guidance and generosity of Abraham, Lot also became wealthy.
They were nomads and shepherds. They were rich by the standards of their times which means that their wealth was not in stocks or bonds or oil, but in flocks and herds and tents. They were so wealthy that there was not enough land and water in the area for both of them, and so Abraham's herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen pushed and shoved against each other trying to find pasture. This reminds me of any number of old Hollywood cowboy movies. The cowboys of one ranch are moving cattle to pasture. They infringe upon the rights of another ranch, and the next thing you know you have a range war, and six guns blaze at high noon. Now, of course, Abraham and Lot did not have six guns, but they had the same problem. They had a range problem. They had prospered so much that their prosperity was causing them trouble.
We are the Problem
Let us talk about that. Poverty causes problems, no doubt about that. If we have a choice between having and not having, most of us would choose having. But wealth also causes problems--which says to us that having or not having is not the problem. We are the problem. Some thoughtless commentators condemn wealth as evil, but that is not a biblical position. Things are not good or evil. It is the use to which we put things that is good or evil.
I Timothy 6:10 says that "the love of money is the root of all evil." It does not say that money is the root of all evil. Money in and of itself, is neither moral nor immoral. It is amoral. That is, it has nothing to do with morality. I Timothy 6:10 is not concerned about money. It is concerned about that love of money that is tied to love of self and leads to all kinds of evil. People love money because they love themselves. People are greedy and covetous of money because they think of themselves first, last, and always.
That is the way Lot thought. He acted as if he was the center of the universe, as if God had somehow especially created the world for him. All of us know intellectually that is not so. We know that if we die tomorrow the world will go on pretty much the same as it always has, but even though we know this, we sometimes act quite differently. We act as if what we want is all that counts--as if the world could not do without us at all. We all have a little bit of Lot in us. We all worship at the idol of self.
Lot and Abraham were confronted in Genesis 13 with the necessity for a choice. Their flocks and herds had grown so numerous that they were competing with each other for pasture and water and driving each other out of business. Their problem was complicated by the fact that they were not alone in the land. V7 says, "The Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land." Abraham and Lot must walk softly and certainly they must not fight each other, lest they weaken each other so much that the Canaanites pounce upon them and destroy them utterly. This is like the Hollywood cowboy range war that I mentioned earlier where two ranches fight each other so hard and so long that they destroy themselves, and eventually the banker in the city buys both ranches for nothing. In the movies, at the climax of the plot, we discover that the banker was the bad guy all along, that he provoked the range war so he could buy up all the land. In the movie, the hero kills the bad banker and the ranchers learn the importance of working together and not fighting each other.
Now Abraham already knew the importance of not fighting each other and to avoid that , he proposed a sane and reasonable solution to the range problem. He said in Vs 8-9, "Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left."
Abraham knows that they must come to a solution, and he knows that the solution requires a separation. We imagine that Abrahamís solution is tinged with sadness. He knows that Lot must go his own way, but in his love for Lot, he wants to do the best he can for Lot.
Abraham could have said, We have come to a parting of the ways. Let us then work out the best deal for both of us. That would have been fair. No one would have faulted him for that.
And remember this is a patriarchial society. Abraham could have just told Lot, I am going to make the choice. As clan chief and family leader, that was probably what in that time most people would have expected. Again, no one would have faulted him for that. But Abraham loves Lot like the son he has never had, and so he makes this incredibly unselfish offer to Lot. Saying, choose which land, which pasture, you want.
Let us say what good we can of lot. He was not an evil man. He was not a murderer, nor did he blaspheme God. He has not stolen the family silver. He has not robbed Abraham. He might even say that he did not take advantage of Abraham. After all, Abraham made him an offer, and he, Lot, simply accepted Abrahamís offer.
All that is true, but all that shows us one thing: Lot did not love Abraham. Maybe he has some regard for Abraham. He does not want bad things to happen to Abraham. He may even look with some degree of fondness upon his old uncle, but not with love. Had Lot loved Abraham, he would have returned the offer. He would have said, "No, uncle, you are the elder, you are the leader, you choose." That was what love required. That was what the custom of that time and place required. That was what even common courtesy required. But lot wanted the good land, the good business opportunity, and selfishness made him rude. He was so eager for wealth that he did not care who he brushed aside or who he ran over. He saw the plain of Jordan. V10 compares it to the garden of Eden and to the Nile valley. In other words, it looked like a great place to live, so Lot chose it. He did not care what happened to Abraham or to anyone else in the world so long as he got his.
Lot thought he had chosen well. On the plain of Jordan lay the rich cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities filled with cloth and gold and silver and slaves, cities that would serve as good markets for his flocks and herds. Yes, Lot thought, this is the way for me. He did not stop to think that those cities were also filled with idolatry and the most despicable kinds of immorality. In fact, Lot was going home. He was selfish. He was going to a place where selfishness reigned.
Selfishness is always the great unknown sin. No selfish person ever thinks of himself as selfish. A selfish person is so bound up in himself that he never really looks at himself with a clear eye, and hence he never realizes what everyone else knows about him, that he worships only himself.
Lot reminds me of a cartoon I have seen several times. The cartoon is of a little man who had just been offered a chance to make a great deal of money, and in the cartoon, the man's eyes were replaced with dollar signs. All that Lot could see was dollar signs. He did not care that he was moving to a place where evil was the standard and God was despised. He did not care about God. All he cared about was Lot.
So v12 says, ďLot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom.Ē He lived in Sodom for several years, and he did well. He must have often reflected upon the deal he had made with Abraham, and smiled with smug satisfaction. Little did he know how close disaster was upon him.
Genesis 19 tells us what happened. "The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the plan, and all the inhabitants of those cities"(24-25). When Abraham went out to look at what had happened, he saw that "the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace" (29). Some have suggested that a volcano blew up. Perhaps so, but God still cared for Lot, even though Lot did not care much for God. With the help of God, Lot fled from the city before its destruction. He lost everything, however, including his wife. You remember the story of how his wife turned back and was turned to a pillar of salt by the heat and radiation of the destruction.
Lot went up into the hills with his two daughters, and he lived in a cave, and there he drank himself into an alcoholic stupor and committed incest with his daughters. What a pitiful end to a life that had begun with such promise and expectation.
But let us reflect a bit on this scripture. The sad part of the love relationship between Abraham and Lot was that it was a one-way relationship. Abraham loved Lot; Lot did not love Abraham. Such a one-way relationship is never healthy, but this kind of relationship is also not unusual. Many people love, but are not loved. Sometimes these relationships work out. Sometimes the unloving person learns to love. Sometimes love begats love.
But the reality is that if the unloving person cannot be converted to love, then the relationship becomes harmful, particularly to the person doing the loving. A one-way relationship is a detrimental relationship. In any healthy relationship, we are both lover and beloved.
But Abraham kept on loving Lot. Abraham never gave up on Lot. Now we can argue that he should have given up. That Lot does not deserve love, but love is not moved by such rationalistic arguments. Abraham loves Lot anyway.
From a cynical, worldly point of view, this makes Abraham a sap. The world would say that Abraham was a doddering old fool who gave away the best of the family business because of a sentimental attachment to this no-good scum of a nephew. And, we have to admit that the world is somewhat right. Abraham was blinded by love. When he first took Lot to raise, he saw him as the child of promise. Later on, he saw him as a young man of ability. He never saw the fatal flaw in Lotís character.
To some extent, this is what love does. Love causes us to magnify the good in the beloved and to minimize the bad, and usually that is a good thing. For most people, the world will tell us soon enough about our bad qualities. There is always someone who will dwell at great length on what we did wrong, and, in fact, we ourselves usually know what we did wrong, no one has to tell us. But what we all need in life is someone who is more concerned with what we are doing right than with what we are doing wrong. We need someone to build us up because it seems like much of the process of living consists of tearing us down. We all need love.
Every young man, young woman, older man older woman who has ever fallen in love is blind to the faults of the beloved. Sometimes this is a source of amazement to their friends. They will say, ďWhat can he or she possibly see in her or him? The lover sees the beloved in ways that the rest of us do not see them, and usually that is wonderful. In a two-way relationship, where both people love each other, it is healthy that they do not dwell upon, nor worry about, each otherís flaws. But in a one-way relationship, the blindness of love usually means that the lover gets hurt.
Abraham got hurt because he loved. That is always the risk of love. Anytime we extend love to another person, we might not be loved in return. But we are always better off taking that risk. The old saying is, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Abrahamís way is better than Lotís way.
Remember again how Abraham reacted when he heard of the strife between his herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen. He said to Lot, "We are brethren. Let us not quarrel." Lot did not say that. We wonder if Lot was not willing to quarrel. Perhaps Lot was encouraging his herdsmen to push out Abrahamís cattle. Perhaps he wants a range war.
But Abraham certainly did not. Abraham treated Lot as he wanted Lot to treat him. Abraham lived a thousand years before the golden rule was first recorded in Leviticus, and 2,000 years before Jesus repeated it as the summary of the law: We should treat each other as we want to be treated. That is the law of love. Abraham knew that law and lived by it.
Probably no one liked Lot much, and in the end Lot did not like himself much. Lot made his choices on the basis of self--self-desire, self-will, self-love, and it all ended in self-destruction. The Scripture shows us a better way, the way of Abraham. It is also the way of Christ and the way of love. Choose that way. Choose Christ. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/12/04