The Lost City (Genesis 19:1-38)

Before us this evening is one of the most squalid stories in all the Bible. This is the kind of movie you walk out of. And yet, here it is. Why do we need to know about this infamous night? Well, God considers it necessary and profitable and instructive, that we might be trained in righteousness.

Based on what we know about Lot this passage should stop us dead in our tracks. Because the Bible tells us that Lot was a righteous man. He wanted to do what was right. That is driven home by the many parallels Genesis gives us between Abraham and Lot. Moses goes to great lengths to connect them. Think about it: Both are shown sitting in the entrance of where they lived. Both had business dealings with the locals near them. Both go out to receive their guests. Both offer them washing and rest. Both prepare a feast. Both recognized the evil of the culture. But there is a profound and obvious difference between the outcomes of theses two men. Abraham goes on to be the father of faith, while Lot presides over a horrifying night of ruin and failure.

We need to know what happened here, because we find ourselves in a culture very much like the one Lot was in. And if he, a “righteous” man can fail so terribly, saved as through fire, then we need to pay attention. This story is not persevered just to churn our stomachs or make us think, “I’m so much better than Lot.” It’s to caution us and help us ask the far more important question: What can I do to avoid becoming like Lot?

Lot is a display of what can happen to a person who loves the things of this world. As always, the lesson being given comes down to the heart. While both Abraham and Lot were believers, Lot’s belief did not change his life. It did not motivate his decisions. Abraham’s belief did. Lot had no interest in discovering God’s way for his life or his family – he went his own way. Lot lived close to Abraham – just a few hours walk. But even though Lot was close, we find that he was way off course.

There’s a rule of thumb in aviation called the 1 in 60 rule. It states that if you fly at just 1° off course, then every 60 miles you fly, you’ll be 1 mile astray from your target. “In 1979 a passenger jet…left New Zealand for a sightseeing trip to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, there was a 2 degree error in their flight coordinates. This placed the aircraft 28 miles to the east of where the pilots thought they were.” The flight was going fine until they struck Mount Erebus, which was now in their flight path. All 257 passengers were killed in a completely avoidable tragedy.

Lot had gone down to see the sights of the plain of Zoar. And now he found himself right in the middle of a completely avoidable tragedy.

Genesis 19:1-3 – The two angels entered Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in Sodom’s gateway. When Lot saw them, he got up to meet them. He bowed with his face to the ground 2 and said, “My lords, turn aside to your servant’s house, wash your feet, and spend the night. Then you can get up early and go on your way.” “No,” they said. “We would rather spend the night in the square.” 3 But he urged them so strongly that they followed him and went into his house. He prepared a feast and baked unleavened bread for them, and they ate.

Lot’s story is about giving in to the seduction of the world. Bible teachers love to point out the progression Genesis gives us: First Lot looked on this area from afar and was enamored of it. Then he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Then he was living in the city. Finally, he’s found here sitting in the city gate – the place where justice and business would be decided. It seems Lot was something like a city councilman. So, Sodom was not just a city to Lot, it was his city. He had found great success there, on the human level. But, he had no meaningful influence over those around him. He was no Daniel, shining as a beacon of righteousness and through whose witness the heart of Nebuchadnezzar was turned to God. Instead we see Lot giving up more and more to the world and its culture. He has abandoned his tent. He has arranged for his daughters to marry two local boys. All his business, his time, and his efforts, his affections are all attached to this city.

And yet, we see a flicker of righteousness, ever so small in this man’s heart. He is concerned for these two travelers who have come through the gate. He knows they aren’t safe and he wants to help them and then send them on their way – early. We can sense his double-mindedness. He does care about the welfare of these two fellows, but he also wants them to get going so that they don’t find out just how sleazy his beloved town really is. He doesn’t honestly warn them of the danger.

Genesis 19:4-5 – 4 Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, the whole population, surrounded the house. 5 They called out to Lot and said, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

For years, it seemed like Lot could have it all. He had his belief, insignificant though it was to his daily life, but he also had the luxuries of Sodom. Sure, he didn’t like what they did, but that didn’t really have anything to do with him. Except that it did! He thought he was able to walk this tightrope, trying to keep dual-citizenship in the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, but tentacles of perversion and greed had slithered around his heart and infected him.

Jesus was very clear:

Matthew 6:24 – 24 “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Lot faced a reckoning that night. But he had lived his life in such a way that, when the moment came, he was powerless to stand. He had no spiritual strength. He had no answers, no foothold.

The demand of the Sodomites is shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising. This is what sin does. It enslaves us and rots us. This is how it effects hearts and people and civilizations. Human history is full of this kind of depravity and we should not try to sanitize sin in our thinking.

Genesis 19:6-8 – Lot went out to them at the entrance and shut the door behind him. He said, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers. Look, I’ve got two daughters who haven’t been intimate with a man. I’ll bring them out to you, and you can do whatever you want to them. However, don’t do anything to these men, because they have come under the protection of my roof.”

There are a lot of bad dads in the Bible, but Lot’s got a good chance at the title. Notice again his double-mindedness. We can see the flicker of righteousness, but his love for the world has completely short-circuited his mindset. It took courage to go out and talk to this mob. He preaches to them, maybe for the very first time, about the fact that they’re doing evil. But then, we see that his fix for the situation is, “Go ahead and rape my daughters. That way we all get what we want!”

In New Testament terms, we would call Lot “carnal.” We use the term “carnal Christian.” It means a person who is saved, yet lives life indulging the flesh. Carnal Christians do not function properly. They’re life looks like a house made with crooked measurements. There’s great inconsistency in how they behave. Clearly, in Sodom there was nothing off-limits when it came to sexuality. But we see that Lot’s daughters were virgins, while betrothed to be married. It seems that Lot drew a line and told his daughters, “It is wrong for you to have sex before you’re married.” And yet, in the same breath, he’s ready to sign off on gang rape! How can there be such a disconnect? It’s because apart from surrender to God there is no firm foundation for morality. Everything is relative as sin pollutes.

One writer points out that the angels did not act right away. They’re there to rescue Lot, but first he must choose which kingdom he really wants to be a part of.

Genesis 19:9-11 – 9 “Get out of the way!” they said, adding, “This one came here as an alien, but he’s acting like a judge! Now we’ll do more harm to you than to them.” They put pressure on Lot and came up to break down the door. 10 But the angels reached out, brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 They struck the men who were at the entrance of the house, both young and old, with blindness so that they were unable to find the entrance.

Lot was not an influence of the people of Sodom, he was a nuisance. We live in a terribly sinful culture. It is a given that we’ll interact with the world around us. But the purpose of our Christian life is not only to have personal beliefs, but to be salt and light. We’re to make disciples. We’re to be proclaimers of truth and agents of grace. We’re to live in such a way that people are drawn to our kingdom, rather than us becoming entangled in theirs.

When the moment of testing came, Lot had no power. He reminds me of Steve Rogers before he took all his steroids in Captain America. On some level, he wanted to stand up to evil, but he was so weak and so contaminated, there was nothing he could do. Again, compare him to Daniel. We know what an impact Daniel had. Then we remember that Daniel was around 17 years old when his book begins! The difference was he was devoted to righteousness, and what a difference it made.

Notice the Sodomites’ attitude toward Lot. They don’t care about him. They’ve tolerated him for a little while, but we see now what they really think. The Bible is speaking frankly here. Look at what they’re threatening to do to him. That is the heart of our enemy. He’s a destroyer. When temptation comes along, we need to be honest about what’s really being offered, what the end result really is.

Meanwhile, the Lord comes to us and says, “I want to be your Shepherd. I want to shelter you and guide you and fill you and help you. I want to transform you only for good. I want to enrich you in ways you cannot even imagine.”

The world wants to harm you. It’s ready to break down the door to destroy your life and your family. Meanwhile, Jesus stands at the door of hearts and knocks, waiting to be invited in so that He might have a loving, personal relationship with those who desire to know Him and follow Him.

Genesis 19:12-14 – 12 Then the angels said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here: a son-in-law, your sons and daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of this place, 13 for we are about to destroy this place because the outcry against its people is so great before the Lord, that the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were going to marry his daughters. “Get up,” he said. “Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

The angels did not have a manifest with specific names on it. It reminds us of the that, in the grace of God there’s always room for one more. Anyone could’ve been saved that night. They didn’t have to be blood relatives. Had there been a Rahab in the city, the angels would have rescued them, too.

Lot makes a desperate plea to his sons-in-law-to-be. They thought he was joking – meaning that he must not have done any preaching to them before. Noah preached about the coming judgment and people scoffed because they did not believe. That’s not what’s happening here. Lot’s message was so out of character and so without context, they had no reason to think he was being serious.

Peter tells us how Lot’s righteous soul was “vexed” by the sin of Sodom. But his belief stayed in his mind and wasn’t worked out in his life. He was distressed but silent. And because of it, he had no spiritual fruit to speak of. Compare his house to Abraham’s – full of hundreds of people, dedicated and circumcised and ready to serve the Lord.

Genesis 19:15-17 – 15 At daybreak the angels urged Lot on: “Get up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he hesitated. Because of the Lord’s compassion for him, the men grabbed his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters. They brought him out and left him outside the city. 17 As soon as the angels got them outside, one of them said, “Run for your lives! Don’t look back and don’t stop anywhere on the plain! Run to the mountains, or you will be swept away!”

Daybreak. The men of Sodom had come to Lot’s house before bedtime. That means Lot spent hour after hour refusing to leave. Can you imagine the angels? How they must have kept looking at each other and saying, “Are you kidding me?” We see war between flesh and spirit in Lot’s mind. He “believed” the city was going to be destroyed, but he loved the trappings of the world so much he just couldn’t bring himself to leave. He’s sitting down on his couch! The angels have to say, “GET UP!” They literally have to grab him and forcibly remove him from the city. And then we see Lot and family standing just outside the walls! The angels are begging them, “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!”

Derek Kidner writes, “The grip of ‘this present evil world’…is powerfully shown in this last-minute struggle.” Temptation is real and we should expect it. But, the Lord promises that we will never be tempted beyond what we can escape as we choose to walk in faith. Unlike Lot, we’re to flee idolatry. Run away from temptation.

Genesis 19:18-23 – 18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords—please. 19 Your servant has indeed found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness by saving my life. But I can’t run to the mountains; the disaster will overtake me, and I will die. 20 Look, this town is close enough for me to flee to. It is a small place. Please let me run to it—it’s only a small place, isn’t it?—so that I can survive.” 21 And he said to him, “All right, I’ll grant your request about this matter too and will not demolish the town you mentioned. 22 Hurry up! Run to it, for I cannot do anything until you get there.” Therefore the name of the city is Zoar., 23 The sun had risen over the land when Lot reached Zoar.

In 2019, NPR published a heart-breaking article about two Kurdish girls who were kidnapped by ISIS at ages 5 and 6. They were held captive for years and had completely forgot who they were before. They no longer knew their old language, their family or their own last names. The woman who had been acting as their “mother” would sell girls to be brides at around 12 years of age. Finally, they were rescued. When interviewed, the girls said, “I don’t want anything except to go back.” The man who rescued them set up a video call with the girls’ true relatives. Afterward he asked one of them: “They love you and they want to talk to you, aren’t they better than [your captors]?” The girl answered, “no.”

These precious girls have an excuse. Lot does not. We see how addicted he is to his worldly life. He doesn’t plead for deliverance, he whimpers for compromise. He’s convinced he can’t live without the city. “I’ll die if I do what God has instructed me to do!” In the Hebrew (and perhaps in your translation) what he says there in verse 20 is, “Let me go to the little town…so my soul will live.” If we want to not be like Lot we’ve got to keep watch on the affections of our hearts. What do we love? What invigorates our souls? The Bible commands us to set our hearts on heaven and on the Lord. We’re warned against allowing our hearts to become polluted the way Lot’s is here.

Proverbs 4:23 – 23 Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.

Note also how we see a flexibility in the providence and will of God, here. The destruction of Sodom was certain and inevitable. And yet, the gears of judgment slowed down due to Lot’s hesitation. The angels say, “We will change part of the plan and not destroy Zoar.” And they say, “We can’t start until you’re safe.” God’s work has both certainty and, at times, flexibility depending on the choices and actions of human beings.

Genesis 19:24-26 – 24 Then out of the sky the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah burning sulfur from the Lord. 25 He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.

When the angels told them to not look back the term they used was one of “intense gazing, not a passing glance.” It wasn’t a Medusa thing, where anyone who happened to see her turns to stone. Abraham is going to look out over the city. It’s a heart issue. And Mrs. Lot reveals her heart. In that moment, God gives her her desire. It’s been said that we can either bow before the Lord and say, “Thy will be done,” or, in the end He will sadly look at us and say, “thy will be done.” To Mrs. Lot, life wasn’t worth living without Sodom. And so, the Lord honored her choice.

Genesis 19:27-29 – 27 Early in the morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the land of the plain, and he saw that smoke was going up from the land like the smoke of a furnace. 29 So it was, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham and brought Lot out of the middle of the upheaval when he demolished the cities where Lot had lived.

We don’t know how long it took Abraham to find out Lot had survived. There’s no indication that the Lord came back by to give a report. Yet, Abraham could trust the Lord. He knew God was a rescuer. He knew He was gracious. He knew He was just. He is still all of those things today.

This must’ve been a tough morning for Abraham. Remember, he had gone to great trouble and risk to save these very people who had been swept away. It would’ve been hard to not feel like it was all for nothing. But it wasn’t a waste. Three were saved. And countless millions have been ministered to because of what Abraham did in chapter 14.

Our efforts for the Lord may seem wasted sometimes, but trust the increase to Him and do not grow weary in doing good.

I wish this story couldn’t get worse, but it has an epilogue and it does.

Genesis 19:30-38 – 30 Lot departed from Zoar and lived in the mountains along with his two daughters, because he was afraid to live in Zoar. Instead, he and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 Then the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man in the land to sleep with us as is the custom of all the land. 32 Come, let’s get our father to drink wine so that we can sleep with him and preserve our father’s line.” 33 So they got their father to drink wine that night, and the firstborn came and slept with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she got up. 34 The next day the firstborn said to the younger, “Look, I slept with my father last night. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight so you can go sleep with him and we can preserve our father’s line.” 35 That night they again got their father to drink wine, and the younger went and slept with him; he did not know when she lay down or when she got up. 36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn gave birth to a son and named him Moab. He is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger also gave birth to a son, and she named him Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites of today.

Lot is yet another example of the Biblical principle: You reap what you sow. He sowed worldliness and now he reaps it. What had he taught his daughters? Act like the world. That’s how you get ahead. His daughters do preserve their father’s legacy: That of surrendering to the flesh rather than the Spirit. Lot ends his story getting blackout drunk – twice – while sin continues its vile corruption.

It’s sad – after all Lot had gone through, he’s worse off than ever. In this epilogue he’s paranoid and withdrawn. He gives into fear, which drives him first to Zoar, then to this cave. He gives into shame, which keeps him from returning to Abraham. He seems to not let his daughters leave the cave, but he’s sure to keep the barrels of wine full.

His lifestyle of indulging the flesh rather than following the Lord completely ruined his testimony, his family, his mentality. He was a man who should’ve been a source of hope and truth and justice – a man who should’ve been a rescuer and a blessing like his uncle. Instead, this is his story. He had the desire, but he wouldn’t yield to the Lord. Rather than crucify his flesh, he was a slave to it. Lot was not a victim of his circumstances. This was the inevitable result of a life lived in submission to the flesh. It did not have to happen to him and it certainly doesn’t have to happen to any of us.

The Apostle John wrote to believers living in “the last hour” before the coming judgment. Here’s what he says to us:

1 John 2:15-17 – 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.

Mealing And Dealing (Genesis 18:1-33)

I thought I must’ve drifted onto The Onion, but, no, it was Condé Nast Traveler, ranking Chicago, Illinois as the best city in the United States. That article is not some leftover from yesteryear – they posted it in October! They left out the fact that the city saw more than 800 murders last year alone, and about 10 people were shot each day. The Chicago Tribune called the violence in 2021 “unrelenting.” In December, a cry went out from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, imploring the federal government to step in and help stem the tide – to bring some justice to the beleaguered city.

In Genesis 18, the Lord sets out from heaven to go and investigate the cries of injustice that rise from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He brings two angels with Him. But before executing judgment, the Lord pays a surprise visit to Abraham, sharing a meal and two talks with him.

Genesis 18:1-5 – The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day. 2 He looked up, and he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, bowed to the ground, 3 and said, “My lord, if I have found favor with you, please do not go on past your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, that you may wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 I will bring a bit of bread so that you may strengthen yourselves. This is why you have passed your servant’s way. Later, you can continue on.” “Yes,” they replied, “do as you have said.”

We get to see Abraham serve the Lord in a very passionate, very personal, very effective way. It’s an inspiration to watch this 99 year old man hustling around, making sure his guests were attended to.

We don’t know when Abraham realized that he was dining with the Lord. Maybe right away, maybe later. But, right from the outset, he shows us how to serve God in the proper way.

From the start, we see that he was ready to serve. As one commentator points out, Abraham wasn’t inconvenienced by the Lord’s arrival. His heart was ready to serve when the moment came. That was his standby mode. The ‘moment’ was a very ordinary one. There was nothing unusual going on. It was just the hot afternoon of an unremarkable day. But God can make any unremarkable day remarkable with His presence.

Abraham says in verse 3: “please do no go on past your servant.” This baseline readiness kept Abraham from missing a precious opportunity to serve God and grow in his faith. Paul instructs us on how to live out our lives in 1 Corinthians 7, saying, “I’m not trying to put a leash on you. I’m trying to help you serve the Lord without distraction.” We want to condition our hearts to be ready to serve – ready to recognize an opening or an opportunity. That’s not always our natural default, but the Lord wants it to become our supernatural default.

Abraham made the Lord his honored guest. The Lord loves that. It’s an amazing thing that – in that moment – God would rather be hanging out in the front yard of some dusty tent than stay in the courts of heaven! Why? Because His friend was there. He didn’t need the rest Abraham offered, but He wanted to spend time with His friend. This is the heart that God has toward you, too.

Genesis 18:6-8 – 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Knead three measures of fine flour and make bread.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd and got a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man, who hurried to prepare it. 8 Then Abraham took curds and milk, as well as the calf that he had prepared, and set them before the men. He served them as they ate under the tree.

Abraham is getting his cardio in that day! As we watch him serve the Lord, we see he does so with urgency, earnestness, and generosity. He didn’t use the regular barley, he used the fine flour (and a lot of it). He had a calf prepared – a rare thing to do. He pulled in these other ingredients, and they made a feast. It took time and effort and was costly, but he was excited to offer this to the Lord. He doesn’t spend his time complaining that they didn’t have dates on hand or the finest of wine. He gave what he had, but he did so without holding back. And here’s an important facet of his heart that we get a glimpse of, pointed out by lots of Bible commentators: He served them personally. This was a powerful, wealthy sheik, who had hundreds of servants. But he, the master of the house, served them. It was his honor and his duty to present himself before the Lord as a servant.

As we serve the Lord, it is never meant to be a chore or an obligation. It’s not meant to be something we do begrudgingly or tight-fistedly. If that is how we feel when it’s time to worship the Lord or serve Him or obey Him or give something to Him, we need to stop and get a little heart work done. Remember – as someone pointed out – the Lord wanted to be Abraham’s guest. That’s why they came by his tent. He wanted to spend time with this son of His and tell him all the wonderful things He was going to do in his life. Serve the Lord with gladness.

Genesis 18:9-10 – 9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he answered. 10 The Lord said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent behind him.

In our culture, the wife is typically the hostess in a situation like this. But in this era, the woman would not eat with these fellows. Naturally, Sarah is interested in what is going on. And so, she eavesdrops on the conversation.

These strangers reveal the fact that they aren’t run-of-the-mill travelers. They know Sarah’s name. And then the Lord explicitly states that He has the power to give life to her womb. And, I imagine He did so in a nice, loud voice, knowing that Sarah was, in fact, listening in on their table talk.

Genesis 18:11-15 – 11 Abraham and Sarah were old and getting on in years. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. 12 So she laughed to herself: “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I have delight?” 13 But the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?’ 14 Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it. “I did not laugh,” she said, because she was afraid. But he replied, “No, you did laugh.”

On film, this would be a funny scene, but it wouldn’t have been fun at all for Sarah and Abraham. One source explains that, linguistically, the Lord said, “Why on earth did Sarah laugh?” She’s been caught scoffing by the Lord. Have you ever been at a dinner where someone says something they shouldn’t have and the party is effectively over? Politicians will be on the campaign trail and might say one wrong phrase which completely ends their prospects. We can sense the tension and Sarah’s fear, pushing her to lie. Then Lord has to correct her a second time. But, notice: In this interaction, the Lord isn’t counting strikes against Sarah and Abraham. Sometimes I think we talk too much in these stories about how this was a “test” of their faith. But, the Lord isn’t deciding whether to disqualify them here. This is a teachable moment. When you were in school, test times weren’t teaching times. They were meant to measure whether you were ready to move on. Certainly, there is a testing of faith, but in the Biblical sense, the testing of faith isn’t to decide whether you pass or fail, it’s to refine you – to bring for the gold of God’s glory in your life, to produce heavenly attributes like endurance and maturity.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Sarah, you’re close to striking out.” Rather, He shows uses her misstep as a teachable moment. Psalm 37 promises us that the Lord watches over us all our days and that we will not be disgraced. It says, “Though [a believer] falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord supports him with His hand.” Here, God supports Sarah’s sagging faith by reminding her of the reality that nothing is impossible for the Lord. And it’s a reminder to us. Our faith should not be rooted in our feelings, or in what we think is possible, or in conventional wisdom, or religious tradition. Our faith is built upon the Person of Jesus Christ and nothing is impossible for Him.

Genesis 18:16-21 – 16 The men got up from there and looked out over Sodom, and Abraham was walking with them to see them off. 17 Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham? 18 Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what he promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. 21 I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to me. If not, I will find out.”

God may not be visible to us, but He loves to reveal Himself. He wants to show believers who He is, what He does, and what He’s doing. Remember: God considers Abraham His friend. You’re His friend too, according to John 15, and the Lord makes things known to His friends.

Abraham did not have a Bible to read. He had very few examples to analyze. It could be a jarring thing to have God promise you a son today but then destroy your nephew’s family tomorrow. God wants Abraham to understand He is a God of power, and of justice, and mercy, and long-suffering.

Notice also, despite the awkwardness at the door of the tent, God isn’t leaving early or in a huff. He’s still full of grace toward this family. I’m sure Abraham and Sarah were embarrassed, but we see the Lord immediately moves on. He’s thinking about Abraham’s future. Friends, God is thinking thoughts about you! They are a great and precious sum. When’s the last time you thought about your wife’s cousin? In normal circumstances, they’re just not all that important to us. But God is thinking about you and your future and His excitement to accomplish His good work in your life.

There is a key point in verse 19 that we need to take to heart. Abraham will “keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right…this is how the Lord will fulfill what He has promised.” As we’ve seen before and will see again, a living faith is defined by obedience and through obedience the Lord is able to shape us and use us in the best possible ways. Through obedience we’re able to learn what the will of God is and enjoy the benefits of the “blessed” life that we read about in Psalm 1.

The polar opposite of faithful obedience was Sodom and Gomorrah. We know there was testimony about the One True God in their region. There was Lot. There was Abraham and Melchizedek. These people had personally experienced the mercy of God when He sent Abraham to save them from Chedorlaomer. And yet, they did not turn toward the Lord, they did not turn from their sin. They delved deeper into their rebellion and debauchery and wickedness.

What was their sin which was so serious? The Bible explains that they had several fatal issues – sort of a spiritual Flurona. First, these cities were rotten with sexual immorality. In the next passage we’ll see that the entire male population of Sodom were roving the streets looking for men to gang rape. Isaiah tells us they flaunted their sin. They took pride in it. But in addition to their sexual sin and their blasphemous pride, we’re told that these cities crushed the poor and needy. They had plenty of supplies and security to spread around, but instead of helping, they spent their time on detestable acts of perversion and oppressing the weak in their midst.

Their sin rose like a cry up to heaven. We recall Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. Injustice and oppression and corruption ring out as beacons inviting God’s wrath and vengeance. And God will visit wrath upon the unrighteousness and godlessness of this world. His wrath is the proper response to the sin of mankind. We have worked sin and the wages for that work is death. Praise God that “the one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.” If you are not a believer, you are under God’s wrath and His judgment is coming for you, as sure as it came for Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18:22-25 – 22 The men turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people who are in it? 25 You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of the whole earth do what is just?”

Justice must include judgment. If God does not judge sin, He cannot be God because He would not be just or good. But, Abraham knows that Lot has put his roots down in Sodom and we can hear the desperation in his voice. Of course God would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. But, that does not mean bad things never happen to God’s people. In fact, this scene makes a case for rejecting the idea of meticulous determinism. One popular reformed pastor once called deadly Midwest tornados the fingers of God dragging across the land. But God specifically shows here that He does not judge the righteous with the wicked. Natural disasters are a result of sin and its effect on creation, not some demonstration of God’s cruel power. We’re talking about judgment here and God is just. Justice demands the guilty be punished and the righteous go free. And God has made believers righteous when they turn to him and are saved by grace through faith.

Dr. McGee notes, this is also a quiet hint at a Pre-Tribulation rapture. That period of fierce judgment will not begin until God’s Church is removed, as Lot was removed before Sodom was destroyed.

Genesis 18:26-33 – 26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Then Abraham answered, “Since I have ventured to speak to my lord—even though I am dust and ashes—28 suppose the fifty righteous lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Then he spoke to him again, “Suppose forty are found there?” He answered, “I will not do it on account of forty.” 30 Then he said, “Let my lord not be angry, and I will speak further. Suppose thirty are found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 Then he said, “Since I have ventured to speak to my lord, suppose twenty are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it on account of twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Let my lord not be angry, and I will speak one more time. Suppose ten are found there?” He answered, “I will not destroy it on account of ten.” 33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he departed, and Abraham returned to his place.

Abraham had rescued Sodom once before, but that was when they were facing a different kind of reckoning. Abraham wasn’t about to strap on a sword and fight against his Lord. So what could he do? He could plead for them. Now, Abraham was not “convincing” God. No, this was, in fact, another opportunity that Abraham was able to step into. Remember: The Lord had said, “through Abraham all the nations will be blessed.” And God is giving Abraham a chance to serve in that capacity right here. He interceded and appealed for these people. He’s being a salty believer, trying to be a preserving influence on his world.

This would have been a bittersweet moment for our Lord. On the one hand, He gets to see heavenly grace and compassion in glorious operation in Abraham’s life. On the other hand, the Lord knew there weren’t even 10 righteous in those two cities.

I’ve heard it said that Abraham was whittling the number down to get to the size of Lot’s family, but there’s really no indication there was more than Lot, his wife, and his two daughters.

There’s something very important to acknowledge here: The best thing we can do for our city or for our nation is not to vote for a certain candidate or support NGOs or buy local. The best thing you can do for your city and for your nation is to be righteous! Righteousness exalts a nation. The fruit of righteousness is peace. If we’re hungry for righteousness we will be satisfied. What a difference a little righteousness would have made for Sodom and Gomorrah!

So we’ve seen how wonderful it is to be ready to serve God. We’ve seen the way we can intercede with compassion, even for the undeserving. We’ve seen how important justice and mercy are to the Lord. But, as we close, let’s consider again how gracious this God is.

From one vantage point we’re seeing people eavesdropping on the Lord, lying to Him, scoffing at His word, disbelieving His promises, maybe even trying to manipulate Him. And His response? Grace! Loving, correcting, compassionate grace. He is kind and generous. He is just and true. And He brings His people along, even when we’re, frankly, dead weight. This astonishing grace is yours and mine to enjoy and exercise as we walk with God and live to serve Him. Let’s prepare for it, watch for it, and jump at the chance to operate in it.

The Futures Contract (Genesis 17:1-27)

Some contracts have unusual clauses attached. Soccer contracts are notorious for their strange stipulations. Consider the case of Neil Ruddock. Neil was a tough defender, voted one of the “hardest footballers of all time.” He even represented his country on the English national team in 1994. But, Neil was a big player. So big, in fact, that when he moved to Crystal Palace, the club put a requirement in his contract. If he exceeded 220 pounds his salary would be cut by 10%. Within six months, Neil had been fined 8 times. Needless to say, he wasn’t with the team long.

In our text tonight, God appears again to Abraham. He comes to assure Abraham of the covenant He had made, but also to reveal more information about all it contained, including a new responsibility Abraham would have.

Thirteen years have passed since the last verse of chapter 16. Abraham has been in Canaan for 25 years and, it seems, a long time has passed since he’s heard from the Lord. We pick up in verse 1.

Genesis 17:1 – When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him, saying, “I am God Almighty. Live in my presence and be blameless.

God shares a new name here. It’s ‘El Shaddai,’ which we often translate as ‘God Almighty,’ because that’s what Jerome did in the Latin Vulgate. But, scholars aren’t sure what exactly this name means. Derek Kidner writes, “There is no universal agreement. A better guide is the study of its use…in Genesis it tends to be matched to situations where God’s servants are hardpressed and needing reassurance.” El Shaddai is the name Job and Balaam both used. Certainly it speaks of God’s might, but there’s more. It describes God as the Sovereign source of life, blessing, and fruitfulness. The name itself is an invitation for a person to come and become acquainted with this God, and see what He will do in your life. And that’s exactly what He invites Abraham to do. He says, “live in My presence” (or your translation may say “walk before Me”).

What does this mean? A believer is to live out their lives in communion with, and mindful devotion to, God – to make decisions based on our trust in God, relying on what He has said. But there was a problem. God said, “As you do this, be blameless.” Abraham was far from blameless. His second wife, Hagar, was walking proof of his previous failures. How could he live up to this?

The Bible reveals that God not only knows about our imperfections and failures, He’s willing to cleanse us of them – to correct us – so that we can be blameless in His sight. One scholar writes, “the Hebrew word signifies wholeness of relationship…rather than no sin.”

This is what God desires for all of His children: That we live out our lives in His presence, in a whole relationship, which deepens and grows and progresses as we allow Him to do what He wants in us.

Genesis 17:2 – 2 I will set up my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you greatly.”

In order for God to give all He wanted to Abraham, Abraham would need to participate in certain ways. God wasn’t saying, “I had promised you some things, but now I’m not so sure.” No, it was done. But as one commentator said, “Revelation…brings responsibility.”

From one perspective, it seems like God is very demanding in this chapter, but that’s not the case. He’s explaining to Abraham more of what He intends to do for him and that those intentions have a lot of implications. God is asking Abraham to join Him in the work, not so that the Lord can get things from Abraham, but so the Lord can give all He wants to give. And what God wants to give is big. In the Hebrew there is an emphatic repetition: “I will multiply you exceedingly, exceedingly.”

Genesis 17:3-6 – 3 Then Abram fell facedown and God spoke with him: 4 “As for me, here is my covenant with you: You will become the father of many nations. 5 Your name will no longer be Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you.

Abraham doesn’t know what to say, but he still has worship to give. As he worships, the Lord gives Abraham the name by which we know him. Abram means “exalted father,” whereas Abraham means, “father of multitudes.” For years, Abraham had treasured God’s covenant in his heart, but in reality, he didn’t know the half of it! God had so much more planned for this man and this family.

From Abraham there wouldn’t just be one nation but many. We know some of them as the Ishmaelites, the Edomites, the Midianites. But there would be one special, unique nation called Israel, through which God would do a singular, spectacular work – the work of redemption! Of course, the New Testament reveals that Abraham is the father of “all who believe.” And so, what a remarkable thing the Lord did through a regular family life, starting with simple faith.

Genesis 17:7-8 – 7 I will confirm my covenant that is between me and you and your future offspring throughout their generations. It is a permanent covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. 8 And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as a permanent possession, and I will be their God.”

God says “I will” no fewer than 16 times in this passage. And when He says He will, it means He really will. There are some who say that God has cancelled His land promise to the physical descendants of Abraham, that He has transferred them or spiritualized them. But let’s take note: His promise of descendants was true and literal. A literal Isaac. Real kings like David and Solomon and Jesus, the real Messiah who literally came. How dare we say that one portion of God’s words are just as they seem while the very next portion has failed! No, God has a particular, ongoing plan for the Jewish people – one that will culminate in a true, literal, 1,000 Kingdom on this earth.

This is all glorious to us, but we have to recognize how foolish it would’ve been to the world around Abraham. “Who are you?” “I’m the father of a multitude.” “Where are your kids?” “I just have this one, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have one more soon!” “So, what do you do?” “Well, we’re the true owners of all this land…kings, really.”

God’s message is foolishness in the eyes of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.

Genesis 17:9-14 – 9 God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations are to keep my covenant. 10 This is my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you, which you are to keep: Every one of your males must be circumcised. 11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you., 12 Throughout your generations, every male among you is to be circumcised at eight days old—every male born in your household or purchased from any foreigner and not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or purchased, he must be circumcised. My covenant will be marked in your flesh as a permanent covenant. 14 If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Was God changing the terms of the agreement? Circumcision was not a way to get in, but a sign of the fact that Abraham believed and had partnered with the Lord. It was a reminder of what Abraham had already agreed to.

When a policeman receives a badge, the badge has no power in and of itself. If I took a cop’s badge, that doesn’t make me a policeman. When you see an officer’s badge, it is a symbol of their affiliation, their authority, their legitimacy, their sacrifice, their service, and the vow they’ve taken. Circumcision was a symbol – a reminder – of who God’s people were.

The Hebrews weren’t the first to circumcise. Other cultures at the time did it, usually for certain classes like priests and at adolescence rather than infancy. But God was using this custom in a special way, to be an intensely personal reminder to individuals of the work He was doing in their hearts and through their lives – a set apart, spiritual work, which would permeate every aspect of their lives. Though the symbol was physical for Abraham, it’s the heart God really cared about. Even in the Old Testament, it’s made clear that the physical rite of circumcision, though commanded, was only to signify the transaction of the heart and the life God had called this people to.

Deuteronomy 30:6 – 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.

Jeremiah 4:4 – 4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts,

This idea of heart change carries into the New Testament. Along with the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, physical circumcision is no longer a requirement for God’s people. Paul discusses it in Romans 2. His conclusion is: true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. Circumcision is of the heart — by the Spirit as we submit to the Word of God and walk in faith.

Genesis 17:15 – 15 God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai, for Sarah will be her name.

Both of these names mean “princess.” The last time we saw Sarah, it wasn’t great. Both she and Abraham fell into a serious lapse of faith. But, make no mistake, Sarah was an obedient believer. Her name change gives us two important things to think about. First, it is a reminder that we have been adopted into royalty. The King of Heaven and Earth has decided to share His Kingdom with you. Second, her name gives us this thought, which I’ll happily borrow from Warren Wiersbe: “The Christian husband should treat his wife like a princess, because that is what she is in the Lord.”

Genesis 17:16 – 16 I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

This is the first time that God has revealed to them that Sarah will bear a child. Why didn’t He do so earlier and, thereby, avoid the Ishmael debacle? God is looking for faith. We can’t please God without faith. It is the way He wants us to live. Remember: God doesn’t want to have a transactional relationship with us, but a personal one – one based on love and trust and closeness.

Genesis 17:17-18 – 17 Abraham fell facedown. Then he laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, give birth?” 18 So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!”

Before we get the red pen out to subtract some points from Abraham, we should notice this: He worships again, even when he doesn’t understand how God could possibly accomplish what He said. And he worships in obedience. He refers to his wife as Sarah immediately. He’s to be commended for these things. But, we see that his faith, at this point in time, is limited to what he considers ‘possible.’ He does the math in his head and he has concluded it can’t be done. But he still wants to be in partnership with God, so he floats this idea: Why don’t we go with Ishmael? He’s the next best thing!

Here’s the problem: the Ishmael idea was bad 13 years ago and it’s still bad now. Here is how God likes to do His work: Not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit. We want Him to work in our lives and in our midst, so we need to accept the fact that the ideas aren’t going to be ours. The methods aren’t going to be worldly. Instead, we’re to discern what is the will of God and then follow in it.

Genesis 17:19-21 – 19 But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as a permanent covenant for his future offspring. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.”

God didn’t refuse Ishamel because He hated him. He loved Ishmael. He had a wonderful plan for Ishmael’s life. But this specific plan for the Messiah would come through Isaac. God has particular plans for your life. We’re not meant to be drifters, wandering about while life happens to us. We’re invited to learn at the feet of our Lord, Who has adopted us into His household, where we can serve and grow and be sent out according to His good pleasure.

Genesis 17:22 – 22 When he finished talking with him, God withdrew from Abraham.

“But wait! I thought I was supposed to live out my life in Your presence!” Though the Lord was gone from Abraham’s sight, Abraham was not gone from God’s. He was still able to walk before the Lord. What does that mean? It was a heart position. It was the position of disposition. Abraham was left without the visual presence of God but he could continually seek the Lord for his personal life, his family life, his future decisions, and future hope.

In this church age, God feels far when it comes to human senses. But He is not withdrawn. We are promised this: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. He has placed you where you are so that you might seek Him and reach out and find Him, for He is not far from any one of us.

Genesis 17:23-27 – 23 So Abraham took his son Ishmael and those born in his household or purchased—every male among the members of Abraham’s household—and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that very day, just as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised. 26 On that very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his household—whether born in his household or purchased from a foreigner—were circumcised with him.

Abraham is the father of faith. Faithfulness means obedience – doing what God has told you to do. This was a difficult obedience. But Abraham did it that very day. What an interesting moment it must have been, when Ishmael came and said, “What does this mean?” “It means we’re in covenant with God.” “What else did God say?” “He said He has a plan for you, but not the one I want. So we’re gonna go with what the Lord has said and trust Him.”

What about for us, tonight? These moments in Biblical history are important for us to know, but God intends them to be more than just historical. Most of us know that The Mayflower Compact was a signed agreement and a significant stepping stone in US history, but it has little bearing on our actual day-to-day lives. But God’s word is given to profit and train and equip and correct us so that we can be people of God who know the power of God and do the work of God.

We see in this text God reminding believers of how close He is and how great His love is for them and how He has intentions for their lives and more to show them, more to give them, more to do with them. They’re things that God’s people can’t discern on their own – they need it to be revealed. And God wants to reveal, but, in order to do so, the believers have to participate in faithful obedience. They have to set aside their own notions and plans and instead receive from the Lord. If we want to be in that position, the Bible says we need to be people who believe and who have circumcised hearts. That, with the Spirit, we cut away the fleshiness and the self-autonomy and the disbelief and worship the Lord, be in His presence, and listen for His voice.

We all want a greater revelation of God’s plan for us as individuals and in our families and as a church. We want to be directed. We want to experience His presence in a personal, powerful way. But, often we feel a disconnect. What do we see here? Abraham worshiped and obeyed God even when he didn’t understand and he was able to enjoy a powerful friendship with God. What do we obey? The Scripture, where we discover what God has said. How do we worship? We’re going to do that together in just a moment. Praising God, thanking Him, for His power and goodness.

There are two pitfalls that we can identify in this scene: We don’t want to be an Ishmael or a Lot. You see, Ishmael was circumcised, but he’s never an example to us of a person who honored God or believed God or walked with God. In that sense, he’s like a person who went through the rituals of belief, without offering his heart to the Lord. And he did not enjoy fellowship with God, despite the fact he was circumcised.

But then there’s Lot. He was uncircumcised, yet is declared righteous in the New Testament. But, looking at his life, he clearly did not enjoy closeness with God. He lived a life outside the warmth of God’s leading and grace because he went his own way and had his own ideas.

In one of those notorious soccer contracts, Giuseppe Reina (a German striker) thought he’d make his own plan. He demanded that, as part of his signing agreement, a particular team would build him a new house for every year he spent with them. “Sure,” the club said, “If that’s what you want.” And so, pleased with his plan, Giuseppe signed on the dotted line. Imagine the disappointment he felt when he received the house the club built for him…out of legos…three years in a row!

As Christians, it does no good for us to try to make our own spiritual plans. As a church and as individuals, our first question should always be, “What does God want?” We want Him to new things. We want to see great things. But more than that, we want what God wants. And we know God wants to speak to us, to direct us, to grow in us, and we don’t want to miss it. So, let Abraham encourage us tonight. The way to have a faith full of growth and closeness with God, experiencing His presence is by listening and worshiping – being ready to obey, even when it’s painful, and refusing to either go our own way or to simply go through the motions. Instead to follow after God’s word and leading, knowing that He is always good and keeps on getting better.

The Sequel Was Terrible! (Genesis 16:1-16)

You never know how a sequel will turn out. Every once in a while, a sequel turns out better than the original. Paddington 2, The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath Of Khan. More often, the sequels are a disgrace. You wish you had never seen it. The story is lame, the characters get ruined, they introduce new cast members that you’re not interested in. In some cases they undo much of what you loved about the original. If you look up lists of the worst sequels, almost without exception Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is included. That movie was a staple during my childhood. I thought it was awesome, even if it is rated as one of the worst movies of all time.

When we were last in Genesis, we looked at one of the defining scenes of Abraham’s life – him and God looking at the stars. That magnificent evening was followed up with God making a dramatic covenant, binding Himself to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Tonight, it’s the sequel. And, if it weren’t for the grace of God, this would’ve killed the franchise, like Superman IV. But, terrible groupthink and bad on-set behavior cannot stop the providence of God and it can’t sour the grace of God. So, let’s take a look, starting in verse 1.

Genesis 16:1 – Abram’s wife, Sarai, had not borne any children for him, but she owned an Egyptian slave named Hagar.

Abraham and Sarah were very concerned about the fact that they had no children. They’re at an age where it seemed more and more impossible that God’s promise could come to pass.

We’re left to assume that Hagar was one of the servants Pharaoh gave to Abraham back in chapter 12 when they had taken that ill-advised trip to Egypt. So, Hagar, though a real person, symbolizes for us the provision of the world.

We know that this scene speaks of the difference between the flesh and the Spirit because we’re told as much in Galatians 4. This story also foreshadows the difference between the Old and New Covenants – one based on legalism there other on grace.

Your translation may call Hagar a “maidservant,” but, scholars point out that is too genteel a word. We’ll see that Abraham and Sarah treat her with no respect, no dignity, no kindness. Until the close of the chapter, she’s treated roughly – as a possession to be exploited.

Genesis 16:2 – 2 Sarai said to Abram, “Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps through her I can build a family.” And Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

Sarah’s end goal wasn’t bad: She wanted a family. Wasn’t that what God wanted, too? It was, but let’s examine where her plan came from: She begins with a declaration that God had failed. Sarah blames Him for ‘preventing’ her from having children and assumes that none are forthcoming in the future. Of course, God had not failed, it just wasn’t time. We’ve seen how carefully God plans things. He’s does His work according to a specific timeline, motivated by His compassionate mercy.

Not only did Sarah go to the drawing board with bitterness in her heart, we see that she was drawing from the world’s playbook. This scheme to use a slave girl as a surrogate was widely acceptable and even codified in the surrounding culture.

Now, had Sarah gone to the Lord with her hurt and her earnest desire to see His promise fulfilled, we must conclude that she would’ve received comfort and direction from God because that’s what had happened to Abraham in the very last chapter! Instead, we see Sarah using human math, human engineering, leaving God out of the equation altogether. And, scholars point out that, as she speaks, she uses the language of the world. She speaks pretty coarsely throughout this text.

We can bring this up to date in lots of ways, but let’s apply it to ministry work. We’re meant to “make disciples” – to increase the family of faith. Often, though the end goal is worthy, churches turn to human methods, human means, human engineering to try to accomplish that goal. They use the world’s culture to try to increase the size of the church. That’s the same mindset Sarah had. But it leads to a counterfeit increase, with a bunch of troubles added in.

Be that as it may, Abraham agrees with his wife. The problem is, it was not how the Lord had led. Remember: God was a covenant partner in Abraham’s life. Abraham should have gone to the Lord for approval, since it concerned the very thing God had spoken to him about more than once.

Genesis 16:3 – 3 So Abram’s wife, Sarai, took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband, Abram, as a wife for him. This happened after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan ten years.

They could try to justify it in their own minds, but Abraham and Sarah are making a huge mistake here. Hagar really had no say in it – she’s a piece of property, legally speaking, and they’re treating her as such. But, rather than trusting God, Abraham and Sarah are taking the reins of their lives into their own hands, and they’re failing to protect their marriage. This same type of mistake had been Abraham’s idea back in chapter 12. So, they are both playing fast and loose with their marriage.

The marriage relationship is meant to be the closest human relationship you have. You are one flesh with your spouse. It is meant to be unique and consecrated. If you are married, you are not to allow anyone else to occupy that place of closeness or intimacy or connection that you pledged to your spouse. And you should help your spouse avoid mistakes like this, so that you are strengthening each other and your oneness at the same time.

Genesis 16:4 – 4 He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant. When she saw that she was pregnant, her mistress became contemptible to her.

Until this point, Hagar isn’t to be blamed. But now her heart fills up with pride and she begins to show contempt to Sarah. In the eyes of society, Hagar would be seen as the primary wife now that she was with child and Sarah was barren, and Hagar let her know it.

Success is not always a mark of God’s approval or favor. This was the last thing God wanted for this family. I’m sure they were celebrating at first, but that quickly turned to resentment and discord.

Genesis 16:5 – 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for my suffering! I put my slave in your arms, and when she saw that she was pregnant, I became contemptible to her. May the Lord judge between me and you.”

Now that things have turned out terribly Sarah is ready to involve the Lord! We’re eavesdropping on a bad argument in the family tent, but the truth is, Abraham should have put a stop to Sarah’s idea right away. Instead, he went along and now they are reaping the crop of carnal choices.

Genesis 16:6 – 6 Abram replied to Sarai, “Here, your slave is in your power; do whatever you want with her.” Then Sarai mistreated her so much that she ran away from her.

This is an absolute scandal. We are talking about the first family of faith! Sarah wasn’t just a little rude. The term used for ‘mistreated’ is the same one Moses uses to describe how the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites in Exodus.

Just as it was culturally acceptable to use Hagar as a surrogate, it was also culturally acceptable to treat her harshly. But this was totally outside what was acceptable to the Lord. Our God is tender and gracious and long-suffering and meek. We are to be conformed to that image, not the image of the harsh and brutal world.

As far as sequels go, this is as bad as it gets. Luckily, a surprise cameo will redeem this picture.

Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Jackson, and Martin Scorsese are known for showing up in their films. People loved seeing Stan Lee, the creator of all those wonderful comics, in the MCU. We cut to Hagar in the desert. Desperate, alone, unprotected, no supplies, pregnant, and suddenly the Creator makes a cameo.

Genesis 16:7 – 7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.
How do we know this is God? Well, she will identify Him as God in verse 13 and He makes an “I will” promise to her. Some say this is just an angel, not God, but that isn’t consistent with what we read. No, this is what we call a Theophany (or sometimes a Christophany), which is a Pre-Incarnate appearance of Jesus on the earth. And here we have the very first reference to the Angel of the Lord. He’s come to find a hopeless, sinful, Egyptian slave girl. She didn’t find Him, He found her.

Genesis 16:8 – 8 He said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.”

We sense the tenderness not only by what He said, but by how she responded. Alone in the desert is no place for a woman in her condition. The approach of a strange man should have been scary. Yet, she did not recoil at His presence – she doesn’t try to hide away. There must have been something deeply comforting about Him.

When He speaks, He calls her by name. One scholar points out that this is the only known instance in ancient Near Eastern literature where a Deity addresses a woman directly by name. But, he does not coddle her. He identifies her as a slave to Sarah. And she admits that she has abandoned her duty. She speaks humbly and truthfully. She doesn’t bring up the mistreatment she had endured. Perhaps she realized He already knew all about it.

Genesis 16:9 – 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority.”

“Go back? But I was suffering! I was mistreated! I was a slave!” And the Lord said, “That’s right. Go back.” You see, God wasn’t happy about her affliction – He was responding because He heard her cries -but He had something greater planned for her life than simply avoiding suffering. Hagar’s plan was, “Let’s avoid suffering. It probably means I’ll starve in the desert, but at least I won’t suffer under Sarah.” Meanwhile, God had a great and awesome plan for her life that, yes, included some difficulty, but was a much better alternative than she had planned for herself. What was His plan?

Genesis 16:10 – 10 The angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count.”

This Gentile was going to get in on God’s incredible promise and provision. Was that end result worth the price of admission? It seems that Hagar was shocked at what God was saying, both the promise and His directive to go back to that terrible job. So the Lord continues.

Genesis 16:11 – 11 The angel of the Lord said to her, “You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction.

The name Ishmael means, “God hears,” or, “may God hear.” So, in this short scene we learn a lot about God. We learn that He sees you and He hears you. We learn He knows what’s going on in your mind and your body (He knew she was pregnant). He knows your past and He knows your future. He knows the struggles you’re dealing with and the hurts deep in your heart. And He moves on your behalf, to give you life more abundantly if you will believe Him and obey.

Genesis 16:12 – 12 This man will be like a wild donkey. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; he will settle near all his relatives.”

Ishmael and his descendants would be strong, independent – living outside of civilized society. The Lord compares him to a breed of donkey called the Syrian Onager. It was known for great beauty and strength. It was compared to thoroughbred horses. In fact, one Greek historian reports that they were able to outrun horses, and would often taunt their pursuers. The prophecy in verse 12 has continued to be true of Ishmael’s descendants, which include some of the Arab people, who still live in opposition to the sons of Israel.

Genesis 16:13-14 – 13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her: “You are El-roi,” for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?” 14 That is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi. It is between Kadesh and Bered.

This is an amazing turn of events. She gives God a name, and He accepts it! I don’t think ‘Gene’ is that obscure a name, but historically, any time I’ve gone to Starbucks, they give me some other name and, frankly, it’s not appreciated. The best one was, Chi.

Some linguists believe that Hagar is saying something like, “Wait, I saw God and I didn’t die?” She’s in shock. You see, that was what people thought would happen if God showed up. Think of Samson’s parents in Judges 13. But here Hagar starts to think that she might not understand as much about God as she thought. She expected crushing. Instead she discovered that this God is not only a real, living Person, but He sees and He hears. He comes in search and He speaks and He directs and He protects and He provides and He intends and He comforts and He helps.

Genesis 16:15-16 – 15 So Hagar gave birth to Abram’s son, and Abram named his son (whom Hagar bore) Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.

This is a very unexpected conclusion. We see significant growth here. The family of faith is finally back on track and making progress. Hagar returned, without any guarantee that her day-to-day would improve, and we see that when she told Abraham what had happened, he not only believed her, but he humbled himself under the word of God and submitted accordingly. He named the boy Ishmael – God hears. As in, “God hears how you’ve been afflicting Hagar.” But what a great moment this is for us to witness. God’s people aren’t perfect. It’s unreasonable to expect that believers won’t make mistakes. The question is: Are we being conformed into God’s image? Are we progressing in our walk of faith? In our submission to God’s word? Are we decreasing so that the Lord might increase in us?

Abraham would have to wait another 14 years before the son of promise finally arrived. Hagar would live a long time as a servant. It wasn’t going to be easy. But, they were moving forward in God’s plan and provision, and that was a good thing. So much better than the alternative.

People love film franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe currently holds the title for most movies – 27 to date. James Bond is number 2 with 25 movies. But the oldest movie franchise has been around for 90 years. It’s the Mummy, with 19 films, starting all the way back in 1932.

Your life is the next sequel in God’s Marvelous Charismatic Universe. Broken down the word charismatic simply means “gifts of grace.” God still intends to lead you forward by His generous grace, into new growth of love, compassion, activity, and submission to His word. Let Him have creative control so that your sequel is as good as the original. Recognize that your role is of a beloved servant, sent to endure whatever is required in order to accomplish the Director’s creative vision. If we go His way, rather than our own, the story will be a triumph and we will be glorified as we bring Him glory and praise.

A Star On God’s Walk Of Faith (Genesis 15)

Forbes Magazine says we’ve become a “nation of quitters.” Americans are leaving their jobs at record rates. A more polite term for it is “The Great Resignation.” 55% of workers are thinking of quitting their job. When do you know that it’s time to find a new line of work? One article gave 30 signs. One of them was: “The reality of your day-to-day does not match the job description.” The guidance given by someone called an ‘Executive Career Change Coach’ was: “Listen to your gut. Do you feel light, inspired, and a little excited? Or do you have a sinking feeling in your stomach, a lump in your throat, and a tightening in your chest? That’s your inner compass talking.”

In Genesis 15, Abraham has a lump in his throat and a sinking feeling. He’s been in Canaan for around 10 years – he’s in his mid-eighties. We read his story and see great moments in his life. But Abraham lives it every day. And his day-to-day wasn’t matching the description God had given. Abraham finds himself dealing with difficulties and confusion and frustration over how certain aspects of his life are turning out. He loves the Lord, he trusts the Lord, but he can’t see beyond today and, is full of questions about the future. Sounds like the kinds of thoughts we have at times.

This chapter records for us a frank conversation Abraham had with God. That conversation leads to a covenant which is still in effect today. As usual, by studying this example, there is much we can learn about God’s Word, His work, and the wonderful way He expresses His love for His people.

Genesis 15:1 – After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.

God doesn’t tell us things we don’t need to hear, so we can assume that Abraham was feeling very low. He was afraid of potential reprisals from foreign armies after his battle victory. And, it seems, he was feeling disappointment over how his rescue operation had ended. Because of spiritual conviction he turned down all the plunder and, in fact, came home 10% poorer than before. Some criticize Abraham and say he’s throwing himself a pity party, but this text highlights Abraham’s enduring faith and his trust in the Lord. But, clearly, he’s second guessing his life’s course.

In this moment of discouragement, the Lord comes to lift up Abraham’s head. David knew this Divine kindness. He wrote in Psalm 3: “You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.” God is revealing this aspect of Himself to Abraham, too.

This is a tender moment. God sees into the heart of His friend, sees that his friend is struggling and is downcast, and the Lord takes the initiative to come, not offering some empty catchphrase, but He offers Himself. “I’ll be your shield. I’ll watch over you night and day. I’ll keep the record and be sure to give you an eternal return on your life’s investment.” If God can see into our hearts, then obviously He can see our circumstances. He is mindful of what you’re experiencing.

In 1 Samuel we see that touching moment where Hannah is so broken-hearted because she has no child. Her husband tries to console her by saying, “Am I not better to you than 10 sons?” Not the best thing to say. But when God offers us Himself, He is better than all the things of earth. He is a greater treasure, a greater Friend, a greater Helper, than any we pass up in this life.

Genesis 15:2 – 2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?

Abraham didn’t want battle plunder. He wanted that which God had promised to him a decade earlier. God had said, “I’m going to make you a great nation.” And here he was, with no family of his own. His nephew, Lot, who was like a son, had abandoned Abraham a second time. And, sure, he had a bunch of servants and employees. But no son.

Coming back from the battle, perhaps Abraham was feeling his age. What good was God’s promise if his life was almost over? And so, he boldly speaks to God, saying, “If You’re going to make me a great nation, we better get a move on!” He’s still in a position of obedience and belief. He refers to God as, “Master, Lord.” But, after he speaks, the Lord doesn’t immediately reply. So Abraham speaks again.

Genesis 15:3 – 3 Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir.”

We can see that, at the same time, Abraham believed God’s promise, but was also blaming God for what seemed like a failure in the work. “You have given me no offspring.” Sarah will say the same thing in the next chapter and that attitude of blaming God led to a major misstep in their lives.

God had not failed. It just wasn’t time. God does things at “just the right time.” At just the right time Christ died for the ungodly. At just the right time He reveals Himself. At just the right time He pours out His grace and moves in compassion for us. We always want the time to be right now, while we’re feeling the sting of disappointment. But the Lord has been working out His plan even before time existed. His plan is specific and it is personal. Look at verse 4.

Genesis 15:4 – 4 Now the word of the Lord came to him: “This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir.”

The Lord says, “I know Eliezer. I know you. I care about you both, but he isn’t going to figure in my plan for your offspring.”

Notice also, God knew the state of Abraham’s heart. He knows our frustrations and weaknesses. But He did not want Abraham to remain in that state. He brought Abraham comfort and revelation so that he could strengthen himself and move out of his discouragement.

For some, it’s fashionable to celebrate what they call “brokenness.” Practically worked out, it produces a limp Christianity – one without confidence or answers or spiritual strength. God didn’t want Abraham to stay in his brokenness, in his second guessing, and frustration. Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes wrote, “[Christ] was broken that we should not be broken; he was troubled, that we should not be desperately troubled. Whatever may be wished for in an all sufficient Comforter is…found in Christ: Authority from the Father…Strength in Himself…[and] Wisdom.”

Genesis 15:5 – 5 He took him outside and said, “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “Your offspring will be that numerous.”

It seems the Lord was there with Abraham in what we call a Theophany – a PreIncarnate appearance of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Abraham poured out his heart to His Master, and the Lord said, “Come with Me, I have something I want to show you.” There, under the night sky, God told Abraham to “look toward heaven.” Philosophers speak of “the music of the spheres,” talking about the motion of the celestial bodies of the universe. Genesis drives home the fact that God made it all as a backdrop that He might commune with us. The universe exists, not only to declare God’s majesty and splendor, but to remind us of His love and His power working on our behalf.

Genesis 15:6 – 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

This is one of the most important verses in all the Bible. The New Testament certainly thinks so. It is referenced multiple times by Paul. James cites it, too. This is the model diagram of how a person can be saved – how they can be made right with God. When a person trusts God, in faith, God’s grace imputes perfect righteousness into their account, wiping out the debt of sin because Christ payed the penalty for it. Abraham did not have to have a son to be saved. He didn’t have to be circumcised to be saved. He didn’t have to pass a certain number of tests or obey for a certain number of consecutive days to earn a home in heaven. All he had to do was believe the Lord – trust Him as a Person and believe what He had said in His Word. The work of salvation is all done by God. Our part is to believe. Of course, saving faith is not just lip service, it’s alive. Like Abraham, it brings us into a relationship with God. And though we struggle and fail, we continue to trust Him.

God, in His grace, is excited to count things on your behalf. This little, mustard seed faith of Abraham, God said, “That counts!” Jesus said, “Give a cup of water to someone in need, that counts as if you were giving it directly to Me!” Your prayers count. Your worship counts.

Genesis 15:7 – 7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”

After the tenderness of their friendly talk, this statement seems out of place. But God is now initiating a covenant ceremony with Abraham. He says, “Ok, Abraham. Let’s make it official with a contract.” It wasn’t that God finally decided to commit. He wanted to demonstrate to Abraham how serious His commitment was. He knows that Abraham is still struggling emotionally with how it seems like it’s impossible for God to do what He had promised. And so, the Lord starts off by pointing out that He has been watching over Abraham’s life all this time.

The Psalmist wrote: “The course of my life is in Your power.” God’s goodness and faithful love pursues you all the days of your life.

Genesis 15:8 – 8 But he said, “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess it?”

It’s not always wrong to ask for confirmation. We can safely say that Abraham is having a crisis of faith. It doesn’t seem like things are happening as they should. Was Abraham wrong about the decisions he had been making? “Lord, am I in the right place? Am I doing the right thing? I thought by now we’d see more fruit on the tree.” One commentator notes that Abraham’s question here shows that he was really taking God seriously.

Genesis 15:9-10 – 9 He said to him, “Bring me a 3-year-old cow, a 3-year-old female goat, a 3-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 So he brought all these to him, cut them in half, and laid the pieces opposite each other, but he did not cut the birds in half.

This was a ceremony people performed to confirm an agreement together. They would walk through these slaughtered animals, symbolizing that, if they violated the agreement, they deserved the same fate. This custom lasted a long time, at least to Jeremiah’s day (he references it).

Genesis 15:11 – 11 Birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

Do you ever contend with seagulls on the beach who want to pilfer your snacks? They’re relentless! I remember being closer to vultures in Peru than I wanted to be. Those are big, nasty birds.

On the one hand, this is a very humorous scene. Abraham has set everything up, but then nothing happens. He waits around, hour after hour. Imagine some of his servants coming out, or maybe passing neighbors, who ask: “Whatcha doing, Abraham?” “Oh, this? I’m cutting covenant with God.” “…is God here now?” “No. He WAS here, but He took off for a little bit…but He’ll be back!”

On the other hand, we saw that Abraham was struggling, he was frustrated. He had just been in conversation with God and now God seems to be absent – even late. Maybe he felt like Charlie Brown: “I shouldn’t have picked this life. Everything I do turns into a disaster. Isn’t there anyone who knows what spirituality is all about?!?”

But the Lord wasn’t late. He hadn’t forgotten. He would not fail to accomplish His project.

Genesis 15:12 – 12 As the sun was setting, a deep sleep came over Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on him.

It had been a long day after a long night. Now, Abraham was in the dark. Derek Kidner points out that God initiates covenants with moments of darkness. We see it here, at Sinai, and at the Cross.

But notice Abraham: He is deeply asleep – paralyzed for the rest of the proceedings. God alone will sign on to this covenant. Abraham has no portion that he must uphold. God does all the work, guarantees all the terms, brings all the capital, carries all the liability.

Genesis 15:13-14 – 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.

Abraham had been worried about the immediate future. Yet, God shows him centuries ahead. Why? Well, in addition to making Abraham a father, God was making him a prophet, too.

We should also note that God works with both fluid and fixed timelines. This prophecy shows a specific amount of time, after which things were determined to happen. At other points, God allows a fluidity in when things will happen. For example, after going out from Egypt, God said, “I’m going to take you back to this land.” What should’ve taken weeks ended up taking 40 years! God has the power to give some flexibility to His providence. But, when He sets a time schedule, it will be done. So, how does that apply to us? Well, it tells us that we shouldn’t be setting dates for the rapture of the Church. That’s a fluid time table. The Bible calls it imminent. But, once the Great Tribulation begins, that is on a fixed time table. 7 years, down to the day.

Genesis 15:15 – 15 But you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.

Not everything that would happen between now and then would be easy or pleasant, but the end would be good. As we walk with the Lord, we know that we are headed to a good completion – in peace with our heavenly Father. There will be hardships along the way, but we need not fear.

Genesis 15:16 – 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Now this is an astonishing revelation! “I thought we were talking about me?!?” Well, Abraham, we’re talking about you and some other folks, like the Amorites. “Lord, what do You have to do with the Amorites? They’re evil!” But the Lord loved them. As He had in the days of Noah, so here God was extending generations of mercy, giving these undeserving people a chance to turn to Him and be saved. God must judge sin, and He will, but His long-suffering waits because of His compassion.

“Ok, Lord, but what do the Amorites have to do with me?” God’s desire to save the lost impacts us in several ways. First, He sends us in to be a testimony of His love and grace and truth. Just as Abraham had developed relationships with those 3 Amorite brothers. But, God’s long-suffering also means that we, His people, will endure hardships at the hands of those He’s trying to save. We are called to endure with patience, remembering how glad we are that God waited for us.

Genesis 15:17-21 – 17 When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, from the Brook of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hethites, Perizzites, Rephaim, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”

There are a whole bunch of suggestions as to what the fire pot and the torch represent. But here’s our focus for tonight: First, the descendants of Abraham have never held all the land that is promised here. Not under Joshua, not under David, not under Solomon. Which means God is still going to keep this promise to ethnic Israel. We look forward to that fulfillment in the 1,000 Year Kingdom. Second, it was all the Lord. Abraham was ‘sleeping’ on the sidelines. It was all by God’s power, all by God’s grace, all by God’s design. Abraham’s part was to believe and walk by faith. To not be worn down by his earthly circumstances but to be confident in the Lord – to anchor his life to the Word of God, knowing that He would accomplish all He had said.

In summary, this passage gives us a look at God’s Word and His work. We see here that God’s Word is prophetic and it is personal. He speaks through His Scripture to you about His intentions for your life and much more that He intends to do in this world. And He speaks prophetically and definitively about the work He is going to accomplish. He works powerfully, providentially, progressively, and persistently, based on the promises He has made. When we find ourselves discouraged or frustrated or wondering whether God has forgotten us or we’ve made a mistake, consider the life of Abraham and how the Lord drew him on little by little, by sending His Word, by being Abraham’s Friend, by pouring out His grace in Abraham’s life. And then remember that that is how God wants to show His love to you as you walk with Him. Don’t follow your human gut into a spiritual resignation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths and will be faithful to complete the good work He started in you.

The Mysterious Melchizedek Society (Genesis 14:17-24)

“…and all I got was this lousy t-shirt…” They’ve been around for decades. Whether it’s from a trip to Florida or worn after graduation or turning a certain age, there’s a “lousy t-shirt” for everything. The Dutch Government recently breathed new life into this old style. The National Cyber Security Centre invited hackers to try to find vulnerabilities in their websites or online governmental systems. Anyone who successfully reports a vulnerability is rewarded with a black shirt which reads, “I hacked the Dutch government and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

After risking his life and traveling hundreds of miles roundtrip, Abraham returns from his rescue operation victorious. He retrieved all the people and plunder that was taken in Chedorlaomer’s vicious conquest. But, when all is said and done, Abraham doesn’t even get a lousy t-shirt – not a sandal strap or as much as a thread. In fact, he comes home with 10% less wealth than he had when he began. No matter, Abraham is not concerned. What he does get is an incredible interaction with a mysterious spiritual figure and a stronger testimony than ever.

Genesis 14:17 – 17 After Abram returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the Shaveh Valley (that is, the King’s Valley).

This aftermath that we’re reading tonight is notable for what Abraham did not do. We’ll see, in the end, he refuses to keep any of the plunder. But here we also note that he came back home. He didn’t try to become the king of Elam.

If you stayed around for the stinger in the final episode of The Mandalorian, you saw that Boba Fett had finally clawed out of obscurity, fought his way into power and sat himself of the throne of Jabba the Hutt from which he will now rule. (Coming soon to Disney+!)

Our culture likes to talk about “leverage.” How to keep getting more for yourself – greater position, greater wealth, greater influence. That stands in stark contrast to the #lifegoals given by Paul: “Seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business.”

The meeting place was called “the King’s Valley.” We’re not certain where this is, we can’t help but connect it with the king of Sodom. And here we have this image of the king in the King’s Valley and we have to ask ourselves: “Is that really your valley?” He wasn’t able to defend it or his people. One of the themes of this passage is that all the world belongs to the Lord. It did then and it does now.

Genesis 14:18 – 18 Melchizedek, king of Salem,, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to God Most High.

Read plainly, it seems that the meeting of Abram, Melchizedek and the king of Sodom happened all at the same time. As we read, imagine the wicked King Bera watching all of this unfold.

Who was Melchizedek? For thousands of years there have been many opinions. His name shows up again in one of the Psalms of David (Psalm 110), and of course there is a lengthy discussion of this incident in the book of Hebrews. He also appears in many extra-biblical writings, including some found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. From these sources come a wide range of theories.

Some say he was Noah’s son, Shem. Some that he was Noah’s nephew, miraculously born and taken to heaven to survive the flood. Others say he was a warrior angel or a member of the Divine Council. Some say he was Michael the Archangel. Some say he was Christ Himself. In early church history there was a heretical sect called the Melchizedekians who taught that he was greater than Christ and that Christ was made in his image. One theory is that he was the Holy Spirit.

There’s really no reason to believe that he was anything other than what he plainly appears to be: the king of a city who also served as a priest to God Most High. As Hebrews shows us, his life story becomes a profound type of the Lord Jesus Christ and His non-Aaronic priesthood. But, beyond that, there’s no evidence to identify him with Shem or an angel or Christ Himself. In fact, there’s only Biblical evidence disproving those theories.

So, where was he king? We’re told he was king of Salem, which most scholars agree later became Jerusalem.“Bread and wine” is better understood to be a full banquet. And so, as A.W. Pink beautifully points out, we have a foreshadowing of what our Lord will accomplish at His return to earth. There, after vanquishing the coalition of worldly kings, the King of Righteousness will feast with His people, those who have been about His business, and with the Jewish remnant, saved through that terrible Tribulation that nearly swept them away.

Meanwhile, there are some devotional thoughts for us. The mention of bread and wine reminds us of communion – given to commemorate and celebrate the victory won for us and shared with us.

Melchizedek also demonstrates that God is always working in all sorts of ways, whether we know it or not. Abraham, perhaps, felt like the only believer in all the world, but it wasn’t true. Even in the heart of Canaan, that bastion of evil, there was a man, who was not simply good, he was a true worshiper of Jehovah. Some try to suggest that Melchizedek didn’t know who he was worshiping, but Abraham clearly accepts that they both worship the same God. The New Testament agrees. How did he know about Jehovah? Who was he ministering to? What other spiritual adventures did he have? We don’t know. This is a book about Abraham’s descendants. But, believers often fall victim to a “we’re the only ones” mentality. It happened to Elijah. It happens to whole denominations sometimes. But God is at work all around the world, every moment of every day. And, even though Abraham and Melchizedek were strangers, we also see they were instantly connected because of their love of God. They had instant communion and fellowship and camaraderie. What a great example these two are of Christian brotherhood.

Genesis 14:19 – 19 He (Melchizedek) blessed him (Abraham) and said: Abram is blessed by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth,

We don’t know much about Melchizedek, but we get a glimpse into his theology here, and we find it lines up with God said so far in Genesis. God’s revelation is consistent in all times and in all places. When a person like Joseph Smith comes along and says he has a new revelation, it’s not from God. Paul said it didn’t matter if it was another man or an apostle or even an angel from heaven. There is one revelation from God and it remains consistent forever. Melchizedek affirms that there is One God and He is the Creator of this universe. On top of that, the message of Melchizedek toward Abraham is in line with what God had already said. He didn’t say, “Thus saith the Lord” and then give some contradictory prophecy or statement.

Like Abraham, we have been blessed by God. Believers receive an everlasting blessing. The second death has no power over us and now we have been called into God’s priesthood.

A major part of Biblical priesthood is to do what Melchizedek does here: Bless people. We bless the family of faith in lots of ways – encouragement and support and assistance and kindly affection – but we’re also to bless our enemies. Jesus, Peter, and Paul each command us to bless those who persecute us.

Now, here’s an important shade to all of this: Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God, but Abraham did not have to go through him in order to have a relationship with God. There is now one mediator between God and mankind, the Man Christ Jesus. The idea that you, as a Believer, have to go through a priest or through a pastor in order to gain access to God is not Biblical.

Genesis 14:20 – 20 and blessed be God Most High who has handed over your enemies to you. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Though he had not been involved, Melchizedek knew all about the battle Abraham had fought. God is mindful of all your struggles and difficulties. He has not forgotten them or you.

Abraham gives a tenth – or a ‘tithe’ – of everything to God through Melchizedek. First off, what did he give? Some say it was 10% of the plunder. Some say it was 10% of his own goods and none of the plunder. Others say it was 10% of his own stuff and the spoils of war. We can’t be sure, but given his attitude in this section, I find it hard to believe he was only giving to God what he only gained a few days before. Don’t get me wrong – he was entitled to these spoils of war, but, I’m sure his mentality was like that of David: “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.”

What about tithing? Is that something every Christian should be doing? Some point to this passage and say the tithe predates the Law, so it should apply to Believers of every age. Others point to the Law and say that Christians in the Dispensation of Grace are obligated to continue the tithe. If you base your view on the tithe from the Mosaic Law you’ve got a problem – when you add everything up it seems like the Israelites ended up giving about 23% of their income, not 10%.

Before setting a number, we should ask: Does God want us to give charitably of our money and goods? The answer to that is a clear “yes.” In fact, Jesus grouped giving in with prayer and fasting in His sermon on the mount. He also said that by giving of our earthly wealth we are able to store up treasures in heaven. In the New Testament giving is categorized with helping the needy and supporting ministers of the Gospel and the work of the church.

So, how much should you give? That is none of my business! You need to be led by God in how to give. Not just in quantity, but in where to give. We live in such an incredible time where, from the comfort of our homes, we can pay to dig a well in India, feed a child in Haiti, send a Bible to a soldier, and provide relief for tornado victims in Kentucky all in the same day. We can give jackets to the cold in our own town or send money to the Crossroads Pregnancy Center which they put together to do things like teach people how to be Godly parents or minister to women after an abortion or provide pregnancy tests free of charge. You can give to this church which helps us do things like pay staff and keep the lights on and have events and buy Bibles and make podcasts and provide a place where the Gospel is preached week by week and year by year. How you give is between you and the Holy Spirit. As you seek that out, the Bible gives us some guiding principles.

Our giving is to be motivated by love, not begrudgingly. And, because of that we would say that the goal should not be how little can I get away with, but how much will God let me give? Next, we’re told that our giving should be private, regular, sacrificial, and cheerfully done. You can study through 2 Corinthians 9 and Matthew 6 to learn more about this.

Genesis 14:21 – 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people, but take the possessions for yourself.”

The sacred meeting is broken up by the impatience of Bera, the king of Sodom. “If you holy rollers are done with your little get-together, let’s get down to business.” There’s no thank you. There’s no acknowledgement of the greatness of Abraham’s God. There’s no humility at all. Instead, he tries to command Abraham, setting the terms and suggesting that he is the one owns everything.

This is what we should expect from the kings of this world. What arrogance and hard-heartedness! He had, after all, abandoned his people to enslavement and death. He had started a fight, then when the going got tough, he retreated back to his palace, only coming out when someone else had done his job for him. We see his sinful heart on display: Defiance in the face of God’s mercy.

It’s true that, customarily, the goods would rightfully belong to Abraham, but I wonder if it wasn’t also a devilish plot in the king’s mind. He needed to re-establish his dominance. If Abraham had kept the stuff, how long would it have been before Bera started saying, “Abraham stole all our goods. Let’s go get it back!” He could use it as a pretense to attack this incredibly wealthy nomad who had, from one vantage point, very few defenses.

Genesis 14:22-23 – 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand in an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or sandal strap or anything that belongs to you, so you can never say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

It is often said that this was a great temptation for Abraham – a test of his faith. For sure, there is a devotional application for us to not be bought off by the world and the danger of greed. But, if it was a temptation, it wasn’t a very good one. For one thing, Abraham already was fabulously wealthy. And, from his response it’s clear he wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in this offer. He recoils, pretty tactlessly, from Bera’s offer. Imagine if you invited someone to dinner and they said, “I wouldn’t take a used napkin or a grain of salt from you!” He’s not entertaining this idea.

At the same time, think of the great compassion Abraham had shown to Bera! Godly compassion doesn’t mean we celebrate or accept wickedness. Today, some say that being ‘tolerant’ means that we must affirm and respect anything anyone does. That’s not what tolerance is and it’s not what we’re called to. We’re still supposed to recoil from wickedness, while also living out sacrificial compassion even towards undeserving people. This interaction is a great example for us.

Abraham did not want his testimony tarnished by the world. “I want people to know it is God who is working through my life, and I won’t allow anything in that would tamper with that witness. Not a thread or a sandal strap.”

Genesis 14:24 – 24 I will take nothing except what the servants have eaten. But as for the share of the men who came with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—they can take their share.”

The Bible does not teach that personal property doesn’t exist. Abraham recognizes it, so did Peter when it came to the situation with Ananias and Sapphira. The Bible is full of theological principles about your ox and your neighbor’s ox. The boundary markers of your property. The shirt on your back is yours. Now, our hearts are to be fueled by compassion and generosity, but one cannot be generous if he has nothing of his own. And we notice here that Abraham had a conviction about this particular pile of loot, but he did not force his allies to obey his personal conviction about it. He says, “These other guys have a rightful claim to a reward for their efforts.”

So we see that Abraham felt a duty toward God when it came to this financial opportunity, and that duty was to to sacrifice it all – to give it all back, and then some. But it was his duty, and everyone else had to decide on their own. And that’s true for you as well. Serving God is meant to cost you something. Through this saga we’ve seen Abraham give of his love, his strength, his effort, his time, his money, his patience, in worship, in humility. He navigated all of this by being led by the Holy Spirit. That’s our calling, too. Abraham said he had made an oath to the Lord. We, as Christians, have sworn ourselves in solemn devotion to follow God and serve Him and be about His business as His priestly representatives to this world. We get much more than a lousy t-shirt out of the deal. No need to be tight-fisted or greedy on this side of heaven. Instead, we should walk in the blessing of God, living as a blessing to others, ready to give and receive as God leads us on.

Brothers In Arms (Genesis 14:1-16)

In 1991, José Basulto – a CIA trained political dissident – founded Brothers To The Rescue. They sought to liberate Cubans oppressed by the tyrannical Castro regime. It its early years, Brothers To The Rescue focused on saving rafters who were trying to float to Florida – a trip that was often lethal. After US immigration policy shifted, no longer giving shelter to Cuban refugees, Brothers To The Rescue pivoted to become more confrontational against the Cuban government, dropping pro-democracy leaflets into Havana. The struggle came to a head in 1996 when a Cuban Air Force MiG shot down two Brothers To The Rescue planes, killing the 4 rescue workers aboard. José Basulto has said, “Everyone has a mission in life…we were hunting to save lives.”

In our text tonight we see brothers going into battle, not with a desire to kill, but a desire to save lives. It’s a rescue that happens because a Believer is there and is ready to be used by God. It’s a daring mission. Abraham puts his life on the line to save those who don’t deserve saving. And, through his example, we’re able to learn precious things about our own walk with the Lord.

Genesis 14:1-4 – In those days King Amraphel of Shinar, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Chedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim 2 waged war against King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, and King Shemeber of Zeboiim, as well as the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All of these came as allies to the Siddim Valley (that is, the Dead Sea). 4 They were subject to Chedorlaomer for twelve years, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

This is the first recorded war in the Bible. We see an alliance of 5 kings from the land of Palestine rebel against Chedorlaomer. He ruled in what we now call Iran. He gathered up a coalition of 3 other kings from the east. We can identify Shinar as modern day Iraq.

The city-states of Palestine were under his thumb for more than a decade. Whether due to his distance (Chedorlaomer’s kingdom was hundreds of miles aways) or that they thought they were strong enough to defend themselves, they decided to rebel. At first it seemed like the plan worked. A year went by with no consequences, then another. But Chedorlaomer was simply gearing up.

Genesis 14:5-7 – 5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in the mountains of Seir, as far as El-paran by the wilderness. 7 Then they came back to invade En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they defeated the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who lived in Hazazon-tamar.

Chedorlaomer was not to be trifled with. This campaign became an unstoppable flood of brutality and destruction, not just in 4 or 5 cities, but throughout entire regions.

Dr. Nelson Glueck was a leading biblical archaeologist in the 20th century. His work led to the discovery of 1,500 ancient sites, including those being discussed in this passage. Here are a few of his comments about what they found:

“[These] civilization(s)…had flourished…till [they were] savagely liquidated by the kings of the east…they gutted every city and village…from southern Syria through all of Trans-Jordan and the Negev to Kadesh-Barnea in Sinai. The rebellion of the small kings…was brutally crushed. This comparatively minor insurrection was…utilized as a pretext to settle old scores and to raid and ravage with unleashed ferocity…I found that every village in their path had been plundered and left in ruins, and the countryside laid waste. For hundreds of years thereafter, the entire area was like an abandoned cemetery, hideously unkempt.”

To grasp just how powerful this fighting force was, take note of verse 5: They defeated the Rephaim. Remember those guys? They were a race of monstrous giants that we talked about back in Genesis chapter 6. They also brought down the Horites. They lived in “the inaccessible [and] virtually impregnable fortresses and rock cities” in the mountains. But all were swept away.

This should plant two ideas in our minds: First, the power of providence. Abraham was there, in the midst of this region. He had no walls or citadels. He lived in a tent, out in the open. He had no chariots, no war elephants. And yet, despite the crumbing of kingdoms, we see him safe and sound, secured by the power of God – shielded in the Lord’s providential plan.

Second, we should realize just how strong a foe Abraham would be facing. Chedorlaomer was no blustering windbag. We’re talking about giant killers who were crushing whole peoples at will.

Genesis 14:8-9 – 8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and lined up for battle in the Siddim Valley 9 against King Chedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Shinar, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five.

As they saw the fight approaching, the five kings of Palestine picked a spot to stand their ground. It seems they did so for a particular reason.

Genesis 14:10 – 10 Now the Siddim Valley contained many asphalt pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, but the rest fled to the mountains.

They thought their asphalt pits would serve as protection, but they ended up being pitfalls. The words suggest that two of the kings themselves fell into a sticky grave, along with many others. That which was meant to be a defense became a snare. This happens to human beings, not just in battles like this one, but in the course of life. We’re warned by God about this very danger. Psalm 106 talks about the danger of mingling together with the nations. Not just being around unbelievers, there’s no way to avoid that, but adopting the ways of the world. It says:

Psalm 106:36 – [The people of God] served [the] idols [of the nations], which became a snare to them.

This is a spiritual principle that we should take to heart. Wealth does not make us secure. Worldly systems don’t make us secure. It is the love of God that covers us like a mother hen keeping her chicks under her wings. He is our Refuge and Strength. Sadly, Lot and his family are a historical object lesson that drives home this principle.

Genesis 14:11-12 – 11 The four kings took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food and went on. 12 They also took Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, for he was living in Sodom, and they went on.

Last time we saw Lot we were told he set up his tent “near” Sodom. Now we see he was living in the city. He had become one of them, very friendly with these desperately wicked people – and not just with them but with their way of life. And so, he was swept away. Even though it doesn’t seem like he actively joined the fight. He was at home while they were battling it out. But he had thrown in with these guys instead of staying under the providential protection of God, and the result was disaster.

After weeks of uninterrupted victory, the kings from the east took something they shouldn’t have: Lot. I was watching a Wheel Of Fortune clip the other day. The guy was on a streak. In a single turn he had racked up over $30,000 and decided to go for one more spin only to hit bankrupt and lose it all. These kings are going to experience the same thing – along with violent assault, of course.

Genesis 14:13 – 13 One of the survivors came and told Abram the Hebrew, who lived near the oaks belonging to Mamre the Amorite, the brother of Eshcol and the brother of Aner. They were bound by a treaty with Abram.

Whether sent by Lot or God’s grace, either way here’s something to consider: Abraham was the kind of man you could run to for help. He was no Ebenezer Scrooge. He would take you in.

We find him still living by this forest where he had settled down in the last chapter. And here we discover that Mamre isn’t a place, he’s a person. Abraham had made an alliance with him and his two brothers.

Now, for all that’s going on in this chapter, verse 13 by itself is packed with all kinds of things to think about. First of all it says, “the oaks belonging to Mamre.” But did they? God Himself had told Abraham more than once that all that land belonged to him. Abraham had to live as a guest in his own inheritance. He had to ask permission to live there. Again we see him being a man who did not demand his own rights as he walked with God. He trusted God and he understood that what he was really hoping for wasn’t going to be found on this side of eternity, but on the other side. Though it was all his by Divine decree, he chose to live as a pilgrim and not pout about it.

As Christians, we’ve been made many promises by God. Some of those promises deal with the here and now and many deal with the not yet. Hebrews talks about them being things we see from a distance. That better reality, the perfection of the heavenly city, is being prepared for us. Meanwhile, though we’re not there yet, we are to consider that place our true homeland. We are temporary residents on the earth, always mindful of the end of the story and where we’re headed.

Verse 13 also gives us the first use of the term “Hebrew.” For as important as this word is, there isn’t agreement on what it exactly means. There are two main theories. One is that it refers to the sons of Eber – the great-grandson of Shem. Remember: Genesis is the story of God narrowing His focus to select a particular line of people from whom would come the Messiah. Shem is the son of Noah that God chose to use for this purpose. The name ‘Hebrew’ might be highlighting that lineage.

The other theory is that the word ‘Hebrew’ is related to a verb that means “immigrant,” or, “one who crosses over.” Both ideas are telling as we study Abraham’s life. In this context, the word reminds us that Abraham was not an Amorite, or an Elamite. He’s not a Sodomite or a Gomorron. He is something different – a man called out by God, living a life in view of God and directed by God.

On top of all this, verse 13 reveals that Abraham made an alliance with these 3 Amorite brothers. In later Hebrew history, this would be a no-no. But God had not given any such prohibition from what we can tell. It gives us a sense of how Abraham conducted himself as a Believer in an unbelieving world. He did not assimilate as Lot had, but he also didn’t isolate himself. John Phillips says he was “separated, not secluded.” That’s the tension we’re supposed to live in. God doesn’t want us to go live in an isolated commune or monastery. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5 that we’re going to be associating with unbelievers, but our goal is to bring them into the family of God, not be conformed into the image of the world. We don’t need to recoil constantly, but grow in love.

So, Abraham brings in this escapee. Here’s what happens next.

Genesis 14:14 – 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken prisoner, he assembled his 318 trained men, born in his household, and they went in pursuit as far as Dan.

Why did Abraham get involved? I’m sure he had heard news of the widespread attacks. Maybe he even saw the smoke rising as he looked out from his tent. In the end we must conclude he was motivated by the Holy Spirit to get involved, but the reason given is that he “heard his relative had been taken.”

This gives us another insight into how Abraham lived in but not of the world. He wasn’t an interventionist. He didn’t go looking for ways to assert himself. He didn’t make it his business to go to war because he knew better than others. The nations of the world duking it out really had nothing to do with him. But once Lot was involved – the literal term there used is brother – then Abraham got involved. And he got involved in a big way. Moses uses vivid language for where we read assembled (or your version may say armed). Abraham emptied out his men. He unsheathed them. He held nothing back, even strapping on a sword himself. And in this we see the kind of moral courage God can fill our hearts with. For the sake of one brother (and his family), Abraham risked everything. The three Amorite brothers joined in because of their treaty with him, but it wasn’t their idea – even though the whole territory their people had suffered the same fate. They were content to let their kinsman suffer and die, as long as they were safe in the forest.

Consider for a moment what this verse reveals about the size of Abraham’s estate. He had 318 battle-ready, male servants. This is a huge household. It’s like a small city. And, not only were they willing to risk big to try to save those held captive, they also put forth a serious effort. They marched 120 miles in pursuit. That’s the distance from us to Monterey, as the crow flies. Their mission was not revenge, but rescue. At the same time, we see that Abraham recognized there would be no negotiating with Chedorlaomer. No diplomacy. Sometimes evil needs to be contended with personally and without compromise, giving no quarter.

Genesis 14:15-16 – 15 And he and his servants deployed against them by night, defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah to the north of Damascus. 16 He brought back all the goods and also his relative Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the other people.

It was God’s victory. That’s made clear in the next passage. But Abraham was the agent of rescue. This is like the work God sends us out to do – rescuing people from the kingdom of darkness and showing them the Light of the Gospel.

We see here the tender mercy of God and how it filled Abraham’s heart. Lot was getting what he deserved, right? As the great Augustus McCrae said, “You ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw.” Thank God for His mercy. We – all of us – are outlaws, worthy to be swept away in the wrath of God. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love for us made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace. Therefore, since we have been shown mercy, we do not give up. We live on, renouncing sin and proclaiming the truth, letting light shine in the darkness, and allowing the power of God to operate in and through our lives.

Not only do we see the mercy of God in the way Abraham saved Lot, but in how he saved all the others, too. These pagan Sodomites and Amorites. These people who were strangers to Abraham still had value to God. God loved them, even though they were lost. And though He would soon judge them for refusing to turn from their sin, we see Him here reaching out with mercy and grace and help in their time of need.

As we close and think of application from this passage, there’s a good question we can each ask ourselves: Are you ready to be unsheathed by the Master? These 318 men had a lot of different jobs in Abraham’s house. And, even though Abraham was no mercenary, he still prepped himself and these servants to be ready to do battle if need be. Each one of them knew how to handle a sword and were ready to be poured out when the moment came. They did not cower or flinch.

Of course, the weapons of our warfare are not physical, they are spiritual. Our sword is the Word of God. Do we know how to use it? Are we training ourselves to understand what God has said? And are we ready to be called upon by God to be brothers and sisters to the rescue? Pouring ourselves out that others might be saved? We can be. It’s what God wants. And we want what God wants.

Home Is Where The Lord Is (Genesis 13)

We live in an area where people love to talk about where they want to live other than here. The Central Valley seems to be one of the fountainheads of the #calexit mentality, as people see greener pastures in states to the east. I’m guessing a sizable number of people in this room have either known friends who have left or have personally contemplated moving.

Where you live matters, in a lot of different ways. And, it’s true, some places are nicer than others. Some places are more affordable than others. Some have a greater saturation of sinfulness than others. There are many factors that go through our minds when it comes to deciding this important issue. And, if you are one of the many people thinking about a longterm plan to leave California for one oasis or another, I’m not going to say that you’re not allowed to pursue that desire. I will say that God definitely has an opinion on where you live. He has countless providential intentions for your life. And He knows all of the factors of the where, when, who, and how that will shape your life. He knows what influences will enhance your life for your good and His glory and which influences will corrupt your life, your family, and your testimony.

The story of Abraham is about God drawing a family to Himself and teaching them to not only understand His ways, but to follow in those ways. This is the same life of faith we’re to live out as Christians today. Where God wants us to live is a significant part of that.

Luckily, the Bible presents us with detailed accounts of real people who were working through these very same issues and it shows us what made the difference between fatal disaster and fantastic development.

Of course, in a broader our text tonight is about more than just where you live. It gives us insight into how to answer the question of “What’s next for my life?” How should I continue, whether I’m packing up or staying put? These are important questions, so let’s take a look at God’s opinions.

Genesis 13:1 – Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev—he, his wife, and all he had, and Lot with him.

We saw Abraham’s disastrous trip down to Egypt and how, while trying to escape a famine, he got caught up in compromise. Now he’s making the very same trip but in reverse.

We get hints of some relational things going on here: First, Sarah is once again called his wife. In Egypt he had forgotten his duty as a husband and had used her as a bargaining chip. I’m sure their relationship had some sore spots, but things were back as they should be. We also see Lot listed, almost as a tag-along. “Abraham, his wife, all he had…oh and Lot, too.”

Genesis 13:2 – 2 Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.

Jesus said it is very difficult for rich people to follow God, but it isn’t impossible. It’s easy to take on a doctrinal mentality which says that poverty is automatically piety and wealth is automatically wicked. That isn’t true. It is true that wealth is very dangerous. We’re warned again and again about how it can take hold of our hearts and our attention and how it can drive us away from God – just look at the Rich Young Ruler. But material abundance isn’t automatically an evil thing. To the contrary, material abundance can be used in wonderful ways for the Lord’s work.

Bob Edmiston is Great Britain’s first, vocally Christian billionaire. As an evangelical, he recognizes that we are called to spread the Gospel. And so, since 1998, he has donated over $150,000,000 to organizations, like Christian Vision – which he founded – which has presented the Gospel to more than 38 million people worldwide.

Now, for every Bob, there are probably many Christians who have decided to pursue wealth at the cost of their faith. They gave up serving or giving or growing in the Lord because the overtime pay was too good or some other financial reason. The heart is the issue and what that wealth does to your relationship with Jesus that matters, not whether you have it or not.

Genesis 13:3-4 – 3 He went by stages from the Negev to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had formerly been, 4 to the site where he had built the altar. And Abram called on the name of the Lord there.

Abraham goes back to the very place where he had previously been in personal communion with God. It’s a picture of repentance. Going to Egypt was wrong. Coming to this altar, he recognizes that God had not failed him, but he had left God. And he recognizes that he needs cleansing the covering by the holiness of God and he recognizes that God will receive him back, just as before.

This was quite a trip – more than 400 miles. To give you perspective, if you walked to Tijuana you’d still have 100 miles to go! But Abraham was willing to go the distance because this was where he belonged. As we read the story, we see his change of heart. In chapter 12 his focus was on grass for his flocks. Now, what is his attention on? The altar. Notice: There’s no discussion here of the famine or where his sheep are going to eat. All he cares about is getting back to Bethel. And – what a surprise – when he’s in close relationship to the Lord, the famine is no longer a factor for him.

Genesis 13:5 – 5 Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents.

We get the sense that there is a growing independence in the mind of Lot. He’s got his own thing going. He has separated out his own stuff, his own interests. These two men are in the same place, both wealthy, but we’ll see the hearts are radically different. The mindsets are poles apart.

Genesis 13:6-7 – 6 But the land was unable to support them as long as they stayed together, for they had so many possessions that they could not stay together, 7 and there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. (At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were living in the land.)

Bruce Waltke points out that in the previous chapter, Abraham had all sorts of difficulty because of the lack brought about by the famine. But here, there’s tension and difficulty because of material abundance. What that tells us is that it isn’t our circumstances that determine our spiritual health. Paul specifically taught that our spiritual wellness is independent from worldly events or our state of affairs. In abundance or in lack we are able to commune with God and grow with Him and do His will. It’s a matter of obedience and proper perspective on our part.

This quarreling also drives home an important truth: Things are not always better when you have more. Their great abundance was causing relational problems where there hadn’t been before.

We’re given that note about the Canaanites and Perizzites at the end. It’s possible that these people controlled all the good grazing spots and water in the area, leaving Abraham and Lot just scraps to work with. But it’s also possible that this family quarrel had become very public and was being watched by the unbelievers in the region. In fact, in later parts of the Bible, the word used for “quarreling” is used for legal disputes.

When Christian disagreements spill out into the public it is a very damaging thing. Because it destroys the testimony God wants to share through you. As Abraham met people, he would’ve said, “I’m new here. The One True God has called me out of all others to be the father of a new nation through whom all the world will be blessed.”

“Uh-huh. Is that your herdsman fist-fighting with your nephew’s herdsman there in the pasture?”

Testimony and disputes are still very real factors in our Christian lives. We’re going to find ourselves in them from time to time. That’s normal and – in some cases – it’s beneficial. Read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11. But when Christians fight about material things, like we’re seeing these herdsmen doing here, it is a terrible blight on the name of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul rebukes the church there for their selfish, public quarreling. He says, “How dare you take these disputes in front of unbelievers!” The Christian life is not defined by constantly demanding our rights, but laying down ourselves for the sake of the Lord. Abraham understood the priority of peace in this situation.

Genesis 13:8 – 8 So Abram said to Lot, “Please, let’s not have quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, since we are relatives.

Family relationship was a higher priority. The testimony of God was a higher priority. As they work through this conflict, it’s important to remember that Abraham is the one in authority. He has the right to demand whatever he wanted and Lot had little recourse. But, in that position of strength and authority, we see Abraham speaking humbly and kindly to his nephew. He doesn’t vent anger, he doesn’t start pointing fingers. His goal is peace if they can get it in a Godly way.

Genesis 13:9 – 9 Isn’t the whole land before you? Separate from me: if you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left.”

We see that Abraham really wants peace in the situation and we know he really loves Lot, but it’s clear that he has realized that the solution is separation. In Romans 12, Paul says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Abraham has come to the conclusion that living together isn’t going to work anymore. Their life goals and mentalities are too far apart.

If you find yourself in a dispute with a family member, or someone in the family of faith, it may be that the best solution is that you distance yourselves. Now, Abraham doesn’t disown Lot or say, “You’re dead to me!” Or anything like that. In fact, he’s going to risk his own life for Lot in the very next chapter. But, for now, there was going to have to be some distance between them. And to bring an end to hostility, Abraham did some hard things. He sacrificed his rights and he parted ways with someone he really cared about.

Genesis 13:10 – 10 Lot looked out and saw that the entire plain of the Jordan as far as Zoar was well watered everywhere like the Lord’s garden and the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)

Lot doesn’t take a trip to the altar to seek the Lord. He takes a sight-seeing trip to scope out irrigation. Notice what clinches the choice for him: The Jordan plain was just like Egypt. Lot had become enamored of Egypt during their visit. While Abraham was concerned with how he could get back to fellowship with God, Lot is thinking, “How can I get back to the Egyptian style?”

In The Merchant Of Venice, Shakespeare made famous the line: “All that glitters is not gold.” Lot will learn the hard way. He chose where to live – he chose what’s next in life – based on the glittering promises of wealth and stability and luxury. And few stories end in as appalling and ghastly ways as Lot’s. And, remember – Lot was a believer. A ‘righteous’ man, Peter declares to our astonishment. But he assumed he knew what was best for his future and didn’t bother to consult the Lord.

Genesis 13:11 – 11 So Lot chose the entire plain of the Jordan for himself. Then Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated from each other.

The one time Abraham speaks in this passage we see him talking about “us” and “we” and “our.” And here we see Lot chose…for himself. Abraham’s mentality was, “What can I give?” Lot’s was, “What can I get?” And he moves out to the east. As we’ve seen before, in Genesis, eastward movements coincide with separation from God. Adam and Eve, Cain, the Babel builders. Lot has made a very bad decision. And it was one that undoubtedly hurt Abraham quite a bit. He loved Lot. We’ll see that proven more than once in future chapters. But, doing the right thing, going God’s way, isn’t always easy. Sometimes it costs in painful ways.

Genesis 13:12-13 – 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, but Lot lived in the cities on the plain and set up his tent near Sodom. 13 (Now the men of Sodom were evil, sinning immensely against the Lord.)

We see another comparison here. Abraham lived in Canaan, but clearly he was not mingled in with the people. Lot, on the other hand, got in the mix almost immediately. Of course, this is a representation of the command we’ve been given to be in the world but not of the world.

We’re given a second eerie foreshadowing of something that is going to go down at Sodom and Gomorrah. Most of you know the story, but, leading up to it, we should be very concerned for Lot and his family. The people he is choosing to life his life among were shockingly evil. Lot is ignoring very clear, very significant factors, because the grass is so green! One commentator points out that Lot thought he was in Paradise, but in reality he was nearly plunged into hellfire.

So where would Abraham live?

Genesis 13:14-15 – 14 After Lot had separated from him, the Lord said to Abram, “Look from the place where you are. Look north and south, east and west, 15 for I will give you and your offspring forever all the land that you see.

With Lot leaving, perhaps Abraham must’ve felt the sting of abandonment. But in that moment of isolation, the Lord comes and reveals many great things to Abraham, not least of which was what God had not left or separated from them. He was still with them, everywhere they went.

The Lord sends Abraham on a sightseeing tour. He says, “It’s all yours!” Now, we must pay attention to this promise. This was a true, literal promise forever. It was not a spiritual analogy, it was a literal guarantee. That valley to the south. That stream on your west. Those hills out front. All of it belongs to Abraham’s literal, physical descendants forever. God has not and will not go back on His word.

Genesis 13:16 – 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust of the earth, then your offspring could be counted.

The Lord promised they would soon have children of their own and that they would have a perpetual family, safe in the providence of God. And, though the world and Satan have come against God’s chosen people with all their terrible might, still God sustains the Children of Abraham.

Genesis 13:17 – 17 Get up and walk around the land, through its length and width, for I will give it to you.”

Abraham had already seen a lot of the land. After all, coming from Haran he would’ve come from the north. He traveled through the length once on his way to Egypt, a second time on his way back to Bethel. But here the Lord says, “Go take another look.”

It’s a good reminder that, in the Christian life, there is going to be a lot of re-treading over things the Lord has already shown us. From the beginning of your walk with the Lord you heard that God loves you. But God wants you to tread over that truth over and over. From the start, hopefully, you learned that salvation is by grace and that our Christianity is accomplished in grace. That is a pathway that we should walk again and again. Principles and promises concerning mercy and patience and obedience and self-control and so many others are things we should adventure through again and again as we follow after God.

It’s interesting: This would include the land Lot has chosen for himself. As Christians, we’ve been promised that we will inherit the earth. Those things which we forfeit in the here and now for the sake of our walk with the Lord are well worth it.

Genesis 13:18 – 18 So Abram moved his tent and went to live near the oaks of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord.

After his trip, the Lord led Abraham to settle in Hebron, about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. He immediately built another altar. While Lot worried about waterways, Abraham was worried about the way he could commune with God and worship in His presence.

The difference in mindset couldn’t be clearer. Abraham needed to know what was next, so did Lot. One took his own counsel, the other had learned that God not only knew the better choice, but that God wanted to choose for him.

In our lives, there’s a lot to be decided. But, God knows if that oasis out on the horizon is actually just a mirage. He will not fail to lead us on and so our part is to relinquish the right to guide ourselves and instead stay in intimate communion with the Lord, and follow Him. It may be to abundance, it may be to reduction of material assets. But, we can trust Him. Home is where the Lord is. Though none go with us, still we must follow, no turning back.

Movin’ On Down (Genesis 12:10-20)

In the classic Simpsons episode You Only Move Twice, Homer gets a taste of wealth and success. He’s hired to be an executive at a power plant in a new city and, at first, everything seems to be going great. The family gets a big, new house. Homer’s salary and social status increase. But all is not well. Marge and the kids suffer in the new location and Homer’s boss turns out to be a Bond-style super villain, bent on world domination. As the episode closes, the Simpsons return back home and their lives are able to pick back up from where they left off, a little the worse for wear.

Last week we saw Abraham begin his walk of faith. He traveled through Canaan – the land God promised to Abraham’s descendants. Abraham’s story is full of moments where his faith was tested. Ours will be, too, as we walk with the Lord, not because God is cruel or insecure, but because He continually refines and toughens and trues our faith, bringing us forth as gold – pure and enduring, malleable and beautifully reflective of God’s glory.

Abraham wasn’t perfect. That’s good news because we aren’t either. As we dedicate ourselves to trust God and follow Him we’re able to learn from the examples of those who came before us and learned important lessons. One of those is set before us tonight.

Genesis 12:10 – 10 There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to stay there for a while because the famine in the land was severe.

Famines were a common feature of these lands. They are particularly problematic when you live in a time with no reliable food storage solutions and lots of flocks and herds that need to graze.

Abraham will make some significant mistakes in this text, but that isn’t to say this wasn’t a serious problem. It was. The sheep needed food today. The pressure was real. Given the circumstances, Abraham made the decision to leave the land of promise and, instead, go to Egypt. You see, Canaan was dependent on rainfall to feed the land while Egypt had the stability of the Nile river.

We can see Abraham trying to remain faithful yet falling victim to a huge mistake in his decision-making process. He only intended to stay in Egypt “for a while.” He knew that, in the long run he should not settle in Egypt but be in the land God had shown him.

His mistake was that he was only figuring in physical circumstances in his calculations. We don’t see him go to his altar and petition the Lord. We don’t see him travel north, through Canaan to try to find relief within the boundaries that God had given. Instead, he uses human reasoning to try to escape his problems. It is always a mistake to be driven by your earthly circumstances. God has called us into a dynamic, love-relationship with Him and He has gone on record to say that nothing can separate us from that love. Not affliction or distress or persecution or nakedness or danger or sword or famine. But to love God means to obey what He has said and to seek Him instead of using our own schemes to live our lives. He knows the way forward, we (so often) do not.

Genesis 12:11 – 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, I know what a beautiful woman you are.

Abram has got it all figured out, hasn’t he? First, “we’ll only go down ‘for a while.’” Now, before they cross the border, he pulls his wife aside and explains the rest of his plan. He starts by telling her how beautiful she is. While this is an attempt to sell her on his strategy, it wasn’t untrue. Sarah was, apparently, fantastically beautiful, even in her sixties. But beware when you’re being buttered up!

Genesis 12:12 – 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ They will kill me but let you live.

Human reasoning can be so silly. “We have to go to Egypt so we don’t die…of course when we get to Egypt I’ll probably die!” Then why go? Abraham seems to be focused most of all on his flocks. His wealth is his top priority. We’ll see him trade his marriage for the security of his possessions. He’s willing to leave the place God had led him and go to a place full of idolatry – a place he himself considers to be incredibly dangerous. “But, there will be water and water means grass and grass means the sheep will be ok.” But what about the spiritual ramifications? What about the relational impact of this decision? What about the distance it creates between him and God’s will?

We can easily bring this up to date for modern application. We live in the land of opportunity. You have lots of things you could do. But learn this lesson from the Bible: Your career, your wealth, your social status or achievement or power, those things are not worth losing your family or drifting out of the will of God. You may get an opportunity to do something that promises a big payoff, but if it means you have to sacrifice your family’s spiritual health to do it, then don’t do it.

Genesis 12:13 – 13 Please say you’re my sister so it will go well for me because of you, and my life will be spared on your account.”

He dumps all of this onto his wife. He says, “They’re going to kill me because of you so, you need to join me in this lie and it’s the only way my life can be saved.” While it was technically true that Sarai was Abram’s half-sister, his plan is clearly to deceive. If you’re married, don’t tempt your spouse. Help your spouse to not sin. Help them to walk by faith. Be partners in avoiding temptation and growing strong together.

Abraham says, “so it will go well for me.” But what about Sarah? What’s going to happen to her? Because Abraham’s focus is on earthly things – he’s forgotten his spiritual life for the moment – he’s willing to do things he knows he shouldn’t do. This is what having our minds on the things of earth will do. It leads us to compromise. As Bruce Waltke puts it, Abraham’s mentality became “Better defiled than dead.” But that’s never the right mindset for a believer.

Genesis 12:14-15 – 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh, so the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s household.

It’s immediate disaster! Obviously this isn’t what Abraham wanted, but what did he think was going to happen? Some think that Abraham was hoping to ride out the famine and when suitors would come to court Sarah he’d be able to put them off – like Laban will later with Jacob. But people like Pharaoh don’t need to negotiate. They take what they want. Still, we can’t say that Abram should’ve been surprised by this turn of events. One source explains:

“Since Abram’s group had many people and animals, they had to be given special permission to live and trade in Egypt. Important economic and political contracts in the ancient world were sometimes finalized by the weaker party giving a woman to the leader of the stronger party.”

This is the first use of the word “praise” in the Bible. It’s the word from which we get “hallelujah.” This first usage is the Egyptians praising Sarah. The Bible reveals that human beings are made to worship. “Praise” means to exalt, to be deeply thankful for, and to find satisfaction in lauding the greatness of something or someone. You and I are made to praise but the object of our praise is up to us. When we turn our worship from God, we invariably try to find our satisfaction in things that cannot last: Things like beauty or pleasure or status or temporal achievement. Apart from God, man also tends to worship whatever belongs to someone else. That leads us to do things we ought not do. Look at Pharaoh. Did he really need one more woman in his harem? No, but when we worship things that are not God, our hearts are drained of satisfaction and thankfulness. When we worship the Lord, the opposite happens – we’re fillled.

Genesis 12:16 – 16 He treated Abram well because of her, and Abram acquired flocks and herds, male and female donkeys, male and female slaves, and camels.

On paper, Abraham’s doing great. He avoided financial disaster in Canaan, his family gets to see an exotic locale, he’s added a bunch of capital to his portfolio, his wife won a beauty contest, and he’s even on friendly terms with the king! Of course, that’s all a matter of perspective. We know what’s actually important, and so we read this and we wince and say, “No, Abraham! Don’t do this!” Why? Because we know that Abraham has made a serious mistake. God had made it clear that He wanted to be the Sovereign Provider for Abraham and his family. But Abraham must’ve feared God wouldn’t come through. So, like the Israelites in First Samuel, he decided to get himself a human king to provide for him. But, the cost was steep. He forfeited his wife. He made plenty of money, but all these gains are polluted. Warren Wiersbe points out that everything he gets from Egypt ends up causing trouble for him. He has too many possessions, which leads to strife with Lot. He picks up Hagar the slave, who will end up figuring into another sorry misadventure. And we can speculate that the largess of Egypt awakened in Lot a carnality that eventually led him to Sodom.

Our choices impact others and they impact our future, sometimes in profound and unforeseeable ways. This is why we need an eternal Navigator. We need the light of the Word to direct us.

Genesis 12:17 – 17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues because of Abram’s wife, Sarai.

If Abraham wasn’t going to protect his wife, God most certainly would. It was through Sarah that the Deliverer would come, so God made sure she was safe. There’s a contrast between Abraham’s selfish focus on the here and now, material state and God’s great vision. God is concerned for Abraham and Sarah and their future beyond this famine and the future of their kids and the future of the nation of Israel and the future Hope for all humanity. He has quite a big picture in mind.

So, when God comes to us and gives us clear directions, they are for very good reasons. When God says, “I want you to married people to stay married and I want you to connect with a local church Body and I want you to honor authority and I want you to control your thought life,” it’s not because we have to do those things to earn salvation. That price has already been paid. God gives us commands and confines because He is able to see all of the ramifications of our choices and He says, “I want to fulfill certain good purposes in your life and this is the way it must be done.”

God is so serious about His will for His people that He will, when necessary, fight against the earthly obstacles Himself. He sent fierce plagues on Pharaoh and his house. Now, on one hand, it’s nice that the Lord picked up the slack left by Abraham. But, on the other hand, there’s a sad aspect to how this all shakes out. God’s plan was for Abraham to be a blessing to the people of the world. Here, because he’s out of the will of God, he’s become a curse to them.

When Christians stop living a Spirit-filled life, when we stop walking by faith according to the truth of God, we become a detriment to unbelievers around us. Think of the church at Corinth. Paul points out in his first letter to them that, because of their unbiblical behavior, they were full of scandal. The unbelievers around them thought they were crazy. They were seen as cheats, bringing disgrace on the name of Jesus. When Christians act in unchristian ways it drives people away from the Lord, it doesn’t entice them to believe. This is exactly what happens with Pharaoh.

Genesis 12:18-19 – 18 So Pharaoh sent for Abram and said, “What have you done to me? Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She’s my sister,’ so that I took her as my wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and go!”

When Pharaoh learned the truth he has to send for Abraham! Meaning, Abraham wasn’t planning a jail break. He wasn’t trying to figure out how to fix his mistake. He traded one famine for another. Sure he had grass now, but he’s in a spiritual famine, a relational famine, an evangelistic famine.

Pharaoh speaks sharply to Abraham. In the text Abraham remains silent – he has no excuse or defense when Pharaoh asks ‘Why?’ When we make life decisions, we need to be able to answer why. Why are we choosing what we’re choosing? Why are we doing what we’re doing? If the answer is like Abraham’s – I’m doing this purely out of fear or for material gain – then we need to turn back to God and see what His choice for us is. Chances are, He’s already revealed it to us.

Genesis 12:20 – 20 Then Pharaoh gave his men orders about him, and they sent him away with his wife and all he had.

We’re glad they’re getting out of Egypt, but this was an embarrassing day. They’re being deported – perhaps at the edge of a spear.

So, what should Abraham have done? It’s easy to criticize the mistake, but we should consider what the correct choice would’ve been at the start of chapter 12. Because that’s where we live, right? As I said at the beginning – the famine was real. The trouble was serious. And, as Bible students we know that later on God will purposefully send His people to Egypt to escape a famine. So how can this help us learn how to navigate our own circumstances when we face tough choices?

When making decisions, particularly the big life decisions like we see in this text, we can ask ourselves two questions to help us discern the will of God: What has God said and how has God led? In Abraham’s case, God had specifically asked him to leave a certain land and go to a certain land. If you’re going to make a significant decision concerning your home life, your community, the trajectory of your career, first ask what God has said. Has He given guidelines for your situation? In many cases He has. And then ask, “How has God led.” There are a lot of things you could do, but could is not the same as should. In Genesis 12, Abraham could go to Egypt, but shouldn’t have. In Genesis 46, Jacob could go to Egypt and he should. Why? Because God told him, “Don’t be afraid to go down, because I’m going to go with you.” God was leading.

Instead of going to Egypt, what should Abraham have done? We don’t know. Maybe the Lord would have miraculously provided for him. Maybe God would’ve “opened his eyes” to see an oasis of provision, like the Lord will do for Hagar in chapter 21. Whatever the right thing to do was, it would not have led to strife with his wife, strife with his nephew, strife with his neighbors, and strife with himself. The choice to run to Egypt did all those things. The next time we see Abraham and Lot, their houses are quarreling. The next time we see Sarah, she’s angry at God and gets in a fight with her husband. It’s all thanks to this Egypt business.

God’s way is the way to provision, and to peace, and satisfaction, and to a thriving life, spiritually and relationally and evangelically. Let’s head that way, pursuing that upward call in Christ Jesus.

Father Abraham Hadn’t Any Sons (Genesis 11:27-12:9)

Do you remember the name Seabiscuit? He was the remarkable racehorse who became the top money winner of the 1930’s, upsetting champions and winning hearts. He was voted American Horse of the Year in 1938. He may be in the Racing Hall of Fame, but he didn’t have a great start. He didn’t win any of his first 17 races and only a quarter of his first 40. Early on, he was seen as lazy and lethargic, and became something of a laughing stock around the stables. But then, Seabiscuit was given a new trainer – one with unorthodox methods. Under his care, Seabiscuit won 11 out of 15 races in a single year and his fame began to spread. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. He suffered a major setback in his career when he fell and was injured in 1938. But, with faithful attention, his trainer brought him back to health and speed, and Seabiscuit famously won “The Hundred Grander” at Santa Anita in 1940, setting a track record in his final race.

Tonight we begin a study of a man whose story has some Seabiscuit-like elements. A man who became famous throughout the world. In fact, it’s not going too far to say that he is of the most famous people in all of human history. If you knew him at the beginning, you’d never have guessed that he’d make it into any hall of fame. He not only had some significant setbacks in his spiritual career, he had a pretty rough start. And yet, we’re told that this man, though he was as good as dead, became the father of the faith, the friend of God, and the human fount from which all the world is blessed. How did it happen?

Like with Seabiscuit, it happened because Someone came in from the outside. Not just a trainer, but God Himself. Abraham’s story is a demonstration of what God is able to do. It’s not a story of man’s greatness or achievement. No, Abraham shows us again and again how weak we are. Instead, his life is an example of the truth given in Philippians 1: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” And though we too may have sputtering starts and falterings along the way, God will not give up on us. When we are faithless, He remains faithful. Let’s see the beginning of this amazing relationship as we pick up in Genesis 11, verse 27.

Genesis 11:27-28 – 27 These are the family records of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans, during his father Terah’s lifetime.

This is about 2,000 years into human history and 2,000 years before Jesus’ birth. Terah and his family live in a city called Ur – a Sumerian city in Mesopotamia.

Was Abram an idol worshiper? There’s a lot of disagreement among scholars. And, as usual, there’s a spectrum of opinion. There are those which say that Abram was most definitely a worshipper of the moon god. Then, all the way over on the other side there are those who suggest that Abraham was a staunch monotheist even before God spoke to him.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Talmud or the Mishnah. They are a collection of the oral traditions of Judaism, collected and compiled in the first couple centuries AD. The Mishnah teaches that Abram spent 39 years growing up in the homes of Noah and Shem. That he boldly contended against idolatry in his father’s own idol shop, and that he stood up against wicked king Nimrod and had a sort of battle of wits which led to Abram being thrown into a fiery furnace, but that he was miraculously preserved, coming out like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.

Of course, nothing like that is found in the word of God. We’re really not told any details about Abram’s early life or behavior at all until we find him here, a grown man, married, living with his extended family in a place called Ur – famous for moon worship. While there, Abram’s brother Haran died. And it seems that Abram will sort of adopt his nephew Lot.

Genesis 11:29 – 29 Abram and Nahor took wives: Abram’s wife was named Sarai, and Nahor’s wife was named Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah.

This was a tight-knit family. Abram marries his half-sister, Nahor marries his niece. Abram is keeping Lot under his umbrella. The problem is, the family was steeped in idol worship.

Genesis 11:30 – 30 Sarai was unable to conceive; she did not have a child.

We know the rest of the story, but let’s try to not fill it in quite yet. We’ll learn that Milcah gave birth to 8 sons. But, year after year, decade after decade, Sarai was unable.

Now, God had said from the beginning that His plan to restore the world would come through human offspring. And we’ll find out in a moment that He has chosen Abram and Sarai as the conduits of that plan. So, being told here that Sarai was unable to conceive is startling. It seems like game over for God’s plan. His effort has bottlenecked down from Seth through Noah, then Shem, now to this one man, Abram, and we’re at the end of the line. As Bruce Waltke points out, barrenness in this context and time meant hopelessness. It meant they had no future.

Why would God allow this unfair circumstance? Milcah gets 8 sons, Sarai gets none? If His whole plan was to give them offspring, why permit these long years of disappointment and suffering? Here are two reasons: First, God wants the world to know that it’s all Him. He is the One who accomplishes deliverance, not us. Second, there is a devotional principle: Your hope, your future is dependent on God’s grace. Luckily, God is a God of grace! But while the world was filled with people going their own way, building their cities and empires, making their own plans, living their lives according to their own design and ultimately finding only ruin, God comes along and draws out this man and wife to do something amazing and be an example to us that all of our hope is found in God alone. That He is able to do something greater with our lives than we could ever design or measure.

Genesis 11:31-32 – 31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 Terah lived 205 years and died in Haran.

Why Terah decided to go, we can’t be sure. What we’re told is that, though they set out with the intention of stopping in Canaan, they stopped half-way at another city full of moon worshippers.

Genesis 12:1 – The Lord said to Abram: Go from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

If we want to have a proper understanding of Abram, it’s important that we let the Bible comment on itself. You see, in the book of Acts, Stephen explains that Abram did not receive this call from God in Haran, but back in Ur. This changes things significantly. It means that God spoke to Abram, giving him this clear command, but Abram did not obey – not really or at least not fully. He obeyed one half of one third of God’s commands. He didn’t leave his father’s house or his relatives. He did go from their land, but not to the place God was showing him, instead they stopped part way at a place that was just like Ur. We don’t know how much Abram told his family, but it seems they all had a meeting and decided to move together. But this is not what God had asked.

Let’s not miss a few important principles: First, we shouldn’t take for granted that we serve a God Who speaks. Today the idol most people worship is money. Money doesn’t love you. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It’s a silent and cruel master. But the God of the Bible is a God Who speaks. Second, He is a God of grace. If you had a subordinate who only obeyed one half of one third of what you asked him to do, how frustrated would you be? But God does not throw up His hands and give up. But third, we should consider just how detrimental our failure to obey really is, not only for us but for the world at large.

Abram spent years at Haran. Those years were years that put off God’s work of deliverance. It’s like when the children of Israel delayed entrance to the Promised Land by 40 years because of disobedience. We have this clear-speaking, gracious God coming and saying, “Ok, I’m going to send the Messiah through YOU and I’m going to do so in connection to a specific land that I want to get you into.” And Abram’s response is, “Yeah, at some point I’ll get around to that, maybe.”

Now, God’s mercy is great, and we won’t obey perfectly, but we shouldn’t settle for slow or partial obedience. The examples of Scripture, like Abram, demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of failing to obey God. It sometimes causes bigger problems then a simple delay of spiritual fruit. Sometimes disobedience leads to a consequence like Ishmael. That’s one whose deadly ramifications have been playing out for thousands of years on a global scale. This is recorded for us not to shame Abram, but to teach us how to avoid the mistakes that he made.

When God spoke to Abram, He didn’t give him a lot of information. He effectively said, “Follow Me. Come and see what I want to do in your life.” That is, of course, the call we receive at first. To follow God. Not just to believe He exists. Not just to say we’re sorry for the wrong things we’ve done. But then to actually follow after Him in faith and obedience. Now, as far as starts go, Abram’s isn’t amazing. But that’s not to say he was totally blowing it. He did believe. He did have saving faith. The New Testament explains that he really had no idea where he was going but he went anyway. His problem was that he was being selective in which parts of God’s Word he was obeying. For years he stayed with his family and under the direction of his father, Terah. But God was calling him out of that. God was saying, “You need to understand that now I’m your Father. I’m the Decider for your life. I’m the One who will provide for you and shelter you.” He says as much in verses 2 and 3.

Genesis 12:2-3 – 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God gives 5 “I will” statements here. In these promises we can get a hint as to whether the Mishnah is right about Abram. First off, why would this staunch monotheist who was willing to die not have fully obeyed when God spoke to him? But also, if the story of Nimrod and the fiery furnace were true, then Abram’s name would already be great. He’d be famous throughout the world!

We notice that in these promises God doesn’t only plan to do His own thing (bringing the Messiah), but He also intends to interact with Abram on a daily basis – giving him help and direction and protection and a future. That doesn’t mean Abram wouldn’t face struggles – people would curse him and treat him with contempt – but God assures Abram that He would be with him.

Genesis 12:4-5a – 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.

After stumbling out of the gate, Abram is on his way. He’s obeying 2/3 of God’s commands now. He still has Lot with him, but it’s possible that he considered Lot to be an adopted son. It’s also possible that Lot decided to tag along without being asked. Either way we’ll see that, in the end, God wanted Abram completely out from this family. He was to be set apart from the world.

With Noah, God was going to take the world and its influence away from His people. He put them on an ark and swept the world away. But here, instead of taking the world away, He takes His people away from the influence of the world. He told Abram, “Follow Me, out from your culture, out from the influence of the unbelieving world, and we’re going to go to a new place together. It’s a place where there are a bunch of worldlings living, but you and I are going to have our own, special relationship, set apart from the rest where I explain truth and goodness to you.”

The New Testament calls us to this sort of separation, saying: Don’t be polluted by worldly idolatry, don’t love the world or the things of the world. Friendship with the world is hostility toward God because we have been called out and set apart for holiness and for specific, Godly purposes.

In verse 5 we’re told Abram took “people they had acquired.” Did Abram own slaves? He undoubtedly had servants, but here’s an interesting thought: Some scholars suggest that this is referring to a group of people that Abram had actually proselytized during his time in Haran. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities, and it drives home an important spiritual principle: Even though we all fall short of obeying God perfectly and to the utmost, the Lord is so gracious that He will still use our lives as a testimony so that others can come to know Him. Abram is such a great example of this. Though he followed God imperfectly, especially in the beginning, look at what God can do with mustard seed faith. He is a God who uses ordinary, imperfect people, living ordinary lives, to proclaim the extraordinary magnificence of the Gospel.

Genesis 12:5b-7 – When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the site of Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. (At that time the Canaanites were in the land.) 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.

Abram will build at least 4 in his walk with God. This one, being built under an oak tree, indicates he was still carrying over some of his cultural background in his relationship with God. That’s how the pagans made altars. But as he obeys, God is able to reveal more to him and gives him a greater understanding. No longer is the land promise some vague “land I will show you.” It’s ‘this’ land. More importantly, God goes on record saying that Abram will have offspring of his own. This seems impossible and, we’ll find that Abram has a hard time grasping it. Just like the disciples had a hard time understanding the Christ had to suffer, die, and rise again. That’s ok. God doesn’t demand perfect understanding. He doesn’t even demand perfect obedience – otherwise none of us could serve Him. What He wants is a living faith. He wants us to believe Him and, in doing so, allow Him to direct us and develop us. Abram shows us how quickly God can reveal Himself and move in our lives when we choose to obey His word.

Genesis 12:8 – 8 From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. He built an altar to the Lord there, and he called on the name of the Lord.

We see Abram growing and developing. He’s following after God and calls Him by name. He builds another altar. Altars in this period had a lot of significance. First, they showed that the builder needed cleansing. Abram knows he’s not on equal level with God, but that he is guilty before Him. Altars were also the place of worship – where a person could physically thank God and honor Him and give generously to Him for Who He is and what He’s done. These are all aspects of what our worship should be today. In Hebrews 13, the writer talks to us about the altar we now have, not under the Old Testament system, but in the New Covenant, established by Christ.

Hebrews 13:15 – 15 Therefore, through [Christ] let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

Jesus became the altar and now we are able – at any time – to bring that offering of praise, full of thanksgiving and submission and recognition of all the Lord has done for us.

Genesis 12:9 – 9 Then Abram journeyed by stages to the Negev.

Why did he journey around instead of just camping at Shechem or Bethel? Well, on a practical level he had herds that needed to graze and the Lord had a lot to show him.

As we close, let’s consider a few ways to take this example and apply it to our own faith. First, it’s not always an easy thing to obey God. Abram had to separate. He also had to downgrade his living situation. He was still rich in possessions and herds, but Ur was a very advanced city. Archaeologists have discovered that maybe half the houses there had indoor toilets. The city had a library. It was a place of advanced development and culture. God asked Abram to leave it behind. And He asks us to leave things behind. It might look like Ur. It might look like fishing nets and a boat. It might look like a tax booth. Seeing Abram’s story we can be sure that whatever God asks us to leave behind is worth the cost because He has something truly irreplaceable planned for us.

A second way to apply this is to remember that, like Abram, God wants us to be blessed, to be a blessing and to do a great work in us. What sort of blessing does God want us to experience? The blessing of His presence. The blessing of Christian fellowship. The blessing of contentment and peace and satisfaction found in living a righteous life. How are we meant to bless the world around us? By being proclaimers of the Gospel, agents of grace. By being a source of hope, light, and wisdom to a world that is trapped in destructive ideologies. And what kind of “greatness” does the Lord want for us? Well, how does the Bible define greatness? Not the way the world does, that’s for sure. No, the Lord wants our greatness to be in compassion, mercy, humility, purity, meekness, worship, generosity, endurance. These are ours to enjoy and produce as we walk with God in faith, not perfectly, but progressively, following the Lord with our hearts for the rest of our lives, trusting Him, obeying Him, and building altars of praise in our hearts along the way.