The Promises of God (The Life of Abraham)(3): A Parting of the Ways
Lord God we thank You for this deposit of revelation, for in this book You have revealed Yourself, Your will, Your works, Your ways to Your people. And so we ask as we study Your word that we would see You more clearly. We ask as well, O God, we would see the glory of Your covenant grace and learn these principles by which we walk in that covenant t. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
The lifelong quest of faith in which Abram had already embarked receives yet another test in this passage. It receives a test in the challenge of dwelling with Lot and then eventually separating from him. And of course the lure of the cities of the plain, in their fertile fields, but with their wicked inhabitants. But in contrast to that sorry spectacle of Genesis, chapter 12, verses 10 through 20 where Abraham's cowardice is apparent, in this passage, Abram passes his test with flying colors. I'd like you to look at four different scenes in this passage tonight.
I. The deeds of faith begin with worship.
The first one you will find in the first four verses of Genesis, chapter 13. In those first verses we see Abram return to the land from Egypt. We see him return to God. He's on a pilgrimage, and we see him return to worship. And in that first scene, we are reminded of a very important truth, that is, the deeds of faith begin with worship. As you see Abram in this passage, we are reminded first of all in verses 1 and 2 that God had blessed Abram exceedingly. He had given him great livestock, he had given him silver and gold. As we have said in our studies of Matthew the last couple of weeks, God does often bless with exceeding abundance, his people. And He did this with Abram. He gave him great riches. This was indeed a sign of God's blessing. He was rich in livestock and in silver and in gold because of the Lord.
But in this passage the main point is that Abram journeys through the Negev, that wilderness area to the south of Israel all the way back to the place where he first encamped in the land of Canaan, and he does this because he's on a religious pilgrimage. Listen to the words of Kidner: “The fact that Abram rose to the occasion in this passage is traceable to verses 1 through 4 which presents this journey to Bethel as a pilgrimage.” Abram is retracing the steps in reverse by which he had gone to Egypt, and he is heading back to that place where he first came into the land, and where he first called upon the Lord. And the test of this chapter comes after the worship. If this is not proof of the means of grace which we may avail ourselves of in worship, I don't know of a good example of it. We always talk about the word, read and preached. Prayer lifted up in the congregation. The sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper as means, instruments, vehicles by which God conveys his favor on us. But in this passage we see Abram go back and avail himself of worship after a grave failure and immediately after that worship he meets a very significant test in his own life.
So we're reminded that there's no more important preparation for spiritual conflict than public and private worship. Have you not found that yourself in your own experience? As I was looking over this passage, several incidents in my own life were called to mind. The time in college where I was undergoing exceeding spiritual dryness. I felt far from the Lord, and I was far from the Lord. I wasn't walking with the Lord as I should have. And it was in the context of an ordination service. The ordination service of a Mississippian, from Columbus, Mississippi, named John Hutchinson, and many of you know John. He's a faithful minister in our church. He was my youth director at that time. He was an assistant minister at our church in Greenville, South Carolina, and at his ordination service at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia, his installation service there to serve as minister, God's conviction came down on me like a ton of bricks. But it was the sweetest conviction you could ever have possibly tasted. Because I didn't want to leave that place. I knew that I was in the presence of the Lord's people, and I knew that God was drawing me back into fellowship with Him, and it launched a new stage of devotion in the service of the Lord. And I bet that many of you could share stories like that where in the context of worship and praise with the Lord's people, the Lord did business with your heart and prepared you for things that were going to be coming in your life. That is exactly what He does here in the life of Abram.
II. God continues the process of covenant separation.
And then we see verses 5 through 7. Now the test comes. First we see the worship of Abram here as he calls on the name of the Lord. You remember in Genesis that is a phrase for corporate worship, and it stretches all the way back to the time of Seth. Corporate worship. He called on the name of the Lord. But then in verses 5 through 7 we come to the second picture in this passage. Here in this section we see the strife that occurs between Abram's herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen. Abram and Lot are both exceedingly great men. They have a great number of possessions. They have a great number of people in their revenue, and they have a lot of livestock. They have a lot of animals. They have so many animals that they really can't dwell comfortably in the same area. There's not enough grazing land, and overcrowding situation leads to strife between Abram's men and Lot's men. And so they are in a precarious situation. We are told at the end of verse 7 that not only was there strife between Abram's men and Lot's men, but they were surrounded by the Canaanites and the Perizzites, these two tribal groups that lived in the land of Canaan. And, of course, if there was intertribal squabbling going on between Abram and Lot, that put them in a vulnerable position in the presence of their enemies. And so, Abram and Lot agree to separate.
Isn't it interesting how God often uses apparently adverse circumstances in order to advance His cause in our souls. What had God told Abram to do when He first called him out in the Covenant of Grace? Separate himself from his country and from his father's house and from his relations. Now Abram had done that with all his relations to this point, except one: Lot. Lot had been traveling everywhere with him to this point. And even though it was sad that there would be a division between these two kinsmen where their people could not get along, God's purpose was to separate Abram from Lot so that he could do business with Abram's soul. It would be Abram through whom the line of the promise would come, not Lot. In fact, Lot is about to embark which he would no doubt regret many, many years later. So, God brings this adverse circumstance into Abraham's life, not for the purpose of vexing Abraham, but for the purpose of blessing Abraham. Aalders says this: “The separation between Lot and Abram formed a significant length in the chain of God's plan and purpose for Abram.” This is a testimony to God's sovereignty. We said last week or the last time we studied in Genesis 12 that man's extremities are God's opportunities, and that is exactly what happens here. God brings about this separation through even this strife between Abram and Lot's men.
III. A picture of faith as confident resting in God's promise.
Then in verses 8 through 13 we see the test. How will they go about deciding who is going to settle where? How will they determine who will get what section of the territory? And Abram rises to the occasion. We see Abram's test in this passage. We see Abram's trust in the Lord. We see Abram's triumph by faith in verses 8 through 13. In fact those verses are a picture of faith confidently resting in God's promises. Look what happens here. First of all, Abram says to Lot in verse 8. Let us have no strife between you and me, between your house and my house. And he goes on to give the reason why. He says, look Lot, we're brothers, we're kinsmen, Lot. Let's not have this come between us. Abram has exactly the right kind of attitude in the midst of this precarious situation. He recognizes the importance of unity amongst the brethren. Listen to what Derek Kidner says: “Abram's handling of this conflict is a model of insight, good sense and generosity. His reminder we are brethren singled out the aspect that mattered most in the face of an alien world. And his proposal was selfless as it was practical, and it resolved the immediate tension without creating any future ones.” What was his proposal? His proposal was simply this. Lot, my nephew, younger one, the one who is not the heir to the covenant promises, you just choose the land that you want, and I’ll take the leftovers. You look out there and you decide where you’ll go. If you go left, I’ll go right. If you go right, I’ll go left. You make the choice.
And we see Abram's nobility here. We see the generosity of his heart, but we see his trust in God by allowing Lot to choose the land. Lot's choosing of the land is not only out of the ordinary, it would have been against the custom of the day. The elder member of a family would have had the right to make the first choice, but Abram cedes that right and then Lot chooses by sight. He sees land which is very fertile, and the description is mind boggling. He says this land was so fertile that it was like the garden of God. It was like the Garden of Eden. It was like Egypt towards Zoar, it was a well-watered fertile valley.
The soil was rich, but verse 13 tells us something else about that land. The land was good, but the men were bad. Lot had chosen by sight, and he had not chosen with spiritual interests in mind for his family, and he would reap the consequences later on. His choice by sight placed him in the vicinity of utter depravity. While Abram's faith that God would prosper him no matter what Lot chose protected him from those situations.
And we ourselves may defer to our brethren in this life for the sake of peace and be assured that God will take care of us anyway. Is this not a good passage to remind us how we might proceed in the context of family conflict, deferring our own rights and trusting that God will take care of us. How many of you have had to go through just that kind of circumstance? And you can testify that God has blessed you, and He has often heaped coals of fire upon those who chose to take their own way and assert their own rights and you trusted and rested in the Lord. What a way. The way of Abraham. Listen to this word from Derek Kidner. He says, “By faith Abram had already renounced everything; and so he could afford here to refresh his choice. And so by faith he opted for the unseen; he had no need to judge, as Lot did, by sight.” Abram judged by faith and trusted that God would provide him everything that he had promised.
IV. Revelation prompts worship.
And then if you look at verses 14 through 18, we see the fourth scene in this passage. Here God, after Lot is separated from Abram, God speaks again to him confirming His promise. The language you see here in verses 14 through 17 sounds very similar to the language of Genesis 12, verses 1 through 3. Listen to God's word. “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”
God reiterates his promises to Abram with an emphasis on His promise that He would give Abram a land, and that he would give Abram a posterity. But remember friends, Abram didn't own any land in Canaan, and he did not have a seed as of yet. So once again God has made him a promise that demands that he take God at His word despite all the evidence to the contrary. And is that not a way of saving faith. So often when God asks us to trust Him when there is no sight. In this passage as well, we see Abram continuing in the pattern that we saw in early Genesis 12. You remember Abram dwelled in a tent, but he built the Lord a permanent altar. And once again we see that in verse 18. “Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.” Derek Kidner says, “tent and altar characterized Abram's way of life.” He was a nomad, but God was his permanent and sure refuge. And so everywhere he went, the worship of the Lord, the calling on the name of the Lord was central to Abram's life. And though Abram had no wood on his roof, yet he built altars to the Lord while he was dwelling in tents. And we see again here how God's revelation to us prompts us to worship Him. God reveals Himself, speaks to Abram again.
And what is the response of Abram? Worship. Isn't it interesting how this chapter begins and ends? It begins with worship, there is a test, a trial, a triumph, and then it closes with worship again. God calls us to be his own in order to worship Him. There is nothing more central to our being in our experience than worship.
But isn't it interesting that the worship where we come to empty ourselves of praise and give to God, when we come with that attitude of desiring simply to pour our hearts out to Him and to ascribe to Him the glory and Him the praise and the honor, we fetch back the blessing. Abram worships in Genesis 13, 1 through 4. And what does God do? He strengthens him for the test. God speaks to Abram at the end of Genesis 13, and Abram comes back to the Lord in worship. But God has already gone before His worship by favoring him with yet another revelation of Himself. Yet another reiteration of His divine promises. You cannot out give God. When you come to the Lord in worship, you always, if you come with a humble attitude of desiring to ascribe unto the Lord the glory due His name, and to praise and thank Him for all that He has done, you cannot possibly give more than you will receive from the Lord.
And so in this passage, we see that deeds of faith begin with worship because God has called us to be worshiping beings. It's at the very center of our experience. That's why it's so perverse when men will not bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ because God made us to be worshipers, above all else. That worship is what enables us to do deeds of faith.
Then in verses 5 through 7 we see that God brings separation. If we don't follow in the way of separating ourselves from the world, God loves us so much that he’ll bring about that separation himself. So whereas Abram had not separated himself from his family, God gave him a little nudge. He helped him out a little bit because he had dealings that he needed to do with Abram.
Then in verses 8 through 13, we see this picture of trust. What it is to trust in the Lord God, to rest in His promises, and to trust that God would do faithfully what He had promised to do. And finally we see God speaking to Abram, and Abram responding in worship. What a picture, what an encouragement for us in our walk of faith. In each of these patterns – we see patterns which still remain in the new covenant, except they’re greater, because we have seen the Lord Jesus Christ, not only in His modeling of faith, but in His living and dying on our behalf. And so we are called to worship Him, the risen Christ. It's our first priority. Everything in the Christian church culminates in worshiping Him, and from that worship every strength of the Christian life flows. And God still calls us to separate. Isn't it interesting, God's call to Abraham is to separate and to follow. Jesus’ call to His disciple is to separate. Leave everything and follow. In this passage we see Abram trusting in God, resting in His promises. Jesus requires precisely that from His disciples.
And finally, the revelation of God prompts worship. That's something that we see throughout the New Testament. And if you’ll turn with me to the last book of the Bible, I'd like to remind you of a passage which shows this beautifully. Revelation, chapter 5. You remember this scene. John is carried to the site of the throne room, and he tells us in Revelation 5, verse 1, “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside, and on the back, sealed up with seven seals, and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it. And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it. That book, you see my friends, represents the unfolding of God's providence and the provision of His protection for His saints. And the sealing of that book indicates as it were the frustration of that providence and protection. And so John as he sees that book sealed fears that God's good plans for His people will not come about unless that book is unsealed. And yet no one is found in heaven who can open it. And so John understandably begins not simply to cry a few tears, but to sob and to weep uncontrollably. And then one of the great scenes in all Scripture begins in verse 5. And one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seals.’ And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures, and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy Art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.” The response to the revelation that Jesus Christ was worthy to break the seals of the book of God's decree evoked worship from every being in heaven. God's revelation always does. When He shows himself to us in His word, what can we do but bow the knee? May the Lord bless His word. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God we long for that day when faith shall be sight, for we shall see You as You are, and we shall worship You. Until then, may faith be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We ask it in His name, Amen.