Abraham and Lot
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Last held on the 28th of July 2020 at Hattem

Abraham en Lot

There has been a lot of immigration in the Netherlands. So our neighbour can be a Moroccan, a Turk, someone from another country, with different customs, culture, religion; because we live in a multiform society. That's not always easy. It creates tensions in society. It's, therefore, an often recurring agenda item in politics. And for instance what to do with the asylum seekers, the illegal immigrants?

Now we may think: that's a contemporary problem. But long ago, in Israel, also was already a composition of the population. It was in the time of the patriarchs.

The Bedouins lived in the barren and inhospitable deserts and rocky mountains. They were real nomads. They didn't stay at one place for a long time but migrated from oasis to oasis. In a short time, they put up their tents, household goods, and finally themselves on camels and travelled on. They were wild, warlike tribes, living on what they could carry away in their surprise attacks in fertile regions. On their fast camels, their warriors invaded quiet settlements and stole everything possible.

Besides, some peoples had settled permanently in fertile areas. They worked at the land and cultivated it. They were going to live in cities. And they practised various professions there. With trade and traffic. They were building a civilization, but one in which their idolatry, their service to the god of fertility, occupied a great place. The Canaanites were the best known of those established, settled nations.

And right in between, on the edge of the desert and the cultivated land, were other peoples living, including the patriarchs, Abraham, and later also Isaac and Jacob. They were semi-nomads. They owned flocks, sheep and goats, sometimes also a herd of cattle. It meant that they could not travel great distances quickly. They therefore usually stay in the same place for quite a long time and only move on again when their animals had grazed the pastures completely, or the water sources had dried up.

Often they could make good agreements with the established farmers and townspeople. Wasn't it convenient for their sheep and goats to keep the fallow farmland short while fertilizing it so that the land became ready for the growth of grain again? And what industry made in the city could be exchanged with these semi-nomads for meat and peltry.

In this way, cities also attracted these semi-migratory ranchers, to which the patriarchs belong. It tempts them to settle down forever, just as Western Europe attracts many people from poor and unfree areas elsewhere.

But in doing so they would lose pastoral life. And also their identity. The patriarchs would also be in danger of losing their spiritual identity, giving up faith in their God, and joining the townspeople in the Baal service, a service full of moral degeneration and debauchery.

This was how Abraham and Lot lived on the border of the desert and the cultivated land. They couldn't live in the desert, and they weren't allowed to live in the city. They were constantly tossed about and faced with difficult choices. How far can I go? How far can I go out into the wilderness without compromising my family, and all who go with me as servants materially? Without causing them unnecessary poverty and misery and limiting their life possibilities in that arid area? How far can I go into the established culture and the city without sacrificing them spiritually? Without adapting them and myself to and connecting with a way of life in paganism and immorality?

How far can I go? Where do I pitch my tents? Isn't that also the constant question for us as Christians and Christian families? Are we not often faced with the same kinds of choices, of dilemmas? Especially in today's multiform and open society? Are we not half nomads? We also encounter this problem in the New Testament, often expressed with the slogan: in the world, but not of the world. Paul writes that it's impossible to avoid all contact with others, even with fornicators, greedy people, swindlers, idolaters. Because then you would need to step out of the world (1 Cor. 5:10). But on the other hand, he warns, don't conform to this world. For friendship with the world is enmity against God. We must deal with the world as though we have no dealings with it, for the present outer form of this world is disappearing (1 Cor. 7:31). Jesus himself also says: My Kingdom is not of this world.

So as Christians, we stand with our families with one foot in the world and the other foot outside. Thus we fluctuate between participating and distancing ourselves. Are we strangers and foreigners? That doesn't make life any easier. It sometimes presents us with difficult choices. It creates tension. But healthy tensions. Because they are part of the Christian way of life. It's a life, where God's promises are trusted, and His commandments obeyed. Because these questions are part of the imitation of Christ, who did not flee the world but rather went out of heaven into the world, totally descended into it, yet remained without sin.

And so we're always faced with the question: where do we pitch our tents? In Genesis 13, Lot and Abraham do it in different places. One at Sodom, the other at Hebron. They split up. They make different choices, which have significant consequences, and are indeed decisive for their further life.

At first we like to pay attention to Lot's choice and later to Abraham's. 'Abraham went out of Egypt into the southern land of the Negeb desert, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him.' And 'Lot went with Abraham', so we read further on. These words give us the impression that Lot is leaning on Abraham. Lot goes with Abraham but not the other way around. Abraham is the man, and Lot understands that it'll bring him prosperity and rest if he stays near Abraham, goes with him. He is under the good influence of his uncle and guided by his example. Afterwards, it will turn out, that Lot is much taking over from Abraham, but not everything, not the most important thing, not his firm faith in God. He follows Abraham himself more than the God of Abraham. He is not wholeheartedly involved in Abraham's spiritual adventure.

That's an incentive to ask ourselves: are we relying solely on our Christian heritage and environment? Are we pulling along with our Christian family? As young people, do we lean on our Christian parents? And is that all? Or is there more? Do we have a personal relationship with God through faith? Are we under the influence of humans or also directly under the influence of God? Do we pull after people or straight after God, together with others? How deep is the Christian faith in us, as fathers and mothers, as children? Are we hangers-on or more? Sooner or later, that'll become clear. Our children, reaching a certain age, are going to sense whether our Christian life pattern comes from outside or inside. And we start to feel whether our children have only taken over those life forms externally, so that they may, later on, will make a choice other than us, or also internally. It's an important question to think about, to talk about in families. How consciously do we believe? How consciously do we stand behind our Christian beliefs and precepts? Is it travelling through our life like Abraham or like Lot?

At some point, Abraham and Lot had too many livestock together. The land could not provide enough food for both their flocks. It resulted in quarrels between the shepherds of Abraham and Lot. Abraham did cut the knot and proposed to separate. He left the choice to Lot. Abraham, the elder and leader of the tribe, had the right to make his decision at first. But Lot didn't reject the proposal. He raised his eyes and looked around to choose. He didn't act like Paul wrote:

'Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus' Phil.2: 3-4).

How do we, as brothers and sisters treat each other? Family members, fellow townsmen and villagers, compatriots, people who have to deal with each other? Do we experience it as a competition? With quarrels, just like between the shepherds of Abraham and Lot? With a battle to win as much as possible for yourself and to get the best job possible? Life is giving and taking, but can we offer? Can we be the least? Do we also have an eye for the interests of others? It's part of the way after Jesus. Do we let others choose, or do we constantly choose ourselves?

'And Lot looked about him and saw that the plain of the Jordan was rich in water everywhere. Before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, it was to Zoar like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.' Lot's eyes are drawn to that beautiful fertile Jordan region, which stretches far and wide. There are economically thriving cities. It's like the garden of the Lord, like paradise, where four rivers made the bottom fertile, and like Egypt, where the Nile and its branches make the land productive. These are telling comparisons. Paradise, the land of God's peace and happiness, and Egypt, for Israel the land of temptation, threat, slavery. They are so alike. Indeed, good and evil are sometimes difficult to distinguish. That makes choosing so complicated and risky. Even nowadays. There's so much that lures and attracts us, young and old ones. If you look at things from a distance, you don't know what you are supposed to think about it. Is it good or bad? Is it pure beauty like paradise, or dangerous beauty like Egypt? That better job one offered to you. That disco tent, where everyone goes. Those friends who want to take you on holidays with you. That girl or guy with whom you want to go out. That room in the city, because you finally want to live on your own. It is advisable not only to look superficially at those things but to look seriously through them. To learn to distinguish between good and evil. It's advisable not to take far-reaching decisions too quickly and too thoughtlessly.

Lot chooses right away, but it's a choice he'll regret later. Wealth blinds hem. He thinks he soon has settled his business well. It's much better there than here on the edge of the desert. Good pastures are there. And cities close by. All that attracts him more than 'the future city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebr. 11:10), the eternal new Jerusalem.

This is why Lot pitches his its tents near Sodom. 'And the citizens of Sodom were evil and sinful before the Lord.' The visible things are so tempting. When we lift our eyes, there's also much that attracts us. Prosperity and wealth. A valued place in society. Good relations with others. To be able to participate with peers as young people. Such a pleasant life adapted to the world is seductive. Do you have to distance yourself from that? How far can I go? And Lot pitched his tent as far as Sodom. He's going a bit too far. Because Sodom is outside the promised land. Lot has imperceptibly left the territory of God's blessings. He has gone unnoticed out of God's covenant. Soon he will live in Sodom, and the angels will even find him in the gate of the city, that's in the beating heart of this pagan society. How far will we go in moving our tents? So far that we as Christian families get outside of God's covenant? So far that we unnoticed fall outside of God's promises? Promises of real happiness? So far that we hardly can go back and we end up from the border of evil to over the border of evil? How far can we go in skipping church services? In drinking? In our parties? In working overtime without failing our family life? How far can we trust our children and let them go? As boys and girls, how far can we go in our engagement time without plucking the flower of love before it blooms? You know what I mean. Have we not gone too far already in different ways?

Lot does not end well. Soon he is taken away with the inhabitants of Sodom by hostile kings, and Abraham could save him in the nick of time. He is also scarcely spared when the Lord sets the wicked city in a fire. That is God's grace for him, but Lot doesn't come off unscathed. He loses his wife. His daughters later turn out to be morally wholly abused. And he's left with nothing more than a cave in the mountain, while his fertile Jordan region turned into the Dead Sea.

All the more reason for us to keep a close eye on how far we can go and where we set up our tents. The boundaries are difficult to define, but they do exist. And wrong choices lead to much grief and loss. Without repentance and conversion, we even lose our salvation. Do we choose as Lot or as Abraham did?

For after this bad example of Lot, we'll see at the encouraging example of Abraham. It's Abraham, for whom the quarrels between the shepherds and the tense relationship between him and his nephew first become unbearable. He's suffering from it. He thinks it is an inadmissible situation that must disappear from the world. One must do something about the separation between men. Somebody must find a solution. So Abraham says to Lot: Let there be no strife between us, and between my and your shepherds, for we are like brothers.

What do we do when there's friction in our families, our office or factory; there are tension and mental separation? When one angrily accuses each other? Do you say: that never happens with us? You'll find it in the best families. On a wedding anniversary, the vicar came to congratulate husband and wife. Married for 25 years, Father, the woman said, and we've never had cross words, there always was perfect agreement. Then I'm afraid I cannot congratulate you, the minister said, because that's a sign that you've lived alongside each other, but so far apart that collision was impossible. There's trouble everywhere sometimes. That's not the worst. But let we run it its course? Are we getting used to it? Do we harden ourselves? Or, like Abraham, can we no longer be at peace with it? Do we dare to bring it up in all honesty? Do we look for a solution as sensible people? 'Let there be no strife between us, for we are brothers and sisters.' Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. 'Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8). Where Christians and Christian families are as wise as Abraham in times of tension, they will be fine. Where one discusses the problems and makes good decisions with tact and sensitivity, God will provide a solution.

Furthermore, Abraham leaves the choice to Lot. He doesn't insist on his rights. He wants to be the least. He gives priority to Lot's interest. Do we also treat each other like that? Can we be the least? Can we give priority to the other? Can we, in love, deny ourselves for the sake of the other? As the Savior did for us too? 'Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5). The family, in particular, is the testing ground in which we can learn this disposition. Just as one metal is ground by another and shaped into beautiful shapes, so we can sharpen each other in the families and form ourselves into people who love, do God's will, and follow Jesus.

In this way the fertile Jordan plains pass Abraham. He continues to roam between the desert and the cultivated land. A wandering Aramean. Nowhere really at home. He seems worse off than Lot, but was better off. 'And the Lord said to Abraham: Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward'. Do you notice the small yet life-sized difference? And Lot lifted his eyes, and the Lord said to Abraham: lift your eyes. Lot does not appropriate what he himself has chosen, but Abraham may now appropriate what God has chosen for him. 'All the land you see I'll give to you and your offspring forever. I'll make your offspring like the dust of the earth that one cannot number. Arise, walk through this land in its length and breadth, for to you I will give it.

Land and descendants were the central promises of God at that time. Those very concrete things, at that time of tremendous significance, represent God's salvation and blessings. The Lord promises his salvation to Abraham because he made the right choice and would rather lead hardship with God and be a stranger on this earth than to live in welfare without God.

And Abraham pitched his tent and settled by the oaks of Mamre. Further south. Further into the desert. Lonely. Without much luxury. But with a great future. With hope. With rich promises. With the blessing of God for himself and his descendants. Without the pleasures of city life. But with the expectation of the city, of which God is the architect and builder. 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth', so Jesus said, who was also cast off from the earth, but now reigns over us forever and ever.

Where do we set up our tents? At Hebron? Then we might live in isolation. Then others may think that we're a bummer and withdraw too much. Then one doesn't understand that we don't grab what we can grab. And we don't always look for the most lucrative places in the world. Then one might think that we are going way too far in the other direction, in being a very strict Christian, full of unnecessary sacrifices. Then others may think we pitch our tents too far away. But we believe that God wants it that way and that his blessing will rest on us and then that's okay. Then we have a much better future, we and our children.

'So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.' One can read it so often. Wherever Abraham stays a little longer, he builds an altar. He had also built one between Bethel and Ai, where his tent used to be.

Are we making an altar to the Lord in the same way? With and for our families? How do we do that now? Well, by faithfully attending church. By praying at home and reading the Bible. By talking to one another about the matters of faith. By dedicating our lives as a sacrifice to the Lord Jesus.

Which choice do we make? Lot's or Abraham's? To where we lift our eyes? And where we pitch our tents? To Sodom or Hebron? If the latter is the case, then we may say, like Psalm 16, the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.' The choice of the narrow path of faith will not regret. The Lord will go with us and keep His rich promises to us. In Jesus Christ.

The people of this world choose a path for their feet by their selves. But God takes His children by the hand and brings them where they need to be.

Amen.

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