************ Sermon on Genesis 13:14-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 15, 2012
"The Promised Land"
Land is important. Ask the people in the Middle-East. For centuries, Jews and Arabs have both laid claim to and have fought over control of Palestine. The Jews claim the land of Palestine as theirs on the basis of our Bible passage for this morning (cf also Gen 12:7).
A recent book I read makes the claim that the land promised to Abraham is east of Canaan, much further east in Ancient Mesopotamia. The author claims the names of places like Bethel, Ai, Negev, and Mamre are translations of ancient place names in present-day Iraq. The result, of course, undercuts Jewish claims and supports Arab claims to Palestine. I can see one big problem with this book: it means God must have been wrong or mixed up because He is the One Who led Israel to the Promised Land with His pillar of cloud and pillar of fire.
The subject that dominates Genesis 13 is the land. After God it is the land that plays the leading role in the drama in front of us. Abraham and Lot, on the other hand, only play supporting roles.
I Abraham's Tests
A Let's backup a minute and look at where we are at in the story of Abraham. Abraham was called by God to an unknown land (Gen 12:1). It took a while, but eventually Abraham fully obeyed this call and trusted in God's promises.
B After arriving in the land, Abraham was put to a new test, the test of famine. Abraham failed this test. Remember how Abraham went on his own to Egypt and how he lied to Pharaoh about his relationship with Sarah (Gen 12:10-20)?
How did Abraham deal with his failure? He went back to square one. The opening verses of Genesis 13 describe Abraham systematically retracing his steps and reversing his tracks. From Egypt he went back to the Negev (Gen 13:1), the place where he made the bad decision to go down to Egypt (Gen 12:9). From there, he traveled to Bethel (Gen 13:3), to the place where he had pitched his tent earlier and where he had built an altar to the Lord (Gen 12:8). There he called on the name of the Lord, just as he had done earlier (Gen 13:4; 12:8).
Congregation, what kind of faith do you have? Does failure drive you away from God, or does it drive you back to square one, back to where you started, back to the altar, the place of sacrifice, so you can call on the name of the Lord?
Consider the builders of the Tower of Babel. They made no room for offering sacrifices to God and calling on the name of the Lord. For this reason, when their building project fell apart, they scattered instead of repented. Without the Lord in their life, they had no means of dealing with failure.
But in Abraham's case, failure was followed by repentance and a return to God. And, so it is with all who have true faith. As the psalmist puts it:
(Ps 37:23-24) If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; (24) though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.People of faith fail just as all others do. But when they fail they do not fall because they return to the Lord in repentance, calling on His name, and seeking His forgiveness.
C After this, Abraham was put to a new test, the test of prosperity. He and Lot were so blessed by God, and their flocks and herds increased so much, that they faced another crisis. Their possessions were so great that the land was not able to support them if they stayed together. So quarreling broke out among their herdsmen.
I suspect that most people here don't think of prosperity as a test and I suspect that most of us would happily undergo such a test. In fact, we usually think if we had just a little more money, then many of our problems would be solved. How foolish we are! How little we recognize the dangers and risks that wealth brings. The apostle Paul recognized its dangers better than we do. He wrote,
(Phil 4:12-13) I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (13) I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Paul learned to be content in both conditions, whether well fed or hungry, rich or poor. Most of us, on the other hand, think it is difficult to be content when poor. And, wouldn't most of us be quite happy to try being rich for a while? But if we ever reach the point to being so blessed by God, we discover that riches solve few problems and can so easily become a major obstacle to our spiritual life and growth. Think about it: if you won the $640 million Mega Millions lottery a few weeks ago, would that change your relationship with God? Of course it will! How sincere would be your prayers for daily bread? Would you still be faithful to the calling you received from Him? There is no end to the good you could do with that money, but the great temptation exists to spend most of it on your own comfort.
In Abraham's case, prosperity brought with it a real test of character. How would he handle the quarreling that had arisen? In some ways, the problem had a very simple solution. Abraham was the uncle and Lot was the nephew; Abraham was the older partner; Abraham was the head of the clan. Abraham would have had every right to claim whatever part of the land he wanted. Instead, Abraham's faith in God led him to make an incredible act of generosity. He allowed Lot to choose first.
Remember what Lot chose? Lot chose the well-watered plain. The Bible describes the land chosen by Lot as being "like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt" (Gen 13:10). In other words, Lot chose a dangerous prosperity. Don't forget, Egypt is the place of compromise from which God had just delivered Abraham and Lot. We are given a hint here that Lot would have been quite happy to stay in Egypt, outside the land of blessing. Now, don't forget the original audience listening to this story: the children of Israel; though Egypt was the land of slavery, it remained very attractive to them, a place they cried for and yearned for more than once in their wilderness journey.
After Lot selected the Jordan plain, Abraham – by default – selected the rest. Abraham was not interested in grabbing the best land for himself. Presumably, the land he was left with didn't look quite as prosperous as Egypt. But Abraham chose by faith. He chose by faith in God and His promises. Abraham lived by faith and not by sight. You need to see Abraham's faith, congregation, in direct contrast to Lot's compromising materialism. Abraham shows us what it means to trust in God and His covenant promises.
The Bible tells us that many, many years later the same temptation, the test of prosperity, was laid before Jesus. At that time, the Devil took Jesus up onto a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and promised to give them all to Jesus if He would just bow down and worship him (Mt 4:8-9). Satan was offering Jesus the Promised Land without the cross. All the kingdoms of the earth were on the table, and Jesus walked away. Why? They were His by rights just as all of the land was Abraham's by rights. Why shouldn't Jesus claim them then and there? Because Jesus knew that Satan was offering the kingdoms of the earth apart from the plan of God for our salvation. The Bible teaches us that Jesus obeyed in our place and fulfilled the Law in our place.
II God's Promise of Land
A It is within the settings of these tests that God makes a promise to Abraham about the land. The man who lived by faith rather than sight, was now told to lift up his eyes and look in all directions. All the land that he could see was to be his, and his offspring were going to be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Gen 13:14-16). As a gift of His grace, God rewarded the faith of Abraham.
Notice, it is God Who makes this promise. Telling us what? Telling us that the land is the Lord's to give because it belongs to Him. God makes this promise at a time when the land is filled with the Canaanites. The Canaanites thought of the land as their land (Gen 12:6b). But in promising the land to Abraham and his descendants after him God makes clear that the land is the Lord's. The land is the Lord's. It does not belong to the Canaanites and the Perizzites and their gods. The land is the Lord's. So it is His to give away.
B Notice, too, the command God gave to Abraham after giving this promise. God said, "Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you" (Gen 13:17). Abraham was told to walk through and inspect the land. He was given the right, by God, to check the rivers and streams, the hillsides and valleys, the grass and the grain, the vineyards and olive orchards. Abraham was told to walk through the land in the same way as an owner walks through and inspects his property.
C As Abraham moved through and inspected the land, he did something distinctive. Everywhere he went "he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord" (Gen 12:8; cf 12:7; 13:18).
To "call on the name of the Lord" is to come to God in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and offering. It is an expression that indicates an act of formal worship. Notice, Abraham worshiped God as "Lord." In the Hebrew the title is "Yahweh." This is a title that indicates God is the great and mighty One, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Source of life and breath and being, the God Who reigns supreme over all of life, the God Who loves and cares, the God of grace and mercy, the God Who desires a relationship with His image-bearers.
Abraham, we are told, "called on the name of the Lord." The first time we see this expression is after the birth of Seth, the son God granted to Adam and Eve in place of their son Abel (Gen 4:26). If you remember, Cain – Adam's other son – killed Abel. As punishment Cain was banished from the land and from the Lord's presence. We then read in Scripture of how Cain and his descendants laid the foundation of the kingdom of this world – they built a city and invented and developed worldly arts and business. While the family of Cain was doing this the family of Seth began to call on the name of the Lord (Gen 4:26).
What a contrast between the Cainites and the Sethites. In the Cainites we see a people who are busy in the kingdom of this world. In the Sethites we see a people doing the work of the kingdom of God.
In the life of Abraham we see the same kind of contrast. Abraham "called on the name of the Lord" in Bethel of Canaan (Gen 12:8). He built an altar and worshiped God. He did this in a land filled with pagan worshipers (cf Gen 12:6). He did this in a land filled with the false worship and the false gods of the Canaanites. But in Bethel there was true worship of the one only true God.
Do you see what God is doing to and in the land through His servant Abraham? In Bethel of Canaan God is carving out for Himself a place where true and pure worship is practiced. In the midst of the kingdom of darkness God is setting up His light. God is laying the foundation for all of the land being filled with His worship. God is laying claim to all of Canaan as being His. God is giving notice to the vain and empty gods of the pagans that He is taking over. This is why Abraham built an altar every where he went throughout the land – this is God's way of laying claim to all of the land (cf Gen 12:7,8; 13:18). We are given a picture, a foreshadowing, of Christ and the church here because in a later age doesn't God do exactly the same thing through Christ?
D The promise of the land is part of the covenant promise (cf Gen 15:18). As you know, or should know, all covenants have two parts. God made the promise of the land and of numerous offspring. On Abraham's side these covenant promises required obedience to God, worship of God, clinging to God, love for God, trust in God, and showing by his life that He belongs to God. And, what was true for Abraham was also true for Abraham's offspring (cf Gen 15:18). Like Abraham, they must keep the covenant in order to enjoy the covenant promises.
Think of what Moses was saying to the children of Israel here. When the covenant was kept and God's will was obeyed, the land would be Israel's. When the covenant was broken, the land would be taken away. The promise of the land included, then, a spiritual obligation. The promise of the land required obedience and faithfulness and submission to God and His will.
Yet, don't forget, Abraham was just as fallen as those around him. So, how could he claim the promise? The ultimate answer to how Abraham could be accepted in spite of his failures is to be found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, Abraham was acceptable to God in spite of his sins and failures. And, it is only in Jesus – because of His cross and grave – that we too are acceptable to God.
E In my introduction I mentioned that the nation of Israel claims Palestine because of God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 13. Let me say this loud and clear: THIS IS WRONG BECAUSE IT IS BASED ON BAD THEOLOGY.
First, we need to remember that the promise of the land became part of the covenant. And, as I already said, Abraham's descendants can keep the land only so long as they keep the covenant. But the Jews as a people do not keep the covenant because they reject Jesus Who is the fulfilment of the covenant. Therefore, as covenant breakers, they do not and cannot have title to the Promised Land.
Second, the Bible clearly teaches that only those who truly believe in Jesus are a child or heir of Abraham. Seen from this point-of-view, the promise of the land belongs not to those of the Jewish faith but to those of the Christian faith. As Paul puts it, the natural Jewish branches have been broken off and Gentile branches have been grafted in to the Lord's vine (cf Rom 11:11ff).
Third, the point of Genesis 13 is that the land is the Lord's. It belongs to Him – not to Abraham, not to Israel, not to the Palestinians. To claim that the land is the Jews by "divine right" is to deny God's ownership.
Fourth, though the land is the main subject of Genesis 13, it points beyond itself to the city and kingdom of God. The land, in other words, is not the main thing. It is only a symbol of something greater and better.
In Genesis 13 we see that Abraham received a wonderful promise of land from the God Who owns the universe. Yet, we know from the Bible that Abraham himself looked in faith beyond the land to the thing it represented. According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham "looked forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb 11:10). Like Moses after him, Abraham was given a glimpse of life in the future.
Think of what this means. Abraham realized that nothing on this earth is the goal or end of life. Abraham realized he was on a journey to a better place. Abraham realized he was a pilgrim.
In Christ, we too are on a pilgrimage. With Abraham, we too are looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10).
But this is not easy, is it? It is hard for us to adopt the pilgrim attitude when we have life so good. When we are young and healthy, in love with a special guy or girl, then it is hard to fill our minds with thoughts of the future life. When our children are healthy, our marriage happy, our career or dairy on an upward track, then it is hard to adopt the pilgrim attitude. When we have money in the bank, a new Sport Utility Vehicle or car in the garage, children and grandchildren with a good start in life, it is hard to fill our minds with visions of the future life.
A pilgrim attitude is easy to have if we are desperate, sick, dying, poor, overwhelmed with troubles. The Negro slaves had so little in this life and on this earth that was attractive; as a result, many of their songs and thoughts concerned the future life. Someone with a broken marriage, a daughter with a very rare brain disease, and huge medical bills said to me, "I can hardly wait for Jesus to return."
God's Word reminds us this morning that our thoughts, our dreams, our hopes, are not to be centered on the present, but on the future life. Like Abraham, we are pilgrims and we must have the pilgrim attitude.
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