Meditations in the life of Abraham : 23. Signs of Spirituality
Gen 13:18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD
Lot has parted from Abram, the Lord has spoken to him and has instructed him to walk the land. Now whether this ‘walking the land’ is going to be spread over a long period or whether Abram just isn’t doing it, is not clear at this point. Remember, he is a new, ‘young’ believer. Instead he moves southwards to Hebron and we note three things about this in our verse above.
First he goes to another place where there are ‘great trees’ and the implication is that these were sacred trees that the Canaanites used for worship. Abram goes to a place thus known for its spiritual connections. I used the illustration before, but it is like someone with a laptop computer going to a cyber café where they can link in to the Internet. Abram has now heard from the Lord three times. When you really do hear from the Lord and you know it is Him, it does things for you. It gives you a sense of awe that Almighty God has spoken. Second, it gives you a sense of goodness about life, that the blessing of God is on it. Third, it leaves you wanting more. Once you have heard the quiet voice of the Lord, however it comes, you want more of the experience. No doubt there was that same desire for more of the experience that was in Peter when he was on the mountain with Jesus and Moses and Elijah appeared (see Mt 17:4). It is natural to want more of the Lord when you have sensed Him. Thus it may be that Abram came to this place because he anticipated it being a doorway to heaven.
The second thing is that he remained living in tents. At heart he was a nomad who didn’t settle anywhere, so he doesn’t put down his roots here and build a house. No, he remained in his tent. A tent is also a sign of readiness to move, of refusing to settle. Yes, he has been given instructions to walk the land so he cannot settle down yet, he needs to maintain the moving mentality. Many of us take on a settling mentality. We like what we have and so we want to settle there and hold on to it, but the trouble is that the Lord has something more for us. If we settle, we will not go on to take hold of what God has in store for us. We like to hold on to the past, that which we know. The future is the great unknown and that frightens some of us. When Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me”, for them that was a literal, physical moving on, one place after another to follow him and go where he went.
We find this particularly clearly when Jesus spoke about discipleship and “a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Mt 8:19,20) I don’t settle, was what he was saying. This is further highlighted by what follows: “Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Mt 8:21,22) Leave the pressures of everyday life, was what he was saying; leave it to those who lack spiritual life. If you want spiritual life you will follow me and I am constantly on the move.
The third thing we see is that he built his third altar. The first had been at Shechem, the centre of the land figuratively if not actually (Gen 12:7) after the Lord had first spoken to him in the land. The second had been near Bethel (Gen 12:8) when he first wanted to call on the Lord without any prompting or words from the Lord. That altar he had returned to when he returned from Egypt. But now he has gone to Hebron, an apparently spiritual place and there he builds his third altar. He doesn’t use a pagan altar, he builds his own. It is like he recognises it as a spiritual place but it needs sanctifying to God and so needs a new altar that hasn’t been used in any pagan ritual. This is Abram using the ‘facilities’ of the land but changing them for his own purposes, worshipping the Lord.
In all of this we see a new level of spirituality in Abram’s life. He goes to a spiritual place, he maintains an attitude of mobility and he worships the Lord. Isn’t this at the heart of our faith? We seek to put ourselves in places of ‘contact’ with God – reading the Bible, praying, worshipping with the church, going aside into quiet places – we seek to hold an open attitude in respect of what the Lord might want to do next in and through us, and all the time we focus on the Lord and reverence Him for who He is. These are all expressions of our relationship with the Lord today, just as they were with Abram then.