26. Further Revelation

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 26. Further revelation

Gen 14:19-22    He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath.”

Now one of the main things I have wanted us to be aware of and to hold on to throughout these studies in Abram’s life, is the fact of his embryonic faith, the fact that he had no revelation beyond that which he received directly from God. So far he has been a largely lone ear to hear the Lord. We must assume that the earlier accounts of Genesis got passed down by word of mouth unless Moses received them as direct revelation from God when he wrote the first five books (as we believe he did).

So the point we are making is that Abram’s knowledge of who he had been responding to would have been strictly limited. It was a major learning exercise. He had learnt that God had a purpose and that purpose involved good for Abram and his family, and he had learnt that God had power (in theory at least) to bring an end to the childless period of his life. He had also learnt that God had long term plans that involved his descendants and the land, and he had also learnt that even when he got it wrong, God didn’t give up on him. All this he had learnt for the few words the Lord had spoken to him, and his experiences so far.

Now things are about to change. A man comes to Abram on his return from rescuing Lot and this man turns out to be the king of Jerusalem– a local leader, if you like. But more than that, this man who comes to him is also a priest and is in fact a priest of “God Most High” or of “Almighty God”. Moreover this priest comes to Abram and blesses him in the name of the Lord who he describes as “Creator of heaven and earth.” Now that may appear simple to us but for Abram this was pure revelation and it was coming through another human being now.

So far Abram had simply received communication but he lived in a pluralistic world where there were many idols or gods worshipped by the superstitious people of the day. Now, suddenly, he is being told there is One God, the Maker of all things. This God is indeed Almighty or God Most High if He were capable of that. Now it is clear that Abram identifies immediately with this description of the Lord because he says he has made an oath to this One and uses exactly the same description of God as Melchizedek had done. Suddenly the communicator God has got ‘content’ – He is the Creator, the One who made all things, the One who must be High above all other ‘gods’ or idols or whatever foolish and unknowing men might worship. If this is who God really is, then indeed He is worthy of our worship because He is clearly so much greater than we are.

Now perhaps, because we have the whole Bible and we know the early chapters, we take this for granted, but it has immense implications which we need to be aware of. If God is the designer and creator of this world, He alone knows how it should work, He alone knows how we work best.  If he designed us, and everything we see in Scripture of Him says that what He has provided in Creation for us is good, then we can also say that He has designed us to work well and so that we enjoy this Creation of His. Everything that comes from Him is good. If this is true, then we should expect to find in the Bible (the account of His dealings with mankind) guidance on how best to live – and we do!

If all that appears from God is good, then it is legitimate to ask why things go wrong then, and it is at this point that Genesis 3 becomes so important because it describes the Fall which resulted in the world being changed and Sin being seen in mankind from then on.

But the key revelation to be held onto here is that God is Creator and He is all-powerful, and if that is so, He is worthy of our worship. Let those simple but staggeringly profound truths sink in.

25. Melchizedek

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 25. Melchizedek

Gen 14:17-20    After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.    

These are strange verses and they tell us a great deal. We note first that when Abram returns from rescuing Lot and takes him back to his home, Sodom, the king of Sodom comes out to meet them. Now Sodom had been plundered in these tribal wars, which is how Lot had come to be ta ken, but somehow the king of Sodom had escaped. Now it seems he comes to welcome Lot’s return because Lot had been an occupant of Sodom (14:2) and was clearly a respected wealthy man who sat with the leaders of the city in the gate of judgement (Gen 19:1). This does not show Lot up in a good light.

But then we come to something more strange. The king of Salem (orJerusalem) also came to meet Abram, No doubt word travelled fast and he had obviously heard what had happened. He comes bearing bread and wine. The writer to the Hebrews considers he typifies Jesus. (Heb 7:1-17) and refers back to the messianic Psa 110 which is a  clear reference to Jesus. Yet that almost seems a distraction to the strangeness of the account here in Genesis. What does it tell us about Melchizedek?

Well first that he was king of Jerusalem. He was the leader of what was to become one of the most significant cities in the world, the capital of Israel.  So, first he is royalty. But then we are told that he is God’s priest. What? We thought Abram was the only one that God was speaking to?  If we have conveyed that,  I apologise. There are signs in early Chinese culture that they worshipped the One God who was Creator of all things. Yes, Abram is going to have a unique relationship with the Lord, but that doesn’t stop Him communicating with others around the world. Somehow this king has entered into a relationship with the Lord and has been given the role of the Lord’s priest. There, in the midst of this pagan land, is a signpost to the Lord!

Yes, the bread and the wine obviously remind us of Jesus at the Last Supper, but they were just indications of good provision from this godly priest. He has heard what has happened and his heart leaps and he knows that God has blessed this man and that he must go out and signify that by blessing him with provisions. But he does more than just give him possessions, he gives him God’s blessing or God’s decree of goodness.

When we first see the word ‘blessed’ used, it is God blessing the first living creatures, enabling them to increase and multiply (Gen1:20-22) and then mankind to be fruitful (Gen1:28). It was His decree of good, or His decree that enabled them to multiply, it was an impartation of ongoing life. So now we find this priest blessing Abram declaring (in our words) “How God has decreed good for you; know it more and more, and He Himself will be able to rejoice in the goodness of what happens to you.” A genuine blessing is a decree from heaven that guarantees goodness to come from heaven upon that person, and Melchizedek is the channel through whom this blessing comes. Abram’s response is to want to give him a tenth of all he has, but we’ll see more of that in the next meditation.

Is it any wonder Melchizedek is compared to Jesus? Jesus comes as a ruler in the kingdom of God, eventually to be seen as King of Kings (Rev 19:16) and also as God’s High Priest, to bless us with all the goodness of God through the sacrifice of his own life.  But there is something else he brings: revelation of God, and we will consider that more fully in the next study.

24. Consequences

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 24. Consequences

Gen 14:11,12    The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. 

Sometimes things happen, bad things, and we think they are just chance, but often there are causes of which we were part, and the bad things are consequences that flow from our original actions – but we prefer not to link them to our original behaviour! In the first verses of chapter 14 we find tribal warfare. There has been an oppressive king and there had been a rebellion against him (v.4).  The rebellion comprised five kings (v.2) who eventually fought against the oppressor and those other 3 kings allied to him (v.1). A year after the initial rebellion, this oppressor and those allied to him, swept the country to subdue it (v.5-7) and came against these five kings (v.8-10) and eventually took Sodom and Gomorrah (v.11). Of course in Sodom now resided Lot and he was carried away by these four kings (v.12). If Lot had remained a simple sheepherder and rancher, living out in the country, they would probably have taken no notice of him, but as they were carrying away the inhabitants of Sodom, he is taken away.

When this happened, the word got back to Abram: One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew,” (v.13) who is still living near the great trees of Mamre.  Abram feels obliged to step in on behalf of his nephew and so we find, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” (v.14)  We thus see the size of Abram’s household, and how it had grown. He has enough men to muster a small army, to go after Lot and rescue him. Fortunately the outcome is good: “He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” (v.16)  All’s well that ends well.

But did it have to be like that? Well you might, trying to be generous, say that Lot didn’t know there were going to be tribal wars and so it was just bad luck that he got caught up in it. Was it God’s will that Abram had to show his muscle to rescue his nephew?  Was there a better way that avoided all that upset? The answer, surely, has got to be, yes. I mean Abram hadn’t been caught up in the tribal squabbles where he was and if Lot had chosen virtually anywhere else in the land he would have been safe. We have to reiterate what we said when the division of the families took place: if Lot had asked the counsel of his uncle this might not have happened. After all,Sodom did have a bad reputation and in such places things do go wrong. If is probably too much to expect at this stage that either of them would have listened to the Lord or sought Him for His wisdom.

But do we have any excuses? When times of change come and we are forced to make decisions, as children of God, is turning to Him and asking for His wisdom honestly the first thing we do?  Perhaps some of us don’t ask because we don’t believe God speaks. That denies the evidence of the whole Bible and He is still the same God!  No, the promise is there in James, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5)  Wisdom is the knowledge of what to do, and it IS that simple.  I have lost count of the number of times I have asked the Lord for wisdom and then suddenly ideas have flowed which showed the way – and they worked. You may not hear a loud voice, but pray and listen to your thoughts, because that is probably where you’ll hear Him.

Failure to do this means we struggle on with our own wisdom which often is not wisdom at all, and so we end up doing things which have unhappy consequences. We do need to realise that what we do, and how we live, has consequences. If you are unhappy about any aspect of your life, that it doesn’t measure up to what Christ wants for you, that it actually may fit the description of ‘unrighteous’, then realise that living like that has consequences and they are not the good consequences that God wants for you. God doesn’t want you caught up in petty tribal squabbles; He wants you to be a peacemaker, one who lives in the community bringing peace and harmony wherever you are. He doesn’t want you to be a contributor to the disharmony that so often pervades society and families today.

So, to conclude, there are two simple principles that stand out in the story of Lot so far. First our actions bring consequences. Second, we would learn to be wise in asking God for wisdom! He delights in guiding His children and if we heeded His guidance, we might avoid some of the pitfalls we tumble into.

23. Spirituality

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.

22. Further Reassurance

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 22. Further Reassurance

Gen 13:14-17    The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” 

At last Abram is alone in the land – well without his family members.  The Lord had spoken to him back at Ur and given him the original promises of blessing (Gen 12:1-) and then again at Shechem when he arrived in the centre of the land. Time had passed. It had taken time, possibly years, to leave Ur, travel to Haran, settle there and become prosperous and then eventually to move on to Canaan. That suggests quite a gap between his original calling and the first encouragement from the Lord in the Land at Shechem. Then more time had passed and a famine arose and they had travelled down to Egypt, stayed there a while and become more prosperous, and had then returned to the Land and travelled up to near Bethel again. Then they had been the separating off from Lot. Yes, more time had passed. Now he is alone in the Land and the Lord speaks again. The point I would make here is that this was not the Lord speaking on a daily basis.  He only spoke occasionally.

But now He does speak again, a third time.  Look at this incredible promise: look all around you from this central place in this land and know that I am giving you all this land for you and your offspring FOR EVER.  Now a simple literal interpretation of this suggests that this is to be the land of the Hebrews for the rest of history, but note that it is a promise for Abram’s descendants.  Now as the story unfolds we will see that Ishmael is his first descendant and then Isaac. Ishmael was the son of human endeavour and Isaac was the son of God’s supernatural promise – but they were both Abram’s descendants. Yes, the chosen family was that through Isaac, but that didn’t stop Ishmael and his descendants being descendants of Abram. We’ll consider more about this when we get to Ishmael, but for the moment, we may suggest that everything is not quite as clear as we might like to think in respect of the Land today.

It is a promise of immense blessing.  At the moment Abram is childless. When this promise is fulfilled he will be father of a people so numerous that they cannot be counted. As he stands there and hears the Lord speak these words to him, I wonder if the reality of all of those millions of descendants meant anything at all to him at that moment.  Surely the only thing that mattered was that he would have one child at least. It would take a long time for his descendants to become so many that they could not be counted, way beyond Abram’s lifetimes, surely, and so the only thing that matters is now, this moment, the ending of this period of childlessness. That’s what he is waiting for and that is what his focus must be on as the Lord speaks.

But actually that is NOT what the Lord is focusing upon at that moment for the emphasis is upon the Land itself.  Yes, offspring are mentioned three times but the emphasis is on the Land and the proof of that is in the closing words: go and walk through this entire land, as if to lay claim to it.  Commentators sometimes comment that Abram doesn’t seem to have bought any of the land (Acts 7:5) except the field and cave where he buried Sarah were ‘deeded’ to him (Gen 23:9,20) but the point is that the Lord GAVE him the Land.  It doesn’t matter whether it was bought or not; as far as heaven was concerned it was given to Abram and was therefore his. The whole earth belongs to the Lord for He made it, and so He has the right and authority to apportion it as He wills.

Note something else about this: this land may belong to God and He may give it to Abram, but it has still got other people using it and that will not change for over four hundred years. It may belong to Abram as far as heaven is concerned but as far as the world is concerned it is occupied by the Canaanites and as the old adage goes, “possession is nine tenths of the law.” Abram’s calling was not to get rid of the Canaanites, that would be up to Joshua centuries later. Abram’s call was to go and walk throughout the land and enjoy what he could. He is rich and he is prosperous and the land will feed his sheep and his cattle. That is all he needs from the land at the moment. The Canaanites would not have a clue about what was taking place between God and Abram at this moment, but that doesn’t change the reality: this is God’s land and He gives it to Abram.

This world today is still the Lord’s and He gives it to us to enjoy as much as we’re able to receive though the power of His Spirit. Jesus demonstrated that as he came into the world and then walked on water, stilled storms, fed large crowds with virtually nothing and restored life and health to many. This was the power of God enabling Him to enable others to enjoy this world in a new way. He came to do that. The question for us to ponder on, is how much our faith enables us to do the same.

21. With whom do you mix?

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 21. With whom do you mix?

Gen 13:12,13    “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

We concluded the previous meditation with the verses above. They do not bode well for Lot. But we need to think a little more about this. Abram and Lot had travelled the length of the land and should have found out the nature of the people there. They may not have gone over to Sodom but while communicating with people they came across in the land, they surely must have heard of the reputation of the people of Sodom. Yet Lot ignored that because the land looked good to him. The fact that there were cities there, one of which was Sodom raises the question, did Lot only feel secure in places where men gathered, while Abram was completely at peace living in the countryside?

Cities are a sign of the endeavours of man. There are those who suggest that when people form cities they also produce an environment for the sophistication of mankind where art and architecture flourish. Others point out that cities also bring out the worst of pride in mankind and a tendency towards godlessness. Whatever the truth, Lot moves towards cities, towards Sodom which has a bad reputation and he isn’t bothered by it.

Now we have a saying don’t we that ‘you know a man by the company he keeps’, but we have to think about that to bring a proper understanding of it. Psalm 1 starts with this understanding: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” (Psa 1:1) Three different groups of people are mentioned there or possibly three different expressions of the same people: wicked, sinners and scoffers. Each activity indicates a level of interaction with such people. Walking implies keeping temporary company, standing suggests a more definite remaining with such people, while sitting suggests a permanent situation. The implication is that you are better not to keep the company of such people.

The apostle Paul warned about linking up with such people: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14) and so cited Isa 52:11, “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” (2 Cor 6:17)  Elsewhere he taught, “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor15:33)

Similarly Solomon taught the same thing, for example, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Prov 22:24,25) At the beginning of Proverbs he spends some time warning his son not to be enticed away by bad company that would lead him into evil: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul…… my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths.” (Prov 1:12,15)  He goes on to say that seeking out wisdom will keep you from such company: “Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse.” (Prov 2:12)  He reiterates this later on: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” (Prov 4:14,15)  It is a call first of all to be discerning, to recognise what is good and what is not. Second it is a call to stay away from what is evil.

But just a minutes, a Bible student might ask, didn’t Jesus mix with the tax collectors and sinners? Exactly!  That’s why I said earlier on we need to understand these things. There is a great deal of difference between loving and accepting such people in order to share God’s love with them, and taking on their lifestyles. In no way did Jesus take on the attitudes or the behaviour of those people, but he remained pure and holy while he shared God’s love with them.

Lot was being casual and careless when he ignored the reputation of Sodom and went and settled near it. By chapter 19 we find that Lot has moved into Sodom and has a house in it and even more, is sitting in the gateway of Sodom, which is where the city elders sat. He has been assimilated into that wicked city and it was only by God’s grace and mercy that he would escape its destruction. Don’t settle near sin thinking you can stay away from it. Its closeness will act as a continual temptation that will eventually pull you down. Stay well clear; go and live in a ‘different part of the country’ even! You have been warned. Never say you didn’t know.

20. Unwise Choices

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 20. Unwise Choices

Gen 13:10,11   Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company

Lot looked up and saw…” Lot liked the look of what he saw. It was well watered and was obviously good for the flocks and herds. So he chose for himself that whole area.  It looked good. However later on in the story we will find that in that area were Sodom and Gomorrah and they were getting lined up for God’s judgment, they were so bad. Lot was going to have serious difficulties in this area and as the story unfolds is going to have to be first rescued by Abram and then later by angels.  What looks at first sight to be a great area for the cattle and sheep is going to turn out to be a disastrous area for people! But he looked and saw and went on what his eyes could see. He didn’t consult Abram and ask what he thought and he certainly didn’t consider what the Lord might have thought about it.  No, his eyes were the arbiter of his actions and when we do that we often find ourselves in trouble.

The Bible has a number of examples of people who looked with their eyes and made wrong assessments on the basis of what they saw. The prophet Samuel had to learn this. The Lord sent him to Bethlehem to Jesse’s home to anoint a new king to eventually replace Saul. When he got there he lined up what he thought were all the sons and when he saw the first tall son, Eliab, he thought this must be him, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)  If we judge or assess people by what they look like or the role they have in life, we’ll quite likely get it wrong.

Someone who clearly got it wrong when he ‘looked’ was Goliath, a nine foot tall walking tank who scared the life out of anyone who came near him before he took their lives. We read, “He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him,” (1 Sam17:42) which was a very bad assessment because David went on to kill him without too much effort!   Power doesn’t necessarily come with brawn or weaponry.  The power of God often comes through weak human channels.

A further example of poor assessment is given us by Jesus’ disciples: “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” (Mt 24:1)  Herod’s temple was a spectacular building; the only problem was that the glory of God had never filled it like it had with Solomon’s Temple (see 2 Chron5:13,14).  It was just a great piece of architecture and construction but no more. The real temple of God had just walked out of it, but the disciples failed to realise that. They focused for a moment on a building rather than a body. Wrong!

My final favourite example, of someone who looked but did not get it, is Elisha’s servant. He and Elisha are inside Dothan and a pursuing army is outside: “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.” ( 2 Kings 6:15,16)  The servant looked with human eyes and all he could see were the enemy.  Seriously bad news!  It took Elisha to bring revelation of the true picture: “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”   And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:16-17)  We need to learn to look upon the world and our circumstances through the Lord’s eyes, and with His revelation.

Do you see the truth through each of these examples?  We can look upon people, buildings, land, or circumstances with our human eyes, and if that is all we use, we can make entirely wrong assessments about what is before us. With God’s help we may see people differently, realise that buildings are just buildings, and see hope in circumstances when others only seem doom. To see in this way, does require we develop our relationship with the Lord so we start sensing what He thinks, feels and sees. Lot didn’t have any of this and so he chose land that looked good for the animals, without realising that it was seriously bad for people. Let’s learn from him!  The following words do not bode well for the future for Lot: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. (Gen 13:12,13)

19. Abram’s Grace

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 19. Abram’s Grace

Gen 13:8-9   Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” 

I’m not sure, if I’m really honest, if I would have been a full of grace as Abram was at this point. Remember, they have been confronted with a difficult fact: the land cannot host them both. They have both become so well off that there is not enough provision for their herds and flocks together. The only answer is that one of them must go!Lotdoesn’t seem to come up with anything and it is Abram, the older of the two who initiates change.

His starting point is that he doesn’t want there to be any upset between them. Abram is first of all a peacemaker. I wonder how many of us when confronted with a stressful relational situation have the basic intention of bringing peace. The more common response is to demand our rights. If we were Abram we would look at this situation and if we really wanted to play the spiritual card we would say, “Well I’m the one God called to come here.  This place has my destiny wrapped up in. I’m sorry but it didn’t include you!”  If we were a little less spiritual we would say, “I’m the elder and so I make the decisions and I will decide which of the land is mine and then what can be yours.”  Those would have been very human responses and it is important to note those if we are to understand the wonder of Abram’s response. His response was as far from those we’re suggested, as you can get!

Look, he says, we’ve got the whole land infront of us which (implied) we’ve seen as we’ve travelled the length of it, so there is actually plenty for both of us if we split up. Ah now comes the tricky bit! Who is to go where? Well we’re going to have to part company but (implied again) you choose where you want to go. If you go one way, I’ll go the other. What grace in this older man! Lot, you do the choosing, you take what you want and we’ll go elsewhere.

We sometimes talk about death to self, and this attitude of Abram’s is about as selfless as you can get. It putsLotfirst. That is the crucial point – will we put others first? In this twenty first century we are encourage to grab our own rights, to put ourselves first, so the teaching here and, for us as Christians, runs contrary to that. Let’s consider some of the teaching of the New Testament in this respect.

The apostle Paul wrote at one point, Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Cor 10:24) Love, he says elsewhere “is not self-seeking.” (1 Cor 13:5) Called to be a people of love, means we consider the good of others. But it is not only deeds, it is also about what we say: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” (Eph 4:29) But words follow attitudes, which is why Paul was also to say, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3,4)  There it is very clearly: actions follow attitudes. Wherever Jesus went, these things were seen in his ministry. Even though he was tired, he kept on ministering to the needs of the crowds.

Isn’t this exactly what is behind the whole Gospel that we sometimes take for granted: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) God’s love for us was the motivating force whereby the godhead decided that Jesus should come to earth and die for us.  This wasn’t that we deserved it; exactly the opposite in fact: “Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8) That surely is the epitome of putting others first, but that is exactly what love does! That is exactly what we are called to do: “Love the Lord your God ….and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27) and “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35)  This selfless sacrificial love is to be the thing that the world sees and responds to. He reiterated a little while later: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12,13). Have we got the message? The call is to put God and others first, to put their needs first. Abram displayed that with Lot in our starter verses today.

18. Family Tensions

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 18. Family Tensions

Gen 13:5-7   Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

In our language we have a phrase about “chickens coming home to roost” meaning we’re about to pay the consequences for something we’ve done or not done that shouldn’t have been. Now I say this because these verses have that feel about them. Back in 12:1 we read the Lord’s instructions to Abram that must have been given back in Ur: Leave your country, your people and your father’s household”. Now Lot had been part of his father’s household but when Abram left his father at Haran, Lot came with him and presumably had been with him all the time since.  Up until now that hadn’t been a problem which is perhaps why Abram had gone along with it. Remember he is only a very young believer even though he is seventy five (12:4). Maybe the fact that he was seventy five when he left Haran meant that he felt somewhat old and appreciated having the younger man around. Perhaps he just didn’t have the courage to tell Lot that he had to go on alone, but whatever the reason, it now presents a problem.

Now in some ways this is a good problem – they are both rich with flocks and herds. The Lord has obviously blessed them both from Haran and from Egypt, as we saw before, and they are both ‘men of substance’. That much is good, but wealth brings with it a variety of difficulties and the particular difficulty that they are now struggling with is that the grass of the land is not sufficient to support the herds and flocks of them both. Of course they are sufficiently well off that they both have men working for them looking after the flocks and herds, and it is at this level of management that the tension comes out. Suppose Abram has a number of herdsmen and his chief herdsman will be looking out for his master and so seeks to ensure he gets the grass that is around. Unfortunately, Lot’s chief herdsman would be doing the same thing and before long they are arguing over who gets the limited supply of what is there. If Abram had come to the land on his own and become this prosperous, that wouldn’t have been a problem for there was sufficient grass for one man’s animals, but he hadn’t come alone and so now they have conflict.

The basic principle at work here is a common one: if you don’t obey the Lord fully, the consequences of your partial obedience (?disobedience) will eventually come back and bite you. I have observed a number of situations over the years where people, initially at least, appear to ‘get away with it’, but eventually over a longer period things start going wrong and the cause was the thing not dealt with years before.

Sometimes it may be a broken relationship and we harden ourselves not to do anything about it. We get by, especially as the other person is not physically near us, but eventually something happens and there is upheaval and it all stems back to the original offence or breakdown. This sort of thing can take many forms, especially in families; we fail to take action to stop a particular behaviour pattern in our children and it seems to be all right, until later in life their ill-discipline comes out into the open in a major way causing upset all round. Beware not dealing with conflict issues, because the longer they are left, the bigger will be the fallout.

Such things were not uncommon in the Bible. Isaac and Rebekah having favourite sons, later caused a family split. Israel making Joseph his favourite eventually meant Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Eli failing to discipline his sons eventually meant death and the capture of the ark. In every situation the basics are the same: a wrong situation is tolerated until eventually it all goes wrong.

Abram should have had the courage to tell Lot to stay back at Haran, but he hadn’t and so now, eventually, because they have both been blessed so much, they have a problem which now MUST be resolved. This it is; if you leave the issue, there will come a day when it will be forced on you and you will have to do something about it, but now it will be far more difficult to deal with. Be obedient and wholehearted and deal with problems as they come along.

17. Reassurance

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 17. Reassurance

Gen 13:3,4   From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Whether or not the famine still persisted inCanaan, is not stated, but whatever the state  of the land, having been expelled from Egypt, Abram returns to it. From the area referred to as the Negev in the south of the land, he makes his way northwards again. Remember he is a nomad and as yet has not settled anywhere permanently. Eventually he comes to Bethel and then a little further on, to the place between Bethel and Ai where he had previously set up his tent, built and altar and sought or called on the name of the Lord. (see 12:8) The last time he had been there he had called on the Lord, and we noted that that was the first time he had taken to initiative to seek the Lord; previously it had all been the Lord taking the initiative.

So here he is, having returned from Egypt where, quite clearly, all had not gone well. He had tried to deceive Pharaoh and because of the Lord (presumably) been found out and sent away. He does not leave Egypt as an honoured guest but more in disgrace. He had lied to Pharaoh and Pharaoh had suffered as a result of it and then ejected him from the country. It had not been a glorious experience. I wonder what Abram now felt?  He could have felt thoroughly bad about it, more that he had been found out and sent away in disgrace than anything else perhaps. He is also a young believer in God and therefore it might be natural to wonder if God had now rejected him for that episode.

However if he had felt that, then it would be unlikely that he would have gone back to Bethel and called on the name of the Lord. No, for some reason, he has sufficient confidence in the Lord that he goes back to the place where he last called on Him and calls again. It is like he is reassuring himself that all is still well between he and the Lord. If he had thought he was in trouble with the Lord he would not have gone looking for Him. Now of course it is possible that he did not feel bad about his actions in Egypt. After all he had only treated Sarai as any man of that time would have treated his wife. In modern eyes it wasn’t good, but perhaps in their eyes, it was no problem. Whatever the truth of what he was feeling, he comes back to this place where he had built an altar and calls on the Lord.

Now from all our speculations above, we have sought to show that there could be a variety of ways he comes back here and calls on the Lord. After all, what does it mean to “call on the Lord”?  It may mean simply to seek Him – “Lord are you there?” It may mean to call on Him with questions: “Lord why did you bring me to a place that has a famine? Did I do wrong there in Egypt, or even by going down to Egypt?”  It may mean he comes in contrition: “Lord I’m sorry I seem to have lost contact with you; I haven’t heard from you. Are you still there? I’m sorry about Egypt.”

When we come to the Lord, there are therefore a whole variety of ways that we may approach Him. We may worship Him, praise Him, seek Him for answers, seek Him for forgiveness; there are so many possibilities. And those possibilities depend on what has been happening to us and, even more, how we perceive what has been happening to us. It maybe, therefore, that we approach the Lord in the wrong way. We may come demanding of Him with questions, whereas if we saw the situation clearly, we should come to Him in repentance or with worship. The truth is that often we may come to God in a wrong way because we simply don’t see clearly.

Now here is the reassurance: when your young children get all confused and mixed up, do you chide them or do you love them and seek to help them understand? If we do the latter with our children, won’t the Lord do it more?  But you may feel guilty about your wrong approach or your lack of understanding. Isn’t that why Jesus died on the Cross, for just these sorts of things?  Oh no, we don’t steal, commit adultery or murder, but our ‘sins’ or our ‘wrongs’ are just as real and, although they are of a completely different form, they still end up in the same category – falling short of the glory of God and in the sin basket!

The more I look around the Christian scene and the more I listen, the more sure I am that we so often get it wrong or opt for second best, or opt for human endeavour rather than God’s leading and grace. it is so often a confusing world and so often things are unclear, and so often we make mis-judgments and get it wrong, but that is why Jesus died for us and the result is that the Father will not cast us off. That’s what this story about Abram declares. As we go further on with it, we’ll see the Lord speaking and speaking again and again. There are big gaps but He’s still there for His man. In this instance, referred to in our verses above, Abram calls on the Lord but appears to hear nothing back, but the silence is not a sign of God’s rejection. Remember that on the quiet days or weeks!