Faith

LIVING FAITH

LIVING FAITH
By Charles E. McCracken
GROW

 

So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.  Genesis 13:9

READ TODAY’S TEXT: GENESIS 13

The account of Abram and Sarai in the Old Testament book of Genesis is the historical documentation of two people who responded to God’s call and lived their faith in plain view of their contemporaries. The Bible records essential information, but only with careful study do we begin to comprehend that Abram’s faith went beyond responding to God’s original call as he faced the real and everyday challenges of life.

GOD USES CIRCUMSTANCES TO STRENGTHEN FAITH

The life of faith requires choosing to trust God in spite of challenges and Abram was no exception. You will remember that drought and accompanying famine drove Abram to seek provision for his household in Egypt. Through an astonishing encounter with the Pharaoh of Egypt, Abram and his household re-entered the land of Canaan with impressive wealth.

The situation easily could have been disastrous for Abram, who to be fair had rightly claimed that his wife, Sarai, was his sister. 

James_Tissot_Caravan_of_Abram_circa_1900_t2bc2

Detail: The Caravan of Abraham.

Instead the text simply describes Abram as “very rich” (literally heavy with goods) and leaves no doubt that while in Egypt, God used Pharaoh to greatly prosper him. Because of God’s intervention through the plague on Pharaoh and his household, Abram’s name grew in esteem and his prestigious wealth was obvious.

Upon returning to the land God promised in Ur, Abram resettled his household in the valley between Bethel and Ai described specifically as, “the place of the altar which he had made there at first” (Gen.13:4). The altar provides a geographic marker highlighting Abram’s return to the location where he had previously pitched tents.

At that altar Abram, “called on the name of the Lord” (v. 4). 

While some commentators suggest Abram’s actions signify that he sought restoration of fellowship with God after a so-called “lapse” in Egypt, the text does not necessarily support this assumption. The fact that God had protected, preserved and prospered Abram in Egypt seems to counter that argument.

The phrase, “called on the name of the Lord,” simply communicates that Abram prayed to God. It is the same language used when Abram first entered the land (Gen. 12:8).  His practice of worshipping the One-true God continued as before. The altar he had previously built was a monument that testified to his commitment to the One-true God.

Abram returned with deeper insight into the character of God and new confidence that the Lord could be trusted in every situation. His act of worship underscores his focus on the future and everything God had planned for him. Abram’s worship is exemplary for all who choose to live the life of faith and eagerly anticipate God’s unfolding plan.

 

GOD USES CONFLICT TO TEST FAITH

In Egypt, God not only prospered Abram, but also his nephew Lot by association. As their flocks and herds multiplied, the ability to find adequate grazing land in proximity to their dwelling site became more difficult resulting in sustained conflict between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot.

One of the reasons for the difficulty was that the Canaanites and Perizzites already had firmly established grazing areas. Because Abram was a peace loving man who chose not to create conflict with the inhabitants of the land, he did not infringe on these territories. As a result, areas large enough to support the herds of both men in close proximity were limited. Tradition states that the conflict between Abram and his nephew’s herdsmen arose because Lot would not respect the recognized pastures of his neighbors.

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Abram gives Lot first choice.

The logical solution was for Abram to separate from Lot before the tensions between them escalated and potentially spread.  Suggesting they separate, Abram gave his nephew first choice of land available.

Abram’s proposal that Lot go one direction and he another was a pragmatic decision designed to relieve tension and engender peace between the two families.

Abram was not giving away any of the land God had promised him and his covenantal descendants. At the time, both he and Lot were foreigners living in the Promised Land that would not become the real property of Abram’s descendants until their Exodus from Egypt.

Allowing Lot the first choice in the relocation, Abram not only demonstrated generosity, but also minimized the potential for future conflict by eliminating the possibility that Lot could later claim he had been ill-treated.

Ultimately, Abram’s generous proposal was a practical act of faith. Abram was confident that God would keep His promises and continue to prosper him regardless of Lot’s choice.

Lot’s choice, however, demonstrates the stark contrast between his character and that of his uncle, Abram.

From their vantage point, Lot saw the lush Jordan Valley and seized the opportunity to better his circumstances. He exhibited little concern for Abram who had not only cared for him since the death of his father, but had also allowed Lot to travel with him since leaving Haran.

The verdant valley some 15 miles from Bethel looked like the Garden of Eden and the area around Zoar (near the southern tip of the modern day Dead Sea) must have reminded Lot of Egypt. The parenthetical statement, “before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,” hints that what appealed to Lot would be short-lived.

Lot made his decision, packed his belongings and moved east to the Jordan Valley. In spite of the fact that the Jordan Valley stretched 75 miles north to the Sea of Galilee, he settled near Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities described as, “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord (v.13).

It is significant that the passage records, “Abram dwelt in Canaan and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain” (v. 12). The land God promised Abram seemed to hold little interest for Lot. Of his own accord, Lot removed himself from the land of Canaan when he separated from Abram.

Unlike his uncle, Lot was self-centered, self-seeking and self-gratifying. His choice was indicative of his character and it would lead to his downfall (Gen. 19).

Abram walked by faith, trusted the One-true God to fulfill His promises and continued to enjoy the fullness of God’s blessing—even in what appeared to be a less desirable location.

 

GOD CONSISTENTLY REWARDS ACTIVE FAITH

After Lot moved to the Jordan Valley, God encouraged Abram by renewing His original promise.

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Abram Shares God’s Promises with Sarai.

Possibly from the same vantage point where Abram had viewed the land with Lot, God now instructed Abram to do the very same thing, “Lift up your eyes and look” (v. 14). With the land in view, God reiterated His promise to Abram giving all of it to his covenantal progeny. In addition, God reaffirmed His promise to bless Abram with innumerable descendants that would populate the land.

Whether reminiscent of the ancient legal practice of pacing-off the dimensions of a property prior to purchase or as a tour of inspection after the fact, God commanded Abram to arise and walk through the whole land. Either way, Abram believed God and by faith, did as commanded.  Although the Canaanites inhabited the land and Sarai was barren, Abram believed God and obeyed.

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Sunlight pierces a shady Pistacia atlantica, Elah Valley, Israel.

Afterward, Abram settled by the terebinth trees of Mamre about two miles north of Hebron.  

A well-watered and fertile area situated around 3,000 feet above sea level, it was an ideal location and became the primary residence of Abram for the remainder of his life.

As was his practice wherever he traveled, Abram built an altar to the Lord that demonstrated his faith in the One-true God providing a testimony to the surrounding culture.

Lot’s choice reflected his self-centeredness; he audaciously took what he thought would make him happy and received what he desired—albeit short-lived. 

Abram trusted God; and his choices not only exhibited a character that pursued peace, but also faith in the ability of God to fulfill His promises. Abram did what was right; and, God blessed him with not just a prime location for his residence, but the entire land of Canaan as an eternal inheritance.

As revealed in the record of Abram’s life, God often uses circumstances and people to develop a strong and enduring faith. In Abraham’s case, God used famine to strengthen his faith and the conflict with Lot to test his faith. In both instances, Abram learned that living the life of faith involves choosing to trust God in every situation and determining to do the right thing even in difficult circumstances. 

IMAGES:
1) The Caravan of Abraham, as in Genesis 12:6, circa. 1903. By James Jacques Tissot [PD-US, PD-Art] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Abram gives Lot first choice, c. 1887. Bible Pictures with brief descriptions by Charles Foster, [PD-US], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
3) Abram Shares God’s Promises with Sarai, circa 1896-1902. By James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [PD-US, PD-Art] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
4) Sunlight pierces a shady Pistacia atlantica, Elah Valley, Israel. By Davidbena [GFDL (gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios

© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only.  Repost/Reprint with permission from the author.

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