A Fork in the Road

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Genesis 13 | February 21 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
February 21
A Fork in the Road | Genesis 13
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Our text this morning comes from Genesis chapter 13. We’ll be reading all 18 verses. Follow along as I read from Genesis chapter 13.

“So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.”

“Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”

“The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 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.”

This is the second of three threats to the promise that come right on the heels of the extravagant blessing promised to Abram in the first three verses of chapter 12.

Last week we saw the first threat, which was the famine in the land. And so Abram and Sarai go down from Canaan to Egypt that they might food to eat. And when they’re there, Abram is worried because his 65-year-old wife is drop dead gorgeous, absolutely going to get him in trouble, and so he devises a plan that he will lie to Pharaoh. And though Abram is not being held up as an example that we ought to lie and everything will go our way, no, the story is not about Abram as a great example for us. The story is about the invincibility of God’s promise.

So even though Abram gets in the way, despite himself, Abram and Sarai leave Pharaoh’s presence, sent out of Egypt, and they leave with great blessing because God’s promises are inviolable. In fact, we see this connection.

Look at chapter 12, verse 10: “They sojourned there,” end of the verse, “for the famine was severe.”

The word “severe” in Hebrew is “kaved.” You may have heard before the word “kavod” or “kabod,” which is the Hebrew word for glory. It’s the same word here, glory, heaviness, severity.

It says the famine was severe, and then in chapter 13, verse 2, it says “now Abraham was very ‘kaved,'” exact same word, translated as “rich.” The kaved of the famine has now become the kaved, the weightiness, the severity, the gravity, of Abram’s wealth. Such is God’s promise that He turned famine into blessing.

Now the second threat comes, and it comes by way of those very riches. The relational conflict that results from these riches, and here we have Abram in a much more flattering light. We see that Abram is a better example here because the story begins and ends with worship.

You notice in verse 3 he retraces his steps. He journeyed from the Negeb, that’s the sort of the desert region in the south, up to the north to Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning between Bethel and Ai. So he retraces his steps, he goes to the very first place he was when he entered the Promised Land, he may be returning to the very same alter there, a pile of stones he would have built up as an altar to the Lord, and again, verse 4, he calls upon the name of the Lord.

So this episode begins with Abram worshiping at an altar, and look at how it ends, verse 18: “Abram moved his tent, came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.” An altar at the beginning and at the end. Worship, bookending this story. An altar in the north, an altar in the south.

Last week I said that Genesis is not mainly a book of examples, it’s a story about God’s providence and God’s promises. But we are right to look to Genesis for different examples, either good or bad. We shouldn’t say that, well, if we’re really gospel people we never look to the Bible for examples. No, the New Testament does this.

1 Corinthians 10:6: Now these things took place as examples for us that we might not desire as evil as they did.

Talking about the rebellion in the wilderness. Paul says that is a negative example, don’t do that.

We also see in a place like Hebrews 11, the hall of fame of faith, the great cloud of witnesses that there we have men and women who are meant to be positive examples for us.

So we’re right to draw certain lessons from the patriarchs, the matriarchs, along the way.

This morning I want you to note two lessons from Abram. He provides for us a lesson in peacemaking and a lesson in faith, and we’ll spend most of the time on the first.

So a lesson in peacemaking. You can understand why there’s conflict. Simply, there’s not enough room. You have too many kids sharing one bedroom in your house. Let the reader understand. Yes, there’s bound to be conflict. The Canaanites are there, the Perizzites are there, verse 7. These people probably maintained grazing rights, water and drinking rights, and you have Lot, who’s accrued great wealth, and you have Abram, who’s accrued great wealth, and there simply isn’t enough room.

One of the things we’re going to see throughout Genesis is that domestic trouble follows the patriarchs wherever they go. Be some encouragement to us, there are lots of messed up families in the world and pretty much every family in Genesis fits that description. We had domestic quarreling in the first episode, we’ve got a husband and wife trying to deceive, and now you have a domestic quarrel between uncle and nephew.

We all can imagine what this is like. You ever try to go on vacation with your extended family together? You all try to live in the same house over the holidays? You have to share or split an inheritance?

I haven’t really watched these shows, but if I understand the basic premise of Survivor or Big Brother or any of the newer reality TV shows, it’s basically let’s put a lot of sinful people in one space together, let’s make it very stressful, and let’s record what they do and show the worst stuff. It is sort of a lesson in the reality of original sin.

So we can understand you have big family, lots of stuff, big family, lots of stuff, they don’t enough room. What’s going to happen? It’s bound to happen.

Recently an older friend of mine, who’s sort of semi-retired, said, “Well, I’m thinking with the kids of buying some acreage and we’d build a house there, and my kids would build their houses, and we’d all share this land and we’d have parents and kids and grandkids and three generations. It’d be wonderful. What do you think?” I said, “That sounds wonderful. Probably could be. Just make sure you really, really, really like each other and you really, really, really like to forgive one another, and maybe it can work.”

But even the best of people put into, squeezed into, tight places, over time are going to have conflict.

So the first aspect of this lesson is that sometimes in peacemaking we have to give up our rights.

Now let me underline the word “sometimes.” I didn’t say always. There are some times where you’re very right to insist upon your rights. We see that in the book of Acts. Paul sometimes says, “Okay, I’m getting persecuted, bring it on, “and other times he says, “No, I’m a citizen of Rome, how dare you.” And for Paul, the wisdom was whether defending his rights would help defend the rights of other Christians, in which case he was going to defend himself to the uttermost, or whether he was the only one who was to suffer.

So I am not saying that it’s wrong to ever go to court or to pursue justice, certainly it is appropriate. So don’t hear “sometimes” as “always” give up your rights. And yet if we’re honest, for many of us, most of us, the danger is not “always,” the danger is “never.” We never give up our rights.

Here’s Abram. He’s likely older. He’s the uncle, Lot is the nephew. Abram is the leader of the clan and as they’re having conflict, it was perfectly within his right that he would call the shots. And if they have to go their separate ways, Abram would get to lay claim to the spot that he wanted most for his family. But he doesn’t do that. And there’s no sense here that he’s just sort of scheming. You know, “No, no, no, you go first,” “no, you go first, uncle,” “no, you go first.” If that was the plan, then it really went poorly. “No, Lot, you go first.” “Okay, I will.”

Well, he does. And Lot looks up and he chooses the land that looks to him like the garden of Eden.

What an example of magnanimity from Abram. You can imagine the Israelites hearing this story for the first time. They may have said to each other, “Can you believe Father Abraham? He almost gave the Promised Land to Lot? And you know who comes from Lot? The Moabites and the Ammonites. Can you imagine that? The Moabites and the Ammonites almost inherited the Promised Land.”

But Abram understood that so far as he has the promise of God on his side, he has no way to come out of this except ahead. And so he says, “Lot, you take the first choice.”

When you have two people, or two parties, absolutely in what seems to be an unresolvable conflict, there’s really only two things that can happen. Either you bring in some outside person or group to mediate, the police, a court, you know the pastors or elders or some official arbitration who says okay, you’re right, you’re wrong, or you’re both a little right and a little wrong, and here’s how we’re dividing it up, go do it. That’s one way.

Or someone on both or either side decides to give up some of their rights. Do you always, in conflict, insist on your rights? Husbands, wives. Are you looking for an opportunity to be the first one to break the thaw in your marriage? When there’s that deep freeze that comes upon you with some conflict? Now I think this is incumbent especially on husbands as the leaders in the home.

And even if you think, well, it’s really 10% my fault and it’s 90% her fault, and guys, I would check those percentages, but even if you think that, even if that were the case, can you and your 10% take the first step toward the other person? Give up, renounce something of your rights?

Can you, brothers and sisters, and I’m talking kids, literal brothers and sisters in the home, here’s very practical for you: Do you ever give your brother or your sister the chance to choose first? Where to sit at dinner? What piece of pizza to get? What bowl of ice cream? What toy to play with? Do you ever let them, even if you are the older one and you think you ought to go first, do you ever give up your rights?

And listen, because I know what kids are like, don’t go home around the table and say, “See? Did you hear? Did you hear? Pastor said you should give up your rights.” No, no, no. That’s not, no. Listen for yourself before you listen for somebody else.

Proverbs says it’s a glory to overlook an offense. Jesus says that with the measure you used, it will be measured to you.

Now when Jesus says “do not judge,” He doesn’t mean you can never evaluate, you can never analyze, because Jesus goes on to say, “don’t cast your pearls before swine.” So He’s judging, there’s pigs out there. What He means is think about how you size up other people. Would you like people to size you up in the same way? Are you the sort of person who gives people the benefit of the doubt? Or do you put the worst possible construct on their motives? Are you the sort of person who is eager to find a way for peace? Or are you the sort of person who says I stand my ground, every conflict in my life, I’m like Martin Luther, here I stand, I can do no other. Is that you?

Abram was willing to give up his right: Lot, go ahead, you choose.

Peacemaking sometimes means that we graciously go in opposite directions. That’s the second aspect. Again, let me underline the word “sometimes.” Don’t leave this service saying, “I guess I can get a divorce, I guess I never have to talk to her again, I guess quitting at the first sign of conflict was the right decision after all.”

No, that’s not the point. But we do see here with Abram and Lot that they parted ways not in an effort to avoid reconciliation, but in an effort to maintain the unity of the family, and that’s the difference. This was not saying “we give up on each other,” it’s saying “because we are committed to each other,” verse 8, “we are kinsmen, we’re family, and because we want to maintain the family, we’re going to have to find some way and this place just ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

We see this from time to time in Scripture. Paul and Barnabas, most famously. You have these church leaders, brothers in the Lord, son of encouragement, the great apostle Paul, and at the end of Acts 15 they can’t agree: Do we take John Mark with us or not? Barnabas wants to, Paul’s not so sure. They reached agreement, presumably at the Jerusalem Council, they could come eye to eye on great theological, ethical matters, but it came to “Do we take this young man with us or not?” and they simply could not agree. So they had to part.

It may have sounded spiritual for Abram to say, “Look, we’re all family. We all worship the same God. If we truly love each other, we should be able to find a way to live together in this crowded space.” But the Bible’s more realistic than that. The Bible’s never cynical, but it’s always realistic. The Bible knows that utopia is not possible on earth, and if you expect your family to be utopia, your church to be utopia, your country to utopia, if that’s how the government rules, if that’s how your church… Things go from bad to worse.

Even with family, especially with family, we get into conflicts. And here in Abram’s case, the best solution was not, “Well, if we just lay down enough rules, or if we just have some more meetings, the best solution, two families, we need to go live in separate places.” This was not an angry separation marking the end of the relationship, it was a peaceful separation to preserve the relationship.

We don’t to rush to this conclusion, give up at the first sign of conflict. God has many valuable things to teach us about ourselves through relational strain. But we do have to keep in mind Romans 12:18: “In so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” That has always stuck with me in life and in pastoral ministry because it’s so wonderfully hopeful and wonderfully realistic. In so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

You can control what you do. You can’t control if other people want to be at peace with you. You can’t control if people want to be jerks to you, but in so far as it depends on you, you put forth every effort to live at peace, particularly with our families and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We do all that we can do, and sometimes all that we can do is all that we can do. And you say I don’t know what else we can do, we simply have to agree to disagree. It can be the better part of leadership at times to not set up another meeting, not to hash things through again, but to move on.

And so we find it here that sometimes it is the better part of peacemaking to say you need to go your way, and I need to go mine.

But there’s a third aspect of this lesson. And before you land on the second, you need to be sure to hear the third: Peacemaking always involves an eagerness for peace. Notice the change in the language. Sometimes you give up your rights, sometimes you have to go in a different direction and agree to disagree, but always peacemaking means an eagerness for peace.

Look at verse 8: “Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, between your herdsmen and my herdsmen.'” Abram’s saying this is my desire, I do not want us to be in conflict. Is that your attitude? Whatever conflict you’re having right now with a husband or wife? A child? A parent? Someone in the church? Someone at work? I don’t want there to be strife.

You know what our world loves to do, if you spend any time on social media. Social media works by stirring up strife.

Someone once labeled all the different social media channels according to the seven deadly sins. You know, whatever, I don’t know, Tinder is lust, or you can, but, but Twitter is anger and wrath, and you can label all of them, and I don’t know which one is greed, but they’re all out there, and they want to make you stirred up. They don’t want you to find peace.

I often think of the words that Paul says to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 6:11. The Corinthians are ticked at Paul. They think he’s making their life difficult and he’s fickle and he can’t be trusted. They’re so upset with him, and Paul says to these people, who are furious with him, “My heart is wide open to you.” In chapter 7, he says, “Let your heart be open to us.” I think of that posture in conflict. Is your heart, is it a shriveled up, grinchy little heart? Nothing you can possibly do will ever convince me that you have truly repented, nothing that you’re doing will ever convince me that you can ever be trusted… Or is it hey, I want this to work out. My heart is open.

That means in situations where you have been truly wronged and sinned against, you have a posture that is inviting of repentance and forgiveness. This doesn’t mean every situation really is 50/50. Sometimes it is 100/0. You really were sinned against and it was not your fault. But to have a wide open heart doesn’t mean you paper over the injustice, but it means your posture is such that I’m eager to forgive should you come and repent, and I will not seek vengeance against you.

And it means in all of the ordinary squabbles, conflicts, misunderstandings and hurt feelings in life, your attitude is to take a step toward the person. Is that what you’re doing in conflict? A step toward them with an open heart. I’m here, I’m moving towards you, could you take a half-step toward me?

Or is the posture of your heart really this: Folded arms, or you turned your back, or have you run in the other direction?

Abram says to Lot, “I don’t want there to be strife. I want to find a way to work this out.”

I can tell you after almost 20 years of pastoral ministry, this makes all the difference in the world. If you have two people and they come to the pastors or elders or whomever and they have a conflict, husband and wife, friends, and if they come and they say, “We just, we keep hurting each other, we can’t get this figured out, we’re going from bad to worse, we want help and we really want to work this out.” Nine times out of ten, maybe 95 times out of 100, you know what? They work it out. They get some counsel, they cook off, they pray… Because there’s a desire, let there be no strife, my heart’s open, I just want to find a way that we can make this work.

Conversely, if you get two people who come and they really have no interest in peace, 95 times out of 100 it won’t go anywhere. You can give them the best books to read, the best Bible verses, the best counsel, the best advice, and if their hearts are already closed, and they’ve already decided that they want to be at strife, they will be at strife.

We see the importance all throughout Scripture of this peacemaking.

Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.

Proverbs 3:17: The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.

Proverbs 3:29-30: Do not plan evil against your neighbor who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason when he has done you no harm.

Hebrews 12:14: Strive for peace with everyone.

Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers.

Or listen to James chapter 3, this description of what it means to sow seeds of peace that will reap a harvest of peace. What do you do? The wisdom from God is first pure, second peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. That’s the way to sow for peace. You start with a pure heart, I really want this to work out; you’re peaceable, you’re gentle. You don’t come with guns ablazing. You come with the softest approach possible and you get louder if you need to. You can always turn the volume up; it’s much harder when you start with the volume up here to get people to listen when you want to come down here.

You’re gentle. You’re open to reason. That means in conflict you’re willing to say, “Maybe there’s something I haven’t seen, maybe I have a blind spot and I didn’t know. Maybe there’s an argument, maybe there’s some facts, there’s something that I was mistaken about. I’m open to reason. I’m full of mercy. That is, I’m eager to forgive if there’s something to forgive. I’m eager to give you the benefit of the doubt, impartial, so I’m being as fair as I can, and sincere. I really want this.”

So that’s how you sow seeds of peace.

Abram’s heart was open toward Lot. He said I don’t want there to be strife. If there’s a solution to maintain our family unity, I want to find it.

So we see here a lesson in peacemaking.

Then more quickly, we see, second, a lesson in faith. Quite simply, Abram chose by faith, Lot chose by sight. Abram was willing to sacrifice the Promised Land just as he was willing to sacrifice his promised son. Now we know that story, the more famous one, when he was going to kill Isaac, because he trusted that God could raise his son back to life. Well, here he gives up willingly the other part of the promise, the land. He trusts that God, somehow, you’re going to be true to Your Word. What a different Abram than we had in chapter 12, who’s conniving to help out God, and here he says, “God, you’re going to take care of this.”

Lot made his choice and it was a bad choice. He chose the land that looked good. He chose by sight. You notice the description. It was well-watered, verse 10, looked like the garden of the Lord.

Well, there’s actually some parallels here to the garden of Eden. Just as Eve saw, lifted up her eyes and saw the fruit and it was pleasing to her, so Lot lifts up his eyes and sees the valley and the cities there and it is pleasing to him, and so he chooses. Well, he should have learned the lesson from the garden of Eden, that not everything that looks good to the eyes is going to be good to the stomach. He chooses to cast his tents down by Sodom.

Now we’re told here in verse 13 that Sodom was filled with wicked people, great sinners. We don’t know for sure if Lot understood that, but it seems reasonable that the reputation of the people would have preceded themselves.

The rabbinical commentators all assume that Lot understood what he was doing. ___ in his commentary says he chooses an area that is materially prosperous yet morally degraded. This lush land will be in a short time consumed by fire.

J.C. Ryle in his excellent book on holiness has a sermon in there about Lot and he says, “Beware of Lot’s choice.” He picked what looked good, what seemed prosperous, what seemed beautiful, and Ryle says beware of Lot’s choice when you have to choose a place to live. Don’t just think about is this going to be a beautiful, lavish neighborhood. He says don’t just think about material prosperity in choosing a profession. Or don’t just think about outward appearance in choosing a spouse. Beware of Lot’s choice. He chose by sight, and it was a poor choice.

Abram chose by faith, and his faith was well-placed. You see in the last paragraph the promise is renewed and strengthened. He’s told to life up his eyes, to look out and see, and that God would give him all this land, and now even more than that, he’s told that his descendants will be as numerous as dust.

You have any dust in your house? Don’t answer that out loud. Dust is very fine. It’s everywhere.

Now he had already been given a promise to be a great nation, but in those times you didn’t have to be a massive people to be a nation. Any tribe, clan with some basic organization could count as a nation. But here He says, no, the number of your descendants will be almost incalculable.

Later it will be the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky. Here it will be as the dust of the earth. Can you count the dust of the earth? No. Your offspring will be innumerable.

So He renews and expands this promise of offspring, then He gives him even more of a promise with the land. He says, look all around, in every direction, as far as the eye can see. That’s gonna be your land. And I want you to walk through it, the length and the breadth of it.

It’s probably almost a land grant that God gives. You’re not yet in possession of it, but I’m deeding it to you, and as a sign of your possession, go walk around it, like a father who says, “I’m going to buy this car for you. Why don’t you take it out for a test drive? Go take it out for a spin. It soon will be yours.”

Abram walked by faith. Lot walked by sight.

And what I want you to see in closing is how these two lessons are really the same lesson. Sometimes we think of faith as simply what we do at the beginning of our Christian life. You got to put your faith in Jesus, believe in Jesus, and do it in your heart and say the prayer, and then you know that you’ll live forever. Faith is what you do when you start out. Faith is what we have for really spiritual things, like eternal life.

But don’t think that here this story is about the lesion of faith, that’s very spiritual, and then the lesson of peacemaking is just try to be a good person. No, the two lessons are the same. Because you cannot live as a peacemaking person unless you are also truly a person of faith. What did Jesus say in the sermon? Blessed are the peacemakers. Do you believe? Do you trust God’s promise? That as you sow seeds of peace that God will smile upon you? That’s an act of faith.

See, Abram had to believe when he gives Lot the first choice, okay, God sees what’s going on here. God’s going to be true to His promise. God knows. God will take care of me. I don’t know where Lot’s going to go, but I know that God will go with me wherever.

You never risk forfeiting the blessing of God by doing the right thing. You never risk forfeiting the blessing of God by doing the right thing. God, if do the right thing, ohh, it’s going to turn out bad. No, do you see how this is just the opposite of the Abram we saw in chapter 12? There, Abram thinks, unless I do the wrong thing, I’m not going to get blessed. Here he says I’m going to the right thing even though it looks like the wrong thing, because I have faith in the God of promise.

And ultimately we know, as New Testament Christians, how sure the promise is, because we have faith that Christ already took the worst part for us, that we may inherit the Promised Land, that Christ freely chose the worst part to suffer, to die, to be crucified, to be condemned, that we might inherit a new garden of Eden.

So surely we can trust in this God.

If there’s a conflict in your life, massive or small, maybe it just happened this morning and there’s a little freeze descending upon your marriage, or it’s between your kids or you know very well it’s a friend in this church and things are not quite right, might it be possible that what’s holding you back from being a peacemaker is your faith in the promise of God?

Listen, other people may take advantage of you. But God never will.

Don’t think if I give up my rights, if I take the first step, God, you’re gonna… No, God’s not going to take advantage of you. You’ll never be worse off for having done the right thing.

What this story wants to remind us, and we’ll see it again and again throughout Genesis, is that the promises of God are more reliable than our eyes, more sure than our senses, more dependable than our past or present experience. And to be a peacemaker is to be one who trusts that the God of peace will see, He will know, and He will take care of you. Even if the world says you’re not taking care of yourself.

Peacemaking through promise believing. That’s the lesson that God has for us.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word. We don’t know, but you know exactly how we need to hear this Word. What conflict there is in our life, and you know the temptation we have right now. We’ve listened to this sermon hoping that someone else would listen to it, but what do you have to teach us? What do you have to teach me? How might we take the first step to sow seeds of peace and trust that you will work all things out for our good. Lord, we thank You for Jesus, who has shown us the way, more than that, He is the way. And in Him we have our confidence and we find our peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.