Genesis 13:1-4 “Return To Your First Love”
Redeemer Church Sunday School
Genesis Class Sunday June 14, 2009
Genesis 13:1-4 “Return To Your First Love”
Read: Genesis 13:1-18
Introduction/Review: I have been our sick the last couple of weeks and I want to thank Wayne Spray and Ish Mudliar for filling in for me. The last week that we were together we finished up chapter 12 of Genesis with the story of Abram defrauding his wife and Pharaoh in Egypt by passing Sarai off as his sister. The main theological point was that this endangered the promise of God to Abram because it put the purity of his wife at risk. I know that there are different ways of interpreting that passage and Dr. Mudliar gave us an excellent example of that last week. But the Lord was gracious to Abram and Sarai and intervened by placing a plague on the Egyptians. Sarai is returned to Abram, Pharaoh gives him a stern rebuke and Abram is basically escorted out of Egypt. The whole situation was set up by what may have been a lack of faith by Abram when the Promised Land experienced a famine. We did not see Abram consulting with the Lord at all; he built no altars nor called on the name of the Lord during this story. At no time did Moses tell us that Abram received any word of God to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. Throughout the Bible, Egypt is mostly a sign of slavery and sin. In only two major occasions in Scripture is Egypt portrayed positively: when God sends Joseph there and his father Jacob later, and in Matthew when God tells Joseph to take the baby Jesus and Mary there for safety. I believe that the ethical teaching of the passage is that we should not lie or use deception to protect ourselves and place others in a dangerous position selfishly just because we are fearful. I believe the whole situation is an example of what can happen when we fail to trust in the Lord and resort to our own devices. Notice that everything that Abram brought out of Egypt ended up being a problem.
Today, we will look at Gen.13 and see that Abram has learned from his recent failure and returns to the Lord with faith
- I. Literary Analysis
- A. Gen.13 in its larger context (See Waltke pp.218-219)
- 1. Section 1 Gen.13:1-18
- a. 13:1-4 Setting- Abram is rich and worships the Lord
- b. 13:5-7 Lot’s problem- strife between the herdsmen
- c. 13:8-13 Abram to the rescue, Sodom is very wicked
- d. 13:14-18 The Lord blesses Abram
- 2. Section 2 Gen. 14:1-24
- a. 14:1-11 Setting- War between Sodom and Shinar
- b. 14:12- Lot’s problem- he is taken captive
- c. 14:13-16 Abram to the rescue
- d. 14:17-24 Melchizedek blesses Abram, Sodom very wicked
- 3. Section 3 Gen. 18:1-19:38
- a. 18:1-15 Isaac’s birth announced, contrasted with Lot’s grandchildren, Moab and Ammon.
- b. 18:16-21 Lot’s problem- the Lord is going to destroy Sodom
- c. 18:22-19:29 Abraham/the Lord rescues Lot, Sodom is very wicked.
- d. 19:30-38 No blessing for Lot (although Ruth, a Moabitis, enters into the ancestry of Jesus).
- A. Gen.13 in its larger context (See Waltke pp.218-219)
- B. Gen.13 in its larger context, part 2, in Chiastic form (Wenham, p.262)
- 1. Sarah endangered 12:10-13:1
2. Lot episode 13:2-14:24
3. Covenant w/Abram 15:1-21
4. Birth of Ishmael 16:1-16
3.1 Covenant w/Abraham 17:1-27
2.1 Lot episode 18:1-19:38
1.1 Sarah endangered 20:1-18
- C. Gen.13 outline
- 1. Gen. 13:1-4 Setting- Abram is rich and worships the Lord.
- 2. Gen. 13:5-7 Lot’s problem- strife between the herdsmen.
- 3. Gen. 13:8-13 Abram to the rescue, Sodom is very wicked.
- 4. Gen. 13:14-18 The Lord blesses Abram.
- D. Gen. 13 Plot and motifs
- 1. The broad theological theme is still about God’s promise of Land and Descendants to Abram, but here the focus is on the land. The threat to the promise in 12:10-20 was the threat to Sarai’s purity, but now the threat is Lot who chooses the best part of the land. The Land in 12:10 was threatened by a famine, but now it is threatened by the abundance of wealth between Lot and Abram so that the land could not sustain both herds.
- 2. Another theme is that of faith. The faith of Lot and Abram is contrasted here by Lot choosing first and choosing the best for himself as he walks by sight. Abram now relies on God in faith instead of his own scheming as he did in Egypt.
- 3. A third theme is worship. This story begins and ends with Abram worshiping the Lord, but we do not see Lot worship.
- 4. Notice the contrasts with the time in Egypt: 12:15 at Pharaoh’s house vs. 13:3 in Abram’s tent in the land of blessing; fear and cowardice in Egypt vs. faith and trust in Canaan; the silence of God in Egypt but God speaking to him again in Canaan; no worship or altars in Egypt but does worship and builds altars in Canaan. Scheming and lying in Egypt, being generous and trusting in Canaan.
- 5. Notice the foreshadowing– Sodom is described as very wicked, which points forward to the events in chapter 19.
- II. Exposition
- A. 13:1-4 On Returning To Christ When You Have Lost Your Way (Rev.2:2-5)
- 1. 13:1- There is no doubt that the entire experience in Egypt left a bad taste in Abram’s mouth and likely strained Sarai’s relationship with him. He left enriched yet humiliated. His failure of leadership, his dishonesty and cowardice may have caused him to doubt God. The total lack of any mention of worship, any word from the Lord lends itself to the thought that Abram was seriously backslid at this point. Perhaps his fears of famine and Pharaoh fed his faithlessness.
- A. 13:1-4 On Returning To Christ When You Have Lost Your Way (Rev.2:2-5)
Yet the strong rebuke from the world in Pharaoh seems to have caused in Abram a desire to return to the last place where he knew he was in God’s will- the Negeb. Q: Have you ever been rebuked by the world, by a lost person, for a failure of your faith? Have you ever been caught in a sin by a worldly person and then been shamed by them?
So Abram went up- one “goes down to Egypt” and “up from Egypt”. This is true enough geographically, but there is a subtle spiritual message as well. One always ascends to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the dwelling place of God. We still use that kind of language today in that Heaven is “up” and hell is “down”. The Lord comes down to us, and He lifts us up. Even when Christ was on the cross, he was lifted up so that all men could come to him. When we are depressed we are “down”; when we are experiencing the joys of the Lord we are “on a mountaintop.”
…and Lot with him… There was no mention of Lot in the previous story because the principle threat to the promise of God was to Sarai. But now Lot becomes a key character as he takes on the role of Threat to the Promise of God. Notice how those closest to us are often a source of pain and even temptation as well as blessing, comfort and love.
- 2. 13:2- Now Abram was very rich- when he left Haran in 12:3 he had “possessions” and “people that they had acquired”, so he was wealthy then. But now he is “very rich”. Some of his wealth was no doubt from business dealings with the Egyptians. Lot is also the owner of flocks and herds, tents and great possessions. Also there was some kind of a bridal price given to Abram for Sarai, so some of Abram’s wealth was ill gotten. The Lord had promised to bless Abram and the wealth is a part of that blessing, but, we should never equate great wealth with being in a right relationship with God. Wealth can certainly be a part of God’s common grace. Jesus teaches us in Matt.6:19-24 we aren’t to lay up for ourselves treasures in this life and we cannot serve God and money. And Paul teaches us in 1Tim.6:9-10 that those with a desire to be rich fall into temptation and a love for money is the root of all kinds of evil. But clearly some of our OT heroes had great wealth and some who supported the early church were also wealthy, even the one who supplied Jesus and his disciples with the upper room for the last supper. Lydia was a dealer in purple, the dye that was used almost exclusively for royalty.
In this departure from Egypt with many riches, Moses is also drawing a parallel between Abram and the people of Israel with him in the desert. Had not they also been rescued, delivered, redeemed from Egypt? Had not Pharaoh also sent them out with great riches? Ex.12:33-36. So if I am correct and Abram’s whole trip to Egypt represents a failure of faith, yet God delivers him while protecting Sarai and enriching he and Lot, then Moses is using the story to encourage the faith of Israel in his generation, what does that tell us?
That you can sin and get rich and still enjoy the blessings of God? That might be the wrong idea! What it reveals is more about the grace and goodness of God. Even the greatest of the patriarchs, Abram, was not perfect, yet God provided for him abundantly and used even his failure to foreshadow the good that God would one day do to Israel. This gives me hope, that though I am full of sinful failures, God might still somehow use me for his glory and his plan. It humbles me because I see myself in Abram’s fear and selfishness. But it encourages me as I see God’s wondrous mercy and grace.
The Health&Wealth gospel preachers are exegeting the American experience more than they are the Scriptures. To preach a name it and claim it gospel of self help, and to base it somewhat on Abram, is an abomination and heresy that is leading people to hell. I wonder how that health and wealth gospel goes over in the poorest of countries or places where you are persecuted and imprisoned for the faith?
There is a contrast being set up with Lot. Lot will choose the best of the land for his great flocks and herds, but Lot will eventually lose everything and end up in a cave, impoverished.
Perhaps Moses is also showing that, though Abram grew very wealthy, he did not let that wealth hinder his faith, for now he is returning to Canaan, returning to his altar at Bethel, and worshiping the LORD. Calvin writes (p.367): “We know how greatly even a moderate share of wealth, hinders many from raising their heads towards heaven; while they who really possess abundance, not only lie torpid in indolence, but are entirely buried in the earth. Wherefore, Moses places the virtue of Abram in contrast with the common vice of others; when he relates that he was not to be prevented by any impediments, from seeking again the land of Canaan.”
We must avoid both extremes of thinking that poverty is a virtue in itself that pleases God or that wealth is a sure sign of being a believer. Poverty and wealth both have their unique temptations. Poor Lazarus was received into the bosom of rich Abraham.
- 3. 13:3-4 And he journeyed on…as far as Bethel…where his tent had been at the beginning…where he had made an altar at first… Abram returns to the beginning, or the last place he had built an altar. The fact that the altar remains where he first set it up indicates that God and his promises have never forsaken Abram; God remains faithful even if we are not.
I have been lost in the woods, or desert, mall, etc. a time or two, and one of the principles of land navigation that is vitally important is that when you first get the sense that you are going in the wrong direction, that you might be lost, STOP! If you can go back to where you last knew where you were, do so. This is also true spiritually. When we figure out that we are in sin, that we have strayed from God’s will, we need to stop, and return to Christ.
This can be as simple as going back to reading the Bible and praying regularly, going back to church and fellowshipping with the Body of Christ, or going back from heresy to sound doctrine, quitting a sinful habit and going back to purity and obedience, etc. Abram went back to Bethel and his last altar.
If we stop and think for just a little while, I believe we could all think of a few times in our life when we did what Abram did. We lost our faith somewhat; we got impatient with God and struck out in our own way, going down a path of our own choosing. Look back at your life and you will see those sinful detours that brought us far from Bethel and into Egypt.
Obviously some sinful detours are worse than others in that the sin has greater negative impact on more people or a greater impact upon our life. But all the sinful detours take us further from where God wants to lead us. If we take a sinful detour early in life that is quite severe, we can mess up our future quite a bit. Let me illustrate it this way: if you are athletic as a teenager but then take up smoking and drinking booze, you get out of school and stop training as an athlete, you don’t eat right and you gain weight, by the time you are in your late twenties guess what? You can no longer do what you used to do physically. If you continue in a bad lifestyle into your thirties and forties, some health problems start to arise. By the time you are in your 50’s you suddenly realize that life is passing you by and you try to get back in shape but guess what? You have lost so much that you cannot get back in shape. The decisions of the years have taken their toll on your body to the extent that you have lost many abilities. Sin will do that to you, the longer you stay in sin, the greater your loss of spiritual capabilities. This is especially true for the believer, for the church member.
Years and years of undisciplined spiritual life, years of spiritual lukewarmness and apathy, years of allowing small sins to rule your life such as a critical spirit, rebellion, resistance to the leadership of the spirit, lack of exercising your spiritual gifts, and all of a sudden you wake up one day and see the sorry state of your spiritual life and you try to fix things up a little bit, but you discover that you no longer have a desire for the richer things of God, you no longer have the spiritual abilities you once had. Step by step, like Abram, you have wandered out of the Promised Land into Egypt. Entire churches have made this shameful journey, or at least a sizeable chunk of a congregation has made that journey.
What do you do if you wake up and find yourself in spiritual Egypt? How do you get back to where God wants you? How can we return to our first love- Christ?
Vs. 4 Abram called upon the name of the LORD. I have previously discussed this phrase so I will just summarize it here. It is more than just praying, it is worship, intercession, proclamation, sacrifice and instruction. Abram is here serving as priest over his family, hired men, servants and slaves. He is seeking the God who called him out of Ur, out of Haran, and brought him to this land, promising him the land and descendants. Abram returns to the God he loves.
There is some similarity with Abram coming out of Egypt and worshipping the LORD and the Israelites of Moses’ day coming out of Egypt to worship Him Ex.3:12.
Returning to God is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. Deut. 30:1-10; 2Chron. 7:14; 30:6-9; Neh.1:8-9; Hosea 6:1-3; Joel 2:12-14; Rev. 2:1-7.
How do we return to our first love?
1. Understand who our first love is. If the love of our life is not Christ, is not our Creator and Redeemer, the Triune God of Holy Scripture, then we love the wrong thing and we are guilty of idolatry. Heb.12:2 “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” Mark 12:30 Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
2. Accept the rebuke that makes us aware of our sin. God rebuked Abram through Pharaoh. 2Tim.3:16 “All scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” I think that in most churches the idea of a biblical rebuke is long sense gone. With a loss of church discipline, sound doctrine, biblical church polity and leadership, most Christians lead lives that are rebuke free. If we are going to be the body of Christ we need to be open to being rebuked when we stray and we need to have the courage to rebuke, in love, those in our close fellowship who are straying. Are we humble enough to be rebuked biblically? If we are in Egypt we need to accept rebuke because that will send us back to Beth-el, back to where we last worshipped God.
3. Accepting Correction– the rebuke lets us know we have done wrong, the correction shows us how to get back on the right track. Correction is the process of God giving us a plan for how to get back into his will. Most people do not like being corrected any more than they like getting rebuked. It requires humility and a teachable heart and a willingness to change. This all assaults our pride. There are some folks who need to listen to correction but absolutely will not. That is true in most churches. To the extent that uncorrectable people populate a church, to that extent the church suffers, slows down, does not prosper or grow. A church that accepts biblical rebuke and correction from God’s word is a teachable and flexible church that will change and grow and become healthy. By the way, this is one reason we have Care Groups in Redeemer Church; so that we can biblically rebuke and correct one another in the context of loving relationships.
4. Returning to Christ– Repentance is the key! Accept the rebuke, confess the sin, accept the correction, come to Him in faith and he will accept you again. Luke 15:11The Prodigal Son. We return to the person of Christ, not a mere program or just to church. We return to our first love- Christ. We return not just to get more blessings, but we return to know him, to serve him, to imitate him and give him praise and glory. We return to Christ to Make Him Known! It is not about us and our pitiful, whining, feel sorry for ourselves, pity party. We return to him because he bids us come to him, and die to self. In Egypt Abram’s focus was on self and it caused trouble, now, back at Bethel his focus is once again on God as he returns to his altar and returns to worshiping God.
In conclusion let me quote verse 3 of the great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let they grace, Lord, like a fetter, Bind my wandring heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above
Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Vol.2 Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan, 1985 (383pp.)
Calvin, John. The Geneva Series of Commentaries. Genesis. Translated and edited by John King, 1847. Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, Scotland 1965 (originally published in Latin, 1554. 2 volumes in one, vol.1 584pp. and vol. 2 523pp.)
Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, vol.1B Genesis 11:27-50:26. 2005 (960pp.)
Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (744pp.)
Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1991 (656pp.)
Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary series, Vol.1, Genesis 1-15. Word Books: Waco, TX. 1987 (353pp.)