ABRAHAM'S AND LOT'S TESTINGS.
--GEN. 13:1-18.--AUG. 4.--
"Whatsoever ye would that men should do to
you, do ye even so to them."--Matt. 7:12.
DEVELOPMENT of character implies a variety of experiences and tests. In choosing Abraham as his agent and channel through whom he would bring to the world his purposed blessings, God chose a good man, but not a perfect one--for there was not a perfect man to choose, as there has not been since, of all Adam's posterity. While God called Abraham, he made him only partial promises until he had manifested faith by obedience. And it was appropriate that various and severe tests of faith should come before the fulness of divine favor should be guaranteed him. One of these faith-tests came through a drouth in the land of Canaan, and, as a result, a food scarcity, a famine, in the region where Abraham had settled, flocks and herds.
It would naturally be a severe test of faith for him to see his cattle lean and dying, and to think of [R2848 : page 232] the fertile country which he had left, and that this drouth-stricken land was the one to which the Lord had called him. He must go somewhere to find water and sustenance, and concluded not to go back to Babylon, but to journey south-westward into the country bordering Egypt. Egypt was well advanced in civilization, and like Chaldea, his former home, was a heathen land--to the extent that the people had considerably lost sight of the one God and his worship, and had become worshipers of various deities. It was a dangerous experiment: Abram might have become enamored of the civilization, etc., of Egypt and have lost his respect for the Lord's promise in regard to Canaan; yet it did not have this effect, but apparently, on the contrary, became a blessing to him; for his experience there convinced him more and more that he could not have true happiness under the prevailing conditions: he would rather wander about and have no continuing city, and not be bound by any of the customs and rules of the world which recognized not God. His experience taught him to look for, to hope for, to wait for, the New Jerusalem city or government, which has not yet been established, but for which the Lord's people still pray: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth." [R2848 : page 233]
Abraham little realized how much he needed to pray, "abandon us not in temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." On arrival he, as a great man, was brought to the attention of the king, and Sarah, his wife, was introduced,--but as his sister, or niece, not as his wife. Abraham heard probably about this time of an incident which had occurred with one of the Pharaohs, of which we now know through recently discovered papyrus records--that at the instance of his princes he sent an armed force and took a beautiful woman from her husband for his harem. Sarah was a beautiful woman, and Abraham feared that Pharaoh might kill him in order to have his wife. This difficulty probably did not occur to him when he started his journey, nor until he had arrived there and was called before the king. Thus the Lord's people always find it: if they leave the land of promise, seeking better things in the world, they find their difficulties and trials greatly increased.
Abraham determined that as an expedient for the preservation of his life he would tell but a part of the truth and speak of Sarah as his sister, without acknowledging her as his wife. The transaction was an ignoble one every way, and quite unworthy of the man; but the Lord did not forsake him, but, as the record shows, returned Sarah to him with a rebuke from the heathen king which must have stung Abraham severely, and have served as a lesson for the remainder of his life. Thus all things work together for good to them that love God--even their mistakes and slips become lessons and blessings under divine providence. Having learned his lesson, Abraham quickly retraced his steps to the land of promise, returning again to Bethel where first he had built an altar to the Lord and formally consecrated himself: there again Abraham called upon the name of the Lord. The prompt retracing of his steps is also a lesson for the Lord's people of this Gospel age. If we find that through lack of faith or weakness of the flesh a wrong step has been taken, contrary to the Lord's will and our best spiritual interests, no time should be lost in retracing the steps and in calling upon the Lord. We have an altar consecrated with the precious blood of Christ, far superior every way to that which Abraham consecrated with the blood of typical animals; and the Apostle exhorts us, "Let us come boldly [courageously--full of faith] to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in every time of need."--Heb. 4:16.
One of the strongest evidences of the truth of the Bible records, and that they are not the work of priests or knaves, is the fact that the weaknesses and frailties of its grandest and most luminous characters are depicted with as free a hand as their virtues and strong qualities. Had the story of Abraham and the story of David, both men full of faith and after God's own heart, and acknowledged to be his friends, been concocted, they assuredly would have omitted all the blemishes of the present narratives. As it is, the weaknesses of these men, and divine compassion toward them notwithstanding these, and their faith and repentance and reestablishment in divine favor, have been lessons of incalculable value to the Lord's saints throughout the age, many of whom have at times found themselves more or less similarly entrapped, and to some extent stumbled by the great temptations of the world, the flesh and the Devil.
Abraham's flocks and herds increased, and the number of his servants. Likewise also did Lot's--tho he was by no means as wealthy a man as his uncle. Prosperity seems as likely to bring trouble as adversity, or more so; and it does not surprise us to find that a strife broke out between the herdsmen of the two masters, and that apparently the strife extended to Lot. The land at that time was not thickly settled, nor was it owned and controlled by syndicates; hence Abraham and Lot moved hither and thither through the grazing country, merely seeking to find unoccupied pasturage, and as the Canaanites (Lowlanders) and the Perizites (Highlanders) dwelt in Canaan, it necessarily meant that migratory bands, such as Abraham's, would find the pasturage at times somewhat restricted. Abraham's prompt course for the maintenance of peace is worthy of emulation. His words to Lot on the subject would make a good motto for the home or for the shop; "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee...for we are brethren." The Lord's people are not all peaceably disposed according to the flesh, but peaceableness is a prominent element in the new nature, the new mind, the new will, the new heart; hence peaceableness is to be cultivated and more attention is to be given to it in proportion as we find our natural disposition to be contentious. This is one of the ways the Lord's people are to be renewed in word and in deed; --"By the transformation of their minds."
Abraham was not only peaceable, but generous, as his proposition to Lot shows; for altho he was the richer of the two by far, and his larger herds and flocks required more abundant provision, he nevertheless gave Lot the choice. Here is another lesson for all of the Lord's people: generosity, not an unreasoning and unreasonable generosity which would give away everything, but an even-handed, fair generosity which is well represented in our Golden Text; viz., the golden rule that we should treat others as we would reasonably wish them to treat us: whoever follows this rule, will, like Abraham, find that in the end [R2848 : page 234] it will be profitable--even tho it may at first seem unprofitable.
It would appear that Lot was less generous than his uncle--more selfish; and taking advantage of the latter's liberal proposition he chose the rich, fertile valley of the Jordan--the land of Sodom, of which the record is that it was "like the garden of the Lord" (the Garden of Eden), and like the most favored portion of Egypt. Lot was a keen business man apparently, for his choice signified not only the richest of the grazing country, but additionally the best market for his flocks and herds; because the Jordan valley seems to have been a commercial highway frequented by traveling caravans, etc., the best of customers for sheep and cattle. Abraham and Lot together might have taken the Jordan valley at first, seeing its suitability to their occupation: no doubt the reason why Abraham avoided it is found in the fact of the wickedness of the people there, and that he did not wish to bring either himself or wife or servants into close contact with such people, preferring the less fertile district because of their separateness from such associations, with which he could not feel in harmony or fellowship.
Lot possessed much less faith and much less character than his uncle, but was also a good man, and his determination to make the country of the Jordan his home does not signify that he had fellowship with the Sodomites. On the contrary, the record is that their course "vexed his righteous soul." (2 Pet. 2:8.) He evidently was deluded, as many of the Lord's people of today are deluded, into association with evil influences for the sake of worldly prosperity. He no doubt persuaded himself that he could live separate from the contaminations of Sodom, and even exercise a moral influence over the unrighteous. How unwise, very unwise, his course really was may be seen in the light of his subsequent history. The wisdom of Abraham stands out in striking contrast, and the two experiences furnish valuable lessons for all who are seeking the heavenly city and praying, Thy Kingdom come. Abraham's course illustrates our Lord's words, "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and all these [needful] things shall be added unto you." Lot's course illustrates our Lord's words, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world!" Lot's quest for wealth, etc., no doubt brought rich returns, for he became a wealthy and influential man in Sodom, but his wealth and influence cost too much; first, they cost his peace of mind, for "his righteous soul was vexed;" he had no real happiness. Second, it cost him his children, sons and daughters, all but two unmarried ones, and even they apparently were blemished through their contact with evil example. And it cost him also his wife, whose sympathies for her children over-balanced her interest in the Lord and righteousness. It cost him additionally, in the end, all his flocks and herds and wealth, all of which went down in the fire from heaven upon the city of destruction. [R2849 : page 234]
There is a great lesson here for us all, especially for such lovers of righteousness as have the care, the guardianship of children: the lesson is that they should think less of earthly advantages, social, political and financial, and think more, much more, of the moral and spiritual influences and advantages obtainable through isolation from the evil which is in the world,--so far as possible "make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame [blemished through sin] be turned out of the way [of righteousness]."-- Heb. 12:13.
Abraham did not attempt to coerce his nephew; but, properly no doubt, after having advised him to the contrary, he let him take his course, contenting himself with giving the admonition and example to the contrary. Here is another good lesson for the Lord's people; very many who like to have their own liberty are disposed to use force and coercion in dealing with others, and the results are generally bad for both parties. Lack of faith lies at the bottom of such difficulties; self-will attempts to regulate our own affairs, and branching out attempts also to regulate the affairs of others: whereas a consecrated will, resting by faith upon the Lord's promise, permits the Lord to have the helm; to control not only in respect to the believer's personal interests, but also in respect to the interests and affairs of others. Abraham had manifested his faith in God, not only in respect to the future blessings promised, but also in respect to the incidental details of his every-day life. Hence he could afford not only to not interfere with Lot's liberty, but could be generous to the extent of giving Lot his choice, knowing that the Lord would take care of him, and fulfil to him all the gracious promises incidental to his call. And in proportion as we are children of Abraham by faith we should have and should continually exercise similar faith, that we may experience similar blessings under God's providence.
While Lot's choice led him farther from the right, Abraham's blessing was increased by his course; for again the Lord appeared to him, in a manner not explained, and gave him renewed assurance respecting the original promise, telling him to look in every direction and to know assuredly that, while this land at the present time was under various rulers, it should in time be given to him and his posterity everlastingly. Yet with this renewal of the promise must have come another testing of faith, because Abraham as yet had [R2849 : page 235] no child. How improbable, therefore, the fulfilment of the Lord's word, that his seed should ultimately be very numerous, hyperbolically "as the dust of the earth!" Yet Abraham's faith wavered not. Likewise the faith of the Lord's people today wavers not respecting his promise--for it has not yet had a fulfilment, as the Apostles Paul and Stephen both declare.
Abraham lived in the land many years and died there, yet was a pilgrim and stranger; a sojourner and not an owner to the day of his death. (Heb. 11:13.) Stephen's explanation of the matter is very explicit. (Acts 7:5.) He declares that God never gave him so much of the space as would be covered by his foot; and points out that the time for the fulfilment of this promise is future--during the resurrection, the Millennium of Christ's reign, after the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the glorified Church, the bride with the Bridegroom, shall have been established in the control of the world as God's Kingdom.--Dan. 7:13,14; 1 Cor. 15:24.
With each manifestation of obedience on the part of Abraham came fresh blessings from the Lord, fresh repetitions and expanded declarations respecting the divine purpose, strengthening and encouraging him. Nevertheless he understood that the realization of his hope lay in the future, and this was clearly indicated by the Lord's words, "Arise, journey through the land, in the length and in the breadth of it, for I will give it unto thee." In compliance with this instruction, that he was to be a pilgrim, moving from place to place, Abraham only removed to Mamre, and, doubtless in harmony with his custom at each new stopping place, he built there another altar unto the Lord--another typical acknowledgement of sin, of his own unworthiness, and of the fact that his standing before God, his acceptance with him, was in the merits of a great Sin Offering which had not yet been made. So with us who are the Lord's people, wherever we are; we are under divine care, and may rest, and may have the peace of God which passeth all understanding, ruling in our hearts: nevertheless, we are not to be at home, nor to seek to feel at home under present imperfect conditions. We are to continually remember that the Lord has promised us a heavenly inheritance, and we are to seek for and wait for it, assured that it will be ours if we remain faithful to the end of life's pilgrimage.