Up from Egypt
Now, after his little diversion in Egypt, Abram returns to Canaan and we are told:
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. 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. 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 quarrelling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarrelling 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.” 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: 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.
So in chapter 13 we again see Abram on the move, travelling with all his relatives, servants and possessions.
He travels through the land and we are told that the Canaanites AND the Perizzites were living in the land.
When a story in the Torah is important, it is often repeated in a slightly different way. The very first story in the Torah, the story of creation is told in at least two different ways – God creating the physical world and its boundaries by separating and populating in chapter one, and then re-telling a second time to explore the relationships between God and His people in chapter two.
But this is a bit different in its repetition.
The story has moved on, but it remains the same. And this seems to be the pattern for many of the stories throughout Tanach. They are the same story, but they have moved on from the previous ones. There is a different dimension added, one that gives more light perhaps on where the story is ultimately heading. So this story has developed further than the first story of Abram.
For a start, Abram is now “very heavy in livestock and silver and gold”.
The NIV translates “kaved” as wealthy, and the ESV translates it as “rich”, but both of these words miss the wordplay going on in the Hebrew.
He ain’t heavy – he’s glorious
Abram is “kaved meod”, he is “very heavy”. Now the next shade of intensity from “kaved meod” is “kavowdah”, or “glorious”.
There is a strong connection in Tanach between heaviness and glory. Heaviness in Hebrew does not always refer to the number of kilograms but more often than not to the amount of respect and seriousness of a person or thing. The writer seems to be trying hard to say “kavod” without actually saying it.
God has not only defeated Pharoah who tried to kill the Promise by enslaving Sarai, but Abram has risen from defeat covered in “kavod”, covered in glory.
Abram’s descent into Egypt led to defacto slavery and the apparent death of God’s promise, but his ascension from Egypt was glorious.
Let the reader draw their own inferences to the resurrection of Jesus.
So having come out of Egypt, Abram now returns to his mission in the land. But God has a further work of creating to do.
God now separates Abram from Lot, so that Abram can flourish in the land God has given to him. And this occurs through the practicalities of living in the land.
Not only are the Canaanites in the land, but also the Perizzites and Lot’s herdsmen as well. And we are told that a dispute arose between the herdsmen of Lot and those of Abram. In a situation where the surrounding people were probably none too friendly, the last thing Abram would want is a division in his own camp.
And so, in a gesture of both generosity towards Lot and faith in the promises of God, Abram offers Lot first choice of the available land. Lot will now look after himself and make his own way in the land.
But the blessing still belongs to Abram.
There is almost a sense that God’s promise to Abram is being played out in a very low-key manner here.
God has promised that those who bless Abram will be blessed, but those who treat Abram lightly will be cursed.
Now “lightly” in this sense is opposite to “heavy” as discussed before. Lightly means to treat without honour, without due respect. And Lot, or at least his servants, have gone very close to this; and in later chapters we will see what this means for Lot.
We are given a small hint at this point in the story which notes that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom”, adding that “the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord”.
One on one with God
But now we see Abram standing on his own before God. 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.” 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.
Abram has come through the trial and testing given by God and has maintained his faith in the promise throughout. So God comes to him and renews His promise to Abram.
Abram has asked Lot to lift up his eyes, view the land and pick where he wants to live.
But now God comes to Abram and tells him that everything he can see, north, south, east and west will be given to him and his descendants. So Lot’s occupation in the land will be short-lived compared to Abram’s. Abram has given up the choice part of the land but has been given back not only what he gave up, but all the land that he was able to see as well.
Then Abram responds to God’s promise by taking up residence at Hebron, and the first thing he does is to build an altar and worship the God who has given him so much.
So if we look back at Abram’s life so far, we see some other patterns emerging. Abram gives up everything he has or is given, but then God gives all of that and incredibly much more into the bargain.
Abram left Ur and Haran where he seemed to have been living quite well, to go to a land that God hadn’t yet shown him. And God gives the whole land to him and his descendants forever.
Famine comes to Canaan, so Abram gives up his claim on Canaan and travels to Egypt for survival.
But there in Egypt he gives up Sarai as well, so he has given up the land, his wife and all hope of descendants. He has given up all the means he had of inheriting the blessing God had promised.
But God intervened, gave him back his wife, sent him back to the land and loaded him up with cattle and silver and gold as well. And God renewed his promise to Abram into the bargain.
Again with Lot, Abram gives up his family connections, the best part of the land of Canaan, but inherits the renewed promises of God to him and his children.
Almost everything Abram ever received, he gave up one way or another, but only to get it back with so much more.
So once again we are reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians where Jesus did not count equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied himself and gave his life on the cross, only to be raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father.
The stories are the same, but they move on, and become richer and deeper and more complete.