A Whole Lot of Trouble
Genesis 13:1 - 14:24
Hebrews 7:1 – 22
A warning for others?
Some of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the genre of art known the “motivational poster” An inspiring picture, emblazoned with words like “courage”, “ambition”, “achievement”, “destiny”, and then underneath some pithy phrase that’s supposed to motivate you to become the embodiment of that word.
But there are also de-motivational posters, I think intended to poke some fun at the idea that a cute picture and an uplifting sentence can make any meaningful difference to workplace productivity.
But one I saw once featured the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona in Spain. It’s been going on since the 14th Century. I’m sure you know it, people dress in traditional costume, and run in front of a herd of angry bulls, waving that day’s newspaper to get the bull’s attention. I’m not really sure how the newspaper works in that regard, whether they say to the bulls, “hey, look, did you see what they wrote about you? They said you’re fat and lazy and deserved to be turned into a steak!”
But somehow the newspaper makes the bull mad, and the people run along trying not to get gored or crushed to death.
And this poster I saw, said in big bold letters, “Tradition.” And underneath, it says “Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid!”
Another de-motivational poster I saw read, “Committees”, then the fine print, just like team work, without the team, and without the work.
But one that has always stuck in my mind, is the picture of a wrecked ship, just sticking up out of the water a bit, saying “Mistakes”, “perhaps the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.”
It’s not what most of us would probably like to be remembered for, but sometimes in the Scriptures, we find accounts of behaviour, presented primarily as a warning to us, that are intended to make us ask ourselves,
What am I being warned against,
What am I being told to look for in my life and guard against,
And if there’s behaviour that I’m being warned against, what’s the flipside?
What is the behaviour or attitude, or approach to God that would be commended in this situation?
And Genesis 13 & 14 give us exactly that, two great contrasts, different ways of seeing God and his work in the world, held up for us to on one hand, hear the warning, and then on the other, see a model for us to follow.
The first contrast is between Abram and Lot, and the second is between the king of Sodom, and the king of Salem.
Contrast 1 – Lot & Abram
After a fairly dismal start as God’s special messenger of blessing, Abram returned to Palestine, But the material blessing that God has poured out on him, and on Lot, as a member of Abram’s family, is starting to cause problems.
It’s a bit like people you see on TV whose families break down and they turn on each other when one of them wins millions and millions of dollars in the lottery.
Here, the sudden wealth isn’t bad, it’s God’s blessing after all, but it creates opportunity for sin and disharmony. Verse 2, Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. And then down in verse 5 the same applies to Lot, and the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great, 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot.
The author links this episode, with the situation in Egypt in chapter 12, so that we read this story, with Egypt in the back of our minds. The famine in Egypt is described as “severe”, literally it’s “heavy”, and then in verse 2, Abram is described as “heavy” in livestock and in silver and gold.
It’s a funny way to talk about someone’s wealth, isn’t it?, but the language is such that we interpret this, in the light of the Egypt story.
See unlike in Egypt, where Abram hadn’t trusted God, and took things into his own hands, so things would turn out OK for him,
this time we see his trust in God allows him to be extraordinarily generous.
He’s not trying to manipulate things to his own advantage, but his actions say, “I believe God’s promise.
God has promised to bless me,
God has promised that my descendents will possess this land, I don’t need to get into a petty fight about who gets what.
So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. 9 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.”
Now I don’t have any nephews, or nieces, I think the closest thing I’ve got are cousins. And I like my cousins, but they’re probably never going to listen to the recording of this talk, so I can say, if God ever promised me a whole country and great material blessing, I don’t think I’d be quite this generous!
I’m pretty sure I’d say, “Well God made these promises to me, there’s a bit of a stinky swamp over there, which I have no immediate plans for, why don’t you set up over there, at least until I need that bit of land for my private roller coaster or something.”
And before you judge me, and go and tell my cousins what I said about them, I think you’d be the same!
But Abram, he believed God’s Word. To your offspring I will give this land, chapter 12 verse 7. He knew that even if Lot chose to set up camp right in the middle of Canaan, that wouldn’t thwart God’s plans and purposes, and Abram’s descendents would still inherit the land.
Living by faith frees us up for generosity
William Carey, the pioneer missionary to India, wouldn’t tell people the financial needs of the work he was doing, so that when the money came in, it would be clear that God had supernaturally provided.
Now, I don’t think that’s the only right way to raise money to support gospel ministry, but it was Carey’s way of demonstrating his trust that God would provide.
And living by faith in God’s promises allows people to be generous, doesn’t it?
If you truly trust that God will provide, then you hold loosely to the things of this world.
If you’re convinced that God has your best interests at heart, then you don’t need to be always looking out for your interests!
In the 19th Century there was a British preacher named Alexander Maclaren, whose father, incidentally performed the first recorded baptism in the river Torrens! Probably should also have been the last baptism in the Torrens!
But Alexander Maclaren, once wrote,
The less of our energies are consumed in asserting ourselves, and scrambling for our rights,, . and cutting in before other people, so as to get the best places for ourselves,, . the more we shall have to spare for better things;, and the more we live in the future, and leave God to order our ways, the more shall our souls be wrapped in perfect peace.
Does your trust in God allow you to be generous?
To put others first,
Because Abram was living by faith in God’s promises, he could be overwhelmingly generous to Lot.
Lot, on the other hand, wasn’t living by faith in God’s promises, but by sight, what looked good to him.
Lot lives by sight, but is distracted by what he sees.
Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, etc etc, So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. , Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.
I’ve been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with our daughter, and so as I’ve been reading Genesis, with Narnia in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think of Lot, as a grown up version of Edmund, whiny, greedy, selfish, so caught up in seeking his own comfort that he can’t see the stupidity of his decisions.
The land that Lot chooses is the border area and past the border, of the land of Canaan that God had promised to Abram.
He could have had his choice of any part of the land within the promise, but he sees something that looks better, and so steps outside, moves towards Sodom, the city that is the focus of these dire warnings and predictions here.
It seems that Lot didn’t learn anything from Abram’s experience in Egypt.
Ignoring the promises of God, ends badly. He’s just seen that.
The progression towards sin
But still, did you notice the progression? You can almost hear the ominous music of the violins and cellos in the background,
Lot saw, verse 10
Lot chose, verse 11
Lot, pitched his tents near Sodom, verse 12.
Next chapter we discover Lot’s living in Sodom,
And then by the time chapter 19 opens, Lot is one of the elders of the city of Sodom, sitting by the city gate, and ultimately he offers his two unmarried daughters to a crazed mob to do with whatever they wanted.
I remember as a kid, hearing a preacher say that Lot moved near Sodom,
Then Lot moved into Sodom,
And then Sodom moved into Lot
And yet, the New Testament calls Lot “righteous”, and says that the sheer wickedness of the city distressed him, literally “wore him down.”
See Lot’s not some perverted maniac, he’s just a regular guy, who was drawn closer and closer to a world of sin and depravity, because the things he had set his eyes on, distracted him from what he should have been watching out for.
How does Lot serve as a warning to others?
Well he can’t, if we think he’s so much worse than we are!
But what if we put it like this? Lot was a man who knew God and heard his Word, and yet set about getting what looked good and pleasing, regardless of the cost and the situation it placed him in.
That could be any of us, couldn’t it?
Hearing God’s Word, and yet throwing our lives into getting what looks good to us, regardless of the cost and the situation that places us in?
It’s not just money and possessions, it’s definitely true of them, but, what looks good to you?
What catches your eye as you look at the world, and you think “I want that?”
If you’re not a Christian, what is it that you have chosen for yourself?,
What is it that you’ve said, this is what my life is going to be about?
Where does that put you?
Is that going to lead you away from God and his promises?
Will what you see so distract you, that you can’t see dangers right near it?
There are some relationships, just as one example, that will put you next to danger.
The danger of sexual sin,
The danger or neglecting your faith, or walking away from it all together,
But boy, what I’m looking at looks good, and I’m so distracted by what I see, that I can’t see the danger I should be looking out for.
Lot pitched his tents,
Lot moved in, to Sodom.
We’ve got some friends who didn’t want their toddlers in the kitchen, and so they put tape on the floor, across the kitchen door, and they said to the kids, “you cannot cross that line.”
What does the kid do?
Crawls right up to the line, toes so close to the tape you’d need a microscope to see the gap!
The danger of living by sight is that we can be so captivated by what we see, that we don’t see how close we’ve come, to things we should be staying well and truly away from.
Contrast 2 – The King of Sodom & the King of Salem
The second contrast we’re presented with, is between the King of Sodom and the King of Salem.
Jump down to chapter 14 verse 14, When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household, and so on and so on, verse 16, He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
Side note 1 - God is with Abram
First of all, before we even get to the contrast, the author of Genesis is showing us that clearly God is with Abram.
This alliance of kings from the East, the Axis of Evil, we could call them, they’ve basically swept the world, but Abram, and his 318 men, defeat them, and rescue the people and the goods who were carried off.
Imagine the comfort this would have been for the original readers of Genesis, the ancient nation of Israel.
So you’re faced with a powerful enemy.
A huge army wants to destroy you.
Doesn’t this say, “who could you possibly face, that God isn’t able to defeat?”
If God can defeat the axis of evil with 318 men, he can defeat your enemies with one hand tied behind his back.
The New Testament talks about sin and death as enemies.
Sure they’re not a military alliance, but God’s got a record of always defeating his people’s enemies, no matter what shape they come in. And nowhere is that more clear than at the cross of Christ, when Jesus triumphs over these enemies, which, humanly speaking we’re powerless against.
Ever really felt that Satan is a powerful enemy. Well he is, in a sense.
Ever thought that death opposes everything that’s great about life? Well it does!
But they’re enemies that are defeated, and God triumphing over the enemies of his people in Genesis 14 is just really setting the scene, for the great victory of God on behalf of his people that unfolds later in the story.
Side note 2 – God’s promises are being fulfilled
Here we also see how the promises God made to Abram in Genesis 12 are being fulfilled, particularly the promise that the way people respond to Abram, the way people treat him, will in some way shape the way that God responds to them, remember God had said, I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
In chapter 13, Lot enjoys great blessing, because of his connection to Abram.
Similarly because of Lot’s connection to Abram, attacking Lot is tantamount to attacking Abram, and so the king of Elam finds himself facing God’s judgment, cursed by God, and ultimately he’s destroyed.
It’s even more evident in the contrast between the two kings.
The English novelist E M Forster, developed a classification of characters in literature. There are flat characters, and round characters.
A flat character is not very complex, we don’t know much about them, they might be described in one sentence, but that’s everything we need to know for them to serve their purpose in the story.
A round character is much more complex, they serve different purposes in the story. When I was learning about all of this at theological college, I had all these images of fat and skinny people walking through the Bible!
But someone like Goliath for example, He’s a flat character.
We’re not told much about him, but we’re told all we need to know:, he was one of the enemies of God’s people.
He was a terrifying opponent,
God defeated him.
That’s his whole place in the story.
The king of Sodom, is a flat character.
So what’sis the main thing he teaches us?
The King of Sodom dishonours the one God blesses
Well, remember that promise, I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
Look with me from verse 21, The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”
Now, he’s not cursing Abram, but in fact, curse is probably too strong a translation back there in Genesis 12. We probably ought to say something like him who dishonors you or
those who treat you with contempt, as a couple of the newer English translations say.
And that’s very much the king of Sodom.
No, “Hey Abram, thanks for saving me, and my people, and our entire nation, and our food and our goods!”
By law and custom, Abram could have kept everyone and everything he rescued.
This is a rude attempt to try and squeeze Abram.
The king has no right to any of this,
Just, give me what I want,
And he’ll dishonour God’s chosen man for his own ends, because Abram stands between him, and what he wants.
Try and get his hands on as much as he can, and who cares who gets caught up in that.
The King of Salem blesses the one God blesses
Melchizedek though, and his treatment of Abram, is a complete contrast.
Melchizedek is a strange figure. As we heard in Hebrews 7, he’s held up as a kind of forerunner of Jesus Christ, but here in Genesis, we’re really just told enough about him, to show the contrast with the king of Sodom.
The name Melchizedek means King of Righteousness, And he’s presented as an example of righteousness,
This is the life of someone who is right with God, who sees the world as God sees it, who sees God’s hand in the world.
So where the king of Sodom saw Abram’s victory just as something around which a business transaction could be negotiated, Melchizedek, saw God’s hand at work.
See verse 19,
he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Do you hear the reminders of God’s promises?
Well, here we some partial fulfillment! Melchizedek, from one of the other families of the earth, blesses Abram. And we can expect, that since God said, I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you , or despises you, I will curse, we can expect that Melchizedek will be blessed by God, but the king of Sodom will find himself outside the realm of God’s blessing, and all he’s got look forward to is a curse.
Which, if you know anything of the story, you’ll know that’s exactly what happens as Sodom faces God’s righteous anger at sin.
But we see in verse 20, Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.
Now, sometimes you go to Ikea, and you load up your trolley, and then you get to your car and you realise, “How am I going to fit all this in?” Is that Abram’s problem? I’ve just got so much stuff now, I need to give some of it away?
I don’t think so!
Abram recognises that Melchizedek is a priest of God Most High, verse 18, and so gives him a tenth of all he has, because he wants to give to God a representative tenth of all that he has.
And that’s it for Melchizedek in Genesis.
We learn nothing else about him, he just sits here in Genesis 14, in stark contrast to the king of Sodom, as a reminder that God had promised that anyone who acknowledged his gracious hand at work in Abram’s life, would find themselves on the receiving end of God’s kindness.
The importance of a right view of God and his work
But did you notice as we read it, that Melchizedek understands the blessing that will come to Abram, as coming from God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
These words draw attention to the fact that Melchizedek is praying ffor blessing to come from none other, than the God made everything.
The God who stands eternally before all, is actively involved in his creation,
Walking with Abram,
Fulfilling his promises to Abram.
You might have heard of what’s sometimes called the “Clockwork Universe Theory.” It’s an understanding of God, held by people who call themselves deists.
“Sure,” they say, God created the universe, in the same way that a clockmaker might make a clock, wind it up, and then set it to run.”
God creates, then it’s hands off, and he just lets the world run, without any interference or input.
And maybe that’s your view of God,
Perhaps you’re not a Christian, but you think there was probably a God who created everything, but you can’t imagine he, she or it, actually getting involved in the world, or being concerned for the lives of the people in the world.
Or maybe, you are a Christian, but the view of God you operate with, is like the deist’s view of God.
And if that’s what God is like, distant, not involved, then he probably doesn’t care too much about my personal life:,
The way I treat those around me,
The way I conduct my business,
My sexual ethics,
Why would a God, who stands back with his arms folded, care about the way I treat my girlfriend, or how I spend my money?
See, our view of what God is like shapes all these areas of our life.
But I think one part of our life where this particular view of God, shows its head the most among Christian people, is in the way we pray, or perhaps the way we don’t pray.
So maybe you’re a Christian, but maybe you find it hard to pray, because you just can’t believe that God would be interested in what you have to say?
Or, sure, he might be interested, but can he really do anything? Maker of heaven and earth!
Or, “OK, we’ll I’ll pray about the big stuff, salvation, healing, world peace, but some of what troubles me, or consumes my time, is just, well, it’s too mundane for God, surely.
The way I parent my kids,
Or the temptations I face in the workplace, they’re not big picture enough for God, surely.
But in Genesis 14, there’s no sense at all of a God who creates, but them stands back dis-interested or un-involved, is there?
Rather there’s a picture of God who creates,
Who guides, and protects,
And through it all, is working towards the ultimate blessing and re-creation.
But there’s even a clearer example of this than Genesis 14, isn’t there.
The life and ministry, and especially the death of Jesus, shows just how interested and involved God is, in the world that he’s made.
God just winding up the clock and letting it go?
Not on your life!
God come in the flesh, living, suffering, crucified, says God’s involved.
Having “skin in the game”, is the term the sports commentators use, someone’s personally and painfully involved.
Well friends, God’s got skin in the game.
Skin, flesh, blood, you name it.
When I was in school I was involved in a Salvation Army soup run in the city after dark, and I remember one man who we regularly visited, he said he liked the Salvation Army, because it was the church with its sleeves rolled up.
Well the cross of Christ shows us God, with his sleeves rolled up,
God, getting dirty, showing just how interested he is in the world that he made, that he would come in skin, in flesh, to die, to reconcile people to himself,
So that people who have spent their entire lives living as God’s enemies, or even just politely ignoring God, well the penalty for that kind of life can be paid by God himself.
You bet God’s got skin in the game.
You bet the creator of heaven and earth acts for the good of his people.
Genesis 13 and 14, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!