The Glory Of Leaving Matters In God’s Hands

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. 2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 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, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. 5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 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.

8 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. 9 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.” 10 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.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.

14 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, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 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. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 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.

INTRODUCTION

Last week’s sermon—you may recall—was called, “The Folly of Taking Matters into our Own Hands.” This week’s sermon is called, “The Glory of Leaving Matters in God’s Hands.” Abram, just like you and me, spent his life coming in and out of both—living faithlessly and faithfully. Last week (12:10-20) we saw that he tried to go his own way. This week, once again, he acts in a way that demonstrates remarkable faith in God. There’s a lot that we can learn and grow from as we consider Abram’s struggles and successes. It’s my prayer, and I hope it is yours too, that God would help us get everything we can out of this text for His glory.

Before we get to the text itself, and before I pray, in order to help with both, I want you to consider two things. First, when I say that it is wrong to take matters into our own hands I don’t mean that we can actually take matters into our own hands—that we have some kind of ability to override God. And second, when I say that it is right to leave matters in God’s hands I don’t mean that we actually have a say in what God holds in His hands and what He doesn’t—that we could actually snatch something from His grip. What I mean is this: Without exception God is sovereignly reigning; all things are always fully in His hands. He is entirely and perfectly in control of every atom in every corner of the universe He created. That never changes. What changes, and what we see clearly in Abram throughout his life, is merely our recognition of and response to that reality. Things don’t come in and out of God’s hands (by our will or even the will of Satan himself), we just, at times, foolishly and dangerously act as if they do. And that is one of the most important things the story of Abram teaches us.

With that, let’s pray and then dive into our passage for this morning, and the next scene in God’s story of redemption.

SITUATION UPDATE (1-7)

This text (and, therefore, this sermon) is divided into three parts. The first part gives us a situation update (1-7). The second part tells of the cause of and resolution to a new conflict (8-13). And the third part recalls God’s promise to and approval of Abram as its beneficiary (14-18).

Back to the Beginning

With that, let’s consider the first part—the latest installment in the life and calling of God’s chosen representative. The last scene closed with Abram’s sister/wife scheme being found out by Pharaoh and Pharaoh consequently returning Sarai to Abram and driving them both out of Egypt.

We’re left wondering whether or not Abram felt bad about anything he’d done? What Sarai thought of all his shenanigans? What the status was of Abram and Sarai’s marriage after her time in Pharaoh’s house? What would happen to this family outside of Egypt in light of the famine? Was there still a famine? Again, the point of the first seven verses is to tell us what we need to know about Abram’s life outside of Egypt.

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. 2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 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, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.

Abram left Egypt, the text tells us, just as Pharaoh had commanded (12:20). It also tells us that Abram (and Lot) was in fact able to take with him all the riches he had brought with him to Egypt and accumulated in Egypt through his deceitful scheme. More interestingly still, we learn that in a reverse journey Abram ended up back where he started in both location and activity. After his father’s death in Haran, Abram (along with his wife and nephew) traveled to Shechem, to the oak of Moreh, and built an altar to worship the LORD (12:6-7). After all he’d been through Abram followed the same route back there and engaged again in worship (3-4). That the text says Abram “called upon the name of the LORD,” is in contrast to his actions in the previous section. He was, it appears, acting faithfully once again.

Another Conflict

So far, so good, right? Right. But as we’ve come to expect, the scene quickly turns to another conflict. It turns out that their ill-gotten wealth turned into a problem and another chance to act in or out of faith in God’s promises.

5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 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.

Abram and Lot had acquired so many cattle and servants that the land couldn’t support them all. Several times and in several ways the text highlights the significance of their wealth (rather than the inadequacy of the land)…”very rich in livestock…silver…and gold.” “Lot…also had flocks and herds and tents…” “Their possessions were so great…” Again, as we can imagine, this caused conflict between those in charge of caring for this excess.

That’s what the text says. But there’s plenty it doesn’t say as well. There is no mention of Abram explicitly confessing his sin or apologizing to his wife. There’s no mention of Sarai’s response at all. And there’s absolutely no mention of the famine. It seems to be over, but Moses didn’t feel that anything needed to be said about it. Its significance, evidently, was only in its power to drive Abram to Egypt (which only becomes important later). Herein we find another reminder that God’s word gives everything we need to know, not everything we might want to know.

Well, in all of this we’re made to wonder how Abram would handle this new conflict? Would he again foolishly and faithlessly take matters into his own hands or would he act in faith in light of the promises of God, leaving matters in His? With that, we’re ready for the next scene in this already remarkable story…a scene of conflict resolution.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION (8-13)

Let me hit pause for one minute to ask you a question: What is the last significant conflict you remember having with someone? Without working yourself up too much, try to remember what started it and how you responded to it (in your heart, words, and actions). Here’s the question this section of Abram’s story teaches us to ask: whether you ended up agreeing with the other person or not, how would they describe your approach to the conflict? Would they say that it was your aim to win at all costs? Would they say that you cared more about appearing right than being right? Or would they say that although they still don’t agree with you, your hope in the promises and example of God through it all was unmistakable? Was there any aspect of your response that made them marvel at the gospel’s power in you?

The big idea of this sermon/text is that a life of faith is wise and good for us, and it brings glory to God. In particular we see here the unique glory God gets when his people act in faith during conflict.

Abram’s Faithful Solution (8-9)

So what would Abram do?

8 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. 9 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.”

It seems obvious to me that there were a hundred different ways that Abram could have handled this situation that would have caused it to go sideways. Likewise, it seems obvious to me that in every key way Abram would have been in the right to tell Lot that he was going to have to find somewhere else to live—to lay claim to the land for himself. Abram, not Lot, had God’s promises. He was Lot’s uncle and guardian; his superior. Lot had been blessed and grown rich on account of Abram; he’d already benefitted more than he deserved. We could go on. By every measure (but one) Abram would have been “justified” in handling things very differently than he did, and in putting up quite a fight if Lot pushed back.

I said by “very measure but one”…the “one” is the measure of a life of faith. It was precisely because Abram had the promises of God concerning the land that he was free to let go of the land. Unlike his actions in Egypt where his unbelief caused him to seek to hold on to things himself, here Abram believed God and so he trusted God to hold onto them for him. Abram had seen the folly and danger of taking matters into his own hands. Here he chose differently. What, then, does a life of faith look like in conflict? Three things…

  1. It is seeks to avoid conflict where possible. Most conflicts are unnecessary in that they are the result of two people holding onto things (even good things) more tightly than God would have us. Our Lord, Jesus, said it this way, “…if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:40-41). God has promised that there is nothing that we will give up in this life for the sake of His name that will not be repaid 100 fold in the next (Mark 10:29-30). For that reason, a life of faith (as we see here in Abram) seeks to avoid conflict whenever possible by being willing to eagerly let go of the blessings of this world for the infinitely greater ones of the next. When at least one of the two would-be conflicters lives with this kind of faith in God the conflict inevitably dissolves.
  2. Likewise, it believes that showing love and preserving unity are more important than preserving “rights” and freedoms. Abram gave up his “rights” and accepted the lesser out of love for Lot and faith in God. All of the land was given to him (not Lot). But rather than exercise his right (to all the land) or at least demand his right of first choice (to get the best of the land), Abram willingly surrendered both. The apostle Paul spends an entire chapter in Romans (14) charging the people of God to eagerly surrender their “rights” and freedoms for the sake of others. He concludes, “So then [instead of seeking our rights and exercising our freedoms] let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19). Again, this is what a life of faith looks like in conflict. Abram was willing to forgo any rightful claim and freedom he had to maintain unity/peace with Lot.
  3. It trusts God to be the ultimate arbiter. Abram didn’t take matters into his own hands here. He left things up to God to sort out. A life of faith is willing, then, to not only seek to avoid conflict, and give up “rights” and freedoms for the sake of another, it is also free to do so without resentment or regret—to do so eagerly and joyfully—because god has promised to ultimately set all things right.

In this case Abram was a remarkable model of faith in God’s promises during conflict.

Things Aren’t Always as they Seem (10-13)

There’s another lesson for us here as well. In Abram we catch a glimpse of what it looks like to live by faith in God—what it looks like to leave matters in God’s hands—but in Lot we see what it looks like to live by sight—what it looks like to live by our own wisdom and desires.

10 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.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.

Lot looked around at the land before him in light of Abram’s offer. In one direction he saw everything one who lived off the land could hope for. He saw a land that looked like the land in Egypt they’d gone to when famine was everywhere else. Indeed, he saw a land that looked like the very Garden of Eden.

And yet, right from the beginning we’re given important clues that things were not quite as they seemed. Moses included both a parenthetical and explicit statement on the true nature of the land Lot had chosen. After the description of the remarkable appearance of the land he wrote, “This was before the LORD destroyed [it]” (10). And a few verses later (13) he was even clearer, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” Three separate statements on the corruption of the men who inhabited the land. They were “wicked”. This is a powerful statement in itself concerning their moral depravity. But there’s more. They were also “great sinners”. Not just wicked and not just sinners, but “great” sinners. Worse yet is the third description, “against the LORD.” These were not merely foul men who acted foully before one another. Their evil was against God himself.

It turns out that Lot went to the healthier land, but one that was filled with moral disease. It looked good—and in some ways was—but on a more fundamental level it was far, far worse. There’s no indication that he knew this, but that’s often the case when we live by sight.

Therefore, Grace, we need to look at Lot and learn a critical lesson. That is, we need to be careful what we value and how we evaluate it. In fact, one of the more consistent messages of the bible is that our eyes are often deceitful and not to be trusted. Already in Genesis Eve saw that the fruit was pleasing and the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were beautiful. We must make sure that we value the things God values and we establish that according to His promises; not the desires of our flesh according to our senses.

God Is King and Judge Over the Whole World (13)

Verse 13 reminds us that the lesson of the Flood still stood. Even though the rest of the OT would focus on one family in particular, God was still king and judge of the whole world; not just those who choose to honor Him as God. Since the Flood God judged the Pharaoh of Egypt and the wicked Sodomites and He will judge us. Not one act of unrighteousness will go undealt with, Grace. Not one rebellious thought, word, or deed will escape God’s just wrath.

And when we combine this great promise with the fact that we have all committed countless acts of unrighteousness and rebellion, we’re left with two choices. Either we will, as the Sodomites were about to find out in spectacular fashion, take that wrath fully upon ourselves as we deserve or we will, in faith, place our hope and allegiance in Jesus who already took it upon Himself on our behalf.

DIVINE APPROVAL (14-18)

And that leads to the final section where we see a restatement of God’s promise to Abram and another expression of God’s acceptance of Abram’s faith. Abram had seen the folly of taking matters into his own hands. Here he learned again the glory of leaving them in God’s.

14 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, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 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. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 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 set of promises that Abram believed that enabled him to freely offer the choice of land to Lot. He believed God and so he was completely free to leave things in God’s hands.

The true remarkableness of this section is seen in comparison to the last one (10-11). Consider the similar language between the way Moses described Lot’s consideration of the land before them and God’s words to Abram here. Lot “lifted up his eyes and saw”. God commanded Abram to “lift up your eyes and look”. What Lot saw he desired for himself. What Abram saw God desired for him. Both men looked but there’s a world of difference between what we see with eyes of the flesh and eyes of faith.

And the key lesson for us here is seen in Abram’s back and forth (from his faithfulness in 12:1-9 to his faithlessness in 12:10-20 to his faithfulness in our passage here). Once again, we are meant to find ourselves and find hope in this. Fight with all you have to walk in righteousness. Don’t for one minute be OK with faithlessness or disobedience in your life. But as you do and as you fail, don’t for one minute forget God’s grace for Abram or God’s grace for us in Jesus. Look to Abram’s coming in and out of faithfulness and remember the cross; remember that our reconciliation and fellowship with God was never going to be based on our works (even our “work of faith”). It was always, as we see in Abram’s waffling and God’s forgiveness of it, going to be based on God’s mercy.

The mark of our salvation, then, is not that we look entirely different from Abram—that we never act faithlessly—or that we look exactly like Abram—that we have the same measure of faith that he did. The mark of our salvation, rather, is that when we do act in faith we praise God for His grace that enabled it, and when we fail to act in faith we praise God for His grace in that covers it.

CONCLUSION

It is fitting that this chapter began and ended in the same place—at the altar of the LORD in worship. Grace, that’s what we are made for. We are made to worship. For now we offer it in faith. One day, however, we will see God and talk to God face to face as one man does another (Matthew 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:12). Here our worship is right but incomplete. Then our worship will be full and everlasting. Let us continue to look to God’s word, then for the true object of our faith and the promises that direct it even as we long for the time when faith will be no more and we will live forever in full view of the holiness and majesty and beauty and justice and power and wisdom of God—Father, Son, and Spirit.