A Tale of Two Travelers

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.  Genesis 13:10-18 ESV

After Abram gave Lot the offer of a lifetime, his much-younger nephew took full advantage of the opportunity. In order to settle their dispute over pasture land, Abram had given Lot choice to claim any of the land of Canaan as his own.

“Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” – Genesis 13:9 NLT

You would think that Lot would have refused this magnanimous gesture out of gratitude to his uncle for taking him under his wing. But that thought never entered Lot’s mind. No, he took Abram up on his offer and secured for himself a prime piece of real estate.

Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. – Genesis 13:10 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Lot taking a quick scan of the local surroundings. No, he looked long and hard. He literally “gazed” at the landscape in order to assess which tract of land would prove to be preferable an, ultimately, the most profitable. He his look was evaluative in nature. In fact, it is the same word used to describe God’s assessment of His creation.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! – Genesis 1:31 NLT

In the same way, Lot “looked over” the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley and deemed them good. And Moses adds an interesting aside. He states that the valley was comparable to “the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10 NLT). In other words, this land was fertile and fruitful, just like Eden had been. It was well-watered and abounding in lush pasture lands, the perfect setting for raising domesticated livestock. So, after a careful search, Lot made his decision.

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. – Genesis 13:11 NLT

But Moses provides another parenthetical statement that foreshadows the dark cloud looming on the horizon. The Jordan Valley was a beautiful and bountiful place, but “This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 13:10 10 ESV). At this point in the story, everything was “good,” but that was about to change. A darkness would soon descend upon the Jordan Valley. It’s God-ordained beauty would become marred by sin and scarred by divine judgment.

There is an eerily familiar feel to this story, that should remind the reader of the dramatic change that took place between chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis. God had deemed His creation as “very good” and then sin entered the scene and everything suddenly changed. Curses were leveled and circumstances took a dramatic turn for the worst. Soon sin began to spread like an infectious disease, until God “observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT). The “very good” had become very bad. All because of sin.

Moses records that the two men, Abram and Lot, parted ways with Abram settling in the land of Canaan and Lot settling “among the cities of the valley” (Genesis 13:12 NLT). And, as if to telegraph the plot of the story, Moses indicates that Lot eventually “moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 NLT).

The original readers of Moses’ book would have been very familiar with the histories of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two ancients cities had storied and sordid pasts. They were legendary among the Hebrew people. And the names, Sodom and Gomorrah had become synonymous with wickedness and immorality. But just in case anyone might have forgotten, Moses opines, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Lot had gone from admiring the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley to gazing upon the immoral city of Sodom and moving ever closer to its gates. He was slowly edging his way toward wickedness and away from God.

But, unexpectedly, Moses shifts the story away from Lot and back to Abram. This rather abrupt shift in the narrative was meant to provide a stark contrast between the two men. Abram settled in Canaan, while Lot made himself at home near Sodom. And while Lot was pitching his tend, Abram was receiving a message from the Lord.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! – Genesis 13:14-67 NLT

Notice that God did not speak until Abram had separated himself from Lot. This parting of the ways finally left Abram in compliance with the original conditions God had placed on His call of Abram.

Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 NLT

With Lot out of the picture, God reiterated His original promise to Abram, declaring that all the land of Canaan would belong to he and his descendants. And not only that. God would provide Abram with so many descendants that their number would be incalculable. And despite Abram’s decision to reward Lot with his choice of the best land, God restated His promise to give it all the Abram and his descendants. Even the Jordan Valley, containing the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, would eventually become the inheritance of Abram’s ancestors.

It would be centuries later that the descendants of Abram, the nation of Israel, made their way back to the land of Canaan after their 400-year hiatus in Egypt. And when they returned to the land, they would divide it among the 12 tribes. But they were forbidden by God from occupying the lands of Moab and Edom. He warned them, “‘Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land” (Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT). And as far as the Edomites were concerned, God told the Israelites, “Do not detest the Edomites…because the Edomites are your relatives” (Deuteronomy 23:7 NLT).

To understand this divine get-out-of-jail-free card that God extended to the Moabites and Edomites, it is essential to understand their relationship with Israel. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac. Esau was the grandson of Abram. And the Moabites descendants of Moab, the son of Lot, the byproduct of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter. These two people groups ended up settling in the land near where Lot had pitched his tent. And despite some poor choices on Lot’s part, that land would end up being occupied by relatives of Abram.

This one little corner of the world where Lot chose to sink down roots was nothing compared to the vast tract of land that God would give to Abram. And God instructed Abram to “walk through the land in every direction” (Genesis 13:17 ESV), and take in all the beauty and abundance reserved for him. God flatly and confidently asserted, “I am giving it to yo” (Genesis 13:17 NLT).

So, Moses did as he was told, and after scoping out the land, he pitched his tent at the Oaks of Mamre, near Hebron, and there he built another altar to the Lord. He offered sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God for His gracious gift. Lot pitched his tent near Sodom. But Abram pitched his tent in the middle of the land of Canaan, as an expression of faith in God’s promise.

It’s fascinating to consider that Lot was quickly associated with a city, the infamous city of Sodom. But Abram was a man who never owned a house or occupied a city. In fact, the author of Hebrews states that when Abram “reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” (Hebrews 11:9-10 NLT).

As the story unfolds, we will discover that Lot eventually moved into the city of Sodom, and with less-than-stellar consequences. But Abram continued to live the life of a nomad, patiently waiting for the city that God had in store for him. According to the author of Hebrews, Abram and all the other Old Testament saints mentioned  in chapter 11, “were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16 NLT).

While Lot struggled with “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV), Abram kept his eye on the true prize. Rather than settle down and settle for less than God had promised, he kept moving, waiting, and hoping. And he would be recognized and greatly rewarded for his faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. – Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV

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