Life Under the Gracious Gaze of Almighty God

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”  Genesis 17:1-8 ESV

Hagar eventually obeyed God, leaving the wilderness behind and returning to the household of Abram. In due time, God fulfilled His promise to the slave girl and she gave birth to a son, whom she name Ishmael, in keeping with God’s command.

“Behold, you are pregnant
    and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
    because the Lord has listened to your affliction.” – Genesis 16:11 ESV

Yet, just a few verses later, Moses seems to indicate that it was Abram who named the boy.

So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. – Genesis 16:15-16 NLT

Rather than considering this as some sort of biblical contradiction, it makes more sense to view it as an example of God’s sovereign, behind-the-scenes activity. It was He who had decreed that the boy would be born, and it was he had selected his name. And whether God used Hagar as the instrument through which He communicated His divine wishes to Abram, or He visited Abram in a dream, He ensured that His decree would be followed. The boy’s name would be Ishmael (God hears).

The birth and naming of Ishmael were meant to send a message to Abram. That God had heard the cries of the abandoned Hagar in the wilderness should restore Abram’s confidence in God’s ability to hear his cries of fear and doubt. Abram and his wife Sarai were God’s chosen couple, and He had clearly indicated His intentions to use them as the vessels through whom He would make a great nation and shower blessings on the rest of the world. But the whole reason Ishmael existed was that Sarai had doubted God’s ability to pull off His promise through her. She was old and beyond child-bearing age. And to make matters worse, she was barren. So, she had decided that the only way the promise could be fulfilled was if Abram fathered a child with her Egyptian maidservant.

Sarai’s plan had accomplished her goal but had failed to fulfill God’s promise. Abram had a son but, according to God, he was still lacking a divinely approved heir. Ishmael would end up siring a multitude of descendants (Genesis 15:10), but they would not be the ones through whom God would bless the nations. In fact, according to God’s message to Hagar, Ishmael’s descendants would “live in open hostility against all his relatives” (Genesis 16:12 NLT).

So, Abram had a son, but he was still waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. And, as Abram watched Ishmael grow from infancy to adolescence, he would continue to wait – 13 long years. At the ripe old age of 99, Abram received a message from God.

“I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.” – Genesis 17:1-2 NLT

This encounter with God would prove to be a watershed moment in the life of Abram. While this was not the first time he had heard from God, it would be the one occasion that left the deepest impression on his life. For 13 years, he had most likely been assuming that Ishmael would be his heir. From his perspective, Hagar’s return from the wilderness was a sign from God that Ishmael was to be the long-awaited offspring through whom God would work. Abram had received no divine message to the contrary.

So, after what appears to be 13 years of divine silence, Abram receives a visit from God. For the first time in their lengthy relationship, God introduces Himself to Abram as ʾel shadday, (El Shaddai), a name that is most often translated as “God Almighty.” In using this divine appellation, God was letting Abram know that He was fully capable of accomplishing His will and fulfilling His promises without human assistance. He was the almighty, all-powerful God of the universe. He had created the heavens and the earth. He held all things together. And God wanted Abram to know that old age and barrenness would prove to be no problem for Him.

At 13 years of age, Ishmael was on the cusp of becoming a man. And in His omniscience, God knew exactly what Abram was thinking. This 99-year-old father of a teenager had made the assumption that Ishmael would be his heir.  But he was about to discover just how wrong he was and just how great God is.

Back in chapter 15, God had made a covenant with Abram. It had been a unilateral and unconditional covenant. In other words, God had declared His intentions but had placed no requirements on Abram. On this particular occasion, Abram had expressed his disappointment with God’s plan.

“You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:3 NLT

He had already decided that he was going to have to make Eliezer, his manservant, his adopted son, and heir. But God had rejected that option and reiterated His plan.

“No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 NLT

God had reconfirmed His commitment to give Abram a son but He would do it on His terms. That son would not be adopted. He would be the biological offspring of Abram. And God had let Abram know that, from that one son, He would provide Abram with more descendants than there are stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).

God had sealed His covenant commitment to Abram by walking through the divided carcasses of the animals that Abram had sacrificed. He had made a blood commitment to fulfill the promise He had made. But He had demanded nothing of Abram. Now, years later, God once again confirmed His commitment to multiply Abram greatly. But this time, He includes an interesting addendum to the agreement.

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” – Genesis 17:1-2 ESV

This statement from God must have left the 99-year-old Abram stunned and shaking in his sandals. The almighty God seemed to be placing a condition on the covenant He had made with Abram. And this condition was anything but easy. God was demanding that Abram live a blameless life. And the impossible nature of this command did not escape Abram. As soon as he heard them, he fell on his face. He knew he was completely incapable of pulling off this divine demand. But he failed to grasp what God was really saying to him.

God was not demanding sinless perfection from His fallen and flawed servant. He was not placing a condition on the covenant that required Abram to live in unwavering obedience and moral purity. But, based on Abram’s reaction, that’s likely how he interpreted it. And sadly, that’s how many Christians view this passage today. We hear in God’s words a requirement that we live without sin and in perfect obedience to all His commands. And we wrongly assume that, if we don’t, we will miss out on His blessings for us. We make His promises to us and love for us conditional.

That’s why it is essential that we understand what God was saying to Abram. The Hebrew word for “walk” is הָלַךְ (hālaḵ) and it means to “to walk back and forth; to walk about; to live out one’s life.” Abram is being encouraged to conduct his life with the constant awareness that Almighty God is watching. Nothing escapes His notice. He is the all-seeing, all-knowing God. Abram was to have a constant awareness of God’s presence that would influence every area of his life.

But what about God’s demand that Abram “be blameless?” Was He requiring sinless perfection? Once again, the Hebrew language sheds some light on these questions. God demanded that Abram be תָּמִים (tāmîm), a word that is rich in meaning. It conveys the idea of completeness, wholeness, and integrity. God is not requiring Abram to live a life free from all sin. He is demanding that Abram recognize the wholeness of his calling. God wanted all of Abram. He had not chosen him simply as a biological vessel through whom He would create a mighty nation. No, God wanted every area of Abram’s life: body, mind, soul, and spirit. There was to be no compartmentalization. Abram was not free to hold back any area of his life from God’s control or use. In other words, Abram was being told to live the entirety of his life before God’s all-seeing eyes. There was nothing that God could not see. There was no area of Abram’s life that he was to consider as off-limits to God’s control.

And as Abram lay prostrate on the ground, God reiterated His covenant and His promise.

“This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!” – Genesis 17:4-6 NLT

Abram received a confirmation of the original covenant, as well as a new name. And that new name carried powerful significance.

“…its significance is in the wordplay with אַב־הֲמוֹן (ʾav hamon, “the father of a multitude,” which sounds like אַבְרָהָם, ʾavraham, “Abraham”). The new name would be a reminder of God’s intention to make Abraham the father of a multitude.” – NET Bible Study Notes

God was letting Abram know that the promise still stood firm but it would not be fulfilled through Ishmael. Sarai’s plan had not accomplished God’s will. There would be another son, and through him, God would fulfill every aspect of the covenant He had made with Abram. As proof of His commitment, God promised to give Abram a sign to go along with his new name. And that sign would be perpetual and permanent, passed down from generation to generation, long after Abram was gone. And once again, God reassures His doubting and sometimes disobedient servant of the incredible nature of the covenant and the promise attached to it.

“This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 NLT

God wasn’t requiring Abram to live a sinless life in order to receive the covenant promises. Abram was being invited to conduct every aspect of his life under the watchful, loving, and covenant-keeping eyes of God Almighty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

When Men (and Women) Play God

11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Behold, you are pregnant
    and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
    because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
    his hand against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. Genesis 16:11-16 ESV

A  pregnant and homeless Hagar found herself in the middle of the wilderness having an unexpected conversation with the angel of the Lord. And much to her surprise, this divine messenger has just commanded Hagar to return home and submit herself to the Sarai, the very woman who had cast her out like unwanted trash. This disheartened and fearful woman must have reeled at the thought of risking further alienation and possible retribution from an angry and vengeful Sarai. But the angel of God provided a doubtful Hagar with a shocking revelation that was meant to elicit faith and produce obedience.

“I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” – Genesis 16:10 ESV

God was assuring Hagar that the child she carried in her womb would not only live, but he would produce an abundance of offspring. This female Egyptian slave had been made the unwitting participant in Sarai’s clever scheme to fulfill God’s promise through human means. When Sarai’s barrenness continued to stifle any hope of her bearing a son for her husband, Abram, she had turned to Hagar as a possible and practical solution. It had been her idea to have Abram impregnate her personal handmaid. And when her plan worked, and Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s child, Sarai regretted her decision and ordered the threat removed.

But, as always, God had bigger plans in store for Hagar and, more importantly,  for the baby she carried in her womb. In the middle of the inhospitable wilderness, the forlorn and forgotten Hagar was given new hope.

“You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. – Genesis 16:11 NLT

This announcement was meant to assure Hagar that her child would live. And God would not only give her a son, but He would give that boy a name: Ishmael. This name is actually a compound word in Hebrew (yišmāʿē’l). It stems from the word for “hear” and the word for “God.” So, the boy’s God-given name would mean “God hears.” His name would reflect the reality that Yahweh had heard Hagar’s desperate cries for help and had determined to answer them. One can only imagine the fear-driven pleas of this abandoned woman as she pondered her own fate and that of her child. Was she destined to die in the wilderness, pregnant and alone? Would she live long enough to witness the birth of her child, but then be forced to watch its life slip away due to hunger and exposure to the elements? Was this some kind of divine punishment for her role in the whole affair surrogate birth mother affair?

What is interesting to consider is that, due to her identity as an Egyptian, it is highly likely that Hagar was not a follower of Yahweh. Her ten-year exposure to Abram and his family may have resulted in her conversion, but it is just as likely that she remained a worshiper of one of the many gods of Egypt. And her cries in the wilderness could have been directed at one of these false deities.

But who heard her? And who responded to her pleas for help? It was Yahweh, the very same God who had called her former master out of Haran. It had been this God’s messenger who had shown up in the wilderness and delivered the good news about her son and his future descendants. But not everything about the angel’s message would have sounded positive to Hagar. He also delivered what must have come across to her as bad news.

“This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” – Genesis 16:12 NLT

At first glance, this pronouncement comes across as anything but good news. But to a woman who had been faced with the possible death of her unborn son, this news was hopeful. He would grow up to be a man who lived independently. He would be powerful and resourceful. And, while he would end up alienated from his own relatives, he would father a sizeable nation of his own that would have a lasting impact on the world.

In time, the descendants of Ishmael would end up as the mortal enemies of their blood relatives, the Israelites. Islamic lore teaches that Ishmael would become the patriarch of the Muslim people. But the Bible simply states that Ishmael and his descendants would live in open hostility to the descendants of Abram through his son, Isaac. Ishmael and Isaac had the same father, but two different birth mothers. And their family trees would branch off in two distinctively different directions. But God was behind it all. In fact, Paul picks up on this story when writing to the believers living in the Roman-ruled province of Galatia. He would use the disparate relationship between these two half-brothers as an illustration of those who live as slaves to the law and those who enjoy the freedom brought about by God’s promise.

Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says? The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. – Galatians 4:21-24 NLT

Paul uses this Old Testament story to drive home a very important point to his Christian readers who are struggling with the difference between law and grace. He points out that Ishmael was born to a slave woman, while Isaac was born to Sarai, a free woman. The status of the two boys would dramatically impact their positions in the family of Abram. In fact, Moses makes clear that Ishmael would end up being alienated from and at odds with the other children of Abraham.

Secondly, Paul stresses the difference between their two births. Ishmael was the result of a purely human relationship. There was no miracle involved. Abram impregnated Hagar, she ended up pregnant, and eventually gave birth. There was nothing supernatural about it. But, in comparison, Sarai’s pregnancy was divinely ordained and ordered. She was old and barren, but God miraculously intervened and produced a child in fulfillment of His promise to Abram. Isaac was a son born to Sarai and not Hagar. That had been God’s plan all along. He is the God of the impossible, and He had never been in need of Sarai’s help or advice.

And Paul elaborates further on the distinction between these two women and their respective seed.

The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. – Galatians 4:24-26 NLT

Paul is not suggesting that the story of Sarai and Hagar is mythical or purely metaphorical. But he does suggest that it contains an important allegorical lesson. These two women were very real, but their lives also served as power illustrations of a much deeper truth that would apply in the not-so-distant future. Much to the chagrin of any Jews in his readership, Paul uses the slave-born son of Hagar as an illustration of the Jewish people who refused to believe in Christ. They were stuck relying upon the law for their salvation. They considered themselves to be legitimate sons of Abram, but God viewed them differently. In Paul’s analogy, Isaac becomes a representative of those born under freedom from the law. This is a direct reference to Christians, those whom Jesus has set free from the burden of the law.

Hagar represents the Mosaic Covenant, with all its laws and legal requirements. But Sarai represents the New Covenant, made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is fascinating to consider that Jesus, the Savior of the world, also entered the world through the means of a miraculous, Spirit-enabled birth.

The promises of God will always be fulfilled by the divinely ordained means of God. Hagar had never been intended to be the mother of the offspring of Abram through whom God would bless all the nations. Human means never produce spiritual outcomes. And, while God would end up blessing Ishmael, and produce from him a great number of descendants. There would be no future Messiah or Savior born from his family tree. That was reserved for the son of the promise: Isaac.

In response to the message of the angel, Hagar declares that this God of Abram is a “God who sees.” He had seen her plight and responded to her plea. He had graciously given her a promise and a hope, and she believed. And the chapter ends on a somewhat anticlimactic note with the simple declaration:

So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. – Genesis 16:15-16 NLT

God was far from done because the promise had not yet been fulfilled. But it would be, according to His terms, and right on time with His preordained schedule.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Perilous Plans of Man

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Genesis 16:1-4 ESV

To understand this chapter, one must remember the promise that God reiterated to Abram at the beginning of chapter 15.

“This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 ESV

Abram had become convinced that, due to his wife’s barrenness, the only way God could fulfill His promise to give Abram more descendants than there are grains of sand on the seashore, was if Abram adopted his servant, Eliezer as his heir. But God deemed that option as unacceptable. The divine plan would not be based on a household servant or even a blood-relative such as Lot. God was emphatic that the heir He had in mind would be a child born to Abram and Sarai.

Abram had expressed his strong doubts about God’s plan by stating, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:3 ESV). In other words, he had reached the conclusion that, for God’s plan to be fulfilled, there would need to be a work-around. Yet, that’s when God had informed Abram that his very own son would be his heir. And that’s when God confirmed His statement by commanding Abram: “number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he assured Abram, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).

With this as a backdrop, chapter 16 begins to make more sense. Moses opens the chapter begins with a statement that is, excuse the pun, pregnant with meaning.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. – Genesis 16:1 ESV

Despite all the assurances from God, Abram still found himself fatherless and struggling with doubt concerning the promise of abundant offspring. At this point in his life’s journey, he had no children and, therefore, no tangible evidence that God was going to do what He had promised to do. If anything, from Abram’s point of view, he continued to face a hopeless situation that appeared to have no chance of fulfillment. At this point in the story, Abram had been living in Canaan for an extended period of time. Yet, he still owned no property and his wife had born him no heir. In other words, not much had changed since the day he had arrived in the land of Canaan from his home in Haran.

This where it gets interesting. Sarai, the one whose infertility seemed to be throwing a wrench into God’s plan, decided to come up with her own solution to the problem. There is a palpable sense of guilt in this passage. Sarai felt personally responsible for the predicament in which her husband found himself. As his wife, she had, quite literally, failed to deliver. She had given him no son. In a sense, she was burdened by her inability to produce an heir and felt compelled to come up with an alternative plan. And Moses reveals the logic behind her thinking.

She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. – Genesis 16:2 ESV

Since God had refused to consider Eliezer because he was not a blood-born son of Abram, she reasoned that there was another way to fulfill God’s requirement with a little ingenuity. If Abram was to impregnate Hagar, any son she delivered would be a true son of Abram and not an adopted servant or nephew like Lot. Since she viewed herself as the problem, she decided to remove herself from the equation.

But up to this point, Sarai had been a major player in the story of Abram’s call and commission to move his family to Canaan. Chapter 12 reveals that “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife… ” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). Sarai had always been part of the plan. And God knew all about her inability to bear children. In fact, Moses made it clear in chapter 11 that, even before Abram left Haran, Sarai’s problem was readily apparent.

Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children. – Genesis 11:30 NLT

None of this was a surprise to God. He knew and had planned for Sarai’s infertility. As the sovereign God of the universe, her physical disability was a preordained circumstance through which God was going to reveal His power and presence. He was going to prove to Abram and Sarai that He was the God of the impossible.

But in a sincere attempt to help God out, Sarai shared her ingenious idea with Abram.

“The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” – Genesis 16:2 NLT

And according to Moses’ account, “Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal” (Genesis 16:2 NLT).  One can almost get the impression that Abram quickly and, rather eagerly, bought into his wife’s plan. He doesn’t question her suggestion or argue with the potential efficacy of the arrangement. He simply decides to play along.

So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan). – Genesis 16:3 NLT

In an attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise, Sarai decided to share her husband with another woman.

“It was a serious matter for a man to be childless in the ancient world, for it left him without an heir. But it was even more calamitous for a woman: to have a great brood of children was the mark of success as a wife; to have none was ignominious failure. So throughout the ancient East polygamy was resorted to as a means of obviating childlessness. But wealthier wives preferred the practice of surrogate motherhood, whereby they allowed their husbands to ‘go in to’ . . . their maids, a euphemism for sexual intercourse (cf. 6:4; 30:3; 38:8, 9; 39:14). The mistress could then feel that her maid’s child was her own and exert some control over it in a way that she could not if her husband simply took a second wife.” – Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pg. 7

But unbeknownst to Sarai, her decision would have long-term ramifications, not only for she and Abram, but for their future descendants as well, and for generations to come. As Eve convinced Adam to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit of the true of the knowledge of good and evil, so Sarai convinced Abram to question God’s word and fulfill the promise through purely human and fleshly means. Hagar was never intended to be the vessel through whom God would work. She was a surrogate or substitute, chosen by a barren woman who was so desperate to have a child that she would do anything.

Sarai truly believed this was a good idea. But when her husband “had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant” (Genesis 15:4 NLT), Sarai quickly discovered just how flawed her plan really was. Abram’s encounter with Hagar produced immediate results, which must have enhanced Sarai’s feelings of inadequacy. And, to make matters worse, Hagar flaunted her pregnancy in  Sarai’s face. 

…when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. – Genesis 16:4 NLT

Hagar sensed that, with her pregnancy, she had been elevated to a position of primacy in Abram’s household. No longer a mere maidservant, Hagar relished her new role as the seed-bearer to Abram. She believed she would be the one to fulfill the promise of God and bring Abram the offspring for whom he long been waiting. Jealousy and an unhealthy atmosphere of competition crept into Abram’s household, and it was not long before his wife’s clever plan produced some disheartening and difficult decisions for God’s servant.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Promise Maker

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15-1-6 ESV

Abram has just received a blessing from Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God.

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth. – Genesis 14:19 NLT

Sometime after his encounter with the king-priest Melchizedek, God provided his servant with a confirmation and explanation of that blessing in the form of a vision. The Most High God referred to Himself as Abram’s shield or protector. In the same way that Abram had protected and delivered his nephew Lot during his time of captivity, God would be Abram’s defender and deliverer. And while Abram had turned down the king of Sodom’s offer of all the plunder taken from Sodom, he could be certain that God would reward him with something of far greater value.

One of the questions this passage raises is why God opened up His address to Abram with the words, “Fear not.” What was it that Abram feared? Some believe that, upon receiving an unexpected vision of the Most High God, Abram was filled with fear and awe. This would have been a normal and natural reaction to such an encounter with God. When Moses was given a vision of God in the form of a burning bush, “he hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6 ESV).

But based on the context of chapter 14, it makes more sense to see Abram’s fear as horizontal in nature, rather than vertical. Due to his victory over the four Mesopotamian kings, Abram had just made himself some powerful enemies. Not only that, by displaying his military might, he had inadvertently placed a target on his back. Whether he liked it or not, he was the new sheriff in town and everyone would be gunning for him. Abram was essentially a shepherd and not a warrior, and the thought that his enemies might seek retribution on him and his household was keeping him up at night. So, God assured his fearful servant that he had nothing to worry about. Abram could rest in the knowledge that God would protect and provide for him. It is the same message that God would give to Abram’s descendants centuries later.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Abram’s response to God’s words of comfort and encouragement is less than confident.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” – Genesis 15:2 NLT

With this statement, Abram reveals that his greatest fear was that of failure. He knew that God had promised to bless him. He couldn’t stop thinking about the words God had spoken when he was still living in Haran.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Abram had been 75-years-old when God made that promise. And now, years later, he had only grown older and his wife’s fertility problem had not improved. All the way back in Genesis 11:30, Moses had disclosed the sad state of Sarai’s reproductive health: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

All of these factors weighed heavily on Abram’s mind. Based on the circumstances, he could see no way that God’s promise could ever come to fruition. Abram had resigned himself to the fact that one of his household servants would end up as his heir. He informed God about the desperate nature of his situation and even blamed Him for it.

You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:3 NLT

It appears that Abram was growing impatient. During his time in the land of Canaan, he had seen his financial prospects improve. He had grown rich and his herds had grown in number. And here was God promising to shower him with further rewards. But what difference would it make if he had no one to whom he could leave his great wealth?

It’s not difficult to ascertain how Abram had assessed his situation and come up with a possible solution. He had given up on Sarai ever giving birth to a son, and had assumed that they would end up adopting one of their household servants as their son and making him the rightful heir to their estate. There had probably been a time when Abram had believed Lot, his nephew, would be the logical choice. But there had been a fallout between the two of them. So, at this point, Abram had determined that his heir would end up being Eliezer of Damascus.

What is ironic about Abram’s conclusion is that Eliezer’s name means “God is help.” Yet, it would appear that Abram was the one who was attempting to help God. He was offering God a logical solution to the whole fruitlessness problem. Abram was willing to settle for less. He was willing to accept a foreign-born “member” of his house as his heir rather than wait on God to do the impossible. But God had other plans. He was not going to compromise. And Sarai’s barrenness was not going to be a problem. So, God gently but firmly broke the news to Abram.

“No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 NLT

In essence, God said, “Thanks for the tip, but no!” The Creator-God didn’t need Abram’s help or advice. If anything, Eliezer’s presence in Abram’s house was meant to be a constant reminder that “God is help.” Eliezer wasn’t intended to be the solution. No, every time Abram said Eliezer’s name, it should have reminded him that God was the solution. And to stress the miraculous nature of His promise, God took Abram outside and told him to “look up into the sky and count the stars if you can” (Genesis 15:5 NLT). Then, as Abram stood staring up into the night sky, overwhelmed by the sheer number of stars, God boldly proclaimed, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:5 NLT).

This was not the first time Abram had heard such an outlandish prediction from God. Earlier, when Abram had separated from Lot, God had assured him that all the land of Canaan would be his and that land would be filled with his descendants.

I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! – Genesis 13:16 NLT

This blessing would not come through Eliezer or any other substitute. God had promised to give Abram a son, and He was well aware of Sarai’s barrenness. In fact, as the sovereign God of the universe, her barrenness had been part of His plan all along. The improbability and impossibility of it all had been baked into the cake. God wanted Abram to understand that everything about this promise would be miraculous and supernatural.

And then Moses adds a somewhat surprising conclusion. Despite all of Abram’s former doubts and fears, he “believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT). Suddenly, Abram’s mental state went from doubt to assurance. He went from trying to help God out to having hope in God’s promise. His confidence in God grew deeper and richer.

It’s interesting to note that Abram had always believed that God would give him an heir. His doubts had been focused on the means by which God would fulfill that promise. He had been hung up on Sarai’s barrenness. That’s why he had come up with what he believed to be an acceptable and logical alternative solution. But now, his belief focused in on the power of God to accomplish the impossible. He went from believing in the promise to believing in the God who made the promise. And there is a huge difference.

In the great “Hall of Faith” found in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the author states, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Abram was learning that his faith in God was the key to the promise of God. That does not mean that faith is what determines our reward, but that faith or belief in God is the means by which we appropriate the promises of God. We have to believe, trust in, and place our confidence in the God behind the promise.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain how Abram displayed faith in God. And he describes how Abram’s faith developed and deepened over time until it influenced even his wife, Sarai.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:8-12 ESV

Moses declares that God counted or credited Abram’s faith as righteousness. Abram was justified or made right with God because he chose to believe and trust, not only in the promises of God but in the God behind the promises. Abram had transferred his hope in the promise to the divine promise maker. And the author of Hebrews goes on to point out that faith in the God of the promise is what sets His people apart. Whether a child of God ever sees the promise fulfilled in their lifetime, they will continue to trust in the word and reliability of the promise maker.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. – Hebrews 11:39 NLT

Abram would eventually see a son born to his barren wife. But he would never own any land in Canaan. He would never live to see the day when his descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky, would occupy that land. But he would continue to believe that His God was good and could be trusted to do what He promised, whether Abram lived to see it or not. That is the essence of faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Battle is the Lord’s

1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. Genesis 14:1-16 ESV

Abram and Lot have separated, with Lot taking up residence near the city of Sodom, while Abram continued his nomadic lifestyle, setting up a temporary camp by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. But Abram’s separation from Lot would not last long. His nephew’s presence in the land would come back to haunt him.

This new season of Abram’s more independent life was going to be rocked by unexpected events that were outside of his control. What chapter 14 reveals is that Abram was far from alone in the land of Canaan. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been little mention of other nations, but the story recorded in this chapter will reveal that Abram has company and lots of it.

The chapter opens with news of a coalition of four kings whose nations lie outside the boundaries of Canaan. It’s difficult to determine with any certainty the exact locations of these ancient realms, but it seems that they each were located within the fertile crescent, an area known as the land of Shinar. It is important to recall that Shinar was the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It was there that God decided to confuse the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach to the sky. As a result of the confusion caused by the proliferation of new languages, the region became known as “Babel,” a word that literally means “confusion.” This region would later bear the name of “Babylon” and play a vital role in the history of the Hebrew people.

These kings all hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that stretched from the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.  One of these kings, Chedorlaomer, had earlier invaded southern Canaan and forced its occupants to become his vassals. The people living in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar), had found themselves subjugated to a foreign power for 13 long years. But at one point their kings had decided to throw off the yoke of this foreign oppressor. And their decision had forced King Chedorlaomer to form a coalition with three of his fellow kings from Mesopotamia and invade Canaan yet again.  

This entire scene is meant to display the interconnected nature of all that has gone on before. Every event that has happened up to this point is linked together in God’s plan. There are reasons for everything. And there are repercussions for every decision made by men and consequences for every act of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. The ill-fated decision of the people to disobey God and construct a tower to glorify their own greatness had produced a myriad of nations that were dispersed across the earth. And the confusion created by their disparate languages would eventually turn into conflict.

In chapter 13, Moses recorded God’s reiteration of His promise to Abram.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. – Genesis 13:14-15 ESV

And yet, here we have nine different kings vying for the right to control the land that God had given to Abram and his descendants. Ever since the gates to Eden had been slammed shut, mankind had been busy trying to grab up the remaining territory. Rather than steward that which belonged to God, they had been attempting to claim it as their own. Instead of acknowledging God as King, they had chosen to set up their own petty kingdoms here on earth. And here in this story, nine of these would-be gods were facing off in a battle of will and weapons, all in an effort to control what really belonged to God.

This coalition of four Mesopotamian kings slowly made their way south, defeating various clans, tribes, and nations along the way. They were successfully demonstrating their superior strength and telegraphing to the five kings of southern Canaan that their prospects for victory were dim. But refusing to consider surrender, the five kings joined forces and faced their enemy in the Valley of Siddim. Things did not go well. The tar pits that covered the valley floor proved to be their undoing. Many of the soldiers became mired in the sticky muck and were captured. As a result, the five kings were unable to put up a fight and their forces were easily defeated. And Moses provides a summary of this demoralizing debacle.

So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. – Genesis 14:11-12 ESV

What makes this rather brief recap of the battle stand out is its focus on Sodom and Gomorrah, and its mention of Lot, the nephew of Abram. If you recall, chapter 13 chronicled Lot’s decision to choose the well-watered lands near Zoar as the place to pasture his flocks. But he actually “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). This nephew of Abram made a determined choice to seek refuge among “the men of Sodom,” who “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Somewhere along the way, Lot had given up his tent and sought shelter within the walls of Sodom. Moses makes it clear that he “was dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). And that decision would prove to be far from wise. When the four Mesopotamian kings looted Sodom, Lot was taken captive along with all his possessions. He was enslaved.

But news of his capture eventually reached the ears of his uncle. Abram was about to discover that his separation from Lot had been anything but permanent. And his decision to give Lot his choice of the land as his own had probably been a mistake. Now, Abram had a decision to make. Would he intervene and rescue Lot from his predicament or allow him to suffer the consequences? Moses records that Abram spent no time deliberating over his decision.

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. – Genesis 14:14 ESV

One can debate the wisdom of Abram’s decision, but there is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty woven throughout this entire event. The actions of the five kings, while autonomous and self-determined, are actually the byproducts of God’s providential will. Nothing happens outside His control or in opposition to His predetermined plan. These events came as no surprise to God. They were simply part of the sovereign strategy He was orchestrating so that His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What He had preordained was coming to fruition, just as He had planned.

Abram and his 318-man army went to battle against the coalition of kings and their superior forces, and he won. That outcome would have come as no surprise to Moses’ readership. They knew that, for them to exist as a people, Abram had to have won. His victory was assured because God had promised to make of him a great nation. And nothing was going to stand in the way of that promise being fulfilled. Whether the number of enemy kings was four or forty, it didn’t matter. Regardless of the size of the foe, God could give victory.

This story should bring to mind another battle fought by a servant of God against superior forces. Years later, Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, would find himself going up against the Midianites. He was outnumbered and outgunned. But much to Gideon’s surprise, God informed him that he had too many soldiers. In a series of bizarre events, God whittled down Gideon’s force until he only had 300 men left. And with that diminutive army, Gideon defeated the Midianites.

And, in a similar fashion, Abram defeated the five kings of Mesopotamia. His “surprising” victory allowed him to rescue Lot and bring back all the possessions that had been stolen. Lot had been redeemed by Abram. He didn’t deserve it and he hadn’t earned it. Abram simply extended unmerited mercy and grace to his young nephew. And this story provides a foreshadowing of another undeserved rescue that will take place in the lives of Abram’s descendants after another army from the north will invade Canaan and take God’s people captive. God will graciously and dramatically rescue them, returning them to the land and fulfilling the promise He had made to Abram.

This event is simply one of many illustrations of God’s goodness, grace, and sovereignty as displayed in the life of Abram. And there are many more to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

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

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Generous to a Fault

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 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, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 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.

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. 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.” Genesis 13:1-9 ESV

After Abram’s close call with Pharaoh, he decided to leave Egypt behind and return to the land of Canaan. The text doesn’t mention whether the famine there had come to an end, but it seems safe to assume that Abram returned because he had received permission from God to do so. According to verse 1, Abram made his way back to the Negeb, located on Canaan’s southernmost tip. But this arid region would prove to be an inhospitable environment for Abram’s newly acquired flocks and herds. He had received as a bride price for Sarai, whom Pharaoh had added to his harem as a concubine. When Pharaoh learned that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, he released her and had Abram and his family escorted from the land of Egypt.

Abram walked out of Egypt far wealthier than when he had entered.  Despite his deception and narcissistic attempts at self-preservation, he ended up being rewarded.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

And Moses opens chapter 13 with what appears to be a parenthetical statement, designed to set up and explain the rest of the chapter’s story.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But not only did Abram have additional herds and flocks in his possession, he was still accompanied by his nephew, Lot. And the text reveals that Lot had also prospered during their stay in Egypt.

And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. – Genesis 13:5-6 ESV

Lot had benefited greatly from his association with Abram. He had been blessed vicariously and undeservedly, just for being Abram’s nephew. But sometimes blessings can end up being a curse. Prosperity, while highly beneficial in so many ways, can also bring about unexpected conflicts and temptations. You see the potential for this outcome in Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. God has promised to bless them with a rich and fertile land filled with well-fortified and well-stocked cities equipped with modern conveniences like hand-carved cisterns designed for storing rainwater.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the LORD your God and serve him.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-13 NLT

There was high probability that the people of Israel would find their newfound prosperity to be a temptation to become prideful and forgetful. Rather than focusing on the gracious Giver, they would end up obsessing on the gifts He had given. Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, reveals an insightful degree of self-awareness when he asks God for two favors.

O God, I beg two favors from you;
    let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Abram and Lot had both been blessed by God. Now, the question would be whether they would allow those blessings to become a curse. Would they become fat and happy, self-consumed, and overly self-sufficient? Would their good fortune lead to further dependence upon God or a growing sense of independence and self-sufficiency?

Sandwiched in-between the disclosure that Abram was “very rich” (Genesis 13:2), and Lot “had flocks and herds and tents” (Genesis 13:5), Moses states that Abram “journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4 ESV). And Lot went with him.

Abram, despite his less-than-stellar showing in Egypt, returns to the site where he had built the altar, and he offers sacrifices to God. It seems that Abram understood that his timely departure from Egypt, with his wife by his side, had been the work of God. And he wanted to express his appreciation by offering some of his newfound wealth as a thank offering to God. There is no indication that Lot participated in this selfless display of thanksgiving. He had been equally blessed by God but displayed no awareness of God’s gracious benevolence, and he offered no gifts of gratitude. But, in time, he will display an unflattering tendency toward self-interest and self-indulgence.

Moses describes the situation between Abram and his nephew as untenable.

the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together – Genesis 13:6 ESV

This is an interesting statement because it portrays the land of promise as rather unpromising. Perhaps the famine had decimated the available pasture land, rendering the current location as an insufficient source of food for the enlarged herds of Abram and Lot. But there seems to be something more significant going on in this passage.

When God had issued His original call, He had made the conditions of that call clear:  “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). Yet, as the text reveals, “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4 NLT).

The land had been promised to Abram, not Lot. In a sense, Lot should not have been there and his presence was proving to be problem. The land was sufficient for the flocks and herds of Abram, but not for both. Somewhere along the way, in keeping with the command of God, Abram should have separated himself from Lot. But he had failed to do so. Now, God was stepping in and forcing these two men to part company. As the herdsmen of Abram and Lot attempted to shepherd their respective flocks on the same parcel of land, tempers flared.

…there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

And, at this point in the story, Moses provides another parenthetical aside.

At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

This is intended as a reminder that the land was already occupied. God had led Abram to a country where other people groups had settled and put down roots. Their presence would have further limited the available pasture land. This disclosure by Moses was also meant to foreshadow the miracle that God will have to perform in order to make this already-occupied land available to Abram’s descendants.

Verses 8-13 reveal Abram’s solution to the dilemma. In an effort to appease Lot and his disgruntled herdsmen, Abram gave his nephew his choice of permanent pastureland.

“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

This is viewed by many as a sign of Abram’s magnanimity. He takes the high road and gives his undeserving nephew first dibs on the available land. But in some sense, this reflects a lack of reverence for God’s promise. God had clearly told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While Lot was Abram’s blood relative, he was not his offspring. It’s highly likely that Abram’s decision to share the land with Lot was driven by his belief that Lot would eventually be his heir.  After all, Abram wasn’t getting any younger and his wife was still barren. So, he probably believed that this young man would end up being the means by which God fulfilled His promise to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).

But that was not God’s plan. And it will soon become clear that Abram’s gracious offer to Lot was going to end up backfiring on him. This young man would display a disregard for the well-being of his uncle and a myopic preoccupation with his own success. Lot was out to make of himself a great nation. He was choosing the best land so that he might enjoy the best possible outcome. But his choices would prove to be far from wise and less than beneficial. And Abram’s decision to pacify Lot by parceling out the land given to him by God would only lead to greater turmoil in the days ahead.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Name Above All Names

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. Genesis 12:4-9 ESV

Abram followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Noah, who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). When God told Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 ESV), he went. And the text makes it clear that Abram went, “as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). He not only proved to be compliant but comprehensive in his obedience. He did everything just as God had commanded him to do. But there is one small detail that stands out.

When it came time for Abram to comply with God’s command, he “took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5 ESV). It all sounds good, except for the fact that God had clearly told Abram to leave behind his country and his kindred. The Hebrew word for “kindred” is מוֹלֶדֶת (môleḏeṯ), and it can refer to “offspring” or “relatives.” Considering the context, it seems clear that God was telling Abram to leave his extended family behind. Abram and his wife, Sarai, had no children because she was barren.

And yet, the text reveals that Abram brought along his nephew, the son of his brother, Haran. A look back at the genealogy in chapter 11 reveals that Haran had fathered a son named Lot while the clan was still living in Ur of the Chaldeans. But Haran died, leaving his son, Lot, without a father. Under the circumstances, Terah, the boy’s grandfather, assumed responsibility for his care and protection. He became a surrogate father to Lot. So, when Terah moved his entire extended family to the land of Haran, Lot accompanied him. But in time, Terah died as well, leaving Lot fatherless once more. It seems that Abram and Sarai, without children of their own, assumed responsibility for the boy’s well-being. And when they packed up their belongings to follow God’s will and move to Canaan, Lot was in their company.

Abram was not explicitly violating the command to leave his kindred behind. Lot had become part of his immediate family. It is almost as if he and Sarai had made the decision to adopt this young man. After all, she was barren and they were doomed to a life without children of their own.

But what can’t be ignored is the distinct possibility that Abram and Sarai viewed Lot as a possible heir and the means by which God would fulfill His promise to produce a great nation from them. In a way, Lot could have been Abram’s ace in the hole – a security blanket that helped mitigate any doubts he may have had about God’s plan and promise. If one believes in the sovereignty of God, then it seems obvious that the death of Haran and Terah was no surprise to God. And the fact that this young man had twice been rendered fatherless was not a byproduct of chance or bad luck. There was a divine strategy in play in which God was providentially orchestrating the details surrounding Abram’s life. Terah’s decision to leave Ur had been God-ordained. The birth of Lot and his father’s eventual death were also part of God’s plan. And Abram’s “adoption” of Lot when Terah died in Haran must also be seen as the handiwork of God.

There is no indication as to how long the journey from Haran to Canaan took. But it would have been an arduous and extremely lengthy trip as Abram and his retinue made their way through strange lands occupied by many of those foreign-speaking nations that had been scattered by God after His judgment at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

Evidently, Abram was leading a rather large caravan, transporting all the possessions and people he had “acquired” while living in Haran (Genesis 12:5). It would appear that Abram had livestock and slaves in tow. A few of these unnamed servants or slaves will play important roles as the story unfolds. But their presence in the traveling party would have made progress slow and demanded greater resourcefulness when it came to provisions and protection.

But eventually, Abram arrived in the land of Canaan, just as God had commanded. And Moses indicates that Abram “passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6 ESV), where “he built there an altar to the Lord” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While there’s no indication from the text that God directed Abram’s steps by providing him with detailed navigational instructions, it seems only logical that God was guiding His servant all along the way. Once again, the sovereign hand of God was determining every aspect of Abram’s pilgrimage from Haran to Canaan, even choosing Shechem as the place where Abram would erect an altar. Two times in verse 7, Moses discloses that God had appeared to Abram. These divine theophanies or manifestations of God’s presence had probably occurred all along the way, providing Abram with guidance and assurance that he was not alone.

Shechem was located in the center of Canaan, and it was there, in the heart of this foreign land that God instructed Abram to build an altar and offer sacrifices. Most likely exhausted by the long and arduous journey, Abram still obeyed God and did just as he was told. He “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). This phrase refers to much more than just worship. It reveals an underlying awareness of the holy and righteous character of God as embodied in His divine name. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in Genesis 4:26, where it reads, “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

The “name of the Lord” is synonymous with His character.  To devalue God’s name is tantamount to profaning His character. To call upon His name is to recognize that God alone is God. He is the transcendent and holy “other.” There is no other god besides Him. Man was made in the image of God and given the unique role of glorifying His great name by living in humble submission to His will. To call upon His name is to acknowledge one’s complete reliance upon Him and trust in Him. That is why God would later command the Israelites to treat His name with respect.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – Exodus 20:7 ESV

To treat God’s name vainly or flippantly has much more to do with behavior than speech. Later on, God would provide His people with an example of what it meant to treat His name vainly.

You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:21 ESV

Proverbs 30:8-9 indicates that a life of self-sufficiency is a way to profane the name of the Lord.

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

When men make the false assumption that they can be their own benefactor and provider, they rob God of glory and profane His name. The prophet Isaiah described the anger of God against those who give Him lip-service, but whose actions reveal that they have no respect for His name and character.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

At this point in the story of Abram’s life, he is revealing his deep dependence upon God. He recognizes that his journey from Haran to Canaan has been the work of God and he wants to express his gratitude through sacrifice and praise. And having completed his sacrifice to God, Abram continued to his journey to “the hill country on the east of Bethel” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). And there, he pitched his tent, erected a second altar, and called upon the name of the Lord. Here we have a picture of the nomadic lifestyle that Abram would come to know. He would spend his entire life on the move, relocating from one place to another within the land of Canaan. Even after pitching his tent in Bethel, Abram would eventually break camp and continue his tireless trek through the land God had promised to give him as a possession. And the author of Hebrews reveals that Abram’s transient lifestyle was motivated by a firm belief that God had something great in store for him.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

He was a man on the move, but with a faith that was firmly founded on the faithfulness of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Call and a Commitment

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 12, Moses provides his Hebrew readers with an important history lesson that solidifies their unique role in God’s redemptive plan for all mankind. For generations, the Jews had rightfully viewed themselves as God’s chosen people. They considered themselves to be a people who had been set apart by God and declared to be His “treasured possession.” Those were the very words that Moses had communicated to them not long after God delivered them out of captivity in Egypt.

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

Years later, when the people of Israel were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter into the land that God had promised to give them, Moses reminded them of their privileged position as God’s set-apart people.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

When reading the story of Abram’s call, it is essential to keep this unique relationship between God and the nation of Israel in mind. The original audience to whom Moses wrote would have relished this retelling of their storied history, but it’s likely that they missed some of the key messages that God had intended for them to hear. They would have brightened at the mention of Abram’s name. This would have been the part of the story where they sat up and took notice. God’s call of Abram had been the impetus for their very existence.

And while that was true, there is something far more significant in the story of Abram’s call than the formation of a single, set-apart nation. For generations, the descendants of Abram had missed the divine purpose behind their existence. They had not earned their favored status with God. The Almighty had not looked down from heaven, noticed their righteous behavior, and decided to reward them with a promotion. In fact, Moses had fully dispelled any thought of their favored status being a reward.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT

That last line is the key to understanding Genesis 12. The Hebrews, as descendants of Abram, had been created by God. Despite their long and storied history, they had not always existed. There had been a time when not a single Jew walked the face of the earth. Even Abram was not of Jewish descent. He was a Chaldean. But from this one man came a people whom God would set apart. Like the rest of the universe in Genesis 1, the Hebrew people would be created by God, ex nihilo (out of nothing). And the 12th chapter of Genesis begins the story of this “new creation” by God.

The apostle Peter picked up on this theme when writing his first letter. He was addressing Christians who were living in Asia Minor and suffering persecution because of their faith. At one point in his letter, he describes them as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11), living in the midst of the spiritual darkness that surrounded them. And he used language that compared them to the people of Israel.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

That last line is critical. At one time, these people had not been “a people.” Oh, they existed, but they lacked a relationship with God. The apostle Paul addressed the Gentile believers in Ephesus with a similar thought.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12 BSB

And Paul went on to remind them of the dramatic transformation that God had brought about in their lives.

Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household… – Ephesians 2:19 BSB

So, back to Genesis 12. With the opening line of the chapter, Moses describes God as sovereignly inserting Himself into the affairs of humanity once again. After all the genealogical lists describing the various lines of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, God focuses His attention on one man: Abram. And to this one individual, God issues a call and provides a promise.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to chapter 11, Abram had been born in Ur of the Chaldeans, located in the land of Shinar. But at one point, his father had made the decision to move his entire family to Canaan. The text provides is no explanation for this costly and difficult relocation. But it is not difficult to see the sovereign hand of God orchestrating this entire affair.

It would have taken a great deal of time and effort to make the long journey from Ur to Canaan. Because the arid and impassable Arabian Desert was located immediately east of Ur, Terah was forced to take a time-consuming detour that eventually led them to Haran. And, once in Haran, Terah had a change of heart and decided to settle down. but God had other plans for Abram. In time, Haran became home to Abram. He too settled down and began to put down roots. But at some point, God commanded him to leave everything behind.

“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

This was a huge “ask” on God’s part. In those days, family ties were essential to survival. By this time in human history, the world had become a hostile place occupied by disparate people groups based on clans and tribal relationships. After God had scattered the nations across the face of the earth (Genesis 11:9), territorial boundaries and indigenous communities had become commonplace. Everyone had staked out their claims and was protecting their particular piece of the global pie. So, it would not have been easy for Abram to leave the safety and security of his clan behind.

But God’s command came with a promise. He was going to provide Abram with a new home in a new land. And it just happened to be the very same land that Terah had intended as his family’s destination. Perhaps Terah had given up on Canaan because he heard it was already occupied by other, more powerful clans. But this would prove to be no problem for God. For the first time since God had placed Adam in Eden, a man was going to be given a specific tract of land to occupy. And like Eden, Canaan was a beautiful and fruitful land, “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 ESV).

According to God, this new land would become the sole possession of Abram’s descendants. In a sense, Canaan had Abram’s name on the deed. And it would be in this land that God would bless Abram and produce through him “a great nation.”

But there is a problem. It was mentioned in chapter 11 but only in passing. In the listing of Terah’s descendants, Abram is described as taking a wife for himself – a woman named Sarai. And then, almost as an aside, the test reveals, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30 ESV). Abram would have been completely unaware of Sarai’s condition. But God knew. And yet, knowing that Sarai was incapable of bearing children, God declared that Abram would become the father of a great nation. God was going to bless Abram by giving him offspring. And those offspring would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. An undeserving man and his barren wife would become the means by which God would pour out His blessings on all humanity.

And this is the point that the Hebrew people tended to miss. They considered themselves to be blessed by God because they were descendants of Abram. But they neglected to remember that their blessing came with a responsibility: They were to have been a blessing to the nations. God had set apart Abram and all his descendants so that they might serve as His representatives to the nations. God had promised to make them His “treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5 ESV). But they had a job to do.

…you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation… – Exodus 19:6 ESV

Priests were intended to be the mediators between God and man. The Hebrew people had been set apart by God so that they might minister on His behalf to all the nations of the earth. But they had proved to be unfaithful priests and far from a holy nation. But God’s promise would still be fulfilled. Because it would be through the line of Abram that He would bring the offspring through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus would accomplish what the nation of Israel had failed to do.

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations… ” – Isaiah 42:6 ESV

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

That is what sets this chapter apart. In it is contained the hope of all eternity. The coming of the Messiah is weaved into the fabric of Abram’s call and provides the underlying foundation for God’s promise of future blessing for all mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Hidden Hope of Salvation

21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.  Genesis 10:21-32 ESV

Compared to his younger brother’s genealogy, Shem’s lineage is far more pedestrian in nature. It contains no names that might raise eyebrows or elicit a sense of shock. And yet, within this list of obscure and difficult to pronounce names Moses provided a subtle, yet powerful, reminder of God’s sovereign authority over the affairs of mankind.

For most modern readers, this list of names seems rather superfluous. The individuals listed are unknown to us and, therefore, carry little weight. Yet, for the Jewish audience to whom Moses penned the book of Genesis, these names would have had a great deal of significance. At the mention of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, and Peleg, Moses would have had his reader’s undistracted attention, because these men were part of the family tree of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation. In fact, Moses will provide a more detailed and complete genealogy of Abraham in the very next chapter. He will go on to trace the lineage of Shem through the line of Peleg, all the way to the man who would become the patriarch of the Jewish people.

But in chapter nine, Moses chose to ignore the line of Peleg and traced the lineage of his brother, Joktan instead. Moses provides a rather strange aside when describing these two brothers.

To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. – Genesis 10:25 ESV

There has been much debate regarding the meaning of the phrase, “the earth was divided.” The Hebrew word is פָּלַג (pālaḡ), and it means “to split, cleave, or divide.” Based on the context of chapter 11, the most logical explanation is that Moses is referring to God’s dividing of the nations by the creation of languages. It seems that the events recorded in Genesis 11:1-9 occurred during the lifetime of Peleg. It was in Peleg’s lifetime that God decided to “divide or split” the earth by confusing the languages of the people. And Moses provides a detailed description of God’s momentous decision.

“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” – Genesis 11:6-7 ESV

And Moses goes on to describe how God “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8 ESV). God literally “divided” or “split” the earth by creating new people groups with different languages. Their inability to communicate with one another caused an immediate parting of the ways, indirectly fulfilling God’s command that mankind “fill the earth.” In “dispersing” them, God was breaking humanity in pieces and scattering them abroad. That is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word, פּוּץ (pûṣ).

It would appear that Moses split the genealogy found in chapter 10 at the juncture of Peleg and Joktan because he was going to provide further details about Peleg’s lineage in the following chapter. During the lives of these two brothers, something significant and earth-shattering took place. And Moses will provide further insights into that momentous occasion. But it seems safe to conclude that when Moses states “in his days the earth was divided,” he is referring to the events surrounding the tower of Babel, as described in the opening verses of chapter 11. Another reason for reaching this conclusion is found in a psalm written by David. In it, he uses the very same word, (pālaḡ), to describe the dividing and confusion of languages.

Destroy, O Lord, divide (pālaḡ) their tongues;
    for I see violence and strife in the city. – Psalm 55:9 ESV

So, hidden within this somewhat meaningless and uninteresting genealogy is a subtle reminder of God’s sovereign will. As the sons of Noah procreate and populate the planet, God is operating behind the scene, sovereignly orchestrating His divine will. With the birth of each new son, another branch in the human family tree begins. Peleg and Joktan, while brothers, would produce two distinctively different progeny.  From Joktan would come the various Arabic tribes, the Yemenites, Assyrians, Lydians, and Aramaens. These “clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32 ESV).

God was orchestrating the creation of all those nations that were destined to play vital roles in His future plans for the world. By sovereignly forming such diverse groups as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Canaanites, God was putting in place all the pieces to His divine plan for mankind’s redemption. There was a method to the seeming madness. God had a reason for creating each of these distinct people groups. And Moses wanted his readers to understand that the existence of each of these nations had been decreed by God’s will. They didn’t just happen. They were planned by God Almighty. And while each of them would eventually become an enemy of Israel, God had a divinely ordained role for them to play.

There is no cosmic karma in the universe. Nothing happens by chance. Nations rise and fall by the sovereign will of God. The existence of languages was part of God’s plan. The birth of great nation-states was His idea. Each of the men listed in the genealogy of chapter 10 would go on to father a multitude of descendants. And these people would eventually form various nations, representing a diverse mix of ethnicities with each speaking their own unique language and displaying their own cultural distinctiveness. And it would be into this diverse and divisive milieu that God would sovereignly raise up a single man who would become the next “Adam” in the story of mankind’s eventual redemption from the fall.

This all takes us back to the protoevangelium (first gospel) found in Genesis 3:15. In pronouncing His curse against the serpent, God provided the promise of an offspring or seed, that would come from the woman.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 ESV

There is far more to this statement than the prediction of mutual hatred between mankind and snakes. This was a divinely decreed promise of payback for Satan’s role in Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. There would one day come a descendant of Eve who would restore fallen mankind to a right relationship with God. Jesus Christ, as outlined in the gospel of Luke, would be born a descendant of Adam (Luke 3:23-38). But as Matthew records in his gospel account, Jesus would also be the descendant of Abraham, who would be born from the line of Peleg.

…Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. – Matthew 1:1 ESV

Hidden within these somewhat obscure genealogical lists is the message of God’s sovereign plan to restore what Satan had attempted to destroy. When God sent the flood as a form of judgment against the wickedness of humanity, He could have destroyed Noah and his sons, and been completely just and right in doing so. While Noah found favor with God, he was not sinless. While Moses describes him as righteous and blameless “in his generation” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), this was intended as a statement of comparison, not commendation. In other words, Noah had not earned his salvation from God. God did not spare Noah because he was righteous. No, according to the book of Hebrews, God spared Noah because he believed and obeyed. He took God at His word and heeded the warning that judgment was coming.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 ESV

Noah’s faith was in the salvation of God. Despite the fact that none of God’s commands made much sense or the likelihood of a worldwide flood seemed remote at best, Noah believed and obeyed. He put his faith in God’s promise of deliverance. But in stepping on the ark he had helped to construct, Noah was foreshadowing a greater deliverance to come. And the author of Hebrews ends chapter 11, his great “Hall of Faith,” with the following words of encouragement and insight.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. – Hebrews 11:39-40 NLT

Out of all the offspring born to Adam and Noah, there would eventually come one “seed” that would provide a means of restoring broken humanity to a right relationship with its Creator.

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