Genesis 13 – Our Lot in Life

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Today’s PassageGenesis 13

One thing I appreciate about the Bible is that it’s not afraid to show its protagonists in an unflattering light. It’s open about the shortcomings and issues of its central characters. Just yesterday, we got a clear look at Abraham’s less noble side, as he caves to fear and instructs his wife to join him in a lie in order to protect his own skin. It didn’t shy away from introducing complications with even God’s behavior, as he afflicted Pharaoh’s household with seemingly-undeserved plagues. In today’s chapter, though, Abraham gives his nephew Lot first pick of the land near Bethel, so we are unfortunately without any seamy stories of patriarchal depravity at present, stuck instead with Good Guy Abraham.

Both Abraham and Lot have substantial herds and flocks, and a substantial entourage to care for them–in part courtesy of Pharaoh’s would-be-brother-in-law gift turned get-out-of-town gift. But the old saying proves true: mo’ flocks and herds and tents, mo’ problems. The region can’t support so many living creatures at once, and the herdsmen start fighting with each other over territory. In order to make peace between their people, Abraham tells Lot: “Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left” (9). Lot heads for the most fertile region available, the valley of the Jordan. Abraham goes the other way, settling in the land of Canaan, among the descendants of Noah’s son Ham’s son Canaan. (Noah and Lot, of course, are descended from Noah’s son Shem.)

In short, Abraham takes initiative in solving the problem of limited resources, and moreover he gives Lot the pick of the litter. And it occurs to me: this is what we do. We human beings give things to our families, particularly to the next generation. It was especially what we did as human beings in the ancient Near East. Abraham is currently childless, with an infertile wife and no idea as to how God will fulfill his promise to make Abraham a great nation. Does Abraham view Lot as a surrogate son? I don’t think he expects God to fulfill the covenant through Lot, but he’s traveled to Egypt and back with his nephew, and now he gives him first dibs on whatever place he wants to settle in. Without any direct offspring to give preferential treatment to, perhaps Abraham is instead granting familial favor to his brother’s son.

For better or for worse, this is what we do. We want the best for our children, and given a choice between our child having a good thing and some other child having a good thing, we’ll want the good thing to go to our child, because they’re ours. And when Lot takes the best land for himself, this is also what we do. Given an opportunity to better ourselves, we take it. Lot’s choice turns out to have unintended consequences later on, as is foreshadowed when he settles near the city of Sodom, whose inhabitants are “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord” (13) and which God has not yet destroyed (10). Some might say that what happens to Lot later is the just desserts of his selfish choice. I don’t think the text censures his decision to go toward the best available land and leave Abraham to go some other way; I don’t know whether his choice was morally wrong or not. But his choice certainly has consequences, and if we find out that our neighbors are wicked exceedingly but we still choose to live among them, we have to live with the fallout.

That’s life. Sometimes we’re on our game, and sometimes we hang ourselves morally out to dry. Make sure that restraining bar is secured firmly across your lap, because Lot and Abraham’s ups and downs here are but the first of many.

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