So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.2 Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. 5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. At that time the Canaanites and the Per′izzites dwelt in the land.
8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zo′ar; this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomor′rah. 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt 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 which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. 16 I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants 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 dwelt by the oaks[a] of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.
Leaving the Nest
I am tempted to take this reading in order to speak about boundaries, though I’m sure the topic will resurface in our reflections.
Instead, we will be doing some foreshadowing of Lot’s decision to settle near Sodom and Gomorrah.
In this reading, we hear about the misfortune of a family needing to part ways due to how large their respective herds/caravan has become. There are disputes among Abraham’s followers and Lot’s, as though the two are two chiefs of two clans, despite coming from one family. Lot is Abraham’s nephew, and without having a son we can perhaps infer there is a father-son dynamic at play between the two.
There first lesson we draw from this story of bitter parting is the necessity for parent and child to become two separate entities, to grow into their own person. Abraham no doubt provided, guided, and mentored Lot, but now that Lot takes a place of leadership and perhaps in this has his own family too, he needs to go his own way, become his own man. Abraham encourages Lot to “leave the nest” and even “get out of the basement”, though he does so graciously.
Abraham gives Lot an option of what land to choose where he and his flock will go. Abraham examples a proper father figure, allowing his child to choose his own path, to entrust that child in that decision, with the hope that the child will make proper decisions and make something for themselves. Abraham does his proper part, and in the next chapter, we shall see that although he allows Lot to be his own man that he is ready and able to step in as “father” again by saving Lot from being taken hostage.
A Logical Decision With Repercussions
With many options before Lot, he looks to a well-watered land, which is compared to both the Garden of Eden and the land of Egypt. It’s a fertile place of civilization. Who wouldn’t choose such an option?
It’s hard to fault Lot for this decision, though perhaps we might argue that an adult child would endure some hardship on their own in order to support their aged parent. However, the real difference between Lot and Abraham’s decision to settle has little to do with the fertility of the land and more to do with the company in which they find themselves.
Abraham does happen to settle near a people that get a bad rap in the Bible–those of Canaan–however we don’t hear about the wickedness of Canaan, and more than that, we don’t hear of Abraham dwelling near their cities.
Lot on the other hand dwells among the cities of a wicked people.
To be fair to Lot, when we imagine a post-apocalyptic setting wherein new civilizations are just beginning to bud, we tend to see survivors gravitate to any hub of civilization, no matter how imperfect it may seem. In such stories and settings, we often find how the hubs of the civilization on their surface seem good and stable, and only until dwelling there a little longer do the survivors see how rotten to the core their foundation is.
An argument could be made that Lot dwelling in the cities of this corrupt land could be a missionary endeavor, an opportunity for him to do some good and set an example. This piece we don’t hear about in Lot’s residence within these cities, but instead, later we shall see he tries to appease and capitulate to the mob when they come to his door asking for his holy guests he is entertaining.
Perhaps Lot’s fate of being captured, needing to escape the city, and even lose his wife could all have been avoided if he lived on the outskirts of the land, if he, like Abram, set himself apart from such wicked cities and people instead of being so close to it.
The temptation to being close to the city comes from a desire for security, the possibility for trade and protection when one lives in great numbers, to not be reduced to the life of a nomadic scavenger but rather trusting in the infrastructure of a city to get through hard times.
Still, this decision costs Lot greatly, requiring his uncle to come in and save him and then later God’s angels providing him and his family a miraculous escape.
Spiritual Osmosis: Becoming What Is Around Us
The application of this lesson is that of setting ourselves apart and paying attention to the temptation to associate in the company of the wicked. I think this message is particularly important in the workforce and in school. From high school to college, we are dared into risky behavior, tempted to give up “prude” boundaries that our parents set for us, and fit in with the crowd. To cling to the ways of our tradition–encompassing values of faith, family, and our own moral compass–makes us strangers to those we study and work with.
When the bar is set low and we continue to walk the straight and narrow, we alienate ourselves and place barriers between us and the other. This can provide incredible opportunities for accountability and witness for us to mold others. That being said, the Nietzchen quote of “whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”. While we don’t particularly fight with our peers that might have a different ethic than us, maintaining our own boundaries and principles certainly is a fight we all partake in, and by mere association, we will find temptation and trial in this co-dwelling.
Scripture does speak of civilizations that were ready for a righteous man, cities ripe to hear a word and example of repentance and sanctity (ie, Jonah). That being said, even the Lord advised His Apostles that should a town not receive them that they should depart that city and not even take with them the dust that belonged to that city.
Any righteous conviction we have to change a person, a school, a workplace, or a city requires tempering through humility, discernment, and introspection. We cannot arrogantly or with hubris assume that we will enter into a place of temptation and wickedness unscathed. We must give pause and ask for some objectivity, to evaluate our heart and purpose and the heart and purpose of that environment we find ourselves within. And how can any of us hope to change the world let alone our own immediate circle if we haven’t made important changes of putting our own lives in order?
The Cenobitic Model
Lastly, a great example is set by Abraham in this chapter that I believe requires some contemplation of, and that is of “setting ourselves apart”.
Abraham seems to have more of a call to be a hermit than an apostle, a foundation rather than an agent of change. Both are holy causes–in which even both can overlap in purpose–though each is required of in different contexts and circumstances. The world we see in these early chapters of Genesis is cruel and twisted, a true dark age. Just as was the case for Noah, Abraham seeks to create a hallowed place of safety that can bring some salvation. Abraham is called to begin a nation, to begin a story that will eventually become a message of conviction to change the hearts of many.
Abraham, seeing the frailty of the world and perhaps of his own soul, endeavors to go his geographical and spiritual path apart from the world–and yet, still, not entirely removed from it…just at its outskirts.
Abraham creates a sacred haven for himself and his people to focus on the good they are trying to establish in such a dark context, to follow God alone when the hearts of man are self-centered at best and diabolical at worst.
The message for us here is not that there’s no hope for evangelism or mission, to dwell among the lost and cruel so as to change their hearts. Rather, the application of Abraham’s example is that we all establish our own foundation first, to not let “the world” or peer pressure to tear down our own values, traditions, and goals.
God told Abraham he would establish a great nation. Abraham fixed his eyes on that goal and walked with God, stumbling and yet doing some good as well in this journey.
But in this life of consecration, Abraham carves out a boundary, a “safe space” if you will for his own growth and the growth of those around him. And out of this consecration and carving, Israel slowly buds, and from Israel’s budding comes much later the fruit of salvation for the world.
Today, consider the following
- What are your eyes/heart/mind fixed on?
- What might God be inviting you to fix your whole being on? How might you discern this call/vocation?
- How can you consecrate your life or surroundings to create a safe haven for your growth?
- Who do you find yourself dependent upon that you may need to set some boundaries with, to become your own person, to take responsibility for yourself?
- Who do you find yourself needing to encourage to go their own way, to set some boundaries with so that they learn their responsibilities?