Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.Genesis 13:10-11
The lesson to be gained from the history of Abraham and Lot is obviously this—that nothing but a clear apprehension of things unseen, a simple trust in God's promises, and the greatness of mind thence arising, can make us act above the world—indifferent, or almost so, to its comforts, enjoyments, and friendships, or in other words, that its goods corrupt the common run even of religious men who possess them.... Could we not easily persuade ourselves to support Antichrist, I will not say at home, but at least abroad, rather than we should lose one portion of the freights which 'the ships of Tarshish bring us'.... Surely, if we are to be saved, it is not by keeping ourselves just above the line of reprobation, and living without any anxiety and struggle to serve God with a perfect heart. No one, surely, can be a Christian who makes his worldly interests his chief end of action.
—J. H. Newman.
In the story of patriarchal times we see how the possession of property brought with it new social problems for the primitive family. In this case the difficulty began not with the principals, but with their retainers. Before the difficulty struck the masters, the servants were at war. Jealousy about respective rights, and emulation to secure the better bargain crept in. Abram with his calm wisdom saw that it would be better to avoid all such unseemly quarrels by voluntarily separating. Abram with generous disinterestedness offers Lot his choice. 'If thou wilt take the left hand then I will go to the right; or if thou wilt take the right hand then I will go to the left.' It was quite like Abram to do this, in keeping with his noble nature.
I. The presence of moral greatness either raises us or dwarfs us, either prompts us to rise to the occasion or tempts us to take advantage of it. Lot lost his choice of meeting Abram's generosity. Worldly advantage was the first element in his choice. He judged according to the world's judgment; he judged by the eye. His heart was allured by the beauty and fertility of the plain. On the other side the gain was limited and hardly won.
II. Now the power of the temptation to Lot, as it is the power of it to us, was that the good of the one alternative was present, while the good of the other seemed distant. The one could be had at sight; the other only through faith. The seduction of the world is that it is here, palpable, to be had now. To exercise self-control for the sake of a future blessing, to put off a present good for a prospective good needs strength of character and will, and, above all, faith.
III. Faith is the refusal of the small for the sake of the large. Worldly wisdom is not wisdom; it is folly, the blind grasping at what is within reach. Lot thought he was doing a wise thing in making the choice he did, but a share in the wealth of Sodom was a pitiful substitute for a place in Abram's company and a share in Abram's thoughts and faith. And the end was a ruined home, a desolate life, and a broken heart.
—H. Black, Edinburgh Sermons, p. 33.
References.—XIII. 11.—G. A. Towler, From Heart to Heart, p. 1. XIII. 11-14.—C. Perren, Revival Sermons, p. 242.
Abraham and Lot—A Contrast
Abraham's life is characterized throughout by great simplicity of motive. He is a man called of God, and true to the heavenly vision—a 'pilgrim of the invisible,' as Robertson of Brighton called him, laying by. his faith and high surrender of himself the foundation of a kingdom from which the prophet and the psalmist and the apostle and our Lord Himself were to come. You get a glimpse into the inner soul of Abraham in this chapter. When it comes to a quarrel between his servants and Lot's, and the younger man is scheming how he can promote his own interests by striking a good bargain, Abraham betrays on the whole subject a lofty indifference. He is so sure about God that he feels it matters very little whether he goes to the right hand or to the left. He does not need to stoop to any mean or grasping course to get what God has promised him. And although in this difference with Lot, as the older man and the leader of the enterprise, he might have claimed the first choice, he instead surrenders it.
I. In God's Company.—I find then that acting as he did Abraham got the best of both worlds. For one thing when he left Lot he went in God's company. As always when a man does right, even at a sacrifice, he saw the heavens opened and heard God speaking. And then in making this lofty unselfish choice, Abraham discovered that he had not lost his inheritance, but rather come to the gate of it. Abraham sought heavenly riches and lo! the wealth of the world lay at his feet.
II. The Divided Heart.—Lot is the type of a man, who tried in a very mistaken use of the phrase, to make the best of both worlds, and in the end got the good out of neither. You see him at every point trying to serve two masters, fearing God and yet pitching his tent towards Sodom. If you were to sum Lot up you might say he was an unsuccessful religious man, and an unsuccessful worldling, neither satisfied on the one side of his being nor the other. Lot's was a dissatisfied life; let me try to make the statement good. For on the one side his religion was spoiled by his worldliness. When you see him in Sodom he is sitting in the gate to dispense hospitality, perhaps to administer justice. He vexes his righteous soul at the depravity that goes on about him. He is looked upon by the lawless Sodomites as in some ways a moral censor; for you remember they say, 'This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge'. But you feel at once that Lot differs from Abraham in that he did not make religious principle the guiding star of his life. Right feeling, for instance, should have prompted him to refuse Abraham's generous offer of the first choice. But he did not refuse to take an unfair advantage of his kinsman. Then he pitched his tent towards Sodom, risking for worldly gear the defilement of his family.
III. A Life of Double Failure.—Then on the other side Lot's worldliness was spoiled by his religion. Another man might have let go the reins, and surrendered himself with wholehearted zest to the sordid and vicious life of Sodom. But Lot could not do that. And why? Because following him like a spectre was the memory of the days that were gone, the uplifting communion with Abraham and with God. And so he remained in Sodom, not entering into its life, uneasy and disturbed, vexing his righteous soul from day to day but without the moral courage to leave the city, till he was thrust out by the mercy of heaven 'saved yet so as by fire'.
—J. McColl, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. p. 170.
References.—XIII. 12.—W. J. Dawson, The Comrade of Christ, p. 243. XIII. 12-13.—R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 258. XIII. 18-20.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (2nd Series), p. 22. C. Stanford, Symbols of Christ, p. 3. XIII.—P. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 39. XIV. 13.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 93. XIV. 15, 16.—J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 285. XIV. 17-24.—Spurgeon, Sermon, vol. xliii. No. 2523; ibid., vol. xlix. No. 2814.
And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.
And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai;
Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.
And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents.
And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.
And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.
Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.
And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.
Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.
And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.