The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.Abram and Lot
This is the first time, is it not, that a rich man is mentioned in the Bible. I do not remember that we have yet seen that great division of human society which is known by the names of "rich" and "poor." Now there is a rich man before us, and we shall see what rich men do when they are put to it. A wonderful thing it is, by the way, that some men should be rich and others poor they live on the same earth, they need the same comforts, yet one man seems to have everything and another to have nothing. Behind all this there must be a secret. It certainly looks like an unnatural state of things; yet we know that if all men had exactly the same today, in less than six months we should find ourselves very much where we are now.
In the text we learn that Abram was "very rich," and that Lot "had flocks, and herds, and tents." You will say, then, that this must have been a very happy company of travellers; they must be so, for they have come out at God's call, they are walking in God's way, and they have flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and every comfort that can be named. But even here a strife arose! "Their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together." Things got mixed. The cattle ran together so that sometimes the herdmen could not tell which was which; the count was always wrong at night; and the noise got louder and louder as the herdmen became fretful and suspicious. It was a quarrel in the kitchen, as we should say nowadays. The masters seemed to get along fairly well with each other, but the servants were at open war. Small credit to the masters, perhaps! They had everything nice; the lentil soup and the smoking kid were punctually set before them, and mayhap the wine-flagon was not wanting. But noise travels upward. It gets somehow from the kitchen into the parlour. It was so in this case. Abram heard of the vulgar quarrel and was the first to speak. He spake as became an elder and a millionaire: "Lot," said he "you, must see to it that my peace be not broken; you must lay the lash on the backs of these rough men of yours and keep them in check; I will not stand any noise; the lips that speak above a whisper shall be shut by a strong hand; you and your men must all mind what you are at, or I will scourge you all to within an inch of your lives." And when the lordly voice ceased there was great fear amongst those who had heard its solemn thunder!
Now it so happens that the exact contrary of this is true. Abram was older than Lot, and richer than Lot, and yet he took no high airs upon him, but spoke with the meekness of great strength and ripe wisdom. His words would make a beautiful motto today for the kitchen, for the parlour, for the factory, for the Church: "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 instantly Lot arose, and said: "No, mine uncle, this shall never be; I am the younger; I am but a follower; without thee I cannot stand; if we must part, the choice shall be thine, and what thou dost leave I will take." A beautiful speech for a young man to make: quiet and also great, and full of tender pathos; but, unhappily, never made by Lot! This is what Lot really did; listen: "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan." And as Lot stole out alone to take another look, he said to himself, "'It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good'; if these rattle-pated herdmen had not come to high words this good luck never would have been mine." And he looked round with the air of a rich lord, and hoped that all quarrels would end as well.
Brave Abram! we say as we read his words. He walked by faith and not by sight. Certainly his foot slipped in Egypt, but he is strong now, and he looks every inch a king as he stoops before Lot. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation." It is beautiful to see strength stoop to weakness, but a very hard thing for strength to do.
There is a clause in the story that has much meaning in it which would be useful to us: "And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land." No doubt their flocks helped to lessen the pasture which had already suffered from want of water, but I wonder whether we are not entitled to say that Abram did not want these strangers to hear any quarrelling amongst the Lord's people. As if he had said: "They are pagans; they are to be sent away from this land; they know not our God; but if we fight and bicker, and if we assail and devour one another, they must think evil of our religion, and they may secretly despise our God. Let us not shame our call and our destiny before the worshippers of idols." This is, at all events, a lesson which, we may learn and put in force today. The world overhears the Church, and if we scold and fret, and throw hard words at one another, the world may mock us and say how mighty must their God be who cannot still the noise of their vanity and pride. My brethren, the Canaanite and the Perizzite are still in the land! The mocker has come across the threshold of the Church that he may find food for bitter mirth; his ear is set, if haply he can hear one note of discord which he will maliciously magnify into a great uproar. Let us give none occasion to the enemy to blaspheme. Let us forgive one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, and let mercy triumph over the letter of the law.
Now let us look for a moment at Lot's choice. The well-watered plain of Jordan is a great prize for any man, and Lot has made sure of it His estate is large, and is favoured by the sun and the clouds. Is there, then, any drawback? Read: "But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly." A great estate, but bad neighbours! Material glory, but moral shame! Noble landscapes, but mean men! But Lot did just what men are doing today. He made choice of a home, without making any inquiry as to the religious state of the neighbourhood. Men do not care how poor the Church is, if the farm be good. They will give up the most inspiring ministry in the world for ten feet more garden, or a paddock to feed an ass in. They will tell you that the house is roomy, the garden is large, the air is balmy, the district is genteel, and if you ask them what religious teaching they will have there, they tell you they really do not know, but must inquire! They will take away six children into a moral desert for the sake of a garden to play in: they will leave Paul or Apollos for six feet of greenhouse! Others again fix their tent where they can get the best food for the heart's life; and they sacrifice a summer-house that they may now and again get a peep of heaven.
Abram will need some comfort now that Lot has gone. He will want some one to speak to. He will be lonely and dull. Many a strange talk they had at eventide as the great eastern stars came trooping forth from their hiding, and shone like lamps of silver on the crags and the green plains. Oh, the sight! Every star a veiled sun, and the broad moon like the shield of a king waiting peacefully for the fight, yet loathing war. And the two men spoke softly. They lived in a holy church; every wind a sweet hymn, every hill an altar set apart, every star a flaming minister of God. But now Abram is left alone, and he will need more than nature can give him; for nature becomes monotonous, and at last a mockery and a pain. So the Lord came to him and spoke to Abram in his mother-tongue: "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." A sweet word to speak to a dull heart, and a wonderful way of making up loss to a man who has done a brave deed and said good-bye to a friend he loved. God gives land. God gives children. God sends our bread day by day. We think that he looks at us only in church; we forget that he filleth our mouths with good things, and makes our basket rich with all kinds of store. Lot chose for himself. He took things into his own hands, and put himself at the head of his own affairs. What became of his management we shall see presently. He asked no blessing; will the feast choke him? he sought no advice; will his wisdom mock him and torment him bitterly? He snatched at good luck; will he fall into a pit which he did not see? O, my soul, make no model of this fool for thine own guidance. Perhaps his honour is but for a moment. Commit thy way unto the Lord, and choose nothing for thyself. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths. O rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Seek not high things for thyself, nor take thy life into thine own keeping. O, my soul, I charge thee, live in the secret of Christ's love. Walk in the way of the Lord seek him always with eager heart, and whether the road be long or short, rugged or plain, it will lead thee into the city where the angels are, and the firstborn and the loved ones who left thee long ago.