Overcoming Failure

Genesis 13

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2015

Last week, we looked at the last ten verses of Genesis 12. Before we look at Genesis 13, I need to do a little review.  Abraham was called by God in Ur and he started out great.  He left Ur in faith and travelled all the way to the Land of Canaan but when he got to Canaan, he did not exercise much faith.  When a famine came, he panicked and left the Land of Canaan and went to Egypt and when he left, he lied.

He lied to save his own life.  He did not give up his own life to save his wife.  He sacrificed his wife to save himself.  Out of fear, he gave Sarah to be Pharaoh’s wife but God sent plagues on Pharaoh’s house.

He judged Pharaoh for what he did.  He was committing adultery.  Even though it was a sin of ignorance, God still judged him for it.  He was faithful to the Abrahamic Covenant, even when Abraham was unfaithful.

Abraham is our spiritual father but in that chapter we see that he was a flawed father.  This was a low point in the life of Abraham.  He leaves the Promised Land, lies to a king and gives his wife away and gets rebuked by the world for his dishonesty.

How much lower can you get?  He was completely humiliated. He’s out of the will of God.  God called him to the Promised Land and he’s living in sin.  It is a depressing chapter.  That is why we need Genesis 13.

Genesis 13 teaches a very important lesson.  Believers can do some really stupid things.  This chapter shows that they can also be restored.

Many think that if they fall out of the will of God and fall into some sin that it is over.  They have ruined their testimony.  They feel bad about themselves.  They feel paralyzed by what they have done.  Genesis 13 is proof that you can be restored.

Donald Grey Barnhouse said, “We often go down into Egypt and God always waits for us to return.” He creates difficulties for us in Egypt so that we will want to return to Him.

There are many examples in the Bible of people who sinned but were restored by God to service.  Who are some people in the Bible who fell but were restored?  Let me give you three examples.

One example is Peter.  Peter denied Christ.  He said that he didn’t know Jesus, even though he had spent the last three years living with him,  following him, hearing his teaching and witnessing his miracles.  When Jesus was arrested, Peter did not just deny him, he denied him publicly.  He denied him repeatedly.  He did it three times.

He denied him vigorously.  He did so with an oath and all this is after saying that he would never ever deny Jesus, even if everyone else did.  It would seem like Peter was done with Jesus and Jesus was done with Peter but that is not the end of the story.

The Bible says that Peter went out and wept bitterly.  He repented and was restored and God used him again.  He preached the first sermon in the early church which led to the salvation of three thousand people.

Another example is Moses.  Moses was the child of a Hebrew slave who was discovered floating in the Nile River by the daughter of Pharaoh himself.  She adopted and raised him.  He had a privileged upbringing but when he was older, he got into a little trouble.  He committed murder, became a wanted man and ran away. He became a fugitive from the law.

Moses went from the being an Egyptian prince and living in the royal palace to an obscure shepherd in a foreign country for forty years.  God wasn’t finished with Moses.  He still had important work that He wanted him to do.  He appeared to him at the burning bush and called him to free two million Jews out of Egyptian slavery.

A third example is Samson.  Samson was called by God to fight the Philistines.  He was such an important individual than an angel appeared to his parents before he was born but Samson had a great fall.  He had a woman problem.

Finally his Nazarite vow was broken, his hair was cut, he lost his strength and he was captured, his eyes were gouged out and he became a slave.  Samson blew it.  It looks like his days of doing anything for God are over but Samson prays and God used him one more time.

His hair grew back, he knocked over the pillars of the temple, killing everyone.  He killed more by his death than by his life.  There are many other examples in the Bible of people that God used despite failure (David, Jonah, Elijah, John Mark).  The Bible says, “A righteous man falls seven times and gets back up” (Proverbs 24:16).

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord. (13:1-4)

In Genesis 13, Abraham is restored to fellowship with God.  Abraham repents and is restored.  The definition of repentance is a chance of mind.  It means to turn around.  Abraham does the exact opposite.  Instead of leaving Canaan, he goes back to Canaan.  Instead of going to Egypt, he is leaving it.

Of course, he had to be kicked out of the country to leave.  He was deported but he does return to the Land of Canaan and repents and heads back to the house of God.  He returns to Bethel.  Bethel means “house of God”.  Bethel is close to Jerusalem.  It is ten miles north of Jerusalem.  There we are told that “Abraham called on the name of the Lord”.

He goes back to the altar he built and worships God. We are not told that he did any worshiping in Egypt.  He did not build any altars in Egypt. An altar was a place of worship.  It was a place of fellowship.  It was also a place of sacrifice.  An altar is where animals were sacrificed.  It is a raised place of sacrifice, death and substitution.  An altar suggests sin.

Abraham offers a sacrifice and is restored to God and is restored to his wife.   That is the solution anytime we sin to go back to where we were.  We see the same thing in Revelation 2:4-5.  “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (NIV)

We can learn some lessons from what Abraham did here.  It is almost like a completely different person.  What are some ways that Abraham behaves radically differently in this chapter?

A New Abraham 

  • Abraham blesses others in this chapter.

He settles a dispute peacefully.  Here, we see him settling a dispute.  He becomes a peacemaker.  Abraham solves the problem of the shepherds arguing about grazing rights.  In the last chapter, he created a problem by lying. Pharaoh’s house was cursed because of Abraham.  They all got sick because of him.

  • Abraham is completely unselfish.

He thought of the needs of others.  He was generous.  That was his strength.  We saw his weakness last chapter (dishonesty).  Now we see his strength.  He was willing to divide up the land to make peace.  One went east and the other went west.  One took Sodom and the other took Canaan.  In fact, he let Lot pick first and said, “You take what you want.  I will take what is left”.  In this chapter, he put Lot’s needs above his own.

In the last chapter, Abraham looked out for himself.  He was selfish.  He put his own needs above his wife’s needs.  Apparently he learned a very important lesson in Egypt.  He was done scheming.  He let God choose for him. He put his faith in the sovereignty of God.  It paid off in the end.

  • Abraham gives up his possessions.

He gives up some of his inheritance.  He lets his nephew Lot take land that God promised him.  In the last chapter, he gets more possessions.  The Pharaoh gave him sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and servants (male and female).  Here he is giving some of it away.

  • Abraham operates by faith.

In the last chapter, he lived by sight and not by faith.  He responded to the famine and the Egyptians.  Instead of trusting, he was scheming.  He tried to control everything.  In this chapter, he lets God choose for him.  Lot chose for himself.  trust in the sovereignty of God.

  • Abraham is in the will of God.

In the last chapter, he is out of the land and out of the will of God.  Here we see the exact opposite.

 A New Problem 

In the last chapter, Abraham had a big problem.  There was a famine in the land, a severe famine.  In this chapter, Abraham has another problem, a different type of problem, and he deals with this problem the right way.  What was his problem in this chapter?  It was not famine but strife, an argument, a disagreement.

It sounds like some of the same type of fights that take place in the local church.  This was not just a fight, it was a family fight.  You have uncle and nephew arguing.  Family fights are often the worse kinds of fights.  This fight caused a family split.  What were they arguing about?  They were arguing about pasture land and animals. What was the cause of the problem?

“So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold…. Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.”  (13:1-2, 5-7 NIV)

This is very interesting.  This is the first time we see the word “rich” in the Bible.  It is the first time in Scripture that we see people distinguished by their economic status (rich or poor).  What do we learn about wealth from this passage?  This passage challenges some of the assumptions that many have about wealth.  I may say some controversial things here.

Lessons on Money

1. Believers can be wealthy.

The first time the Bible mentions someone with a lot of money, it is a believer.  It is a follower of Lord.  Being rich is not a sin.  The Bible does not condemn wealth.  It does not say the money is the root of all evil.  It says that “the love of money” is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10).

The is one of the most misquotes verses in the Bible.  God blesses people with wealth.  Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it” (NIV). David said “Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things” (I Chronicles 29:12).

2. Wealth is not always God’s will

How did Abraham get very rich?  He gave his wife to Pharaoh.  Was that God’s will?  No. Some think if you are poor you are out of the will of God and if you are rich you are in the will of God. Abraham was in the will of God in the famine and he was struggling. In Egypt, he got very rich and was out of the will of God.

I Samuel 2 says, “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor” (2:6-8).

We know God sends wealth but did you know that he also sends poverty?  That’s strange.  It is not always a judgment.  Abraham was in the will of God when the famine came.  He was not living in sin.  God allows both things in our life.  We should be able to live in both situations.

Paul said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)

3. Wealth is a mixed blessing.

Why were they arguing?  They were both wealthy.  Lot was wealthy and Abraham was wealthy.  Abraham came back from Egypt VERY RICH (13:2).  The wealth he got in Egypt did not bring peace and contemned but strife.  It led to a big argument and a fight. It caused a problem.

It turned out not to be a blessing but a curse.  Wealth does not always solve problems. Sometimes it causes them.  Just ask any lottery winner.  Abraham and Lot had all of this wealth but it caused problems because of the limited resources.

It is a little ironic. Abraham left Canaan in the first place because there was a famine.  There were limited resources, so he went to Egypt.  The famine may have ended when he returned but he still had the same problem, because he returned filthy rich and that led to the shepherds arguing about which flocks could get to the well first.

What problems can wealth cause?  It can lead to pride.  When you have a lot of money you can have a tendency to look down on poor people like they are beneath you.  It also leads to self-sufficiency.  The man in the Church of Laodicea said, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’

That is why Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom (Matthew 19:23).  If you are rich and have all of your needs met, you may not think that you need God.  The OT teaches the same thing.

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 8:10-18 NIV)

Case Study in Conflict Resolution

This chapter contains an interesting study in conflict resolution.  Conflicts abound and are inevitable. They are not limited to any class of people. What makes the difference, however, is how we handle them.  Abraham gives us a perfect example of how to handle them.

1. He dealt with the problem.

Many ignore problems and do not deal with them, hoping they will go away.  Abraham didn’t do that.  Abraham and Lot had a strained relationship.  He saw that there was a problem and did something to fix it.  Abraham becomes the adult in the situation.  He takes the initiate to solve the problem.  Some herdsmen were arguing, he did not go to them but to Lot to talk about the situation.

2. He was humble.

Abraham was humble, generous and unselfish.  Lot was Abraham’s nephew. He was the son of Abraham’s brother.  Abraham couldn’t have said, “We need to solve this problem by picking land but I should go first because I am older than you.  I am richer than you and I am the one that God spoke to and made a covenant with, not you.  He did not call you to Canaan,  He called me”  Abraham would have had every right to say that but he did not insist on his rights.

Abraham and Lot were polar opposites.  Abraham was generous and selfless, Lot was worldly and greedy.  Both represent believers but one represents a carnal, worldly Christian and one represent a spiritual Christian.  Lot was greedy and selfish. Abraham was generous and selfless.  There is a big contrast here between the unselfishness of Abraham and the selfishness of Lot.  Many have called this section “A Tale of Two Men.”

3. He was sacrificial.

Abraham was willing to give some things up. He let Lot pick first.  Lot looks up and picks the best land for himself.  He picks land that looks like the Garden of Eden.  It was well-watered just like Egypt.  They had just come back from Egypt.  He did not negotiate with Abraham or ask him if he wanted that land.  He saw it.  It looked like the best land, so he took it.

Why did Abraham do this?  He valued people over possessions.  He was more interested in keeping relationships whole than in getting the best deal.  Another reason that he may have done this is to have a good testimony.  Abraham just came out of Egypt where he had a terrible testimony with the Egyptians.

When he returns, we are told that the Canaanites and Perizzites were living in the land (13:6). He may not have wanted the pagans to see God’s people bickering and fighting.  How often does the world see Christians fighting.

Abraham’s solution to the problem was separation.  He went one way and Lot went somewhere else.  It is very good advice to this day in some churches.  When two believers have a legitimate difference and cannot resolve it, there comes a time when separation is needed to resolve the conflict peacefully.

That is what happened in Acts 15.  Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement.  One wanted to take John Mark with them on a mission trip and one refused to take John Mark on the trip.  They could not come to an agreement, so they had to separate.

A New Promise

It must have been hard for Lot to leave.  He was family.  They had a dispute and could not resolve it. Some hard words were spoken.  Once he left, Abraham was alone.  He may have had some second thoughts.  Abraham probably thought Lot got the best land.  He probably thought that his nephew took advantage of him and cheated him out of part of his inheritance.

God told Abraham not to worry.  He had not given anything away.  He reassured Abraham after Lot left (see 13:14) that the entire land north, south, east and west was his.  He gave him the title deed to it.  He told him to walk around the land and claim it as his.  God reaffirmed the Abrahamic Covenant but there are two new things that God revealed to Abraham in this chapter.

In the last chapter, God promised Abraham offspring.  He promised that a childless man would have children. He said “to your offspring I will give this land” (12:7).  In this chapter, he promised Abraham not just offspring but a large offspring.

He said, “I will make your offspring LIKE THE DUST OF THE EARTH, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (13:16).  In the last chapter, God promised to give the land to Abraham’s offspring.  Now, He promised to give it to Abraham as well.  He said, “All the land that you see I will give TO YOU and your offspring forever” (3:15).

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