Test: Application of Grace-Orientation. Genesis 13:1-18
The core mechanism by which God matures us is under the heading of testing. This is the word that is used in James 1:2-4 where James outlines the fact that it is through testing that we have the opportunity to apply doctrine. It is not the testing of faith in the sense of trusting, but faith in the sense of what we believe; that when we encounter various trials or tests it is for the purpose of testing our doctrine, testing what we believe, to give us an opportunity to take what we have learned and then apply it in the day to day vicissitudes of life. That comes under two categories, either tests of adversity or tests of prosperity. What we see as we make the transition from Genesis chapter twelve to Genesis chapter thirteen is that Abraham has gone from his second test—a logistical grace test related to the promise of the land. Is Abraham going to be able to rely upon God to supply his basic needs of food and water in the midst of a famine in the land? At the very core of this is the promise to the seed, that of Abraham dies there won't be a seed, there won't be a world-wide blessing, so he is being tested as to whether or not he is going to reply on God's promise no matter what is happening experientially. This is the challenge for us because we want to base our decision-making and our values and conclusions on the information we derive empirically from the environment around us. What we will see here is that faith is just the opposite. Faith is a form of knowledge that is superior to that. Hebrews chapter eleven gives us an orientation at the beginning: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." So faith is a form of knowledge that goes beyond empirical data. This is important because in our modern world people want to classify faith as some sort of lesser knowledge, some other form of knowing things that is more subjective and has to do with one's psychological orientation, that faith is just another psychological process and isn't knowledge at all. As Christians we have to understand that faith is a more sure form of knowledge than that which we get from empiricism of rationalism. This is because empiricism, which is basing your thinking on what you see or feel, and rationalism which is basing your understanding on reason or thought, are both limited because man is finite. As son as you see something, touch something, hear something, as soon as you have empirical data, your mind is instantly interpreting that data. It is never just raw data, your mind is interpreting that and there is a framework that is being imposed on that. As Charlie Clough has said regarding the cosmic system, that the basic orientation of the sin nature in the cosmic system is to express this agenda that we want to reinterpret the world in terms of human autonomy, human independence, to define it the way we want it to be as opposed to the way God has said that it is or that God has created it. So faith becomes a form of knowledge that is more certain because the object of faith is the revelation of God. So when God says something and has communicated and spoken objectively in His Word we can take that and rely upon it in a way that is more sure, more certain than anything we can discover on the basis of empiricism or rationalism. In terms of empiricism there is always the chance that tomorrow you are going to find a new piece of data that invalidates the interpretation of the previous five thousand pieces. So there is never certainty when it comes to empiricism. All of this has an important role in terms of what is happening in Genesis chapters twelve and thirteen.
Genesis chapter twelve is a picture of Abraham's failure. He fails to trust God in the midst of the crisis so he is going to create his own attempt to solve a problem. This is what we do when we are under the control of the sin nature. We are constantly developing strategies in order to survive in the current world without relying on God. The basic orientation of the sin nature as arrogance is asserting independence from God. This goes all the way back to Satan's fall. This is one of the primary characteristics: I am going to make life work on my terms. I am going to trust God but as soon as things get a little difficult and there seems to be a real threat to my continued existence, then I'm going to figure out some way to bypass trusting God and I'm going to make sure there is a safety net somewhere. That is what Abraham does.
What we should notice is that while Abraham is out of fellowship, while he is creating all kinds of problems for Pharaoh and all of the other difficulties that develop, he is personally still being blessed by God. Principle: Whether we are prospering or not has nothing to do with our own spiritual status. You can be walking consistently by the Holy Spirit, growing and advancing, and be unemployed, lose everything you own, go through incredible adversity, and it doesn't mean that God is not happy with you. On the other hand you can be in carnality and prosper, and this is what happens with Abraham; but it has ongoing consequences. Another thing we see is that not only does Abraham prosper but Lot prospers. We don't see Lot mentioned at all in chapter 12 but in chapter 13 it is obvious that Lot is with Abraham, and Lot prospers. When they come out of Egypt they are wealthy. They have had an excellent business time down in Egypt and when they come back they are both in a tremendous position of financial strength. But that creates the next test.
Chapter thirteen looks again at the whole issue of grace. There is this inter-connection between the faith-rest drill—trusting God in relation to His promise that this land is yours and I'm giving it to you—and the gift of the land which brings in the concept of grace. What we should get out of this as we go through our study of Abraham is to shake loose some of the cobwebs in our thinking in terms of how to use the problem-solving devices. The primary way in which Abraham is going to solve the problem here is what we would call grace-orientation, but it is grounded on a certain understanding of doctrine and it is grounded on the faith-rest drill. He is trusting in the promise of God, and so he is using these basic skills to handle the difficulty that arises.
An overview of the chapter: It starts with a note that Abraham comes back from Egypt and he goes into the southern part of Israel, the Negev. The first thing that he does is move on up through the country to Bethel and Ai, and he builds an altar there and calls on the name of the Lord. After his excursion into self-reliance instead of God-dependence he now comes back, and this is indicative of his rebound. He has reoriented himself to his relationship with God so he goes back up to where he has been before. If we look at the end of the chapter we read, "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." So what we see is that Moses in writing this episode brackets it with an altar-building at the beginning and at the end, which tells the reader that we have what is called an inclusio here. He sets it up where there is an event at the beginning and an event at the end showing that the author is including everything as one coherent whole expressing one idea. The center of this whole episode is what takes place in verses 6-8, that the land was not able to support them. Seven times in these eighteen verses is the word aretz, the Hebrew for land. The Holy Spirit is putting the attention in this chapter on the land.
Genesis 13:5, "And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents." The next thing you know they are having a major conflict because the land was not able to support them. What land is this? It is the promised land, the land that God has promised to Abraham and that he is going to live there, and his descendants will be like the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky. Think about this. If his descendants are going to be that numerable then why is it that it can't support Lot and himself? God is using this to divest Himself of Lot. God is promising Abraham a special heir from his own loins, the seed of Abraham. At the very beginning God is going to get rid of Lot so that there is no temptation on the part of Abraham to try to make Lot the heir. So God is coming in and doing a surgical strike to remove this option from Abraham's life. The next time we see mention of the land is in verse 7, "…and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land." The word paraz in the Hebrew is the word for village, and the idea is that the Perizzites were probably village dwellers. But this note at the end of verse 7 is to make us realize that the and can't support Abraham and his slaves and servants and Lot and his entourage because the Canaanites and Perizzites are in the land. It is crowded. We have here a picture of typical family dynamics gone sour and there is strife.
This word for "strife" used in v. 8 is a fascinating word in the Hebrew. It has two meanings. The first meaning is a more general meaning of just having a quarrel, antagonism, argument between people. The more technical meaning has to do with presenting a law suit, a legal case where you are arguing against a particular position. What is fascinating here is how the Holy Spirit through Moses gives us a foreshadowing of what is going to happen in the future. This Hebrew term for strife would resonate with the Jews later on in the context of the Abrahamic covenant. It also had significance for the Jews sitting out on Moab awaiting entry to the land because their fathers and mothers were the Exodus generation. Exodus 17 describes a test that the Exodus generation went through just after they went through Egypt at a place called Meribah. That r-i-b in the middle of Meribah is our word "strife," and it is the place where they contested with God and complained to Him that He was not going to take care of them. What was the issue? Logistical grace provision in the midst of the desert. What did the Jews do? They are contesting with God, they are entering into a strife with God that He is not going to provide for them. This is an event that goes on down through Israel's history and lives in their memory, that they argued with God at that particular point. So all of this gives us a background.
This is a logistical test for Abraham. This second test brings about almost the same conditions as the first one: the land can't support the people. It can't support all of Abraham's people and all of Lot's people so strife enters the picture. Abraham has a problem, a family problem. People in the family can't get along with each other and it is a situation that is creating anger and hostility, bitterness and resentment. There is this charge and counter charge atmosphere which all comes out of this word "strife." So in verse 8, "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." When is the first time we run across this concept of brother in the Scripture? Back with Cain and Abel, the challenge to God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Embedded in there is the concept of impersonal love: yes, you are your brother's keeper. You are to love your neighbor as yourself, as it is later expressed in the Mosaic law. The standard changes in the New Testament: we are to love other believers "as I have loved you," John 13:34, 35. This can't be done apart from walking by means of the Spirit. Abraham is now operating on the promise. He is recognizing that what under girds this, the foundation for this, is that he is trusting God's promise that God is going to give him the land. This land is his positionally. When you are operating from a position of strength like Abraham is now operating, what can you do? You can easily apply the Word because you are trusting God. That gives you the strength to do what is right because you are not out there trying to keep the land for yourself. That is God's job, therefore I can just relax. So it brings to bear a movement from the faith-rest drill on into grace orientation.
The problem is this family strife, this family problem. It can be literal family members, it can be between you and somebody else in the body of Christ, it can be any kind of situation, but the solution is not to operate on arrogance which seeks to control the situation to protect yourself. Instead of operating on arrogance and the arrogance skills—self-absorption (what is mine), then to self-obsession, to self-justification, self-deception, and eventually self-deification—the situation is God's responsibility. And since God is taking care of the assets Abraham can then be generous with Lot in this situation, and so he operates on grace orientation: v. 9, "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." He indicates a principle, that sometimes it is necessary under the concept of impersonal love to separate from another believer or a family member in order to avoid the antagonism and the resentment and the bitterness and strife that is going on.
Genesis 13:10, the picture of the carnal man. He is operating on sight, not faith. "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." The believer is to walk by means of faith and not by means of sight. Walking by means of sight is empiricism, it is operating on the finite resources of the human intellect. What we are to walk by is by means of faith, that is, by means of what is believed. Lot is just focusing on the physical and he chooses for himself all the plain of the Jordan and they separated from each other.
Verse 12, "Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom." And then we get the note from the Holy Spirit: "But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly." We are like every Jew who read this for the first time, we know what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah. What Moses is pointing out here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that there is another dynamic at work here, that right now for God's sovereign purposes Sodom and Gomorrah are economically prosperous. It is fertile, the weather is just what they would want it to be, and everything is perfect. But the other dynamic at work here is a spiritual-moral dynamic, and as a result of that they are going to be destroyed. There is a foreshadowing here in this verse as to what is going to happen. You can't go through life and compartmentalize the different areas of life. You can't say you are going to study literature, or science, or business, or economics, or politics, or law, and you are going to study that over here, and then on Sunday you are going to study the Bible over there. The Bible is God's Word that addresses all aspects of reality. It defines reality for us and it provides the information to interpret all rational endeavors, all cognition, logic, empirical studies. Everything must ultimately be embedded in this reality that is defined by the Word of God. So it is the Word of God that is the starting point of all knowledge. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Lot is a picture here of the person who has rejected the revelation of God. He is operating on an autonomous interpretation of reality. Where that always leads is to arrogance, and in arrogance what happens is that he is just taking advantage of someone as opposed to grace orientation. Abraham operates on grace, a position of strength; Lot operates on self-centeredness and he makes what appears to be a good decision on the surface but because it lacks spiritual perspicacity it is a devastating decision.
But God in His sovereignty is working in all of this because what He is doing is surgically removing Lot from Abraham's frame of reference and from having influence on Abraham. After this happens we get the conclusion in verses 14-18, "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." What does Abraham do? He told Lot to take whatever he wanted; now God says the same thing to Abraham. What Abraham was doing in grace orientation is imitating God. Remember, Abraham was in the image and likeness of God. We are all in the image and likeness of God, and as we are saved and are being renewed according to the image of Christ we see this process in sanctification. The creature is to imitate the creator. That is exactly what happens with Abraham, he is imitating God in His grace orientation. Abraham has learned a lesson from the last chapter. He has earned that God has made him a promise, has given him a gift, and because this is an unconditional gift he doesn't have to worry about losing the gift. Therefore because he is operating from this position of strength he can then be generous towards Lot. It is not his responsibility to keep what he has. All the blessings we have, all the physical, financial, material blessings that each one of us has comes from God. It is not because we were so smart, so industrious; all of that can be taken away from us by the Lord tomorrow. It is a matter of recognizing that all that we have is from God. So grace orientation has certain elements to it. One of these is a recognition that God has already given us what we need; God is always going to supply what we need in terms of logistical grace, and this frees us up, then, to be generous. So God comes back, reiterates the promise, and He expands on the promise a little bit. Verse 17, "Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee." In other words, start learning the dimensions of your positional reality. His positional reality was the Abrahamic covenant: explore the land.
The application for us is that we have a lot that is given to us positionally. Every time that Paul discusses the spiritual life his starting point is always what happens to us at salvation in terms of the positional blessings. Romans 6-8 is the centerpiece discussion in the New Testament concerning the spiritual life. Ephesians 5, Galatians 5, Colossians 3 are other crucial chapters. The first seven or eight verses in Romans six deal with positional grace blessings that come from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What we need to do is really understand what that means. What are we given in terms of our position in Christ? Everything flows out of that. If you understand who and what you are in Jesus Christ everything dominates. So what God is saying is that we need to understand the dimensions of His grace provision for us. Walk the land; claim it in His name. This is what Abraham is doing and what is part of the dynamic of building these altars is that he is staking a claim, as it were, that this is the land that God has given to him. And part of it is that there is a contrast with the pagan idolatry that is there. What we see here is really a picture for us in terms of sanctification, that at the time we are saved we have all kinds of garbage in our soul, and we need to take that positional truth that we learn through the Scripture and walk through the corridors of our thinking and challenge all of the human viewpoint thinking. This is taking every thought captive for Christ.