Genesis 13 – Beth El or Sodom

Calvary Chapel Leesville Worship Service – Wednesday June 3rd, 2020

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Welcome

Prayer

Abram’s Place in God’s Plan of Salvation

Before launching into our study of Genesis 13, we need to step back and look at the overall purpose of God’s Word in general, and Abraham’s place within it in particular. Our framework for understanding the full counsel of God’s Word – Old and New Testament – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to understand that even before the beginning of time, God purposed to create mankind in His image knowing full well that we would rebel against Him in sinfulness. So God conceived His plan of salvation and redemption of mankind from death in our sin by offering His Son – Jesus – as a sacrifice in our place on the cross of Calvary. The text of the Bible from beginning to end is entirely focused on revealing and explaining God’s plan of salvation to us in terms we can clearly understand. The Bible opens God’s heart to us. He is not willing that any of us should die in our sins, but desires that all would come to know Him in a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus.

God chose the nation of Israel out of all the people in the world to bring forth the Messiah – Jesus. He gave His very first promise of Jesus’ coming to Adam, Eve, and the serpent in the Garden of Eden immediately after they brought death into the world through sin.

And I will put enmity
Between you
[the serpent] and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.?

Genesis 3:15 – NKJV

Here God proclaims that Jesus the Messiah will bring salvation from sin through the line of Adam and Eve themselves. The book of Genesis traces the lineage of Jesus from Adam and Eve to the children of Israel (Jacob), particularly to Israel’s son Judah. In Genesis 4, we saw that Adam and Eve’s first son – Abel – was killed by their second son Cain, and then a third son – Seth – was born. Genesis 5 follows the line of Seth to Noah. Only Noah and his family survived the great flood of Genesis 7-8. The next few chapters of Genesis tell the stories of Noah’s three sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth – and the many nations descended from them. Then beginning in Chapter 11, we find the focus of God’s revelation narrows down to the line of Shem, and finally to Shem’s descendant Abram – Jacob’s (Israel’s) grandfather.

Review

In Genesis 12, we saw that Abram obeyed the command of the LORD to leave Haran in what is now northern Iraq, and journey southwestward to the land of Canaan between the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – the land now called the Levant or Palestine which includes the modern nation of Israel. While Abram looked out over the valley of the Jordan River from the mountains of Judea, God promised to give all the land to him and his descendants. Of course Abram had brought his family along, including his nephew – Lot. We also learned that due to a famine in Canaan, they went down to Egypt. Fearing the Egyptians might kill him and take her, Abram conspired with his wife Sarai to tell them she was his sister. When Pharaoh got wind of the deceit, he sent them all out of Egypt back to Canaan, which is where we pick up the story.

1Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. [????? negeb] 2Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Genesis 13:1-4 – NKJV
Lower Jordan valley during the time of Abram and Lot
Lower Jordan Valley During the Time of Abram and Lot

In examining Genesis 13 it is helpful to orient ourselves to the geography and topography of the lower Jordan River valley and the surrounding mountains as they were during the time of Abram and Lot. In verse 1, we see that they returned from Egypt by way of the Negev desert (the South in the NKJV). This is some of the most barren desert on the entire planet. It is also lower in elevation than any other dry land. The shore of the Dead Sea is some 1,300 feet below sea level. What isn’t readily seen on the map is how rugged this territory is. The mountains of Judea to the west of the Dead Sea and the mountains of modern day Jordan on its east rise to over 3,000 feet above sea level. These mountains are very steep. The 4,000 foot climb from the shore of the Dead Sea to Jerusalem (Salem on this map) is a straight line distance of only 15 miles. The cliff at Masada on the Dead Sea’s western shore is about 1,400 feet. The Jordan River valley with the Dead Sea at its southern end lies along the world’s longest and deepest fault line – the Great Rift Valley – which extends over 6000 miles from northeast Lebanon – under the Red Sea – to Mozambique in southeast Africa.

On their journey from Egypt, they traveled through the Negev north along the western shore of the Dead Sea, and along the Jordan River valley to somewhere northeast of Salem (Jerusalem), and then climbed up into the mountains of Samaria toward Bethel. The name ????????? Beyth-‘El means “house of God.” But during the time of Abram and Lot, the place wasn’t known by that name. In their time, it was known as ???? Luwz meaning “almond tree.” It was Abram’s grandson – Jacob aka Israel – who renamed the place ????????? Beyth-‘El after he saw a vision of angels ascending to and descending from Heaven on a ladder there (Genesis 28). Moses – who wrote the book of Genesis some 600 years after Abram and Lot camped there – used the latter name for the place. The name is symbolically important, because just as Abram pitched his tent between ????????? Beyth-‘El (“house of God”) and ??? `Ay – whose name means “heap of ruins” – so Abram (later called Abraham) spent much of his life vacillating between faith in and reliance upon God, and attempting to go his own way by his own willful mistrust of God’s promises. Abram’s impatience waiting for God to keep His promises caused repercussions that have echoed around the globe ever since. Nevertheless, as we know, Abraham’s true faith in God was accounted to him for righteousness. In this way, Abraham is a model of those who have been redeemed by faith in Jesus’ Gospel. Our faith like Abraham’s has been credited to us as righteousness – the righteousness of Jesus freely given by Him to all who will believe in His resurrection and call upon His Name for salvation.

ASIDE – Whenever, we start to discuss the travels of Abram and Lot, the question always comes up – Where were Sodom and Gomorrah? As you can see from this map, the locations labeled with their names have question marks. These locations along the southeastern shore of the Dead Sea were traditionally considered due to the presence of tar pits in that area. This aligns with the account of the Battle of the Valley of Siddim (Genesis 14). But Genesis 14 doesn’t say that the battle took place near Sodom and Gomorrah – only that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah took part in it. Another proposed location for the doomed cities is in the northeastern portion of the Dead Sea plain almost due east of Jericho near the foot of the mountains. Excavations in that area indicated sudden destruction of the civilization there sometime around 1700 BC. Microscopic analysis of rocks, glass and pieces of pottery at these excavations revealed signs of an episode of sudden extreme heat in the area at that time. One possible scientific explanation of these findings is the airburst of a large meteor estimated to be roughly equivalent to 10 megatons of TNT at ground zero. Certainly the judgement of God Almighty raining fire and brimstone on the area (Genesis 19) would be consistent with these archaeological findings. None of this investigation provides a definitive proof of the locations of the destroyed cities – only a strong suspicion. What we do know about their locations definitively from God’s Word is that the cities could be seen from the vantage point of Abraham’s camp at Mamre near Hebron in the Judean mountains (Genesis 19:28). On a clear day, both of the proposed locations for the destroyed cities could be seen from there.

5Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. 6Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. 7And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram?s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot?s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. 8So Abram said to Lot, ?Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.?

Genesis 13:5-9 – NKJV

Remember that Abram was Lot’s uncle. He had taken Lot into his own household after Lot’s father – Abram’s brother, Haran – died in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11). As the elder, Abram was not required to give Lot “first dibs” on the pasture land – quite the contrary. It was quite an unusual gesture on Abram’s part to defer choice of pasture to Lot. Abram desired to restore the peace between the two factions of the family. Could this be the same guy who – as we saw in Chapter 12 – was so afraid for his own skin he was willing to allow his wife to be taken as the concubine of another man? Perhaps without even knowing it, Abram was following the teachings of Jesus thousands of years later.

Blessed are the peacemakers, ??For they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:9 – NKJV

24Now there was also a dispute among them [Jesus’ disciples at the last supper], as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25And He said to them, ?The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ?benefactors.? 26But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.

Luke 22:24-27 – NKJV

10And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. 11Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.

Genesis 13:10-11 – NKJV
View from half-way up the cliff at Masada SE across the Dead Sea toward Mt. Nebo.
View from Masada Across the Dead Sea

Due to the Great Rift fault, the Jordan River valley has seen many earthquakes since the time of Abram and Lot which have drastically altered the geography of the area. More importantly, because of the demands for fresh water from the Sea of Galilee (Israel’s only source of fresh water) upstream, the Dead Sea itself has shrunk drastically over the last century. In fact, as you can see from this photo taken from about half way up the cliff at Masada looking SE across the lake toward Mt Nebo in Jordan, today there are a number of stripes of dry land across the lake from Israel to Jordan. Precious little vegetation grows today in this land. It is so barren as to make the deserts of the North American Southwest seem like lush gardens by comparison. Hikers today on the southern stretch of the Israel National Trail must prearrange points along the trail where water is cached for them, because there are no places in the Negev to collect fresh water, and hikers in this area can’t possibly carry enough water to sustain them even in winter. But prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the area was evidently quite different than it is today, as we see from verse 10.

12Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. 13But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.

Genesis 13:12-13 – NKJV

Lot took full advantage of Abram’s generosity, and chose for himself, the well-watered plain. Lot headed eastward into the valley, leaving Abram and his flocks and herds in the rugged mountains of Judea and Samaria. As we will soon see in the upcoming chapters, this choice didn’t turn out so well for Lot. In fact, we will find that Lot ended up living in Sodom itself. Moses – writing with the benefit of hindsight – gives us a foreshadowing of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah here in verse 13 that Abram and Lot couldn’t have foreseen. Lot made his choice quite innocently by practical worldly consideration of his own prosperity, not knowing the depths of sinfulness into which the people of Sodom and Gomorrah would eventually plunge, exposing Lot and his family to their wickedness. Lot’s story is reminiscent of one of Jesus’ most well-known teachings.

13?Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 – NKJV

Jesus never promised that our lives as new creations born of His Spirit and obeying His precepts would be easy – quite the contrary.

23Then He said to them all, ?If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

Luke 9:23 – NKJV

Like Lot, as we make our way through our lives, we are frequently faced with decisions that may have far-reaching consequences that we can’t foresee. We often consider only earthly factors in making such decisions, without considering the eternal consequences, and without even asking ourselves whether our decision honors God in conformance to His will for us. How can we discern God’s will practically? – Through continual prayer, and ever increasing familiarity with God’s Word. But knowing all that, we needn’t fret unnecessarily over it. God – our loving Father and Creator – knows both the contents of our hearts, and the limitations of our minds. He doesn’t punish poor choices made in all innocence. Even though Lot chose poorly, God rescued him from the consequences of his poor choice as we shall see.

14And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ?Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are?northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants [????? zera` – seed] forever. 16And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. 17Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.? 18Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD.

Genesis 13:14-18 – NKJV

This is now the second time that God promised to give all the land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants – the nation of Israel (see Genesis 12:7). It is critical for us to understand that God gave this land to the Jewish people, because in our world today many governments and international organizations like the UN are denying that the Jewish people have a legitimate claim on the land at all. In fact, when the Israeli government gave away portions of the land to establish a so-called autonomous “Palestinian homeland” within Israel’s national borders in the hope of establishing peace with the nations surrounding Israel and with her own non-Jewish residents, they were clearly in defiance of God’s declared will here in Genesis 13:14-17 and elsewhere in God’s Word. God has given the Jewish people not only the current extent of the modern state of Israel (including the so-called “occupied” territories of Judea and Samaria – AKA the “West Bank,” the Gaza strip, and the Golan Heights – AKA Bashan), but a much larger territory that encompasses all of modern Syria and Jordan, most of modern Lebanon, and portions of modern Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia as their homeland – Exodus 23:31. As Bible-believing Christians, we must clearly believe that the children of Israel have the right to this land given by God Almighty Himself!

Notice in verse 15, that God promised this land in perpetuity to Abram and his descendants. The Hebrew word translated here as descendants is ????? zera` which literally means “seed.” It is the same word that God used in Genesis 3:15 – in reference to both the fleshly descendants of mankind, and the spiritual descendant of the woman – Jesus the Messiah. Notice that the word here is singular. Paul examines this fact in detail in his letter to the Galatians.

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ?And to seeds,? as of many, but as of one, ?And to your Seed,? who is Christ.

Galatians 3:16 – NKJV

As Christians, we know and believe not only that Jesus was born of the Israelite virgin Mary – God in the flesh of the Man Jesus of Nazareth, lived the perfectly sinless life that we are incapable of living so that He could be the required perfectly spotless sacrifice for the remission of sin, died on the cross of Calvary to take the rightful place of sinful mankind in punishment for our sins, was raised out of death on the third day by the power of His own Spirit, and has now ascended back to Heaven in the glory of the presence of God the Father, but also that He will one day return to claim His rightful inheritance promised to Him as the Seed of Abraham, just as Paul wrote in this verse from his letter to the Galatians.

But at the time God made this promise to Abram, as when He made the same promise in Genesis 12:7, Abram had no “seed” – his wife Sarai being childless. This is quite ironic, because the name ??????? ‘Abram means “exalted father.” How that must have irked the childless couple in their spirits. Indeed, as we’ll see in Genesis 15 where God promised to give Abram and Sarai a son, Abram had pretty much given up on the idea that Sarai would ever bear him an heir. Even having that clear-cut promise from God, Abraham and Sarah (as God renamed them) grew impatient waiting for God to fulfill His promise, and took matters into their own hands trying to “help God out.” Every day, we see the evil consequences of that poor choice in the land of promise and around the globe. But we’ll delve much more deeply into that when we get to that part of the story.

The Main Lesson for Us in the Stories of Abram and Lot

We can make two important applications of this text to our own lives…

  1. The seemingly mundane, practical choices we make in our lives day-by-day can have profound consequences for us, for our loved ones, and for the entire world. Therefore, we should seek the will of God in everything we do through continual prayer, and immersing ourselves in His Word at every opportunity.
  2. The promises of God are true. He hears the prayers of the humble in heart, and is always working everything together for the good of those who love Him and are called in accordance with His purpose (Romans 8:28). Knowing and trusting in this Truth, we can confidently await God’s fulfillment of His promises with eager anticipation. As our loving Father, God knows and desires what is best for us although oftentimes we don’t know it ourselves.

When the children of Israel were desperate and suffering in captivity in Babylon, God gave them a magnificent promise through Jeremiah the prophet that is just as true for us today as it was for them over 2,500 years ago.

11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 – NKJV

Invitation

Prayer

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