This Land Is Your Land

Risky, generous meekness is possible when we embrace the staggering promises of God.

Chris Hutchison on January 29, 2023
This Land Is Your Land
January 29, 2023

This Land Is Your Land

Passage: Genesis 13:1-18
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A few weeks ago we read about the Tower of Babel, where God confused the language of the world. People suddenly had different words for the same thing.

But language can be confused in other ways, too. Language can be confused when people use the same word to speak about totally different things.

I was thinking about that yesterday in connection to the word “faith,” after I got an email from someone who was part of a “community of faith.” And I’m pretty sure they were using faith in the way that many people do in our world today. Faith is a set of personal beliefs about the supernatural realm, and your faith is there to help you stay positive when things get tough. But what’s very important is that word “personal.” Your faith is yours. You’re allowed to believe stuff, you’re even allowed to practice some form of religion, but keep it to yourself.

It’s kind of like a hobby. People have hobbies, and that’s fine. But when it comes to the course of your life, major decisions, relationships with others, faith is kind of like stamp collecting. Don’t take it too seriously, and certainly don’t shove it down other people’s throats.

That understanding of faith is held by many people in our world today, but I hope you know that it has nothing to do with what the Bible means by “faith.” The “faith” we read about in Scripture is not small and private; it’s big and transformative. When we believe God’s promises, it turns our entire lives upside down in very disruptive ways. Having faith in God is less like picking up a new hobby and more like picking up and moving to a new country.

And sometimes, that’s literally true, like with Abram. God showed up to Abram in Genesis 12 and gave him some incredible promises, and in response, Abram picked up and went to a strange land where he lived for the rest of his life. That’s what faith does.

Now something we also need to understand about “faith” in the Bible is that it’s not something you just have or not. Faith can grow or shrink; it can be stronger or weaker.

And we saw some of that last week with Abram. After rerouting his whole life in obedience to God, he made some really big mistakes as he went down to Egypt and basically acted like God didn’t exist. It’s almost like his faith got downgraded to “hobby” status and he just started acting like everybody else.

But things turn around for him in today’s passage. We see Abram return to faith and then start acting like it in some pretty incredible ways. And, as always, we’re going to see what this all has to say to our modern world and to our own hearts in some really important ways.

A. Abram’s Return to Faith (vv. 1-4)

Let’s pick up where last week left off in chapter 1—“So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had.” We shouldn’t take these words for granted. They made it out in one piece! And together with his nephew they come back “into the Negeb,” the south of the promised land.

Verse 2 tells us that “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Literally, he was heavy wth these things. Financially, he did well in Egypt.

What would you do in his situation? What do people often do when they come into a bunch of money they weren’t counting on?

We get a really important glimpse into Abram’s heart at this point, because the first thing he does is not go on a big shopping spree. Instead, he seeks the Lord. We see that in how he journeys on, verse 3, “from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,’ (Genesis 13:3).

From one encampment to another, he makes his way back to the last place where he built an altar and called upon the name of the Lord. And what’s he do when he gets back there? Verse 4: “And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.”

Abram is picking up his journey of faith right where it left off and is praying to God, asking God to make good on His promises. That’s the meaning of “calling on the name of the Lord” in the Bible. And that’s what Abram is doing again after a season of wandering in Egypt.

He hit the ditch, but he’s back on the road, and that in and of itself should be encouraging to those of you who are praying for people you love who are in the ditch right now. Don’t be too quick to assume how the story is going to end. Pray that the Lord brings them back to Bethel. He did it for Abram and he’s done it so many times for so many of his children since then. Don’t stop praying.

And if and when the Lord answers those prayers and brings the wanderer back to Himself, don’t stop praying. Because isn’t it true that so often when we make a fresh start with the Lord, a fresh start in our walk of faith, we’re met with fresh challenges? We get right with God, and boom, our renewed faith gets tested.

B. Abram & Lot’s Conflict (vv. 5-7)

And that’s pretty much exactly what we see happen to Abram here. He’s back on track, and what happens? Conflict with his nephew. We’ve already read verses 5 through 7 together, which talk about the fact that Lot was really rich, too, such that the land couldn’t support them both. There was only so much grass for the animals to eat, only so many watering holes for them to drink from.

The famine is over, but there still isn’t enough food for all their animals because they just have so many.

And then verse 7 ends by reminding us that “at that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.” So it’s not like Abram and Lot had this place to themselves. If they made a big stink or became a nuisance there could be conflict with the people who might wonder why these new guys were even there in the first place.

And so here’s Abram. He’s back on the path of faith, calling on the Lord, trusting His promises, and now he’s got this big issue to deal with.

And what’s he going to do?

Well, what do we know about Abram so far? We know by now that Abram is very capable of throwing his family under the bus in order to save his own skin.

We also know that Abram knows that God has promised him this land. Lot had nothing to do with that. Lot is just a tag-along.

We also know—and Abram knew this too—that he had seniority in this family. He was head of this family unit, with all of the rights and privileges and authority that came with that.

So Abram would be well within his rights, and his track record, to solve this situation by just telling his nephew to just take off. “Get out of here, Lot. This land is not your land. Go back to Egypt or Haran or something. Just leave me alone.”

C. Abram’s Generous Offer (vv. 8-9)

Abram could do that. But he doesn’t, does he? Empowered by faith, we find Abram to be a very different man than he was in the last chapter. Instead of scheming to protect himself, Abram reaches out to lot with a generous offer that should just blow our minds.

Verse 8: “Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’” (Genesis 13:8–9).

Isn’t that incredible? “Here’s the land, Lot. Yes, we need to separate, but you don’t have to go far. Pick whatever you want, and I’ll take the rest.”

This is incredibly generous on Abram’s part. And like we’re going to see when we reflect later on, this is an offer empowered by faith. Abram really believes that God has promised the land to him and his offspring, and so short-term, he doesn’t have to fight for it himself. He can let it slide through his fingers because he really trusts God’s promises to be fulfilled.

D. Lot’s Selfish Choice (vv. 10-13)

So what does Lot do about this? Well, what do we know about Lot so far? And the answer is not a lot. Lot has just been there. We haven’t seen him do much in the story up until now. But that’s actually pretty telling. He’s a very passive character. He seems to just let stuff happen.

Even here, he’s not taking the initiative to solve this problem between him and Abram. It really should have been on Lot to say “Hey, I know God sent you here, and I don’t want to cause problems for you, so I’ll go somewhere else.” Instead, he waits and lets the crisis boil over until someone else needs to fix it.

Like his father Adam before him and so many men after him, Lot is passive when he should be active. Lot takes a break when he should be taking the initiative. Lot waits for other people to act when he should be stepping up to the plate. And we’re going to see this pattern get worse and worse in the chapters ahead.

But what about right now? Lot has just been given this generous offer from his uncle, and it should shame him. He should be thinking, “God sent you to this land, and you’re the family head, and so there’s no way I’m going to choose first. If you’re even okay with me staying in the land, you pick first and I’ll take what’s left over.”

But that’s not what he does. Verse 10 starts by telling us that Lot lifted up his eyes and saw. While Abram is learning to walk by faith, Lot only knows how to walk by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). And from the high ground where they are, Lot looks down and sees that the Jordan Valley. It’s got a river, and to Lot’s eyes, it looks like Eden, the garden of the Lord. This would have been important to Lot after a drought, but it also establishes a link between Eden and the Promised Land which we’ll pick up on in the future.

And Lot, like the kid at the party who takes the biggest piece of cake for themselves, “chose for himself all the Jordan Valley,” as verse 11 tells us. “Take whatever I can? Sure, sounds good to me, uncle.”

I remember a friend telling me about a BBQ they went to once where everybody was supposed to bring some meat to share. One family brought some steak, and another family brought a 12-pack of those thin little hotdogs. All the meat went on the grill together, and when it was time to serve up… the hotdog family took all the steak for themselves.

And that’s kind of what Lot is doing here, on a much bigger scale. I think we know this is just inappropriate.

But beyond that, there’s at least give clues in the text that Lot made a really bad decision.

  1. First of all, haven’t we seen a pattern in Genesis—starting with Eve in the Garden—of people who get into trouble when they see nice things with their eyes and try to take them for themselves (Genesis 3:6, 6:2, 12:15)?
  2. Second, verse 10 says that the Jordan Valley looked like the land of Egypt, which might be a bit of a warning after what just happened to them in Egypt.
  3. Third, verse 10 finishes up by saying, “This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” Cue the scary music. This beautiful valley harbours a deadly secret and there’s some bad stuff heading Lots way.
  4. Verse 11 contains another warning when it says that “Lot journeyed east.” Ever since Adam and Eve were sent away eastward from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24), “going east” has a negative flavour to it in the narrative of Genesis.
  5. Finally, verse 12 tells us that when they separated, “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”

Looks can be deceiving, can’t they? By trusting his eyes and taking the best for himself, Lot made a really terrible choice. And the next few chapters are going to unpack all that this means for him. Spoiler alert—this does not work out well for Lot.

But nobody knows that right now. Lot probably thinks he’s lucked out, and he’s got his happy soundtrack playing as he heads off for the beautiful Jordan Valley.

E. The Lord’s Reassuring Promise

Meanwhile Abram is left behind. And it’s hard to know for sure what he’s feeling at this point. We know bad things are coming for Lot, but Abram doesn’t. He just took a big risk and, as far as he’s concerned, he just gave away a big chunk of his inheritance. Did he really expect Lot to take him up on his offer? Or even if he did, is he regretting it now?

It’s not hard to imagine Abram feeling disappointed, discouraged, or just kind of lost. At the very least, uncertain. “What next?”

1. The Promise of the Land (vv. 14-15)

And it’s in this place—after Abram’s act of faith, after his generous offer, after Lot has left him for greener pastures—it’s right here that the Lord speaks to Abram again.

Isn’t it true that its so often after we’ve stepped out in faith, after we’ve obeyed, that we find the assurance we were hoping for? And here it is in verse 14:  “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14–15).

Abram had told Lot to pick one direction, and after lifting up his eyes, Lot chose east. But now God, the real owner of heaven and earth, overrules all of this by telling Abram to lift up his eyes and look in all directions, because everything that he sees will be given to him and his offspring forever.

Back in chapter 12:7 God had told Abram he’s give “this land” to his offspring, but he didn’t define it quite so much. Now Abram is told that all he can see will be his. What a moment to hear a promise like that. “Don’t worry, Abram, you didn’t actually lose anything. This is all going to belong to you and your offspring.”

2. The Promise of Offspring (v. 16)

And what about those offspring? Back in chapter 12, Abram was told he’d become a great nation, and have offspring, but here in verse 16 the promise again gets more specific. “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” Abram’s descendants are going to be everywhere, as uncountable as dust.

3. The Legal Transfer (v. 17)

And then, in verse 17, the Lord says to Abram, “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” What we may not realize was that this was legal language. In land transfer contracts of the ancient near east, this is what you did when you took possession of a property. This is like inviting Abram to sign on the dotted line to indicate receipt of the land. As far as heaven is concerned, this is a done deal. Signed and sealed.

F. Abram’s Response of Faith (v. 18)

But not quite delivered, yet, right? God had said “all the land you see I will give to you and to your offspring.” He didn’t say when. Abram was a foreigner with no fixed address.

But in faith and obedience, he gets up. We’re looking at our final stop now, Abram’s response of faith. We’re not sure how much of the land he traversed at this point, but he does get up and travel, and he ends up south, near Hebron, by the oaks of Mamre.

Mamre was a person who comes up in the next chapter. These oaks are named after him. So even this is a reminder that Abram doesn’t have this land to himself yet. He’s living among other people. But nevertheless he trusts the promise, and here, verse 18, he builds “an altar to the Lord.” The chapter ends in a similar way to how it opened—with Abram at an altar. Planting another flag of faith and obedience to the God of heaven. This is His land, and Abram worships while he waits for the promise to be kept.

G. …And Us?

So this is the next stage of Abram’s journey as he learns to walk by faith. And because it’s Abram’s journey, it’s our journey. Like we’ve seen, if you know Christ, you are sons and daughters of Abram by faith. This is our story, our heritage.

And its our story in more ways than one. We, too, walk through this life as pilgrims, knowing that this isn’t our final stop. Like Abram, we’re waiting for our real home. And so we have so much to learn from Abram’s story about how to walk by faith today. And we’re going to look at a key lesson from chapter 13 today to help us in our walk of faith.

1. Grappling With the Land Promise

But before we get there, we need to talk for just a little bit about this promise of the land. We touched on this a little bit a couple of weeks ago and I think it’s important to think about some of these big ideas before we go much further in Genesis. So we’re going to take a few minutes to grapple with the land promise.

When we hear God saying to Abram, “all the land you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:15), and think about who the “land” and “offspring” what do you think about? I suspect for many Christians—especially if they grew up in the home that I did—it won’t take them long to think about modern-day State of Israel in the Middle East. Many Christians today believe that these promises in Genesis mean that the Jewish people today have a divine right, from God, to the land of Israel.

Now there’s no doubt that something amazing happened 75 years ago with the founding of the State of Israel. For that country to not just survive but thrive after everything that’s happened to the Jewish people in the last 100 years is just incredible.

Now some Christians take it further than that, and some Christians take it a lot further than that and make it sound like it is a Christian duty to support the government of Israel, wholesale. All their politics, all their policies—Christians need to get behind it all. Which is really interesting because many Jewish people don’t think that way. I took religious studies at the U of R with a Jewish professor who was a staunch critic of the Israeli government. And one of the things I learned in that class is that loving the Jewish people and agreeing with everything that the Israeli government does are not necessarily always the same thing.

There’s a lot that we could say this morning, and there’s a lot we won’t have time to say this morning, but what I really want to draw attention to this morning is just how careful we have to be when we draw straight lines from Biblical texts like Genesis 13:15 all the way to modern-day realities like the State of Israel, as if there was nothing in between. Because, if we track with the story of the Bible, there is something really big in between. And that something is Christ.

Like we saw two weeks ago from Galatians 3, Jesus is the true and ultimate offspring of Abraham, and every promise of God is yes in Jesus. All of redemptive history comes to a point in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that it shrinks down. No, in Christ these promises grow to reach their true fulfillment.

And what we see, already in the Old Testament, is that the land promised to Abraham was never just about that land. The vision of the Old Testament is that this land was a starting place for a kingdom that would one day include the whole earth. One of the places we see this is Psalm 72:8, which prays that the son of David will “have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” (Psalm 72:8). That sounds a lot bigger than just ancient Israel. Or we can think of the many prophecies which portray Jerusalem as a capital city, with the Messiah reigning over a whole new creation.

Paul draws upon all of this in Romans 4:13 when he writes about the “the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world.” This promises to Abraham are ultimately about the world. And they are being fulfilled today in Christ, the offspring of Abraham, who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) and will one day rule over the New Heavens and the New Earth forever.

Now I’m not saying that the modern-day State of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with these promises. There are different perspectives on that question. But what should be clear is that we can’t just draw a line from Genesis 13 to the State of Israel and say “that’s all there is to it.” Because that’s not all there is to it. These promises to Abraham find their ultimate fulfillment in King Jesus ruling over the New Creation.

And that means that you and I have a place in these promises. Though most of us are gentiles, we’ve been grafted in to the promises made to Abraham (Romans 11:17). “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29).

And that means that this promise to Abraham this morning is for us. In Christ, we are heirs, along with Abraham, to the earth. And you might think, “That sounds nuts.” And I would say, “Take that up with Jesus.” Because He’s the one who stood on a hillside in Galilee and said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit”—what?—“the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

2. The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

And that brings us to our second and major point of application this morning, which is that the meek shall inherit the earth. This promise, carrying forward the promises to Abraham, is for us.

And here’s what’s so great about this promise. Believing it actually makes you meek. That’s what happened with Abraham in our passage today. He believed that God had promised him the land, and as a result he didn’t put up a fight with Lot. He didn’t demand his rights. He didn’t complain when Lot took the better land. In other words, he was meek.

He was able to be generous by faith because he really trusted God’s promises.

And staggering promises have been made to us. We’ve already heard “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” What about this one from Jesus: “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:26–28).

Or this one: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4).

Do you believe that? I hope so. And do you know what will happen as we believe that? The same thing that happened with Abram. We’ll be freed to be generous and meek. We won’t get upright when things get tough. We won’t freak out when we suffer or even when we’re persecuted. When society and culture and the government and our neighbours start making it hard for us to be Christians, we won’t lash out or get snarky or walk around with chips on our shoulders.

We’ll know that we’re strangers in this land as much as Abram was. And we’ll be freed to be meek while we wait for God to keep His promises. We’ll be freed to be generous, to walk the second mile, to pick up our crosses.

So I want to end by asking two questions. First, is there any place today where you’re struggling in these ways? Maybe it’s discouragement, because it feels like you’ve got the short end of the stick in some way? It could be a broken or tense relationship, or the lack of a relationship, or struggling finances, or struggling health, or limited opportunities. Is there any place in life where you feel like Abram watching Lot trot off to greener pastures and you feel lost and lonely and you don’t know what to do next?

Or maybe your struggle is with temptation—the temptation to fight for your so-called rights, or to go grab for yourself what you want, like Lot did.

The next question is—do you believe the promises of God? Do you believe the promise that He’s with you (Matthew 28:20)? The promise that He’s working all of these things for good (Romans 8:28)? The promise that, because Jesus died and rose again for His people, He’s coming to live with us forever?

How we need the Holy Spirit to bring these promises close to our hearts. As long as these promises are just ink on a page, Christianity will be our hobby, and we’ll live like Lot.

But when the Holy Spirit helps us receive these promises by faith, and we believe they are true, and taste the goodness of them, we will be free to follow in Abram’s footsteps and live a life of risky obedience to Jesus.

So as we end here today, would you ask the Lord to help you receive and believe these words? As we sing to each other here in a moment about our hope, would you pray that your brothers and sisters would have faith to believe what we’re saying to each other? And then let’s look to God to answer as He sees fit.

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