And God Counted It as Righteousness

There used to be just one, just one that would rock in the tree tops all day long, hopping and a bopping singing his song. There used to be just one who all the little birdies on Jaybird Street would love to hear go tweet-tweet-tweet. Today some sixty years later, there are approximately 157 million people who tweet every day. A tweet consists of no more than 140 characters, not words. Typically, a tweet is simply one sentence. This one simple sentence can send a company’s stock to fall by .9 percent – that is about 5 billion dollars – in just minutes.[1] One simple sentence is meant to grab your attention.

Genesis 15:6 is one simple sentence. Last week we asked why this one sentence is placed here. At the very least, it is meant to grab our attention. And it is only about sixty-eight characters. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

Abram Says Amen

The first word that I want us to pay attention to is the word believed. It is written in such a way to tell us that Abram believed and continued believing. It is the Hebrew word aman from which we get the word amen. And the word amen literally means “it is so.” This means that right here in Genesis 15:6, Abram said “Amen!” It is a little bit bigger and better than that, because the way this word is constructed says to us that Abram said, “it is so” and he kept saying “it is so.” Abram believed God and continued believing God.

This is the first time that the word believed appears in Genesis. This is not to suggest that Abram is the first person in Genesis to believe God. So, why is this word appearing here for the first time in this one sentence? That is just like saying, why is this one sentence appearing here? You could remove this one sentence and have it not interrupt the flow of the text.

Another word to pay attention to is the word righteousness. Abram believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. This is not the first time that the word righteousness has appeared in Genesis. The word itself is in the name Melchizedek which means “king of righteousness” (Genesis 14:18). In Genesis 6:9, Noah, who built Noah’s Ark, was described as a “righteous man,” one who was right with God, who pleased God. Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch was also called a man who pleased God. “Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). Abel, the fourth man mentioned in the Bible, is also called righteous (Hebrews 11:4). And each of these men – Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abram – are known for believing God or for saying “Amen! It is so!”

But why is it here? Why is believe here for the very first time? Why are believe and righteousness here together for the very first time? Why does this one simple sentence fit here? Genesis 15:6 is meant to grab our attention…that we might see.

What Are We to See?

What are we to see? The Bible tells us explicitly that this one simple sentence was written for our sake (Romans 4:24). This is why I say that Genesis 15:6 is meant to grab our attention that we might see. This one simple sentence is so attention grabbing that we might see, a whole chapter of the Bible is dedicated to it. The chapter is Romans 4. And this chapter begins with a question. “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham?” Another word for gained is discover. Romans 4 begins by asking, “What shall we say Abraham saw?”

Necessary to Romans 4 is to know or follow what leads up to Romans 4. You cannot just jump into Romans 4, you need what came before Romans 4. And needed for Romans 4 is Romans 1 and Romans 2 and Romans 3. All three of those chapters are necessary to Romans 4. But for the sake of time, just draw your attention to the theme of Romans, Romans 1:15-17. “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” The you are those who are reading this letter, specifically those who are in Rome reading this letter. Listen to what Paul has to say about those who are in Rome receiving and reading this letter. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (1:7). The you, specifically, are those who are believers in Rome reading this letter! And in verse fifteen Paul writes that he is eager to preach the gospel to whom? YOU.

Now read verse sixteen. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Pause there and highlight the word believe. When have we first read of that word? It is Genesis 15:6. When it comes to belief, and this is true of Genesis 15:6, it always involves a what (content), but not a what alone. The what is necessary, but belief is not merely about the what. Belief is always about the who. In other words, the object of belief is not a what (content) alone, but the object of belief is always the who, and this is true of Genesis 15:6. Continue with verse sixteen because Paul writes more. “…to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And now verse seventeen. “For in it,” pause there. What is the it? The word it refers to the gospel. This is really important. “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.” Now pause again right here. The gospel is content, the what. The Bible defines the gospel as good news which causes great joy (Luke 2:10). Paul writes that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. In the content, the righteousness of God is discovered. Mark that down.

But there is more. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith [beginning and ending in faith or by faith to faith], as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” These three verses are the theme of Romans. Take this theme and run it straight to Romans 4:1. “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham?” In other words, this theme has something to do with Abraham. It is a theme found in a New Testament letter but has so much to do with a man found in the Old Testament.

Come back to our question. What are we to see? But do not forget the theme, mainly, the righteousness of God is revealed, discovered, in the gospel by faith to faith. And this connects with Abraham by asking, what did Abraham discover?

What Did Abraham See?

What did Abraham see? This is the question of Romans 4. Listen to how Paul answers it. It is verse two. “For if Abraham was justified,” justified means legally declared righteous, “by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” In other words, Abraham was declared righteous. Was he declared righteous by his works? If so, he would have something to boast about, but when it comes to the righteousness of God, this does not work. Then notice Romans 4:3. This is so great. “For what does the Scripture say?” Notice that the word Scripture is singular. Paul does not write the Scriptures, but the Scripture. This is supported by the very next words. Paul quotes one simple sentence which is meant to grab our attention. He quotes Genesis 15:6.

In Genesis 15:1, we are told that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. This is just interesting because the theme of Romans – what is seen – connects with Abram about what he saw and all the way back in Genesis we are told that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, something seen. The word of the Lord is the what, it is content. In other words, the word of the Lord is the gospel. And what did Paul write in the theme of the letter of Romans? In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed, discovered, it is seen.

Genesis 15:6 says that Abram believed the Lord. I want us to notice that Lord is in all caps. This is the most precious and revered name of God. It is the Hebrew letters Y-H-W-H. We believe this name is pronounced Yahweh. It is a name that speaks of God’s self-existence and unchangeability. And as significant, this name has to do with God’s covenant keeping faithfulness.[2] But I really want us to notice here in verse six that Abram believed the Lord, the same name that is used in verse one when speaking of the word of the Lord. The word of the Lord is the content, the Scripture, the gospel. It is the what and the what is necessary. And verse six tells us that Abram did not believe the content alone, but he believed the who. He believed the Lord. The object of faith is always God.

But remember what Paul wrote. The content, the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. And in Romans 4:1, Paul asks, what did Abraham see? Genesis 15:6 tells us. Abram saw the righteousness of God. This is important because if not understood properly, Genesis 15:6 might seem to say that God counted Abram’s faith as righteousness. And this is not what Genesis 15:6 is saying. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God. Abram heard the gospel, he heard the content and believed God. In so doing, he discovered the righteousness of God. God then counted righteousness to Abram.

And God Counted It as Righteousness

In Romans 4, Paul is most concerned with this word counted. Another word would be reckoned or imputed. He uses it not just in verse three, but in verse four and verse five and verse six and verse eight and verse nine and verse ten and verse eleven and then finally in the conclusion. “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but ours also” (Romans 4:23-24). Really notice verse twenty-four. “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” What is the it? Righteousness. Righteousness will be counted to us just as it was counted to Abraham.

This is not being made righteous. This is being declared righteous. Being declared righteous only happens through faith. This righteousness is a gift. You cannot earn it. Listen to Romans 4:4. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift, but as his due.” This righteousness is a gift and it only happens through faith, therefore not even faith can be called a work. Now listen to Romans 4:5. “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Abraham is the subject of this whole conversation. It was him who Genesis 15 says was counted as righteous. This means that when Paul writes “and to the one who does not work” he is talking about Abraham too. And when Paul continues, “but trusts him” that includes Abraham. And when Paul continues some more “who justifies the ungodly,” this includes Abraham. He was ungodly when God counted to him righteousness. God only counts righteousness to the ungodly.

We Are to See What Abram Saw

We asked, what are we to see? We are to see what Abram saw. Paul writes later in Romans 4:16, “to the one who shares the faith of Abraham.” This is incredible. We are to share the very same faith as Abraham who was counted righteous. Counted is a legal term meaning to put into the account of. Your sin is no longer counted against you, but instead God legally declares you righteous. It is God legally declaring simply because you believe him, that all he sees when it comes to you is righteousness. And it so glorious because you know you are guilty.

We are to see what Abraham saw. What did he see? He was trusting God alone to justify him, one who was ungodly. Abram believed God. He heard the content of the gospel and believed God. It was not the full content that you and I know. But he believed God. What did he see? Abram saw that God would take care of him. He saw that God would take care of his unrighteousness. By the way, to be credited righteousness means that you were lacking righteousness. And the righteousness that was credited to Abram’s account was the righteousness of God. What though did Abram see? Listen to Jesus. “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Abram saw that God would provide for him. He saw the righteousness of God and he greeted it from afar and was glad! And the righteousness of God is Jesus the Christ. Therefore, when God looked at Abram he saw him robed in the righteousness of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, it is with us. We are to see what Abraham saw. Remember, this is written for our sake. Paul is writing this for believers. Why? 1. It is ultimately for our continued seeing. 2. That we would continually be satisfied by and with God’s supremacy alone. 3. And that the content would hold our view there continually.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/amazon-stocks-fall-5-bn-after-single-tweet-trump-651675

[2] Mark Jones, God Is, pages 92-93.

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Alone in the Silence with God

No one knows this; I have not yet shared it with anyone. But this is a strange time. Call it a fearful time. Call it a time of anxiety. Call it a struggle. And there have been some tears, but only manly tears. Come this Wednesday morning, my oldest daughter will be a freshman in high school.

Our public high school is not unlike other public high schools. We have a principal. We have assistant principals. We have an athletic director. We have guidance counselors. And we have a full-time police officer in the hallways, Monday through Friday, from the beginning of the day until the very end of the day. This past week, he spoke to all the freshman parents and especially for those dads who have some manly tears. I do not remember his name, but I do remember what he said. “I will lay down my life for your son or daughter. I am not worried about death. My faith tells me that when I die, I will be okay.”

After These Things

Genesis 15 begins with three important words: after these things. These three words serve to provide a close connection with Genesis 14. In Genesis 14, four significant kings seek to remind others of their significance. These four kings destroy towns, take possessions and take people as their possessions! One of these people is Lot, Abram’s nephew. These four kings not only take Lot as their possession but they take his possessions too! Abram defeats and drives out from the land these four kings. He brings back to the land both the people and their possessions, including Lot and his possessions.

Genesis 15 has a close connection with Genesis 14 because of the words “after these things.” But there is even a closer connection than just Genesis 14. These three important words connect Genesis 15 with Genesis 14:23. There Abram is offered a reward for his victory over the four kings. And there Abram refuses to accept even a thread as his reward. Mark that down. These three important words are serving to connect with that verse. But what specifically in Genesis 15 is being connected to this particular verse?

Alone and Afraid

We begin to find the answer in Genesis 15:1. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram.’” Pause there. What do we discover about this one man named Abram? He was alone. Now this is going a little bit further than verse one, but as you read the rest of the chapter it becomes obvious that Abram was alone. There is no one else in this chapter with Abram. It is just Abram. And when we meet Abram in this first verse he was not just alone, but he was afraid. How do we know that Abram was afraid? As far as we know from the text, Abram had not told anyone that he was afraid. No one knew it. But Abram was afraid. Abram was anxious. Abram may have shed some manly tears. Abram was struggling. How do we know that Abram was afraid? We only know that Abram was afraid because God said, “Fear not, Abram.”

Be gripped by those three words. First, God said to Abram to not be afraid because God knew that Abram was afraid. God knew that Abram was anxious. God knew that Abram was struggling. The Bible teaches that God knows everything and that there is never a time, there has never been a time and there will never be a time in which God does not know everything. He is omniscient. There is something comforting to know that in God’s omniscience, he not only knows everything but he knows what is going on deep inside me. I say deep inside me because there is much I do not share with anyone. I just keep it to myself. And as I keep it to myself at the very same time I desire to be able to just dump it all on someone. If I just had someone who would let me unload for a few minutes and listen, all would be okay. Then I read these three words and learn that this very human need has been met by the all-knowing God. He knows when I am afraid. He knows when I am anxious. He knows when I am struggling. There is something about knowing that God knows all of that about me.

So, God knows that Abram was afraid, but there is more. God not only says, “Fear not,” but he says more. He says Abram’s name. God knows that Abram was afraid and God knows Abram’s name. This is the first record of God saying Abram’s name. God knows when I am afraid; when I am anxious; when I am struggling. And God knows my name. This indicates that in this crucial moment Abram is about to hear something deeply personal. Mark that down and just ask, what is so deeply personal?

And God Spoke

Just keep looking at Genesis 15:1. What is so deeply personal? “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” Pay attention to the words “the word of the Lord.” This is the first time that these words appear in the Old Testament. In fact, in the book of Genesis these words only appear here. Actually, these words appear one more time in the book of Genesis. It is in Genesis 15:4. So, these words which only appear here in the book of Genesis, appear twice here in the book of Genesis. The importance of these words is that they are deeply personal. These words are deeply personal because it is revelation, special revelation. Although, only used here in Genesis, these words describe all of Genesis and all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. The Bible is the word of the Lord (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, all of the Bible is deeply personal because all of the Bible is revelation. All of the Bible reveals to us who God is. And we have discovered together in Genesis that when God speaks, he speaks for our good. He speaks that we would know what is good and that we would know what is not good, and he does this for our good. And what is ultimately for our good is knowing who God is – the knowing that treasures and adores and is satisfied.

Listen to what God says to Abram as Abram is afraid. Listen to what God reveals to Abram which is for Abram’s own good. “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Some translations word this as “I am your shield; your exceedingly great reward.” The basic truth is the reward is only exceedingly great because of who God is. It is deeply personal. And we only know how deeply personal this is because of God’s Word alone. God has revealed to us who he really is through his Word. Our reward is exceedingly great only because of God and who he is. This is wonderful!! And it only gets better.

God as our shield is used quite often in the Psalms. We read of it this week in Psalm 115. “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield. The Lord has remembered us” (Psalm 115:11-12a). Shields are used for protection in wartime and this fits with connecting to Genesis 14. For there, after Abram’s victory, King Melchizedek declares, “blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” But there is more and it only gets better. Listen to Psalm 3:3. “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” What does King David, a mighty warrior, know about God? He is my shield, but there is more and it only gets better. God is a shield about me, my glory. God is my glory. I have been learning that this is truly where joy is to be found, my joy. My joy is to be found in who God is, in his glory. So, when David says that God is his shield, his glory, David is also saying that this is where his joy is (cf. John 15:11). And when God says to Abram when Abram is afraid, anxious, struggling that “I am your shield,” he is also saying, “I am your glory.” In other words, be satisfied in and with Me. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. And this all begins and ends with the word of the Lord.

God, What Will You Give Me?

But listen and learn and be mentored by Abram. Abram responds by saying, “O Lord God, what will you give me?” This is just honest, blunt Abram. He is sharing his heart with God. He is not being defiant or dissatisfied with what God has just said, but just blunt. And he repeats what he is so focused on in Genesis 15:3. “You have given me no offspring.” What does Abram view as his reward? A child. He is focused on having a child, specifically a son, because a few chapters earlier God had promised Abram offspring (Genesis 12:7). Abram has been holding onto a promise of God, God’s Word. It seems, though, that what Abram is missing is that the reward is nothing without who God is. The reward is only exceedingly great because of who God is. What then does Abram really need?

Just appreciate Abram. We have seen him so far go from being an unlovely sinner to a man who believes God and obeys God. We have seen Abram proclaim God’s greatness. We have seen Abram view his future through the circumstances of the present. And we have seen Abram grab a hold of the circumstances of the present with the grace and hope of the future. And I am reminding me and you of this because after verse three something changes with Abram.

Alone in the Silence with God

Notice verse four. “And behold, the word of the Lord came to him.” Another word for behold is look. Who in verse four is being told to look? It is us. We are being told to look or behold that the word of the Lord came to Abram. It is the second and last time in Genesis that the words “the word of the Lord” appear in Genesis. At the very least, we are being told to behold God’s Word. For what reason?

God promises Abram that he will have offspring. God is reminding Abram even now in his fear and anxiety and struggle to grab a hold of his present circumstances with the grace and hope of the future. God will fulfill his promise to Abram by giving him his very own son. But more importantly, what does God give Abram in the present? The bare word of God. And something happens.

In verse five, God brings Abram outside and has him look at the night sky. Look at the stars Abram. Number the stars if you can. This is how many offspring you will have. Then something happens. It gets silent. Silence is what follows verse five. Abram does not say a word. He is just alone in the silence with God. Now read verse six. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

The question to ask is, why is verse six here? Didn’t Abram believe God back in Genesis 12? The answer is yes. So, wouldn’t righteousness be counted to Abram in Genesis 12? The answer is yes. So, why is verse six here?

We need to go to the New Testament. We need to go to Romans 4:20-24 and just listen. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God.” Abram was not wavering in Genesis 15, he was just sharing his heart with God. “But he grew strong in his faith.” From Genesis 12 through Genesis 15, we are watching Abram grow in his believing God. Genesis 15:6 is written in such a way grammatically, that it actually means that Abram believed God and continued believing God. “But he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” Now really pay attention to verse twenty-three. “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”

1. Genesis 15:1-6 was written for Abram’s sake.

2. And Genesis 15:1-6 was not written for Abram’s sake alone, but for ours also.

The word believed in Genesis 15:6 is the Hebrew word aman from which we get the word amen – it is so. This was written for both Abram’s sake and ours. We are watching Abram grow in his believing God. And in this moment, in Abram’s fear and anxiety and struggling, Abram grows strong in his faith. In Genesis 15:5-6, he is not the same man as in verses two and three. He is no longer saying. “O God, what will you give me?” He grew, alone in the silence with God. How? Notice how Romans says that Abram grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. In this moment, it was no longer about getting the son for Abram, instead it was about the best thing that God did for Abram through his Word in this moment. The change in Abram, the growth was about God’s glory, God’s supremacy being Abram’s greatest satisfaction.

3. Central to Genesis 15:1-6 is God’s Word which is written for our sake that we, like Abram, would have God’s glory, God’s supremacy be our greatest satisfaction.

Not Even a Thread or Sandal Strap

One of the most difficult and stressful jobs in the entire world must be that of a realtor. And the lone reason is people. There are all kinds of jobs that are difficult and stressful solely because of people. These same jobs would all qualify as the most perfect job if it were not for people. But it is not simply people that make the realtor’s job one of the most difficult and stressful jobs in the entire world. It is because people want a house. People want a move in ready house. People want a house with a kitchen, a kitchen that opens into the living room. It is because people want guests in the living room that they can talk to while in the kitchen. Oh, the cabinets and counter must be what people want. People want four bedrooms and each must be good size bedrooms. People want bathrooms and each must be good size bathrooms. People want to have a view, not of the neighbor’s house or the highway, but a good view; the view where you would want to have a cup of coffee every morning. What is so difficult and stressful about being a realtor? It is people’s wants.

The Difficulty of Genesis 14

There is something difficult about Genesis 14. It stems from understanding what Genesis 14 is all about and then trying to understand how Genesis 14 relates to both Genesis 12 and Genesis 13, if at all! So, let’s begin by asking two questions. First, is there a relationship between Genesis 12 and Genesis 13 and Genesis 14? Here is the answer: Yes. Second, what is the relationship between Genesis 12 and Genesis 13 and Genesis 14?

The key to Genesis 12 is understanding that it is about one man named Abram. In Genesis 12, Abram is given a promise. This promise is the bare Word of God. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).  This promise is about Abram’s future, a future that God alone will accomplish. And beginning with Genesis 12:10, what does Abram do? He makes his way with the bare Word of God into a land called “the parched land,” the Negeb. And there he comes face to face with a famine and not just any famine, but a severe, overwhelming, burdensome famine. What then does Abram do? He begins to look at the future, the promise of God, through the lense of the present. He is in a land that has no food. He needs to get to a land that has food, and in Abram’s mind the future is dependent on it or we should say on him.

The key to Genesis 13 is understanding that it is about one man named Abram. In Genesis 13, Abram is coming up out of Egypt. He went down to Egypt talking and talking and talking some more. He comes up out of Egypt wealthier than when he went down, and he says not a word. He is a different man. The difference is not his wealth. He is heading back toward “the parched land,” the Negeb. He is heading back to the beginning where he first proclaimed the greatness of God. He does it to regain perspective. And then comes the difference. Abram is now looking at his present through the lense of the future. The chapter concludes with Abram moving his tent and settling by some oak trees. And he worships God.

Then there is Genesis 14. What is the relationship between Genesis 12 and Genesis 13 and Genesis 14? The key to Genesis 14 is understanding that it is all about one man named Abram. And still, there is something difficult about Genesis 14.

There Are a Lot of Kings

Notice how Genesis 14 begins. “In the days of Amraphel king…” Pause there. Pay careful attention to the word king. This will be important later, but the Hebrew word for king is melek. This is the first time that the word king is used in Genesis. It will be used another twenty-five times in Genesis 14 – that is a lot for one chapter. The reason it is used so often in one chapter is because there are a lot kings in this one chapter. There are nine kings given in just the first two verses – that is a lot of kings for just two verses! Who are these kings?

Some of these kings are significant and some of these kings are insignificant. First, there is a group of four kings, this is verse one. These kings are significant. Then there is a group of five kings, this is verse two. These kings are insignificant. This group is comprised of five cities; think of five cities each with a king. Two of these cities are very famous – Sodom and Gomorrah. This group is rather insignificant compared to the four kings. The four kings (14:1) are kings not of cities but of nations. Listen to the start of verse one. “In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar…” It was in the land of Shinar that a tower was built; a tower known as Babel. This is the land of Babylonia or Babylon. We know this today as the land of Iraq. The king of Ellasar and the king of Goiim would be from modern day Turkey. And the king of Elam would be from modern day Iran. These four kings are rather significant in comparison to the five kings.

The five insignificant kings get fed up with their insignificance. They have been in servitude to the four kings for twelve years (14:4). After twelve full years they rebel. But the four significant kings are patient. They give the five kings a year to straighten up. And after that one year, the king of what would be Iran, leads the charge to remind everyone of their insignificance. These four significant kings defeat and subjugate everyone in their path. And then they come face to face with the five kings (cf. 14:5-8). It is now just four kings against five kings. And what do the five insignificant kings do? They run (14:10).

These are the first ten verses of Genesis 14 and the point of these first ten verses is to get to verse eleven. “So the enemy [the four kings] took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.” What does verse eleven describe first? Possessions. Things listed first are important. So, we can rightly ask, what is really important to these four kings? Possessions.

Lot Living in Sodom

And then Genesis 14 gets really interesting. Listen to verse twelve. “They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom.” The last time we read of Lot was Genesis 13:12. “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” The last time we read of Lot he had moved his tent only so far to be just living near Sodom. Some time passes and when we read of him next, he is now living in Sodom. He is only living in Sodom because he was living near Sodom. And he was only living near Sodom for one reason: he chose for himself (13:11).

Part of the overall theme of Genesis is that God knows what is good. God also knows what is not good. And God does not keep this to himself. He reveals in and through his Word both what is good and not good. He does this for our own good (cf. Micah 6:8). Yet, we have seen men and women through Genesis so far, determine to choose for themselves what is good, what is not good, thinking that this is for their own good. This is what Lot did! He chose for himself what he thought was good, for his good. Look at what happens. “They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.” Notice that there is no mention of Lot’s family. No mention of a wife or kids. There is only mention of his stuff, possessions. Based on all that we have learned about Lot the last two weeks, what could we assume is really important to Lot? Possessions.

Abram Rescues Lot

Most translations have as the heading to Genesis 14, “Abram rescues Lot.” And he does. One lone person escapes the raid of the previous verses and finds Abram relaxing back at the oak trees (14:13). He tells him what has happened to his nephew. So, Abram comes to the rescue because of Lot. He loves Lot. But Abram rescuing Lot is secondary to the larger point of this chapter.

Abram comes to the rescue with 318 of his own trained men. And he brings three buddies with him. Together they defeat those significant kings, kings of nations, and not just defeat, but drive them far north. Again, Abram does it, he comes to the rescue with a rather small fighting force. But still, this is just secondary to the chapter.

Notice Genesis 14:16. “Then he [Abram] brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.” Things listed first are important and what is listed first here? Possessions. We know Abram rescues Lot because of what is said next, but it is the possessions that are mentioned first. And when Abram brings Lot back, he does not just bring Lot back, but also Lot’s possessions. Possessions are mentioned quite a bit! Why?

Abram Meets Two Kings

After this amazing defeat, Abram is met by a rather insignificant king and a rather obscure king (14:17). This obscure king is a new king to this chapter. He was not mentioned in the first two verses. He is king number ten of this chapter! We are given his name in verse eighteen. “And Melchizedek king of Salem…” The other king, the rather insignificant king is the king of Sodom. But notice this obscure king. His name is Melchizedek and remember that the Hebrew word for king is melek. The name Melchizedek is made up of two words. The first is melek meaning king and the second is tsedeq meaning righteousness. His name means king of righteousness! He is also king of Salem. Salem means peace. So, this obscure king is both king of righteousness and king of peace. Salem will eventually change its name to Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 76:2). This man really is just an ordinary man. He is an ordinary king. He will not be mentioned again for one thousand years (Psalm 110:4). After that, he will not be mentioned for another thousand years (Hebrews 5, 6, and 7). He is an ordinary king who points to someone better: Jesus the Christ. But here, he comes and goes, and what we discover is that he is a king who worships the one true God in a godless land.

Not Even a Thread or Sandal Strap

But there is this king of Sodom. The king of Salem gives Abram bread and wine and blesses both Abram and God. Abram responds by bowing to this king and giving him a tenth of all that he owns. But this king of Sodom reveals something really amazing about Abram. He says to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” Notice the word goods. It is the same Hebrew word for possessions in verses eleven, twelve and sixteen. This word is used five times in this chapter. What does the king of Sodom think is important to Abram? Possessions. He does not know he is speaking to a man who looks at the present through the lense of the future. He does not know that he is talking to a man who feasts on the promises of God.

I love what Abram says next. “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Abram bows to Melchizedek, but stands tall before the king of Sodom. “I would not take even a thread or sandal strap from you.” Why? Interestingly, in chapter twelve when Abram was looking at his future through the lense of the present, he took a lot of possessions from Pharaoh, so much so that it could be said that Pharaoh made Abram very rich. But Abram will not do that here. Why? Notice that he calls God the Possessor of heaven. Primary to chapter fourteen are possessions and God the Possessor. More important to Abram than possessions is God the Possessor. Why?

1. From Genesis 12 through Genesis 14, Abram believes God, holding loosely to the things of this world and holding on to the bare Word of God.

2. From Genesis 12 through Genesis 14, Abram believes God, feasting on the promises of God. He looks at his present through the lense of the future.

3. From Genesis 12 through Genesis 14, Abram discovers all that matters are not his possessions but his portion. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Look From the Place Where You Are

Roy Hobbs lived the first thirty-five years of his life to one end: to be the best there ever was to play the game of baseball. He wore number nine and played just one season for the New York Knights…in the book and film called The Natural. He remains one of my favorite baseball players. The film builds up not to the one game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League pennant, but to a conversation between Roy and his childhood sweetheart Iris. It is in a brief moment when Iris says, “You know, I believe we live two lives…the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”

Iris is somewhat correct.

Abram Went Up From Egypt

Pay close attention to how Genesis 13 begins. “So Abram went up from Egypt.” The key to understanding chapter thirteen is that it is about a man named Abram. But in understanding chapter thirteen, we need to be reminded about Genesis 12, specifically verse ten. “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt.” The key in understanding chapter twelve starting with verse ten is that this passage too is about a man named Abram. Both passages are about Abram! Both passages are about Abram and Egypt. In one he went down to Egypt and in the next he went up from Egypt. But there is more. There is more and it is bigger and better than simply going down and then going up from Egypt. Both passages are important to the other.

And Lot is With Him

But there is something different about verse one. “So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him.” This verse is really intriguing because of the verse before it. Read it carefully. “And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him [Abram], and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had” (Genesis 12:20).

These two consecutive verses sound so similar except for one glaring difference. Lot! He is not mentioned when Abram is sent away from Egypt with his wife and all that he had. Nor is he mentioned when Abram went down to Egypt. But apparently Lot was there in all eleven verses. So, why is he mentioned now?

Keep in mind that Lot is Abram’s nephew. He is first mentioned in Genesis 11:27. “Now these are the generations of…” We know from our study that when we come across these words, we are about to get a family tree. Fortunately, this family tree is rather brief. “Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot.” Lot is the lone grand-son mentioned of Terah. But this picks up on a pattern given in previous genealogies in Genesis. In those previous genealogies, the pattern has been to give the name of a father and the name of just one son, even though there may be other sons and daughters. The reason being is that this one named son is rather important to the family history. The same is true here in Genesis 11:27. Lot is rather important to the family history.

When Terah decides to move to another town, he takes with him Abram, Abram’s wife and Lot (11:31). Why Lot? He is rather important to the family history. When Abram obeys God by going where he does not know where he is going, Lot goes with him (12:4). Why Lot? He is rather important to the family history. And then Lot is not mentioned again until Abram comes up from Egypt. Why? He is rather important to the family history. Why is Lot so important?

Here is the answer: Genesis 12:10-20 is about Abram going down to Egypt. And although Lot was with him, there is no mention of him. Genesis 13:1-18 is about Abram going up from Egypt. And now Lot is mentioned being with Abram. Lot is the start to a difference with Abram.

Abram Gets Back to the Beginning

What does Abram do when he comes up from Egypt? Notice the end of verse one. “So Abram went up from Egypt…into the Negeb.” The Negeb is a rather large region, but the meaning of the word Negeb is interesting. It means “to be parched.” This is the region Abram was headed toward in Genesis 12:9. What is the verse after Genesis 12:9? It is verse ten which reads, “Now there was a famine in the land.” Heading toward the Negeb the first time led Abram to the famine, the severe famine. Why is Abram headed toward the Negeb a second time?

We need verse three, but do not miss verse two. Remember that in verse ten the famine is described as severe. The word severe means “heavy, weighty, burdensome, overwhelming.” In verse two as Abram is headed toward the Negeb, we are told that he is very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. The word rich is the same Hebrew word as severe. When Abram first made his way to the Negeb, he encountered a severe famine. The second time Abram made his way to the Negeb, he is very rich. This is only interesting because there is a parallel between Abram going down to Egypt and Abram going up from Egypt. Why is he now though making his way back to the Negeb?

We need verse three. “And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai.” This is the part that I love. Abram is headed back to the Negeb to get back to the beginning. After all that Abram has been through in Egypt, after all that Abram put his wife through in Egypt, and all due to Abram and his decisions, he comes up from Egypt to get back to the beginning. The beginning is surprising. The beginning is not where he first heard God’s voice. The beginning is not the oak tree at Shechem when the Lord appeared to him. Instead, the beginning is where his tent had been. It is the place where he built an altar and proclaimed the greatness of God (12:8). Why does he need to get back to the beginning? Here is a small hint: to regain perspective.

And It Begins with Lot

Abram journeys and journeys and journeys some more to get back to the beginning that he might regain his perspective. It is interesting that to regain his perspective Abram goes to the spot where he proclaimed the greatness of God (cf. Psalm 70:4). And it starts with Lot.

Lot cannot live with Abram. And the reason is that although Abram has a lot of stuff (livestock), Lot has a lot of stuff too, but not as much as Abram. These two cannot dwell together (cf. 13:6)! And since these two cannot occupy the same space, the only solution is to separate from one another. So, Abram tells Lot “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” (13:9). Abram is allowing Lot to choose any land he desires and Abram will take what is leftover.

Genesis 13:10 is a key verse. “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar.” And now verse eleven. “So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east.” We have seen so far in Genesis that moving east is not the wisest direction (see 4:16; 11:2). It is actually a wording to signify a moving away from God.

We get hints about this lush land that appeals to the eyes of Lot. It is a place that God will eventually destroy (cf. 13:10). One of those places is called Sodom. And the inhabitants of Sodom were wicked, great sinners. These inhabitants of Sodom were not just sinners, but great sinners. And what does Lot do? He moves his tent just oh so close to Sodom. At first, Lot only moves so close to Sodom so as to enjoy the lush land without being a part of Sodom. We will see though that this kind of thinking begins a slow fade for Lot. Soon he will be dwelling in Sodom (cf. 14:12); and then he will be working as a city official there (cf. 19:1)!

The more pressing point here is that Lot made a decision about his future based on the present. He saw green. He saw green land, he saw profit, he saw success. Lot looked at his future through the lense of the present. Who does that sound like?

Look From the Place Where You Are

Do not forget that after all Abram had been through because of his decision making, he sought to make his way back to the beginning. The beginning is where he built an altar and proclaimed the greatness of God. One thing we will never see Lot do is build an altar. But Abram made his way back to the beginning for just one reason: to regain perspective.

Lot’s decision left Abram in the dust, literally. Why do you think Lot chose the green, well-watered valley? It is because the other choice was the not so well-watered dust bowl! He left this to Abram. See, here in Genesis 13 in Abram’s pursuit to regain perspective, it starts with Lot. He starts the difference with Abram.

Now watch what happens. After Lot heads to his new home, the Lord speaks to Abram. Listen carefully. “Lift up your eyes and look.” Note how similar this sounds to what Lot did in Genesis 13:10! This next part is really important. “Look from the place where you are.” God tells Abram to do a 360-degree look. Look everywhere! This is the land that God is giving to Abram and his offspring! And notice that the words “I will give” in verse fifteen are in the future tense. God is reminding Abram of the future. It is something that God is repeating from Genesis 12. I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you; I will make your name great; I will give this land to your offspring – that was all future tense. And God tells Abram that he will make his offspring as the dust of the earth. If you can count the dust, so also your offspring can be counted. It makes sense that as God says this, Abram really is looking at dust!

But do not lose sight of this. God told Abram to look from the place where you are, Abram is seeing the present, reminded of the future and this future is something only God will do. Lot looked at the future based on the present. This is exactly what Abram did in Genesis 12. There the present was a famine. Abram knew his future. He knew God’s promise. He made a decision regarding the future based on his present circumstances. I have to get where there is food, the future is dependent on it! The result was disastrous. He nearly lost his wife and he could have lost his life. The result will be disastrous for Lot. Lot will lose his home, his possessions and his wife. It is all because he made a decision regarding the future, that which he cannot see, based on what he could see, the present. He was looking at the future through the lense of the present.

Abram though regained his perspective in this moment. Notice what he does. Abram walks through the land, all over the land, and moves his tent and settles in a place called Hebron. There he built an altar to the Lord. He worships. What does this all mean? In chapter twelve, Abram looked at the future, that which he could not see, through the lense of the present. Here in chapter thirteen, Abram looked at the present, that which he could see, through the lense of the future.

What Does This Mean for Us?

Look from the place where you are – that is the present – and do not lose sight of the future. Abram in a sense lived two lives in two consecutive chapters. He knew what it meant to live life looking at the future through the lense of the present. And then he regained his perspective. This life is meant to be lived looking at the present through the lense of the future. How do you do that?

1. Believing God, holding loosely to the things of this world and holding on to the bare Word of God.

2. Believing God feasting on his promises – in the famines; in the well-watered valleys; or in the dust bowls. It is because no matter what, God has provided something better for us (Hebrews 11:40).

When Faith is Met with Famine

If there is one thing America is not lacking, it is hot dogs. Joey Chestnut is champion not for the first time, but for the tenth time of the annual Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest. In winning, he consumed nineteen thousand, four hundred thirty-two calories; that is seventy-two hot dogs with the buns. He did so in just ten minutes.

The Whole Land Was Hungry

The key verse of Genesis 12:10-20, that is eleven verses, is the first of those eleven verses. Listen carefully to Genesis 12:10. “Now there was a famine in the land.” In this key verse, pay attention to the very first word – the word now (and in the King James translation). The word now tells us what happened next, meaning what happened before this verse is kind of important. And what happened before was Abram. Abram believed the bare Word of God. And because he believed the bare Word of God, he obeyed. God told Abram to get out; get out of his country, get out from his relatives, get out of his father’s house. He was told to get out and go to the land that God would show him. Not knowing where he was going, Abram did it!

He journeyed, he journeyed and he journeyed some more. And then he paused. He came to an oak tree and when he did “the Lord appeared to Abram.” This is Genesis 12:7. Be reminded of what happened. God said to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Let’s highlight the words this land. So, what does Abram do? He proclaims God’s greatness…in this land.

Then verse ten happens. “Now there was a famine in the land.” Highlight the words the land. This is the land that God will give to Abram’s offspring. As important, the last thing we see Abram do in this land is proclaim God’s greatness. Now, in this very same land there was a famine. There was no food in this land. Imagine it, God tells Abram to go to a land he will show him. When God reveals the land to Abram it is with the promise that it will be given to Abram’s offspring. This means Abram who at the time is childless will have kids. Abram believing the bare Word of God and obeying God, proclaims God’s greatness in this land. Then the whole land goes hungry. There is no food in the land.

 

Notice the end of verse ten. “The famine was severe in the land.” So, not only is there a famine in the land, but it is severe. Another word for severe would be overwhelming. The King James translation uses the word grievous. Let’s remember that word. The famine is grieving the land.

Genesis 12:1-9 is incredible. We are met with a man of great faith. Why does an overwhelming famine follow those nine verses? Why does a famine come now? As we continue, I want us to hold onto this: This overwhelming famine is something that Abram, this man of great faith, cannot control.

What Do You Do?

But what do you do with an overwhelming famine you cannot control? You go to Egypt. Again, verse ten is the key verse out of all these verses. “So Abram went down to Egypt.” There is just one reason to go to Egypt when there is no food in your land. The reason: food. There must be food in Egypt. Again, pay close attention to this key verse. Whose idea, better yet whose decision was it to go down to Egypt? It was Abram’s decision to go down to Egypt. And at the same time, it seems to make sense. There is no food in this land. There is food in another land. Let’s go to that land. It seems to make sense. But mark this down, Abram decided to go down to Egypt.

You Are So Beautiful

And I love verse eleven. Abram is not going down to Egypt alone. He is with his wife Sarai. As they are about to enter Egypt Abram turns to his wife and says, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance.” These two may have not exchanged a single word during this whole journey and at this moment, Abram cannot help himself. “You are so beautiful.” I love that he begins though with the words, “I know.” This shows so much confidence. If there is just one thing Abram knows, he knows that his wife is beautiful. At this point you would half expect him to say, “You’re everything I hope for, you’re everything I need. You are so beautiful to me.” The problem is that he does not say or sing those words, but he does keep talking. You are so beautiful “and when the Egyptians see you, they will say ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” In other words, “why do you have to be so beautiful? Your beauty is going to get me killed!” Why? This is no lesson in that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Abram knows that his wife is beautiful and he knows that the Egyptians will know that his wife is beautiful.

What Do You Do?

What do you do when there is an overwhelming famine in the land? You decide to go to a land that has all the food. But what do you do when in going to that land your wife is so beautiful? It is easy. You make another decision. Here it is: “Say you are my sister.” I read a man call this the art of fake honesty. It is because Sarai is kind of Abram’s sister. Abram and Sarai have the same father, but not the same mother (cf. Genesis 20:12). In Abram’s mind, this is not really a lie, but also not the whole truth. She is his wife, but the Egyptians do not need to know that.

Listen to his reasoning for this fake honesty. “Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you.” Remember, she is so beautiful. He is seeking to use her beauty to his advantage. In his mind, if they say this is his wife, he is dead. But if they say this is his sister “it will go well with me.” Abram only has Abram in mind. If they are only brother and sister then Abram is responsible for her in absence of their father. This means that if someone gets interested in her, they need Abram’s blessing in place of the father. This also means that Abram can mull their offer over until the famine is gone. Abram is seeking to buy time. It is the only way they can survive the famine.

What Do the Egyptians Do?

So, what do the Egyptians do? Just as Abram planned. “The Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.” But then the Egyptians did what Abram did not plan. “And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh.” There was no doubt that Sarai was beautiful, but in no way did Abram expect her beauty to reach the ears of Pharaoh. And it was a problem. Pharaoh is the most powerful man in the world and he does not seek permission to do anything from anyone.

What Then Does Pharaoh Do?

So, what then does Pharaoh do? Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s house, meaning, Sarai now belongs to Pharaoh. We find out in verse nineteen that Pharaoh makes her his wife. Abram is not only childless, but is now wife-less! But what else does Pharaoh do? Exactly as Abram originally planned. Remember what he said to Sarai, his beautiful sister? “Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” And it happened as Abram said. It goes well for Abram for her sake. “And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram” (12:16). Abram gets rich. He gets sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys and camels. Make this little note: It went well with Abram, but Abram will reap the consequences of how well it went for him later (cf. Genesis 13; Genesis 16).

What Does God Do?

But what does God do? Verse seventeen has one of the greatest theological words in the Bible: But. “But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” Notice that the word plague is actually plural. God sends not one, but more than one plague and each are only described as great. And it is all because of one beautiful woman. Sometimes, I guess, beauty is dangerous. God is rescuing both Sarai and Abram. And it is not a rescue from the hands of Pharaoh. No, God is rescuing Abram and Sarai from Abram. This all started because of the decisions Abram was making.

What Have You Done?

Pharaoh realizes that he has been deceived by Abram and that Sarai is actually another man’s wife. It could be that he figured out that these plagues were supernatural and that Sarai was the only one not plagued by them. Listen to what he says to Abram. “What is this you have done?” The end of the account is that Sarai is given back to Abram and both are expelled from Egypt, but with all the riches they acquired from Pharaoh. The important part is the question. What is this you have done?

This question is important for one reason. It parallels Genesis 3. Actually, this whole account parallels Genesis 3. There, Adam and Eve eat of the one tree that God told them not to eat. Why did they do it? Listen to Genesis 3:6. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired…” The food was a delight to the eyes and the tree was to be desired. How does this parallel Genesis 12:10-20? Abram sees that his wife is a delight to the eyes, she is beautiful, and is a delight to the eyes of other men, so much so that she will be desired by them. And Abram bases his decision making on this premise. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are questioned by God who asks, “What is this you have done?” Genesis 12 concludes with the same question. And the result for both Adam and Eve (a husband and wife) and Abram and Sarai (a husband and wife) is expulsion. It is an expulsion from places filled with food, too!

And in both accounts man made a decision based on what he determined to be good, for his own good. Abram had his good in mind in Genesis 12. Did you notice that this great man of faith never consulted what God wanted him to do and where God wanted him to go? Abram never sought God’s will.

When Faith is Met with Famine

Remember, I told you that the King James translation describes the famine as grievous. Why does a famine come now to this great man of faith? Listen to James 1:2-4. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God was using the famine to try Abram’s faith. Peter, using this same word testing as in James, likened it to gold being refined through fire. And he called the genuineness of faith more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7). Why does God do this? Peter explained that it is for praise and glory.

Interesting that James says that the result is that you may be “lacking in nothing.” God used a famine, lacking food, to refine Abram’s faith to the praise and glory of God. So…

1. Faith glorifies God. When your faith is met with a famine, be preaching to yourself this wonderful truth: this refining of my faith is glorifying God. This is the end to which all things are working.

2. Decisions have consequences. All decisions have consequences. But the decisions I make not seeking God’s will nor seeking to do God’s will have consequences. These consequences can be felt tomorrow, next week, next month, a year from now, forty years from now or all of the above.

3. Abram, a man of great faith, made a dumb decision. Abram is not our hope. Our hope is Jesus the Christ, a man of perfect faith.[1] We, believers, are in Christ. Jesus enables us to live a life of believing God. He sustains our faith and especially when we are met with famine.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing.

And He Did Not Weaken in Faith

When my pastor moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Blanchester, Ohio so did I. When my pastor moved from Blanchester, Ohio to Olmsted Falls, Ohio so did I. And when my pastor watched Sixty Minutes and Murder, She Wrote every Sunday evening so did I. For most of my life my pastor was also my Dad. And so, when Lisa and I were engaged to be married it was a given that our pastor, my Dad and her future Father-in-Law, would officiate our wedding. In addition to leading us in the giving of our vows to one another, our pastor also gave a charge to us as we began our life together. I only remember one thing he said. “The road from your parents’ house goes forth!” In other words, as you leave our home do not come back.

Leave Your Father’s House

Genesis 12 is the introduction to the life of a man named Abram. He is more commonly known as Abraham or even father Abraham…who had many sons. And when we are introduced to the life of this man, relative to the other men of Genesis that we have met so far, Abram is old. Now listen to the first words of Genesis 12. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go.’” I like how these words read in the King James translation. “Get thee out.” The very first words that God speaks to Abram are a command to get out or leave.

Now, what exactly is Abram to leave? Leave your country; leave your relatives; leave your father’s house. I think, in general, the hardest of those three is leaving your father’s house. Not to get too sentimental as if this is a Hallmark moment, but home is where the heart is. Home is where you are comfortable. Home is what you know; home is where your bed is; home is where you grew up. Abram is being told to leave home. For me, the hardest part of adapting to married life was having to leave my father’s house, never expecting it to be hard. In fact, I looked forward to it. Although, while on our honeymoon, my parents changed the locks to their home. But a part of this command though is really personal. Leaving your home is personal.

And in this command, a personal command, God gives three promises. Do not think of these as incentives to obey. Instead, what God is doing in verse two and also in verse three is revealing his plan to Abram. “Leave your father’s house and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great.” Again, God is revealing his plan to Abram. This is actually a plan that was first detailed in Genesis 3:15 to Adam and Eve and the evil one the serpent. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the plan and it is the plan that slowly unfolds in Genesis. It slowly unfolds with Noah. “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29). The plan slowly unfolds from Noah to his son Shem. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem” (Genesis 9:26). The plan then slowly unfolds from Shem to his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson Abram. How does the plan unfold here with Abram? It begins with the command to go; get out; leave and God will make of Abram a great nation; he will bless Abram and he will make Abram’s name great. And what comes next is, why?

Here is, in a sense, the fulfillment of the plan. It is the rest of verse two. “So that.” Pause there. This last phrase of verse two is supplied with the words “so that” in some translations. In Hebrew, this phrase is written in an imperative form. It looks like a command. And as a command would read, “and you be a blessing.” However, there is a letter that gets attached to the imperative that changes it from a command to a statement of purpose or of consequence. Abram, you go and God will do these three promises with the purpose or the consequence that you will be a blessing. Now connect this with how verse three ends. “And in you [Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The plan started in Genesis 3:15 which we see slowly unfold and will continue to slowly unfold all the way through to the New Testament. From Adam and Eve through Noah and through Shem and through Abram will come Jesus the Christ (Luke 3:23-38). Jesus is God. Jesus is God in human flesh. Jesus is God the Son. And listen closely to this. It is really personal. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God the Father sent God the Son to be born a man and live as one of us. He did so because of the slowly unfolding plan first given in Genesis 3:15. It was to destroy the works of the evil one and set us free, all who would believe in him for eternal life. And it unfolds here with Abram and it starts with a command and ends with Abram being a blessing, a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Abram Left His Father’s House

Listen to verse four. Verse four may be the most important verse of all nine verses. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Abram did it. God commanded and Abram did it. He left his country. He left his relatives. He left his father’s house. Verse four is emphasizing that Abram obeyed. God commanded and Abram listened and obeyed. Now here is an interesting question. Where did Abram go? Verse four says that Abram went, but where? Jump back to verse one. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” God is pretty clear with his command. Simply, leave. And God is really specific as to what Abram is to leave. But God is not so specific as to where Abram is to go. All God says is that Abram is to go to the land that God will show him. And the astonishing part is that Abram does it. He leaves the comfort of home not knowing where he is going (cf. Hebrews 11:8). Add to it this: Abram was relatively old! He was seventy-five years old when he leaves not knowing where he was going. This was old for Bible years at this point. Consider the previous chapter. In the last half of Genesis 11, men are becoming fathers at the average of 30, well, except Abram’s dad who was 70. But Abram at 75, is leaving his dad’s house and he is not even a dad. He is married, but his wife Sarai cannot have children.

At this point, as we continue to watch Abram in the remaining verses, I have just two questions. Why did Abram do it? Why did he leave his father’s house not knowing where he was going? Or, why did he obey? And the second question is, how is Abram a blessing? I know we sort of answered that question earlier, but I want us to dig deeper. And I will give you a little tease here. The answer is the same for both questions.

Abram Had No Idea

Abram had no idea where to go, but he went and he traveled to the land of Canaan (12:5). At first glance, it looks like he knows where he is going. Why though did he decide to go to the land of Canaan? Notice in verse five that Abram is going to the land of Canaan from a place called Haran. Haran is the place that Abram and his father’s house settled back in Genesis 11:31. In verse thirty-one, we are told that Terah, Abram’s dad, leads the home to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and head to the land of Canaan. But for some reason, Terah has the family, and I want us to highlight this next word, settle in Haran. Terah eventually dies in Haran at the age of 205. So, when God tells Abram to go to the land that God will show him, why does Abram, not knowing where he is going, decide to go to the land of Canaan? Could it be that this was just originally where Terah was leading the family?

And keep in mind as Terah led his family to go to the land of Canaan for some reason he decided to instead have them settle in Haran. Pay attention to that word settle. It is the same word that was used of Cain when he left the presence of the Lord. He then settled and built a city (Genesis 4:16-17). It is the same word used of all the world’s population as they moved eastward and then settled and built a city and a tower (Genesis 11:2). But notice what Abram does as he heads to the land of Canaan. Read the end of verse five. “When they came to the land of Canaan.” When Abram comes to the land of Canaan, and by the way he is leading a big group of people – his wife, his nephew Lot, and a lot of other people – he never settles. He never has the family settle. Instead, he leads the family to keep moving. It is a theme through verse nine. “And Abram journeyed on.”

Abram never settled. As Abram is moving throughout this land, he stops at Shechem at a tree. And at that tree God appears and says to Abram, “this is the land I will give your offspring” (v. 7). At this point, Abram has no offspring to speak of. But really pay attention here. God commands Abram to leave his father’s house to a land that he will show him and when he gets to that land God tells him, “I am giving this land to your offspring.” God is not giving the land to Abram. Abram left his home and has no home. He never settles.

Abram never settles, but he does build. And twice in this land that God will give to Abram’s offspring, Abram builds an altar (12:7, 12:8). Abram never settles, but he stops to worship. It is put this way in verse eight. Abram “called upon the name of the Lord.” He never settled, but instead throughout the land he proclaimed the greatness of God. And he had no home!

Abram Never Weakened in Faith

Why did Abram do it? Why did he obey? Hebrews 11:8 has the answer. “By faith Abraham obeyed.” Genesis 12 is not simply that God commanded and Abram obeyed. Abram obeyed only because he believed God. He did not know where he was going, but he went, he obeyed only because he believed God. Listen to Hebrews 11:9. “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents.” Abram never settled in the land. We know that because he never built a permanent home. He lived in tents. Why did he do it? Because he believed God. Listen to Hebrews 11:10. “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

Is it not something that previously in Genesis when men settled they built a city? Why did Abram never settle? He was looking forward to the city God would design and build. Abram believed God; he believed that God knew exactly what he was doing. Romans 4:19 says regarding Abram, “he did not weaken in faith.” Abram never weakened in believing God.

So, I ask again, how is Abram a blessing? Listen to Hebrews 11:13. It still is in regard to Abram believing God, believing God knows exactly what he is doing. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.” Did you hear that? Abram believed God but did not receive the things promised. Abram died believing God. How then is Abram a blessing? Listen to Hebrews 11:13-15. “and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.” And here is the best part. It is verse sixteen. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” There it is! There is how Abram is a blessing. Believing God like Abram believed God, the blessing is that God is not ashamed to be called your God!

How did Abram believe God? How did he believe that God knows exactly what he is doing? All Abram did was believe the bare Word of God and he obeyed.

And This Is Only The Beginning

If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. The man who lived by those very words built a time machine out of a DeLorean. Obviously, not only is building a time machine and building a time machine out of a DeLorean a work of fiction, but also is the man who built a time machine out of a DeLorean.

But is it true? Is it true that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything? I came across an article titled, 10 Steps to Conquering Anything You Set Your Mind To. Step one was to define what you would like to achieve and how badly you want it. Step one was then dependent on step two: determine whether you want it bad enough. Step four though caught my attention. Visualize yourself achieving the goal and enjoying the reward. Listen to how this was further developed. “Define exactly what will happen when you finally achieve that goal. How would you feel when your dreams actually come true? What will happen? How will it make you feel? The more you can imagine and visualize the emotional response and reaction you will get and create that mental image in your head and your mind, the easier it will become to achieve that goal. Visualize it daily and in details if you can. Please remember to eliminate all self-doubt. Don’t ever doubt yourself – not even just a little bit. Even if it happens, try to brush it off. You can tell your mind once or twice that failure is possible and that you will have to be resilient and bounce back if that happens, however, never dwell on that thought. Never think about the possible failure in a repetitive manner. Don’t let any doubt get into your subconscious.”

But is it true? Is it true that you can conquer anything that you set your mind to? And if it is true, is it good?

Nothing Will Be Impossible

Listen to what God says in Genesis 11:6. It is the last part of the verse. “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” What is God saying? What does that mean?

The book of Genesis is a rather easy book to outline. It is divided into just two sections. The first section consists of Genesis 1 through Genesis 11:9. In those chapters are four big events: Creation, the Fall, the Global Flood and the Tower of Babel. The second section consists then of Genesis 11:10 through Genesis 50. In those chapters are four big men: Abraham; Isaac; Jacob; and Joseph.

Genesis 11:1-9 is the conclusion then of the first section of Genesis. Do not lose sight of that; this is a conclusion. It includes the building of a famous tower, which is thought to have been about seventy-feet tall. If you are having difficulty being impressed by that, you try making your own bricks by hand and your own mortar by hand and then designing and constructing a tower out of those bricks by hand. Do not lose sight of this tower. It is a conclusion of the first section of Genesis. It is a conclusion that is summed by these words: nothing will be impossible for man.

Man Moved Eastward

This conclusion, Genesis 11:1-9, begins by telling us that the whole earth, or more accurately the whole land, had one language and the same words. At first this seems a little redundant. Of course, if there is one language there will be the same words. Verse one describes all of humanity. All of humanity was sharing the same language and in that same language, this one language, all of humanity was also sharing the same ideas. They were speaking the same language saying the same thing. We will see this further developed in verses three and four. But first, pay close attention to verse two.

Not only was mankind sharing the same language and the same ideas, but mankind was moving in the same direction. In what direction was mankind moving? It was east or eastward. Verse two is probably better understood as mankind moving eastward or toward the east. If you are moving east, you must be moving east from somewhere. There must be a starting point. The last time we were told of anyone moving east was in Genesis 4:16. “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” The first time we are told of anyone moving east was in Genesis 3:24. “He [God] drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” In Genesis 13:11-13, we will read of a man who chooses to go eastward and he winds up in a place of great wickedness. Going eastward is not seen as a good direction to be headed. Note this; we are moving further away, east, from Eden.

God planted a garden in Eden. God placed man in the garden that God planted. This garden was to be a place for man to worship and obey God. This garden was also the place where God told man what was good and what was not good and God did this for man’s good. And this garden was the place where man determined to choose for himself what was good, what was not good, thinking that this would be for his own good. And the result in so doing was to move eastward.

So, the point is that moving eastward is not a good thing. Instead, it is used to illustrate what happens when we determine to choose for ourselves what is good, what is not good, thinking that this will be for our own good. The characteristic mark of man’s failure up to this point in the book has been his attempt to grasp the “good” on his own rather than trust God to provide it for him.[1] So, when God says that nothing will be impossible for man, it is in relation to this characteristic mark of man’s failure. Nothing will be impossible for man in his attempt to grasp what he thinks to be his good.

Cain and the Tower of Babel

Continue focusing on Genesis 11:2. What happened when mankind moved eastward? They settled. They settled in the land of Shinar (Babylonia), but most definitely they settled. There is a parallel here with Cain in Genesis 4:16-17. “Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Now get ready for verse seventeen. What does Cain do when he moves eastward? And this moving eastward began when Cain chose to go away from the presence of the Lord. This was Cain determining for himself what was good thinking that this would be for his own good. He settled and built a city (4:17).

Genesis 11:3-4 comes after Genesis 11:2. Genesis 11:2 is about mankind, together, moving eastward and settling. And after they settled, they determined for themselves to build a city. It is just like Cain, except this time they will not just build a city, but they will build a tower. What is the purpose of building a city and a tower? The answer is the very last part of verse four. “Let us make a name for ourselves.” This too is like Cain for when he built a city he named it after his son. This making a name for ourselves and naming a city after a son are all about the same thing. It is all about making much of self. So, when God says that nothing will be impossible for man, it is in relation to this making much of self. Nothing will be impossible for man in his attempt to make much of self. There is only one reason we determine to choose for ourselves what is good, what is not good, thinking that this is for our own good. It is about making much of self.

Poor Lebron James. Say what you want about him, but he plays basketball a lot better than you and me. Last Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers came in second place in the NBA, a.k.a, first loser. The storyline all week though has been not that the Cavs lost, but that Lebron lost. At the end of the week, Lebron was asked about his motivation in staying ready for next season. “My motivation? It hasn’t changed,” James said. “My motivation hasn’t stopped. It’s just ‘Strive for greatness.’ My motivation don’t change. I can’t stop. I refuse to stop.” Whose greatness is he referring to? It is not the greatness of the city of Cleveland or the greatness of the Cavaliers. It is his own greatness. Making a name for one’s self is about striving for one’s own greatness. That is the point of building the tower. It is the conclusion of this first section of Genesis. The characteristic of man’s failure is the attempt to grasp the good on his own. It is about man’s grasping for his own greatness.

And the Lord Came Down

I love verse five. Mankind builds quite a magnificent tower. Their aim was to have it reach into the heavens. This is called the Tower of Babel. In the Babylonian language babel means “gate of god.” It is appropriate then to say in building this tower, in striving for their own greatness, mankind sought to reach God. So, what does God think of this tower? He determines to come down so that he may see the tower. It is quite funny. God who inhabits the heavens, God who is omni-present, decides that he needs to come down in order to even see the tower. It is a note of what God really thinks of this tower and man’s efforts to strive for his own greatness. It is puny.

The end result is that God puts an end to mankind’s striving. He confuses their language. In other words, there is no longer one language, but now a diversity of languages. He did so to scatter mankind over the whole earth. Keep in mind that prior to this, God commanded mankind to scatter over the earth (“fill the earth” cf. Genesis 9:1). God was telling mankind what was good. In Genesis 11:1-9, mankind determines to choose for themselves what is good. Listen to verse four. “Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” What mankind thought was good was not being dispersed over the whole earth. Dispersing over the whole earth would have been striving for the greatness of God. Instead, mankind chose to strive for their own greatness.

And This Is Only The Beginning

Listen to what God has to say about all of this. It is verse six. “This is only the beginning of what they will do.” This was only the beginning of what mankind will do in striving for their own greatness; determining to choose for themselves what is good, what is not good, thinking that it will all be for their own good. In building that tower mankind will see that there is no limit in what we can do in grasping for our own good.

They wanted a name, so God gave them one: Babel. A word that once meant “gate of god” now means confusion. Remember Genesis 4:26. What is the opposite of making a name for yourself?  “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At this time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” At this time people began to proclaim God’s greatness. Listen to Psalm 72:19. “Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and amen!” Why did God want them to be dispersed over all the earth?

Listen to Proverbs 18:10. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Listen to how the New Testament reflects Psalm 72 and Proverbs 18. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I like making much of me. So, what is needed? How does this apply to me?

1. I need repentance. I need repentance daily.

2. And I ask that God would make me hungry for his glory, his greatness.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 169