Chapter thirteen of Genesis is one of the more well-known secondary stories from Genesis. It is definitely a Sunday School story. Probably because it is a G rated story amidst a lot of R rated material. But also, because it is an easy story to adapt and pervert for good, ethically driven, child-safe, Christianity.
Here is the typical interpretation: Abram and Lot have prospered a lot. So much that they are straining resources to stay together. Their success is pushing the limits of what is possible. They won’t be able to stay together and continue to prosper. So Abram does the good Christian thing and lets Lot have the pick of the land. Whichever direction Lot choses to go, Abram will head in the opposite direction. Lot chooses the best for himself. Abram was nice so God blesses him, while Lot’s selfishness sends him into a bad situation.
The problems with the above reading are:
The misunderstanding of blessing and prosperity. Abram and Lot are blessed because God is blessing them as He promised to do. They are blessed because they are where God wants them. It is God who has prospered them, in spite of every possible negative circumstance, so the lack of resources are not going to be the problem.
A misunderstanding of Lot’s error. Lot is not the “bad guy” because he chooses the better looking land and leaves Abram with the lesser option. Lot is not just being selfish. He is turning his back on God’s blessing. There is no way that Lot does not know about God’s instruction to Abram. Lot’s grandfather, Terah, was already on the path to the promised land when he gave up. And when Abram left his father, Lot went with him. Lot had seen the land and had experienced the blessing. When given the choice to split up from Abram, he could have stayed in the promised land and lived in God’s blessing. What he saw in the land beyond Canaan was security: good land and plenty of water. Instead of trusting in God’s provision, he turned to the land that would sustain him.
Finally, there is a misunderstanding of Abram’s success. Abram is not blessed or rewarded for being the “bigger man.” He is blessed because he has trusted in God’s word. God is going to work things out for him, even in spite of himself at times as we have already seen in the Egypt episode.
It is in that knowledge and trust of God’s blessing that Abram is able to be so generous to Lot. Abram does not have to look out for his own self-interest because God has his back. So, he can be generous and loving to Lot. Even when it looks like Lot’s choice will hurt Abram.
And that may be the biggest lesson learned here. As people of God, we need to develop a theology of trust towards God and love towards others that is seriously lacking in modern Christianity. Too often today Christianity is a system of belief that feeds fear and paranoia. It is us against the world. That should never be a position in which the people of the Gospel find themselves. We trust God to work things out for His purposes which involve our ultimate good. That should free us up to love those who don’t yet know His blessing. We should love and not fear. We should be all about proclamation and not protectionism.