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Abraham, Part 3: Riches & Strife

Scripture: Genesis 13:1-18, Proverbs 15:16
Date: 02/21/2004 
The third in a 12 part series on the life of Abraham. This sermon focuses on Abraham's wealth and the challenges it brought. Strife between church members or parents creates insecurity and doesn't build the family of God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

We are continuing a study that is dealing with the ultimate patriarch, Abraham. And it’s a good thing that we are studying this individual because he is held forth in the Bible as exhibit A as faith, the father of the faithful. Our sermon title today is dealing with riches and strife and you’ll understand that better as we get into our specific study this morning, but I think it’s good for us to study Abraham because Abraham is going to be in heaven and I want to be in heaven, I want to live forever. I want to be a spiritual child of Abraham. There are a number of people in the world that may be physical children of Abraham, but the best thing is if you can be the spiritual seed of the covenant, children of Abraham. And I think through studying his life we can. Jesus said to the religious leaders, he talked about his father Abraham and they said, “Our father Abraham!” And Jesus said, “No, your father is not Abraham.” And they were absolutely stunned that he would suggest that they were not children of Abraham because after all they were physical Jews. And he said, “You will do the deeds of your father.” He said, “You are children of the devil.” He was speaking to the religious leaders that were trying to kill him. And he said… So to be children of Abraham means more than what your DNA is composed of.

It means to be children of faith, to follow the example of Abraham. Turn with me to the book of Genesis chapter thirteen and our whole study this morning is going to simply start and end with chapter thirteen. And you may wonder when will we ever be done with Abraham? Well, I don’t know. Maybe the Lord will come while we’re studying this, but I’m just going to take my time because I think it’s worth it. It is a good study. When we last considered our hero it was one of the low points. There are only a couple of times in Abraham’s experience that we sort of look away in shame and one is where he denies that his wife is his wife. Remember he went down to Egypt during the famine. We don’t hear where the Lord told him to go to Egypt, but in spite of his denying that she was really his wife or claiming that she was sister and failing to mention that she was his wife, the Lord still protected him and blessed him. I am so thankful that God does not only protect and bless us based on our goodness. The Lord is so good to us and he’s so patient with us and I think about all the times that I’ve made illegal maneuvers on the freeway and I’m still here. And if the Lord judged me based on, you know, every time I sped up when the light turned yellow, you wouldn’t be here either, would you? So God is good. And after he leaves, he’s basically evicted from Egypt by the Pharaoh, and he is given a great deal of wealth. Now before the Pharaoh found out about Sarah and he being husband and wife and not just brother and sister Pharaoh had already given him a great deal of wealth. Something I found that I did not know before, in the writings of Josephus he suggests that one of the reasons that the Pharaoh gave so much to Abraham was because Abraham brought with him from Ur, you remember Abraham was born in Ur, knowledge of the sciences. And Josephus says that he brought knowledges of the sciences and math from Ur and they paid Abraham to teach them those things.

That’s an interesting thought and there may be some validity to it because it is true that in Mesopotamia you remember the university of the world basically back then was in Babylon. That’s where all the higher learning was and it’s believed the first pyramids were built there and the knowledge, you know the tower of Babel started in Babylon, right? And the knowledge of how they built the pyramids did not originate in Egypt but came from Babylon. You remember Nebuchadnezzar? He also built up the city and the Seven Wonders of the World. The hanging gardens and the wall of Babylon were in ancient Babylon. So Abraham if in your mind you’ve got some ignorant shepherd I think you need to rethink that. While he did live a nomadic life, he was not uneducated. How old was he when he left Ur? Seventy, seventy-five? I think he had his doctorate when he left. So he was an educated man and that’s why he was brought all the way into the palace of the Pharaoh. He was also wealthy when he came. But now he leaves and you read in the Bible. Turn with me to Genesis 13. “Then Abram,” verse one, “went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.” Now you might wonder how can you go up to the South. Well, he went north from Egypt into the south of Canaan, the south of the Promised Land. He went up into the south country there. “And Abram was very rich in livestock,” but not only in cattle, “in silver, and in gold.” And we read earlier he had menservants and maidservants. He had riches in virtually every form you could have them in that day except in buildings. “And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai.”

Now there is something we might learn from this. You remember in our last study Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai. And then he ends up in Egypt, embarrasses the cause of God by being dishonest, quite frankly. And he now, you might say he backslid a little bit. What do you do when you backslide? You go back to where you were when God spoke to you last. Have you read in Revelation where the Lord calls on us to find our first love? It says, “Return to where you have fallen from.” A lot of people want to know how do I get that first experience that I had with Jesus when that first love seems to grow cold or when your religion becomes mechanical and you think where is that fervor? Return to where you found it the first time. God doesn’t leave. He’s still there. Usually we are the ones. It wasn’t the father who left. It was the prodigal son who left home. Adam and Eve ran from God. God didn’t run from them. So you’ve got to return. And so he goes back to where he was when the Lord spoke to him last. We may need to return to where God speaks to us last. “To the place where the altar had been that he made at the first.” I’m in verse four. “And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.” And of course we want to go to where that place is where we can call on the name of the Lord. And it says, “Lot also, who went with Abram, and he had flocks and herds and tents.” Now Lot was of course the nephew of Abraham that he had sort of taken under his wing, but he was a nomad in his own right. If Abraham now is nearly 80 years of age Lot could have well been his nephew and been 65 or 78. We don’t know. It was Abram’s older brother who had died and it doesn’t tell us, at least I don’t remember offhand, what their age span was.

So here you’ve got these two families that have their respective heads and they both are fabulously wealthy. And it goes on to say, “Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.” Now following the Lord does not always mean you’re going to have great possessions. Having wealth can be a blessing and it can be a curse. When it said here that Abraham was very wealthy, the actual phrase is “he was heavy with wealth.” Have you ever felt that your wealth was a burden? Well it can be. The word used here “heavy with wealth” in Hebrew it means… you ever try to walk when you get clay stuck to your feet? You ever walk through clay and as you walk on more and more sticks until pretty soon it looks like you got a planet hanging off of each leg? And this is the picture in Hebrew of Abraham being heavy with wealth. Is it easier to travel fast when you travel light? And the more you get the longer it takes to go. And this is what was happening now. They moved slowly because he was heavy with wealth. He didn’t have all electronic funds and transactions that we have today where you can be heavy with wealth and it’s all on a plastic credit card. Some of you are heavy with debt because of the credit cards. But he had to take it with him back then. They couldn’t all drop it in a bank somewhere. They didn’t have the first bank of Canaan back then. Matthew Henry in commenting on this said something very interesting, speaking of riches that are not always a blessing but sometimes a curse, they can be a burden and this is what he says. “There is a burden in the care of getting riches, fear in keeping them, temptation in using them (riches), guilt in abusing them, sorrow in losing them, and a burden at last on account to be given about using them.” Have you ever thought about that? I’m going to read that again. That impressed me. When you think about, “Oh, if I could only be rich.”

Think about this. There is a burden in getting riches and some people spend their whole life getting it so that all they’ve accomplished is being the richest body in the graveyard. “There is a burden in care in getting riches, fear in keeping them,” need to make sure it’s secure and insured and alarmed. “…guilt in abusing them, sorrow in losing them, and a burden at last account to be given about using them. Yet God in his providence sometimes makes good men rich thus God’s blessing made Abram rich without sorrow.” Now what was Matthew Henry talking about? Proverbs 10:22 “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” Is it possible to have wealth and happiness? Yes. Is it common? No, it is rare. Now, the Bible tells us there are a few exceptions. The first let's state the rule and then I'll tell you the exceptions. The rule is, Jesus said, Mark chapter ten, “Hardly shall a rich man” or woman. Is it safe to say that? “…get into the kingdom of heaven.” “It is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.” And when the disciples heard this it blew them away and they said, “Lord, who then can be saved?” because they believed that a sign of God’s blessing was you’d be rich and they were all striving for riches as evidence of God’s blessing. They had false theology back then that we have today that if you have enough faith you’ll have plenty of prosperity you’ll be wealthy and healthy and wise.

Now if you have enough faith you’ll be wise but there is no guarantee biblically if you have enough faith you will be healthy and wealthy. Is that true? And the idea that if you’re struggling it’s because you don’t have enough faith, if you’re sick it’s because you don’t have enough faith, it might not have anything to do with faith. It might be because of your living practices. It might be because of your genetics. And if you’re being persecuted it might be because you have faith you’re being persecuted. The followers of Jesus the twelve apostles were they all healthy and wealthy? Paul had a thorn in the side, some physical malady that plagued him his whole life and most of them had travel light so they had little. So the rule is it is very difficult to be godly and wealthy at the same time, but there are exceptions. Was Solomon wise and wealthy and rich? But did it cause problems for him? Yeah, he had too much money and then there ended up too many wives that wanted the money. You know in America if you have too much money you might encounter one to two gold diggers. Back then you can have as many gold diggers in the house as you wanted. Can you imagine that? He had hundreds of them and they drew his heart away after their gods that’s what the Bible said.

You think that he would have had all those wives if he didn’t have all that money? You ever met a poor man with twenty wives? They may end up poor. So wealth does not bring happiness. Who else? David, was he wealthy? Yeah, and I don’t really see evidence that David’s wealth caused his sin. Was Job wealthy? He’s a rare example of somebody who if he lost it all he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord took away.” And you know what? In order for you to be wealthy and not have it be a stumbling block, you cannot really be wealthy. You must view yourself as simply the steward of God’s wealth. As soon as you think it’s yours, it has ruined you. Isn’t that right? And so this illustrates that there are exceptions. The great patriarchs, all three of them, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy. The reason that God could make Joseph wealthy is he learned how to trust God in his poverty as a servant and a prisoner and God could then trust him with wealth. But what was Joseph’s attitude? Was it his wealth or did he realize that it’s really the wealth of the King? And so it didn’t destroy him. One reason wealth is so dangerous… I’m not trying to… I mean it's really bad for pastor to try and preach his church into poverty. It doesn’t help us at all, does it? Get a new church? But I want to be faithful, right?

If God chooses to bless you with wealth, and I should add at this point sometimes it isn’t just God that blesses people with wealth. I am convinced that sometimes the devil curses people with wealth. It has nothing to do with God. Don’t miss the point. It says that Abraham had great wealth and it says it in connection with his calling on God. His seeking after God and calling on God was one reason God could trust him this way. Abraham called on the name of the Lord. But the great wealth created additional need for management. The more you have, and the more flocks you have what else do you need? You need water. They used to have to draw their water from wells if it wasn’t in the spring runoff. You need pasture and if there isn’t enough growing you need to take them into the higher mountains where you can still find some or maybe they were bailing up the hay so that they could store it away. But more wealth requires more maintenance and more management. Do you realize you can become a slave to your possessions? I know some people that have so much they’re afraid to go on vacation because who will take care of it? What will happen to it? Isn’t that right? And I’ll never forget. I don’t know if it was on a tape or a book I read where James Dobson was talking about reading the instructions on a swing set that he was putting together for his children and I could really identify. Have any of you men or women put together a swing set? We have one in our backyard that we assembled and it’s not only the swings but it’s the wooden variety that took me a week to get it together. I did read the directions, and I still don’t know why we had extra parts when I got done. Want to hear a little Amazing Fact? I had gathered some wood for our little fireplace to start a fire before Sabbath last night and I looked at a piece of wood I was going to toss in for kindling and I said, “Well, that’s part of the swing set!” I never did figure out where that went and this is three years ago.

I still haven’t figured out where it goes, but I’m afraid to burn it so I set it aside. But in the instructions after he got done doing this it said, “WARNING! Be sure to tighten all bolts and oil the pivots weekly.” And he thought, you put up a swing set and you’ve got to go check it out every week and make sure you tighten all the bolts. And you know what? I’m having to shellac and varnish and tighten the bolts. What happens, in the winter the wood swells, in the summer it contracts and they get loose! And I’ll see the kids out there swinging. As the weather begins to warm up you know after the winter and the whole thing is going… the whole frame is… I figure I better get out there and tighten it up again or it’s going to gobble up my children. And so you end up… sure it’s nice to have a swing set, but you’ve got to take care of the dumb thing. Make sure the wood doesn’t split. You’ve got to go out and you varnish it and the more you have the more you have to take care of until you become a slave of your possessions. Almost makes you want to return to primitive Christianity where we just take our sandals and head out, right? Just trust the Lord. Does that ever sound appealing to you? In a song written by Chris Kristofferson and made famous by Janis Joplin, I don’t recommend it, but there is a good line in there. “Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose.” You’ve all heard that before, haven’t you? So wealth can require management. Proverbs 15:16, “Better a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble.” I like the way that’s worded. Did you write that down? Proverbs 15:16. Proverbs 17:1, now keep in mind, who wrote Proverbs? Richest man in the world.

Did he know what he was talking about? “Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.” And he knew something about where there was much, a lot of possessions, there was a lot of strife. You ever heard the expression, “Where there’s a will there’s a… lot of relatives.” Where there is… Wealth can cause strife between brethren is my next point. Now look what happened because of all of this wealth. If you move on here in chapter thirteen it says, verse seven, “And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.” Now it tells us this for a couple of reasons. First of all, there was strife between the herdsmen because they had so many possessions. They were probably the servants of Lot were jealous that their sheep and goats get the best pasture and get to the well first and there was strife between Abram. His servants said, “No, Abraham, he’s the senior patriarch. His sheep should get the best gleanings.” And they’d get to the water after Lot’s sheep had been there and fouled the water with their feet. This was not uncommon. How many of you remember the story. One of the reasons that Moses got a wife is he went and delivered the daughters of Jethro from the other shepherds there in Midean that weren’t letting them get to the well. You remember that? And he had to fend them off so that the girls could water their flock.

There were limited resources and it was not uncommon to have strife among shepherds. And it also says the Canaanites and the Perizzites filled the land. Well, not only did they have their flocks to be concerned with but the people that were already in the land had also been gobbling up some of the best pasture. Now beyond this I think there is something else to consider. It was not good that Abram and Lot’s servants were fighting with the Canaanites and the Perizzites watching. Lot and his family, Abraham and his family, they all worshipped God. Abraham would gather his whole family before the altar for morning and evening sacrifice. Everyone in Abraham’s household, we haven’t gotten to it yet, they’re all circumcised. If you were in Abraham’s house you were going to serve his God. That’s how he was and that’s… He said… that was his example. Same thing with Lot. The Bible does say Lot was a righteous man and he worshiped the same God as Abram. What kind of witness was it to the pagans, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, when they saw those who worshipped Jehovah strangling each other because of the sheep pasture? Throwing rocks at each other and fighting over the well water and the streams and the pasture. Is that a good witness for the pagans when they see God’s people fighting? And that’s why Abraham said, “We’ve gotta do something about this.” You know one reason it was not good for them to see their servants fighting, did they have an army? Abram and Lot, did they have an army? A small one.

The Bible says later Abraham had 300 men in his house that were trained for war, that's after he separates from Lot, 300 men. Together they had servants that were prepared to defend them as sort of a roving nation. If there is strife among Abram and Lot, divided we fall, united we stand. It was not a good witness. We're easy to bring down when there is division. United we stand, divided we fall. And the Canaanites that might be threatened by these people when they saw. “Hey! They can’t get along with each other. We can conquer them.” It was very important that they were united. Now the devil still uses those tactics today. Because of wanting the best sometimes there is strife between brethren and the Bible tells us this should not be. All men are to know that we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another. Paul addresses this when he writes the church in Corinth. Turn with me in your Bibles to I Corinthians six I’m going to read verses one through eight here. And the problems they had then are not that different from problems in the world and in the church today. “Dare any of you, having a matter against another,” speaking of in the church “go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge in the smallest matters? Do you not know that we’ll judge angels? How much more then, things that pertain to this life?” During the millennium the righteous are going to live and reign with the Lord and we are going to affirm the judgments of God on lost men and fallen angels. And if we’re going to be involved in this celestial judgment in heavenly things Paul is saying it’s just basic Christianity.

Don’t you have any judgment among yourselves? You’re supposed to live in heaven together. And “if then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?” Are we going to go to the pagans that do not have the morals and ethics of Christ and ask them to settle our disputes? Does that make sense? This is what Paul is saying. But do Christians go to law one against the other? How unfortunate. I’m not done. Well, let me finish reading this and then I’ll comment. Verse 5, “I say this to your shame. Is it so, there’s not a wise man among you, not even one, who is able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!” If there is strife between brethren it should be settled in the house. Now there are times when there may be some strife in the Batchelor family. It almost never happens. But if Mom and Dad have a disagreement what does it do to the children if they see Mom and Dad bickering and debating an issue before them? Does it create a sense of insecurity? If anything children want to see their parents be supportive. Now kids I don’t know how to break this to you but probably when you’re not around your parents have discussions. And I hope if you have, I mean it’s you know one thing to be talking about dinner, if you have these serious discussions don’t do it in front of the children. Talk things through together and then be united in the presence of the family.

Strife in a family is a very uncomfortable unhealthy thing, but how often in the Bible do we see it? Was there strife in Jacob’s family? Was there strife in Abrams family? More of it is coming. We’ll talk about it later. There was some strife among David’s family with his children and some of the most painful examples in the Bible were the internal strife between brethren and God says we should know how to resolve these things. When there is a dispute in the church we should ask… first of all, go to your brother alone and try and resolve it that way. This is what Abram does to begin with. He takes step one and they work it out. That’s the first thing. Go to them alone. Then if nothing else let there be arbitration. Take two or three and then later arbitration by the church and that should be the final word. Now there may be rare cases, and it’s unfortunate, where people who claim to worship the same God get in some legal dispute and they do not accept the, sometimes the churches don’t want to get involved and they don’t accept the judgment of the church and they end up bringing in the legal system. And I will… I’ve seen some strange things in my days, and there have been times where I did not see any other way that people could resolve something, but it's usually because somebody is not appealing to God's judgment. But that is I think a very poor testimony for the world when there is strife among brethren. You know the worst part about it? What was the bottom line in the strife? It was greed.

I’ll get to that in just a minute. So go back with me now to Genesis chapter thirteen. “So Abram said to Lot,” verse eight, “Please let there be no strife between you and me.” You know I think that something worth repeating. Let there be no strife. We need to pray that God will help us resolve these things. “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole and before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right hand, I will go to the left.” Now not all separation is bad. You’re wondering what I’m going to say next. Let me tell you what I’m thinking of. Some of you are thinking about, “Doug, are you talking about marriage?” No, that’s not what I was thinking of, but there are even cases where that’s true. I’m thinking about where Paul and Barnabas had a dispute. There was strife over whether not they should take John Mark with them and so they said, “Look, we can’t agree on this. Let’s separate.” Isn’t that the best thing to do in a situation like that? “Let’s separate. I’ll take Silas. You take Mark and we’ll have twice as many missionaries.” I’ve seen cases where churches get big and they just can’t accommodate everybody. Here at Central a few years ago, you remember? We had a Yugoslavian church met here and we met here and we were on top of each other. Fortunately it never turned into strife but we could see where it was heading, and I met with the senior pastor and I quoted this verse. I said, “Let there be no strife between our brethren. The land cannot contain us anymore. What are we going to do?” And so we found a peaceful resolution. That how Christians ought to operate.

Don’t let it get to that point. But even in the New Testament when a believer, once a pagan converted to Christianity. Notice the scenario, I Corinthians chapter 7, when a pagan converted to Christianity and their spouse said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with it!” Paul said, “Look, if they’re willing to dwell with you, stay together because it’s better for the children, but if they’re going to separate, let them go and I don’t hold you under bondage in those cases.” There are times when even in a family that has happened. And in case you don’t know, you notice I didn’t use the word divorce. In case you don’t know, if you’re in a situation, and most times it’s women, where you are being physically abused, separate. I’d like a little more endorsement on that. You notice I didn’t use the word divorce, but get yourself and especially if there are children out of that situation. I have seen women and women with children stay under the brutality of some monster for years because he’d beat them up and then apologize and offer them a cookie or something and then he’d go through another fit a little while later, and then say he’s sorry and they think they’re sincere and it’s just a pattern that goes on and sometimes it gets so bad someone really gets hurt or even killed. You know one of the, I know we’d hate to think this would ever happen in a home where Christianity is professed, but it does. Separate from the situation until the other party agrees to get counseling and there is definite evidence of transformation, but I do not believe in spite of your marriage promises God expects you to stay under the brutality where a woman and children are going to be physically abused. And again I’d like to say there may be cases where women are beating up men.

I haven’t run into any of those yet, but I hear they’re out there. So Abraham says let’s resolve this. He says, “Let there be no strife. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left hand, I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Now what this point Lot had several choices to make and we’re going to deal with making choices. The first choice he should have made was who gets first choice? Lot is the nephew. Abraham is his senior. He is the patriarch. Lot was going along. He’s tagging along with Abram. God had promised the whole land to Abraham. Lot should have said, “Look, God has promised the land to you. Why are you giving me first choice? You take first choice and I’ll take the leftovers.” So Lot had the choice to defer, and I think that Abraham was hoping that he would do that because he was being gracious. But what Lot have said, “No, no, no, no, no! Father, Abraham, you go first.” Nephews did call their uncles father back then. “You go first. We do need to separate.” But you know what?

The idea of having the first choice appealed to him and he took advantage of it and the greed began to set in. He should have deferred and given that choice to Abraham. “Please separate from me. If you take the left hand, I’ll go to the right. If you go to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” So the Bible says, “Lot lifted up his eyes and he cast his eyes towards the valley of Sodom. And the plain of Jordan back at that time was well watered everywhere. (That was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go towards Zoar.” Now, friends, the Promised Land now doesn’t look like the Promised Land then. Back when the children of Israel crossed over you read in Numbers thirteen that the vegetation and the produce was so abundant that it took two men to carry one cluster of grapes. Do you remember that? The land was literally flowing with milk and honey. The Bible tells us that in a battle Jonathan saw the honey dripping from the trees. You may not know but there was one king who in the time during the period from Christ and the Ottoman Empire he taxed everybody in the Promised Land based on how many trees they had on their property. Do you know why the houses are so narrow in Amsterdam? You ever been to Amsterdam?

They’ve got the front of the house is about as wide as a podium and it’s you know seven stories tall. They’re just these little narrow fronts. They go back very far. They’re very tall because for years the people were taxed based on their street frontage. And so what did they do? They built the whole town with the narrow little fronts and they went way deep and real high. Well in Israel they decided some genius ruler decided to tax everybody based on how many trees they had on their land. What do you think everybody did? They cut down all their trees. They basically deforested the land, not only that but when the Romans conquered it they sowed the land with salt. You’ve heard of scorch and burn? There have been more wars fought in the Promised Land than virtually any part of the world and I hear Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuild 27 times. Scorched and burnt, scorched and burnt. It doesn’t look the same. Something else. There is a dynamic, and I don’t know what the scientific name is for it, but when a land by an ocean is deforested it is less likely to draw moisture off the ocean and so the weather patterns change. This is happening in northern Africa now through overgrazing; a lot of forest has been destroyed. They can do archaeology and see the place was just flowing with rivers a few hundred years ago, but through overgrazing and through cutting down the trees it stops… something about the forest draws the water from the ocean. It changes the weather patterns.

Alright, what I’m getting at, the land that Lot saw must have really been something because even the bad part of the Promised Land was flowing with milk and honey. Abraham talked to Shem. Do you remember we learned that? Abraham’s life overlapped the life of Shem. Did Shem see what the world looked like before the flood? So when Abraham said, “Why the Jordan valley looks like the world…” Did Shem get to look by that seraphim with the flaming sword into the Garden of Eden? He couldn’t go in, but could he look into the Garden of Eden? Did they know what the Garden of God looked like? So then Shem can tell Abraham what the Garden of God looks like. You with me? So when the Bible says that the Jordan Valley looked like the Garden of God it must have really than something. It must have been… Wouldn’t you have liked to have found Hawaii back in the days of Captain Cook? I mean you know before all the tourist attractions. It must have been so beautiful back then. I just fantasize about what it must have been like and I wish I could’ve seen it before it was unspoiled. Well that’s what it was like. Something radical happened when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Not only did God rain fire down out of heaven but the whole geology of the region was turned inside out.

Something radical happened and the salt pits you see there now, it’s almost like the earth opened up and not only the fire and brimstone came down but it completely destroyed the soil and it’s scorched down there now. If you look at a satellite picture of the Jordan Valley down there below the bottom part of the Jordan River and it is bleached. It is the lowest point on earth. Something radical happened. It may have been a combination of seismic change and eruption and fire coming down from heaven, but it didn’t used to look that way. It was gorgeous. It was green and there was so much abundance the people there scarcely had to work and idleness is the devil’s workshop. And so Lot instead of thinking about faith he thinks about sight and he says, “I want the best.” And so he decided to grab the best for himself. You’ve never done that, have you? Be honest. If you go to the market and you’re in the fruit section and you’re picking a melon or an avocado do you say, “Well, this one’s looking a little funky. I’ll take it so no one else gets it. I wouldn’t want to leave this for anyone else. I’ll do the Christian thing. I’ll take the mushy avocado are.” Is that what you say? “These bananas are speckled. Someone’s got to eat them. I better eat them since I’m a Christian.” Or do you get the best? I grab the best. Matter fact, I squish all the avocados until I find the right one. So if you ever get there and they’re all mashed is because I was there before you. It’s human nature, you know?

You go through line at the end of potluck and you’re looking at the pies and I size them up. I want them to have the right symmetry, the right amount of whipped cream and I grab the best. Something in our nature and that’s what Lot did. He said, “Oh I get first pick? Good!” But you know there’s a principle in the Bible. Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” And the land that Lot looked at that looked so good because of the wicked inhabitants in it, it became very bad. It changed. Philippians 2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but look every man on the things of others.” When we’re grabbing the best for ourselves it has a tendency to backfire. I remember one of these children’s stories, and I’ll probably mess it up a little bit but I’ll get the principal right, where one of the kids in the family was always trying to be first to grab the best dessert and the best of this and the best of that and the mother knew it. One day she made several pies and there were all these little pies and she decided to make one for each child and she made one a little bit bigger than the others but she put no filling in. It was a hollow pie. And so when she set the pies out sure enough this greedy child reached out and he said, “I want this one!” He grabbed it. And then when it came time for dessert and they all opened up their cherry pies, they were enjoying themselves, and his was empty. She was trying to teach him a lesson. It’s like this one kid I heard about in a big family.

He was told that he was to serve the desert and whoever served the desert got to pick last but there was one piece of that cake that was bigger and better than the rest and he wanted to make sure that it was there for him so he licked his finger and he stuck it in the cake. He says, “I want that one.” And then he passed it around to the others. And the other siblings were so upset that he had done that, they all licked their finger and they said, “That one’s yours.” And they poked their finger in it too. We all want to grab the best for ourselves. A farmer went out on his front porch one day and he saw this black speck fluttering up in the sky and it got bigger and bigger and he realized it was something fluttering and falling to the earth. And then pretty soon a fish fell down by his feet and he noticed that two eagles had their talons entwined and they were in mortal combat over one of them had got a fish, but they were now so embroiled in this combat that the fish was gone. They would not let go and he saw them tumble to the earth and the both died because they would not let go, trying to grab the best. We have a tendency to self destruct thinking this way. How much did Judas enjoy his silver? “The last will be first and the first will be last.” What happened to Lot’s treasure of the Jordan Valley when he wanted to pick the best for himself? It turned into a bleached wilderness, but Abram, he looked up into the mountains and his land was blessed. Keep in mind Lot looked down. Abram looked up.

Lot went down to the valley. Abram stayed in the mountains of Hebron and God blessed him. Are you living for your treasure down here or are you looking for your treasure up there? And so it says they decided to part and “Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and he pitched his tent toward Sodom.” When you hear that word Sodom what do you think of? I thought I heard someone say San Francisco. Is that pathetic what’s happening? It makes me want to repeat the words of Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, who said, “Either God is going to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah or we’re in big trouble.” Sodom and Gomorrah were especially known as a hedonistic society. They lived for earthly pleasure. The Bible tells us, if you read right here in Genesis thirteen. Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom, but verse thirteen, “but the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful before” or against “the Lord.” They just weren’t sinful like other men are sinful because we’re all sinners. They took it to the extreme. They lived for sin. They were exceedingly sinful. The way the men were in the world, when it says in Genesis “the Lord was grieved that he made man because all their thoughts were only evil continually and violence filled the land.”

We knew that they were not only sexually perverted in Sodom, they were violent. They wanted to take those two men out of the house and abuse them and they tried to break down the door. It was exceeding sinful and Lot knew that. It’s implied here that he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Did he pitch his tent in Sodom? He wanted to enjoy the benefit of the good economy without getting right in the middle of it. So he pitched his “toward Sodom.” Here’s the question now, where are you pitching your tent? Are you trying to make sure that you are where God wants you to be? Are you trying to pitch your tent as close to Sodom as you can be not be in Sodom? I’m not talking about San Francisco right now. I’m talking about the world because the world is going to be destroyed the way Sodom and Gomorrah were and are you trying to say, “Well, I know this land is promised to Abraham in the future, but I want to get as much benefit as I can from it now?” How much economic benefit did Lot end up getting by pitching his tent towards Sodom? In our next study you’re going to find out he loses everything, and God even gives him a second chance. When we try to serve the Lord and the world you can’t make either happy and you end up being miserable. So he pitched his tent towards Sodom. Abram went up, Lot went down. Sodom and Gomorrah were the capitals of sin, drunkenness, homosexuality, wild partying, a very hedonistic society kind of like America today, and because God brought it to an end you wonder what our future is.

Before the Lord destroyed Babylon what were they doing? They were having a drunken party. The worldliness and the drugs, the perversion, all the things that we saw that existed in ancient Babylon before its fall, that existed in the days of Noah before its fall, that existed in Rome. You ever heard about Edward Gibbons Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire? You know what proceeded the fall of that great empire? They lived for sensual pleasure and entertainment and they fell. Those are the same conditions that will be seen in the world before Jesus comes. I think we’ve arrived. It could happen anytime because the Lord has the evidence now to make that decision again. He’s just “longsuffering to usward.” So Lot goes down and he pitches his tent towards Sodom. By the time we get to the rest of the story Lot is in Sodom. Verse fourteen, “And the Lord says to Abram, after Lot had separated from him.” Notice this. God speaks to him again after Lot separated from him. “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are--northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.” Now even though Lot said I want to stake my claim down here in the Jordan Valley then after he leaves God says to Abram, Abram, don’t worry about that. You haven’t lost anything. You’re getting everything. “Lift up your eyes. Look at all of this land. It will all be yours.” And he doesn’t stop there. “All the land I will give to you and your descendants forever.

For I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants could be numbered.” Now later God makes the promise and he says, “Lift up your eyes and look at the stars, so your descendants will be like the stars.” One time God tells Abram at night, I’m going to bless your descendants, in the dark. This time he’s telling Abram during the day, look at the land. I mean, if it was night he couldn’t have looked at the land. Your descendants will be like the dust. One astronomer and said now with their powerful telescopes we realize there are approximately as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on the planet. Think about that. It just boggles your mind if you try and take that in. “I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth; that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants could be numbered.” Did God ever keep that promise? I want to read something to you. I Kings 4:20 during the time of Solomon was the fulfillment of that. “Judah and Israel are many as the sand that is by the sea in multitude, eating drinking and rejoicing.” But it will go beyond that. That was the literal kingdom. Almost done. Verse seventeen then he says, “Arise, and walk in the land. Walk through its length and its width. I give it to you.” Now, when Abraham was asked to walk for the land were there other people there? God said, “Look at it and walk in it. I want you to lift up your eyes and I want you to walk with your feet.

It’s all going to be yours.” Did he get it during his life? Were there other people laying claim to the Promised Land during that time? But yet the Lord said “I want you to survey the land. It’s all yours.” So when was Abraham expecting to inherit it? In the future. The Bible says “We look for a city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God.” Can you picture me going downtown to the capital and walking around on the lawn in front of the Sacramento capital, and Arnold Schwarzenegger comes out and says, “Can I help you?” And I say, “Yeah, I’m staking my claim. I like this spot.” I mean, this is what it must have seemed like when Abraham was roaming around through the land. Saying, “Yeah, this is beautiful. This is…” God said, “I want you to experience it with your eyes and with your feet.” Where is you’re kingdom? Do you believe? Have you lifted up your eyes? Have you seen that this is all going to be yours? Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth. Now, or in the days to come? That ought to give us some confidence that this is all going to be ours someday if we are faithful to look beyond. Now you see a big split here. Lot said, “I want it now.” God said to Abraham, “Trust me. You will get all of this later.” In this life the Bible says, “We are strangers and we are pilgrims.” We are wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins but we are looking ahead to a promise that God is going to give us. Let’s not look towards the Jordan Valley, friends.

Don’t pitch our tent towards Sodom but let’s lift up our eyes and look forward to the promise that God gives us in the future. Last verse, “Then Abram moved his tent, and he went and he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and he built an altar there to the Lord.” He decided again wherever he went to worship God, to make God supreme and to make sure everybody in the land saw him worshiping the Lord. When you build an altar, do you build an altar on your land or someone else’s? We should all have altars in our homes. When he built those altars he was saying, “This is going to be our land someday.” And he passed it on to his family. Friends, someday we’re going to inherit this world, but it’s going to be better. It will be a new heaven and a new earth. Amen? One more thought. When the New Jerusalem comes down where does it set? What part of the planet does it rest on? The place where the Mount of Olives is. How big is the New Jerusalem in its dimensions roughly, do you know? Three hundred and seventy-five miles on each wall.

So if the New Jerusalem settles down on top of the Mount of Olives isn’t it true that every single corner of the borders of the Promised Land will be within the New Jerusalem? Is Abraham literally going to get that land someday? But it won’t just be part of the new earth. It is in the capital of the new earth and who lives there? God says, “I will dwell with them in the city.” Abraham is going to be right there with God and I believe the city is all going to be belonging to him. He’s going to be the governor of the New Jerusalem. Amen?

Let’s sing about that place we all hope to be. “The Sweet By and By” 428. Before we sing the last verse in this familiar song I just wanted to ask in a general sense if God’s Spirit has spoken to you this morning and you realize that perhaps we think too much about getting what’s best for ourselves here and now and you’d like to ask the Lord to help you keep focused on what’s above and what is coming as your priority would you like to say, “Lord, help me to do that, keep the heavenly focus.” Amen. Let’s sing verse three. You sang very well.

Father in Heaven, we thank you for this encouraging theme that while we might be pilgrims and strangers here we can lift up our eyes and walk through the land and live by faith in that world we know you will recreate where we can inherit the earth and you will be there with us. Lord, it’s our prayer you will make whatever changes you need to make in our hearts for us to be citizens in that kingdom. Help us to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Bless each person, Lord. Sometimes there is strife in the family and I pray we’ll be determined to solve those things for our witness and our peace in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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Daniel: A Reader's Guide by William H. Shea

Daniel: A Reader's Guide by William H. Shea
God's Promises




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