We have only begun to penetrate into the life of Abram and into the depth of faith displayed by that life. The last incident, it is true, may have led to a less favourable estimate of his character. What immediately follows tends to give a more adequate measure of this, one of the rarest of characters in the Scriptures. Besides, there will be occasions when divine wisdom will deem it expedient to have a direct word from on high granted to Abram. The rich development of divine mercy that follows the steps of this venerable patriarch especially deserves to be traced through its progressive development.
The separation from Lot is a necessity growing out of deeper reasons than those usually cited. Lot is an element that is not suited to be an integral part of the chosen people, as his later deterioration shows. Circumstances soon arise which make it eminently desirable to remove this unsuitable material as early as possible. Behind the outward separation ties a deeper motivation.
At the same time, this incident has always served in the church as a typical case of how to deal in a practical way with the problem of incompatibility. If persons simply cannot get along together, nothing is gained by attempting to force the issue or by discussing the point till a solution is reached. Incompatibility is best dealt with by separation: let those that cannot agree get out of one another's way. To Ambrose is attributed the saying divide ut maneat amicitia, a procedure which does not merit the criticism, "a wretched but practicable rule" (Delitzsch).
1, 2. And Abram went up from Egypt toward the Negeb, he and his wife and all that he possessed, and Lot was with him. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold.
"Went up" is the correct expression regularly used for going up from the land of Egypt which lay on a lower level than mountainous Palestine. Since his route was mostly northward, A. V. does not do well to render hannegbah "into the south." It should rather be "into the South-country" -- always so called from the standpoint of central Palestine -- or else "into the Negeb." See above 12:9. Now it is specially mentioned that "his wife" was with him, to recall to mind that through his folly he had almost lost her. Incidentally it is recalled that Lot had gone along, for Lot is about to figure in the following incident.
2. Besides, the great wealth of Abram is most conveniently mentioned here that we may at once visualize the patriarch as abounding in manifold possession. The Hebrew aptly says Kabhedh, "heavy," for rich. Critics fail to see the simple connection between v.1 and v.2 and place v.2 behind v.4. Miqneh means acquisition, but in the nomadic type of existence it came to mean primarily "cattle." Apparently, "gold and silver" in abundance were not among the common possessions of nomads like Abram. Consequently, separate mention is made of this form of wealth. A good bit of this latter form of wealth may have just been acquired in Egypt. However, to make Abram wealthy chiefly as the result of rich gifts from Pharaoh is hardly correct. God had abundantly blessed the man; and wealth as such is not an evil nor incompatible with holiness of life. The word for gold, zahabh, used, as Procksch points out also by Aramaeans and Arabians, is not the word employed by Canaanites and Babylonians, viz., charats (cf. crusoz). This would seem to point to different sources of the gold for these different groups. The article with "cattle, silver and gold" is the article used with familiar objects, like our English, "the weeds are growing all over our garden"; cf. G. K.126 m; K. S.297 a.
3, 4. So he went in stages from the Negeb to Bethel, to the place where his tent had been in the previous instance between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had formerly made there. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
This "going in stages" is a good description of the nomadic mode of travel: periodic stops are made that the flocks may not be overdriven (cf. Ge 33:13). Since Abram and Lot are traversing practically the same route as the one they followed down to Egypt, the expression lemassa'aw, meaning "by his stages," most likely indicates that he used practically the same stages that had been suitable on the downward journey. So also the Septuagint and the Vulgate. According to Ge 12:8 his tent had been pitched between Bethel and Ai "in the previous instance," battechilah -- "in the beginning." The word "place" (maqôm) means "the native sanctuary" as little here as in Ge 12:6. It was the place of Abram's altar not the place where Canaanite altars had marked a sanctuary, as 4a plainly says. The last clause is not to be rendered as a relative: "where Abram," etc., because the repetition of the subject Abram especially aims to emphasize that this clause is co-ordinate and states the important transaction at this spot: the public worship of the name of the Lord (cf. Ge 4:26 and Ge 12:8). Apparently, this worship was to Abram a matter of personal necessity as well as of public testimony. Of personal necessity, for he desired to express his penitence at his lapse from truth as well as his gratitude for the undeserved protection of himself and his wife by Yahweh. At the same time this public act proclaimed the honour of Yahweh, the true and faithful, to whom alone Abram ascribed his safe return.
5-7. Lot, also, who was going along with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. And the land was not able to support them so that they might have dwelt together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to dwell together. And so there was strife between the keepers of Abram's cattle and the keepers of Lot's cattle, and (besides) the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling in the land at that time.
Nothing has thus far indicated that Lot also was a man of means. Apparently, he first acquired greater wealth after he was in Abram's company and the Lord was blessing them both. His wealth was hardly as extensive as Abram's; for "flocks and herds" are included under the "cattle" ascribed to Abram (v.2). That Abram had a great retinue of servants goes without saying. "Tents," like the parallel "houses," is no doubt used by metonomy for the people that dwelt in them. It would seem that Lot had made special efforts to accumulate "tents"; otherwise these would hardly have been mentioned separately.
The participle holekh has the article because the noun which it modifies is a proper noun and so is definite (K. S.333 z).
6. Naturally, since nomadic life demands ample pasturage, such large flocks put a heavy drain upon the natural resources along this line. In reality, "the land was not able to support them," (nasa' as in 36:7). so as actually to make it possible for them "to dwell together." La before the infinitive shébheth to express result. Yachdaw with a fossilized or at least indefinite (K. S.324 e). pronominal suffix. The verse closes with a palindromic result clause after result and cause had been stated previously -- a rather common construction, cf. Ge 3:19; 6:5; 7:22; 11:9. However, v.6 dare not be set over against v.5 with the claim that v.6 (ascribed to P) makes scant pasturage the ground of separation, whereas v.5 (ascribed to J) together with v.7 speaks of strife. For the critics are acting upon the assumption that in life one simple cause must underlie one simple result. Life is far more complex than to allow for such an inadequate approach. Nor do the words that Dillmann lists as marks of P (or A): "possessions," "support," "land of Canaan," "the cities of the oval," constitute a stylistic peculiarity. Such words grow out of the nature of the story that is being narrated.
7. "Strife" between the respective shepherds is unavoidable when in many a case situations will arise as to whom priority belongs in reference to a certain pasturage. Strife had actually begun to break out between the shepherds. An additional fact (note our parenthetical "besides" in the translation) bore upon the case and must be mentioned if an adequate picture of the situation is to be won, namely: "The Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling in the land at that time." Everyone might know that such was the case but might forget to reckon with it for the moment. For since both these groups also held parts of the land by virtue of long residence, Abram and Lot could only lay claim to the unoccupied areas. This additional statement does not, therefore, give indication of a time when Canaanites and Perizzites were no longer in the land, and does not, therefore, originate with a writer of a later date than Moses, as critics keep reiterating. Delitzsch, a critic, rightly classes the remark as "one necessary to give an adequate picture of the situation." Another thought lies involved in the statement about the original inhabitants: it was hardly a fitting situation to have the men who followed the true God falling into quarrels with one another in the sight of the idolatrous inhabitants of the land. The "Canaanites," apparently, dwelt largely in fortified cities. The "Perizzites," akin apparently to perazi, "the hamlet-dweller," lived more in the open country, and they may have been of the original inhabitants of Canaan, but were not of the stock of Ham (cf. Ge 10:15-18). They are also listed in Ge 34:30 and Jud 1:4, 5 together with the Canaanites, and were also of the nations to be dispossessed by Israel (Ge 15:20; Ex 3:17, and 17 times).
8, 9. And Abram said to Lot: Please do not let strife arise between me and thee, between my shepherds and thy shepherds; for we are brethren. Is not all the land open before thee? Please part from me. If thou goest to the left, I will go to the right; and if thou goest to the right, I will go to the left.
As Luther aptly remarks on the subject, after Abram had given an excellent demonstration of faith in the previous chapter, he now gives a good example of the type of works that faith produces. The true magnanimity of faith is here displayed. How readily Abram might have insisted on his rights: he was the elder; he had come to this country at God's behest, not Lot; to Abram's seed the land had been promised. With utter selflessness and in true faith, which knows that God cannot fail in the keeping of His promise, Abram takes the difficulty in hand. In the wisdom of faith he acts before the peace between him and Lot has been marred. In the courtesy of faith he speaks very kindly: note the double "please," (na') which softens even the kindly suggestions. With the tactfulness of faith he appeals to proper motives: "for we are brethren" (Heb. "we are men that are brethren" -- a noun used for an adjective: 'achchîm -- verbruedert, K. S.306r). "Brother" is used in the wider sense in this case, as Ge 24:27: Bethuel and Abram; and Ge 29:12: Jacob and Laban. Meek's rendering of the opening sentence is admirable: "There simply must be no quarrel between you and me."
9. The question here, as aften, is the equivalent of a strong assertion. "Before thee" means "open before thee," though the Hebrew has only lephanêkha. The nifal hipparedh is here used reflexively: separate yourself -- "part." "Left" and "right" here apparently refer to the East and the West respectively, not to the North and the South (Targum). The choice lies wholly with Lot. He may take whatsoever he will. Hashshemo'l is a locative; 'eyminah is a Hifil denominated from yamîn, "right-hand." The same relation holds good for the last two forms, only in reverse order: yamîn being used as locative and 'ashme'îlah as Hifil.
10, 11. Then Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the Round of the Jordan that it was well-watered, every part of it, before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; in fact, it was as the garden of Yahweh, or at least even as the land of Egypt, in the vicinity of Zoar. So Lot chose for himself the whole Round of the Jordan, and Lot departed eastward; and so they parted one from another.
Lot prepares to make his choice and to this end "lifts up his eyes" that he might evaluate the surrounding country as it presented itself to the eye. We make Lot a moral degenerate when we say that he looked about "with a look of eager, lustful greed" (Whitelaw). Again, we judge him far too leniently when we call this "a work of righteousness, because he walked in faith" (Luther). The truth lies between these two opinions. The gradual degeneracy of a relatively good character begins at this point. It is little to Lot's credit that he immediately takes full advantage of Abram's bighearted offer. Of course, since Canaan was still in reality "a land flowing with milk and honey," we are not confronted with the grievous evil of having only a very undesirable portion of the land left for Abram. Of two acceptable portions Lot takes the perhaps more acceptable. There is nothing mean about Lot's choice. Nevertheless, it is an act devoid of all finer impulses. The portion Lot chooses is called the kikkar of the Jordan. This term implies something round, here "a round district." It is not the whole basin of the Jordan from the Lake of Gennesareth to the Dead Sea but only that portion which extends from about Jericho down to and including the northern end of the Dead Sea to Zoar. So much only, according to the various uses, of the term kikkar where it appears in the Scriptures. In the vicinity of Bethel, at a spot a few minutes to the southeast of the village, is an eminence called Burg Beitin, of which it is said that it is undoubtedly "one of the greatest viewpoints of Palestine" from which, in fact, the Jordan valley and the northern end of the Dead Sea are distinctly to be seen. This region was "wellwatered" at that time and therefore both fertile and provided with ample pasturage.
Now when Moses reminds us that this region was so attractive "before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah," he clearly implies that in his time the region was sadly altered. One question will perhaps never be determined at this point and that is how far the devastating effects of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah affected the rest of the Dead Sea region. Some hold that the Bible indicates that the entire Dead Sea is the result of that cataclysmic overthrow. We personally believe that indeed only the southern shallow end of the Dead Sea became covered with water as a result of the overthrow of these cities, as also Kyle's investigations seem to substantiate. But at the same time it appears that more or less of a blight settled upon the whole kikkar. For the author here goes on to describe that it once was as "the garden of Yahweh" by which he must mean the garden of Eden which was in a special sense Yahweh's handiwork. The comparison must have been suitable, else Moses would not have used it. It is true that, nevertheless, the simile is a bit strong. Consequently, it is toned down by a second simile that has a fine propriety about it from another point of view: "as the land of Egypt." To indicate that this second comparison steps to a lower level we inserted the explanatory words: "or at least as." The special propriety of this latter simile lies in this that the region is like Egypt in that a deeper lying river winds through a fertile plain enclosed by mountains on either side. The last phrase, "in the vicinity of Zoar," attaches itself not to "Egypt" but the word "well-watered," and so selects what may have been the most pleasant spot of the now blasted area. All the explanation offered is in place only on the supposition that a tremendous deterioration of the whole "round" has taken place, and this is exactly what the writer wishes to convey. Again critics fail to catch the import of the statement when they assert that "the last half of the verse seems greatly overloaded" (Skinner). "In the vicinity" (bo'akhah) in Hebrew literally -- "as thou goest."
11. When Lot chooses for himself "the whole Round of the Jordan," he is planning in reference to his herds which will require ample pasturage. Consequently, he makes his choice by going "eastward." Mikkédem used as in Ge 11:2. So the separation between the two is complete. The heterogeneous element has been removed. Abram is alone, as providence at this time intended that he should be; cf. Isa 51:2; Eze 33:24; Mal 2:15.
12, 13. And Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan whereas Lot dwelt in the cities of the Round, and pitched tent even as far as Sodom. And the men of Sodom were wicked and very sinful in the sight of Yahweh.
To make it apparent that the separation, effected was very definite we are informed that Canaan proper was Abram's habitation. Lot, on the other hand, (waw adversative) is found in the cities of the Round (kikkar practically a proper name, K. S.295g). Hengstenberg, no doubt, is correct when he makes the observation (Geschichte des alten Bundes) that Lot's successive deterioration of character is being described. Apparently, at the outset Lot turned to this region because the quiet tenor of a godly life in the company of Abram was not sufficiently attractive for him. He craved the diversions and the excitement offered by city life. So first he turns toward the Round; then he is found in "the cities of the Round"; then he even touches the city notorious for its wickedness, "Sodom." For when the explanatory phrase is added that Sodom's men were "wicked and very sinful in the sight of Yahweh," this is done not only in anticipation of the things to be found in chapter nineteen but chiefly in reference to Lot. If the moral character of these cities was so pronouncedly unsavoury, then a godly man should rather have shunned association with the inhabitants. We finally, however, find the man enrolled among the inhabitants of wicked Sodom. He may not have shared their sins; but, apparently, he was not so entirely averse to them as a godly man should be. The expression "very sinful" is made especially strong in Hebrew by the use of the noun for the adjective "sinners exceedingly." The additional phrase "in the sight of Yahweh" is more than a Hebrew superlative -- a view rejected by Luther on verse 10, "garden of Yahweh." As we indicated in connection with Ge 10:9, "before Yahweh" means "openly before," "in the full mental view of." Yahweh, the Faithful One, was not ignorant of the danger that threatened His own from the side of the ungodliness of these sinners. Naturally, then, of the two terms, "wicked and very sinful in the sight of Yahweh," the second one marks a decided advance upon the first. Not without reason the expression that ascribes to Sodom sinfulness that "cries out to heaven" quite properly grew out of descriptions such as those of our verse. Yahweh's faithfulness demands that He take cognizance of such extreme iniquity and rebuke it for the sake of His true children, lest they suffer harm.
14, 15. But Yahweh on His part said unto Abram after Lot had parted from him: Lift up now thine eyes and look about from the place where thou art to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west; for all the land at which thou art looking, to thee will I give it and to thy seed for a long time.
"Yahweh on His part" (noun first, for emphasis) had not been unaware of what His friend had passed through. Abram had by Lot's separation been rendered still more alone. No doubt, the godly patriarch grieved over the necessary separation. But Abram himself had kept himself, without sin throughout this test, and this indeed pleased God, who loves to encourage His own in well doing and rewards them wherever circumstances allow such a course. Rationalistic work righteousness is reflected, in Dillmann's statement of the case: "Abram had through his magnanimous conduct made himself worthy of further favour." But God does love to reward with rewards of grace those who truly serve Him. That this act in this, instance is to be viewed from this point of view appears from the addition of the clause, "after Lot had parted from him."
There is, indeed, a contrast between the lifting up of the eyes on Abram's part here and that of Lot v.10, where selfish interest motivated the act. Abram is to regard the land in every direction with the eyes of faith. From certain eminences of Palestine much of the land can actually be seen: Abram, however, is to regard it all not only a certain portion as his own. What he has seemingly lost by not having regard to his material advantage is more than offset by what God bestows upon him. In this case this principle holds good even in regard to material possessions. True, Abram becomes possessor only in his seed -- "to thy seed I will give it." But such possession is none the less real. Such possession is guaranteed by God as extending 'ahh ô1am, "for a long time." We have preferred to render this expression thus, because it actually implies nothing more than for an indefinitely long season whose end cannot yet be determined, being derived from 'alam, "to be hidden." Under circumstances the expression may mean actual eternity. On the other hand, it may imply no more than for the rest of a man's lifetime (Ex 21:6). Now, surely, as commentators of all times have clearly pointed out, especially already Luther and Calvin, this promise to Abram is conditional, requiring faith. God cannot give rich promises of good which materialize even when men have cast off His Saviour. History is the best commentary on how this promise is meant. When the Jews definitely cast off Christ, they were definitely as a nation expelled from the land. All who fall back upon this promise as guaranteeing a restoration of Palestine to the Jews before the end of time have laid into it a meaning which the words simply do not convey. A very accurate rendering of 'adh ô1am is given by K. C., bis in dunkle Zukunft, "unto the dark future.""For all time" (Meek) is, of course, wrong. So is "forever" (A. V.). Luther's commentary is correct: "a long time."
The participle ro'eh, "art looking," lends colour to the situation, indicating that as soon as Abram was bidden to look about, he proceeded to do so, and while he was looking, the promise was amplified.
16, 17. And I shall make thy seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man be able to count the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed be counted. Come, walk abroad in the land according to its length and breadth; for to thee I do give it.
What a challenge to the faith of a childless old man! Yet, also, how rich a promise. Each new word spoken by God to Abram -- and this is now the third word -- marks some distinct advance upon the preceding. True, in its literal meaning the promise is a hyperbole, as are many other statements in the Scripture, but, of course, a perfectly legitimate form of emphatic statement. Dust of the earth simply cannot be counted. But no one would ever think of ascribing exaggeration to the statement because it bears its own restriction: "as the dust" insofar as dust cannot be counted.
17. Abram is at once to give evidence of his faith in this rich and gracious promise by "walking abroad," literally hithhallekh -- "go for one's self." In cheerful faith and anticipation of the future possession of the land by his seed Abram is to roam about freely through the land, rejoicing in its many advantages. Qûm, "arise," is not to be taken literally, as addressed only to persons in a sitting posture. It has come to be practically only an interjection like "come," as is also indicated in part by the asyndeton. "Come, walk abroad." K. S. labels this a "conventional asyndeton" (357 1). The solemn repetition, after v.15, of the promise "to thee do I give it" (lekha ettenénnah) is quite in place, because the promise of God is all that faith has to cling to under the circumstances, and so these promises must stand out distinctly with emphasis.
18. And Abram kept moving his tent along and came and dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron; and he built an altar there unto Yahweh.
It seems that ye'ehal, "he tented," in this instance aims to show Abram's response to God's summons to go about through the land; therefore we have rendered: "he kept moving his tent along." Then, apparently, after the joyful inspection of the land was finished, he came to Hebron and made his more nearly permanent home there. For Hebron was the city near which the patriarchs particularly delighted to dwell. "Hebron" (chebhrôn) according to the root-meaning of the name seems to mean a place where a treaty or covenant was made (cf. the German Buenden in compounds of city names). Whether the city then occupied the site that present-day Hebron does may well be questioned; nor is there any trace left of "the terebinths of Mamre." On "terebinths" cf. Ge 12:6. "Mamre," apparently, was a noted man of that time; see Ge 14:13. This new permanent home is to be sanctified by an altar for sacrifices to Yahweh, and is to have in that altar a means of worship as well as a testimony to all men that Abram had nothing in common with the Canaanites and their idolatrous worship.
This chapter also has two sections for homiletical use. The first includes v.1-13. Since faith is the outstanding characteristic of Abraham, it would be quite proper to preach at this point on the subject of the "Magnanimity of Faith." If one should desire to dwell on the more practical angle of the case, even such a subject as the "Wisdom of the Separation" of friends could suggest a proper mode of approach. For the remaining verses (14-18) we suggest some such theme as "the Reward of Grace," because God is plainly rewarding Abraham for what he lost in his bighearted attitude toward Lot. Yet it is just as clear that this reward is utterly unmerited on Abraham's part. Consequently, the paradoxical phrase "reward of grace" applies here. Material rewards do loom up rather prominently in the Pentateuch. By way of explanation it should be remembered that on the Old Testament level many clear revelations that we now enjoy had not yet been received. Therefore visible tangible evidences of divine favour may be regarded as more of a necessity. Yet even on the New Testament level this subject is in place as the very clear parallel Mt 19:29 from the Saviour's own lips indicates. Whatever is done for Christ's sake meets with a suitable reward.