The Beginnings of Abraham: Lift up your Eyes

Sermon by Cory Brock on August 11, 2019

Genesis 13:5-18

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We are in a mini-series on the life of Abraham and tonight we will be in Genesis chapter 13. And it’s important to remember that every single word in the Bible is God’s Word; it’s God’s speech. And sometimes in God’s Word the fire comes down and sometimes the Son of God raises people up from the dead and sometimes a couple of cattle farmers get in a fight about too little grass for too many cows. And that’s where we are tonight. It’s all God’s Word! But next week is Melchizedek so I hope you’ll come back! Now we always have to ask, “Why?” Why is something in the text? Why has something been included by God in these narratives? And we get the opportunity to examine that tonight and think about that in this strange passage. So let’s pray and we’ll read God’s Word together. Let’s pray.

Our Lord, we ask that You would come and help us to see. We need the eyes of faith to understand. We need the Holy Spirit. So come now, O Spirit of God, and meet with us. We ask for this help in Jesus’ name, Amen.

So we’re going to read Genesis 13, starting in verse 5, to the end of the chapter. This is God’s Word:

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ And Lot lifted up 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. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.”

This is the Word of our Lord. 

Well what do we have here? What’s going on in this passage? And it might not seem like it, but you can actually peer here into the very essence of human sin, into the very essence of our sin, of humanity’s sin. So we’re going to look at three things tonight – the wrong garden, the sin of the garden, and hope found in another garden.

The Wrong Garden 

So first – the wrong garden. The background that we explored last week was that in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve have sinned, God pronounces a prophecy that there would be a child through the line of Eve, the woman, that a baby would come and crush the head of the serpent, crush evil. And ever since then we’ve been looking in Genesis for babies and for land, for a new home for God’s people, for God’s new people, and a new land, a place for God’s people to dwell. And we saw last time in our series that in Genesis 12 Abram becomes the father of this people. He’s called out of paganism, he’s called out of Babylon to be the father of God’s new land, new dominion, and a new dynasty, the people of God. 

And in our last passage, chapter 12 verses 10 to 20, both the land and the promise of a child was in jeopardy, The land was in famine, it was barren. And Sarai who was barren was also sold into slavery to Pharaoh and had become Pharaoh’s wife. And so the whole promise seemed empty. And so God came in and God rescued and God saved and God brought them up out of the land with riches. And so now we step into Genesis 13 and the land is restored. There’s no more famine, Abram and the people of God are back in the land that was promised, but there’s still no son on the horizon. There’s no child. Sarai is still barren. And this passage is about Lot, Abram’s nephew. And you have to know that there are three sister-wife narratives – we talked about that last week in Genesis; two of them about Sarai. And there are also three Abram-Lot narratives in Genesis. And two times, the Abram-Lot story follows immediately from Sarai in jeopardy, the sister-wife struggle. Both times. And that means that Moses has written this book in a very highly structured way where Sarai and Lot come together, narrative after narrative, they follow on from each other. Why? Because the text is continually asking, “Where is the Son of promise going to come from? Is it truly in Sarai, the barren woman’s womb?” And if not, next story, it’s exploring the implicit question, “Is Lot, then, the true Son of promise? Is it Lot?” Because Lot was Abram’s nephew but his older brother had died and he had essentially adopted Lot. Lot’s been there for everything, even the call of God to leave Babylon and go to the Promised Land. He was there. He’s one with Abram. And it’s asking, “Is Lot the Son? Is he the one that’s going to inherit the promise? Is he going to be the one that’s been promised in Genesis 3?” And the answer in this text is an emphatic no. Absolutely not. It is not Lot! 

And to see why, you have to peer down into the heart, into Lot’s heart. And when you do that, you’re exploring the nature of sin itself and you’re exploring the heart of humanity. And so the problem in verse 5 and 6 is that Lot is just as rich as Abraham and he stepped out of Egypt with as many cattle and sheep and servants as Abram did. And there is just not enough space for them where they live together to both have grass for their sheep and their cattle. And the herdsmen get in a fight. And Abram’s proposal comes to us in verse 8 and it’s a humble offer. He says this – “Lot, we are kinsmen.” Now the Hebrew text is a little more nuanced than that one phrase, “We are kinsmen.” It literally says, “Lot, we are men. We are brothers.” And the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that the apostles and others in the New Testament often read from, it says that Abram said to Lot, “We are brothers.” Not kinsmen. In modern English that just sounds like he’s saying, “We’re relatives. Distant cousins or something.” No, he’s saying, “We are brothers. We are one.” This is a proposal of unity, not divorce.

And when he says then in the next verse, “The whole land is before us. Let’s separate,” he’s not saying, “We’re divorcing from one another. We can’t be together. We’re not one unit.” He’s saying, “The whole land is before us.” What land? The whole Promised Land, the land of God’s promise. “And His mission is before us. And if we will separate and take different sections of it, we will dwell and rule this place that God has put us in together as one family unit. So we’ll separate from each other but it’s in order for us to be together under the mission of God, dwelling in the land of God, fulfilling the promises of God. It’s not a divorce; it’s a proposal towards a type of unity.” He’s saying, “We’re one. We’re brothers.” And that’s when the problem comes. Just like in Genesis 12, verse 10 is the big rift. There’s famine in the land. And Genesis 13 verse 10 is the big rift. And you can look down and see it. It says, “Lot lifted up his eyes and he saw.” And what did he see? He saw the land of the Jordan River valley and he said that it looked like the garden of the Lord. It looked like Egypt.

And what does he see here? He sees a couple of things. One is, he seems something physical. If you can picture a map of Israel, if you can imagine it, on the eastern border there’s the Jordan River, right, and at the south there’s the Dead Sea. He sees, when it says, “the Jordan River valley,” he’s looking just east of the Dead Sea on the other side of the border of the Promised Land – the text tells us where Sodom and Gomorrah just happens to be. Right? He’s seeing something just east of the new Eden, just east of the Promised Land, just east of the promised garden of God. And he calls it the garden of the Lord. And what is he seeing there? He’s saying, “I see wealth. I see prosperity. I see a potential big bank account. I see a lot of success.” Because it was well irrigated – tons of green, tons of grass. He’s seeing potential profit. But what does he really see? 

The Sin of the Garden

And 522 times in the Bible the metaphor of sight is used. And just like most of the time in the Bible when it uses the word “heart” it’s not saying that organ in your chest that beats and pumps blood. It’s talking about the core of who you are. So when it talks about eyes and vision in the Bible, most of the time it is not talking about mere physical sight. It’s talking about that phrase in the New Testament that we look out and see with the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of our self, the eyes of our desire; the core of who we are. And Lot is not just seeing something physical. He is looking out here with the eyes of his heart – with his desire. Theologians have said for centuries that eyes in the Bible more often describe the organ of sinful desire. The eyes in the Bible. The eyes of the heart is the organ, the medium of sinful desire; of looking out and lusting after something that God’s created that you see out there in front of you that you want more than God. Augustine said that, “Human beings are by default disordered and their eyes are blinded. They do not want God’s wants.” And Calvin, in his commentary on Galatians, says this about the eyes of our heart, “With respect to the things of God and all that relates to spiritual life, the light of the human mind differs very little from darkness.” When Lot looks out, he’s looking with the eyes of his heart and he chooses a land that is outside of the Promised Land. And he was there. He heard the call of God. He heard the command of where he was supposed to live, of the mission, of the plan, and he blatantly chooses to live outside of it calling that the garden of the Lord. 

Let me propose to you that there are four layers of sin happening here. These narratives about sin in Genesis are teaching us that our sin is really complex and that there are layers to it. You know sin is like an onion, or better, like a parfait. You know, I think Donkey was the first to say that, but it’s true. Sin has layers to it and our sin has layers to it. The first layer of Lot’s sin is very surface level. It’s that he looked out with his eyes and he was dominated by his desire, his lust for potential prosperity, for defining his life by his best life now. By that being the end game of his entire existence. And this is a 1 Timothy 6:10 moment. First Timothy 6:10 – the love, the deep, dominating desire for money is the root of all evil. And that’s the surface level sin that’s happening here. But if you dig a little deeper, it’s more than that. He is passively rejecting God’s explicit command. He is refusing to come underneath the Word of God. The Word of God has come. There’s been a special revelation that said, “This is the land of promise. This is the land of mission. This is where I will raise up a new people and save the world.” And he is actively choosing to say “No” to that, to say, “I will live in a different land. I don’t want to be a part of this.” He’s refusing to come underneath the Word of God. 

You know magicians, when you see a great magician, like a David Blaine or something like that, they “wow” you because they trick you. Right? How do they “wow” you? They don’t have 11 ¼ inch wands made of pliable oak with a core of phoenix feathers. They don’t have that! That’s a wizard. But they’re not wizards; they’re magicians. They don’t do that. They try to distract you, right, by making you look at something here when the real trick is happening over here. And as soon as it happens you’ve already missed it because you looked at the wrong spot. And what this is saying is that the eyes of the human heart, the eyes of the human heart, they’re like being deceived by magic; it’s like a magic trick. When you look out at something with the eyes of sinful desire you can’t see reality. Calvin said that we’re living in an unreality, all of us by nature. We can’t see things the way that God sees them.

But there’s a third layer to this, and it’s a rejection of God’s mission altogether. He’s saying here in this choice to live outside the land of God that sin isn’t ultimately as bad as God said it was. He’s saying that, “I don’t even need God’s plan. I know that I’ve heard it,” but he’s rejecting God’s plan wholesale to the point that he’s saying, “I’m not so convinced that sin is really the dilemma that God had said it was; that we need this big mission, that we need the Promised Land, that we need the promise of this new people, that we need all of these things.” And this is upstream from the very modern idea that human beings can bring forth their own utopia, that human beings are basically good when it comes down to it all. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher in Paris in the 1700s, he had this very famous theory that human beings could revert back to an original purity by their own will; that we could, if we tried hard enough, get ourselves back to the Garden of Eden, in a sense. And his theory was that if you take children and isolate them from adults, then because of their natural purity, their natural instincts toward the good, their innocence, they will eventually develop a Garden of Eden all over again; that they will create a society that doesn’t have the problems that adults create for them – the social expectations and things like that. 

And of course when you hear this you’re thinking, “Jean-Jacques, you must have never had children!” Right? I mean, the truth is that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a lot of children and as soon as they were born, with each of them he sent them to the Paris Foundling Hospital to be raised as orphans and he never knew any of them. There was a book about Rousseau’s ideas, about what happens when you take children and try to let them live out of their natural purity, out of their instincts, where you put them on an island and see what happens. It’s called, The Lord of the Flies. And if you haven’t read it, it doesn’t end well! This passage is teaching us that human sin is deep and complex and there’s no going back, ever since Genesis chapter 3. And we see the complexity of these layers of sin digging, digging down into the epithelia, the deep desires of the human heart – what we are by nature. Lot looked up and he said, “I’ll take that place. I’ll take that place. I can make it into the garden of the Lord. I can save myself.” That’s what he’s saying. And it was a deep, deep evil. And it’s the exact same sin nature that all of humanity shares. 

Now we haven’t, however, dipped into the fourth layer – the sin of the garden, secondly, and briefly, I think you can look into this passage and actually locate the essence of human sin. It’s right here in this strange narrative about a bunch of herdsmen fighting over too little grass. But the essence of sin, it’s right here. Lot lifted up his eyes and he saw with the eyes of his heart. He coveted with the eyes of his sinful desires, the eyes of his heart. The metaphor of seeing, of vision, recurs over and over again in the Book of Genesis, even several times before this, and is associated, every single instance in Genesis with deep sin, with a fall narrative. You don’t have to go very far to figure this out. 

If you just turn and read Genesis 3:6, the moment of the first sin, what is the metaphor upon which the whole sin is cast? Just listen to it. “So when the woman saw that the tree, saw that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, when she saw that the fruit was the delight of the eyes.” And it’s not much of a stretch to take Lot’s vision of this fake garden of God and put it into the grammar of Genesis 3:6. It would read like this. “When Lot saw that the land east of the Jordan was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that it was to be desired to get back to the garden of God, so he moved there and he ate.” Genesis has a series of fall stories. The first fall, the introduction of sin into the world, is Genesis 3, verse 6 and following. But Genesis has a number of stories after that where the fall is repeated in a certain way, where the fall is heightened, where new sins enter into the world. And they’re very distinct passages in the Book of Genesis. You can think about, of course, Eden, but how do you characterize a fall narrative? It’s when God has given an explicit command, that command is broken, and there is a judgment that includes being cast away from God’s presence or from the presence of humanity. 

So Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden. What’s the next fall narrative? Cain. He murders his brother. And what’s the judgment? He’s cast away from the nuclear, the primary family. And there’s numerous fall stories just like that throughout the Book of Genesis up to the tower of Babel where humanity falls against God. And what happens? They are cast away from each other. Humanity is fractured; separated from each other. The Lot narrative here is the next fall narrative, fall motif narrative of the book of Genesis. And how is that the case? He’s heard the explicit command of God, “You shall move to the land of Canaan. This is where I will build My people. You are part of that promise.” He told him. He told Abram. He’s explicitly rejecting the command and there is a judgment of being cast away, of being severely judged. And what is it? It is that little refrain that comes up three times in our passage in verse 10, verse 12, and verse 13. Moses tell us this just so happens to be the land of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is a fall narrative.
And what that means is that we can peer into it and see that Lot, the essence of sin is right here, and you can find it in Genesis chapter 3. And what is it? It has two steps to it. It is the deepest layer of our subconscious, of our desire, of our sin. What is it? It’s this – Satan, Satan at the very beginning, turned to the woman and he asked, he said two things to her. The first thing he said was, “Did God really say?” The deepest part of human sin nature is not atheism. That’s not humanity’s problem. It’s not, not believing in the existence of God. It’s not that at all. It’s knowing God exists and believing Satan’s lie when he asks the question, “But did He really say? Is His Word, His revelation, His speech to you really trustworthy? It’s questioning the goodness of the Word of God. It’s questioning Him defining reality. That’s the first question.

Then there’s a second step. You first sneer at the command of God, at the Word of God, but the second thing is this. What did Satan tell her? He said this. “He knows, God knows if you abandon Him, if you eat of the fruit, if you spit in His face, if you shake your fist at Him by eating of the fruit you will be like Him. You will be just like Him. You will know what He knows. You will have what He has. You will be as powerful as He is powerful.” It’s saying, “I can do as good as He did. I can build my own Garden of Eden. I can choose a place, call it the garden of God, and I can be the god of the garden.” And you see, that’s exactly what Lot is doing in this passage. He’s looking out and saying, “That looks like a place where I can build a garden of God, where I can achieve my own salvation. It’s a self-salvation enterprise where I can do it.” It’s an explicit rejection of the revelation of God, the Word of God that has come down, of seeing reality in the way that God sees it. And it’s the essence of human sin. Herman Bavinck, he defines it like this. “The essence of human sin is self-divinization or egoism.” So Calvin in his commentary on this passage about Lot says this to us, “Let us all learn by this example, that our eyes are not to be trusted, but that we must rather be on our guard lest we be ensnared by our eyes and be encircled with many evils. Just as Lot, when he fancied that he was dwelling in paradise, was nearly plunged into the very depths of hell.”

The Hope Found in Another Garden

Now there’s hope. There’s hope for humanity and it’s found in another garden. And it’s right here also in our text – the early moments of this garden, of this Promised Land. And it’s when God comes down, finally, in verse 14 and in parallel fashion He tells Abram – what? “Look up. Lift up your eyes.” And you see, there’s a direct contrast. Lot lifted up his eyes, the eyes of his flesh, the eyes of his sinful desire. He filtered reality through his sinful desires, verse 10, but now God come down to Abram said, “Now you look up and see. You see. Think My thoughts after me. See reality the way I’ve defined it; the way I see it.” It’s a pivotal contrast. And Calvin says, “The contrast is that Lot lived by sight, Abram lived by faith.” Abram did not live by mere sight, by mere sinful desire, but he lived by faith. And what God said to him is that, “If you look out at this land, the dust, it’s all going to be the people of God. This is going to be the land of God. This is where I’m bringing salvation. It’s here.” He was saying that this, you’ve got to look for a different garden than Lot was looking for. You see? And I’m not talking about the garden in Revelation 20 of the new heavens and the new earth but something that comes before that. 

Hunter Nicolson, the Young Adult intern, this morning taught a fantastic Sunday School lesson, a very sharp reading of the back half of Acts chapter 1. And he told a story about his friend visiting him when he was living in Washington, D.C. And they were there getting ready in the morning and Hunter was in the kitchen and his friend was getting ready and his friend was taking a shower and Hunter heard his friend speaking, commanding, yelling, declaring. And he thought it was extremely strange! And his friend gets dressed and comes into the kitchen for breakfast and Hunter said, “You know, I heard you yelling or something in the shower. What were you doing?” And he said, “Every single morning while I’m getting ready I rehearse the whole Gospel. I tell it to myself. I command it to myself. I tell myself, ‘Today’s the day! You have to believe it! You have to stand up in the midst of this Gospel. You have to declare it – that it’s true; that it’s real. You have to stand in it with the eyes of faith. Don’t live by sight today!’” And he tells himself this. 

Look, what do you say to yourself? What do you command yourself tomorrow, Monday morning, when you’re preparing to live with the eyes of faith and not sight? And this is what you say. You lift up your eyes and you look at the garden of John 19. Remember, the soldiers came to Jesus while He was on the cross and they decided that they were going to break all the legs of the three criminals. And the soldiers went and broke the legs of one and they broke the legs of another so that they couldn’t breathe; so that they would die. They came to Jesus and He was already dead, John tells us. And so they took a spear and they stabbed Him in the side and blood and water poured out. And then John inserts this authorial comment. He said, “He who bears witness to these things testifies that this is true.” And what is he saying? He’s saying, “I was there and I can tell you, Jesus was very dead. He was really dead. They stabbed Him in the side. I saw it. He was dead.” 

And that’s preparing us for what happens next. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, take down Jesus’ body, they wrap it, and they spice it to prepare it to be dead for a long time. The very purpose of preservation was spices. And then in John 19:41, John inserts this line. “It so happened, it was just so that next to where Christ was crucified there was a garden and a new tomb.” Adam, the first man, entered into the garden of God alive, full of righteousness. And he brought death into the garden of God. Jesus Christ entered into the garden of God dead, really dead, because of the sinful lust of our hearts. And He brought life back to the garden. He dismissed the cherub that was guarding the gate and said, “Go home! The way is opened.” It was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise right there in Jerusalem in the land of Canaan, being talked about right here in verse 14 and following. 

You see, Jesus Christ is Eden. He is the garden. He’s the point. And the depravity of our human sin says, “I want the garden. I want the blessings. I want everything that God made. I want to taste pleasure, but I don’t want God to be there.” And the resurrection says Jesus Christ is the garden. He is the delight of the human heart. He is exactly the thing that we were made for. The only way that we can get satisfaction – you know there’s only ever been two theologians on the cover of TIME magazine. One is Alvin Plantinga, the Christian philosopher, and the other is the liberal German theologian, Karl Barth. And on cover that had Karl Barth featured in it there was a garden on the front and an empty tomb. And at the bottom, the text read, “The goal of humanity is not death, but resurrection.”

The second thing and final thing you need, very briefly, to step into Monday with the eyes of faith, is not only to see the garden and speak it, declare the Gospel tomorrow, but walk into it also with eyes of faith and repentance. Abram here, after prostituting his wife in the previous passage to Pharaoh, goes around the land in the first four verses and revisits every single one of the altars when he had first come through the promised land. And I think after giving his own wife to Pharaoh in a moment of slavery he’s doing the repentance tour. And what’s the difference between Abram and Lot? They heard the same command. They heard the same promise. And it’s that Abram’s life here is marked by repentance. And that’s why the Bible commends him to us in Hebrews 11. He was a man full of repentance. He was a big, big sinner and he had a life full of repentance. 

Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Right? Repentance is acknowledging that you do not have the resources within, you do not have proper desires; you cannot seek after God. It’s not just saying, “I believe in Jesus.” It’s saying, “I believe that I crucified Jesus.” That’s repentance. 

We’ll close with this. Martin Luther said it very well in the first thesis of his ninety-five theses that he nailed to the announcement boards of Wittenberg in 1517, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed that the entire life of believers to be one full of repentance.” Let’s pray.

Our Lord and God, help us tomorrow, tonight, to see that the resurrection in the garden is the meaning of our existence and put away our sinful desires, the lust of our heart. Help us to fight it. Help us to live a life full of repentance and faith like our father Abraham. Help us, O Lord. We ask in Christ’s name, Amen.

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