Man's Heart and Center (Gen 13:1-17)


Link to previous Genesis passages: The God Who Made Everything (Gen 1-2)  The Fall (Gen 3:1-24)  Why Cain Killed Abel (Gen 4:1-16)  Divine Judgment (Gen 6:5-13)  The Call of God (Gen 12:1-9)

My Story: I thought that graduating from medical school in Malaysia at age 22 in 1978 would validate my young life, and give me the happiness I desperately wanted for the rest of my life. But when I woke up on the 3rd day after graduation, expecting to still feel happy, the euphoria was gone. It really baffled me that my happiness lasted only 2 days! In light of Lot desiring the well-watered plain of the Jordan in this text, I was expecting that becoming a doctor would be my "garden of Eden," my "paradise," like "the garden of the Lord" to Lot (Gen 13:10). But I did not know that. So I thought I needed to be a physician in the U.S., the Mecca of Medicine. After 2 years of bone crushing effort, I made it to Chicago in 1980 with a sense of accomplishment and success. But again my joy was short lived. Painfully, I learned that becoming a doctor and coming to the U.S. could not fulfill my deepest inner longing beyond a few days. Next, I thought, "I need a woman!" All of this were my ever feeble attempts at getting back to "the garden of the Lord" without the Lord.

What does the account of Abram and Lot in Gen 13:1-17 teach about what can and cannot fulfill us human beings?

: Contrast the heart and center of Abram and Lot.

Goal: Examine the heart and center of our own hearts.

Application: Only God can center our hearts right.

Abram is the model of a Christian. Why? Because he lived on the basis of a call (Gen 12:1-3).

Contrasting conservatism and liberalism, a conservative is defined by his role, his duty and his family, while a liberal defines himself, defines who he is, and what his role is. Where is Christianity in this spectrum? Where is the Christian in here? Liberals think that Christians are those who are defined by their duty, and by "rules." But when traditional conservatives run into Christians, they often think that Christians are too liberal. To capitalistic individuals, Christianity calls people not to live selfishly for themselves. But to traditional conservatives under a totalitarian authoritarian rule, Christianity calls a stop to those in authority from trampling on people's individual freedom. Where is Christianity? Those on one end think it's on the other end, and vice versa. Christianity is not on the spectrum. The Bible tells us that Christianity is defined by those who have received the call of God.

A Christian does not belong on the conservative traditional end, because Christianity calls you to leave your family (Gen 12:1), and to think outside the box of your culture. To the liberal, Christianity says that you are not your own, and you do not construct your own identity. That's why Christianity is seen as dangerous, troubling and disturbing in every culture. It is weird. It is odd. It doesn't fit in nicely/neatly/predictably. The call of God in Abram's life changed his life drastically. The call of God appeared 12 times in the life of Abram from Gen 12-25. The call is basically the same, but there are some emphasis or detail that are different. The call of God is multifaceted.

In this text, Abram and his nephew Lot faced a conflict when they both became rich, as their flocks increased and the land could not support them both. How would they deal with this conflict? How would the call of God define Abram in this conflict? We can learn 3 things:

  1. The Heart of Lot (Looking for love in all the wrong places.)
  2. The Heart of Abram (Valuing God and people more than money.)
  3. The Heart of Someone Else (The One who values us seemingly more than God.)
I. The Heart of Lot

Gen 13:5-7 say, "Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time." Basically, they became wealthier, and as a result problems arose. But they could not become richer because of the limitation of the land. As a result, Abram gave Lot a choice as to where he would go (Gen 13:8-9). How did Lot respond?

Gen 13:10 says, "Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)" Lot then chose by sight, seeing that this would be the best way for him to get even richer.

What does this show about Lot? Money and financial success were more important to him than 2 other things: the promise of God and his uncle Abram. Likely, God's promise seemed too abstract and hard to believe, so he bailed out, and eventually moved out of the promised land, and lived in Sodom (Gen 14:12). Likely, he loved his uncle Abram, but to Lot, "business is business." By his decision he put financial growth as more important than the promise of God. He and his people were irritable, and quarrels arose. In itself, is there anything wrong with making more money? No.

Is there something else going on here?

Robert Alter (born 1935), an expert in ancient Hebrew narrative and Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Berkeley, and author of The Art of Biblical Narrative, 1981, explains that Gen 13:10 is the interpretation of Lot's uplifted heart on the basis of what he saw. His heart sees that the plain of the Jordan is "like the garden of the Lord." What does this mean? Alter says that when Lot saw the well-watered plain of the Jordon, Lot did not just see a way to get rich. But he also saw it spiritually, being "like the garden of" Eden. What does this mean?

In the movie, the Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams, the Jewish 100 meter Olympic runner trained so hard not just to win the gold medal, which he did. But he said, "I feel that when the gun goes off, I have 10 seconds to justify my existence." What is he saying here? On the most obvious level, he is saying, "The main thing I want is to win the gold medal." Others may say, "The main thing I want is to get married." Or "To get my dream job." Or "To do well financially in my career." Or in Lot's case, "To get riches in the well-watered plain of the Jordon."

But is this true, that what they want is the MAIN THING they want? The truth is that there is something deeper that they are seeking. What is it?

We human beings do not know who we are. We do not know what we are worth. We do not know what we are made for. We have deep spiritual insecurity. So, in the pursuit of "the MAIN THING I want," we are trying to attain these things.

Harold Abrahams did not just need to win the gold medal. But he needed more to feel that he is important, and that his life is significant and means something. Or if someone says that the most important thing is to be loved, what are they really saying? They are not just after love. They are after the assurance that they are lovable. If you desperately want the honor and respect of someone else, what are you truly seeking? It is not just after honor and respect, but that you are indeed worthy of honor and respect. This is what Robert Altar says is implied in Gen 13:10.

The Bible tells us that there is a deep inner desperation in every man. Everyone is desperate for certain things. If a woman says, "I don't need men. I have a great career." Then she is desperate for a career to replace her desperation for a man. Why is every man so desperate for something? If it's not one thing, it is something else.

In the Garden of Eden, in "the garden of the Lord," we knew who we were. We knew we had value. We knew what we were worth. Why? It is because in the garden of the Lord, we were walking with God (Gen 3:8). But after the Fall, we lost our confident inner assurance. We always need to prove ourselves to others. Our present human condition is that we do not know who we are; we do not know what we are worth. So, we are trying to get it back. We are trying to get back into "the garden of the Lord."

We say, consciously or not, "If I had that..." "If I were married to him or to her..." "If I had this career, this kind of money and financial security..." "If I had a nice house, then it would validate me..." "I have 10 seconds to validate my existence." We think that if we had this or that, then our inner desert or our inner emptiness would be gone. But there is more going on than money, or our career, or being in love, or having children, or the Olympic gold medal. Lot is doing what we are all doing. He doesn't want to just get rich. But he has set his heart/hope on riches in such a way that he has turned this spiritually to be something that will finally complete him. But it won't. The rest of Lot's life clearly shows that it doesn't (Gen 14,18,19). Isn't this what all people do?

If one gets married and says, "Finally, "the garden of the Lord." Now I know that my life is complete and fulfilled. Now I know who I am. Now I know I am lovable." If we go into marriage this way, or parenting this way, or career this way, something will give eventually, as it did with Lot. It's like putting a 3 ton truck on a 1 ton bridge. It will break. It's putting 3 tons of spiritual expectations on a finite thing. It is going to crack. It will crack. Even in this text, there is anger, quarreling, grumpiness, irritation, because Lot set his heart on money and riches, which influenced his men. He is driven by it. He will trample even on uncle Abram. Lot has looked spiritually at success, money, riches, and said, "It's like 'the garden of the Lord.'" Robert Altar says that it is exaggeration; it is hyperbolic language. But it is spiritually significant.

This shows us what we all do. It also shows us why we do it.

It is because we are alienated from the garden. We are trying to get it back. We are trying to get back into the garden. But it is ridiculous. Why? Lot wants the garden of the Lord, without the Lord. How can this ever happen? How can we ever have this kind of satisfaction, contentment, meaning, success, and worth without God?

To Lot, seeking riches and success became to him like "the garden of the Lord," to give him what only God can give him.

II. The Heart of Abram

The heart and center of Abram is completely different from Lot. Gen 13:8-9 says, "So Abram said to Lot, 'Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.'” Today we may not realize the weight of what Abram did. Abram lived in a patriarchal society where seniority and age was everything. Abram was the head of the clan, the uncle, the head honcho. Lot was his young nephew. For Abram to give Lot the advantage by giving him 1st choice was quite amazing. Abram could have dictated the terms for himself and Lot, where he and Lot would go. No one in that society would ever think that there was anything wrong with that.

Why did Abram do this? Abram had 3 things and he could not keep all 3:

  1. His relationship with God.
  2. His relationship with Lot.
  3. His relationship with money. (The best possibility for financial growth.)
Abram had 3 choices:
  1. Abram and Lot could have left Canaan together, and gone somewhere else spacious where both of them could continue to flourish and grow financially. Then he would have kept his relationship with Lot intact, and with his money intact. But he would not be trusting God, since God had called him to be in Canaan.
  2. If Abram said, "I am the leader. You're the younger," and he chose the fertile plain of the Jordan, he would have kept his relationship with God and with his money; he would be keeping the promise of God to remain in the land, and become wealthier. But Lot would have felt deeply alienated/embittered. His relationship with Lot would suffer, since Lot's heart was captivated by riches and material abundance.
  3. Do what he did in Gen 13:8-9. He gave Lot the choice, surely knowing what Lot would do. In this way, Abram kept his relationship with God, and with Lot. But he would put himself in financial jeopardy, and take a hit financially.
Abram made the painful choice based on this order:
  1. God.
  2. Family.
  3. Money.
In this way, Abram loved God with all his heart, and his neighbor Lot as himself (Matt 22:37-39). Though it was a painful costly choice, it was a wise and good decision for several reasons:
  1. Abram knew that if he and Lot were alienated from each other, their enemies, the hostile tribes among the Canaanites and Perizites in the land (Gen 13:7), would have the upper hand. Lot didn't care, for he was blinded by his love of money (1 Tim 6:10). But Abram knew that it was wise to keep a good relationship with Lot.
  2. Abram's decision was outside the box. It was culturally subversive. The older man giving the younger man the advantage and the upper hand was unheard of. It was creative and unusual and the opposite of cultural convention.
  3. Abram entrusted his life to God. He did the right thing by God. He did the right thing by man. How could Abram have this kind of wisdom? This kind of poise? It was from the call of God.
What can we learn here about the call of God upon Abram's life? What is the essence of being called by God? Does it mean that before I heard the Call I slept around, but now I am sexually controlled and pure? Does it mean that before I heard the Call I spent all my money on myself, but now I give my money for the poor and to charity? Though our new lives as Christians would move along those lines, that is by no means the essence of what it means to hear the call of God. Being a Christian is NOT primarily about keeping a book of rules. Heb 11:8-10 says, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."

In light of this, what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to live on the basis of the call of God?

1) Your foundations change. What does this mean?

In the first Rocky movie, Rocky explains to his girlfriend Adrian that all he wants is to go the distance in the boxing ring, and stay on his feet with the champion, Apollo Creed. Why? He said, "Then I will know that I am not a bum." What do we learn here? Every single human being has something that he feels he must do, or that he must achieve and accomplish, so that he will know that he is not a bum. Why? It is because we are alienated from the garden. So, we don't know who we are. We don't know what we are worth. We are not sure what our life means. We are not sure that we are lovable. So each of us has something that we feel we desperately need--a relationship, a status, a sense of our own significance, etc, (whether we are willing to admit it or not), so that if we did not have it, or if we lost it, we would be completely devastated. We would feel that we are just a bum without that something.

Your foundation is what makes you feel good about yourself, what makes you want to get up in the morning, what drives you and motivates you, etc. It could be our spouse, our family, our children, our career, our money, like in the case of Lot. It could be anything.

With the call of God our foundations change. God told Abram, "leave" (Gen 12:1). It meant to stop finding his security/foundation in the things he clung to, and was afraid to lose. God says:

  • Make my righteousness your wealth.
  • Make my love your identity.
  • Make my approval your joy.
  • Make my will your mission and purpose in life.
  • Make my salvation your story.
If we hear the call of God and respond accordingly, God gives us true freedom (John 8:32, 36; Acts 13:39; Rom 6:18, 8:2; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1). We will experience exhilarating liberation. Then we no longer need to have this person, this success, this status, this achievement, that has only driven us, often to the ground. Now, by the grace of God, we can live on the basis of the call of God. This changes the foundation of our life from "things" to God himself.

When Abram's life foundation was changed, he had the power, the wisdom, the resolve, the strength to make the choices and decisions that he did. He had the creativity and the freedom from cultural convention to make his unusual counter-intuitive counter-cultural offer to Lot. It was possible because Abram's foundation has changed by responding to the call of God.

2) You are able to handle your failures. To change our foundation is so subtle that we think we have done so when we may not have. Read Gen 13:3-4. "From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD." This is the pilgrimage of repentance. Gen 12:10-20 tells about a huge failure of Abram: he rushed to Egypt during a famine, leaving the promised land, failing to trust God. In Egypt, he lied about his wife and lost her to the harem of Pharaoh. It was a complete disaster. But in Gen 13:1-4, Abram repented and went back to trusting in the Lord and building alters. He retraced his steps to the spot where he last had trusted and obeyed God. Why is this so important?

How will you know that you have really changed your foundations and are resting in the grace of God? The call is all about the grace of God. When you have received the call of God, you realize that it is all only the grace of God and not your own doing (Eph 2:8-9). The call of God leads to a change in foundation, which is based entirely on the grace of God.

The only way you know that your foundation is changed and resting entirely in the grace of God is by how you handle your own personal failures. This is an unpleasant/traumatic story that sadly illustrates this point: There was a professing Christian who went to a conservative church for many years. One tragic day, all 3 of his kids was killed in a car accident. But this man responded with great faith and poise, testifying to the goodness of God and the sovereignty and providence of God. The funeral was remarkable as he shared his testimony of how God has been helping him, supporting him. Some years later he confessed to his pastor that he felt attracted to a woman in church who was not his wife. He had not acted on this, but he felt guilty and condemned. The pastor commended him for his confession and encouraged him to repent. But he could not. He met numerous pastors and professional counselors, to no avail. Eventually he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he committed suicide.

How do you account for a man who was strong enough to overcome the death of his 3 kids, but who could not handle a lustful feeling that he couldn't shake? What is going on here? To answer this, we have to ask: What was his foundation? What was he resting on, so that he would not feel like a bum? What was the basis of his sense of his own significance and worth?

This is very hard to answer. It is quite possible to say that my foundation is no longer being loved, no longer money or career or worldly aspirations or fame, but my foundation is Jesus. I believe in God. I study the Bible. I'm going to church. I'm tithing. I'm serving others. I am fully committed to Jesus. My foundation is Christ. My foundation is in God. But such a foundation may not be in God himself, but in the purity and the quality and the intensity of my faith, my commitment, my loyalty, my doctrine, my faithfulness, my service for the church. Such a foundation is still resting in our performance, and not in the grace of God.

Therefore, it is possible to think that you have heard the call when you haven't, because the call is not about being a better person, a more committed person, a more sacrificial, faithful, serving person. It is a call to rest in the grace of God. The way you know you are resting in the grace of God is not in the way you handle suffering, but in the way you handle your own failures.

This man was so confident to prove to others what a strong solid Christian he was in the time of unbearable suffering. But the real acid test of whether you have heard the call of God is how you handle your own personal failures. Can you receive God's forgiveness? Can you move on? Or do you just beat yourself up?

If someone cannot get past his own failures, he may be a good person, a moral person, a religious person, a sacrificial person, but he may not have made the foundational shift from resting in the foundation of the grace of God.

Abram experienced failure in Gen 12:10-20, and repented in Gen 13:1-4. Then he experienced a deeper, greater liberation than before. That's why he is able to act counter-intuitively and give the 1st choice to Lot. Why? He has given up his own foundation and is resting in a new foundation rooted solely in the grace of God. That's why he is able to live a big magnanimous life.

III. The Heart of Someone Else

Gen 13:14-15 say, "The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.'”  The ESV says, "Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are..." This location is a high mountain with a spectacular look out. God took Abram up this mountain to look all around him, and promised to give it all to him. How could God promise to give Abram all of this? Abram had been a failure in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20). God knew he would continue to fail again in the future. Why would God promise him such an abundant blessing? Is something wrong with God? Does God have no standards? How could God do this?

There is a 3rd man who is pointed to in this text. Centuries later, the real son and seed of Abram was also taken up a high mountain, and someone offered him the whole world, if he would just bow down and worship him (Matt 4:9). This sounds parallel, but with a difference.

When Satan took Jesus up a high mountain and offered the world to Jesus, there is a great irony. Satan was offering Jesus what was already his by right. The temptation was that Satan was giving Jesus these things without renunciation, without suffering, without going to the cross, without following God's way. But Jesus refused. Jesus knew that he came to lose everything: his Father's face, his authority, his glory.

God takes Abram up the mountain and offers to give him that which was not his by right. But Satan takes Jesus up the mountain and offers him that which was already his. Yet Jesus refused them. Why?

The reason God is able to offer Abram and us an abundance of blessing that 1) doesn't belong to us, and 2) despite our failure, is because Jesus refused the blessing that was rightfully his, so that he can give it to us. God is able to give us abundant blessings only because Jesus lost it all.

Abram points to one who is far greater than him (John 8:56,58). No one can be like Abram just by trying. We can only be like Abram when we "lift up (our) eyes and look" and believe the One who Abram is pointing to. Jesus lost his ultimate wealth (2 Cor 8:9), so that we can receive the ultimate wealth, which is the restoration of "the garden of the Lord."

Do you have trouble dealing with your own personal failure, when you give in to the same besetting sins again and again? Are you upset with those around you, because they do not do what you expect them to do? When they do not respect you the way you think you deserve to be respected? Are you burnt out in despair and frustration, wondering what your own value and worth and significance is? The only way to deal with any issues and problems that we have is when our foundation is changed from ourselves to the grace of God.

Only when we "lift up (our) eyes and look" and see what Jesus gave up on the mountain for me, can we truly be generous toward others, as Abram was toward Lot.

We are stupid all like Lot. We are all trying to find "the garden of the Lord" without the Lord. But Jesus gave up the ultimate "the garden of the Lord" so that we may have it restored to us.

This is based on a sermon by Tim Keller, entitled "Real Riches and the Ambitious Man." The 3 parts of Keller's sermon are 1) The Ambition of Lot; 2) The Ambition of Abram; 3) The Ambition of Someone Else. I changed the word ambition to heart. I also changed the title to "Man's Heart and Center."

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