Looking and walking
Discord was as intolerable to Abram as sand in the eye. He could not and would not live with it. Therefore, in Genesis 13:14-18 he proposed that Lot and he go their separate ways.
Generous and gracious man that he was, Abram allowed Lot to have the choice of which direction to go. Lot did not hesitate to choose the land that was well-watered. It was a good business choice, but it took him toward the terribly wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
With Lot having made his choice, Abram was left on the hill of Bethel. There the Lord spoke to Abram. Lot now had the better land, but Abram had the Word of the Lord. Lot had the paradise, and Abram had the promise.
Many today would congratulate Lot. They would say that he really ‘put one over’ Uncle Abram. They admire the shrewd businessman who knows how to turn a dollar. And they might even feel sorry for Abram. Abram had his chance to get even further ahead, and he blew it. He blew it because he was too concerned about God and his fellow man.
Those who feel sorrow for Abram should reserve it for Lot. Abram may appear here to be the fool, but Lot finally proves to be. The man who goes with God is no fool, no matter how many people think he is.
What did the Lord say to Abram?
We can summarise it in two words – ‘look’ and ‘walk’.
Look (vv. 14-16)
After Lot ‘lifted his eyes’ and saw ‘the plain of Jordan’ (v. 10), the Lord told Abram to ‘lift’ his eyes (v. 14).
The Lord then confirmed and elaborated two promises he had previously made to Abram. The first had to do with the land. The Lord said, ‘All the land which you see I give to you and your descendants for ever’ (vv. 14-15). This included, by the way, the very land Lot had chosen for himself!
The second promise had to do with Abram’s seed: ‘And 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 also could be numbered’ (v. 16).
These promises, as with so many in the Old Testament, had both an immediate and ultimate fulfilment. The immediate fulfilment was on the physical level. God did indeed give Abram and his descendants the land of Canaan, and God gave Abram descendants like ‘the dust of the earth’. This expression is, according to John Currid, a hyperbolic way of describing a vast number.
But the promises God made to Abram were not exhausted by Abram and his physical descendants. There is also the ultimate or spiritual level of fulfilment. On this level, the promise of the land is finally heaven itself; and the promise of the innumerable seed is fulfilled in the huge number that will finally gather round the throne of God.
We can even go so far as to say that Abram himself understood the promises in this spiritual way.
Think about the land for a moment. The author of Hebrews says of Abram, ‘he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God’ (Hebrews 11:10). In other words, Abram saw his physical Canaan as a type of the heavenly Canaan that awaits all the people of God.
This heavenly Canaan will consist not only of all the land Abram saw from the hill of Bethel, but also of the whole earth!
This brings us face to face with what heaven will be like in its final instalment. Some have the idea that the people of God will be floating around in heaven in ghostly form and will spend their time strumming harps and shining halos. It is no wonder that so many find it hard to get excited about going to heaven!
But that is not heaven. The Bible tells us it will consist rather of a heavenly city on a new earth (Revelation 21:1-2). And that earth will be nothing less than this earth restored to the beauty and glory it once had, before sin entered (Romans 8:18-22).
If we like life on this earth with all the havoc and heartache of sin, how much more we will like life on that earth!
The promise of a countless number of descendants also finds fulfilment on this spiritual level. In other words, Abram had more than physical descendants. The apostle Paul writes: ‘And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3:29).
This promise, as I have indicated, will indeed be fully realised when the redeemed of all ages gather round the throne of God to sing: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honour and glory and blessing!’ (Revelation 5:12).
In light of these things, we can say that the Lord’s command to Abram to lift up his eyes applies to all believers. This is a dark and darkening world. Our faith is ridiculed. Wickedness abounds on every hand. And those who put the world above the things of God seem to be getting along much better than the people of faith.
But if we are despondent and gloomy, it is because we have not lifted our eyes high enough to see beyond this world, to the heavenly land and the heavenly throng.
Walk (vv. 17-18)
After telling Abram to view the land, the Lord told him to walk its length and width (v. 17). By doing this, Abram was confessing his faith in the promises of God. It was, in the words of Philip Eveson, ‘a symbolic gesture of ownership’.
God was also showing Abram his pilgrim status in this world. In the words of Matthew Henry, God was telling Abram not to think of ‘fixing’ in the land, but ‘expect to be always unsettled and walking through it to a better Canaan’.
Similarly, believers today are involved in the promises God gave to Abram. We are called, as Abram was, to understand our pilgrim status in this world and act accordingly. We are to live with these words from Hebrews pounding in our ears: ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
‘For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland … But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God’ (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Many of our problems as Christians stem from forgetting our pilgrim status. We forget it when we act like permanent citizens of this world or like tourists.
Pilgrims are focused on their destination. Tourists are focused on the sights along the way. The apostle Paul calls us to pilgrim-living in these words: ‘For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:20).
Not home yet
The devil often succeeds in getting the people of God to expect their reward in this life. I think of the story of an old missionary who returned to the United States on the same ship that carried President Theodore Roosevelt.
The president was completing a hunting expedition, and the missionary a lifetime of service in Africa. The president was greeted with wild cheering, but no one was there to applaud the missionary. For a moment, the old man felt a twinge of envy. Then the thought hit him, ‘You are not home yet!’
Are the Lots of this world getting you down to the point that you are wondering whether there is any point in living for the Lord? Lift up your eyes to heaven and keep walking. Some day you will be home, and then it will be worth it all.
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.
Life’s trials will seem so small when with him.
One glimpse of his dear face
All sorrows will erase,
So let us run the race,
til we see Christ.Roger Ellsworth