Genesis 13: 1- 18
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
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 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 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. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. 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. 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.”
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.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.
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. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.
In Genesis 12: 10- 20 we see that Abram with Sarai because of drought goes to Egypt. After receiving the great promise the hero of faith has a great fall as he lies that Sarai is his sister to save his own life to the Pharaoh who marries Sarai. A great disease befalls on Pharaoh who sends away Abram along with Sarai after finding the truth. In 12: 8 we see Abram build an altar between Bethel and Ai. In the opening verse of this passage we see that Abram comes back to Bethel, a place between Bethel and Ai where he had built an altar. (vs 3,4). So what does it mean? We see that Abram after realizing his misadventure in Egypt comes back to the place of Bethel where he built an Altar. He retraces himself in an act of confession where in his journey of faith he had stumbled. In Egypt to save himself he had sacrificed Sarai. His return to altar at Bethel helps him to re-prioritize and reorder his life.
Why should we confess? Are we that terrible that we need to do this act? The word sin comes from the Greek word ‘Hamartia’ which means ‘to miss the mark.’ In the sport of archery or shooting, one has a dart which has many concentric circles and the inner most one is ‘Bulls Eye.’ Suppose the one participating in the shooting does not hit the dart but beyond it, the person has missed the mark. Similarly, God has created us to be holy and to do his will but we miss the mark several times. The realization that we have missed the mark is the point of confession. Coming back to the Altar is our readiness to let the possibilities of God invade our lives like Abram did.
But coming back is not easy. It has its share of problems. Abram found he has wealth and so does Lot, but because of that both can’t share the same land. After Abram’s act of confession, he prioritizes relationships and lets Lot make the choice of the Land he wants. Earlier he had prioritized Sarai over himself. Now he prioritizes Lot over his own rights. He has learnt to let go. Lot takes the opportunity. He had only gained by being with Abram. He had enough wealth. But vs 10 says’ Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan’. Seeing the fertile Jordan made him realize he needed more than what he had. The desire that ‘I do not have enough’ compelled him to choose the fertile plains of Jordan. To illustrate this tendency, let me use a parable that is one of my favourite.
Once upon a time, there lived a King who, despite his luxurious lifestyle, was neither happy nor content. One day, he came upon a servant who was singing happily while he worked. This fascinated the King; why was he, the Supreme Ruler of the Kingdom, unhappy and gloomy, while a lowly servant was so joyous. The King asked the servant, ‘Why are you so happy?’ The man replied, ‘Your Majesty, I am nothing but a servant, but my family and I don’t need too much — just a roof over our heads and warm food to fill our tummies.’
The king was not satisfied with that reply. Later in the day, he sought the advice of his most trusted advisor. After hearing the King’s woes and the servant’s story, the advisor said, ‘Your Majesty, I believe that the servant has not been made part of The 99 Club.’ ‘The 99 Club? And what exactly is that?’ the King inquired. The advisor replied, ‘Your Majesty, to truly know what The 99 Club is, let’s place 99 Gold coins in a bag and leave it at this servant’s doorstep.’
Next day when the servant saw the bag, he picked it up and took it in. When he opened the bag, he let out a great shout of joy… So many gold coins! He began to count them. After several counts, he was at last convinced that there were 99 coins. ‘What could’ve happened to that last gold coin? Surely, no one would leave 99 coins!’ he wondered. He looked everywhere he could, but that final coin was elusive. Finally, exhausted, he decided that he would have to work harder than ever to earn that gold coin and complete his collection. And from that day, the servant’s life was changed. He was overworked, horribly grumpy, and castigated his family for not helping him make that 100th coin. He stopped singing while he worked.
Witnessing this drastic transformation, the King was puzzled. When he sought his advisor’s help, the advisor said, ‘Your Majesty, the servant has now officially joined The 99 Club…’ He continued, ‘The 99 Club is a name given to those people who have enough to be happy but are never contented, because they’re always yearning and striving for that extra one, telling themselves: ‘Let me get that one final thing and then I will be happy for life.’
So like many of us, Lot too belonged to the 99 Club. He was ready to give up intangible things like love and family relationship for the sake of tangible things like luscious land and possessions. He pitched his tent in Jordan near Sodom. Jordan could also mean death. So his need for more leads him to a lifestyle of death which culminated in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Like a milestone that shows the distance and direction towards an unseen land, the Altar is a reminder that we have to move further to the unseen land that the invisible God will guide us. That is why, after pitching his tent near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, Abram again built an Altar. Hebron means fellowship. Abram by pitching his tent at Hebron invested his life in fellowship It is in our encounter with God that we reprioritize our journey. Are we ready to ‘let go’ like Abram or are Like Lot where we wish to be in the driver’s seat, wanting more and more?
Abram and Lot begin the journey together from Haran towards the Promised Land. Lot got caught up with the visible and the tangible and this led to his destruction. Abram with all his failures was ready to retrace and remained open to the mystery and will of God. I am sure Abram could easily have mouthed the famous quote of Robert Frost. Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal