Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Carnality (Pt 10) – Genesis 20.1-18

Genesis 19 ends with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot barely escapes the destruction.  His wife is a pillar of salt, his two daughters get him drunk with wine, and his grandchildren are result of incestuous relationships with both of them.  The Bible leaves him in the mountains around the city of Zoar.  He is afraid to go back into any city after witnessing such destruction by God’s hand of judgment.  It is terrifying to witness how far down Lot went.

Yet Abraham is still cultivating a life of faith.  He built altars to God, gave the best land to Lot, and later rescued his nephew from wicked men who carried him away into captivity with his family and his servants.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, blessed Abraham upon his return, and the man of faith gave a tithe of the spoils to the King.  Abraham believed the promise of God, and his faith was credited as righteousness.  Abraham was a man of great faith.

Abraham is a striking contrast to Lot.  However, the Bible realistically portrays the sin of this man of faith.  He lied to Pharaoh according to a previous arrangement he had made with Sarah.  Instead of protecting his wife with godly authority, he gave into her demand and committed fornication with Hagar.  The result was not the heir God promised but the child Ishmael, one who would bring strife instead of peace.  You would think that after everything Abraham went through, he would not sin in the same way again.  You would think that, but you would be wrong.

God does not hide the deficiency and carnality of Abraham.  This simply fortifies the fact that we are reading the very words of God.  Abraham is certainly a man who cultivated a life of great faith, but he did so amidst great personal failure.  There were times during which he proved he certainly had a sin nature.  The carnality came out.

The Deception and the Dream (20.1-7)

Genesis 20 contains two dialogues.  One is between God and Abimelech (vv. 3-7) and the other between Abimelech and Abraham (vv. 9-13).  Verses 1-2 tell us that Abraham lied to a foreign ruler once again.  First, the Pharaoh and now the Abimelech.  Abimelech is a title similar to that of Pharaoh.  It is not a proper name.  It means royal father or “the king is my father.”  Abimelech sent for and took Sarah.  A crisis now presents itself.

This section begins with God’s ominous proclamation to the Abimelech:  “You are a dead man.”  It ends with another somber warning:  “If you do not restore [Sarah], know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”  God came to Abimelech in a dream.  He leveled this death sentence because Abimelech was about to commit adultery.

Abimelech, however, had not come near Sarah (v. 4).  He also claimed to be king of a righteous, blameless nation.  He acted with integrity and was innocent of wrong doing.  The Lord God always does that which is right.  Would he destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Abraham has asked that same question in Genesis 18.

God acknowledged the integrity of Abimelech (v.6).  As a matter of record, God Himself withheld Abimelech from sinning against Him; He did not allow Abimelech to touch her.  God restrains evil in the world.  He restrains His children from committing destructive sin.  He restrains the wicked as well.  The only reason Abimelech had a clear conscience before the Lord is that God had graciously intervened.

Abimelech and his household would live once Abraham prayed.  Right now, they all lived under a certain death sentence.  Some physical disease was more than likely sent from God, because He healed Abimelech.  The women of the nation became barren at the hand of God as well.  God would eventually open their wombs once again.

But still:  If Abimelech did not restore Sarah to Abraham, he was a dead man.  Restoration and forgiveness were possible for Abimelech,  but he had to restore Sarah.  Later, we find out that Abraham would have to intercede on his behalf.  Here we see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility once again in the Scriptures.  Both are stated.  God was in complete control of the situation, but Abimelech must restore Sarah.  There is the real and potential outcome that he would not.  Otherwise, the warnings of God make little sense.  

Fear prompts deceit.

Abraham had experienced the love and mercy of God to a great extent during his life.  But he still lied.  Fear prompts deceit.  Fear narrows our focus so that we see no way out other than deceiving people.  If God is as powerful as we maintain, He is certainly able to protect us.  Isn’t it true that we are indestructible until God is finished with us on this earth? How has God failed you?  Why are you doubting His love, faithfulness, and power over your current circumstance?   Deceitful lives resemble the father of lies rather than reflect the glory of God!

Deceit becomes an avalanche.

Abraham’s deceit quickly became a problem not just for him but for the many around him.  It could have cost him his wife and the favor of God.  It could have cost Abimelech and his people their lives.  This is the consequence and nature of deceitfulness.  If God had not intervened, the promised Messiah would not have come.  Nothing can be left to us because of our unfaithfulness.  All is of grace.  And yet our deceitful avalanche will cause collateral damage.  While the promises of God remain unaffected, our lives take a turn for the worse.

The Disgrace and the Disapproval (20.8-13)

This is the second main section of dialogue in the chapter.  Abimelech is a Gentile king who, unlike Pharaoh, has a sensitive conscience.  He seems to know right from wrong.  He is open to the revelation of God.  This was not the case with Pharaoh.  Abimelech reacts to his dream by rising early in the morning, reporting to his people what had happened, and the men feared.

It’s a bit ironic.  Everyone is afraid here.  Abraham was prompted by fear to lie.  Abimelech and his people feared God because of the fact that Abraham lied.  God’s promises to Abraham did not stop him from fearing other men.  He resembles Lot more than a man who is cultivating a life of faith.  That means we are prone to the fear of men as well.  Your faith can and will fail at times.

This is really a catastrophic failure.  It’s one thing to fail within a small circle, but to fail in such a public way and be rebuked by a worldly leader is certainly disgraceful.  It must be remembered that he has failed like this twice in very public situations.

The question in v. 10 from Abimelech is quite penetrating.  What did Abraham have in view?  His answer reveals his problem:  He thought of Gerar in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He assumed that the fear of God was not in this place.  Sarah was so beautiful; he believed they’d kill him for her.  After all, God caused him to wander in this strange land.  His focus was not on God but on the world around him.  He allowed experience and emotion to direct his steps.  When fear dictates our steps, we act as disgracefully as he did.

It is hard to imagine Sarah’s mindset.  Abraham should have protected his wife.  Instead, he led her down the paths of deceit and sin.  Abraham should have been willing to sacrifice himself for the honor of his wife; instead, he sacrificed his wife’s honor for fear of man.  He also brought Abimelech and his household under severe judgment.  Had Abimelech and his family died, Abraham would have been the cause of it.  Deep shame and sorrow now belonged to Abraham.  It’s hard to think of anything more disgraceful than allowing your wife to be taken by another man, no matter how powerful he is.  Still God dealt mercifully with Abraham.  The offended king did not treat Abraham the way he deserved to be treated.  He was more honorable than Abraham in this situation.  He was careful, fair, and even virtuous in his response.

The Deference and the Deliverance (20.14-18)

Abimelech’s fear of God prompted a quick response from him and from his people.  He gave much to Abraham in addition to restoring Sarah.  He goes above and beyond what God had commanded he do.  He gave Abraham the choice of the best land, which is quite haunting when compared to the early decision Lot had made regarding land.  He also gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver, and Sarah was vindicated and justified (not rebuked as in the NKJV).

I should like to hear Abimelech’s tone when he said to Sarah, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver…”  Perhaps a little sarcasm was present?  Abimelech could have been angry about the malady his household had suffered and about the barrenness in his house, but his rebuke is recorded in the penetrating question he asked Abraham:  “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”

Abraham prays to God.  He would have to come face-to-face with his own unfaithfulness in the midst of God’s great faithfulness.  We make decisions that cause a great deal of pain in our lives, but these choices don’t impact that overarching plan of God.  “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2.13).

Conclusion:  

  1. Speak the truth.  It is rare to find people who speak the truth.  We often think we’re fine as long as we don’t tell unadulterated lies.  It’s okay to shade the truth for most of us.  We tell white lies because it’s not possible to tell evil, black ones.  We magnify sin in others, and this is a great deceit.  We lie to gain the praise of men or avoid being persecuted by them.  We exaggerate a temptation or conceal it.  We justify it by saying simple and foolish things like, “It’s only in this one little area.  Nobody’s perfect!”  We lie to one another and then come to church in great hypocrisy and claim to worship God.  Perhaps our meditation this week ought to be David’s in Psalm 119.29:  “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”
  2. Keep yourself pure.  We turn from sin and forsake it because of the grace of God.  We forget that we are able to fall again to the same sin even as Abraham did.  What is your besetting sin.  You mourn over it.  You have victory in Christ.  God has chosen not to take away the temptation, but He has enabled you to stand against the temptation and experience victory and purity.  Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  But still temptation will come.  Abraham was well along in his relationship with God.  He failed due to fear and unbelief.  Let his failure serve as a bracing warning to you this week. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10.12-13).  Keep yourself pure!
  3. Be grateful for grace.  God protects and preserves us by grace.  If it were up to us, we would dishonor God and despise our privileges as sons and daughters of the Almighty.  Even when we were enemies of God, he kept us from all that we could have done.  There were snares and dangers from which He mercifully kept us.  Grace is truly amazing.  It kept us from certain death and enables a powerful life worth living!
  4. Mitigate the damage.  Once we sin, the only way out is genuine humility.  It is here where we begin to mitigate against the damage we’ve caused in our own lives and the lives of others we claim to love.  God hears the broken and contrite heart.  Our lives will become edifying and useful again.  We cannot cancel out the consequences of our sin; however, should an opportunity present itself to bring good to the situation, we ought to take it by the grace of God.  Pray for those you have hurt.  Ask God to take away the bitter memory someone has of you.  Pray that He would not be dishonored and disgraced by your foolishness.  Take opportunity to show the love of Christ through a gracious and forgiving spirit.

Cultivating Faith (Part 3)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Self-Denial

The story of Abraham and Lot is a story of two roads which diverge.  It is a story filled with choices.  While the eternal destination of both men is the same, the ways in which they lived on this earth become a stark contrast.

As we enter Genesis 13, both men led their families side-by-side with unity of purpose.  As long as the interests of both men aligned, they maintained unity.  But a point came when their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together (Genesis 13.6).  The result was strife leading to separation.  The separation became necessary in order to promote stability and peace.  The diverging directions of both men teach us some very important principles.

It is possible to trace the choices of both Abraham and Lot under two main headings.  Both men represent diverging philosophies of could be termed as separation and infiltration.  Abraham separates from the world (Sodom and Gomorrah); Lot infiltrates the world – slouching toward Gomorrah to borrow Judge Robert H. Bork’s title from his 1996 book.  First, Abraham represents the choice of separation…

Choosing to separate leads to the path toward God (Genesis 13.1-9).

“Please separate from me …they separated from each other …the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him” (13.8, 11, 14).

The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.

“If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will take the left” (13.9).

Abraham knew well the wisdom of his descendant Solomon who wrote, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17.14).  Once water is released, the breach widens as the water erodes it away.  It moves so rapidly that there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Therefore, stop contention before it starts.  Once it begins, you’ll never know when or how it will stop.

Abraham desired peace with Lot.  That governed the choice he made.  So we have his words, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Genesis 13.8).  Abraham was a peacemaker not a peacekeeper.  The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.  Our endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace necessarily separates us from the world to God.  If our family and friends choose the path to Gomorrah, they will be walking a different path.  But make no mistake:  They have left the narrow way for the broad road.

The path to God leads away from self-assertion and toward self-denial.

It should be clear that Abraham is the elder and Lot the younger.  Abraham the uncle and Lot the nephew.  Abraham was called out of Ur, and Lot came along for the ride and the blessings.  Wouldn’t you think that as soon as Abraham gave Lot the choice of the left or right that Lot would have deferred to his uncle out of respect?  Shouldn’t he submit to Abraham and not the other way around?  Abraham could have asserted his rights, but he practiced self-denial.

People in the world lord their authority over others.  This is the way it is and the way it will be with unbelieving people.  But as Jesus said, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26-28).

The path to God leads away from self-assertion toward self-denial.  How can there be strife if one party denies self and assumes the role of a perpetual servant?  How can the self-assertive and the self-denying walk the same path?

The path to God leads away from greed and toward generosity.  

Abraham should possess at least as much as Lot if not more than Lot.  But Abraham was a sieve.  He simply allowed wealth to flow in and out.  Abraham gave; Lot took.  Abraham knew that the plain of the Jordan was fertile, lush land.  He simply deferred to Lot.

Faith reasons that God will take care of us and fight for us.  So if a man demands my cloak, I’ll give it to him along with my tunic also.  If he demands I walk with him one mile, I’ll walk the one and then another mile as well.  If it is within our power to meet a need, we should meet that need.

But greed leads to spiritual deadness.  The heart set on things below is more concerned with the comforts of this life.  Pure and undefiled religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1.27).  It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

A choice to cultivate a life of faith means a choice to separate, which leads us along the path toward God.  Lot chose differently and serves as a warning to us…

Choosing to infiltrate leads to the path toward Gomorrah (Genesis 13.10-18).

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

“Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan …Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan …Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom …They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom” (13.10-12; 14.12).

We can’t be sure when Lot placed his faith in the God of Abraham.  We know that when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, he is a righteous man.  Perhaps his conversion is a result of the problems caused by this divergent path that he took toward Gomorrah.  But believer or not, he took the path away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

We don’t know for certain, but it does seem that Lot has no problem with separating from Abraham.  Such separation would expose him to the temptations of Gomorrah.  He would be able to infiltrate that world, and gratify his desires.  Perhaps greed and ambition were two of the top desires for him.

Lot saw comfort in the well-watered plains of the Jordan.  The text tells us that the fertile land resembled the Garden of Eden itself.  Worldliness includes a fixation on the temporal and comfort that we desire right now in this temporal life.  Covetousness and a desire to fulfill temporal desires govern the heart of a person slouching toward Gomorrah.  We will learn that Lot gets a position as a judge and leader in Sodom.  His temporal desire far outpaced eternal interests.  The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the spiritual and toward the physical.

  • The days of Lot are characterized as days when “they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17.28).
  • “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17.29).
  • “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17.32).
  • ‘The LORD turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, and made them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and “delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2.6-8).

Lot certainly came to understand what the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were like.  Their sin was out in the open for all to see.  The Bible is right:  “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15.33).  Lot left Abraham and moved toward Gomorrah with little or no regret that we can determine from the text.

We lose so much when we sacrifice spiritual benefit for physical comfort.  We endanger our churches, families, and ourselves when we make this exchange.  We fail to feed on the Word of God and grab at the crust of bread we find in the world.  That crust of bread is a counterfeit form of life.  We need to be brought to repentance when living for this world.  God is merciful enough to do it.

Guard against a love for this world.  You must separate from it not infiltrate it if you are to cultivate a life of faith.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-15).

Lot’s love for the world led to choices that nullified his testimony within it.  Lot only had the world for a little while.  In the end it was all taken away from him.  If you live for the present arrangement of things, then your life will be empty.

Cultivate a life of faith through a compassionate, self-denying spirit.  Look to the Holy Spirit.  Be grateful to God because He has enabled you to sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others.

  • Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12.10).
  • Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.4-5).

Follow the faith of Abraham.  Walk the path to God instead of slouching toward the destruction of Gomorrah!