Genesis 13

The first seeds of what will become the story of Sodom and Gomorrah appear in this chapter, and such hints again at the wondrous cultural heritage these narratives have bequeathed, at how thoroughly richly our lives are intertwined with these fables, with their characters and their interactions, with the wisdom and lessons that have been passed down and down and down. Herein Abram’s nephew Lot, whom we learned travelled with Abram in the previous chapter (12.5), upon returning with Abram and their vast wealth in livestock, silver, and gold to the land of Canaan from Egypt makes a clearly self-serving choice which sets him on the path to his future trouble. The pair of them, it seems, have too much: flocks and herds and tents in abundance so that “the land could not support them staying together” (verse 6a). Abram as the elder could have told Lot what to do and where to go to rectify the issue, but instead he asks Lot simply to separate, to choose wherever he likes and Abram will thenceforth head in the other direction (verses eight to nine). He freely gives Lot the advantage, and the decision taken is for the “well watered…plain of the Jordan” (verse ten) where “Lot settled in the cities of the plain, pitching his tents near Sodom” (verse twelve). Our man has many animals to care for, and no doubt a large household and attendants, and so he takes the better portion from a practical point of view; water, after all, is life. We already know what happens next.

It would be easy here to launch into a homily on how worldly things are not of utmost importance, or the necessity of trusting God/“God” as Abram did, and such points are worth thinking about. Ours, however, is a study that emphasizes variant avenues, and so I’d like to highlight instead the beautifully humane ethics of Abram combined with the equally evident (and charmingly human) quality of inertia as demonstrated in the text. Upon re-entering the land, Abram first ventures right back to where he had been: the area between Bethel and Ai, the place he had built an altar and invoked God/“God” “by name” (12.8, 13.3-4). You or I would no doubt do the same; the call of the past is always strong, and the urge for those “happy yesterdays” a familiar one. Trouble follows, “quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle” (verse seven), and so Abram in his generosity and magnanimousness suggests that to avoid further unrest he and Lot and their livestock move apart a bit, and he allows the other to take the preferable area if he would; Lot, of course, does just that. What happens next? God/“God” speaks to Abram, repeating his promise of the previous chapter (12.2) regarding many offspring, and encourages Abram to strike out a bit; evidently he needed the nudging. It is only then that Abram packs up and journeys away from what he was used to for somewhere new, heading south where he makes a fresh residence and again builds an altar to the LORD.

The line is thus: Abram recognizes that there is a problem and wishes to have peace between him and the other (ethical choice #1), he does not demand even though he could but rather requests that Lot establish himself anew elsewhere (ethical choice #2), he grants Lot the benefit of taking wherever he’d like (ethical choice #3), and then with Lot gone he simply sits on his tuchus. If our experiential lives are split along divine-human and human-human axes then surely here we have much more of the latter, and that engagingly so; yet as we chuckle we also learn how we might better approach those people and situations which are perhaps less than ideal, what may instead be preferable courses of action, and then finally that every now and then a good kick in the pants is precisely what’s in order (whatever its source!).

No comments: