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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Genesis 13




This chapter has the details of how Abram's separation from Lot finally came about. God, at the first, had commanded Abram to leave "his kindred" and "his father's house," but, somehow, Abraham had never really done this. There was no way that a man like Lot could be a part of the Chosen People, and, in the events of this chapter, the occasion of their separation appears. We shall not waste much time exploring the opinion of scholars as to which fragments of this or that chapter belong to this or that alleged prior source. We consider Moses as the source (singular) of the entire Pentateuch. All of the scholars on earth today do not have a single line of solid evidence for all of the postulations about "J," "P," "E," "D," "RP," "Pr," "X," etc., etc. There really are no such "documents"; they exist solely in the imaginations of men. And they are as ephemeral, uncertain, untrustworthy, unbelievable, and preposterous as a fantastic dream. Not only have the source-splitters concocted four or five alleged "principal sources," but now they have split the splits, and split the split-splits, and then split them again. Richard E. Friedman, Assistant Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California (San Diego) recently said, "There are 20 to 25 hands in the Five Books of Moses, I would say, counting all the authors and editors."[1]

The significance of this is that the laws of probability are devastating to such postulations. If there are all that many ancient "documents," how is it that not one of them has ever been referred to on any clay tablet, or mentioned on any ancient monument, or referred to even once in any ancient writing? It becomes more and more certain that the source-splitters simply do not know what they are talking about! Besides, as the same review written by Patrick Young reported, Yehuda Radday of the Technion Institute of Technology reported that, "A five-year computer analysis of the writing style in Genesis makes it quite certain that ONLY ONE writer was involved."[2]

Also, there is abundant evidence in Genesis itself of the unity, cohesion, and consistency of the whole book. This chapter is an example. Moses, the author, was still presenting the development of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham, and, in the events up to here, Abram had not yet left "his kindred and his father's house," and the perfect function of this chapter is to relate how that was finally achieved. The student should note that the renewal of the promises to Abraham took place immediately after Lot's departure toward Sodom, and that it was absolutely necessary that a logical and consistent account of the covenant should have provided exactly the information recorded here. We shall notice other proofs of unity in the text below.

Verse 1

"And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot was with him, into the South."

Von Rad called this narrative "fictional";[3] and Simpson asserted that the expression, "Lot was with him is an incorrect gloss, as the absence of the mention of Lot in Genesis 12:9-20 indicates."[4] However, the proof that Lot did in fact accompany Abram to Egypt, in addition to its having been logically and smoothly affirmed in this very verse, appears in what Lot himself "saw" in Genesis 13:10. "He saw that the plain of the lower Jordan was like the land of Egypt." How could Lot have seen that unless he had just been to Egypt with Abram? It is refreshing to find more and more able scholars of the present time who are able to discern such things, as did Meredith G. Kline:

"Though not mentioned in Genesis 12:10-20, Lot had been in Egypt, benefiting from Abram's favored status (Genesis 13:5), and acquiring a taste for luxuriant valleys (cf. Genesis 13:10, like the land of Egypt)."[5]

Verses 2-4

"And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the South even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been in the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of Jehovah."

"Abram was very rich ..." The strategic placement of this statement brings into view the vast wealth that Pharaoh had given Abram as a dowry for Sarai. Von Rad discerned that, "Abram's great wealth must be connected with the reward that he received in Egypt."[6]

"Into the South ..." as it appears in Genesis 13:1, must be understood in the light of the fact here that Abram was really journeying from the South. What is meant in Genesis 13:1 is that he journeyed into the South of the land of Canaan, thence north to Bethel. This trip was, in all probability, undertaken by Abram as a move "to get right with God," following his disastrous mistake in Egypt. The excursion into Egypt was a departure from the land of which God had told Abram that it would be his. In these verses, Abram is simply getting back on course.

"And he went on his journeys ..." Leupold translated this, "He went in stages," indicating that he traveled slowly, waiting for the flocks and herds to graze on the way, and thus avoiding overdriving them. This was a procedure followed by all the patriarchs, as indicated by the case of Jacob (Genesis 33:17).

"There Abram called upon the name of Jehovah ..." This is a rather comprehensive statement indicating that Abram worshiped Jehovah, prayed in the name of Jehovah, and preached in the name of Jehovah to his household and to any of the native population who were willing to hear it. The true God of the land of Palestine (and of the whole world) was honored in a social setting that was rife with paganism. By such conduct, coupled with the repentance and rededication indicated by the very fact of his return to this altar, "Abram was becoming through his obedient faith the kind of man through whom (in the future) God would build his church."[7]

Verses 5-7

"And Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land."

The marvelous unity and cohesiveness of these three verses must be at once apparent to any thoughtful person. There were three factors that underlay the crisis. First, was the tremendous size of the flocks and herds belonging to both Abram and Lot. In the second place, the herdsmen of the two kinsmen, having no filial affection binding them together, strove over pastures and watering places available. And in the third place, there was an additional factor in the existence of substantial numbers of the old Canaanite populations, including the Perizzites. If there had not been the presence of those other citizens of the land, both Lot and Abram might have been sustained in it, but the existence of all three factors at once made the resolution of the problem impossible, except upon such a deal as that Abram offered to Lot.

But, let it be noted that some of the critics are unaware of these basic and elementary facts, and, therefore they allege "multiple sources" in this "legend," as they call it, actually charging a "contradiction," no less, alleging that "P" presented the problem as one caused by the wealth of Abram and Lot, and that "J" thought it was due to strife between the herdsmen![8] Such a conflict as that in view here is never the result of a single cause, but it is always complicated by multiple factors. One may only marvel at the ignorance that overlooks such a thing. What men should do is to read Moses' explanation of the problem here, where he carefully mentioned three of the multiple reasons that led to the problem. It is this very type of criticism that has done so much to discredit, absolutely, the entire system of source-criticism prevalent today.

Verse 8-9

"And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left."

Here Abram's action is truly in character, quite unlike the shameful episode in the previous chapter. As the leader of the expedition into the land of Canaan, as the patriarch and senior kinsman of Lot, Abram had every right to demand his own choice of direction, but he magnanimously and graciously yielded the choice of pasturage to his nephew. To paraphrase the thought here, we might say that Abram simply declared, "There must be no quarrel between us, because we are brethren." The term "brethren" here is used in a wider sense as it is found frequently in the O.T.

"Left hand ... right hand ..." We might think of this as North and South; but Leupold assures us that, "Left and right here apparently refer to the East and West respectively," citing also the Targum as supporting this view.[9]

Verse 10

"And Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the Plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before Jehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt, as thou goest unto Zoar."

"Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld ..." Willis pointed out that the apostasy of Lot began right here and that it consisted of the following steps:

  1. He looked upon the attraction of the fertile pasture lands toward Sodom;

  2. He chose it as his home (Genesis 13:11) and moved his home into the close vicinity of it (Genesis 13:13);

  3. He "dwelt in Sodom" (Genesis 14:12); and

  4. He acknowledged the men of Sodom as his "brothers" (Genesis 19:7) and offered them his daughters to be used sexually as they wished;

  5. He "sat in the gate of Sodom" (Genesis 19:1), indicating his acceptance of a post of responsibility there; and

  6. "Finally, he `lingered,' even after the mercy of God had offered an opportunity to escape."[10]

This progressive, step by step amalgamation of a man with a wicked society, exemplified by Lot's example here, is also visible in Psalms 1:1:

"Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners,
Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers."

"Beheld all the Plain of the Jordan ..." The objection that it would have been impossible for Lot to have seen "all the Plain" from any vantage point near Bethel is a ridiculous quibble. Actually, there is a vantage point near Bethel, mentioned thus: "The Burg Beitin a few minutes southeast of the village, is described as one of the great viewpoints of Palestine."[11] The place affords an extraordinarily extensive view of the whole lower course of the Jordan and of the northern end of the Dead Sea.

"Before Jehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah ..." This is a reference to an area around the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, which was fertile and well watered before the disaster, but which was apparently inundated afterward. There is nothing here to suggest, as alleged, that the writer thought the Dead Sea did not exist until after Sodom and Gomorrah perished. Simpson's notion that, "The author believed that the Dead Sea had not come into existence at that time,"[12] is unacceptable. However, there was a very significant change in the level of it, resulting in the inundation of the land along the southeastern shore, where, as Willis observed, "It is now generally believed that the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Zoar lie beneath the waters of the Dead Sea on the eastern side of its southern portion."[13]

Verses 11-13

"So Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the Plain, and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners against Jehovah exceedingly."

Thus was effected the separation of Abraham from a portion of that kindred which God had commanded him to forsake in the first place. Abraham appears in a most favorable light in this episode, where he magnanimously offered his nephew the choice of locations and then honored his choice. Of course, God saw to it that Abraham lost nothing by his generous act. "God rewarded it with a new assurance that the land of Canaan would surely be his, even toward the East where Lot then sojourned. Even what he had given away would come back to him."[14] A comparison of Genesis 13:13 and Genesis 13:14 here will emphasize this.

"The men of Sodom were wicked sinners against Jehovah exceedingly ..." The probable purpose of including this here was to emphasize the foolishness of Lot's choice. The wickedness of Sodom consisted of the most vile and repulsive sexual perversion, even the infamous name of the city being perpetuated in the name of their characteristic sin. This sin was a threat to God's Chosen People, a danger to which the Northern Israel eventually succumbed, and which was one of the two principal reasons for their eventual overthrow by God himself, who removed them to Assyria, where they ultimately disappeared from the stream of history. We are distressed and frightened by the easy acceptance of exactly this type of vice in our own beloved nation today. How foolish must men be who can believe that God is any better pleased by this type of gross wickedness than Ge was in Sodom, or that He will any more refrain from punishing it than He did then!

Verses 14-18

"And Jehovah said unto Abram, after Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then may thy seed also be numbered. Arise and walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it. And Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built there an altar unto Jehovah."

Here is the famous "land promise" to Abraham and his posterity "forever." Does this give secular Israel in the 20th century any valid claim on Palestine? The answer has to be "No!" The ultimate nature of the promise is seen in the fact that Christians were promised by Jesus Christ that "the meek shall inherit the earth," and there can be no doubt that this must be considered the ultimate and spiritual fulfillment of this great promise. As far as the fleshly Israel is concerned, all of God's blessings upon them were contingent, absolutely, upon their acceptance of the rule of God and upon their following in the steps of Abraham's faith, which they resolutely refused to do. They formally rejected God's government in the elevation of Saul to the monarchy, and were ultimately cast off altogether as being God's Chosen People in any racial or secular sense. Every line of the O.T., as well as the N.T., confirms this. As Keil said:

"This applied not to the lineal posterity of Abram, to his seed according to the flesh, but to the true spiritual seed, which embraced the promise in faith, and held it in a pure and believing heart. The promise, therefore, neither precluded the expulsion of the unbelieving seed from the land of promise, nor guarantees to existing Jews a return to earthly Palestine after their conversion to Christ.[15]

"Arise, walk through the land ..." "No doubt Abram did this; but Genesis 13:18 is content to name merely the place where he settled."[16]

"The oaks of Mamre which are in Hebron ..." Scholars invariably insist that "oaks" here should be rendered "terebinths" or "turpentine" trees. Hebron was a very old city, even when Abram settled there. The oak, or terebinth grove was situated about "fifteen stadia"[17] (some two miles) north of Hebron. Hebron itself, "was nineteen miles southwest of Jerusalem, at the junction of all the principal highways of the region, standing out prominently on the landscape, 3,040 feet above sea level.[18]


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 13:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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