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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 13

Verse 1

‘And Abram went up out of Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negev.’

The sentence confirms immediately that Abram had been accompanied by his family tribe and by his nephew. They return to the Negev, to the land that God had promised Abram.

Verse 2

‘And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold.’

This is said rather triumphantly. The contest with Pharaoh has been to his benefit. We are surely to see that this great wealth is at least partly due to his visit to Egypt. Rather than destroying him it has enriched him, and this can only have been because Yahweh was with him. The mention of silver and gold suggests that Abram engaged in trading as well as having possession of flocks and herds.

Verse 3

‘And he went on his journeys from the Negev, even to Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at the beginning, and there Abram called on the name of Yahweh.’

Relieved and full of praise in his heart to God for his preservation Abram takes his tribe back to the cult’s altar, and there he leads the tribe in worship. At this stage Bethel (the area not the city) is clearly looked on as their permanent ‘home’, in as far as a tribe, whose main activity was herding, and who thus had to continually seek pasturage, could have a permanent home.

This establishes that Abram and his family tribe are now semi-nomads. They make some place their centre but move out from that place to pasture their flocks and herds. They must seek places where there is water. At times they must seek higher ground. When the fields in the lowlands have been harvested they can, by agreement, pasture their flocks on the stubble. At the same time, as we shall see later, they are not averse to planting crops and to some extent settling down. Thus they must remain within touch of civilisation, for cities are built where there is a good supply of water, and fields are usually sown where there are men to eat its produce, and civilisation has much to offer in the way of culture and education. Yet they avoid becoming too involved and they stay away from places where they will not be welcome.

Verses 5-6

‘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 so great that they could not dwell together.’

The riches gathered in Egypt have altered the situation. There is no longer room for both sub-tribes to stay together. This begins to cause friction between the two sub-tribes. The land is just not sufficient. They must seek wider pastures.

Verse 7

‘And there was strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land.’

Part of the problem is caused by the presence of others, for they must share land with Canaanites and Perizzites. Thus what is available causes tension as each group seeks to look after their own master’s interests. This leads Abram to the only possible decision. They must separate. This dissension cannot be allowed to go on, for if it does it may flare up into something more serious.

Verses 8-9

‘And Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife, I beg you, between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen. For we are close relatives. Is not the whole land in front of you? Separate yourself, I pray, from me. If you will take the left hand, then I will go to the right. Or if you take the right hand then I will go to the left”.’

The greatness of Abram is brought out in these words. As senior, and almost certainly leader of the largest sub-tribe, he could have claimed precedence. But he wants no rancour between them. He is happy for Lot to choose which way to go and then he will take the other. There will be no hard feelings. They are still bound together as close relatives, but they must consider the facts of the situation. It is therefore regrettably necessary for them to separate. Abram trusts in Yahweh to ensure that he will end up in the right place.

Verse 10

‘And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the Circle of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Yahweh, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.’

Lot carries out his research carefully (he could not do this by literally just ‘looking up’). He travelled around and weighed up the opportunities. And as he stood in the hills and looked down over the Jordan and its surrounds and saw how well-watered and fruitful the plain was, the Circle of Jordan, with the Jordan running through it, and fed by other rivers, he was impressed. Later this area would become spoiled by salt and bitumen, but at this time it was fair to look at and enticing. He did not take anything else into consideration, especially the fact that he was leaving Canaan the land of promise.

“As you go to Zoar”, that is in the direction of Zoar, which is at the tip of the Dead Sea as it is after the destruction of the cities.

There is a link in this verse with Genesis 2:3, for it is ‘like the garden of Yahweh’ with its great lifegiving river; also with Genesis 19:0, where we learn of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and with the land of Egypt, watered by the Nile, and fruitful. The reference to Egypt refers us back to the previous chapter. They have just seen the wonder of that land abundantly watered by so great a river. Here is a land that appears its equal.

The other two references show that this chapter is to be seen in a wider setting. The land that Lot covets is almost a return to Eden, thus the writer knows about Eden, but there is the ominous shadow of temptation because of the two evil cities. It is beautiful, but there is sin in the land. And Lot does not realise it, for he is not specifically under the protection of Yahweh or thoughtful about His covenants. He thinks only in terms of increasing wealth.

Verse 11

‘So Lot chose for himself all the Circle of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east, and they separated themselves the one from the other.’

So Lot makes his choice. He will dwell among the cities of the plain. He is prepared to leave the place that first welcomed them, to which God had led them, for what he sees as better pastures. He does not realise what his choice is going to mean. How important it is that we make our choices aright and with much prayer and thought about what matters most.

Verses 12-13

‘Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of ‘the Circle’ and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and great sinners against Yahweh.’

There is no doubt that the writer sees the significance of their choices. The one remaining in the place allotted by God, the other unconsciously approaching grave danger because his eyes feast on what seems so wonderful. He forgets the promises of God. He approaches Sodom. What more needs to be said? For Sodom is a centre of wickedness and sexual depravity (see Ezekiel 16:48-50 - where ‘pride’ and ‘fullness of bread with prosperous ease’ are said to be at the root of her sins). Note that although they are not worshippers of Yahweh their sin is said to be against Him. He is judge over all and has the right to obedience from all.

This description of Sodom is partially preparing us for what is to happen to Sodom in chapter 14. He is already preparing us for this, and giving us an explanation as to why Lot is involved in such a catastrophe. Those who consort with sinners must not complain when they share the consequences of their judgment. Connection with cities was regularly seen as a downward step.

But note also the continuing theme of Genesis 4:10, Genesis 4:11. Abram dwelt in ‘the land’, Lot dwelt in ‘the cities’. It is a recurring theme that as men become involved with ‘civilisation’, with its prosperity and opportunities for sin, they become involved with its ways and forget God.

“Moved his tent.” This is in contrast with ‘pitched his tent’ (Genesis 12:8). Bethel (the house of God) had been their centre, but now Lot moves his centre to Sodom. How many have done a similar thing and suffered thereby. Indeed, as we learn later, he takes up abode in Sodom and becomes an important man among them (Genesis 19:2-3). (This incidentally draws attention to the fact that the way of life of the family of Terah does not exclude dwelling in a city. Thus it may well be that Abram once dwelt with his family in a house in Ur rather than just camping outside. For Terah was involved in the religion of Ur).

Verses 14-16

‘And Yahweh said to Abram after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes now and look from the place where you are northward and southward, and eastward and westward. For all the land which you see, to you I will give it and to your seed for ever. And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can count the dust of the earth then shall your seed also be countable.’

Note the deliberate contrast with verse 10. Lot lifted up his eyes with his main concern being how to extend his wealth and ensure his future, and beheld the Circle of Jordan, the way that finally led to sin. Abram must now lift up his eyes, but it is at the command of God, and he will see prosperity and blessing and a glorious future, for he has walked before God. The land that surrounds him will one day belong to his descendants who will be numberless, and it will be theirs ‘for ever’ that is, into the distant future. By leaving his future in the hands of God Abram has triumphed, and his future is secure.

Once again we are aware that God has appeared to Abram in awesome holiness, and renewed with him the covenant of grace between them. And this is the reason why this whole history is preserved in writing, because it was the background to these promises. Why did this man and his family tribe carry with them these heavy tablets? Because they were the evidence and assurance of God’s promises about what mattered to them most.

To be abundantly fruitful was the longing of every man in those times. Men lived on in their sons. Yet Abram’s wife was barren, a grief of heart to them both. And the land on which he sojourns belongs to others. So God promises that his seed will one day be beyond counting, and that the land will one day be his.

It is noteworthy throughout that Abram is faced with these two continual questions in his mind. (1). Why is my wife barren so that I have no children? And (2). What does the future hold for me in this land? Yahweh reveals His goodness and concern by continually reassuring him about them both.

That both these promises were fulfilled in part we know from the Bible. But who today can count the seed of Abram? And as for his seed , both Jew and Arab, they now possess the land that was given to him. They may at present misuse it, but who can now doubt that God has been faithful to Abram?

Verses 17-18

‘Arise, walk through the land, the length of it and the breadth of it, for I will give it to you.’

Wherever Abram walks he can look around and say, ‘one day this will all belong to my children’s children, for Yahweh has given it to me’. And walk around he must for it is the necessity of his manner of living. So every step he takes reminds him of the unmerited goodness of God. Lot walked around thinking of money. Abram walked around thinking of God. That is the test of the true child of God.

Genesis 13:18

‘And Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre which are in Hebron, and built there an altar to Yahweh.’

Abram now transfers the centre of his activities from Bethel to Hebron, in the hill country of the South. There he establishes his main camp and builds an altar for the worship of God. Trees denote water, and Abram has chosen well. It is a reasonably safe part of the country and will enable his family tribe to expand and grow.

The summons of Genesis 13:17 followed by the action in Genesis 13:18 is a semi-legal act of taking possession in the name of Yahweh so that the occupation is recognised legally by those round about, in accordance with the customs at that time. The fact of the occupation of Mamre around this time has been established by excavations in the area which revealed the remains of a Bronze age settlement. (While this cannot be specifically attached to Abram it demonstrates, as does so much else, that the narrative is in accord with the times).

“Which are in Hebron”. This is probably an added geographical note. The town of Hebron itself came into being around 1720 BC (see Numbers 13:22).

This is the end of this covenant record. There is no colophon but there seems little doubt it once formed a record of its own.

Abram, Lot, the kings of the North, the covenant with Melchizedek and others, Yahweh’s renewed covenant with Abram (Genesis 14:1 to Genesis 15:21).

The initial record we now read ( chapter 14) is one of the most distinctive in Genesis. It deals not with a covenant with Yahweh, but with a historic episode where the wider world infringes on Abram’s world and where he makes a firm covenant with neighbouring kings as a result of what ensues. It is this covenant which ensured that these details were put in writing.

The lives of Abram and his family tribe were rarely troubled from outside. Their comparative strength meant that while they left others untroubled they were untroubled themselves. The main routes taken by more powerful peoples led through the coastal plain to their West or along the King’s Highway to their East. The central highlands were left largely alone.

But it was different for Lot. The place he had chosen was indeed fruitful but it was close to the King’s Highway coming down from the North and extending southwards, a regular trade route. It was always possible that one day trouble would be seen on the horizon on that road. And so it proved.

The King’s Highway was the name given to the direct road running from Damascus in Syria to the Gulf of Aqabah, then downwards East of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley. It was in use between the 23rd and 20th centuries BC, and was marked along its length by early Bronze age settlements and fortifications. It was a crucially important trade route.

This period at the beginning of the second millennium BC was a time when Mesopotamia was not one great powerful empire. Roving bands led by lesser kings would continually make their forays in an attempt to seize wealth and slaves. And the King’s highway was a convenient route. It was just such a band which would prove the downfall of Lot. But the fact that control was exercised afterwards for twelve years suggests that this is also an attempt to safeguard the trade route.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-13.html. 2013.