("Abram and Lot depart out of Haran" from Figures de la Bible, 1728, illustrated by Gerard Hoet, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, January 22, 2012)
Readings for Sunday, January 22:
Psalm 63:1-8, (9-11)
Psalm 98 (Morning)
Psalm 103 (Evening)
Genesis 13:2-18 (NRSV):
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. He journeyed on by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.
Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together, and there was strife between the herders of Abram’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you 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.”
Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward; thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.
In a time that we are hearing a lot of discussion about "the 1%" and "the other 99%," the story of Abram and Lot takes on new dimensions. We are shown right off the bat that too much of a good thing is...well...too much. Both Abram and Lot seem to be doing quite well in the livestock trade--so well, in fact, that it's creating a strain on the area resources, and causing a lot of tension between Abram's herders and Lot's herders, which almost certainly had to create tension between Abram and Lot. This isn't even a case of "The farmer and the cowman should be friends," it's a case of "The cowman and the cowman should be friends." (Or shepherd...or goat roper...take your pick.)
But somehow, the topic of "Maybe we don't need so much livestock, and we should both manage this land more responsibly," never came up. After all, that meant either Abram or Lot might have to have less, and I suspect each one was making book on the other's inventory as much or more than his own. Only until the land is depleted does Abram get around to approaching the problem.
At the time of this story, by rights, Abram should have first pick of where he will choose to take his people. But he gives Lot the choice. To the left are the plains of the Jordan, home of at least five major cities, and it's no coincidence that this is described in Genesis in Eden-like terms. To the right is the hill country of Caanan--a more rugged and secluded territory.
As Lot surveys the scene, we're once again shown what too much of a good thing can do to a person. Lot hastily takes dibs on the "better" territory. Of course, we'll find out later in Genesis that heading towards Sodom might not be the best choice, but we have the advantage of hindsight on that one. It's also important to consider that human nature reveals at times our "magnanimous" behavior isn't always as magnanimous as it seems. I call it "The Mismatched Pieces of Pie Gambit." I admit that there are times I really would like the larger of two pieces of pie with a guest in the house, and that little "greed critter" in my brain gets an idea. "I know," I think to myself. "I'll offer them the choice. If they're a 'good' guest, they'll take the smaller piece and leave me the bigger one." But every now and then, the doggone guest goes and takes the bigger piece, and then I feel a tad put about about that. How dare someone take my generosity at face value and choose accordingly when I was really trying to outfox them a little!
I imagine after Lot made his choice, Abram felt a little like I do after a failed attempt at the Mismatched Pieces of Pie Gambit. I suspect Abram looked over at the dust devils swirling around in the Hill Country of Caanan and felt rather put out about that--a lot more than I do about a slice of pie. One can almost feel the resentment building up as we read the story. But God steps in and essentially tells Abram, "Don't sweat it. It doesn't look like you got a good deal at the moment, but remember--I'm the God who makes all things new, and your people will eventually be better than good with this, when it's all said and done."
There are a lot of places that "too much of a good thing" can take us, and most of them are not good. It can take us to a place where we deplete everything around us and cause strife. It can take us to a place where "reasonably happy" is not good enough, and even pales in the light of our desire for "supremely happy." It can take us to a place where we choose the greedier choice at the other person's expense. It can blind us to our own greedy nature and make us think that playing The Mismatched Pieces of Pie Gambit is really "generosity." Yet, God has a way of working with all that and transforming us just the same, if we let God take control. Ultimately, the facts are that Abram gave Lot the choice and Lot took it. How is God working with both your "offers" and "choices" today?