Living Righteously in a Wicked World
Genesis 13-14; 18-19
by Bruce Satterfield
This article seeks to do three things. First, to view Genesis 13-14, 18-19 in an interpretive context. Second, to discuss in detail the decisions made by Abraham and Lot in Gen. 13 and the consequences those decisions produced in Gen. 14 and 19.
Gen. 13-14; 18-19 in Context
Gen. 13-14; 18-19 are part of a larger block of scripture that is framed by two important events in the life of Abraham that are similar in several ways. In the first (Gen. 12:1-6), “the LORD said unto Abram, Get thee out (Heb. is lekh lekha) of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (vs. 1; emphasis added). He is led to city of Sichem (ancient Shechem) to the plain (Heb. is elown meaning tree) of Moreh (vs. 6). In the second story (Gen 22:1-19), God tests Abraham saying, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee (Heb. is lekh lekha) into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (vs. 2; emphasis added).
A comparison of the emphasized portions of each passage reveal several commonalities. In both, Abraham is asked in a three-fold petition using the pronouns thy, thine, or thou, to give up something of great personal importance. In both, the Hebrew phrase lekh lekha (not used again in the Bible), meaning to “go forth” or “get thee out,” is used. In both, the Lord shows Abraham where he is to go. In both, the name of the places to which he is led, Moreh and Moriah, is similar is sound. And finally, both stories culminate with promises regarding Abraham’s posterity. These commonalities form a connecting link that bind Genesis 12-22 together as a complete unit.
In this unit, we find Abraham passing through a series of trials in which his loyalty to God is proven. The testing nature of this unit is best understood in the light of modern revelation. To the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said: “Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne” (D&C 132:29). Again, “Abraham . . . Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (D&C 132:37). Two points relative to Genesis 12-22 are revealed in these passages. First, Abraham’s response to the various situations he encountered were given through personal revelation. Second, because he was obedient to God, he was proven worthy of exaltation and has thus received godhood. Hence, Genesis 12-22 is a study of the example of Abraham as a paradigm of receiving exaltation.
In Genesis 12-22, we find Abraham undergoing one test after another. In every ordeal Abraham seems to be giving up something mortal for a heavenly cause. In each case, the higher ideal serves to build God’s kingdom, though how it does is not always apparent. Ultimately, Abraham is asked to give up his only son. This was the supreme test! It was the hardest thing God could have asked of Abraham. As Joseph Smith taught, “if God had known any other way whereby he could have touched Abraham’s feelings more acutely and more keenly he would have done so” (Journal of Discourses, 24:266). When Abraham’s willingness to be obedient to the command of God had been proven, the promises given to Abraham in Gen. 12:2-3 were made sure (Gen. 22:15-18).
Understanding the example of Abraham in Gen. 12-22 is important for members of the Church for we are told in a modern revelation that members of the Church will also be tried as Abraham. “Therefore,” said the Lord, “they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (D&C 101:4-5). Such testing is important in proving the heart of each member. Joseph Smith declared: “After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.150; emphasis added).
Examining the whole of Gen.12-22 reveals an important truth relative to Abrahamic tests. Abraham’s supreme test of offering up his son came only after he had been tested in many other ways! He was not asked to do this most difficult thing until his obedience had been proven through other trials. Indeed, all trials prior to the bizarre request made of God in Gen. 22 served to build up the strength of obedience necessary to successfully prove his devotion to God demonstrated by his willingness to offer up his son. This truth is important! As God’s people we can be assured that we will be tried and tested at many levels in order to prove that our hearts are centered upon God and His kingdom. One single test does not “thoroughly” prove a person. Rather a life time of devotion to God regardless of the circumstances a man or woman may be found in will prove whether that “man [or woman] is determined to serve [God] at all hazards.” Further, no one need to fear that God will require of him/her a sacrifice similar to Abraham’s offering of his son unless their obedience has been tested at less taxing levels.
Gen. 13-14 and 18-19 are from that portion of Abraham’s life wherein his devotion to God was being proved through several trying experiences that developed within him a level of obedience necessary to pass the ultimate test. Understanding the various trials and tests Abraham underwent can help members of the Church understand the nature of the trials they face. Likewise, observing Abraham’s response to each situation can give needed insight into proper responses to life’s challenges.
A note should be made relative to the trials he faced in Gen. 13-14 and 18-19. In each case, Abraham proved himself faithful to God. His faithfulness is one of the main points of Genesis 12-22. But rarely, if ever, are people always successful in their attempts at righteousness. Lorenzo Snow said that “if we could read in detail the life of Abraham, or the lives of other great and holy men, we would doubtless find that their efforts to be righteous were not always crowned with success. Hence we should not be discouraged if we should be overcome in a weak moment; but, on the contrary, straightway repent of the error or the wrong we may have committed, and as far as possible repair it, and then seek to God for renewed strength to go on and do better” (Journal of Discourses, 20:190).
Abraham and Lot Make a Choice!
The biblical account of Abraham tells nothing of his and Sarah’s early years. Instead, it begins immediately with a major test of loyalty as Abraham is asked to relinquish his family, homeland, and inheritance and accept a new land of promise for his posterity (Gen. 12:1-16). Yet his stay in the land of his inheritance was short-lived, as it was plagued with drought resulting in a consuming famine. Abraham was forced to abandon the promised land and move to Egypt.
While in Egypt Abraham and Sarah again face a serious trial. Sarah was a beautiful woman and Pharaoh wanted her. Knowing that Pharaoh would kill Abraham so that he might take possession of Sarah, Abraham told Pharaoh that she was his sister. Actually, in Abraham 2:22-25 we are told that the Lord told Abraham to tell Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister. (Technically she was his sister. Genesis 20:11 records the blood relationship between Abraham and Sarah in these words: “she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother.”) Abraham was obedient to the Lord and appeared to be losing his wife.
But all worked out for the best. Pharaoh “entreated Abram well for her sake” by giving him sheep, oxen, donkey’s for pack animals, camels, and slaves (Gen. 12:16) as well as gold and silver (Gen. 13:1). After Abraham became well known (see Facsimile No. 3 in the Book of Abraham), Pharaoh found out that Sarah was not only Abraham’s sister but also his wife. Consequently, rather than having Abraham killed, he asked him to leave. Of course, he was allowed to take all the material possessions he had been given with him. It seems that in this way the Lord provided Abraham with the material wealth he had given up by being obedient to the Lord when asked to leave his inheritance in the land of Ur. It appears that Abraham considered the wealth given him in Egypt as coming from the Lord and not man (see Gen. 14:22-23).
Having come back to the land of Canaan, Abraham once again dwelt near Bethel where, at the altar he had previously built, he “called upon the name of the LORD” (Gen. 13:3-4). What is implied in calling upon the name of the LORD is not specifically told. At the least, it was an acknowledgment of Jehovah if not a commitment to his works and ways.
Now came the next test – a defining test! As with the case with so many of our trials in mortality, the test dealt with material things. Brigham Young once taught: “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself; when we have been proved in our present capacity, and been faithful with all things He puts into our possession.” (Journal of Discourses, 3:93; emphasis added). Coming out of Egypt Abraham, as well as his nephew, Lot, had been blessed with an abundance of possessions, including livestock.
But animals need food and water. Both were in short supply in a country that had been decimated by drought. The biblical account reads: “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 herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land” (Gen. 13:6-7). This last statement is made to help the reader understand that the families of Abraham and Lot were not alone in the land but there were others biding for the available water and feed.
How would Abraham and Lot respond to a problem regarding material concerns? Would their possessions cause them to be short-sighted and mis-focused, as it has done in so many cases? Would it bring out covetousness? Greed? Pride? Would they act like the covetous man who, when given an opportunity to ask the Savior a question, was not able to think of anything else but, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
When one finds himself in such circumstances, it is common to forget that his character is actually being tested. As Brigham Young taught, our response to these kinds of conditions determine our eternal destiny. Abraham response shows the dignity of his character and his ability to see beyond the material world. “And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be 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 depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Gen. 13:8-9).
His response was entirely generous compared to the selfish world they lived in. Instead of choosing self-assertion he opted for peace. As he done already in the past, Abraham chose higher ideals over worldly things.
Lot’s response was less than admirable. It revealed a selfishness and greed that proved to be disastrous for him and his entire family. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.” (Gen. 13:10-12). The account ends with this alarming statement: “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.”
Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom! The difference a choice makes! While Abraham stayed in the mountains away from the corruption of cities on the plain, Lot placed his family in harms way. Sodom and the cities on the plain were in the last throes of a civilization consumed with filth and degradation. His family was forever affected by this decision.
It is curious that Lot made such a choice. The Hebrew text suggests that the choice of Sodom was not even offered by Abraham. The ancients orientated themselves in the land of Canaan facing east, rather than north. One of the Hebrew words for south is “right hand,” it being to their right, while north was sometimes called “left hand.” These were precisely the options Abraham gave to Lot. Sodom lay east of Bethel, not north or south! If this be a proper interpretation of Abraham’s options, Lot’s choice further condemns him.
After Lot’s parting, the Lord told Abraham to look north, south, east and west. He then promised Abraham that he would give the whole of the land to his posterity (see Gen. 13:17). Though he was willing to give up land for peace, Abraham had not really lost anything! This was a lesson Abraham learned over and over: when one gives up worldly things for heavenly causes, he never really loses anything. He is always blessed with something better.
The chapter ends telling the reader that Abraham left Bethel and moved south to Hebron (vs 18). Upon his arrival he built an altar to Jehovah. In contrast to Lot who pitched his tent toward the worldliness of Sodom, Abraham focused his attention on Jehovah.
The Difference a Choice Makes
Sometime after Lot’ removal to Sodom, the fruits of choice became apparent. Lot’s choice to live in Sodom was devastating on his family. We are told that the Lord sent three messengers (the Hebrew word translated ‘angel’ in KJV is the word for messenger and does not necessarily connoted a supernatural being) to Sodom to “see that their iniquities are rewarded unto them” (JST Gen. 18:20). They arrived in “Sodom in the evening; and Lot sat in the door of his house, in the city of Sodom” (JST Gen. 19:1). The messengers wanted to walk the streets of the city, apparently to witness the wickedness of the people. However, Lot, knowing the evilness of the Sodomites urged the messengers to come to his home immediately. They acquiesced to his persistence.
Shortly thereafter, the wickedness of the people was manifested in all its carnality on the doorstep of Lot’s house. The men of the city gathered around his house “even men which were both old and young, even the people from every quarter; And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came unto thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (JST Gen. 19:6-7). The word ‘know’ is a Hebrew euphuism for sexual intercourse. The request of the Sodomites demonstrates the depravity of the city.
Lot chastised the men of Sodom for the perverted conduct. Their response was despicable: “This one man came in to sojourn among us, and he will needs now make himself to be a judge; now we will deal worse with him than with them. Wherefore they said unto the man, We will have the men, and thy daughters also; and we will do with them as seemeth us good” (JST Gen. 19:10-11). Lot refused. The Sodomites were not to be denied and began to break through Lot’s door. The messengers had witnesses enough of the wickedness of the people. They “put forth their hand and pulled Lot unto the house unto them, and shut the door. And they smote the men with blindness, both small and great, that they could not come at the door” (JST Gen. 19:15-16).
Now we find out just how much Lot’s family had been affected by the environment he chose to have his family live in. The messengers told Lot to get his wife, and all his children. Lot and his wife had several children. All but two were married. The messengers said to Lot: “Whatsoever thou hast in the city, thou shalt bring out of this place, for we will destroy this place; Because the cry of them is waxen great, and their abominations have come up before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it” (JST Gen. 19:19-20). Lot talked to all his children. But it appears that only he, his wife, and his two daughters were willing to leave. His other children were lost in the environment of the city.
When morning came, the messengers told Lot to take his family and leave. But they lingered. The messengers took hold of them and brought them out of the city and warned them to flee and not look back (that is, do not linger any further). As they did so, Lot’s wife looked back and was consumed in the destruction, herself being turned into a pillar of salt.
The grip of sin is seen in this last incident. The depravity of the people among whom Lot and his family had been living was no more evident than what was demonstrated on Lot’s door step the night before. Yet, Lot and his family “lingered.” And in the case of Lot’s wife, ignoring the warning of the messengers to not look back, demonstrates her unwillingness to let go of Sodom. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “The reasons prompting Lot’s wife to take one more tempting look back at Sodom and Gomorrah, instead of being obedient to the command she and Lot had received, were inconsequential in comparison with the consequences of her disobedience. Looking back, said Jesus, will not do for us either. Wistfulness or uncertainty over leaving the ways of the world brought the Master’s stern advice to ‘Remember Lot’s wife.'” (Luke 17:32.)
In the end, Lot and his two daughters escaped the destruction of Sodom. But Lot lost most of his family, if not to the corruption of Sodom, at least to its destruction. Either way it was a sad ending to a choice.
In the meantime, Abraham remained safe in the mountains where his eyes were focused upon God.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.