The God Who Keeps His Promises, Part II

Original Date: 
Sunday, June 1, 2014

Genesis 13-14 The God Who Keeps His Promises, part 2

Part II
This week’s sermon is entitled “Part II” because its theme is closely related to last week’s message.

If you remember (or, if you missed), last week we reviewed the wonderful promises God made to Abraham at the beginning of chapter 12—promises to bless him, to give him children, and to give him the land of Canaan—and we wondered if God would really be able to keep all those promises. We assumed that God wants to keep the promises, but we wondered if He could, especially when obstacles began to get in the way.

Last week, then, we considered the biggest obstacle of all to God’s promise-keeping ability: Abraham himself. Would God remain faithful, we asked, even when His chosen servant was faithless? We saw Abraham seriously jeopardize all of God’s promises when he foolishly traveled to Egypt and lied about his wife. Abraham blundered, and made some bad moral choices, and yet God stuck with him. God did not relent from His plan of blessing, even when Abraham messed up.

And we found encouragement in that, because we saw that God knows we will sometimes blunder. We saw that God is faithful even when we are faithless. We saw that God is a gracious God, longing for those who have wandered away to return to Him.

But now that we are moving to the next couple of stories in the Biblical narrative of Abraham’s life, the same question is still on the board: Will God keep His promises? Can God overcome the obstacles and execute his plan of promise?

I hope you know that the answer is “yes”—if you didn’t, the title sort of gives it away: our God is a God who keeps His promises. But it is good for us to be reminded of that truth over and over again. God keeps His promises. God is faithful.

We need to be reminded, over and over again, because—as we said last week—so many of the sins we struggle with stem from a failure to trust God’s promises:
If we don’t believe that God will provide, we are tempted to covet or steal.
If we don’t believe that God has a plan for us, we are tempted to lie or cheat.
If we don’t believe that God will bless our fidelity, we are tempted to stray away.

Every one of the sins we are tempted by are temptations to disbelieve a promise of God. So, the more we trust God’s promises, the more ammunition we have to say NO to sin and live lives that are pleasing to God.

And so, this morning, I want to give you more ammunition by showing you, again, from the life of Abraham that God really does keep His promises. I want to build into you an unshakeable confidence that our God is a promise-keeping God.

Here’s how I want to proceed this morning. I’m going to follow an outline my friend Matt Mitchell used when he preached on this passage a while back and break these two chapters down into 3 parts: 13:1-18; 14:1-16; and 14:17-26. And then, for each passage, I’ll explain some of what’s going on in the story and ask the question: “Will God Keep His Promises?”

These stories may seem a little vague and complex on the surface, but throughout we’ll find the same theme: our God is a faithful God.

Quarreling in Canaan
So, let’s start with chapter 13. This is a story that my friend Matt entitles: “Quarreling in Canaan.” Verses 1 and 2:

1So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and in gold.

This story is fairly simple. Abraham and his nephew Lot have been traveling together ever since they left Ur (remember, Lot’s father Haran—Abraham’s brother--died and Lot is a sort of foster child to Abraham and Sarah, 11:27-32). Apparently, even though he isn’t mentioned, Lot went down to Egypt and back with Abraham.

But now, both Abraham and Lot have become quite wealthy. They have great wealth and flocks and herds, but no land of their own. And, of course, with all of that wealth, they’ve both acquired a good number of men and women to work for them who they are responsible to house and feed. I picture them as ancient cattle barons—nomadic ranchers with all sorts of shepherds and blacksmiths and cooks and maids and everything else—traveling from place to place in search of the grazing and water that will support them. Verses 3-4:

3From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.

This is the reverse of the direction Abraham was moving in the last story. There, because there was a drought in Canaan, Abraham moved down, through, and out of the Promised Land. He ended up in Egypt, and bad things happened. But now he’s back where he belongs, and it is confirmed by the fact that he is again building altars and calling on the name of the Lord. But there is a problem, and this time it isn’t a problem of scarcity, but abundance. Verses 5-7:

5Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

Both Abraham and Lot have become so wealthy that the land cannot support them both, and the Canaanites and Perizzites besides, at the same time. So there’s quarreling.

Actually, I’m guessing quarreling is a pretty mild description of what is going on here. Yes, Abraham and Lot were family, but they were also running two distinct businesses which were competing for limited resources. When verse 7 says “quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot” I picture some of those cattle wars that are depicted in old Hollywood Westerns. I picture armed shepherds marching their flocks up to the watering hole, sabotage of the other guy’s grazing areas and midnight raids on one another’s herds. This thing is in danger of becoming a Wild West shoot out.

And the question is: Will God keep His promises even when there is quarreling in Canaan?

You see what’s at stake here, don’t you? The land is at stake.

God has promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and now Abraham’s squirrelly nephew is competing with him for the land and it doesn’t look like the land can hold them both and somebody is going to have to leave. Can God overcome this obstacle? Will God keep His promises even when those closest to us are faithless?

The answer, of course, is YES! Verses 8-9:

8So Abram said to Lot, 'Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. 9Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left.'

Abraham does so much better in this story than in the last one. For one thing, we’ve already seen that he is once again calling on the Lord. And now, when faced with this potential family feud, Abraham takes the high road. Even though he’s the elder of the two, even though he’s the one who possesses the promises of God, even though Lot’s just a tag along, Abraham defers. He gives up his own rights and gives Lot the choice. He says, “If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left (9).” Abraham actually risks losing the Promised Land for the sake of keeping the peace.

In fact, you almost want to shout at him: “No Abram, don’t let Lot pick. You’re about to forfeit the land.” But the Bible doesn’t cast this decision of Abraham in a negative light, only a positive one, because it was apparently pretty clear what Lot would choose. Verses 10-11:

10Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company:

Lot does not come off too well in this story. Given the opportunity to choose by Abraham, Lot doesn’t do what he should do by deferring back to his uncle, he actually takes it. He casts his eyes over the land and he sees that the area by the Jordan looks pretty lush—“like the land of Egypt” (not a good sign)—and he chooses it. Lot does the greedy thing, and takes the best land for himself.

So, is God really keeping his promises here? You bet. Verses 12-13:

12Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

Lot makes a grab for what appears to be the best land, but things aren’t always what they seem. Lot is actually living by sight here, not faith. With a pretty heavy dose of foreshadowing, the Bible points out to us that the land Lot chose was the land of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is not going to end well for Lot. As John Calvin said: “Lot fancied he was dwelling in paradise, [but he] was nearly plunged into the depths of hell.” (quoted in Waltke, p. 224)

But Abraham? He walks by faith and not by sight, and He ends up with the land of Canaan, the very land God had promised he would receive (12:7). Of course, he doesn’t own any of it yet, but he’s living there. In fact, after Lot departs, the LORD shows up again and says to Abram, verse 14:

14Lift up your eyes [the same thing Lot did in verse 10] from where you are and look north and south, east and west. 15All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.

What is that? That's the promise of land, given again. God is keeping His promises. And He's even expanding them. ALL this land. FOREVER. Those are bigger words than He used in chapter 12. More than that, He’s repeating the promise of offspring, and making that more detailed as well. Verse 16:

16I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.' 18So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD."

God hasn't done it, yet. It's going to be the main focus of chapters 16-21. But He knows what He has promised. And He is in the process of keeping His promises.

Will God keep His promises even when there is quarreling in Canaan? You bet. He'll even expand them! He is sovereign. Nothing will stop Him from keeping His promises.

Overwhelming Odds
Now, let’s move on to story number two. This is a story my friend Matt calls “Overwhelming Odds.” Let’s skip a few verses and go to chapter 14, verses 8 and 9:

8Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar-four kings against five.

This is one of those passages that, when I was a kid and we read scripture out loud in Sunday School, I would have said: guy with a big name, and another guy with a big name, etc. Now I tell people: if you hit a name you don’t know how to say, just make up a pronunciation. Because chances are nobody else knows how to say it anyway.

The names make it seem like a complicated story, but there really isn’t that much to it.

There are 5 kings mentioned in verse 8. These five kings are from the area near Canaan, surrounding the Dead Sea (notice Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned, this is where Lot has gone). We’ll call them the Dead Sea Five

And Verse 9 mentions 4 more kings. These kings are from the east, near the area where Abraham started out from, and they’re quite a bit stronger then the Dead Sea Five. We’ll call them the Beasts from the East. These kings are led by Kedorlaomer, and they’ve created a sort of syndicate by which they are demanding tribute from the other kings. For 12 years they’ve been leaning on the Dead Sea Five, but in this 13th year these guys decide they don’t want to pay anymore (this is covered in the verses I skipped).

So now Kedorlaomer and the Beasts of the East set out to tear through everything in their path. It’s four kings against five, but the advantage is not measured by the number of crowns. Verses 10-11:

10Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away.

It turns into a rout, and the troops from Sodom and Gomorrah lead the panic, jumping into tar pits and fleeing towards the hills to escape the onslaught. It’s a lesson in the harsh realities of international statecraft. Sodom and Gomorrah are plundered, they have to pay their taxes.

But what does any of this have to do with Abraham? Well, remember where Lot settled. Verse 12:

12They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

Lot thought he was choosing the better land, but now he’s been sucked into an international conflict. Verses 13 and 14:

13One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

Luckily—if we believed in luck—someone survives the rout and brings word to Abraham. Abraham, despite the earlier quarreling, remains loyal to his nephew. So now he musters an army of about 318 men (that will give you an idea of just how big his ranching operation has become) and sets off on a rescue mission for his nephew Lot.

And the question is: Will God keep His promises even when there are overwhelming odds? Can God keep His promises even when the opposition is great?

What is the chance of a 75 year old man with 318 soldiers (and probably a few soldiers from three allies) winning a fight with these 4 kings who have large armies and have been beating EVERYONE THEY COME INTO CONTACT WITH on both sides of the Jordan? That’s been made very clear throughout this story: Kedolaomer and the Beasts of the East are not to be trifled with. They are the superpower in the Middle East at this moment. So how is a nomadic sheepherder—no matter how wealthy he is—going to defeat them on the field of battle?

And yet, he does. Verses 15 and 16:

15During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people."

Abraham sends the Beasts of the East back home with their tails between their legs.

What’s going on here?

Remember the land they’re on. Who does it belong to? The 4 kings from the East have laid claim to it. The 5 kings have tried to rebel and get it back. But it is Abraham who defeats the 4 kings and saves the 5 kings and appears to really control the land. He doesn’t own it yet, but he is beginning to rule it!

More than that, the word “king” appears in this chapter 28 times. But it is not given to Abraham. He isn't called King Abraham. But where all these kings couldn't win, Abraham does. What's going on?

Well, remember the promises. Back at the beginning of chapter 12, God said: "I will make your name great." (12:2) He said: “Whoever curses you I will curse.” (12:3)

God is keeping His promises.

What the Dead Sea Five couldn’t do, Abraham does because of his God. When his family is threatened—even if it is squirrelly nephew Lot—the aggressors are defeated by Abraham because of His God.

Will God keep His promises even in the face of overwhelming odds? Absolutely. You bet. Yes.

Seizing the Spoils
And just in case we think that this victory was Abraham's doing, and not God’s, we have the next story. Matt calls this the “Seizing of the Spoils.” Verse 17:

17After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley).

When Abraham comes back from battle, he is greeted by two kings. Here’s the first one, the king of Sodom, whose troops performed so badly and ended up jumping in the tar pits. Scripture will get back to him in a moment. But first, there is another royal visitor, and he’s a bit more mysterious. Verse 18:

18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High,

Melchizedek is an interesting figure in the Bible. He is a priest. He is a king. He shows up with no genealogy, no background. Most scholars believe that Salem, where he’s from, is the site that becomes Jerusalem. This is the only historical reference to him in the Bible, and yet both the book of Psalms and the book of Hebrews are going to refer to him extensively. According to those books, Melchizedek is a type, a foreshadowing, a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And here, in Genesis chapter 14, Melchizedek stands in for God. He blesses Abraham, and he receives Abraham’s offering of a tithe. Verses 19-20:

19and he blessed Abram, saying, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

God doesn’t actually do anything in this chapter; but Melchizedek—His priest and King— confirms that everything that has happened has happened by the blessing of God. It is God Most High who delivered these enemies into Abraham’s hand.

The king of Sodom doesn’t quite see things that way. Verse 21:

21The king of Sodom said to Abram, 'Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.'

This is very strange. This king has just crawled out of a tar pit utterly defeated and humiliated. If it wasn’t for Abraham, he would not have a home to be king over anymore. And yet, now he comes to Abraham and attempts to dictate terms.

It appears to be a generous offer: Abraham can keep all the goods, if he’ll only give the king’s people back. But the point is: this king thinks he has authority over Abraham. But Abraham sees what is happening. Verses 22-24:

22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' 24I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me- to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.'"

The obstacle here is temptation. Will Abraham settle for what the king of Sodom is willing to give him, or will he trust instead in God to provide? When he went to Egypt, he tried to do things his way. But this time he says he will trust in God.

Remember what God said: “I will bless those who bless you” (12:3)? God is keeping His promises. He doesn’t need to be in debt to Sodom. He doesn’t need outside help. He will be blessed by God Most High.

Who won the victory? Was it the king of Sodom? No. Was it Abraham? No. It was God Most High.

Will God keep His promises?

Even When There Is QUARRELING IN CANAAN?
Even When There Are OVERWHELMING ODDS?
Even When There Is a SEIZING OF THE SPOILS?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Even When…
Will God Keep His Promises...Even When...What?

What are you worried about? What is your situation that is causing you to think that God won't keep His promises to you?

Abuse? Drought? Death? Loss of a job? A broken relationship?

Do you have faithless friends? Are you faced by overwhelming opposition? Is there a temptation to take things into your own hands?

What obstacles are you facing that are asking you to doubt in God’s promises? Here is more ammunition for you.

Our faith is not built on our circumstances.

Our faith is built on God's faithfulness.

And God Will Keep His Promises.