Abraham returns to Canaan. — V.1. And Abram went up out of Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. Together with Lot, who, as we learn here, had accompanied him into Egypt, Abram now returns to Canaan with all his great possessions, choosing the same route for his return which he had taken in coming down. His first stopping place was on the great plateau in the southern part of Canaan. V.2. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. This remark is here inserted in order to explain the difficulty which later arose between him and Lot. V.3. And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; v.4. unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. The journey northward naturally had to be made by easy stages, for it was slow traveling with large herds that were dependent for their food upon the pasturage along the way. But the caravans finally reached the neighborhood of their earlier sojourn once more, where their encampment had been before the famine, between Bethel and Ai. It is emphasized in the story that this was the place of the altar which Abram had made at his first stay in that country. That was the important point in the history of Abram, that his experience in Egypt had taught him to turn back to the Lord with all his heart. His desire was now centered in Him who was promised as his descendant, the Messiah, who was to bring blessing and salvation to the world. Therefore Abram again instituted services with prayer and preaching; he set up the worship of Jehovah with his family. He thus confessed the true God and the hope of his heart also before the heathen. Temporal, earthly gain does not constitute the real happiness of the believers, but the fact that they possess Christ and His salvation.
Lot chooses the plain of Sodom. — V.5. And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. V.6. 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. Both Abram and Lot had meanwhile grown immensely wealthy, possessing flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle, ass, and camels, together with the necessary slaves of both sexes to take care of the herding and the work in the encampment, which must have had the appearance of a regular tent city. The result was that the land was unable to provide enough food for the two sets of herds and flocks and the households as well; it would not stand for their living together any longer. V.7. 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. Clashes between the herdmen of the two rich men were almost inevitable, since both parties tried to get the best pasturage for their masters. It was an uncomfortable situation, to say the least, and the matter was rendered still more complicated by the fact that the tribe of the Perizzites, of whose descent nothing is known, and the Canaanites were in possession of the best pastures, Lot and Abram being expected to divide between them what was left. V.8. 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. V.9. 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. It was impossible, of course, to keep the herdsmen’s feud from the masters, and if the latter had not taken steps to remedy the situation, a feud between families might hare resulted, as the words of Abraham indicate. Abram’s main argument is: “For brethren we are.” An altercation, a quarrel, between strangers may yet be understood, even if it cannot be condoned, but between close relatives, never. Although Abram was the older, and Lot’s uncle at that, he gave Lot his choice, declaring himself satisfied to take what remained. The word of Abram has thus rightly passed into a proverbial watchword of the peace loving and yielding disposition, in all cases when a distinction and separation in the circumstances becomes necessary.
Lot’s choice; the separation. — V.10. And Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Lot selfishly took advantage of Abram in accepting his offer. He made a careful survey and calculation, and the valley of the Jordan appealed to him, since from the Sea of Galilee down to the Vale of Siddim (later the Dead Sea) it was richly watered, like Paradise, the garden of Jehovah, or like Egypt, whose soil was so rich on account of the annual overflow of the Nile. As far as Zoar, in fact, at the far southeastern side of the valley, the land seemed to be unequaled for richness. V.11. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other. V.12. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan; and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. In spite of the fact that Lot acted so selfishly, Abram’s policy resulted in their separating peacefully, like brothers. Lot departed toward the east with his possessions and tented, that is, he journeyed by easy stages, with ever new encampments, until he reached Sodom, where he made his home, while Abram remained in Canaan proper. Lot’s choice may have given evidence of keen business ability, as well as a very selfish disposition, but it certainly was a dangerous choice. V.13. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly. This remark, which ascribes to the inhabitants of Sodom a wickedness in unusual measure, even in the midst of heathendom, not only prepares for the later story of the city’s fate, chap. 19, but it also throws some light upon the character of Lot, who chose this city for his home. He may have been one with Abraham in faith till now, but apparently avarice had taken hold of his heart, causing him to disregard the great moral dangers of a notoriously wicked city for his children, only for the sake of greater gain. From this time forth the worldly thoughts and inclinations strove in his heart with his faith and reverence for the true God.
God repeats his promise. — V.14. And the Lord said unto Abram, after that 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; v.15. for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed forever. The separation of Lot from Abram was, in a way, prophetical of the relation which would afterwards obtain between his descendants and those of Abram. And just at this time the Lord repeated His promise to Abram, bidding him look from the place where he then was, almost in the center of Canaan, in every direction, since this entire country was to be the possession of his descendants. Thus Abram, in spirit at least, if not in fact, was to claim the land of Canaan for his posterity. V.16. 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 shall thy seed also be numbered. The double promise, that of possessing the land and that of having such an innumerable offspring, was, of course, addressed to Abram’s faith and had to be accepted by him in faith, Heb. 11, 9. 10. V.17. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. This refers to an ancient custom according to which a person signified his claim to a piece of ground by walking around it. Though Abram did not possess so much as one foot of land, yet God’s promise stood that his descendants should occupy the entire country as their own. All this has a wider significance. For, as one commentator has it, through Christ the promise is elevated out of its temporal form to the dignity of substance; through Him the whole world becomes a Canaan. To the numberless seed of Abram belong all men from all generations of the earth that hold the faith of Abram, or Abraham. Abraham is the father of us all, Rom. 4, 16. We that believe the promise concerning Christ belongs to that great people of believers which has existed since the time of Adam and has its representatives in all nations of the earth. V.18. Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord. Abram was obedient to the Lord’s word; he journeyed through the land in the course of the next years. He tented by easy stages until he finally made his home at Hebron, about in the center of the southern part of Canaan. There he lived in the grove of terebinths that belonged to the Amorite Mamre, chap. 14, 13. 24. One of his first acts here again was the erection of an altar to the Lord. He could not be without his regular worship, and he and his household met regularly for the service of Jehovah. It would undoubtedly result in much blessing if believers that settle in a new district or city would make the establishment of regular services of worship their first consideration.