The Dangers of Wealth (Genesis 13:1-18)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles this morning back to the book of Genesis. In our sermon today we will cover Genesis 13:1-18. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find this passage located on page 9.

There were a few different ways I could have approached this passage today, and I struggled for a while to figure out what to focus on and emphasize. But, ultimately I decided to use this passage to talk with you about the dangers of wealth. We have talked about money a few times over the previous six years, but I am not sure that I have ever focused a sermon specifically on the dangers of having an abundance of money and possessions. And so, that is what I’d like to do with Genesis 13 this morning. I’d like to spend some time showing you the problems that resulted from the newfound wealth that Abram and his nephew Lot enjoyed after leaving Egypt.

Now, in case you are tempted to think, “Oh, well seeing that I am not anywhere close to what you’d call ‘wealthy,’ this sermon is not going to apply to me,” let me share a few statistics that might change your mind. First of all, a 2015 Pew Research study1 showed that 88% of people within the United States, when compared to the rest of the world, would be ranked in either the upper-middle or high-income groups. In fact, if we drilled down into that study a little further, we would find that over half (56%) of the people in this country would be in the high-income group. Did you know that, globally, only 7% of people live on more than $50 per day? That is a pretty hard statistic for us to accept, but it is true. And it shows just how well off most people in this country really are.

Now, don't get me wrong; I am not trying to minimize the poverty situation in this country at all. And I am not trying to pretend that most people in this country are anywhere close to what we would consider “rich.” But, in comparison with the rest of the world, we have an abundance of wealth in this country. So much so that 88% of us live in ways that most of the world could only dream of.

So, I say all this because I don’t want you to tune me out today thinking that if my focus is going to be on the dangers of wealth that I am not talking about anything you need to be concerned with. Because the truth is, the vast majority of people in this country, and probably every person in this room, is in danger of having problems in our lives like the ones we are going to read about in our passage for today. We are all in danger of having wealth affect our relationships with one another and even our relationship with God. So, if you haven’t done so already, please turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 13, and follow along as I read all 18 verses.

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. 5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9 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.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley 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 destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.

14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 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. (Genesis 13:1–18 ESV)

Now, you can see that in verse 1, we are just picking up right where we left off last week. Remember, last week, Abram and Sarai went to Egypt because there was a great famine in the land God had led them to. And while they were in Egypt, they pretended like Sarai was Abram’s sister and not his wife. Remember, Abram encouraged Sarai to do this because he was concerned that when they got to Egypt, the Egyptian men would find Sarai attractive and kill Abram so that they could take her for their own.

Well, the plan sort of backfired on them and Sarai got taken anyway. And to make matters worse, she got taken by the most important man in all of Egypt—the Egyptian Pharaoh. Well, obviously God was not happy about any of this. And while he couldn't have been happy with Abram's actions; he also wasn’t going to let Abram’s deceit thwart his plans for Abram and Sarai. And for that reason, he intervened. But, the way God intervened meant bad news for Pharaoh and for his whole household. In fact, in verse 17 from the previous chapter, we are told that God “afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai” (Genesis 12:17 ESV). Well, ultimately Pharaoh figured out what was going on, and although he had given numerous possession to Abram, and apparently Abram’s nephew Lot as well, he immediately sent them all out of the country with everything they now had. He was so desperate to get rid of them and the plagues God had brought upon his family, that he did not care what they took when they left.

And so, when we come to the first verse in Genesis 13, we are told that “Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.” Now, I am not going to dwell too much on this today, but I do want to point out that what we see in this chapter is Abram retracing his steps out of Egypt, back into the Promised Land, following the exact same route they had taken to Egypt, until he arrives back near Bethel, which was the place where he had previously built an altar and “called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:9 ESV). It seems there is a bit of repentance and a reset of sorts taking place here. Hopefully, Abram regretted his behavior and was turning back to God.

But nonetheless, after telling us in Genesis 13:1, that Abram left Egypt with all that he had, we are told in verse 2, that as a result of the things he had acquired in Egypt, Abram was now “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2 ESV). And then, down in verse 5, we see that Abram’s nephew, Lot, had also made out well while he was in Egypt. Verse 5 says, “And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents” (Genesis 13:5 ESV).

So, here you have these two men—these two relatives—who because of God’s grace, have become very wealthy individuals. But, as we are about to see, this newfound wealth is going to result in some unexpected problems. As I said earlier, while I could focus on a variety of different things in this passage, I have decided to focus on the problems that came about because of this wealth they have received.

Wealth Often Results In Quarreling (vv. 5-9)

And the first thing I’d like to point out from this passage is that wealth often results in quarreling, or strife, or tension within a family. That is exactly what we see in verses 5-7. Let me read them again. After being told in verse 2 that “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold, “ in verse 5 we read that,

5 Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. (Genesis 13:5–7 ESV)

Now, we already know that there had recently been a famine in Canaan and that the Promised Land was not, at this time at least, as fertile as a place like Egypt which was well-hydrated by the Nile River. And this meant problems for Abram and Lot who were now returning from Egypt to Canaan as men who were both wealthy in flocks and herds of animals. In verse 6 we are told that they were so wealthy that “the land could not support both of them dwelling together” and that “their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.” In other words, this newfound wealth was beginning to drive this family apart. “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock,” and it was all because they had so much wealth that the land could not support them.

Now, before I go any further, let me make clear that the Bible doesn’t say anywhere that wealth is inherently bad. But it does offer us many warnings about the dangers of wealth. For example, Jesus told us in Luke 18:25 that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And in 1 Timothy 6:10, the Apostle Paul warns us saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith.” And in Matthew 6:24, Jesus famously said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” So, the Bible is full of warnings about money, with many of those warnings coming from Jesus himself.

But it is not that money is inherently bad, Christians have done a whole lot of good in this world with their money, but like lots of good things, money can still be dangerous. Medicine when properly prescribed by doctors is a good thing, but when abused it is dangerous. Automobiles are a good thing, they provide us with a very convenient means of transportation, but when they are driven recklessly, they are dangerous. Thousands of years ago people learned that fire was a good thing, but we also know that playing with fire can get you burned. And money, and wealth, and possessions can also be good things, but they can also cause lots of problems and be very dangerous for us if we are not careful with them.

There are many families, besides Abram’s family, who can attest to this. There are all sorts of stories out there about how families have been wrecked as a result of winning the lottery. The fact is, while an abundance of money can make a lot of things better, it can sometimes make things a lot worse. And in the case of Abram and Lot, we are about to see how it split up there family. Not because they were bickering over the money per se, but it was still this newfound wealth that split their family apart and forced these two men to go their separate ways. Look with me at verses 8 and 9, and follow along as I read them again,

8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9 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.” (Genesis 13:8–9 ESV)

So, Abram came to the conclusion that if he and Lot stayed together, it would ruin their relationship. And rather than that, he made a proposal to Lot. He suggested that the two of them separate from one another. And again, none of this would have happened were it not for their wealth. They could have continued getting along if it were not for the wealth. And so, even though this land they were standing on was promised to Abram alone, he graciously offers his kinsman a share of it. And he is so gracious about it, that he gives Lot the opportunity to choose the portion he wants. But, as we are about to see, Lot’s newfound wealth prompted him to make a bad decision.

Wealth Often Leads Us Into Bad Decisions (vv. 10-13)

And that leads me to my second point for today, which is that wealth often leads us into bad decisions. Pick up reading with me in verse 10. It says,

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley 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 destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. (Genesis 13:10–13 ESV)

Now, the simple fact is, that because of Lot’s vast wealth, that was represented in his large flocks and herds of animals, he needed a well-watered and fertile place to dwell. But, while Abram was directing Lot’s attention to all the places in the Canaan where he could choose to settle, Lot’s eyes drifted beyond the borders of the Promised Land, to the Jordan valley which reminded him of Egypt and of the things he had been told about the original garden God had prepared for Adam and Eve. What he saw looked good to him, apparently better than any place he could think of in this so-called Promised Land that he and his uncle had passed through multiple times. And so, he made the decision to leave the Promised Land for something that looked better in his own eyes. He had all these flocks; he had to feed them, right? That had to be his number one priority, right? You have to do what is best for your family, right? So what do you do? Well, you go where the money is. And for Lot, the money was not in the Promised Land; the money was in the Jordan Valley—that is where his flocks would thrive. That is where his bank account would grow.

And so, in verse 12 we are told that “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” And this was a terrible decision for Lot because, according to verse 13, “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” Friends, maybe moving your family to a part of the world or a part of the country where people do not acknowledge God, is not the best decision for your family, even if it is a good decision for you financially. Now, that is not always the case (particularly if you plan to share the gospel there), but that is exactly what was going on here. Lot was leaving the Promised Land to dwell in a place that would not be good for his family. And that was a bad decision.

Wealth Can Even Drive Us Away From God (vv. 14-18)

But, that is not all that is going on here. You see, Lot’s wealth did not only lead him to make a bad decision about where he would live, but it also drove him away from God. And, that is my third and final point for today. Yes, wealth often results in quarreling, it often leads us into bad decisions, but did you know that it can even drive us away from God?

Notice the contrast between Abram and Lot here. Moses, the author of Genesis, wants us to see this clearly. After telling us in verse 10 that “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley,” Moses uses similar words to describe how Abram decided where he would dwell. But, there was a significant difference. Pick up reading with me in verse 14. Here we are told that:

14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 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. (Genesis 13:14–18 ESV)

So the contrast is clear, Lot lifted up his eyes without any thought to where God would want him to be, while Abram only lifted up his eyes to look upon the land when God told him to do so. And what God wanted Abram to understand, is that his promise of this land was still in effect. Even after Abram’s faith failed him a bit in Egypt, God’s promises to him were still in place, and God reminds him of those promises here. He is going to give him offspring, he is going to give him a land, and his offspring will dwell in this land forever.

Yes, Abram, the land you are standing on is dusty and dry compared to the land Lot chose for himself, but do you see all that dust, Abram? That dust will be nothing in comparison to the number of offspring that I will give you. And Abram believed him, because once again, according to verse 18, he found a place to pitch his tent, and “there he built an altar to the LORD.”

But, Lot on the other hand, “moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). And eventually, he would be sucked into that city, a city outside the land of God, and have his life wrecked and ruined as a result. We won’t get into that story today, but we will be there soon enough. For now, I just want you to see, how Lot’s wealth caused him to make a decision that even drove him away from God. While Abram was worshipping God back in the Promised Land, Lot was moving further and further away from God, and eventually into a city that has come to be known as an example of God’s final and permanent judgment for man’s wickedness. Yes, the surrounding valley was fertile and good for his flocks, but at what cost to Lot and his family?

Conclusion

Friends, I am not suggesting that you go home today and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, but remember, Jesus did tell at least one person to do that (Matthew 19:21; Luke 18:22). I do, however, want you to be aware of the dangers of wealth, and to make sure you are committed to using your wealth and possessions in such a way that you are not laying up for yourselves treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–20). Wealth is a dangerous thing. It doesn’t have to be, but often it is. As the Apostle Paul said, some have craved it so much, that it has caused them to wander away from their faith. Perhaps that is what happened to Lot. And perhaps that is what will happen to us if we are not careful with the abundance of wealth and possessions that we have. Satan loves to turn God’s blessings into curses. And we must be on the alert, in particular, when it comes to our money. For no one can serve two masters, and for many of us, the choice is between God and money. Choose this day whom you will serve.

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  1. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/09/how-americans-compare-with-the-global-middle-class/ ↩︎