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.
If somebody were to make an “Extreme Makeover: Genesis Edition” television show, Genesis 12 and 13 would be where they would turn. Genesis 12 would be the “Before” and then Genesis 13 would be the big “After” unveiling! In Genesis 12, Abraham does not have a good look. He is scared, he is weak, he is concerned with himself, he puts his wife in harm’s way, and he does not think about the consequences of his actions on others. But in Genesis 13, Abraham is faithful, he is secure, he does think about others, he is thoughtful, and his priorities all seem to be in the right order.
My question is, “What happened?” How does Abraham go from a bad look in Genesis 12 to a really good look in Genesis 13? The answer is found right in the beginning of our chapter.
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.
What stands between the ugliness of Abraham’s behavior in Genesis 12:10-20 and the beauty of Abraham’s faith and actions in Genesis 13 is simply this: an altar. When Abraham and Sarah came out of Egypt, Abraham returned to the vicinity of his first sojourn into Canaan, and, specifically, to the place where he had first built an altar in Genesis 12:
6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
In the land of promise, Abraham had built an altar. But, as Victor Hamilton has pointed out, “Not once while he was in Egypt did Abram either erect monuments to or invoke his deity.”This altar, then, means, for Abraham, faith, trust in God, a relationship with God, and obedience to God’s call on his life. Coming back to this altar after his failure in Egypt therefore means returning to the Lord.Derek Kidner sums it up nicely when he writes:
The fact that Abram rose to the occasion in faith is traceable to verses 1-4, which present his journey to Bethel as a pilgrimage…: a renewal of his lapsed obedience, not an attempt to recapture the luxury of a vision…
“Extreme Makeover: Genesis Edition” hinges therefore on returning to the altar, on returning to worship, on returning to God. And it is so with us today as well. Let me ask you, is there an altar at the center of your life? At the center of your life are things right with you and the God who made you? If they are, you will notice some of the characteristics that thankfully marked Abraham’s life in Genesis 13.