A Brief Word on Abram and Lot
By John Nelson Darby
The word of God is given that by it we may judge ourselves. It is not merely a book of abstract doctrine, but it tells us truth about ourselves in our connection with God, coming down to us in everyday life. Especially about the working of the will we get instruction.
The Old Testament Scriptures were “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10: 11). The Israelites had the manna and the water, but we get instruction through that which happened unto them for illustrations.
In the days of Abraham the world had departed from God in an open way. The family of Abraham worshipped idols, as we see in Joshua 24: 2. After the flood men began to worship devils, but when idolatry is openly established, God calls out one family in whom His name is to be honoured, and through whom His truth is to be preserved.
God had called Abraham out to go into the land of Canaan, but he lingered until his father died, and got no farther than Haran. Alas, it is natural to the heart to let human affection come between it and God. He did not get into the land until after his father’s death.
He takes Lot with him. It was a kind and generous act, one might say, to a poor orphan. Abraham’s general character was that of walking by faith, though we see his failure in faith. Lot was a person accompanying Abraham’s faith, while he had it not. He walked in the steps of another, and not for himself. The spirit of the world was in him and showed itself on temptation. There was failure in Abraham, but it was the opposite of a choice of the world. The god of this world blinds the minds of those who believe not. Lot was a “righteous soul,” but he was seduced. Abraham had not so much as to set his foot upon, while Lot chose the fair portion, and got with it vexation of soul from day to day.
We have not open idolatry now. There is not worshipping of stocks and stones in these lands, but the flesh is the same as it was then, and Satan tempts to the following of the course of this world in a more subtle way. The lust in our heart is drawn out by the world, and Satan governs all those whose hearts are not set upon Christ. Where the heart likes the thing by which Satan governs, he maintains his power. Lot left idolatry, but fell into the spirit of the world. In him and Abraham we see the difference between failure in faith and following the course of the world.
God called Abraham to leave the world and walk with Him. Christ “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world” (Gal. 1: 4). He says, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me” (John 17: 25).
Abraham came unto Haran. He did not get at once into Canaan, because he took something from which God had called him, for God had commanded him to leave his kindred and his father’s house. There was a reserve in his heart, and so he got only part of the blessing. He lost his home and his country for but very little while he was only halfway towards where God had sent him.
Arrived in Canaan, there was a famine in the land. He went down to Egypt. He was called to trust in the living God, but there he was not in a place to do so. He could not have an altar in Egypt. Communion with God was lost, though God watched over him still.
Staying out of Canaan, he did not get the promise. Wandering out of Canaan, he lost communion. All the riches he had gained with God there had not turned his will. There is nothing like simplicity in the ways of Christ. It is not a question here of salvation, but of walking in the light as God is in the light. Abraham forsook two of the three things that God had told him to leave, but not the third. Here is the failure of a godly man. Scripture never conceals the defects of those whose histories it records, but we see in Hebrews 11 how God delights to recall the traits of faith in His children.
Lot was a believer, but he walked by the faith of another. “Lot went with him.” He goes out and on with Abraham.
When Abraham left Egypt he came back to the place of the altar he had previously built, and there called upon the name of the Lord. If we have departed from the Lord, we never get back into communion until we get back into the place we started from. When the Lord deals with Peter, He does not reproach him with what he had done, but gets at his heart: “Lovest thou me?” So in Jeremiah 31: 21, “Set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest.” And Jeremiah 4: 1 says, “Return unto me.”
Abraham was a stranger in the land, as well as a stranger in the earth, and so with us. Here is where the difficulty of the exercise of faith lies. God says, “If they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly” (Heb. 11: 15, 16). He does not put us actually into heaven, but leaves us here to try our affections. He puts us to the test. The Lord must have a heavenly people, as well as a heavenly place for them. He exercises our hearts without putting us in actual possession of the heavenly things. We are sitting there in Christ, yet here wrestling with principalities and powers. There is all spiritual wickedness to hinder our holding fast our hope—Satan tries to settle us where God has made us strangers.
The world has rejected Christ, and Satan wants us to be satisfied with it for our portion. The spirit of the world comes to dim the value of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Heavenly promises put the affections in another place altogether. I delight in Christ and have possession of Him. What do I want here, then? What matter who slights me? If the soul is living in Christ, and enjoying the promises, it can count it all joy when trial comes. It is better to wait for heaven than to enjoy the world. It was better for Abraham to be where the Canaanite and the Perizzite still dwelt, than to find his place where God had called him from. This was Abraham’s character of faith in the main; he gave Lot his choice of the land before them. See his quiet giving way. “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Phil. 4: 5). He had confidence in the promises of God, so he could give up that which seemed fair.
Lot’s affections are now put to the test, and his faith is tested too. A Christian should be determined to have heaven and nothing else. Providence had made the plain of Jordan beautiful—why should he not enjoy it? So it is with the world now, and with many Christians. They like the providential mercies of God without God Himself. No Christian would deliberately choose a portion in that which God has pronounced to be under judgment. This righteous man was not thinking of the wicked men of Sodom, but of the well-watered plain. It was not open rebellion. Self-deception is not hypocrisy, but it was a righteous man not delivered from the spirit and power of the world. He chose the place of judgment. This world is a judged world. After long patience, it rejected Jesus; this is its condemnation. As regards the responsibility of the world, it is all over with it.
Abraham stayed in the place of the promises. There was no harm in the well-watered plain, but Lot preferred present comfort and enjoyment to the promises of God. He lifted up his eyes, and his eyes affected his heart. If we have been walking by the faith of another, the time must come when it will be put to the test to see whether God reigns over our affections.
It was a turning point for Abraham as for Lot. God said to him, “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it…Arise, walk through the land.” When he had made the good choice, and accepted the portion from God, then God shows him far more fully all that He had given him. Abraham gets a definite knowledge of his possessions. When our affections are set upon God, He can reveal Himself to us more fully. All the land is ours, but we have to realize it. It produces happy worship of heart when as strangers and pilgrims we are seeking nothing in the world.
Was it merely Canaan that Abraham valued? Truly, it was the glory of all lands, but the plain of Jordan was in Canaan too. It was because he had it as the gift of God. Gifts are precious because they put us in communion with the Giver. The love that gives is more precious than the gift.
Beloved friends, have we so taken the promises of God for our portion as not to think about or care for the plains of Jordan? The way it comes easy to us is because Christ is in heaven, and we are in Him. He became poor for us, that we through His poverty might be rich. When our hearts are upon Christ all else sinks down. We are seeking a country. Communion with God strengthens our souls while passing through this wilderness on our way. He has loved us better than we can love ourselves.