Conflict Management – Lessons from Uncle Abraham and Lot


New Year 3It is New Year again and I find myself thinking of the same hymn I analysed on New Years day last year. It is the hymn, I am resolved no longer to linger. Since we have already looked at the story behind this hymn and also shared some devotional about it, I will not do so but refer you to the link if you wish to refresh yourselve about it (https://austinbhebe.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/i-am-resolved-no-longer-to-linger/).  But today I want to use the hymn to invite you to become a better christian in 2014.  Be resolved no longer to linger in 2014. According to the Oxford University Press, resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action. One of the resolutions that I have been meditating on this year is to become wise in how I manage conflicts. I happen to have been studying the book of Genesis and the story of Uncle Abraham and Lot came so alive to me and I just want to share some thoughts from it.

For the past 4 years Enid and I have been involved in teaching pre-marital classes to would be couples. It has been a ten week schedule. One of the topics that we have handled year after year has been Conflict and Communication in marriage. An interesting topic which while preparing to teach, we ourselves have been students of our own materials. Now while usually we have looked at how couples can manage conflicts in marriage, I have also found very interesting salient points about managing conflicts in families.

Conflicts seem to be inevitable, whether family, friends, workplace, neighbours. Conflicts always happen. I have picked a few lessons from the relationship of Uncle Abraham and his nephew Lot. Theirs speaks to those times of conflict also to the times when we need to make choices, decisions that direct the paths of our lives.

Lot was the nephew to Abram son of Abram’s brother Haran.  His own father had died back in Mesopotamia years before back in Ur. (Genesis 11:27-28).  Abram had taken his nephew into his own family and Lot had travelled with Abram down into Canaan. When Abram left Ur, Lot went too. When Abram left Haran, Lot went too. When Abram left Canaan and went to Egypt, Lot went too. Lot had gone to Egypt and had seen the disastrous results of Abram’s deception and now Lot is again with his uncle in Canaan.  It is not long before trouble arises. Chapter 13 of Genesis opens up with the men traveling back to Canaan.

There are three things I want to us to see about Uncle Abram and his nephew Lot. (i) Circumstances can lead to Conflict Gen 13:1-7; (ii) Choices reveal Character Gen 13:8-13 (Abram/Lot) and (iii)  Covenant is Claimed Gen 13:14-18

Circumstances can lead to Conflict – Gen 13:1-7

Here we see the word conflict used. The Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary describes conflict as a difference that prevents agreement. We are specifically told that the ensuing conflict or strife was between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.  This does not necessitate that Abram and Lot entered into this same strife.  On the other hand, the fact that Abram sees it necessary for he and Lot to separate suggests that there was a rift between the two of them and that it went deeper than merely overzealous herdsmen.

We have already noted the problem of strife between the servants of Abram and the servants of Lot.  Their circumstances were such that called for these two men to go their separate ways.  There is a principle here.  It is that God regularly uses circumstances to work out His plan and to guide His people.

Some salient points:

A. Conflict inevitable and Circumstances can cause them: Abram and possibly Lot had prospered materially in Egypt. Wealthy in livestock and silver and gold, servants. Wealth in cattle demands land for grazing, water for all animals. Question became: whose flocks would have choice pasture? Whose would be the first at the wells for water? What would happen to sheep that strayed away into other folds? Petty quarrelling over resources between the servants would inevitably affect Abram and Lot’s relationship. We know from chapt14 that Abram had 300+ trained men in his household, Lot probably had a significant # too. We can see the possession of wealth showing its ugly side- the side that tends to divide families, isolate brothers, embitter friends, conflict of material possession.

B. Conflicts are  observed:. Any wonder why the Canaanites and Perizzites are mentioned here again? Possible reminder to us that whenever we are at odds, conflict, strife, dissention- there is someone watching. The Canaanite and the Perizzite were living in the land at this time. They are mentioned here because it was in their midst that Abram had been proclaiming the name of the Lord.  Perhaps Abram had shared with them the promise of God for a Deliverer who would come through the seed of the woman.

Now these Canaanites and Perizzites see the servants of two believers in the Lord as they begin to quarrel and fight among themselves.  What will they think?  How will the name of the Lord be glorified by these events?

1. Waiting to see if this quarrelling might be an opportunity for them to move in. Limited resources in the land.A family feud that might lead to war between the 2 men could be a chance for them to step in, conqueror one or both, take the wealth and livestock, people into captivity.

2. Watching their testimony. They might have said “these 2 men refused to worship our gods, they’ve said they worship the one true living God, created all earth, above all gods, they serve this God-and they’re fighting over their animals? Can’t even get along with each other. This little sentence= reminds us how people are watching how we handle conflict in our homes and our churches. “She supposed to be a Christian and she can’t get along with her mother-in-law, I thought Christians were supposed to love everybody? Or she fights all the time with her husband and she wants to tell me about peace with God?” The world is watching us. Take care.

Truth: Conflict is inevitable and there will always be someone watching how you handle it. How you handle this, what behaviour choices you make reveal something about you.

Choices reveal Character – Gen 13:8-13

First we see the character of Abraham in Gen 13:8 and 9. Abram has a decision to make.  He is faced with the problem of continuing conflict between his servants and the servants of Lot and he must decide how to deal with it.  The obvious solution will be for them to separate.  There is a lesson here.  It is that there are times when it is necessary for two family members or believers to admit that they need some distance between the two of them.

1.  Confront the problem Directly- Abram faced the situation, not in denial. He knows very well that there is a problem. Break had to come, they needed more space. They had outgrown staying together; surely this parting could be done peacefully. He resolved to solve this conflict. I have learnt the lesson of confronting my problems the hard way, but we need to do so.

2. Discernment and wisdom are important. We are family members, the relationship we share is far more important than our possessions. The use of biblical principles is important. We ought to let the principles of the Bible guide our decision making process.  Abram was able to do this, too.  He had already been told by God that he would be a blessing to the world.  In light of this promise, he had come into the land where he could proclaim the name of the Lord before the watching world.  That proclamation was now being drowned out by the strife between his shepherds and the shepherds of Lot.  A separation between himself and Lot will allow Abram to continue to be a blessing to the part of the world in which he lives.

3. Dignity and generosity– “Abram says please no more quarrelling. Having decided that a separation is necessary the next was where should Abram go for this separation to take place?   But he says to Lot, you choose first, I’ll take what you don’t want” We know that Abram is Lot’s senior, his uncle, Abram should have the prior claim, stronger, leader of the households, spiritually=heir to God’s promises. He let Lot choose first because his strong desire is to make peace Mt 5:9 -blessed are the peacemakers for they shall see God. World says you’re a fool if you let someone else take advantage of you, God says you are blessed if you give up your rights for another.

Here we see the aspect of Self Sacrifice.  The way in which Abram approaches Lot indicates to us that he has yielded all of his personal rights to the Lord.  Abram owned the land.  It was his by divine promise.  The Lord had given it to him.  Abram had every right to tell Lot where he could go.  Instead, Abram yields all of his rights to God.  In this way, he allows God free reign to show His personal will and guidance.  This is a measure of his faith which brings us to the fourth point.

4. Faith- Hadn’t God promised to take care of him, bless him with inheritance. Hadn’t God taken care of him in Egypt, wouldn’t he continue to be true to His word? Abram had developed a confidence that God would guide him.  His confidence is seen in that he leaves the choice to the Lord.  He permits God to show him the divine place through the decision of Lot. F.B.Meyer  says “The man who is sure of God can afford to hold very lightly the things of this world. God Himself is his heritage and in having God, he has all.”

If God gave him things, he would hold them as a steward, in trust for God. If God took them away, that was fine too. Abram’s relationship with God was primary and everything else was secondary. He sacrificed his own “rights” to make peace with his nephew, He chose second because he trusted God first.

Here is a truth worth noting: When you are trusting God to take care of you, you can relinquish your “rights” for the sake of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Life of faith like Abram is a life of reversed values. Jesus would tell us the same thing in the Beatitudes. You think blessings come in being wealthy and powerful, but I tell you it’s in being poor in spirit; you think you should love your neighbour and hate your enemy, I tell you love both your neighbour and your enemy; you think if someone wants you to go a mile for them, I tell you go two…and on and on. Living reversed values can only be real if you’re walking in faith and trusting God. When you do, you reflect the Kingdom on earth, you incarnate Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we see the behaviour of Lot Gen 13:10-13 . It is said that “Lot lifted his eyes”. His eyes were the binoculars of his heart. As Lot looked to the east of the central mountain ridge of Canaan, he would have seen the Jordan River Valley.  It was well watered everywhere.  The one place in Israel where there is a constant flow of water is the Jordan River.  Fed by the melting snows of Mount Herman, this river overflows it banks in the spring and it narrows to a small, muddy stream in the fall, but it does not dry up completely.

It is also interesting to note that the Bible here also mentions Egypt. Why?  It is because, to the minds of his readers, Egypt was the most fruitful place they had ever seen.  Indeed, every time the Israelites in the wilderness encountered difficulties, they would immediately wish they were back in Egypt.  By comparing Lot’s choice to Egypt, the writer is identifying this slave mentality with Lot’s desire for Sodom and Gomorrah.

If the decision of Abram portrays how a spiritual believer makes a decision, the example of Lot presents how a worldly person makes a decision.  This passage lists for us the factors that went into Lot’s decision.

Self-focused – life is about me and enjoying the beauty that my eyes have seen. The apparent delights that were there. Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (13:10). That was the first factor that went into Lot’s decision, it  involved what he saw with his eyes.  This was a materialistic mindset and it shows us that Lot was not concerned with spiritual results as much as he was with physical criteria.

When Abram offered the choice, if Lot had truly been a righteous man he would have deferred and said “no uncle, you must choose first, I’ll take what you don’t prefer” That’s not what happened. Lot snapped up the offer. In his spiritual short-sightedness he chose what looked good even though he knew v13 the men of Sodom were wicked before the Lord. Ez 16:49-50. This means that they were arrogant, overfed, unconcerned, did not help the poor and needy, haughty, did detestable things before God.

2. Superficial Financial  and social gain- Gen 13:10-Put yourself in the picture, standing on the heights of Bethel, looking over the land of Promise. On looking at  3 sides, there was not much to attract you, business of raising sheep, hills all around. But to the southeast, broad valley, waters of the Jordan spread out, green, luxurious. The Bible tells us that, it looked like Garden of the Lord, Eden, or the land of Egypt, maybe it reminded Lot of Egypt. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were reminiscent of the land of Egypt from which Abram and Lot had recently come from.  It is likely that Lot had been in love with Egypt.  It was a rich land and culturally advanced beyond anything Lot had previously seen.  Lot made his decision based on what would be financially and socially best for himself, without regard to what God’s will was for his life. When he saw these cities of the plain, they must have been large and wealthy, land of opportunity, you could get rich quick in the right kind of business. Perhaps Lot saw this as an opportunity to leave raising cattle and livestock, that’s exactly what happens. In time, he would live to regret his decision.

3. Independent of God – Gen 13:11 We never read of Lot building an altar or calling upon the name of the Lord.  There is no prayer or seeking the Lord for guidance.  It does not appear that the Lord was either consulted or considered.  “He chose for himself”. No mention of prayer, asking God. Like Abram he has flocks, herds, tents, but no altars are mentioned in Lot’s life, he makes decisions for himself, based on what he thinks is best, what he can see. He doesn’t ask “Is this right for my family? Is this a good place to raise a family? Is this a place where we can worship God freely?” God is not involved in his decision, “MY WAY” Here is another Truth: Our choices must not be based only on our desires but on divine guidance.

Our eyes, feelings, our goals alone are not to be trusted. “The heart is deceitful and wicked and who can trust it” Me, without God, is very me first then you. I desperately need God’s divine guidance is what is truly best for me and others around me.

Lot’s choice is seen in strong contrast to that which had been made by Abram.

 Abram

Lot

God led him by means of his circumstances. He took advantage of his circumstances.
His choice led to the furtherance of the divine commission. His choice led to the furtherance of his own wealth and social status.
He yielded up all his personal rights. He took the rights that were properly that of his uncle.
He left the choice up to the Lord. He made his own decision.

Out of all the cities of the plain, Lot chose to camp near Sodom.  This city would become  a symbol for wickedness.  Lot’s move to this location would begin a downward spiral in which he would eventually fall into great sin.  There is a principle here.  It is that association often leads to compromise resulting in sin.

Association

Compromise

Overt Sin

When you go outside on a rainy day wearing white gloves and pick up a ball of mud, spreading it over your hands, the mud hardly ever becomes “glovey.”  Rather the pollution of the mud makes the gloves muddy.  Lot’s association with the city of Sodom would soon result in an eroding of his spiritual values.  In the same way, when you allow yourself to enter into close fellowship with unbelievers, it is often the case that you are pulled down.

The location of Sodom and Gomorrah has been the source of considerable discussion.  All attempts to conclusively identify the ruins of these cities have thus far met with failure.  Several theories have been put forth as to their original location.

The traditional location for these cities has been the southern section of the Dead Sea.  This southern portion of the Dead Sea has been submerged beneath 15-30 feet of water throughout most of recorded history, but recent diversion of the waters of the Jordan have resulted in a lowering of the level of the Dead Sea so that this entire area today is dry.  Ruins of several ancient cities have been uncovered along the east side of this area, but none have been positively identified as corresponding to the names of the cities given in Genesis.

The final part we see that the Lord fulfils the promise to Abraham. The Covenant is claimed see Gen 13:14-18

Painful as it was to see Lot pack up and move away, together a long time. Yes they had problems, yes Lot took the best land, but they were family and Abram would miss him. It must be recognized that at a glance, Lot would have appeared at the beginning to be the solution to the running problem of the Abraham.  Abram had been given a promise by God that from him would come a great nation.  How was this to take place in light of the fact that Sarah was barren and could not bear any children?  Perhaps the required offspring would come through Lot.  He was, after all, the nephew to Abram.  Perhaps he would become the adopted son of Abram and thus fulfill the divine promise.

As we come to the end of the chapter, Lot has removed himself from the presence of Abram and has gone off to live in the area of Sodom.  By doing so, he has effectively removed himself from Abram and the promises of a great nation.

It is in such a context that the Lord comes to Abram and confirms the earlier promise.  God comes to Abram, reassures him of promises. Abram, this is your land to your descendants, not Lot’s, I’m giving this land to you forever.

Not only is that promise confirmed, we also read additional elements.  Not only will Abram be a great nation, but his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth.  If you have seen pictures of Israel, you know there is a lot of dust there.

Not sure, but it’s possible that God wants Abram to experience this promise, not just believe in his heart, walk it with his feet, enjoy it, travel through it, look on this land, receive it with eyes of faith. This is exactly what God wants for us: Possess the Promises. These are POCKET PROMISES-There are God’s promises for his children, but they really aren’t yours until you personally possess them, apply them to your life.

Abram is told to enter into a discipline of faith.  He is to walk about the land through its length and breadth.  He is to walk in the land that has been promised to him by God.  This walk will be a walk of faith as he acts in accordance with the promise of his future possession.  We are called to do the same thing.  We are given a promise of eternal life and an eternal inheritance.  In the meantime, we are called to live as though this inheritance were a present possession.  We are called to live as overcomers because of the One who has overcome on our behalf.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that Genesis 13 is a chapter of spiritual victory.  The victory in this chapter is especially striking when contrasted with the defeat of the previous chapter.

 Genesis 12

Genesis 13

Begins with God’s promises and ends with Abram going down into Egypt. Begins with Abram coming back out of Egypt and ends with God’s promises.
Abram enters Canaan for the first time. Abram enters Canaan for the second time.
Abram decides to go into Egypt. Abram permits Lot to make the decision where he should go.
Abram intent on self protection. Abram gives up his personal rights to the Lord.
A test of trust — failed. A test of values — passed.

Lot chose for himself.  God chose for Abram.  The contrast between the two reminds us of One who made the ultimate choice on our behalf.  Jesus was tempted by Satan to seek His own rights and His own comforts, but He gave those up to obtain an eternal inheritance for us.

Conflicts, choices, we have them too, we live in the same fallen world. We too have a short time here to make our life investments. Chose like Lot, do our own things, grasp for the pleasures of this world, give God the leftovers, or we can chose like Abram to make our life choices, our life direction based on God’s Word to us, trusting that his way is best.

 

 

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