8 And Abram said unto Lot, “I pray thee, let there be no strife between me and you, or between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brethren (family). 9 Is not the entire land before your face, separate, I pray. If you go to the left, I will go to the right. But if you depart to the right, I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of Jordan, that it was brimming over (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorra); like a garden the LORD, like the land of Egypt as the going of Zoan. 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan. And Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated one from the other. 12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt among the cities of the plain, and he encamped by Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners unto the LORD, exceedingly so. 14 Then the LORD said unto Abram after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up, I beseech you, your eyes and see from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward. 15 “For all the land which you see I will give unto you, and to your seed until forever. 16 and I will make your seed like the dust of the earth so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then also could your seed be numbered. 17 Arise, walk throughout the land, unto its length and to its width, for unto you I give it.” 18 So Abram packed up, and he went and he dwelt by the oaks of Mamre which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar unto the LORD.Genesis 13:8-14
Abram––along with his nephew Lot––have returned from Egypt and once more settled in Canaan. However, their respective herds run out of elbow room. The shepherds begin to come to blows, and Abram steps in to avoid what might be called a sociological event. He plays the peacemaker, and gives Lot dibs on where to take his herds. Abram promises that wherever Lot goes, he will give him and his flocks a wide berth. Lot selects the fertile, well-watered area near Sodom. So, Abram, true to his word, moves his tent to the plain of Mamre.
The author is wanting us to see a comparison and contrast between Lot and Abram and the lands which they chose to dwell in. Abram, on the surface, seems to just be a generous haggler… “Makes no difference to me, take your pick, I’ll be fine with whatever.” But I think there is a more striking contrast being presented here. First we should note that if Abram is beginning negotiations here, Lot doesn’t seem too keen to do much negotiating.
The text presents us with a contrast between what Lot saw, versus what God commands Abram to see. Lot “lifting up his eyes” is presented in the Hebrew as the next action of the narrative (וַיִּשָּׂא-לוֹט אֶת-עֵינָיו). Whereas, with Abram, God suddenly appears in this narrative, with an imperative for Abram: “Lift up now thine eyes…”(וַיהוָה אָמַר … שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ ).
Lot lifts his own eyes, and––lo and behold––sees the plain of Jordan, green, and well-irrigated, like a garden of the gods. But the text provides for the reader some fine print on this advertisement for resettling near Sodom: it is going to be destroyed. The next few chapters also shows that Lot seems to be moving closer and closer to Sodom, first he dwells in the plain near the cities (Gen. 13:11), then he is closer (when the 5 kings come in Gen. 14:12), and finally he is dwelling in a house in the city itself (Gen. 19:3). The text also underscores that despite appearances, this is a bad idea for Lot, and provides a moral judgement/description of his new neighbors: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners unto the LORD, exceedingly so (v13).” The Hebrew is unambiguously emphatic here.
Although God isn’t mentioned in the first part of the episode, when He enters the stage, it’s as the principle Mover of this entire event. He commands Abram to look and tells him what to see. Abram is to take a 360º survey of the land, and see that it all belongs to him and to his seed. And as if that weren’t enough, the promise of Gen. 12:2-3 is reiterated and expanded to include the promise that his seed would be an innumerable host, like the dust of the earth.
Lot’s section ends with a moral pronouncement of the wickedness of his neighbors. Abram’s section ends with an altar. These two simple descriptive elements of the narrative leave us with a question of what sort of person each man is. Lot is a righteous man (2 Pt. 2:7-8), but not as righteous as he ought to have been. This text provides commentary that his real estate decision was a foolish one, because he is becoming a companion of fools, and is on his way to suffering harm. Lot a man who looks on external conditions. Abram, a man who, by the sheer grace and goodness of God, sees by faith what God wants Him to see. Lot chooses to dwell near the city of wicked men. Abram builds an altar to the Lord.
Matthew Henry’s comments on this passage are well worth heeding, “That which God has to show us is infinitely better and more desirable than any thing that the world has to offer our view. The prospects of an eye of faith are much more rich and beautiful than those of an eye of sense.” Lot looked at a city which was established by wicked men. Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10).” Which city are you seeking? Which eyes are you using? The eye of human sensibility, or the eyes of faith, which God alone gives?