Bible Commentaries
Genesis 13

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


3. Abram’s separation from Lot ch. 13

This chapter records how Abram, though threatened with major conflict with Lot because of their herdsmen’s strife, magnanimously gave his nephew his choice of what land he wanted. Lot took an area that was very fertile, though inhabited by wicked people. In return God blessed Abram with a reaffirmation of His promise. This was the fourth crisis Abram faced.

Verses 1-4

Abram returned from Egypt through the Negev and settled down near his former location between Bethel and Ai.

"Of special interest is that in Genesis 12:10 to Genesis 13:4 Lot occupies the same position as that of the ’mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12:38) in the narrative of Genesis 41 -Exodus 12. In other words the author apparently wants to draw the reader’s attention to the identification of Lot with the ’mixed multitude.’ It is as if Lot is seen in these narratives as the prefiguration of the ’mixed multitude’ that comes out of Egypt with the Israelites." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 38.]

Note also Lot’s similarity to Esau.

Verses 5-7

When it became clear that there was not enough pasture to sustain all the flocks of both Abram and Lot, Abram suggested that Lot separate from him. He gave his nephew the choice of where he wanted to settle. This was a magnanimous gesture on Abram’s part. If he was older than Lot, which seems probable, it shows even greater graciousness.

Lot would have been the most likely candidate for the role of Abram’s heir since Sarai was barren. He was a part of Abram’s household and a blood relative (nephew). Abram probably regarded Lot at this time as the heir through whom God would fulfill His promises.

Verses 8-10

In offering Lot either the "left" or the "right" (Genesis 13:9) Abram was evidently suggesting that he and Lot partition the Promised Land; he would take one part and his nephew the other (cf. Genesis 22:3-10). Important to our appreciation of Abram’s offer is knowledge of the fact that the Hebrews, as well as other ancient peoples, were eastern oriented (as contrasted with northern oriented, as we are). Abram and Lot were probably looking east when Abram made his suggestion (Genesis 13:9). Thus "Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the valley of the Jordan" (Genesis 13:10), which was to the east of where they stood (perhaps on Mt. Asor, the highest point in that part of Canaan, and only a short walk from both Bethel and Ai). Thus when Abram offered Lot what was on his left he was referring to northern Canaan, the area around Shechem (cf. Genesis 12:6; Genesis 33:18 to Genesis 34:31; Genesis 37:12-17) as far south as Bethel and Ai. The other choice was what was on their right: southern Canaan including Hebron and the Negev (cf. Genesis 13:6; Genesis 13:9; Genesis 13:1; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 20:1; et al.). Both men had previously lived in both regions.

Moses’ description of the Jordan valley as being similar to Egypt (Genesis 13:10) should have warned the Israelite readers of Genesis against desiring to return to Egypt (cf. Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5; Numbers 14:2-3).

Verses 11-13

Lot, however, chose neither of these options, north or south. Instead he decided to move east into the Jordan Valley (Genesis 13:11). Earlier we read that Adam, Eve, and Cain traveled east after they sinned (Genesis 3:24; Genesis 4:16) and that the people of Babel went east and rebelled against God (Genesis 11:2). Thus Lot’s move east makes us a bit uneasy (cf. Genesis 12:3). At this time the Jordan River was the eastern border of Canaan that continued south from the southeastern end of the Salt (Dead) Sea and southwest toward Kadesh (lit. cultic shrine) Barnea (Genesis 10:19). It then proceeded to the Great (Mediterranean) Sea along the Wadi el Arish (Brook of Egypt; cf. Numbers 34:1-12; Joshua 15:1-12). The text contrasts "the land of Canaan" with "the cities of the Valley" (Genesis 13:12). The place Lot chose to settle was on the eastern frontier of the Promised Land (Genesis 13:11).

The location of Sodom is still uncertain. There are three primary possibilities: north of the Dead Sea, southeast of the Dead Sea, or under the southern basin of the Dead Sea. The second option seems most probable.

". . . this choice by Lot made rather final the rupture between him and Abram." [Note: Harold Stigers, Commentary on Genesis, p. 146.]

Lot’s choice erected another hurdle for Abram’s faith in the promises of God and precipitated another crisis in the "obstacle story" of how God would fulfill His promises to Abram. Lot chose the Jordan Valley.

"Due to the combination of water (emerging from underground springs fed by the limestone hills farther west [of Jericho]), soil (deposited on the plain from the same hills) and climate (warm and sunny during most of the year), the region is known for all types of agricultural products, especially dates and balsam (used in ancient ointments). . . . It is not surprising that Lot, who with Abraham had lived for a short time in the lush Nile Valley of Egypt [chose as he did] . . . His choice appears to have been made from the mountains northeast of Bethel, with a view of the Jericho oasis or the Plains of Moab." [Note: James Monson, The Land Between, pp. 163-64.]

Lot’s choice seems to have been influenced to some extent by a desire to ally with the native inhabitants (cf. Genesis 13:7; Genesis 13:12; Genesis 19:1-26) as well as by the natural fruitfulness of the Jordan Valley (Genesis 13:10).

"In any given situation, what you are determines what you see, and what you see determines what you do." [Note: Haddon Robinson, Leadership 3:1 (Winter 1982):104.]

"The close parallels between the two [cities, i.e., Babylon and Sodom] which are created in the narrative of chapter 13 suggest that the author intends both cities to tell the same story. As in the case of parallels and repetitions throughout the book, the double account of God’s destruction of the ’city in the east’ is intended to drive home the point that God’s judgment of the wicked is certain and imminent (cf. Genesis 41:32)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 144.]

Verses 14-17

Abram was now without an heir. However, Yahweh appeared to him at this crucial time (Genesis 13:14) and reconfirmed the promise of land that, He said, He would give to Abram’s offspring (Genesis 13:15).

Abram "lifted up his eyes" also (Genesis 13:14), but he saw the whole land as far as he could see in every direction. God repeated His promise to give him and his descendants all the land he saw. This promise was more specific than God’s previous promises regarding the seed and the land (Genesis 12:2; Genesis 12:7). This was God’s third revelation to Abram. It contained three specifics.

1. Abram’s heir would be his own seed (offspring; Genesis 13:15-16).

2. God would give the land to Abram and his descendants forever (Genesis 13:15).

3. Abram’s descendants would be innumerable (Genesis 13:16).

The figure of "dust" suggests physical seed (Genesis 13:16; cf. Genesis 2:7). The "stars" figure given later (Genesis 15:5) suggests heavenly or spiritual seed, in addition to physical seed.

God’s encouragement to walk through the land (Genesis 13:17) implied that Abram should claim the promise by treading the land under his feet. In the ancient Near East victorious armies claimed defeated territory by marching through it.

"The divine promise of land and other blessings (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:1-8) is in the form of a covenant known technically in ancient Near Eastern studies as a ’covenant of grant.’ It was made at the initiative of the granter and often with no preconditions or qualifications." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 36, n. 39.]

Verse 18

Abram later relocated near Hebron where he built another altar and worshipped again (Genesis 13:18). Hebron is the highest town in the Promised Land with an elevation of about 3,050 feet. Its site is strategic lying midway between Jerusalem and Beersheba.

Many of the commentators have seen two types of believers in Abram and Lot. One commits himself completely to trusting and obeying God, though not without occasional failures in his faith. The other wants both what God and what the world can give him. These correspond to a spiritual and a carnal believer, a single-minded and a double-minded believer (James 1:8; James 4:8). When Abram gave Lot the choice of where he wanted to live, Abram was giving up any claim to temporal advantages and was trusting God to bless him as God had promised He would. This step of faith led to greater blessing by God (Genesis 13:14-17). Abram’s response to this fresh revelation was again worship.

People who truly believe God’s promises of provision can be generous with their possessions.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.