It hasn’t been a very auspicious start for the fledgling Patriarch. Substantially wealthier but sufficiently chastened he leaves Egypt and returns to Canaan, indeed the text says, ‘to the place he had been earlier’ (13:3). This was the place of the sublime experience of God’s presence and where he had built an altar in commemoration. It seems this was a form of repentance—this going up is the counterbalance to the going down (12:10).
This is the second journey he makes to the place between Bethel and Ai. The first one opened the story (12:1-9). There’s a difference though that may be telling. The first one is described thus,
“He took his wife Sarai, and nephew Lot and all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired.” Gen 12:5).
The second one, like this,
“He went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him.” (Gen 13:1)
Aside from Abraham’s incredible talent for accumulating possessions everywhere he stops, I wonder whether the new placing for Lot in the list is indicative of a cooling of relationship?
God’s instruction to Abraham in 12:1 was to leave everything, the whole household of his father and go to a land that would be shown to him. But he takes Lot. Is this a commitment to family responsibilities? Is this a sense that the making of the great nation would need a little help – because it’s only later the promise is made to his own offspring’ (12:7).
After the Egyptian debacle though, things change, and the thrust of the story seems to suggest that the cause was the increasing wealth. In verse 5 Lot is described as ‘moving about with Abraham’ and their combined grazing needs were causing problems with the neighbours. These neighbours, Canaanites and Perizzites, were still in possession of the land that God had yet to give.
Abraham has a hard lesson to learn here. It suggestion of the text is that there is more than economics or good neighbourliness in mind here. Relationships between the households had declined so much that they were unable to live together any more (13:6). They could have had they chosen to.
Jewish tradition suggests that one reason for the growing distance was the growing ambition of Lot who saw himself as essential to the promise given to Abraham. Thus, in turn, he saw it as his right to impose his grazing rights on those who held the land before it was to be gifted.
And after he goes, and separates from Abraham, and the patriarch once again must quietly worry about how the promise would be fulfilled in the elderly and barren couple, that God once again restates the promise. And in case Abraham’s hearing was going, God restates the phrase ‘your offspring’ 3 times (13:15-17).
Privilege is a difficult thing to handle. Being heir to a promise is even more difficult, particularly in that period of waiting for fulfillment. The temptation is to force the matter. Who knows, but maybe a period of peaceful sharing may lead to entirely new ways of possessing that includes rather than excludes.