2. Choices: Faith or Sight
Genesis 13:2, 5-18
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear, Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor 20 February 2022
The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
That, of course, is Robert Frost’s famous poem – The Road Not Taken. It explores the idea that every
choice we make leads us down one pathway or another.
Not every choice we make is life altering – “Sir, will you have the chicken or the fish?”
But some choices have enduring consequences. And when we embark down those pathways, we often can’t see where they might lead us. And the path we take makes all the difference...
At the heart of our Bible passage today is a choice. A decision to go one way or another, which ends up making all the difference for one of the characters in our story.
So why don’t we pray that God would speak to us today as we listen to this very ancient story.
Our heavenly Father, as we open the Bible this morning, will you speak to us from its pages. Will you teach us how to make wise choices in this lifetime, and to choose the pathways that you lay out before us. Father, may all our choices lead us to Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen
Well, this is our second week in our new teaching series. We are spending the next 7 weeks or so in Genesis 12-25 following the story of Abraham and the Promises of God. This is a section with all kinds of interesting historical narrative, that teach us about the origins of God’s Old Testament people. But it does more than that. These chapters actually teach us foundational truths about the way that God has been working in the world to fulfill the promises he made some 4000 years ago. So lots to take away from this part of the Bible.
But I want to start by taking us back to where we started last week to remind you we are up to in the story. In the generations after the great flood, Noah’s children spread out and populated the earth again. Generations pass and the story focuses in on one of Noah’s descendants called Abram.
Abram and his family were living in the Middle East, modern day Iraq, when God spoke to Abram, telling him to leave behind his country, his people, even his father’s household to go to a land that God would show him.
And so God made three great promises to Abram. Do you remember what they were? I’ve just mentioned one...
Land, Nation and Blessing.
God promised Abram that he would bring him into a land where he could settle. Second, he promised Abram that he would make him into a great nation. And third, he promised to bless Abram, but not just Abram. God promised to bring blessing to all the peoples of the earth through Abram’s family.
Land, Nation and Blessing. Three promises that shape not only the Old Testament, but our story too...
Abram hears God speak. And he goes. He obeys God. Packs up his family and his belongings and starts the 800 mile journey to Canaan – modern day Israel and Palestine. Where we finished last week, Abram had arrived in Canaan (but the land was full of Canaanites). God spoke to Abram again, saying: “I’ll give this land to your offspring.”1 And Abram shows his trust in God by building an altar to the Lord and calling on his name and worshiping him.
So far, so good, right? Abram hears God speak, and he obeys. Abram is a model of what it looks like to trust in God.
1 Genesis 12:7
And that’s where the next part of the story comes as a bit of a surprise. Abram makes a choice that seems highly questionable.
Now we don’t have time to read every part of the story in church, so I want to encourage you to read your way through Genesis 12-25 at home. That way the story will be a little bit familiar to you. Anyway let me tell you about Abram’s questionable choice.
God has led Abram into the land that he promised him. But there is a new obstacle – a famine in the land. And so Abram leads his family and all the entourage south into Egypt. If you remember your ancient history lessons, Egypt is a fertile country because of the Nile River and the annual floods. So Abram heads down to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan.
But Abram is worried. His wife Sarai is very beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that Abram thinks the Egyptians will kill him in order to take his wife from him. So Abram hatches a plan. He says to Sarai,
“I know what a beautiful woman you are.12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13)
Abram wants Sarai to pretend to be his sister. Which is not exactly untrue – Sarai is Abram’s half-sister – they have the same father, different mother. (Genesis 20:12)
Abram’s fears are well founded, because on entering Egypt, Sarai’s beauty is noticed and she is taken into Pharaoh’s palace as one of his wives. Meanwhile Pharaoh showers Abram with gifts of sheep and cattle and donkeys and camels, as well as servants in return for Sarai.
Do you see the problem, aside from the morally questionable act of Abram giving his wife to another man?
Abram’s choice to go to Egypt seems to threaten God’s big promises. Abram is out of the Land. His wife is meant to help him birth a Nation, but she is with another man. And as for all the nations of the world being blessed through Abram? Instead the Egyptians end up being cursed because of the situation. The Lord inflicts diseases upon Pharaoh and his household.
So Pharaoh summons Abram:
“What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” (Genesis 12:18-19)
Pharoah releases Sarai, and sends her and Abram away with all of the gifts that he had given them.
What do you make of a story like this? It’s very unusual, isn’t it?
Even more unusual that in chapter 20, almost the exact same thing happens again. Abram says Sarai is his sister, and King Abimelech takes her to be his wife. It’s creepy, don’t you think?
So what do we make of a story like this?
Well one thing I love about the Bible is it doesn’t whitewash the heroes. Whether it’s the Old Testament or the New, the text rarely covers up the flaws and failures of the heroes of faith. And here we see a very honest picture of Abram. He’s afraid for his life and he does what it takes to save his own skin.
It’s a picture of fear, not faith.
And that’s the first big idea I want to focus on today. The idea of trusting God even when the road
ahead makes you afraid.
Some of you have been on the Christian journey for a long time now, and others are just starting out. What we learn from Abram is that the road isn’t always clear of debris. There may be significant obstacles and roadblocks ahead of us in our journey as Christians, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the path or choose a different way. Abram was in the promised land, but he abandoned it because he couldn’t imagine how God might feed him in the famine.
You might be facing a famine right now. Or some other obstacle to faith. Wondering how God is going to provide for you in this season. Perhaps it’s your finances. Or your health. Perhaps your family is in crisis. Perhaps your marriage is on the rocks. Perhaps as a Christian, you’re starting to feel like God isn’t giving you the answers you wanted. And you’re thinking about looking for greener pastures elsewhere?
This passage teaches us that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Every choice we make has consequences, and sometimes traumatic consequences. I suspect this episode caused a lot of grief and pain and emotional turmoil for Sarai and Abram and their marriage...
Reading between the lines, it seems like it takes Abram and Sarai a long while to get back to the promised land. Chapter 13 starts with an image of Abram and his family bouncing from place to place, restlessly, until they finally make it back to Bethel, to the place where Abram had called on the name of the Lord. It’s a symbolic moment, as Abram rededicates himself to God, and he gets his life back on the right track.
You might be here this morning thinking, I want to get my life back on the right track. I’m sick of seeking solutions that just don’t work. I’m sick of the relentless, restless journey that never seems to get anywhere. I’m sick of doing this on my own. Lord I need you...
If that’s you, I want you to keep listening, and at the end, I’m going to make some time to rededicate yourself to God if that’s what He is saying to you this morning.
But before we do that, I want to look at the second big choice that Abram makes in the passage today. This one comes from the reading that we heard earlier, and is there on the back of your handouts, from Genesis 13.
2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. (Genesis 13:2,5-6)
Lot was Abram’s nephew. He had traveled with Abram when his father died in Haran. Perhaps Abram was a father figure to Lot – that’s not clear in the story, but they are certainly a close-knit family. But now the problem was that both Abram and Lot had amassed quite significant wealth – livestock and herds and servants – so many that the land could not support them as they traveled together. Verse 7 reminds us that there were other people living in the land also – Canaanites and Perizzites who probably weren’t happy to share precious grazing land and water with foreigners. Even Abram and Lots’ shepherds started fighting with one another because of the pressure to keep the flocks fed and watered.
So Abram makes a suggestion (v8):
“Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” (Genesis 13:8-9)
It’s a simple solution, isn’t it? Let’s split it, and you choose whichever side you like.
Now I grew up with a brother and two sisters and I know how this game works. Let’s say there’s a leftover steak at the end of dinner, or the last piece of birthday cake, and you both want it. One person cuts it, and the other person chooses the piece that is larger, or looks better. And you don’t want to be the one who cuts, do you? Because then you don’t get to choose! But if you do cut, you want to get it perfectly in the middle. Sharing! Who thought it would be so difficult!
Not for Abram, apparently. He lets Lot choose whichever part of the land he wants. And Lot chooses the best bit, or so he thinks (v10):
10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.
The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. (Genesis 13:10-13)
Lot picks the land that looks the richest. The most productive. It was also an area with a reputation for partying, and that’s where Lot chose to pitch his tents. Really close to Sodom.
Now we said before that every choice has consequences. Lot’s choice of this particular area to settle, it would have dire consequences for his family. As we read on in Genesis, Sodom is a place where very dark and disturbing things happen, and Lot chooses to move from the outskirts to the very middle of that dark and disturbing culture. Ultimately it would end up destroying his family. And I’ll leave you to read that story for yourself.
There are lessons for us to learn from Lot. Lessons about where we choose to live our life.
Lot chose to flirt with sin. He made choice after choice that led him further away from the promised
land, and it almost cost him his life.
Where are your choices leading you?
Perhaps you’ve heard God’s call on your life, but you’ve been following the path of Lot. Making choices that you know don’t lead to godliness, choices that aren’t good for you, choices that might have serious consequences for you and your family.
The lesson we learn from Lot is that when we flirt with sin, we flirt with destruction. In the book of Proverbs it says you can’t walk on coals without burning your feet.2 Our choices have consequences, and it’s better to learn from Lot’s poor choices than to learn the lesson the hard way in your own life.
If you have been walking down the path of Lot, the good news of the gospel is that God stands ready to forgive those mistakes. He’s the God of second chances, and third chances, and hundredth chances. But to receive that forgiveness, you need to get back on the right path. You need to come back to Jesus. Back to the cross. Back on the path to the promised land.
Perhaps that’s you today – you need to get back on the right path. Like I said a few minutes ago, I’m going to make time at the end of the sermon to respond to God, and to come back to Jesus. If that’s you, hold that thought, and keep listening because there is one more choice in our passage.
2 Proverbs 6:28
The last choice in our passage was Abram’s choice not to choose. Because when Abram allowed Lot to choose which part of the land he wanted, Abram was also choosing to trust that God would make good on his promises, whatever part he was left with.
And there’s a lesson for us there. We need to trust that God is at work, even when the land in front of us doesn’t look as fertile as we had hoped for.
We’re so used to upgrading, and upsizing, and up-careering (is that a word?). Doing whatever we can to have more, be more, experience more, so that sometimes it is hard to be content with what we have. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that at times.
But what if God’s plan for you is not more? What if it’s less, or less than you expected anyway? What will that do to your trust in God?
When we look to Abram, we find a model of contentment in God’s promises. Abram allows his nephew to take half of what had been promised to him, and he gives it away freely. Without resentment, or jealousy. He trusts that God will give him enough...
And in that moment, unexpectedly, God speaks to Abram again. (v14)
14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)
I imagine what it must have been like for Abram in that moment. He had heard God speak to him before, but now God’s voice was telling him that the promises were one step closer. You followed my voice from Haran to Canaan, and now here it is – the land – the land that I will give to you and to your offspring. God points north and south, east and west, he says: Look! See it, walk on it, touch it. It’s real, and it’s one step closer than it was before.
Brothers and sisters, the promised land is one step closer for us too. Every day as we wait for Jesus to return or call us home, every day we are one step closer to the fulfilment of God’s promises to us in Jesus Christ. The eternal promised land, the new heavens and the new earth, a place for the nation that God is building with his people, a place of blessing. One day we’ll look north and south and east and west and God will show it all to us. We’ll be able to see it and touch it and feel it and enjoy it, and it will never feel like it isn’t enough. We’ll be satisfied, and more.
But for now, we live by faith and not by sight. We teach our hearts to trust that these promises are true by listening to God’s voice, here in the Bible. And when our faith is failing, when we take the wrong
path, when we get caught up in the things of this world that never satisfy, we look up at the cross. Our north and our south, our east and our west, our compass to guide us home to Jesus, and to eternal life.
I wonder if today, you want to come home to Jesus?
In a moment we’re going to sing a song: Lord I Need You. It’s a song all about coming back to Jesus, confessing our need for forgiveness, our need for guidance, our need for someone to make sense of our messes. It’s a song about finding rest, and hope.
So if you want to come home to Jesus today, if you want to rededicate your life to Jesus, if you want to get back on the right path with Jesus today, why don’t you make this song your prayer?
Let me pray for us now as the musicians come up.