“There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock” Genesis 13:7.
You may be familiar with some of the TV programs that came out of the 50s. “Leave It To Beaver” and that kind of thing, the almost too-good-to-be-true family shows. And what about all those TV Westerns from the 50s? The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide. We’ve all, no doubt, seen or a least have heard of these programs, if not in the original then as syndicated reruns.
The TV stations tend to show them when they’re not concerned about ratings. Anyhow, if you’re familiar with the likes of “Rawhide” or “Wagon Train” you won’t find it too hard to get a rough picture of what’s happening in the text before us. In today’s terms, Abraham is bringing Western Culture, i.e., civilization into a pagan land. Or, if you want to use the imagery of the old TV westerns, what we see before us is the start of “How The West Was Won. This is the beginning of the winning of the West. The wagon trains are coming with families. They’re coming to settle the land. They’re coming to cultivate it, to subdue it. They’re bringing their domesticated livestock. They are opening up a new frontier. They are bringing “culture” into an uncultured place. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a Biblical thing to do.
Abram and his entourage, his “wagon train,” are simply being obedient to the LORD. As we’ve seen already it was the LORD who actually brought Abram to this land. And the LORD always acts according to His own will. And when Abram “up and left” his home in Ur of the Chaldeans he was simply acting according to the will of God.
Galatians 3:8 states clearly that Abram had heard the Gospel. How else could he be saved? Therefore Abram was being obedient to the Gospel of God as it had been revealed at that time. (Yes, of course, we have to bear in mind that Abram didn’t have a copy of the New Testament with him) but as we follow Abram’s life you’ll begin to see Gospel patterns and images more and more.
You’ll begin to see how the beginning connects with the middle and the end. In other words, you’ll begin to see more of the magnitude of the Gospel of God. You’ll see that what God did through Christ at Calvary is still being worked out in the world today. As Paul says to the Romans, “We know that all things work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.
Abram has been called out of Ur of the Chaldeans according to the eternal purpose of God. And we see that God is doing a great deal of preliminary work in and through the life of Abram. Since Abraham has been given the title “father of believers” one would expect his children to follow in their father’s footsteps somewhat. So we should expect to see with Abram, albeit in embryonic form, something of what we as the Church, Abraham’s children are expected to do today. We have the same Master. We follow the same LORD who never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever
In the following we meet Abram after his escapade in Egypt. He has returned to the LORD and to the Promised Land with great riches. And he is now, once again, seeking to be fully obedient to the Gospel.
Now, Abram and all his followers, whether wittingly or not, at this point in time, are simply being obedient to the “Cultural Mandate.” So, as they used to say in the old westerns from the 50s, “meanwhile back at the ranch.” We pick up the story of Abraham as he moves into the great frontier. We know that he’s already seen some of this frontier land. And you’ll remember that the LORD had sent a famine on this same land. And Abraham went down into Egypt to escape the drought. But now he is obedient once again to God and His Cultural Mandate, i.e., the Gospel.
So in the following we’re going to look at a couple of things in our text: Culture and Conflict. We’ll look at these in their Biblical and historical context, while at the same time we’ll apply what we learn to ourselves as the Church in the World today.
The general theme of the following is: Christianity is the highest form of culture, but Gospel obedience means conflict!
First thing we need to do is define what we mean by culture. The word “culture” has been misused and abused almost beyond recognition nowadays. I don’t mean to bore you with detail but this is important. My dictionary defines the word “culture” something like this:
1. The cultivation of plants or animals, esp. to IMPROVE the breed.
2. The development, and refinement of MIND, MORALS, or taste.
3. The condition thus produced; refinement.
4. A specific stage in the development of a civilization.
5. Cultivation of the soil.
Therefore, for something to be “cultured”, that something has to have been developed or refined somewhat. By definition, then, a thing has to be cultivated before it can be called “cultured.” For instance, if you were to come across a bunch of people somewhere who had next to no morals you’d say that they were “uncultured.” You would say that they were “uncivilized.” Therefore, it’s all to do with obedience to God.
Wherever there is obedience to God there, too, is “culture” or “civilization.” Therefore the “degree” of culture or civilization in any society is directly proportionate to the degree of obedience to God. The Ancient Greeks, for instance, had a great civilization or culture, but only in so far as it measured up to the Law of God, i.e. the 10 Commandments. And we know that all mankind has God’s Law written on their hearts, Romans 2:15. Adultery, in the forms of fornication and homosexuality were apparently rife in ancient Greece. Greece met its downfall, as did ancient Rome after it because of this uncivilized behaviour. It would seem that God puts up with this kind of thing only for so long!
We see our culture, Western Society and Civilization going the same way. The West was won by the Gospel, not the gun, though many of our forefathers were persecuted and even martyred for the Faith. However, Western Society is now becoming less and less civilized as the Gospel is more and more covered over by the settling dust of secular humanistic rhetoric!
There is a dust encrusted Bible in many-an Australian home but the less it is read and obeyed, the more these homes will produce uncivilized offspring! Abraham, himself tended toward uncivilized behaviour by going down into Egypt. And we saw before that Abram tempted Pharaoh also to behave in an uncivilized manner by saying that Sarah was only his sister and not his wife.
To be truly civilized is to have good morals both inwardly and outwardly. To be truly civilized is to show obedience to God, whether wittingly or unwittingly! But now Abram is once again being obedient to God’s Cultural Mandate. His house is multiplying with people. However none of them are from his own loins – yet.
You are familiar with the Cultural Mandate? Here’s a reminder. The Cultural mandate is of course recorded for us in Genesis 1:28, “Then God blessed them [i.e., mankind], and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves on the earth.” The command or mandate is given again to Noah and his family after the Flood as they stepped out of the ark. Genesis 9:1-3, “So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”
So then, God commands us to multiply in numbers and fill the earth and subdue it to God’s glory. However, the tendency is for us to cluster in great cities and live on top of each other. The first great city like this in the Bible was Babel and you all know the story of the great Tower. God confused the languages then, and scattered mankind all over the earth. Therefore, we see that when man refuses to obey the Cultural Mandate God intervenes.
Directly connected to the Cultural Mandate is the “Great Commission” Where the Cultural Mandate is general the Great Commission is specific or particular. But in the Great Commission, as in the Cultural Mandate, people are to be obedient and are to go forth and multiply.
An almost entirely overlooked aspect of the Great Commission is the fact that the Church is to multiply her numbers through godly offspring! Few Christians, it would seem, see any connection between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. They forget that their children belong to the church every bit as much as they do! But as we obey the Cultural Mandate/Great Commission we are teach others to be obedient too We are to baptize and to teach our children to obey and we are to baptize and to teach the nations to obey.
The Church is to be a light on the hill, the salt of the earth. She is to set the good example, as we shall see in our father Abraham, and as we see most clearly in Jesus Christ. For Jesus says in Matthew 28:19ff., “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING THEM TO OBEY ALL THINGS I HAVE COMMANDED YOU...” So we see that it’s the role of the Christian Church not only to be obedient to the LORD ourselves but also to teach the nations to likewise be obedient to Christ and His Gospel commandments.
And before we move into our second and final point let’s summarize: The Cultural Mandate is God’s command to all mankind to obediently go forth and multiply and subdue the earth to the glory of God. The Cultural Mandate is given generally to all mankind whereas the Great Commission is given specifically to the Church. When we look at Abram we see the beginning of the transition from the general to the specific or particular.
Abram’s offspring would become as numerous as the stars in heaven, the sand of the sea. In Abram God is beginning to form a new people who will one day be whole-heartedly obedient to His Cultural Mandate as expressed in the Great Commission. Culture, then, has everything to do with obedience to God – i.e., doing God’s will. Culture, then, has to do with morals – keeping God’s Moral Law, i.e., His Ten Commandments.
If Christianity is the highest form of culture, then Gospel obedience will mean conflict! It stands to reason then that wherever Christians are obedient to the Gospel there will be conflict. As pictured in the 50s westerns, families who were united to other families with their domesticated livestock were moving into new frontiers. The wagon trains formed circles of defense against attacks from the natives on the land – conflict! Likewise the Church forms a line of gospel defense against pagan attack! When the civilized meet with the uncivilized, when culture meets non-culture, when the Church meets with the world she meets with conflict!
No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “Christian are to be in the world, but not of the world”? Well, we see clearly the Abram was in the world but not of the world. We’re told in genesis 13:7b that “The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.” These were the epitome of depravity. They were uncultured, uncivilized. They were unchristian! However Abram was different. He was walking in the Spirit not the flesh. He was walking with the true God who had revealed Himself to Abram, the God who had given him revelation.
So Abram, as it were, has ordered his wagons to form a circle In Genesis 13:4b we read, “And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that he ran around calling out, “LORD! LORD!” Rather it means that he began to truly worship God in spirit and in truth. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20. And since we are told in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Then Christ was present with them by His Spirit in the Promised Land.
The pagans all around followed their perverted religions – “heathen-anity” or “pagananity.” In other words, non-Christians were in the land. But as King David wrote in the Shepherd’s Psalm, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Heathenism and Paganism, i.e., false religion, the worshipers of false god’s are enemies of Christ. Abram, like the Church today, was in the presence of his enemies.
The natives were in direct violation of at least the first two commandments: 1. You shall have no other gods before Me. 2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image. The natives, the indigenous people, or if you will, the Indians who lived in Canaan followed a false religion and worshipped false gods. And as we shall see some other time, if you will, the Plains Indians, i.e., those Canaanites who lived on the plain of Jordan were the most uncivilized. For on the Plain of Jordan were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As it says in Genesis 13:13, “The men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.” Notice that it says who they were exceeding wicked against – not Abram – not each other. They were exceedingly wicked AGAINST THE LORD.”
Now, here’s where there is the greatest amount of conflict between Christianity and the world. The world, as you know, refuses to submit to the Law or will of God. So when Christianity comes along and tells the world that it’s to repent, i.e., to stop breaking God’s Law and believe in the Gospel, there is immediate conflict. All that the world hears is what it calls a bunch of hypocrites telling the world to behave itself. However, the world and Christians themselves must learn that it’s not people who are telling the world to behave. It’s God!
It’s God who’s telling them to repent or they’ll end up destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah! And the type of behaviour that God is demanding is not an outward obedience to His Ten Commandments, but rather an inward obedience to His Gospel. God wants you to have a heart for Him and for His Law. And an inward obedience to His Gospel always expresses itself as an outward (albeit and imperfect) obedience to His Ten Commandments.
Abram, as we see, had the Gospel in his heart. He was obedient to God. With Abram came true religion, the true worship of God. As he called out to God he was bringing civilization into the uncivilized land of Canaan. He was bringing culture into the midst of the uncultured! There he was between Bethel and Ai, the church on the hill shining in the darkness. He was at the place where he had built an altar. He had erected a structure different to all the rest in that pagan land (we looked at that above). And so it is wherever Christians go, whether it be into the work place, or whether it be into darkest Africa or the Amazon Jungle, or whether it be into the place where the Indians of America lived, or the outback of this great land of Australia, wherever Christians go, they take with them true religion, i.e., culture, civilization, Christianity.
God wants the knowledge of Himself to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” The Church then, is to hitch up the wagons and go West young man! She’s to keep on spreading! And as the Church tries to spread the knowledge of God she meets with conflict. Conflict with the pagan nations is guaranteed. Conflicting world-views will do that but, there will also be conflict among the members of the Church. We see this principle at work in our text: Genesis 13:7 “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” Conflict among the people of God!
It’s the same old story, isn’t it? When your local Church gets too big it’s time to plant another! The LORD doesn’t want us to unite together and build another Tower of Babel! So, as my old boss used to say to us when he caught us all in a huddle talking: “Spread out in a bunch!” I think he meant that the whole bunch of us was to break up and go elsewhere else and do something. Well, that’s what the Great Commission is about, isn’t it?
Don’t take over a whole city-block and build a mega-church! Get going out there and Christianize the whole world by influencing it with the Gospel! Go West young man and seek other pastures! “The Lord’s my Shepherd I’ll not want, He makes me down to lie. In pastures green He leadeth me, the quiet waters by.”
I remember at college looking into the history of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. I was hoping they weren’t going to ask me how many times the Church had split over the years. The list, it seemed, went on and on and on – split after split after split! No doubt many of these splits were anything but amicable! No doubt there was a great deal of conflict between Christians. And no doubt during these times of conflict much deadwood would have been removed from the Church. But, be that as it may, every church group worshipped the same LORD! They might have all had their differences, but they were all one and the same – Christians! Sure some were apostate. Some were Christian in name only. As Paul says to the Romans, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” Romans 9:6b. But the LORD would have us multiply throughout the whole earth. He would have us reproduce the way the cells of our body reproduce.
The cells spread by splitting and splitting but they are all part of the same body. We see the same principle at work when the LORD split Israel into twelve tribes. We see a principle for the need to divide in Genesis 13:6 “Now the land was not able to support them, that they may dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.” So Abram decided that it would be better for him and Lot to separate. And in Genesis 139 Abram said to Lot, “Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me.” Did Abram not love Lot? Of course he did (as we’ll see in up ahead).
In Genesis 13:11, as in the old westerns, we see Lot ride off into the sunset. Actually he rode off into the sunrise, but you get the picture! Genesis 13:11, “Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.” So then, as we begin to hitch up the wagons and get ready to ride off into the sunset ourselves, let me remind you of this: We, the Church, have moved into hostile territory. We are surrounded by painted savages on every side. It’s looking bad for us at the moment – conflict without and conflict within! Sex outside of marriage, violence, drugs are all promoted and glorified in the TV programs of today and is in turn applied (i.e., acted out) in society. The TV shows of the 50s which promoted family-life, integrity are mocked as unrealistic!
Well, what are we to do? - we’re living among an uncivilized people! Well, we obey the Gospel, don’t we? For as the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:17b asks the rhetorical question: “What will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” The Church once again, needs to remind herself of the Cultural Mandate! She needs to once again look at the words of the Saviour! The words of Jesus in the Great Commission Matthew 28:18ff: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
The Canaanites and the Perizzites might still be in the land. But we have a faithful Saviour, One who is still with us! We are more than conquerors! (We’ll see this principle at work in Abram up ahead!)
The message of the Gospel is a life-changing message! The Gospel not only prepares us for heaven. It also brings culture to non-culture! For Christianity is the highest form of culture, but Gospel obedience means conflict – even culture conflict!