THE WANDERER RETURNS
“Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. 2 Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.” Genesis 13:1-4
Abram already has undergone a real test of faith. God had led Abram to a land which He had promised to give it to Abram’s descendants. But it turned out that there was a severe famine in the Promised Land. What was Abram supposed to do? Instead of trusting in the LORD to provide, Abram planned a holiday in Egypt to get away from it all! We looked at some “snap-shots” of Abram and Sarai’s vacation in Egypt! We looked at Abram’s holiday plan. We looked at the place where he stayed. And like all the well laid plans of mice and men there was a plague on Abram’s holiday. Or rather the plagues were on those with whom Abram and Sarai were staying!
In the following we pick up the story where we left off. Pharaoh, the owner of the “Holiday Resort” was only too happy to see the backs of Abram and Sarai. He was so anxious to see them leave that he “waved their tab” – as they say in Canada. Abram and Sarai had made a killing in Egypt, and Pharaoh had sent them home, letting them keep all their “Casino” winnings.
Now we pick up the “holiday party” as they journey home. They are heading back to the place where they were before they went, which was between Bethel and Ai. They were struggling home with bags full of silver and gold. With the holiday behind them they were keen to get back home and get back into the routine. In the following we’ll have a look at three areas, viz., the Trip, the Trinkets and the Trust. The general gist of what we’ll be looking at is as follows: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
“Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South” Genesis 13:1. Abram had gone down to Egypt now he’s ascending the hill to the Promised Land. So the “trip” we’re talking about is the trip home and not so much the trip to Egypt. Like the Israelites ascending the steps of the Temple, Abram was returning to the place of worship. Whether he was singing like Moses and Miriam after being delivered out of the hand of Pharaoh we can only guess. But as they made their trip back home they had much to praise God about.
Like any of us on the trip back home from an exciting holiday Abram would have been running everything that happened through his mind. He would be thinking, “I did a lot of stupid things! In fact, the whole idea was stupid! I should have stayed where I was, famine or no famine! Why did I have to run off to Egypt? Why did I put my wife’s honor in jeopardy? Why didn’t I just trust in the LORD to provide and be done with it?”
And isn’t that the way of it for us today? Whenever a Christian backslides he may spend the rest of his life casting it up to himself. He’s never short of help in casting it up his backsliding to himself. The devil and his demons are only too glad to help you do penance for the rest of your life! The “Accuser of the Brethren” is only too happy to hand you a cudgel with which to beat yourself black and blue for your failings. But not the LORD, not our LORD. When we are faithless He remains faithful. Who do you think it is who is leading Abram back to the place he was before? The Good Shepherd, the LORD rescued Abram from his folly. The LORD delivered him.
Do you read here that the LORD starting calling Abram names, casting things up to him? Did the LORD say to Abram, “You stupid idiot! Why didn’t you listen to Me?” No, that’s not the LORD who’s accusing you of your past backsliding. It was Pharaoh and his house who were plagued by God, not Abram and his house.
Oh yeah, it’s wrong to backslide. What Abram did was wrong, but the LORD went down into Egypt to rescue Abram from his backsliding, not to destroy him. Abram had turned his back on his sin and he was back on the wagon. After this brief interlude he was wanting to get back to the LORD. So you do likewise. Turn your back on your backsliding and seek the LORD. He’s not going to clobber you. He’s going to bless you. However, this is not to say that there will be no consequences for your past indiscretions. The repentant drunkard might have done irreparable damage to his liver. The repentant promiscuous homosexual might yet develop AIDS after rejecting that lifestyle.
One of the slaves Abram picked up in Egypt was a woman by the name of Hagar. Hagar and her descendants were to become the bane of Israel’s life. The cattle Abram picked up from Egypt were about to cause friction between he and his nephew Lot. If you belong to the LORD and you wander away from Him He will bring you back. But chances are that you won’t be rescued unscathed. However, put it behind you and get on with serving the LORD. For if you are truly repentant then the LORD has fully forgiven you.
To those who truly belong to the LORD, as does Abram, “There is therefore now no condemnation” Romans 8:1. The LORD has His everlasting arms around even the most “Kamikaze” of Christians. The LORD won’t allow you to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. He has you by the scruff of your neck with a love that will not let you go. The Psalmist says, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net” Psalm 25:15. Whether the LORD’s got you by the scruff of the neck or by the ankles the point is that He’s got you. Always remember that it’s the “fatted calf” our Father wants to kill when the wanderer returns and not the wanderer.
Abram may have deserted the LORD by going down to Egypt, but the LORD hadn’t deserted Abram. So then Abram and his family were making the trip home to where they had been before.
The LORD didn’t meet Abram like a Customs Officer at the border of the Promised Land and ask “Anything to declare?” We’re told in Genesis 13:2 that “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Abram got to take all his winnings, all his holiday trinkets with him into the Promised Land.
Now, then, what does this picture say to those who say, “You can’t take your riches with you when you die”? Here’s God letting Abram into the Promised Land with all his earthly belongings. Abram was a very rich man! The LORD says elsewhere, “How HARD it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” Luke 18:24-25. Yet the Customs Officers didn’t confiscate everything Abram had. He got to keep everything he had won at Pharaoh’s Casino. Jesus says it is HARD for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God but not impossible! He says, “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God” Luke 18:27.
Why is it that our picture of a missionary is some white bloke sitting in a mud hut overseas? If I was to ask to be sent to Beverley Hills why would no one take me seriously? Poor people may be more open to a Saviour but don’t the rich need a Saviour too? Is it more “righteous” to be poor and less “righteous” to be rich? Both the rich man Abram and the poor man Lazarus died and went to heaven! Whether you’re rich or poor is neither here nor there. The kingdom of God is not about food or drink. It’s got nothing to do with how rich or how poor you are. And yet we have this mind-set that sees poverty almost as a sign of righteousness or piety. Jesus stopped the rich young ruler at the border of the kingdom of heaven. He wouldn’t let him into His kingdom, the Promised Land with all his riches, Why not? It wasn’t because the LORD had anything against riches. It was because the rich young ruler had put his trust in all his riches, in trinkets! However, for some reason nowadays Christians in general seem to be ashamed of riches! But think of the work that could be done if the church was full of rich Christians. Think of the work the church could do if we had one millionaire in the congregation who tithed! It’s the love of money that is the root of all evil not money itself!
I was a member of a congregation that donated a small sum to a financially struggling congregation out west in a small town somewhere. Well, it turned out that one of the members of that congregation upon realizing the church’s financial struggle followed our example and anonymously donated $10,000! The church I was attending had in this set a good example for others to follow. And, praise be to God that there are still some around today who follow a GOOD example.
The Church is supposed to be the light on the hill with words and with deeds. The Roman Church is the richest in the world yet her people are some of the poorest! There’s nothing wrong in having a nice church building to worship in, even a beautiful one! One has only to look at the temple Solomon built. Its designer was God! But to bleed your people dry to build and maintain beautiful cathedrals while your people go hungry spiritually and physically is criminal. But it’s just as criminal to hold back whatever wealth you have from the work of the LORD. For everything we own belongs to the LORD. It is given us by the LORD. It is His! The LORD can just as easily take all our trinkets, all our riches back again.
Listen to what the LORD says in the first chapter of Haggai, i.e., Haggai 1:7ff, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the LORD. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
So the moral of the tale is this: Use whatever wealth you have for the building of the LORD’s Church throughout the earth. We’re not necessarily talking about buildings. We all know that Christians can worship anywhere. But let me just pause here and pose a question: When you drive through center of any western city, when you look at the sky-line, are you able to pick out church buildings from the others? Are you able to tell the difference between a church building and a bank building, for instance? The church is the one with the steeple, the arched windows, isn’t it? Well, I put it to you that as the church become more and more like the world, so do our buildings! And how many church buildings have you driven by only to find that it’s been converted into a theatre or something? The world wants to change our church buildings into theatres. A theatre is a place of entertainment! At the theatre you’re entertained by people acting as if they are something when they’re not! You could be excused nowadays for thinking you were walking into a church when you were actually walking into an entertainment theatre!
So the world wants to change our churches into entertainment centers! And I’m sure you are aware that many churches are quite happy about this. If they’re not happy then why is there so much puppets, mime and drama in the churches nowadays? And by the same token, why is it that some congregations go to great lengths nowadays to build buildings that look more like pan-cake houses than churches? We were in an old Methodist Church building in Brisbane City which is now a pan-cake house! Inside they now hand you a menu instead of a hymn book and a Bible! There were photos on the walls from its glory days when it was packed with people feeding on something more substantial than flap-jacks!
The Christian Church today has adopted a strange philosophy, the belief that the church must become like the world in order to attract the world. But you as a Christian should stick out like a sore thumb. Therefore the building you worship in should stick out like a sore thumb. What’s wrong with a majestic steeple pointing heavenward? However, nowadays you’re never sure whether you’re going to get served pancake or the Word of God! But more often than not you’ll be served something other than God’s Word. Don’t be deceived: some of the churches in this town are really pan-cake houses! The world and the things of the world have infiltrated the churches. And the churches reflect the world and the things of the world. And now instead of building church buildings we build multipurpose buildings. Apparently it increases the resale value of the building for the future.
The Church today needs to learn anew what the LORD was teaching Abraham And here it is: All the riches of the world, all their buildings and all their cities belong to God. And if it pleases God to give us silver and gold then He gives us them. If it pleases God to give us a whole cities then He gives us whole cities. If it pleases God to give us the whole earth then he gives us the whole earth. But you and I won’t see a brass razoo of it unless we trust in the LORD. Unless we trust in the LORD with all our heart, soul, strength, might, and mind the little you have will be taken from you and given to those who do trust the LORD. That’s what the LORD is teaching Abram, i.e., to trust in Him and Him alone, and not to trust in the world or the things of the world, the things of Egypt.
Like Abram, we need to take our eyes of the things of the world and trust in the things of God.
If this were a game of monopoly Abram is no longer in jail. However, he’s back at the beginning collecting more than 200. He landed on Chance and bankrupted himself. He had to pay the owner of the Promised Land everything he had in a famine. He went down to Egypt to try to bale himself out of his debt. But actually Egypt turned out to be the jail, i.e., the place where people go when they cannot pay their debts. But Abraham had a Community Chest card up his sleeve. He had a “Get Out Of Jail Free Card”, didn’t he? So here we are seeing him use that card. “Abram called on the name of the LORD.”
Abraham went back to that little sanctuary he had built. He returned from his spin around the Monopoly Board and landed on Church Street. Did all the buildings look the same on Church Street? Let’s see, there are the Amorites with their Baals and Ashteroths. There they are over here cutting themselves and calling on Baal. There’s another lot over there throwing their children into the fiery belly of their god Moloch. All these establishments of the Canaanites dotted the skyline of the Promised Land. BUT THAT WHICH ABRAM HAD BUILT WAS DIFFERENT! Abram had built an altar there, an altar to the LORD who had appeared to him. Right there smack-dab right in the center of pagansville he had built a church building, building different to all the rest. He had built an altar, not to an unknown God, but the LORD who had appeared to him, the LORD who had promised to bless him, the LORD who had promised to make him a great nation, the LORD who had promised to bless those who blessed Abram and curse him who cursed him. So, when it says that Abram called on the name of the LORD, it means that Abram began to worship God once more.
The prodigal has returned, this prodigal has much more than smelly clothes on his back. This is the wild rover has come home with gold in great store! The wanderer returns! Think about it, Abram had already lost whatever he had in a famine the LORD sent. But now he’s returning with gold in great store and a heart that is ready and willing to use his riches to the glory of God! He knew that everything he had belonged to the LORD. Like Paul he had learned that “in whatever state, to be content; [to] know how to be abased, and... how to live in prosperity... [Like Paul Abram] learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” Philippians 4:11-12.
Abram could say along with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” Job 1:21. The LORD took Abram’s riches away in a famine. But now he has blessed him with even greater riches. Like Job whom God blessed him with more at the end than he ever had at the beginning Job 42:12. In fact Abram is the richest man there is apart from Christ! For Paul to the Romans in 4:13 tells us that Abram is the heir of the whole world!
So, who says you don’t get to take your riches with you? Abraham and all the meek along with him shall inherit the earth Matthew 5:5. Therefore, all the silver and gold and livestock that Abram had when he left Egypt is just a small token of what’s in store for him. In fact, Abram coming out of Egypt, the world with all his riches as he entered the Promised Land is a great biblical motif. It is a picture of the wonderful provision of God for His people. He brings us up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage and He bestows great blessings upon us.
When we set our hearts to worship Him in spirit and in truth He sets His heart to bless us. It is the LORD who brought Abram up out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage. It is the LORD who brings us out of that land of bondage too. It was the LORD who brought Israel out of captivity in Egypt, the LORD who says to Israel in Deut. 6:10ff., “And it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant – when you have eaten and are full – then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
The LORD had given His Church all the great cities of the Western Civilization. They were ours and all the steeples on every skyline were testimony to this fact. However, the Western skyline is rapidly changing. It’s beginning to look more and more like Egypt! Instead of steeples we see Moslem onions, domes dot the horizon! The Church has forgotten the LORD who brought them out of Egypt. It’s time we made the trip back to that place we were before. It’s time we gathered our trinkets together in our swag and headed back to the Promised Land. It’s time we began to trust in God, to really call on the name of the LORD. It’s time for the wanderer, all the wanderers to return and call on the name of the LORD!
If you’re still stuck down in Egypt, if you have been faithless, then follow father Abraham up the hill back to the Promised Land. You might have been faithless up till now but God hasn’t. The Lord is faithful and he will forgive the wanderer. Even if you’ve been the WILDEST wild-rover return to the LORD. If you belong to Him He will not deny you because He cannot and will not deny Himself.Come, come back to Abraham’s family altar and once more call on the name of the LORD. Make the trip. Bring your trinkets. BUT trust in the LORD!