GOD’S COMFORTING PROMISE
“14 And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. 16 And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. 17 Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.’ 18 Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.” Genesis 13:14-18.
“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O what a panic’s in thy breastie!”
The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote those words in 1785 after he had upturned a mouse and her nest while he was ploughing a field. He could see that the timid little mouse was in a troubled state! In the poem Burns then begins to look at things from the mouse’s point of view. And he runs a comparison between himself and the wee mouse. He ends his poem to the mouse by saying,
“Still thou art blest compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee;
But oh! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”
In the following I would like us as Christians to know that we don’t have to panic like a little mouse. Neither do we have to “guess an’ fear” about our future – or even the future of the planet earth! Why? Because our sovereign God is in control of all things. Just as He was in control of the plow with which Robert Burns upturned the little mouse’s house!
The general gist of the following is summed up in these words: The LORD comforts the compliant by confirming His Word to them.
Genesis chapter 13 began by telling us Abram, after his escapade down in Egypt, is back on track. Chapter 13 ends by informing us that Abram is still on track. Genesis 13:18, “Then Abram moved his tent [etc.] and built an altar there to the LORD.” So it’s not without reason that Abram is called the father of the faithful. However, as we’ve already seen, and will no doubt see in the future, Abram is anything but perfect. For like the rest of us, Abram struggled at times to do the right thing by God. But here in this chapter we see that Abram is compliant to the will of the LORD. For, if you remember, Abram was told to get out of his country (Genesis 12:1).
This meant that he was to get out from his kindred – even from his father’s house. And you know Abram’s father Terah and his nephew Lot left Ur of the Chaldeans and came with him. But Abram’s father died back in a place called Haran. And we’ve already looked at the amicable separation between Abram and his nephew Lot. But for now I want you to notice something that is all too often overlooked today.
The thing too often overlooked is the sovereignty of God in world events. Be it a sparrow dropping from a tree or a hair from your head or bombs from a plane. Or be it the upturning of a mouse’s house with your plough-blade. Be it anything that comes to pass, all things comply with the secret or hidden will of God. That is, whatever things come to pass – come to pass because they have been ordained by God. And this of course is not to say men are not held accountable to God for their actions good or bad. But it is to say that God is still in control!
At no point has He lost control, either in the past, present or future. So this means that when the Christian puts his head on his pillow at night he can sleep! He can sleep because his heavenly Father is watching over him and every atom of the universe.
God is busy even as you sleep working His purposes out. We’re not always privy to how He does this. Therefore, this we’ll call the “secret” will of God. For instance, none of us knows the moment we’re going to die! Neither does anyone know when the Lord is going to return bodily. God has a secret or hidden will – His decretive will. It is secret or hidden from our view (cf. Deuteronomy 29:29). But the Christian should be comforted knowing that God is in control – control of all things. There’s great comfort expressed in the words of the old hymn, “Whate’er my God ordains is right: His holy will abideth.”
But there is an even greater comfort to be had by being obedient to God. When you know what God would have you do and you do it, that is comfort to your soul. Take Abram and Lot for instance. Both were compliant to the secret or hidden will of God. However, only one of them was conscious he was doing the will of God and that one was Abram. Abram let his nephew Lot choose where he wanted to live. If Lot went to the right Abram would go to the left and vice-versa. Lot chose to go and dwell in the cities of the plain of Jordan – even as far as Sodom!
Now then, it has to be admitted that both Abram and Lot were compliant to the secret will of God. As we are reminded of the Proverb, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” 16:33. But here’s the difference between Abram and Lot in this instance. Both were compliant to the secret will of God. But only Abram was compliant to God’s revealed will. Abram separated himself from Lot because of what God had already told him to do. Therefore he was being obedient to the revealed will of God. However, Lot saw the whole thing as his opportunity to move from tent-life to city-life. But I want you to see that, though Lot wasn’t focused on the things of God, he was still complying with the will of God, albeit the secret will of God!
God had told Abram to get out from his kindred. The LORD had revealed this to Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans, this is the revealed will of God then. But Lot, as you know, was the last of Abram’s kindred. So when Abram asked Lot to choose where he wanted to go Abram was complying to the REVEALED will of God, wasn’t he?
Both Abram and Lot got themselves entangled in all that nonsense when they went down to Egypt. Abram learned his lesson to “Come out from among them and be separate” 2 Corinthians 6:17. But Lot? Well, he can’t wait to get back in among it all again. So he dashes off to dwell in the cities of the plain. And when he got there? Well he’s like those today who seem to have no confidence in the sovereign power of God in all things. To put it bluntly, they’re too busy looking at the things of the world and not the things of God! Therefore, like Lot in Sodom, their hearts become troubled when they see evil around them! They forget the words of the Shepherd Psalm, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” They forget that Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 16:33b. They forget that Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” All authority over what? Over everything. Even every atom of the universe. Even you and me and the Devil! Therefore since Christ has overcome the world and has all authority in heaven and on earth, Christians should find comfort in this knowledge.
But instead we see Christian book-stores flooded with scary End-times books! However, the Lord hasn’t revealed the date of His return. It’s part of His secret will. You’ll know all about it after He returns like a thief in the night. So why all the scary books? The thing I find scary about these kinds of books is that some of them are written by Christians who claim that God has revealed His secret will in Scripture! They’ve been promoting the any-second-rapture of the church for over one hundred years. So this means that they have been wrong for over the last one hundred years!
How long will it take for them to realize that what Jesus says is true, that no one knows the day or the hour of His return! And with regard to the supposed rapture of the church Jesus prayed these words in John 17:15, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” Does this sound like the entire believing church of Jesus Christ is suddenly going to leave the planet earth to the unbelievers? Anyway, as Abram and Lot were compliant to the sovereign secret will of God, so are all other things. Therefore there is great assurance to be had for the Christian in the knowledge that God has control of all things “Whate’er my God ordains is right: His holy will abideth!” But more than that, there is even greater comfort in knowing that you are doing the will of God.
Just before John Calvin died, his friends, noticing he was really sick, tried to get him to lie down in his bed. “What?” replied Calvin, “And have the Lord come for me and catch me idle!” Calvin knew the comfort that comes from consciously complying to the will of God! He was a doer of the Word.
Now, to be sure there’re many mysteries in the world, e.g., the date of Christ’s return, the suffering of the seeming innocent etc. But these and like mysteries are mysteries because God has a secret or hidden will. However, He also has a revealed will which is for our comfort. Look at Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
So the general idea then, is that we leave all the mysteries with God. What is a mystery to us makes sense to God so we leave its secret with Him. But those things He has revealed to us in His Word we consciously seek to do! In the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
That should be the constant prayer of the Christian. He ought to pray that the Lord’s will be done on earth – beginning with himself. Therefore every Christian should search the Scriptures to find out what is God’s revealed will – and then go and do it! And if this be the attitude of the Christian he will find great comfort in the Word of God. Because obedience or conscious compliance to the revealed will of God brings comfort.
First we need to define what we mean by the word “comfort.” Most of us, I’m sure, think of “comfort” as soft cushions and soft pillows! Most of us think that to “comfort” someone is to give them a soft shoulder to cry on. And no doubt the word “comfort” can be used in this way. But in the following we’re using the word “comfort” the way the Bible uses it, i.e., where comfort means to strengthen, or literally to fort-ify with or fortify together. E.g., the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is the One who strengthens us. He gets alongside us and strengthen us, as in the Lord’s Supper for example. Well, look what’s happening in our text.
Abram is being compliant to the Word of God which has already been revealed to him. “And the LORD said to Abram...” (Genesis 13:14). God spoke to Abram. So the LORD got alongside Abram and strengthened him with words of comfort. However notice that the LORD did this AFTER Abram had complied to what he’d been told to do. So Abram was a doer of the Word of God and God continued to strengthen him.
And what exactly has Abram done? Well, he’s separated himself from Lot – his last kin. Abram now has no blood relatives left with him, no next-of-kin, unless, of course you include Sarai Technically Sarai was Abram’s half-sister, as well as his wife, and she also was barren (Genesis 11:30). But did the LORD tell Abram to divorce his half-sister who was his wife? No! This speaks volumes against those who believe in ongoing revelation, and claim God told them to leave their wife and become a missionary or whatever.
First off God has given us all His revealed will in the form of the Bible. And secondly, though God permits divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts, He hates it. And what better example than Abram and Sarai? The LORD has told Abram to separate from his kindred. Isn’t Sarai Abram’s kindred and his wife? However, there’s no mention of the LORD telling Abram to dump his wife. In fact don’t we hear echoes loud and clear here of what our Lord says in Matthew 19:4ff.? “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” Matthew 19:4-6. And didn’t the Lord give Adam a wife in order to help him, even comfort, i.e., strengthen him? So wives, get alongside your husbands and strengthen them!
Look at this short excerpt from Malachi 2:14-16 which spells out the main purpose of marriage, “The LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth...she is your companion and your wife by covenant...Did He not make them one...and why one? HE SEEKS GODLY OFFSPRING. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce.” Malachi 2:14-16.
So, if we put it all together, the LORD wants a man to find a woman, make an unbreakable covenant with her, leaving his father and mother to raise godly offspring. Therefore God will comfort, strengthen those who are striving to be obedient to Him in marriage. Is this not what’s taking place as we see the LORD invisibly superintend the life of Abram?
Is it not a great comfort then, to know that God always complies with His own revealed will? God is telling Abram He’ll bless his marriage with as much offspring as dust on the earth (Genesis 13:16). God is reminding him of the promise already made that He’d make him into a great nation. By this, of course, is meant the church as Paul says in Galatians 3:7, “Therefore know that only those who are faith are sons of Abraham.” And some other time we’ll look more closely at this along with the fact that Christ is the ultimate Promised Seed of Abram (Galatians 3:16). But for now we are strengthened in the knowledge that God never acts contrary to His own revealed will. However, look what else is happening in our text: Abram did what the Lord had told him to do. He has now separated himself from his nephew Lot. This must have broken Abram’s heart. Abram loved his nephew Lot! But Abram complied with the revealed will of God. He obeyed the LORD. However, is the LORD oblivious to what Abram must be going through at this time? No, the LORD came and comforted him with words of encouragement.
So then, we need to ask: What are the words the LORD uses to encourage Abram? Well, all the LORD is doing here is reassuring Abram with what He has already said. In other words, the LORD is coming to Abram and confirming what He has already revealed to him. Thus, the LORD comforts the compliant by confirming His Promise to them.
Think back to what the LORD has already said to Abram as recorded in Genesis 12:1, “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation [etc.]” Now look at what the Lord is saying to Abram in Genesis 13:14ff., “Lift your eyes now and look... for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth...[etc.]”
Abram has complied with what God has already revealed to him. And now the Lord is comforting him by promising that he will be faithful to His own Word. The Lord does the same thing with us in the Lord’s Supper. He brings us comfort by confirming in the Supper that He will be faithful to His own Word. That’s the way it works!
In the Lord’s Supper the Communicant sees that he or she has a place in the will of God – if he or she has been striving to conform to and do the revealed will of God. If you or I do the right thing by God we get to sleep at night. As Christians we should put our heads on our pillows at night and think about whether what we’re doing in life lines up with God’s revealed will, i.e., the Bible. The comfort comes with the confirmation that you are being compliant to the revealed will of God. But if the Christian discovers he’s done or is doing something in life contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, then he is a troubled spirit. For example look at Abram’s nephew Lot – and what Christian among us cannot relate to this man? We all tend to look at things through the eyes of Lot. He saw the well-watered plain of Jordan. Where Abram is content dwelling in a tent in the hills, Lot wants to go live in the cities of the plain.
Now, you’re going to see in a moment that it was God’s secret will that Lot go there. However, Lot, it would seem, went there for his own selfish reasons. Abram has learned his lesson from the time he went down into Egypt. But Lot, it would seem, is still attracted to the neon lights, the glitter and life-style of the city. It’s easy for us to look at things through the eyes of Lot. Lot followed the desire of his heart. But he wasn’t mindful of the things of God. So he became a troubled spirit. And the LORD would eventually have to send in two of His angels to deliver Lot from Sodom! However, looking through God’s eyes it’s not hard to see God’s grace in sending Lot into Sodom Because like Noah before him, Jonah after him, Lot was a preacher of righteousness.
The Bible calls Lot a “righteous” man (2 Peter 2:7-8). So Lot was a Christian. He was a member of the Christian Church as the Church existed at the time of Abram. And is there anyone who would enjoy living in, say, San Francisco or King’s Cross Sydney witnessing to people involving themselves in the practice of sodomy? Well, that was the mission field Abram’s nephew Lot was sent into by the sovereign God! No! It wasn’t Lot’s intention to go to Sodom as a missionary, but, can you see that it was the secret will of our gracious God that Lot should go there? Lot had one thing in mind but the LORD had another.
So, whatever it is that you’re planning to do, seek confirmation in the Word of God that it’s okay. Otherwise it might just blow up in your face as it did with Lot! Robert Burns expresses this same idea in the same poem I referred to earlier. You’ve probably heard the words:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain
For promised joy.
By the way, there are Christians who take great joy in this type of work. But I’m sure you can see the difference between these Christians today and Lot. Lot tended toward self-service whereas Christians living among practicers of sodomy are serving the LORD. And there’s the joy, the joy in doing the revealed will of God as confirmed by His Word. When these Christians put their heads on their pillows at night they can sleep. They know that they are there serving the LORD according to His revealed will. Both Lot & Abram, no doubt, knew beforehand that the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD (Genesis 13:13). No wonder the Apostle Peter says of Lot, “that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.” 2 Peter 2:8.
So we see then, that Lot in Sodom was compliant to the hidden or secret will of God. Seen through the eyes of God, Lot went exactly where the LORD wanted him to go. But Lot didn’t enjoy one bit being the conscience of Sodom! He had a troubled spirit because he was not consciously complying to the revealed will of God. And neither was anyone else around him. In other words, if Lot had gone to Sodom with the intention of winning the Sodomites over to the God of Abram he would have spared himself the torment of soul! So, to cut the long story short, Lot was a Christian troubled because he was too busy looking at his evil and wicked surroundings and not the kingdom of God like Abram!
So, as we begin to tie it all together, it’s not hard to see that we’re touching on a common problem in the church at large today. Instead of getting on with what we’re supposed to, (i.e., witnessing to the LORD in an evil and wicked time) many are too busy looking at their surroundings. To look at the amount of End-Time books that are flooding the Christian book-stores you’d think the devil was sovereign ruler of the world. We know that the devil, as Peter says, “Walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8. However, James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4:7-8.
Abram was busy consciously complying to what God told him to do. And the word of the Lord came to him reinforcing what He had already promised him. So Abram was happy to move his tent and build another altar and continue worshipping God. He trusted that God had everything under control and would come good with His promises. But Lot? He still had a lot to learn about the revealed will of God never mind His secret will!
So how is it with you? Are you a “Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie, O what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Or are you confident that God has everything under His sovereign control? Are you overly worried about the things around you or are you busy doing something about it, such as everything revealed in Scripture? Are you obedient to the revealed will of God at home, at work, at school, at play? Are you seeking to be obedient to God in your marriage, if you are married? Are you striving to bring up a godly offspring?
Always remember that the LORD comforts the compliant by confirming His Promise to them.