What would it take to distract you from the hope of the restoration of God’s reign over the world?
Lot isn’t happy. He can see the fertile valley of the Jordan River, but his uncle is keeping the family to the sparsely populated Negev and the rocky central plateau. He complains that his flocks and herds are not getting a fair go. Abram asks where he’d like to go. Lot chooses the Jordan Valley. They part company. Lot separated himself from the promises YHWH gave to Abram.
The reality was that Abram and Lot were already quite well off. It was their wealth that drove a wedge between them (13:6). Greed gave Lot an idealized image of the Jordan Valley:
Genesis 13:10 (NRSV)
Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Remember the river that flowed out of YHWH’s presence (Eden), abundantly watering his garden (Gen 2:10)? That’s what this valley looked like to Lot. He saw the Jordan as if it was the Nile.
Unfortunately, this fixation prevented Lot seeing what was really there:
Genesis 13:13 (NRSV)
Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.
YHWH’s view was different to Lot’s. The sovereign who provides land and water for his people was painfully aware of how the people of the rich lands resisted his authority and lived abusively. Lot couldn’t see it, so he left Abram and joined the valley of the violent mob. Imagine moving your family into a region controlled by something like the mafia.
Presumably Lot had come with Abram to this land because of YHWH’s promise. Now he has separated from Abram, choosing Sodom instead. Abram no longer considers him an heir (compare 15:1). He has chosen a separate life, a different community.
By contrast, Abram’s interest in this land not so much for what he can gain as for the nation YHWH will establish there. Abram returns to the altars he built as monuments to YHWH. He invokes YHWH’s authority: “calling on the name of YHWH” (13:4).
YHWH reaffirms his promise—the promise of offspring and land (13:14-16). God encourages Abram to explore the land where he will establish his nation (13:17). Abram builds another altar to honour of the one who will be lord over this land (13:18).
The promise of wealth drew Lot into the community of the wicked. It’s a temptation Israel faces repeatedly throughout the Old Testament period. Abram sees more clearly. He’s happy to live in his tent, waiting for a different kind of city, a kingdom whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).
What others are saying
John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1 translated by John King (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 373:
Lot thought himself happy that so rich a habitation had fallen to his share: but he learns at length, that the choice to which he had hastened, with a rashness equal to his avarice, had been unhappily granted to him; since he had to deal with proud and perverse neighbours, with whose conduct it was much harder to bear, than it was to contend with the sterility of the earth. Therefore, seeing that he was led away solely by the pleasantness of the prospect, he pays the penalty of his foolish cupidity. Let us then learn by this example, that our eyes are not to be trusted; but that we must rather be on our guard lest we be ensnared by them, and be encircled, unawares, with many evils; just as Lot, when he fancied that he was dwelling in paradise, was nearly plunged into the depths of hell.
Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 90-91, 99:
Abram and the other patriarchs, in their pastoral migrations, generally avoided the well-inhabited areas in the northern part of Canaan and the coastal plain. They likewise kept away from the Plain of Jezreel and the Jordan Valley. By sticking to the central mountain range and the Negeb, they could enjoy a region that was suited to pastoral economy but was sparsely populated. …
Dazzled by the surface appearance of prosperity, he [Lot] pays no heed to the moral depravity of his future neighbours.
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 138:
The responses of Lot and of the Lord to Abram’s offer are contrasted in this paragraph. Lot “parted” for his possessions (v. 14 with v. 9) after he had “lifted his eyes” (“looked,” NIV; v. 10), but the Lord instructs the patriarch to “lift up your eyes” (v. 14) so as to see the vista of the whole land that will someday belong to his descendants. The magnimity of God’s grant involves all the land that the patriarch can see (v. 15), all that he can walk (v. 17), and all the progeny that he could ever count (v. 16).
Read Genesis 13.