Moral neighbors or material prosperity?—Genesis 13:10-13

Twice the patriarchs let someone else choose the land they wanted, and twice God kept the chosen land for the descendants to whom he had promised it. The less clear example is when Esau, who settled part of the land before Jacob did, chooses the hill country of Edom (32:3; 36:8), thereby leaving the rest of the land to Jacob. The clearer example, though, is when Abram invites Lot to choose the part of the land he wants (13:8-9), and Lot chooses the well-watered, fertile plain near Sodom (13:10-13). This land was obviously good for grazing his flocks and herds, but it did have a drawback: Sodom’s residents were very wicked in God’s sight (13:13).

Sodom’s fertility made it like “the garden of the Lord” (13:10)—that is, like the place from which Adam and Eve had been expelled because of their sin. Sin, however, invites judgment, so Sodom’s prosperity would not continue any more than that of Adam and Eve had. Genesis also compares the fertility of this land with the Nile valley of Egypt (13:10). This comparison would send a strong warning to Israelites interested in turning back to their garlic, leeks and onions in Egypt (Num 11:5). Material prosperity is not the only matter to consider when choosing where to move.

Sodom would be destroyed, and Lot’s wife, too attached to Sodom to leave it behind, would perish with it (19:26; cf. Luke 17:31-32). Lot’s daughters, surrounded by the morality of Sodom, would be preserved for his sake (19:12, 16) yet would act immorally. They would shame him after their survival (19:31-34) much as one of Noah’s sons shamed him after that family’s survival (9:22-24).

In the new covenant, God often sends us to places to be a transforming influence for good. All other things being equal, however, Proverbs speaks wisely: “It’s better to have just a little, while fearing the Lord, than to have abundant treasure and experience tumult” (Prov 15:16; the term translated “tumult” is nearly always associated in the Hebrew Bible with God’s judgment).


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