Commentary on Genesis 13

Last updated: June 13, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

2Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. 5And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

8Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley 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 destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.

14The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.

Notes

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

That Lot accompanied Abram to Egypt went unmentioned in 12:10-20 because he played no role in that narrative.

2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.

The promise of divine blessing (12:2) is being fulfilled. “The possession of metals by pastoralists was particularly important in Canaan. In time of famine, silver and gold, being media of exchange, afforded a measure of security and protection”1.

3-4 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.

These verses refer back to 12:8-9. One wonders if Abram’s worship involved repentance for the events of 12:10-20.

5-7 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

The Hebrew word translated “strife” (rib) refers to verbal wrangling2. There is irony that Abram and Lot cannot share land with each other but can share land with the Canaanites and Perizzites.

8-9 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Abram’s rhetorical question (“Is not the whole land before you?”) may indicate his confidence in God’s promise of land despite the fact that the Canaanites and Perizzites were still dwelling in the land (13:7).

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley 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 destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)

The vocabulary of this verse echoes Eve’s attraction to the forbidden fruit (3:6) and the actions of the sons of God (6:1-2)3. Lot is choosing the “forbidden” cities. The note that Sodom and Gomorrah had not yet been destroyed highlights the fact that the land’s beauty has blinded Lot to the wickedness of the land’s inhabitants. The Burj-Beitin, about 1 mile southeast of Bethel, “affords a magnificent view of the Jordan Valley”4.

11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.

In Genesis, ominous events are often signaled by the geographical direction “east” (3:24; 4:16; 11:2).

12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.

Lot did not choose the promised land of Canaan.

13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.

The phrase translated “great sinners” is unique in the Hebrew Bible and foreshadows the judgment that befalls Sodom in chapter 195.

14-17 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”

The ESV omits the word “please” from verse 14, which can be translated: “Look about, please, from where you are . . .”6. When God uses the word (15:5; 22:2; Exodus 11:2), he asks someone to do something beyond human comprehension. The highest spot in Israel (3,291 ft), Gebel-el-Asur, 5 miles northeast of Bethel, provides a view of the Mediterranean, the hills of Hebron, and the Transjordan7.

This promise is more explicit than the promise of 12:7 in four ways. First, the land is clearly defined as “all the land that you see”. Second, Abram himself, not just his descendants, is promised the land. Third, Abram and his descendants are promised to be given the land “forever”. Fourth, Abram is promised countless descendants.

Walking through the length and breadth of the land is a sign of ownership and thus a fulfillment of God’s promise that Abram would be given the land8. Abram’s descendants were viewed as countless by the times of Balaam (Numbers 23:10) and Solomon (1 Kings 3:8).

18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.

The rapid-fire description of Abram’s actions in the Hebrew convey the patriarch’s compliance and assurance that the promises will be fulfilled9. Mamre, identified with modern Ramet el-Khalil, is about two miles north of Hebron10. Hebron, the highest city in Canaan (3,040 ft), is located about 19 miles south southwest of Jerusalem11. The cave of Machpelah, the burial site of the patriarchs, was near Mamre12.

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament Volume 1A. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary Volume 1. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987.

1Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 97.

2Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 134.

3Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 136; Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 392.

4Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 98.

5Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 137; Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 298.

6Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 394.

7Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 100.

8Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 139; Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 298.

9Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 139.

10Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 139; Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 395.

11Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 139.

1223:2, 19; 25:9; 49:31; 50:13

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