After Abram’s foray into Egypt, his relationship with God changed. He no longer struggled in partial obedience. God had commanded that Abram separate from his extended family, yet Abram allowed Lot to follow him to Canaan. Now Lot and Abram have parted ways. Instead of God was talking about giving the land to one of Abram’s children, he has included Abram in the promise. Even sweeter than including Abram in the promise, God promised to be Abram’s “shield and exceeding great reward”.
The contemporary English definition of “reward” is “something that is given in return for good or evil done or received, and especially that is offered or given for some service.” The Hebrew word for “reward” carries a similar meaning: “payment of contract, salary, fare, maintenance, by implication compensation or benefit. ” These definitions stir up a question. What “service” would Abram provide for which God is willing to “pay” him?
The answer to that question is found in Genesis Chapter 14 when kings began to quarrel with one another. Abram lived peacefully in the land of Canaan when he heard rumors of war. War in the region was nothing new. The quarrel that started the war began the year after Abram arrived in Canaan, some fourteen years before. The generation Abram lived is no different than ours. Jesus said we, too, would hear of “wars and commotions,” but not to worry, war is not an indication the end is near (Luke 21:9). We are instructed, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Abram had no intention of getting caught in the middle of Sodom’s war, until that war made it impossible to live at peace.
Quarreling and fighting is not going away anytime soon. From the day Adam and Eve sinned to this day, we’ve been fighting with one another. Families fight with each other; friends have disagreements; neighbors fuss; nations argue and start wars in which thousands die. Even Christians fight with each other. Paul and Barnabas argued and went separate ways. This is the world we live in, and it will not change until Jesus, the Prince of Peace, returns.
Abraham is a peacemaker. He had no desire to become entangled in another man’s quarrel. We are passing through this world as “strangers and foreigners.” Scripture says, “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17, NKJ). Interfere with “fighting dogs” on your journey, and they will bite you. Try to talk sense to two people who live like dogs, and you’ll only put yourself in jeopardy of having both of them turn against you before they continue the fight you interrupted.
Proverbs also says, “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife but every fool will be quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3, ASV). Abram remained aloof from the war between Sodom and its oppressors. Why should he get involved? The people of Sodom were no better than the people who oppressed them. Sodom oppressed the poor. Its citizens gathered to gang rape strangers who dared seek refuge in their city. Why should Abram get involved in the quarrel that sprung up between Sodom and their enemies?
Events that we may perceive as an injustice requiring our intervention might be God’s judgment upon the lives of disobedient people. During King David’s reign, Absalom took the kingdom away from his father but it was not an injustice. Absalom’s actions were foretold and fulfilled the will of God. David had used his privileged position to destroy a man’s family. In judgment for this sin, God told David, “What you did in private, I will do in public.” God gave Absalom power to take his father’s kingdom and then sleep with his father’s concubines on a rooftop.
A family friend abandoned his commitment to God. He soon lost his family, his job, and he spent a short time in prison. When his disobedience brought misery into his life, he asked us for money. My husband wanted to help him. I was against it. That evening, our pastor, who knew nothing about the disagreement I had with my husband, preached a message admonishing the congregation not to interfere with God’s discipline. My husband took the message to heart. We declined giving him the money. We did the right thing. With nowhere to turn for help but God, the man repented. God restored him and returned his family to him. Today the man has a beautiful, humble spirit.
There are good reasons to avoid quarrels that have nothing to do with you. But sometimes there is a righteous reason to get involved. Abram’s intentions changed when he received news a righteous man was taken captive. Then, and only then, did Abram, a man of peace, become Abram, a man of war.
Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their provisions and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom and his goods and departed. Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew for he dwelt by the trebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner and they were allies with Abram. Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods as well as the women and the people (Genesis 14:10-16, NKJ, emphasis added).
This wasn’t Abram’s quarrel — until he received word that a righteous man was in trouble. Now Abram had a reason to fight — not for “quarreling dogs”; but for his brother in the Lord. So Abram called Mamre, Eshcol and Aner, three brothers who had an alliance with him; and together, four men with a righteous cause accomplish what five wicked kings failed to do. They routed the enemy, which fled leaving the spoils of war for the righteous. Abram and his allies liberated more than one righteous man. They recovered everything, including the women, children and men who had not fought in the war. The men of Sodom who fought in the war had abandoned the civilians to hide in the mountains.
I’m convinced that most churches I’ve spent time in had their priorities lopsided. They approach Christianity the same way the world approaches doing business, with dry, Spirit-less logic. They think: “If we want the church to grow, we must advertise and then show people how much we love them.” But blessing unrepentant people only enables them to continue in their unrepentant lifestyles. The ones enticed to join us with false promises are often treated worse in the church than they were in the world. Tragically, some churches will “rape” the found to “win” the lost.
We err when we love “dogs” more than we love our brothers in the Lord. Jesus never told us to love the world, because the whole world is too heavy a burden for us to bear. God “so loved the world that he gave his son” that all may live. God sent his son to the people he saved from Egypt. Jesus said, “I am for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He would barely speak to “foreigners,” and he rarely traveled outside the borders of Israel. When Jesus died for the righteous, his own nation that had gone astray, he opened the door for all people from any nation to enter his kingdom. The “branches on the tree” (tree is another way of saying nation, i.e. Israel) that rejected him were broken off, and the Gentiles that accepted him are “grafted into” their place (Romans 11).
Speaking to his twelve disciples Jesus said, “Love one another.” Loving my brother in the Lord is a burden light enough for me to carry. Loving the whole world as God does is much more than I can bear. The Apostle Paul never criticized the churches he founded for failing to win the lost; his prayer was that the new believers would grow in the knowledge of God and grow in love for one for another.
We will never win the people of this world until they see us love one another — And we will not know how to love one another until we understand Abraham’s faith. Without love we are nothing more than resounding gongs or clanging cymbal – meaningless noise (1 Corinthians 13). But if we follow the example of the father of our faith, Abraham, who refuse to fight for dogs but willingly took up weapons of war for the righteous, we might free everyone in our “city,” too.
When God freed his son from death, he gave everyone the freedom to choose. When we fight for our brothers in the Lord, it gives people something to choose. Why should they choose to be in our churches when we act just as immoral as they do, using and abusing one another for personal gain? What difference is there between a church or social club if they’re both run and financed in immoral ways?
We need to be aware that even if we do what is right, and thus bring people the freedom to choose what’s right, everyone does not want God’s righteousness.
Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and take the goods for yourself” (Genesis 14:21, NIV).
The “King of Sodom” still wants us. Even if a person of faith frees us from the King of Sodom’s grip, we’re free to go back to Sodom if we want to. The sad truth is, many, even some righteous men, will go back to the king who abandoned them after tasting freedom. This was the first time but won’t be the last time Abram arises to fight for his righteous brother in the Lord. Lot returned to rebuild his life in a place where he was oppressed and tormented every day. It would have been “better to have little with the fear of the Lord than it is to have great treasure with trouble” (2 Peter 2:7-8, Proverbs 15:16).
After Abram had fought for and rescued Lot, and after Abram had refused any pay from Sodom’s wicked king, the King of kings spoke to Abram for the fourth time, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
We would avoid “lots” of hurts in life if we would expect compensation from God alone. It’s a sad truth that God’s people don’t always treat you right. There are “lots” of Lots in the church whose selfish decisions will not only cost you, they also won’t appreciate your efforts to help them. If you’re not careful, these modern day Lots will make you bitter.
Abram had reason to be bitter. First Lot took advantage of Abram’s gracious offer to choose first when they parted ways, and then Lot “thanked” Abram for helping him by returning to live in Sodom. But instead of getting bitter, Abram choose to trust God, and God assured him that he would receive God’s protection and pay.
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar. Two things I request of you Deprive me not before I die; Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches- Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny you and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:5-9, NKJ).
Abram didn’t trust any man to sustain him, nor did he strive for wealth as Lot did. He didn’t take advantage of the King of Sodom’s offer to keep their goods. Abram was content with the things he had — content to receive God’s reward. Abram had a right to the spoils of war, but he refused them, choosing rather to trust God. He stood before the King of Sodom and said, “I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap… I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, I have made Abram rich.”
Then Peter began to say to [Jesus], See we have left all and followed you. So Jesus answered and said, Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel’s who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time (NIV, “in this present age”) — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:28-30, NKJ).
If you forsake this world for Jesus’ and the gospel’s sake to fight for your righteous brothers, even those who’ve not yet learned how to love and serve God, as Jesus said, you will be paid, now in this time, in this present age, and in the age to come. So, next time you get word that one of your brothers in Christ is in trouble, don’t be afraid to fight for him, because God will protect and reward you — just as he was Abraham’s, so will he be our “shield and exceedingly great reward,” too!