Self-Interest Only Seems Better Than Selflessness | Genesis 13:15 Meditation

Genesis 13:15 Verse of the Day Commentary

The chorus from Smashmouth’s ubiquitous, self-affirming 1999 hit, “All Star,” declares, “All that glitters is gold!”1 However, the wise know better. Things are not always as they seem.

When reading the account of Abram and Lot, we find an example of how self-interest can lead to fleeting fool’s gold, while godly selflessness can lead to everlasting abundance.

  1. Text
  2. C4C Translation
  3. Commentary
  4. Memorization

Text

15 כִּ֧י אֶת־כָּל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֥ה רֹאֶ֖ה לְךָ֣ אֶתְּנֶ֑נָּה וּֽלְזַרְעֲךָ֖ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃2

15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.3





C4C Translation

For, all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.

Not sure why the NIV omits for (כִי | kî).

Commentary

This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us

This verse is located in the narrative describing how Abram and Lot parted ways (Gen 13:1-18).

After a troublesome stay in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20), the two return to Bethel where Abram had first built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:3-4 cf. Gen 12:7).

Apparently, Abram and Lot were both pretty well off. So much so, there was not enough space for both of their great number of flocks and herds and tents — which resulted in disputes between their herders (Gen 13:5-7).

Abram, the eldest, chooses to end the quarreling by offering to separate himself from his younger nephew (Gen 12:5), graciously giving Lot his choice of territory (Gen 12:8-9).4

Quite the opportunist, Lot chooses to go to the well-watered land in the plain of the river Jordan — which happened to be near the wicked city of Sodom and other cities (Gen 13:10-13). Abram then settles in Canaan (Gen 13:12).

A Chiastic Commitment

After Lot leaves, and before building another altar (Gen 13:18 cf. Gen 13:4),5 the LORD tells Abram to look and walk through the entire breadth and width of the land (Gen 13:14, 17) — a “pilgrimage of faith” signifying ownership.6 For the LORD would give it to him and his descendants (Gen 13:15, 17) — who would be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Gen 13:16 cf. Gen 15:5, 22:17, 26:4, 32:12).7

Scholars wisely point out the chiastic structure of Gen 13:15-17.

A I will give (the land) to you (v. 15)
B your offspring (v. 15)
C  dust of the earth (v. 16)
C′ dust of the earth (v. 16)
B′ your offspring (v. 16)
A′ I am giving it to you (v. 17)8

This commitment serves as an elaboration of the LORD’s earlier promise (Gen 12:7),9  which also concerned The Promised Land that would be given to his offspring.

This promise is repeated to Moses — who does not reach the Promised Land (Dt 34:1-4)10 — and Joshua — through whom the LORD conquers, takes possession of, and gives the Promised Land (<–follow this link for more on the Promised Land).

Turn Of Events

It is interesting how Genesis 13 differs from Genesis 12.11 In the former, we read first of the great Abrahamic blessing — the Gospel told in advance (Gen 12:1-3 cf. Ac 3:25, Gal 3:8-9) before encountering the problems ensuing from Abram’s lies about Sarai (Gen 12:10-20).

In Genesis 13, we read first about the problems between Abram and Lot — before encountering this great blessing (Gen 13:15-17).12

Self-Interest vs. Selflessness

What may be more interesting is the fact that in Genesis 12,  Abram selfishly and deceitfully acts in his own self-interest.13 He claims that his beautiful wife is actually his sister in order to be spared and treated well for her sake (Gen 12:11-13).

In the very next episode, however, after notably returning to Bethel (“back in his own backyard, Abram’s first priority is to renew his life of worship“),14 he changes his M.O.:

In the first instance he is obsessed with himself, his safety, his future. He must become deceitful. In the second instance, Abram assigns himself position number two. He empties himself of patriarchal authority.15

Lot on the other hand, by choosing the more fertile land, acts in his own self-interest. And though he chooses a seemingly more prosperous path, it is in close proximity to the wickedness in Sodom (Gen 13:13),16 which would later prove to be perilous.

All That Glitters Ain’t Gold

After just a few years, Lot’s self-interested choice eventually leads to his capture (Gen 14:12) from a town that is eventually, utterly destroyed (Genesis 19). On the other hand, Abram’s selflessness leads to God’s promise to give the land to he and his descendants forever (Gen 13:15).

As we find throughout Scripture, self-interest < selflessness (cf. Php 2:3-11).17

Memorization

Memorize Genesis 13:15 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:

Sources

  1. Though some suggest that parody and satire can be found throughout the song (see https://genius.com/Smash-mouth-all-star-lyrics) and even the songwriter, Greg Camp, seems to affirm that the song has layers, he says that it’s “sort of like a daily affirmation. It was designed to be an uplifting, self-confidence building song.” http://www.songfacts.com/blog/interviews/smash_mouth_songwriter_greg_camp/. Then again, he would have little reason to ruin the perception of his Golden Goose that brings in royalty checks each month.
  2. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ge 13:15.
  3. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ge 13:15.
  4. “As head of the family he had the right to direct where Lot should live, but on this occasion he behaved with exemplary selflessness, and gave Lot the choice.”

    Joyce G. Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12–50: From Abraham to Joseph, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), 41.

  5. Genesis seems to be emphasizing that “twice in this chapter Abram builds an altar.”

    Victor P. Hamilton, “Genesis,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 20.

  6. “Now he is to make a pilgrimage of faith, and walk the length and breadth of the land to claim it as his own, according to the Lord’s command.”

    Joyce G. Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12–50: From Abraham to Joseph, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), 42.

    K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 139.

    “In this passage Yahweh asks Abram to exercise faith that the land, as far as Abram’s eye can see in any direction, will one day be his.”

    Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 394.

  7. K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 139.
  8. K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 138–139.
  9. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 395.
  10. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 395.
  11. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 395.
  12. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 395.
  13. Gordon J. Wenham, “Genesis,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 70.
  14. Victor P. Hamilton, “Genesis,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 20.

    For “a renewal of his lapsed obedience.”

    Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 128.

  15. Emphasis added. Victor P. Hamilton, “Genesis,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 20.
  16. “Lot, choosing the things that are seen, found them corrupt (13) and insecure; choosing selfishly, he was to grow ever more isolated and unloved. Abram, on the other hand, found liberation.”

    Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 129.

  17. “Abram showed the love of peace and a willingness to sacrifice self-interest that the Bible always applauds (cf. Ps. 133; Mt. 5:9; Phil. 2:1–15).”

    Gordon J. Wenham, “Genesis,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 71.

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Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student