Tuesday of Week 12 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 13:2, 5-18

The virtue of Abram is further highlighted in this passage. As we could gather from yesterday’s reading, but is explicitly confirmed in today’s, Abram was not only rich in livestock, but also in silver and gold. Lot also was the owner of extensive herds and tents. Their combined possessions were so great that the land they occupied could not support both of them together. The region around Bethel and Ai did not have enough water or pasture for such large flocks and herds.

The result was that quarrels broke out between each one’s herdsmen over land for grazing. The problem was aggravated by the fact that Canaanites and Perizzites were also still living in the area. Abram then, with total generosity, suggests they divide the land between them. Abram, always generous, gives his young nephew the opportunity to choose the land he wanted. He himself would not obtain wealth except by the Lord’s blessing.

Lot takes what seems the better and more fertile land of the Jordan Plain as far as Zoar. The area indicated is the sunken river valley reaching to the south of the Dead Sea. Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea, which is conceived as not yet existing at the time about which the story refers. When Lot chose it, it was rich and fertile. It was “like the Lord’s own garden or Egypt”. Because of its abundant and dependable water supply, Egypt came closest to matching Eden’s idyllic conditions. Ominously, the writer adds: “That was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”, which were cities in the territory.

In fact, archaeology has confirmed that, prior to the cities’ destruction, the now dry area east and south-east of the Dead Sea had ample water and was well populated. The rest of the territory, Lot left to Abram. For his selfishness, Lot will later pay a high price. Because of the notoriously immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, devastation and barrenness will come, leading to the formation of the Dead Sea.

Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, with Lot settling among the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom, whose inhabitants “were very wicked in the sins they committed against the Lord”. Lot chooses a life of ease but in a region where immorality flourishes; for this he will be heavily punished. But the generosity of Abraham in leaving his nephew the choice will be rewarded by a renewal and enlargement of the promise we saw in yesterday’s reading.

After Lot has left for his chosen territory, God tells Abram to look in every direction and all the land he can see will be given to him and his descendants for ever. Though still without an immediate heir, God tells him:

I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth.

In other words, uncountable, like specks of dust. Abram is told to walk the length and breadth of the land which God is giving to him and his descendants forever.

So Abram moves his tents and his herds to settle near the terebinth of Mamre, at Hebron, to the west of the Dead Sea. And there – for the third time since leaving Haran – he built a temple to the Lord.

The stage is now set for important developments in the story. Yesterday, we saw the great faith and trust that Abram had in God; today we see his generosity. In both qualities, there is a message for each one of us.

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