There was Strife between the Herdsmen (Gen 13:7)

by Steven Chan
18 July 2010

Strife, disputes or contentions may sometimes arise between brethren, friends and family members resulting in the lack of harmony. Often this may result in the parting of ways. According to I Cor 3:3, the presence of strife is evidence of people walking as mere men instead of acting as spiritually matured people: “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” We should endeavour to do away with strife and divisions between family members, brethren, business associates and our neighbours.

However, oftentimes, practical solutions may need to be adopted to ensure that peace and harmony may prevail and that relationships would not be unduly strained. In the case of Paul and Barnabas, they could not agree over the choice of John Mark as a co-worker with them on their missionary journey. The Bible recorded in Acts 15:39 that “the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.” Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus whilst Paul took Silas and travelled through Cilicia and Syria, strengthening the brethren. They did not stop doing God’s work. Their difference of opinion was over permitted matters of expediency (i.e. whether to take John Mark along or otherwise) and not over matters of what the Lord required or forbade or had prohibited.

In Genesis 13, Abraham took along his nephew, Lot, along with their respective families and herdsmen, on their journey towards God’s promised land of Canaan. When they pitched their tents in Bethel, the Bible recorded in Gen 13:6-7 that “the land was not able to support them that they might dwell 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.” They faced a physical challenge of accommodating one another as the land was not big enough to accommodate both the families. They could no longer stay together without jeopardizing their good and harmonious relationship thus far.

In Gen 13:8-9, “Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” Brethren ought not to be in constant strife with one another. Sometimes, separation may be the only option so long as it does not contravene the Lord’s commandments. In 1 Cor 7:10-12, the Bible says: “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” It is not my intention here to discuss the circumstances of when a marital separation may be permissible; but merely to highlight that in such a separation, the Bible does not allow re-marriage of either parties – the only permissible ground for re-marriage is when a spouse is dead (I Cor 7:39; Rom 7:1-3) or when one spouse puts away the partner who has committed adultery – also known as the exception clause (Matt 19:9).

In the case of Abraham and Lot, it is noteworthy that Abraham gave the right of first choice to his nephew, demonstrating his magnanimity or unselfishness. Gen 13:9: “If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” Abraham could have argued that he should have the first right because he was the one to whom the Lord had promised and also that he was older than Lot and therefore has to be respected. But he made no such argument. He took the higher road of moral conduct.

In Gen 13:10-13, the Bible recorded that Lot made his choice based on what he saw: “Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.” Unfortunately Lot’s choice was not premised on spiritual or godly considerations such as “bad company corrupts good morals” (I Cor 15:33).

In spite of giving up what appeared to be the preferred choice to Lot, Abraham was blessed by the Lord: Gen 13:14-17: “And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are–northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” The lesson for us is to trust the Lord in whatever circumstances that the Lord will bless us and take care of us – even if separation may have occurred and it may appear to us that we may have given up the best preference or choice to another – because if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31). All things are possible to them that believe the Lord (Mark 9:23; Heb 11:6). 1 Peter 2:19: “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.” It’s commendable to suffer wrongfully because it is more important that we glorify God and uphold His name by our good and honourable conduct.

Lot’s choice, which was based on purely earthly considerations, resulted in him losing almost all that he had when he was first led away as a captive by the four kings who attacked and captured Sodom (Gen 14) and later had to flee from Sodom and Gomorrah when the Lord destroyed the two cities (Gen 19) – losing his very own wife when she looked back – in direct contravention of the Lord’s command (Gen 19:26). The Bible says in Prov. 14:12, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

We may not be able to avoid strife with various people but how we respond to such occasions of strife would determine whether we would be blessed by God or otherwise. Such situations in reality tests of our faith – whether we trust and obey the Lord in all circumstances – and not selfishly and without regard to the will of God. May the example of Abraham and how he handled the situation with his nephew, Lot, teach and motivate us to do the right and honourable thing in all circumstances of our lives. As the Lord said in Mal 3:10: “And try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” May God be glorified in all that we do (Matt 5:16).