When Looks Can Be Misleading (Genesis 13:10-13)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Genesis 13:10–13
I. Looks Can Be Deceiving
Most people understand the phrase, “looks can be deceiving”. Something that looks safe or valuable or fixed upon first inspection can turn out to be unsafe or counterfeit or still broken upon further inspection. Someone who looks like the kindest grandma on the plant turns out to be a incredibly conniving and malicious. Think about another example of this: a restaurant that looks clean and professional and up-to-date in every way, can have a filthy kitchen and/or extremely poor habits when it comes to food storage and food preparation, leading to cases of 'five star' food poisoning. On the other hand, a dumpy looking food stand on the side of the road can have an extremely clean kitchen, super safe food handling procedures, and absolutely no cases of food poisoning. “Looks can be deceiving.”
This is just as true when it comes to spiritual realities. Jesus warned in Matthew 7:13 that “the gate is wide and the way is easy... that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:13–14 that “false apostles, deceitful workmen, [can disguise] themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” “Looks can be deceiving.”
I believe we find something similar (not exactly the same, but something similar) in our main passage this morning. Turn, if you haven't already, to Genesis 13.
II. The Passage: “And Lot Lifted Up His Eyes” (13:10-13)
As we drop into this chapter, it's important to do a little bit of review in regard to the context. As you learned this past week, in Genesis 12 God calls a man named Abram to leave his home in Mesopotamia and travel to the land of Canaan, a land in which he would (according to 12:2) “...make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The closing verses of chapter 11 tell us that Abram made this journey with his father Terah, his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot. Those verses also tell us that this family traveled to Canaan by way of a city called Haran, and that Abram's father died while in that city.
So as we learn in chapters 12 and 13, God did indeed bless Abram, in both Haran and Canaan. We read in 13:2–6 that “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold”, and that “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”. So let's pick up the story from there, starting in verse 8 of chapter 13...
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herds-men 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.” [and here's our key text this morning... starting in verse 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, [i.e., the “Jordan Valley”] in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)  So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.  Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.  Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
So consider with me two things about this passage:
1. Consider what Lot could see. Verse 3 of this chapter tells us that Abram and Lot were standing somewhere between Bethel and Ai, in the hill country above Jericho. That means they were looking due east, down into the Jordan river valley.
But notice how the text focuses on Lot: “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw...”. What did he see? He saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered. He could see the Jordan River and how amazingly green it was all along the river. So how well-watered was it? It was (v. 10) “like the garden of YHWH”. That means like Eden. That's the biblical ideal of an earthly paradise, isn't it? It was also “like the land of Egypt”. The first readers of Genesis were the younger generation of Israelites who came with Moses out of... Egypt! They knew how fertile that land was all along the Nile. This Jordan Valley looked to be just as fertile. But “looks can be deceiving”, right? In this case, no, they weren't. If you had to choose a good place in the region to keep and graze your livestock, this was pretty much perfect.
But we also need to...
2. Consider what Lot could not see. In the very same verse that tells us that Lot saw how ideal the Jordan Valley was, we're also reminded about the fate of “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Clearly, the first readers of Genesis already knew about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. And they must have been familiar with geography of that area, since the writer here has to remind his audience that he's talking about this area, “in the direction of Zoar”, before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God. If God had already destroyed these cities, this area would not have looked very appealing to Lot.
But we know this mention of Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 10 is not just a chronological clarification. We know that because the writer goes on to stress the fact that Lot had chosen an area that was, yes, full of life, but also... full of wickedness. Look again at verse 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.” And then verse 13 adds this explicitly clear note: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” Did Lot know this about Sodom when he looked down from the hill country? I don't think he did. But there should be no doubt that the way this passage is written points to real trouble ahead for Lot.
And chapters 19 tells us that whole story. But when we get to 19:1, Lot is no longer living in a tent near Sodom. He is sitting in the gate of Sodom. In fact, as early as 14:12 we learn that Lot “was dwelling in Sodom”. As you will read this week, in chapter 19, he welcomes two men (who were in fact two angels) into his house... in Sodom! Had Lot become like his neighbors, that is, was he now 'wicked, a great sinner against' Yahweh? No. In fact, his invitation to the two men was most likely a gesture, not only of hospitality, but also of protection against possible sexual assault. And when wicked men of the city, these sexual predators come to Lot's door in chapter 19, Lot condemns their behavior. In fact, we read much later in 2 Peter 2:7-8 about how God...
...rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked  (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)...
Now, Lot's distress and torment over his neighbor's wickedness did not mean he was not negatively influenced by his life in the Jordan Valley. The most shocking proof of that is when he offers his two daughters to the mob of sexual predators banging at his door. But an additional and more subtle concern can be summarized with this question: “Why did Lot choose to put down roots in such a wicked place?” Understandably, he looked for abundance when choosing a place for himself and his herds. Unfortunately, he failed to look deeper; he failed to fully acknowledge that there was also an abundance of evil in that place. Looks were not deceiving about the natural provision of that area, but they were misleading... misleading in that the material benefits obscured the spiritual danger. It's hard not to conclude that Lot was ultimately willing to trade the well-being of his flocks (his bank account) for the well-being of his own soul.
III. Good Things & Dangerous Realities
Brothers and sisters, friends, I believe God would have us take a few minutes this morning and think about misleading 'looks' in our own lives; that is, good things that can obscure danger-ous realities. Again, this is not a moral lesson I'm imposing on the text. The presence of both “garden of YHWH” and “Sodom and Gomorrah” in verse 10, is a good indication that the original writer is emphasizing this same dynamic of how looks can be misleading. And this isn't the first time we see this in Genesis. In chapter 3 we learned how “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (v. 6). In 6:2 we read how “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” And just like with Lot, both of those earlier situations ended with God's punishment.
And don't forget what Lot was told by the angels when he escaped from God's judgment on Sodom: he was told in 19:17 “do not... look... back”.
So think for a moment about how looks can be misleading in your own life. Think about similar temptations you and I might face. For example...
Think about the the believing young man or woman who meets an attractive and kind and smart and fun member of the opposite sex, and it's clear there is real chemistry. But it turns out that other individual is not a Christian. That's a good thing obscuring a dangerous reality.
Think about the believing husband and father who is offered a coveted promotion at work, one that will provide some much needed extra income for his family. But the new position will mean a lot more time away from his wife and kids. That's a good thing obscuring a dangerous reality.
Think about that growing family feeling the size of their small house in the city, when suddenly they run across a great deal on a much larger home in the suburbs. But the new house is in a church-less area, 35-40 miles away from their local church, a faith family and a community in which they are deeply invested and watching God at work. That could be a good thing obscuring a dangerous reality.
Think about the minister or ministry who's offered the chance to have a national platform, but doing so will mean linking arms with groups that are wither secular or far from doctrinally sound... Or the person in recovery who finally connects with a new groups of friends... friends who spend most weekend nights at the bar... Or the believer who is offered effective solutions for a struggling child, and yet, they are solutions deeply rooted in ideologies that are profoundly at odds with God's word.
In all these cases, things can look good and seem right and feel helpful and make sense at first, based on that initial consideration. Again, we can be talking about very good things, just like the goodness (the lushness, the abundance) of the Jordan Valley. But if you do not go deeper, if you do not use discernment, if you do not ask the questions Scripture encourages us to ask, you will most likely find yourself in a compromised position, losing ground (not gaining it), and regularly tempted to rationalize why you are continuing to do what you're doing. That's exactly what Lot must have been doing. And what was the outcome? He survived the judgment of God, but at a cost. He lost his home. He lost his livelihood. He lost his wife.
Believer, looks can be misleading. And such dangers can be extremely subtle at first. And... you can tell yourself all kinds of things about how your situation is different, how you've got every-thing under control, how things will turn out fine in the end. But God is calling you to be honest with yourself this morning; to learn from Lot. So what are those questions Scripture encourages us to ask so that looks do not mislead us? Here a few that came to my mind:
How would a renewed mind think about this decision? Romans 12:2 calls us to “be trans-formed by the renewal of your mind”. Considering this renewed mind forces us to consider God's word, which in turn helps us ask different questions about what we see.
Is my conscience bothering me at all? The conscience that is shaped by God's word is meant to alert us to compromise, unless we are ignoring it. But like the Apostle in Acts 24:16, we should “always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” Can our conscience by misinformed? Yes. But in most cases, don't try to drive out the very cautions your conscience is trying to drive home.
Is my ultimate goal my comfort or success, or God's glory? I Corinthians 10:31 reminds us that in “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Even when things look good or seem right at first, are we asking, “How can I glorify God in this situation?” In fact, as Paul indicated, you should be thinking about that in “whatever you do”. Of course, both that question and its answer should flow from the renewed, Scripture-shaped mind I mention a minute ago.
I think if Lot had ask questions similar to these, he would have left Sodom long before and in a different manner than he did. But because we are more like Lot more than we'd care to admit, and more often than we'd care to admit, let me point you to an extremely encouraging verse. It's in 19:29. It says, “So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.” Lot was rescued... because “God remembered Abraham”. What does that mean? It simply points us back to chapter 18 where Abraham interceded with God on Lot's behalf. What a beautiful reminder that there is a righteous man interceding with God for us, even at this very moment. His name is Jesus, and only he can provide divine deliverance from the judgment of God against our sin. Do you trust him for that? He's also called us to “walk by faith, not by sight”. So as you walk in His grace, keep looking... but learn to look even deeper with eyes of faith. As you do, you will guard and be guarded from that “misleading” by His gracious leading.