Tag Archives: rural

The RAT: A New Bible Translation for Anabaptists

Anabaptists have not yet come to a consensus on the thorny problem of Bible translations. Now there is another option they will need to consider. A new translation is underway that may be of special interest to some readers of this blog. In this post I am sharing excerpts from translation efforts so far.

The translation team would appreciate your feedback. You don’t have to know Hebrew or Greek to help. As you read over these excerpts, simply compare them with your favorite translation. (Links to the ESV translation have also been provided–just hover over the references at the end of each passage and the ESV text will appear.)

Two kinds of feedback are most welcome: (1) Improvements on the passages shared here. (2) Suggestions for translating your other favorite Bible passages.

Without further ado, here are some excerpts from the new RAT:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the city that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not buy from any store in the country’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may buy the produce of the bulk food stores in the country, but God said, ‘You shall not buy the products of the store that is in the midst of the city (lo, Macy’s in Manhattan), neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you buy of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw in the window display that the products were good quality, and that they were a delight to the eyes, and that the store was to be desired to make one cool, she took of its products and bought, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he bought. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed Spandex together and made themselves loincloths. (See Gen. 3:1-7)

And when they were in the subway, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (See Gen. 4:8)

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the city of Sodom was prosperous, like New York City, the banking capital of America… So Lot chose for himself all the city of Sodom, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. (See Genesis 13:10-11)

 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into Waterloo County, then you shall select farms to be farms of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. (See Num. 35:9-11)

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess farmers greater and mightier than you, croplands great and growing up to heaven.” (See Deut. 9:1)

“Cursed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.” (See Deut. 28:3)

And no portion was given to the Levites in the cities, but only farms to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. (See Joshua 14:4)

The people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. By command of the Lord they gave him the farm that he asked, in Elkhart County. And he rebuilt the farm and settled in it. (See Josh. 19:49-50)

And David lived in the Shenandoah valley and called it the farm of David. And David plowed the farm all around from Harrisonburg northward. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. (See 2 Sam. 5:9-10)

“To his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Holmes County, the farmland where I have chosen to put my name.” (See 1 Kings 11:36)

“I will deliver you and this farm out of the hand of the urban developers, and I will defend this farm for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” (See 2 Kings 20:6)

Jehoshaphat lived near Gap. And he went out again among the people… and brought them back to the LORD, the God of their fathers. He appointed judges in the land in all the farming communities of Pennsylvania, farm by farm. (See 2 Chron. 19:4-5)

I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the farm, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its fences have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Intercourse, to the farm of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” (See Neh. 2:3-6)

There is a river whose streams make glad the woodland of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. (See Ps. 46:4)

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the farmland of our God!
His holy plain, beautiful in flatness,
is the joy of all the earth,
Kansas, in the west,
the farmland of the great King.
Upon her grasslands God
has made himself known as a farmer. (See Ps. 48:1-3)

Some wandered in urban alleys,
finding no way to a farm to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a farm to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man! (See Ps. 107:4-8)

But seek the judgment of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord against it, for in its judgment you will find your welfare. (See Jer. 29:7)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the city to be tempted by the devil. (See Matt. 4:1)

“You are the light of the world. A farm set in a valley cannot be hidden.” (See Matt. 5:14)

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his row house apartment, another to his college class. (See Matt. 22:4-5)

“For unto you is born this day on the farm of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (See Luke 2:11)

“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten getaway cabins.’” (See Luke 19:17)

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the countryside until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and convinced them to join him in leaving the city for a safer rural environment. (See Acts 17:16-17)

“I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this wilderness who are my people.” (See Acts 18:10)

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Chicago... And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him to rural places like Chambersburg, Lansing, Elnora, Hartwell, Guys Mills, Carbon Hill, and Mountain View, reasoning daily in the halls of the Bible schools. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of America heard the word of the Lord, both Anabaptists and everyone else. (See Acts 19:1, 8-10)

But I say, walk on a nature trail, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (See Gal. 5:16)

Put on the whole hunter’s outfit, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (See Eph. 6:11)

And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the city? (See Heb. 3:17)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love our farming lifestyle, not neglecting to meet together to discuss pesticides and soil run-off, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another to increase our yield per acre, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (See Heb. 10:24-25)

He was looking forward to the farm that has drainage tiles, whose designer and builder is God. (See Heb. 11:10)

For here we have no lasting farm, but we seek the farm that is to come. (See Heb. 13:14)

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with Carhartts, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (See 1 Pet. 5:5)

And I saw the holy farmland, new Lancaster County, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (See Rev. 21:2)

I could share more excerpts from this fine new translation, but hopefully that is enough for you to get a feel for how it sounds. As you can tell, it tends toward the functional equivalence end of the translation philosophy spectrum, rather than being strictly word-for-word.

In the traditional Anabaptist spirit of the brotherhood principle, the translation committee welcomes your help with their work. Feel free to critique the above excerpts, or suggest more in the comments below.

And oh! I almost forgot to tell you: “RAT” stands for “Rural Anabaptist Translation.” Proving that rats live in grain bins, too, and not only subway tunnels.

ratreading
Reverend Rat reading from his new favorite translation. Photo Credit: janjaromirhorak via Compfight cc


Disclaimer: Perhaps it would be the part of wisdom for me to clarify that the above post is a work of satire. [Update: See my post “Christians and Satire: What Does the Bible Say?” if you have questions about this style of writing.] As with all good pieces of satire, it is intended to be both entertaining and educational. (If you find it neither—or even if you do—please feel free to write a parallel post proposing a CAT–a “City Anabaptist Translation.” I will enjoy the entertainment.)

The educational bit in this piece is simple: It is an attempt to remind us that rural does not always equal good and city does not always equal bad in the text of the sacred writings—despite our cultural tendency to conveniently miss much of the evidence challenging our rural values.

It is possible that this satire transgresses one or two rules of good exegesis or logic. I hope, God willing, to sometime write a post that gives better evidence. It would answer this question: “Can (Anabaptist) Faith Survive in the City?” That is a serious question that deserves serious answers. Meanwhile, you may wish to read my three posts answering the following question: “Why Should You Care about the City?” Each post discusses one answer:

  1. Because God cares about cities.
  2. The city needs you.
  3. You need the city.

Well, it’s time to sign off. Gotta go feed them calves. Wonder where they’re at?


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Why Should You Care about Cities? (2/3)

Where can you serve God most strategically? This is not always an easy question to answer. There are needs everywhere, and diligent laborers are in short supply all over.

One answer is to simply say that I am most needed right here, right wherever I am. This is certainly true on one level. If I’m not useful “here,” I’m unlikely to be useful “there.” Discipleship begins here and now, not there and later.

This is one popular application of Jesus’ final words to his apostles. He told them “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Therefore, we often hear, we should imitate the apostles by starting at home, in our “Jerusalem” hometown, then expanding outward to Samaria (nearby regions) and eventually to the end of the earth.

But Collier Berkshire of IGo (Institute for Global Opportunities) once corrected my thinking on this. He pointed out that Jerusalem was not the apostles’ hometown! Most of them were from Galilee, after all. Then why did Jesus instruct them to begin witnessing for him at Jerusalem? The answer is a strategic one—Pentecost was coming. Jesus wanted his apostles to be in Jerusalem during Pentecost, because he knew that this annual Jewish feast would attract “devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). New disciples from among this pool of feast-goers would then return to “every nation under heaven” (slight biblical hyperbole there, but we’ll skip that valuable exegetical lesson), carrying the gospel with them.

So I ask you again: Where can you serve God most strategically? For some of you, I suggest, the answer will be “in a city.”

Why should you care about cities? I’m sharing three reasons in this blog series:

  1. God cares about cities.
  2. The city needs you.
  3. You need the city.

This post will discuss the second reason. Why should you care about cities?

The City Needs You!

Two facts: Cities are growing, and globally they are growing faster than their Christian populations. An article by Al Mohler summarizes the first fact well:

In 1800, only 3 percent of the human population lived in cities. By 1900, cities held 14 percent of the population. By 2000, fully half of all human beings lived in urban areas. We are fast becoming an urban species…

As Stewart Brand argues, we are becoming a “city planet.”… “At the current rate,” Brand writes, “humanity may well be 80 percent urban by mid-century. Every week there are 1.3 million new people in cities. That’s 70 million a year, decade after decade.” (bold added)

Are Christians keeping up? Timothy Keller (see his book Center Church) doesn’t think so:

The people of the world are now moving into the great cities of the world many times faster than the church is… The Christian church is not responding fast enough to keep up with the rapid population growth in cities.

There are five million new people moving into the cities of the developing world every month—roughly the size of the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia or San Francisco. Think of that—how many churches ought there to be in a city the size of Philadelphia? Even if there were one church for every five thousand people—which is five times fewer than the United States average—this means we should be planting a thousand urban churches in the world every month. (p. 158, bold added)

Let’s add some Anabaptist context here. Not only are Anabaptists moving into cities at a rate far below Christians of many other denominations. More importantly, we also have a long heritage that values and often prioritizes rural living. But the data above shouts what should already have been evident from the pages of Scripture: The idea that people should leave the city so that they can experience optimal spiritual growth in rural environments is simply unreasonable. There simply isn’t enough farm land available for all urban converts to come join rural Mennonites. Mennonites are even running out of farm land for their own children!

Unless Anabaptists learn how to be faithful disciples of Christ within cities, several trends will become increasingly true:

  • Children of Anabaptists who find their needed living space in towns and cities will tend to join other denominations.
  • Anabaptism will remain a primarily rural phenomenon, with little direct impact on most of humanity.

I think there are theological repercussions, too, but we’ll stick with those sociological ones for the moment.

So, the city needs you, because you have the gospel that the city needs. What kinds of people in the city need you and the gospel?

Keller identifies “four important groups of people who must be reached to fulfill the mission of the church”:

1. The younger generation… In the United States and Europe, the young disproportionately want to live in cities… If the church in the West remains, for the most part, in the suburbs of Middle America and neglects the great cities, it risks losing an entire generation of American society’s leaders…

2. The “cultural elites.” The second group is made up of those who have a disproportionate influence on how human life is lived in a society because they exert power in business, publishing, the media, the academy, and the arts… Since cities now influence the culture and values of the world more than ever, the single most effective way for Christians to influence the culture of a nation is to have large numbers of them stay in cities and simply “be the church” there…

3. Accessible “unreached” people groups… The currents of history are now sweeping many of these formerly unreachable people into cities as rural economies fail to sustain old ways of life. Millions of these newcomers in the burgeoning cities of the world are more open to the Christian faith than they were in their original context…

4. The poor… Some have estimated that one-third of the people representing the new growth in cities in the developing world will live in shantytowns… An urban church does not choose between ministry to the poor and ministry to the professional classes. We need the economic and cultural resources of the elites to help the poor, and our commitment to the poor is a testimony to the cultural elites, supporting the validity of our message. (p. 160-62)

Of these four groups, which have American Anabaptists been most comfortable and successful in reaching? I think most of us would point to the fourth group—the poor. Organizations like Christian Aid Ministries have helped Anabaptists provide rapid response services after natural disasters, including in urban centers. Additionally, my unscientific observation would be that many of our few long-term urban efforts have focused on poor neighborhoods.

There are good reasons for this (we have a heritage of skilled manual service and material generosity). I suspect there are also sometimes bad reasons (scorn of the professional class, fear of education, inability to meet non-material kinds of needs). Consider the pointed questions raised by Allen Roth, in an article1 urging mission efforts in the materially-wealthy Canadian province of Quebec:

Might our neglect be due to a defect in us as a people… a lack of clarity about the Gospel itself and the need of all people for salvation, yes, even the prosperous ones who consider themselves superior to us? Are we unable and unwilling to share the Gospel unless we can hand some material benefits downward to those who “need us” and toward whom we feel superior? If… if indeed this might be the case, then God have mercy on us! (bold added)

I think we should continue our efforts to the poor, learning not only to hand out relief but also to live among the poor in long-term relationships. And I think we Anabaptists should also expand our vision to include the other three groups of urban dwellers that Keller identified.

One way to reach all three of these groups (youth, cultural leaders, unreached peoples) is to share the gospel with international college students. For example, consider a Foreign Policy article published earlier this month: “Leave China, Study in America, Find Jesus.” The article is part of a special series called China U. The description of China U. underscores the significance of Christian engagement with international students:

China U. is an FB series devoted to higher education’s role as a major and growing node of connection between the world’s two powers. How will a new generation, fluent in China and in America, shape the future of bilateral ties?

Indeed, how might a new generation, fluent in China and in America and newly won to Christ’s kingdom, shape the future of both China and America?

According to the article, the number of Chinese college and university students in America has multiplied more than four-fold in just the past 10 years. The article is full of fascinating personal stories of converts. Here are some excerpts with other data:

While firm statistics do not exist on the number of Chinese converts in the United States, it’s clear that a rapidly increasing number of Chinese students, including Cai, have come Stateside to pursue higher education; more than 304,000 Chinese studied in American colleges and universities in 2015 alone, many hailing from large cities like Beijing and Shanghai. China is the largest secular country in the world; young Chinese people often identify as atheists, although many may have visited a Buddhist temple to pray for good luck before an exam, or celebrated traditional festivals with roots in Chinese folklore. Public preaching is forbidden there, and the Communist Party-state oversees all religious matters, often with a heavy hand. Meanwhile, the state-controlled educational curriculum emphasizes patriotism and socialism, promoting a purely materialistic and scientific worldview…

As a result, U.S. universities are the first places that hundreds of thousands of educated young Chinese are exposed to different religious ideas, and invited to consider them freely…

Some predict that the future of Christianity lies in China. After all, they argue, the popularity of the faith is declining in the United States, the largest Christian country in the world. Meanwhile, in China, even government figures acknowledge a growing number of followers, from 14 million in 1997 to 23 million in 2010. (This number is generally considered a low estimate.) (bold added)

Such reports are a reminder that we don’t always have to leave our nation to reach the world. Often “the world” can be found right here in the cities of North America. For example, consider this sample of statistics about where immigrant populations live:2

  • Los Angeles: 80,000 Thai
  • Minneapolis–Saint Paul: 25,000 Somalis
  • Chicago: 100,000 Indians and Pakistanis
  • Detroit: 130,000 Arabs
  • Indianapolis: 14,000 Burmese
  • Philadelphia: 60,000 Chinese
  • New York City: 100,000 Bangladeshis

You might be surprised at who lives in your nearest city. Iowa is reportedly the sixth-least diverse state in America. (In contrast, Georgia, where we plan to move, is the fourth least white.) Yet even here in Iowa you will find immigrants. For example, here is some data on my nearest city, Des Moines:

Total Population: 207,510
Foreign-born residents: 15,713 (7.9% of Des Moines’ total pop.)
Nations of birth: 71 different countries!

Here are the top fifteen nations of birth for Des Moines’ foreign-born population. To help you see some significance in this list, I will color-code nations based on the persecution index provided by Open Doors (red = extreme; orange = severe; green = moderate):

Mexico: 8,164
Vietnam: 1,865
Laos: 1,480
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 1,023
El Salvador: 934
Sudan: 934
Liberia: 735
Thailand: 711
Burma (Myanmar): 622
Guatemala: 527
Iraq: 462
India: 427
Korea: 313
Canada: 293
Germany: 281

(Yes, you could reach nearly 300 Canadians right here in Des Moines, without needing to head north to the border and the nearest dog sled!)

It’s hard for me to imagine, but apparently 32,658 Des Moines residents speak a language other than English at home. And 17,225 of those speak English “less than very well.” All that is right here in Des Moines, Iowa—in one of the least diverse states in the nation!

I say it’s time to make Des Moines a little more diverse. Maybe it’s time some Anabaptists move there and help love the world for Christ.

And what about Toronto? Here I’d like to challenge my Ontario Anabaptist friends. What would it look like for the conservative Anabaptists of Ontario to put aside some of their differences and band together with a vision for the Toronto harvest field?

The opportunities in Toronto are immense! Here’s the big picture, from a good little article called “Understanding Toronto”:

Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and North America’s fourth largest city, with a population of 2.8 million people (5.5 million in the Greater Toronto Area, commonly called the GTA). It’s a center for business, finance, and education. It’s one of the most multicultural cities in the world… It’s one of the largest cities in North America, and it’s one of the least churched. (bold added)

Just how multicultural is Toronto? Well, 47.9% of its population is foreign-born! Nearly half! And growing! In hard numbers, that’s about 2,642,910 immigrants in the GTA.

(By comparison, over 37% of New York City residents are foreign-born—totaling 3.07 million immigrants, more than any other city in the world. On a national level, 20.6% of the Canadian population is foreign-born—the highest percentage among all G8 countries—as are 12.9% of those living in the United States.)

Here is an interactive map where you can learn more:

Where do these Toronto immigrants come from—and visit on return trips, carrying the ideas they’ve found in Canada? Here are the top birth nations (data from Statistics Canada). Again, I will color-code nations based on the persecution index provided by Open Doors (red = extreme; orange = severe; green = moderate):

India: 279,425
China
: 237,025
Philippines: 185,085
United Kingdom: 116,655
Italy: 116,240
Sri Lanka: 105,565
Pakistan: 99,295
Hong Kong: 99,285
Jamaica: 97,660
Portugal: 73,740
Guyana: 72,090
Poland: 64,095
Iran: 60,785
Vietnam: 60,555
United States: 55,630
South Korea: 48,785
Trinidad and Tobago: 46,915
Russian Federation: 35,200
Ukraine: 31,795
Greece: 31,185
Germany: 27,635
Bangladesh: 25,560
Romania: 24,515
Iraq: 22,145
Afghanistan: 21,185

All told, there are over half a million people living in Toronto who come from countries where you may have to risk extreme or severe persecution to reach their families overseas! And the religious needs are immense. For example, Toronto has Canada’s largest population of Muslims, at just over 424,900. Equally significantly, more than 1,165,000 Torontonians claim no religious affiliation at all. Ontario Anabaptists, will you rise to the challenge?

What about your own city? To find immigrant data for your nearest city, visit City-Data.com or Statistics Canada. And remember, behind every data point is a person who needs Christ.

The city needs you, so you should care about the city. And, who knows? Perhaps you will conclude that the city is the most strategic place for you to serve God!


Come back here soon for one more reason why you should care about the city. And, as always, I welcome your responses in the comments below. Thank you!

  1. Allen Roth, “What About Neighbors Who Aren’t ‘Needy’?” The Alliance Newsletter (Vol. 16, No. 6), Nov./Dec. 2013, p. 1.
  2. Compiled by Destinations International, shared with me by Ian Miller.

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Lot the Big-Time Mennonite Farmer

You know the sermon is especially good when someone walks out crying half way through. Okay, the pain and tears unfortunately came from cramps and not from conviction. But the sermon was good, nonetheless. Brother Norman Troyer spoke on the topic of Christians living as strangers and pilgrims.

I wish I could give you an outline of the sermon, but I confess I spent part of the sermon walking out back with the poor brother suffering from leg cramps, and part of the sermon letting my mind wander on nearby mental paths.

I thought the sermon was especially timely. One reason it was timely was because I had just finished updating the congregation on our tentative plans about moving away from Leon, Iowa. I sit down, Brother Marvin prays, and then Brother Norman stands up and reminds us we shouldn’t set our roots down too deeply anywhere. We are just strangers and pilgrims. We should let God relocate us if he wants to. Ka-ching! I’m thinking I just heard from God.

Another good thing about the sermon was one of those mental farm paths down which I strolled. Brother Norman was just getting nicely started on his biblical survey of S&P (not the 500 type). After hitting a few prominent NT passages (Heb. 11:13; 1Pet. 2:11), he prepped for a home run by winding his bat way back—all the way back to Abram in Genesis 12.

Genesis 13 was where I got lost in the corn maze. (This was before the cramps began. Are you still with me?)

Abram was a stranger and a pilgrim. Lot was not.

Why not? What was Lot’s first mistake?

As Anabaptists, we know the story well. Cities are bad. Or they are dangerous, at least. Rural life is best. True, if you are careful you can live a godly life in a small town. Maybe even in a small city. And if you are really certain that God has called you, a few of you might even be specially gifted to live a godly life in New York City. But rural life is still best. And farming is next to godliness.

Okay, I might be stretching it just a bit. But, though I can’t find it right now, I know I’ve read a book or essay where someone seriously questioned whether Anabaptism can survive if Anabaptists give up farming. (And that “someone” isn’t alone, as you and I both know.) Perhaps Anabaptism as we now know it can’t survive off the farm for more than a generation or two. And that may indeed be a second-order kind of a loss, worthy of some grief. (Second-order, because most Christians have not and never will be Anabaptists; Christianity wouldn’t die with Anabaptism. Truth.) But I propose that it might be significant to recall that some of the very first Anabaptists were not farmers. They lived in the city of Zurich and were—wait for it—college students. Imagine that!

Back to Lot. So, we know the story well. Here was Lot’s mistake: He was enticed by the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. True, at first he didn’t actually move into the city. But he chose to pitch his tent nearby. He enjoyed being tempted, you know, even if he wasn’t quite ready to give in. So Lot’s first mistake was that he was enticed by the sensual excitement of the big city. This is what eventually led to the tragic loss of his family.

Right? (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed the previous paragraphs do not represent the substance of Mr. Troyer’s sermon, nor the opinions of the author, editor, or publisher of this article. Opinions of readers are, as yet, unknown.)

Let’s read that story again. Here it is, as Scripture tells it:

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And 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, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen 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.” 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, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.  (Genesis 13:2-11 ESV)

Yes, if we include one more verse, we get this: “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” And there does seem to be a typological significance to the fact that Lot moved east—a direction associated primarily with evil in Genesis ever since mankind was driven eastward out of Eden (see Gen. 3:24; 4:16; 11:2).

But notice, please, that Lot didn’t seem to notice the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah at all when he “lifted up his eyes” to chose where to settle. No, it seems that the cities weren’t on his radar at all.

What was on his radar? What did Lot see when he lifted up his eyes?

Read it again:

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, in the direction of Zoar… So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley. (Genesis 13:10-11 ESV)

Lot saw some lush, green farmland. He saw land that reminded you of the Garden of Eden. It was like the Nile River valley in Egypt—the bread basket of the ancient Near East.

And why, pray tell, was Lot interested in some well-watered, river-bottom land? Because Lot was a farmer! That’s right, Lot was a farmer.

A big-time farmer. Read it again:

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold… And 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… (Genesis 13:2, 5-6 ESV)

Abram and Lot were both big-time farmers. And—notice this, too—they both lived near wicked pagans. Yes, Lot lived near wicked Sodom and Gomorrah. And yes, these cities were so exceptionally wicked that God saw fit to destroy them some 600 years before the Canaanites were destroyed. “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete,” God told Abram (Gen. 15:16). But it had begun. And our text specifies that Abram was not settling in an empty promised land: “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land” (Gen. 13:7).

So, let’s summarize: Scripture does not say that Lot was enticed by the big city while Abram was wise enough to prefer a secluded rural life.

What does it say? It says that Lot chose the best farmland. This is what motivated his choice. As any good farmer knows, there is only so much top-quality farmland around, so if you want it, you better step quickly.

Does this sound familiar? Have Anabaptists ever done such a thing, perchance?

So, Mr. Gingrich, what exactly is your point? What are you saying we should learn from this passage?

Well, I’ll leave that for you to puzzle over. (And hopefully you don’t get a brain cramp.) I’ll just say two unrelated things before I quit:

First: Lot’s greed was what enticed him to leave the Promised Land. Ponder that, brothers and sisters.

Second: I’m thinking I might go find me some really bad farmland to pitch our family’s tent. That is, if that’s where God calls us to be strangers and pilgrims.


Now it’s your turn. What do you think? What might God want Anabaptists to learn (or unlearn) from this story about Lot? Share your insights in the comments below!


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