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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22 thoughts on “Lot the Big-Time Mennonite Farmer”

    1. Good question. No, I don’t think Peter was just making an ironic statement. It’s been a while since I studied the historical context of Jewish thought about Lot’s status, but I think it was common to see Lot as being righteous. After all, despite the fact that some of Lot’s actions clearly fall far short of moral perfection, he is still called “righteous” in Genesis, in the sense that God spared Lot in response to Abraham’s prayer for God to spare the “righteous” in Sodom. Despite his sins, Lot was a man who communicated with God and ultimately obeyed God’s command to leave Sodom. He’s just a more extreme example of how all the OT models of faith were imperfect people.

      1. I’ve adjusted my perspective somewhat after realizing that was how he was described by Peter. Peter’s description sounds more like a missionary than a selfish farmer. And, while we may tend to place missionaries on a pedestal, the truth is that they are just people like us. They may be more deliberate in sharing the Gospel than I tend to be, since that is, in some sense, their job description. But they would come to love the people they are ministering to, I should think, just as I love my neighbors (even though I may not love their lifestyle, or their pets who poop in my yard. lol) I suspect that God’s grace covers a lot of our goofs when we are involved in loving people, especially when our wrong is done because we are carrying out other commands (imperfectly, but at least trying.) I say “goofs” because I am distinguishing between things we know to be sin, and things that are sin but we aren’t aware fully of what we are involved in.
        For example, when I lived in Japan, the father of the principal of the public junior high school where I taught died. I went to the funeral with a fellow Japanese Christian (who also taught at the school.) I still do not know for sure, to this day, what all went on at the funeral. It is possible, if not likely, that there was idol worship. (Or at least ancester worship.) I went, not to worship another god, but in love for the people I worked with, so if I did participate in such a thing, I feel confident that I can rely on the Grace of God to cover that unintentional (and unknowing) sin.

        I sort of think Lot is listed for similar reasons. Not because he was perfect, but because he apparently cared about the people he lived near.

        Maybe we would do well to emulate him more, and deride him less?

        1. Good thoughts, Patricia. I certainly agree that there is more to Lot’s story than simply painting him as a selfish farmer. (Though I do think that the text of Genesis does not describe his land choice favorably.)

          I agree that when we interact cross-culturally we are likely to sooner or later “goof up.” So we need to give each other grace.

          So you taught in Japan? In a perfect world I’d love to sit down with you and hear more about your experience there!

          God bless, and thanks for your interaction here.

      2. I also just realized that you said Lot “left the promised land.” I am not trying to be difficult… but wasn’t the Jordan valley part of the land promised as well? It just wasn’t time for Abram(‘s family) to possess it yet. I’m not trying to split hairs here… believe it or not!

        I’m teaching a “through the Bible” sunday school class for the older elementary children at our church. It’s tough at times – no curriculum to “guide” me or give info… But it’s good, because it means I do some real studying. Anyway, this is why I notice such minutia. 🙂

        1. Good question. I got that idea from a Genesis commentary written by Kenneth A. Mathews. He writes of Genesis 13:11-13: “Continued references to site locations contrasts Lot’s abode outside Canaan versus that of Abram inside. Abram lives in the ‘land,’ whereas Lot resides ‘among the cities’; Abram dwells in Canaan, and Lot lives on the periphery of Canaan (v. 12). The same geographical metaphor distinguishes the chosen and rejected members of the Abraham lineage (Isaac/Ishmael, Gen. 16:21; 25:11, 18; Jacob/Esau, Gen. 36:8-9, 40; 37:1).”

          So maybe “Promised Land” is less correct than “Canaan.” On the other hand, the only specification about the boundaries of the Promised Land that we have thus far in the narrative are found in Genesis 12:5-7. There it says that Abram “came to the land of Canaan,” that “at that time the Canaanites were in the land,” and that God said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So “this land,” in context, is the land of Canaan. This suggests at least that Lot was moving into questionably “boundary” territory when he, unlike Abram, did not settle “in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 13:12).

          1. Ok. I think I understood the Jordan valley to be included because it says later in Gen 13 that after Lot departed, God told Abram he would give him all the land he could see in every direction. I simply figured that if Lot could see it from there, Abram could too. My understanding was that, though presently Lot and Abram split it up, eventually it would all be Abram’s.

            I am probably more skeptical than I should be of commentaries and such, because I am sure many have studied carefully things like culture and context that I would not know. However, I would be really hesitant to assume that Lot’s choice was bad on the basis he gives. It was certainly described in similar ways, perhaps because he, too, was not the chosen line. However, the question could be asked whether his choice was bad or if it was described that way because he was not the chosen line. Multiple others spent time “east” and it was not necessarily described in those ways – not because they weren’t east, but because the writer was using clues to help his readers recognize the difference between the “chosen” and the “other.” I’m not feeling confident that I’m expressing myself well, but I have some other responsibilities.

            Thanks for the dialogue. 🙂 I am am enjoying it.

        2. Patricia, dialoguing with you here is about as good as reading a commentary. 🙂 And that’s a compliment, as well as an explanation of what I see as being the value of a good commentary—it is a dialogue with an insightful and studied fellow saint.

          Your last comment raises so many valuable observations and questions.

          * Yes, chapter 13 does seem to expand the “promised land.” And that is just the start of a pattern, of course, throughout all of Scripture, culminating in the NT promises that those who are children of Abraham by faith will inherit “the world” (Rom. 4:13). So my tentative critique of Lot is based on the observation that God had not yet revealed that the “promised land” extended beyond the land of the Canaanites.

          * “The question could be asked whether [Lot’s] choice was bad or if it was described that way because he was not the chosen line.” A very good question. There is a tension in Genesis (and in the NT theological explanations of Genesis) between God’s unconditional divine choice—prior to human action good or bad—and the subsequent actions of humans that seem to validate God’s choice. (Examples of the latter could be Esau’s choice of pagan wives and the way he sold his birthright. Choosing to live outside the land is another such example.) So it is true that God “non-elected” Lot apart from Lot’s own virtue or lack thereof. And you are right that it is possible that this is all that Genesis means to imply when it paints Lot’s choice in a negative light. On the other hand, Lot’s choice to live outside the only land that God had to that point explicitly promised to Abram, with whom he was migrating, could suggest that he, like the later Esau, undervalued God’s promise. And perhaps we are intended to puzzle over such things as we ponder the text!

          * Your observations and questions remind me that we all bring our presuppositions to the text. My post was designed to show this, and I think my central correction (Lot didn’t go astray because he loved the city) still stands. But your comments remind me that we could also question a larger presupposition: that this story is designed to show some moral failing on the part of Lot, thus providing a moral lesson for us. I still think it probably does, but I thank you for making me think more carefully!

          And I better sign off with that for now. Thanks again. 🙂

  1. Dwight, it seems like you had a lot of fun writing this posting. Now, which direction were you thinking of relocating? It wasn’t east, was it? When our kids talk about us moving out west where they are, Joyce replies that the saying, “Go west, young man, go west,” doesn’t apply to her ’cause she isn’t young and she’s not a man. Guess we’ll have to wait for better directions.

    1. Yes, Dave, I’m glad you sensed the fun. I trust it is fine sometimes to mix the fun and the fully-serious into one post. 🙂

      Where are we relocating? I hope to share this publicly quite soon. I can say not that it’s not back to Ontario, for better or for worse. “Go west, young man” was a line that rang in my mind in an earlier time of decision-making–back when I left Parry Sound for Dryden, to do voluntary service at a mission. I was not only male but also young at the time. 🙂 Give Joyce my greetings.

  2. It seems to me that at least some of Lot’s decisions were made based on what he felt was for his personal temporal advantage or benefit. But when God spoke to him and gave him clear instruction, he did obey, albeit somewhat grudgingly, perhaps. (Is this much different than how we ourselves sometimes operate?)
    The question I have here regarding Lot being considered righteous, did God accept a different ‘level’ of righteousness in the OT than what He expects now of us?
    I was thinking of some of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, as well as Paul’s statement in Acts 17:30.
    I’m not sure if Paul’s statement should be kept in the narrow contextual frame or if it could have a broader application.
    The next question, then, if the above holds true, are we sometimes satisfied with ‘OT righteousness’ when God is desiring ‘NT righteousness’ in our lives?
    Do we sometimes, like Lot, not look past the choices we make that may bring us temporal advantage to the eternal consequences those choices may set in motion?

    1. Good thoughts, Wayne. I think I agree. It’s a challenge to me: How righteous do I really want to become? How much do I really want to be righteous? Am I walking in the new covenant righteousness God makes available?

  3. I agree. Isn’t Lot’s problem the lust of the eyes? He saw it was well watered (like the garden of Eden). Nothing wrong (actually much right) with a well watered garden. But not when you think it can take the place of God. The land East of the Jordan wasn’t paradise… or a remake of Eden and it would not satisfy. Only God can do that. We are called to be strangers and pilgrims and I needed reminded often because I often try to use security/home here for the longing for eternity in my heart.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michele! I identify with the temptation to try to satisfy my longings for our eternal home with lesser homes here and now. May we have faith to wait, even while praying and acting for the kingdom of God to begin coming right here and right now.

  4. Is the well-watered plain innately evil? Let’s let our minds wander a bit within the perimeters of reasonableness. What would have been the out come if Lot would have been truly unselfish, choosing the poorer ground? Would it have been wrong for Abraham to live in the fertile plains? Why not? What are the bed-rock principles that make the fertile plains dangerous, or good, for that matter? Perhaps Mark 10:29-30 provides some insight.:)

    1. “Is the well-watered plain innately evil?” Certainly not! After all, God made and gave the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve, and the Jordan valley is compared to that good land in this passage. The moral issue in this passage is not the goodness or badness of fertile land. Rather, the moral questions are ones of apparent greed (especially when coupled with seeming disregard for honoring one’s elder) and of apparent disregard for the land that God had explicitly promised up to that point. (I wouldn’t want to 100% insist that Lot failed morally in this passage, but if he did, these are the failings I suggest.) The Mark 10 passage affirms blessings like lands to those who, like Abraham, are willing to leave lands and family behind for the sake of the gospel–i.e., for the sake of God’s promise. I’m not sure Lot fits that pattern of sacrifice and blessing, or at least not in the Genesis 13 incident. (Abram failed, also, in other incidents.)

      Thanks for engaging! 🙂

    1. James, thanks for affirming the welcome to NYC. 🙂 A part of our hearts is most certainly still there, but it seems there is a need and opportunity in Atlanta that might be a better fit for us now. If you see my “A Is for Atlanta” post you can read more about that. Thanks for the comment, and God bless you and yours!

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