“And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle
and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle:
and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.”
~ Genesis 13:7
In the time of our text, Abram had returned to Canaan from the land of Egypt, where he went with his household to escape the famine in the Promised Land. During their sojourn in Egypt, both Abram and Lot experienced an increase in their physical property. We read of Abram after he “went up out of Egypt” (Genesis 13:1), he “was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2). We read similarly of Lot that he “had flocks, and herds, and tents” (Genesis 13:5). Abram seemed to be blessed with many temporal blessings despite his marked departure from the word of God in leaving the land of Canaan.
However, the apparent blessings of Abram and Lot began to be a problem between their respective houses. According to the Divine account, “The land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great” (Genesis 13:6). Their increases were such that they began to crowd one another and “there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle.”
There began to be strife in the family over earthly possessions and wealth. This is an ancient story with mankind and continues to be repeated today in the lives of modern families. There is many a strife in households over land, houses, money, estates, heirlooms, and many more trivial things. So, at once, we can all identify with their plight and feel familiar and even sympathetic with their situation.
The familiarity we can have with the narrative is good reason to exercise caution in evaluating the text. Taken at mere face value, the verse seems to recount a typical and all too common contention among kinsmen. We might be hard pressed to find much deeper meaning in the verse if it was not for the last phrase of the text, “and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.”
Verse 7 is one whole sentence and the last phrase seems out of place in the verse and in the context. The inclusion of this phrase makes the verse stand out and suggests many questions to our minds. Is this an extraneous piece of information? Does this verse contain anything more than an account of the relational problems of Abram and Lot? What do the Canaanites and Perizzites have to do with the striving of these men’s herdsmen? Let us now “apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12) and seek the blessing of the Spirit to our edification in understanding the verse before us.
Immediately, we note the similarity of this verse with the sixth verse of the twelfth chapter of Genesis. There we read, “And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.” Here, this last phrase does not seem joined with the verse in which it is found. Examining the circumstances, we realize that Abram had just entered the land of Canaan and “passed through the land,” and, in the next verse, “the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Genesis 12:7). So, Abram received revelation that this land was to be the possession of his seed after him, but “the Canaanite was then in the land.”
Similarly, in the thirteenth chapter, Abram has again entered the land of Canaan. After the situation with Lot was settled, “the LORD said unto Abram . . . Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to the will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (Genesis 13:14-15). Then, Abram received revelation concerning the extents of the land promised to his seed for a possession, but “the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.”
The meaning becomes more apparent when we consider the relation of Abram to the Canaanites. If we go back to the eleventh chapter of Genesis, we learn that Abram was a descendant of Shem; he was a Shemite, or Semite (Genesis 11:11-26). Shem was the blessed and favored son of Noah (Genesis 9:26-27). Through the lineage of Shem, the Messiah would be born into the world and the physically blessed descendants of Japheth would receive spiritual blessings by dwelling “in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27).
However, Ham was the cursed son and his lineage, the cursed lineage. This curse was specially pronounced upon Ham’s son Canaan. So, in the time of our text, the occupants of the land of promise to Abram were the descendants of Canaan—Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaims, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites (Genesis 16:19-21). These all dwelt in the land that Abram’s seed was going to possess or overtake.
In chapter twelve, Abram had first entered the land and learned that his seed was to possess it. However, in opposition to this promise, Abram knew “the Canaanite was then in the land.” So, Genesis 12:6 is ominous of future conflict. The Canaanites were not going to vacate just because Abram passed through the land and it was going to be given to him. No, Abram’s seed was going to have to fight, waging war actively to take possession of the land of promise.
Likewise, the phrase pertaining to the Canaanites dwelling in the land has the same meaning in our text. The verse before us is ominous of the future conflict in the land of promise, but this is not all. In our verse, we have two conflicts mentioned and both of them are in prospect. The striving of the herdsmen is also ominous of future conflict, for strife between the servants will eventually lead to strife between the masters. Abram realized this potential problem with Lot and acted quickly to head off this conflict, as is evidenced by his words in verses 8, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.”
Let us tarry now for a little while longer and go yet deeper into the meaning of this passage. Our text is ominous of conflict for Abraham and his seed. Abraham has the unique designation in Scripture of being the “father of all them that believe” (Romans 4:11). By faith, all who believe are the children, or seed, of Abraham: no matter whether they are Jew, Gentile, bond, or free. Paul instructed the Galatians, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). So, Abraham is the father of the faithful and lived the life of faith. As such, the people of God can expect to some degree to enter into his experiences.
The two conflicts in our text speak to us of two great conflicts in the lives of the people of God—the physical conflict and the spiritual conflict. The impending conflict with Lot signifies a physical conflict and the Canaanites represent a spiritual conflict.
As soldiers of Christ, we may expect a physical conflict with the people of this world. This conflict may range from light ridicule even to fierce persecution or death, as many who have gone before have faced—“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword” (Hebrews 11:36-37). This should not surprise us considering that Christ declared of His people in His own prayer, “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
Abram’s conflict with Lot was one in his own family. Sometimes, this may prove a tough challenge to the children of God. Christ stated, “I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matthew 10:35-36). We certainly have the responsibility to live peaceably with all men, as much as it is possible. However, our Lord often found that “there was a division among the people because of him” (John 7:43). Let us be prepared to stand up with Christ and endure the shame to go to Him without the camp.
Space fails for us to go on further into these thoughts, but let us have a word or two more concerning the ominous spiritual conflict for Abraham’s spiritual children. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “Put on the whole armour of God,” not to battle against father, mother, or neighbor, but “that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). He makes it plain that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Herein lays our toughest battle. Satan has put his forces in array against God and His people. This warfare requires that we “Be sober, be vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8).
Should we cowardly seek to leave him unopposed? Shall we relent or retreat? Our orders are plain. We are to “Stand therefore,” and “Resist the devil.” Then let us also walk in the path of faith as Abraham did. The greatest testimony we have of him is that “Abraham believed God” (Romans 4:3). He had faith—walked by faith, and lived by faith. Oh that we might believe God and follow Peter’s words concerning our adversary, “Whom resist stedfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9).
There is reason for us to have hope in this great conflict, “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We may safely conclude that as it was for Abraham when “the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land,” so it is for us that we live in a land inhabited by a hostile enemy of God and truth.