Solving Problems While Heathen Watch

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

Abram and Lot—the main characters in chapter thirteen—were recent arrivals to this region which was heavily populated with idol worshipers. As acquaintances were made, the local residents found out that these men were strange indeed; they had no idols of any kind, and had no regard for man-made deities! If their curiosity drove them to the point of asking Abram, “In whom or what do you trust for protection? Who or what do you worship in order to be blessed and prosperous?”, they would have been given an abstract answer, “My God cannot be seen by men’s eyes; He is invisible, I worship Jehovah.”

In the previous paragraph notice the word abstract. My guess is that idol worshipers don’t easily comprehend an invisible, untouchable deity; after all, they can actually see and touch theirs. As problems and needs arise in the life of an idol worshiper they go before their deity, follow a specified ritual and expect their god will take care of the matter. This illustrates an important principle of how the world walks by sight, not by faith which is the opposite of a Jehovah worshiper. Instead of abstract words it might carry more weight to have an actual, visible demonstration that Abram’s invisible God was in fact real and willing to work on Abram’s behalf.

With that in mind we look at verse seven again and see that it tells us there was contention and strife between God’s people. Even true believers do not have some magical immunity against problems in their human relationships. However, it should always be remembered that the world watches us as we work through our problems. The way in which our conflicts are resolved should demonstrate the nature of the One Whose name we bear. That is what makes our text so significant: the idol worshiping Canaanites and Perizzites couldn’t figure out how Jehovah worshipers resolved their problems since they didn’t have charms, fetishes or use any kind of tangible objects.

In the previous chapter (Genesis 12:10-20) Abram had learned a shameful lesson of what happens when we lean on our own understanding. Pharaoh, seeing that Abram relied on deception, sent him out of the country. Could it be that the Egyptian head of state said to someone nearby, “If that is how Jehovah worshipers deal with people, I hope I never meet another one!”

There are many places to apply these thoughts but I am thinking especially of cross-cultural situations where missionaries dwell among heathen people. So, when missionaries are dealing with people problems—for example, national pastors or even other missionaries—the locals need to see how the One Whom we represent can solve problems without using charms, cultural mechanisms or physical force. We must remember that we live among the Canaanite and Perizzite—they are watching. Let our conduct be the means by which they see that the Spirit of God and the Truth of God’s Word can solve any kind of dispute. This is as much a part of making disciples of Jesus Christ as to stand before them and preach a sermon.

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