by Rev. George van Popta
Pitching tents -- Genesis 13:12b; John 1:14a; Revelation 21:3a
Rev. George van Popta; Ancaster, Ontario; January 2nd, 2000
Soli Deo Gloria
Reading: Gen. 13:1-13; John 1:1-18; Rev. 21:1-4
Text: Gen. 13:12b; Jn 1:14a; Rev. 21:3a
Singing: Ps. 122; Ps. 93:4; Hy. 30:1,3,4,5; Hy. 55:1,2; Ps.
Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Some of you enjoy camping in a tent. If you go camping in a tent during summer vacation, then when you get to the camp ground one of the first things you do is you pitch your tent. You find a good campsite. You look for a nice big one. It's got to have both sun and shade. Once you've found the right campsite, then you pitch your tent.
And it's not just a matter of quickly putting up your tent. No. That takes some care. You don't want it too close to the neighbours. You don't want it too close to the fire pit. Before you hammer in the stakes while it's still flat on the ground you try it this way, and that way. You ask your children: "What do you think? You think this will do?"
Then when everything is right you pitch your tent. You pitch it in a certain direction. You pitch it taking different considerations into account.
This morning we are going to speak about pitching tents. No, you have not walked into a wilderness survivalist club. I'm not going to give a talk on camping in Algonquin Park. Many of you know more about that than I do. And we're not going to reflect upon camping experiences -- as pleasant as such reflections would be on a cold January morning. And yet we're going to speak about pitching tents. We're going to do so only because the Holy Scriptures speak about pitching tents.
I proclaim to you the word of God about THE PITCHING OF TENTS
1. Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom; 2. The Lord pitched his tent among us; 3. We will live in God's tent forever.
1. In Gen. 13 we read about Lot, Abram's nephew. The focal point of Lot's attention was this world. The things of this world. The words of Gen. 13:12 say it all. Translated literally the last words of that verse say: "And Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom." (Not "near" but "toward".) Sodom, the city of wickedness and sin, like no other city of its time. He pitched, set up his tent towards it.
The tents used in those days are similar to the tents the Bedouins of the Middle East still use today. Lot's tent would have been made of several layers of goatskin. These were stretched over supporting poles. And fastened down with ropes and wooden pegs driven into the ground.
How did it come about that Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom? And what does it mean that he did?
Let's sketch in the background.
Lot was Abram's nephew. Their ancestral home was Ur of the Chaldeans. A city on the Euphrates R. in what is now southern Iraq. God had appeared to Abram in Ur. God had told him to leave the land of his fathers. He was to go to another land. A land that God would show him. A land God would give to his descendants. The land of Canaan.
Abram did as the Lord commanded. He took his nephew Lot with him. Lot's father had died. Its seems like Abram, Lot's uncle, more or less adopted him.
Abram, Sarai his wife, Lot, together with their servants and slaves, their flocks and herds and all their possessions, travelled into Canaan. First they settled in Shechem. Then they migrated south to Bethel and Ai. And then farther south into the area of southern Canaan called: The Negeb. While they were in this area, a severe famine struck. In order to escape the famine, Abram and his entourage moved to Egypt. Egypt, with its very fertile Nile R. delta, was seldom, if ever, bothered by famine or drought.
Abram went into Egypt a wealthy man. 12:16 says that he had sheep, oxen, donkeys and camels. Very rich. He came out even wealthier. 13:2 says that Abram was very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. Lot had also become independently wealthy. 13:5 says that Lot also had flocks and herds. He had tents (tents full of servants).
When the famine was over in the land of Canaan, Abram and Lot left Egypt and travelled back up into the land of Canaan. They resettled in the area around Bethel and Ai. At this time trouble arose between them. Not so much between them. But between their respective herdsmen. They were both so rich, they both had so many sheep, oxen, donkeys and camels, that there wasn't enough pasturage and water in that area. The land could not support both of them living together. The herders of Abram's livestock and the herders of Lot's livestock began fighting. Fighting for the land and water which was available.
Abram said to Lot: "This fighting is no good. We are brothers. Let's separate and each take different parts of the land of Canaan." It seems they were standing on some very high place in the land. Abram said: "The whole land is before you. If you go to the right, I'll go to the left; if you go to the left, I'll go to the right." Lot saw the Jordan valley. Well watered. Fertile. It looked like the garden of God; like Paradise. Lot chose that. He chose the Jordan R. valley. Lot separated from Abram. And went to live among the cities of the valley.
That expression: "The cities of the valley" refers to 5 specific cities. The five cities were: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. Most likely they were located towards the southern end of the Dead Sea. Five rivers flow into the Dead Sea in the south end. All archeological evidence points to this having been a very fertile area. It's been dead ever since God rained sulphur and brimstone down upon these cities (Gen. 19). But at that time it was very fertile.
Lot went to live among these cities. These five cities infamous for their wickedness. A very fertile area. But also a breeding ground for wickedness.
Not only did Lot go to live among these five wicked cities of the valley. He even "pitched his tent toward Sodom." Sodom was the most notorious of the five cities. V. 13 says it: Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. Sodom has gone down in history as the place of homosexual sin. The word "sodomy" has even entered the English language to describe sexual activity between two men -- something that God forbids. We know from Gen. 19 that the men of the city made a practice of indulging in homosexual acts.
Of the five cities, Lot chose to associate with Sodom. First he lived outside the city. He continued living in his tent. He continued to live as a sojourner, a nomad, a man who migrates back and forth across the land, who doesn't settle down anywhere permanently. He lived near Sodom, but yet he kept himself separate from Sodom.
However, he pitched his tent towards it. He made a conscious choice as to where to set up his tent, the tents of his family, and of his slaves. He thought about it. He took different considerations into account (like you do when you pitch a tent). He pitched his tent with Sodom in mind. Sodom was his point of reference. He focussed on Sodom. With Sodom in mind he thought: This is where I'm going to set up my tent; this is where I'm going to live. That's what the Hebrew means when it says literally: "And he pitched his tent toward Sodom."
He was attracted to this city. He was attracted to its wealth, its culture. It was city of the world. And yet this man, who knew the only true God of heaven and earth, was drawn to it as if it were a magnet.
Lot began by pitching his tent toward Sodom. He wanted to live near it and yet keep separate from it. After all, it was evil and he was a righteous man, right? But before long he folded up his tent and moved into the city.
At Gen. 14:12 we discover that Lot had moved into Sodom. He was dwelling in the city. He gave up the tent and bought a house inside the city.
And come ch. 19 we find out that Lot has become a well established citizen of Sodom. A citizen of distinction. For what does 19:1 say? Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. That means that he was one of the elders of the city. He was a member of the ruling council. The city gateway served as the administrative and judicial centre of an ANE city. It was in the gateway that legal matters were discussed and prosecuted.
There sat the man who had begun by pitching his tent towards Sodom, the most wicked city on earth. The city was so attractive that he moved in. And he worked his way up its social ladder.
The apostle Peter wrote about Lot in his 2nd letter. He said something rather striking about Lot. He called him "a righteous man". (2 Pet. 2:7,8) Peter said that Lot, a righteous man, was distressed by the filthy lives of the lawless men of Sodom. He said that this righteous man, living among the men of Sodom day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard. Three times Peter called Lot "righteous".
That's remarkable. If Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit when he wrote this letter, said that Lot was righteous, then we must simply accept that he was. Lot was and remained a righteous man even while he lived in Sodom. Lot knew what was going on. He was well aware of the gross sins of Sodom. On the one hand he was drawn towards the city. He pitched his tent towards it. He moved into it. But on the other hand, he was distressed by the sinfulness.
Why? Because he knew better. He knew the one and only true God of heaven and earth. He knew the LORD who had spoken to his uncle Abram. And who had led Abram, Sarai and Lot himself from Ur, into Canaan, into Egypt, and back into Canaan. He knew the LORD. And he knew that what was going on in Sodom was sin. That the men were wicked. That they were great sinners before the LORD. He knew that sin and wickedness make the LORD God angry. And yet, he was drawn towards Sodom.
In other words, Lot was something like us.
Let's not be too hard on Lot and let ourselves easily off the hook. For are we not attracted to the things of this world? Even the sinful things? We know they are wrong. We can even shake our heads at a lot of the sinful things of this world. And yet we are fascinated by them.
We know that most of the movie gods and goddesses we worship at Silver City live very promiscuous lives -- that some are even Sodomites. And yet we like to see their movies. Because we are fascinated by them. And buy People magazine to keep up on what is going on in their lives. To keep up on the gossip. We pitch our tents in their direction.
We know that afternoon Soap operas and the evening Sit-Coms are about little else than infidelity, fornication and adultery. That theme is seldom far from the main plot. And yet we watch them. We have our favourites. We pitch our lives in their direction.
We know that that bar or cabaret in town is no place for a Christian. And yet we are attracted to it. We are drawn towards it. Perhaps enter it. And find our place in it.
Or think of how Lot was attracted to earthly wealth and the prestige of the world. That's why he moved into Sodom. Are we not attracted by the promise of earthly wealth and worldly prestige? No, let's not be too hard on Lot. Let's examine our own lives.
In which direction have you pitched your tent? Have you pitched it towards the world?
By nature we have all pitched our tents toward the world. By the grace of God and because of the renewing power of Holy Spirit, you lead godly lives. Righteous lives. Obedient to the commands of God. At least the desire to do so is there. But, by nature, in our own sinful, fallen nature, each of us has pitched his tent toward Sodom. Even more. We left our tents behind and moved right into the city.
That's what we did when we fell into sin. And we know what happened to Sodom. God couldn't stand Sodom anymore. He destroyed it. With fire and with brimstone. And we know that God will destroy the world of sin in a similar way on the last day.
2. But there is something else God has done. We read about it in Jn 1:14. God has pitched his tent among us. We pitched our tents toward Sodom. But God came right down into our camp and pitched his tent right in our midst. Not just towards us. But among us.
Translated very literally, Jn. 1:14 says: And the Word became flesh and he pitched his tent among us. This refers to the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God. (Which we commemorated a week ago.) In ch. 1 of his gospel, John affirms the divinity, the deity of Jesus Christ. He is proclaiming in the vv 1-18 that Jesus Christ is God. He is the Word of God. The ultimate revelation of God's grace and love and truth. The Word of God is God himself. John says it explicitly in 1:18.
No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (the only begotten Son) who is at the Father's side, has made him known. John proclaims that Jesus Christ is none other than the only, the eternal, Son of God. The Word of God who became flesh. He took our humanity upon himself. And he pitched his tent among us. Right in our midst.
When John wrote that Jesus pitched his tent among us, then he used the same expression that Moses used to say that Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom. The LXX, the ancient Greek trans. of the OT which the NT authors (Peter, Paul, etc.) - which they used freely - -(when they quoted the OT, very often they don't make their own trans. from the Hebrew into Greek - they simply reached for the LXX)- - the LXX used exactly the same word in Gen. 13:12 (to pitch one's tent) as John used in 1:14.
Just like it says that Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom, so it says that Jesus Christ pitched his tent among us. Exactly the same Greek word is used to refer to the act of pitching (of setting up) your tent.
What does it mean that Jesus Christ pitched his tent among us? We can know what it means from the other things John wrote in vv 1-18.
By pitching his tent among us, by taking on our humanity, by becoming a man, he brought light to us. We were held in the darkness of sin, drawn to the world, attracted to Sodom. But Christ brought light.
We brought death upon ourselves. By seeking pleasure in the world, we brought death. For the wages of sin is death. But he brought life. We believe in him and so we have life. We have received him and so we have been born again, born of God, with a life that cannot die. Everlasting life.
The Lord Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses. We didn't. We couldn't. We broke the law. But Jesus kept it. For us. In this way he showed us the grace and the abiding faithfulness of God. As he lived among us, he bore our sins. He suffered. He died. For our sins.
Let us focus our attention upon him throughout this new year. Let us fix our eyes of faith upon the one who came and pitched his tent among us - among us who had pitched their tents away from God and towards the world. Let us no longer pitch our tents toward the world but toward Christ. Let's keep our eyes fixed on the glorious future we have with Christ.
Jesus Christ pitched his tent among us some 33 years. After he had finished his work of atoning for our sins, he ascended to heaven. But still he is with us. Isn't one of his names: Immanuel (God with us)? And didn't he promise that he would dwell with us until the end of the age? How does he dwell with us? By the power and glory of his Holy Spirit. In fact the Holy Spirit has made a tent out of us. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ lives in us as if we were his tent. We, the people of Christ, are filled with the glory and grace of his Spirit. Just like God filled the tabernacle (tent) with the glory of His presence, so Christ fills us with the glory of Holy Spirit.
3. But even that is not the end of all things. The climax is in Rev. 21:3. (Hy. 55). There John, in his vision, heard a loud voice from heaven. This loud voice shouted (and again I translate literally): "Behold, the tent of God is with men, and he will pitch his tent with them."
This refers to the consummation of all things. In the vision John saw the time in the future when God will dwell with us forever. Exactly the same expression is used as in Jn 1:14 and Gen. 13:12 - the pitching of one's tent. God will pitch his tent among us forever. It's going to happen. In real, living history. Perhaps in this new year. Who knows? Let's be ready. Let's not get to moved into this world, the city of man. Like nomads, like Bedouins, let's keep our bags packed so we'll be ready to move at a moment's notice.
Don't pitch your tent towards the world. The world is in darkness. It will kill you.
Pitch your tent, direct your life, towards Jesus Christ. Towards him who, in his great love for us, pitched his tent among us in order to save us. Pitch it toward Jesus Christ. Live for him in this new year. Live in the eager anticipation of that great future moment in history when the Triune God will come to pitch his tent with us. And we will live in his tent forever. He who> is our dwelling place today already will be so forever.
The Rev. George Van Popta is presently pastor of Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he is serving for the second time. With wife Dora he has five children and an increasing number of grandchildren. Besides his regular work, he enjoys biking and writing hymns.