Lift Up Your Eyes
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord.
There is an incident in Luke 18:18–30 that applies to Abram after his separation from Lot. A rich young ruler had asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus had instructed him about himself, showing that the only way Jesus can properly be called “good” is by recognizing that he is God. Jesus also instructed him about the law. But when the young man replied that he had kept all the commands from his youth onward, Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the young man became very sorrowful and went away because he was wealthy.
A discussion of the incident then followed, and Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”
The disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus answered that although it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is not impossible. For “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”
This led the most outspoken disciple, Peter, to boast a little. He said, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
Jesus replied with this important saying: “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
This saying is illustrated clearly for the first time in the Bible in Abram’s life. Abram had temporarily lost prime real estate in Canaan by giving Lot first choice in the matter of the land. Moreover, he had lost Lot. Earlier he had lost his father by death. But God came to Abram to say that Abram had abandoned nothing that would not be more than compensated for—both in this life and in the life to come. He said, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Gen. 13:14–17).
Had Abram lost the best land? Not so; God was giving him the entire land of Canaan. He was to have all the land north and south, east and west, including that little circle of well-watered pasture in the plain. Had Abram lost family for the sake of his discipleship? No, God was giving him offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then could his offspring be counted.
But he would have to do two things: (1) He would have to lift up his eyes and see what God was giving, and (2) he would have to walk through the length and breadth of the land and thus possess it piecemeal.
Two Kinds of Looking
There are two places in this account where we find the idea of “lifting up one’s eyes.” The first is in connection with Lot who, we are told, “lifted up his eyes and saw the whole plain of the Jordan” (v. 10, literal translation). We have already considered this looking. It was in actuality a deep longing, for it grew out of the uncommitted and covetous heart of Abram’s nephew. He wanted this good land. The other looking is by Abram, who lifted his eyes at God’s command. This was not longing. This was obedience. Therefore, as Abram obeyed, the site of surrender became a place of possession through his already growing faith.
I want to encourage you to “lift up your eyes” as did Abram, not Lot. I want you to look at what God commands you to see. I heard of a man who found a dollar bill on the sidewalk and spent the rest of his life looking down, hoping to find another one—and never saw a sunrise. Don’t be like him. Look up and see what God has for you.
The first thing the Bible encourages us to look up and see is the heavens. Why should we look there? Isaiah tells us.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Here is a word for those who are discouraged, who complain, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God.” When people think like that, their eyes are cast down. They are looking at the earth and focusing on their own little problems. They cannot see God, so they suppose God cannot see them. To such God says, “Look up! Look at the stars if you are unable to see anything else. Ask, ‘Who made all these? Who named them, remembers them, guides them?’ Then ponder whether he does not know you and is not able to guide you, you of little faith.”
The Lord Jesus Christ made the same point in the Sermon on the Mount, directing attention not upward to the stars but to the lilies. He said, “See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28–30).
I talk to many people who need to hear this word. Perhaps you are one. Like Abram, you are standing on your own little mountain, alone, questioning the future. You feel abandoned, depressed. Your vision is entirely on yourself. For you I have this word from God: “Lift up your eyes! Look to the heavens! Look to the lilies of the field!” Ask if God is not caring for you, even in your downcast state.
The second thing the Bible tells us to look up and see is God the Father, particularly in prayer. Jesus is our example in this. At the tomb of Lazarus he “looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me’ ” (John 11:41–42). Again, in John 17 we read, “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed” (v. 1).
Are you weary? Tell God about it. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:7–8). James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). Do you lack wisdom? Tell God about it. The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13–14).
These verses tell us that God delights to give good gifts to his children. So if we do not have them, the fault does not lie in God. It lies in our failure to lift up our eyes to heaven and ask for them.
This may explain the weakness of much contemporary Christianity. Every now and then a minister is asked by some Christian, “Why is it that I cannot seem to find victory in the Christian life? Why does the Bible seem difficult to understand? Why do I still seem in bondage to some besetting sin? Why am I such a poor witness? Why do the high principles of Christian conduct have such little effect on my job and in the affairs of my family?” Perhaps the answer is that the person has failed to ask God for these blessings.
Many a minister is asking, “Why is it that I do not have the power of God in my preaching? Why are there so few persons being converted? Why are there no leaders to expand and reinforce the ministry?” Again the answer may be that there is a lack of prayer.
“Why are there so few outstanding candidates for the Christian ministry? Why is the church so weak, the preaching so poor, our impact upon the society so ineffective, our goals so unrealized?” Again we must wonder, “Is it due to neglect of prayer?”
Do these words not describe many of today’s churches? Do they not describe many of us personally? Dr. Reuben A. Torrey, who makes many of these points quite eloquently in his book The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, writes, “We do not live in a praying age. We live in an age of hustle and bustle, of man’s efforts and man’s determination, of man’s confidence in himself and in his own power to achieve things, an age of human organization, and human machinery, and human push, and human scheming, and human achievement; which in the things of God means no real achievement at all. … What we need is not so much some new organization, some new wheel, but ‘the Spirit of the living creature in the wheels’ we already possess.”
The third thing we are encouraged to lift up our eyes to see is Jesus. The author of Hebrews was particularly conscious of this need. In writing of the subjection of all things to Christ, he noted that at the present time we do not see everything subject to him. Then he adds, “But we see Jesus” (Heb. 2:9). Again, in Hebrews 12, after talking about the fact that sin often hinders us in the Christian life, he writes, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2–3).
One of our problems is that we are so easily distracted by other visions and loyalties. We are like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus had been transfigured before Peter, James, and John; and Peter was so impressed at having this experience that he immediately wanted to do something. He said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4). Moses and Elijah had appeared with Jesus.
As Peter was speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them and a voice exclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (v. 5). They fell to the ground, terrified. Jesus touched them. He told them to get up. Then we read, “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus” (v. 8).
This incident is for us. We live in the midst of a conflicting cacophony of voices. They come from without and within—from the world, the flesh, and the Devil—and one reason why we are so confused and ineffective as Christians is that we listen to them all. The cure for that is to do what Peter was admonished to do—lift up his eyes to Jesus and listen to him only.
These are not the only things Scripture tells us to lift up our eyes to. Thus far they have been things that are to concern us and our needs: the heavens, God the Father, and Jesus. But in another text we read, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (John 4:35–36). This tells us that we are to lift up our eyes to God’s harvest.
After having been in Judea, Jesus was returning north to Galilee and stopped in Samaria at a place called Jacob’s well. The well was down a little hill from Sychar. While Jesus rested at the well, his disciples went up the hill to the town to buy lunch. By and by a woman came to draw water. As it turned out, she was an immoral woman who was currently living with one who was not her husband. Jesus talked to her. He provoked her curiosity and eventually revealed to her that he was the Messiah. He led her to faith. Her reaction was to leave her waterpot—she had forgotten about lesser things—and return to the city where she told the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). They responded to her invitation and made their way to Jesus in large numbers.
Meanwhile another drama was going on with the disciples. If they had gone up the hill to Sychar while the woman of Samaria was coming down, they must have passed her. Since they were men and she a woman, and they were Jews while she was only a Samaritan, we can be certain that they did not get off the path for her. She got off for them. And since Jesus was below looking up, he probably saw the whole incident. Moreover, when they arrived back at the well, Jesus was talking to the woman and they were aghast. She must have sensed their displeasure and left quickly to call her countrymen to Jesus.
Jesus then began to teach the disciples something about their mission in this world, using the words I have just quoted: “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” I think that as he did this the woman was even then returning with the people of her town. The disciples were blind to the harvest, but the harvest was streaming toward Jesus. They were about to miss it because they were not looking up. They were thinking only about their stomachs.
Was the harvest ripe then? It is also ripe today—as it has been ever since Jesus’ ministry on earth. Jesus died and rose from the dead, and the Holy Spirit is now working in the world to draw people to himself. The harvest is ripe because of Jesus’ coming, not because of any fortuitous arrangement of circumstances or because of our imagined ability to create them.
This thought may be suggested in the verses in a way that is not at once apparent to the casual reader. When Jesus quoted the proverb about the lapse of four months between sowing and harvest and disagreed with it, saying that the sowing and reaping could take place simultaneously, the disciples perhaps thought of an Old Testament prophecy that had to do with the coming of the Messiah. According to the Old Testament, the Messiah would usher in a period of great physical blessing for this earth. Amos had written, “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes’ ” (Amos 9:13). In a spiritual sense, this was true of the situation as Jesus spoke; the Messiah had come, and there could be perpetual reaping.
Are you aware of the moving of the Spirit of God in our time? It is evident in many places: in the cities, on the campuses, throughout the third world. Are you awake to these opportunities? If not, you must lift up your eyes to the harvest and ask God to use you as one of his laborers.
Step by Step
There is one last point. This harvest is to be ours just as certainly as the land of Canaan was to be Abram’s. But we are not necessarily to see the whole fruit of our labors in our lifetime. Abram did not live to see his seed possess the whole land. Nor will we participate in the harvest abundance, even to the degree that we do participate, unless we actually begin to possess the land step by step. I think this is why God told Abram, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Gen. 13:17).
Later God told Moses that the land was to belong to the people of Israel in the measure of their occupancy of it: “Every place where you set your foot will be yours” (Deut. 11:24). So it was with Abram. “When he had walked around an acre, he possessed an acre; when he had walked around a mile, he possessed a mile. When he climbed a hill, the hill was his, and when he descended into a valley, the valley was his.” We do not bring in God’s harvest en masse.
We do not do it without effort. It is one by one, and with great effort. But though it is often discouraging, those “one by ones” do come and God is honored. Lift up your eyes! It is happening all around you.
13:14–17 / After Lot departed, Yahweh spoke to Abram. Again there is no detail about the manner of Yahweh’s appearance. At pivotal times Yahweh guided Abram by speaking to him in a special way. Usually several years elapsed between these encounters. On this occasion Yahweh came to affirm Abram with a special assurance in recognition of the gracious way he had treated Lot. By letting Lot choose the most fertile area of that region, Abram had avoided covetousness; he did not grasp after the land of promise at the risk of alienating his nephew.
Yahweh commanded Abram to lift up his eyes. This command serves as the counterpart to Lot’s looking up and choosing the most fertile place (v. 10). We may assume that Abram was standing on a rise where he could look out over the landscape for miles in all directions: north toward Shechem and south toward Jerusalem, east toward the Jordan Valley, and west toward the Plain of Sharon. Yahweh promised to give him and his offspring (seed) all the land he saw. This time Yahweh underscored the promise by saying it was forever (17:8; 48:4; Lev. 25:23–34; Num. 36:5–9). Next, Yahweh promised to make his offspring (seed) like the dust of the earth. With this hyperbole Yahweh stressed the vast potential inherent in his promise. The terms “forever” and “beyond numbering” enhanced the original promises God had given Abram in Haran (12:2–3) by asserting that the potential number of his offspring was without limit.
Yahweh next commanded Abram to walk through the length and breadth of the land, explaining why Abram journeyed throughout the land rather than settling down, especially in the initial years in Canaan. By moving throughout the land, he was laying claim to all of the land.
13:14–18 Abram renounced the choicest pastureland, but God gave all the land of Canaan to him and to his descendants forever. In addition, the Lord promised him an innumerable posterity. After settling in Hebron, Abraham … built his third altar … to the Lord—always an altar for God, but never a house for himself!
Notice that God instructed Abram to walk throughout the land and see his possession. So we are to appropriate God’s promises by faith.
13:15–17 all the land: None of the land was outside the promise. Your descendants translates the Hebrew word for seed (zera’). At times this term refers to many descendants and at other times to a unique individual, the Coming One (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). as the dust of the earth: A hyperbole or overstatement (15:5; 22:17). Abram’s walk in the land is a symbolic act of taking possession. Abraham himself would not take possession of the land (Heb. 11:13–16); his descendants would (12:7; 15:17–21).
13:14–18. This third section in this chapter provides the solace: Yahweh confirms His promise. The strong break in the narrative is marked by (lit.) “Now Yahweh.…” Verses 14–17 explain why Abram could give Lot the choice of all the land—Abram had the sure promise of God. He had the sense that in God he had abundant possession. Knowing that God’s promise was genuine, Abram was indifferent to what Lot would choose. A person who has the promise of God’s provision does not have to cling to things.
In verses 14–17 Abram is contrasted with Lot. Lot had been active in taking what he thought was best. Now Yahweh reworded the ideas, instructing Abram with several commands. Abram was told to lift up (nāśā’) his eyes … and look (rā’âh, v. 14; cf. v. 10), which Lot did on his own. Abram was waiting for God to give him the land; Lot just took it. God restated that He would give the land to Abram as a possession. Better that God give it than that someone take it. God also told Abram his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth (cf. 22:17; 28:14). He then was invited by God to walk through … the land and see his possession. Chapter 13 closes the way it began, with Abram settling down (this time near the great trees of Mamre; cf. 14:13, at Hebron, 22 miles south of Jerusalem) and making an altar to Yahweh.
Hardly any other chapter in the Bible describes faith so marvelously. Here was the patriarch as a genuine believer in and worshiper of Yahweh—whose faith functioned in a conflict. Lot, walking by sight, chose on the basis of what appealed to him. His choice was self-seeking and self-gratifying. But such a choice became dangerous and short-lived, for all was not as it appeared to be on the surface. Abram, on the other hand, walking by faith, generously let Lot choose first. Abram was unselfish, trusting God. He had learned that it was not by his own plan that he would come into the possession, or by jealously guarding what was his. He acted righteously and generously. One who believes that God is pledged to provide for him is not greedy, anxious, or covetous.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 50). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.