Back to the Altar

But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?.. Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.’ And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

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 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, and there was strife between the herdsmen. 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.’

“[The LORD said to Abram,] ‘Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.” Genesis 12:17-13:9,17-18

A famine had driven Abram to Egypt, where he made a foolish decision to deceive Pharaoh and risk God’s promise of a son. He was royally chastised, and rather than justify his sin, stew in his shame, or retreat to obscurity, he returned to the altar at Bethel, to his place of worship and communion with his Lord to start afresh. He knew where to set things right, to realign his devotion, to gain insight and direction for his next decisions. (Genesis 12:2,7)


It is clear from the following verses that the Lord heard and answered him. When conflict arose between their herdsmen, Abram knew to separate, and graciously, trustingly, gave Lot first choice. He received his Lord’s further promise of land, and moved at His bidding, and built another altar. Establishing his place of worship would establish his life.

When we do or say things we know are not right, we choose whether to excuse our folly, to tuck it down as if it was unimportant, or to return to the altar and confess the sin, receive cleansing, and establish a new heart. When we know not the way forward, in a relationship or strategy in work or ministry, we can return to the altar of fellowship and instruction. At the altar we are assured forgiveness, enlightened with wisdom, given direction, and supplied with strength.

Holy Father, keep me regularly at Your altar, the place of forgiveness, help, and glory.

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