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Biography Of Abraham

And the Scripture was fulfilled which says,
"Abraham believed God,
and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
And he was called the friend of God.
James 2:23

The story of Abraham is found in Genesis 11:26--25:11.

It began with Abraham’s migration from Ur of the Chaldeans in ancient southern Babylonia. He and his family moved north along the ancient trade routes and settled in the flourishing trade centre of Haran. His name was then Abram, meaning "exalted father".

While living in Haran, at the age of 75, Abram received a call from God. The Lord promised Abram that He would make him and his descendants a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3). This wonderful promise was beyond Abram's human comprehension. Though his wife Sarai was childless (Gen. 11:30), Abram obeyed God. He took his wife and his nephew, Lot, and went to the land that God would show him.

Abram moved south along the trade routes from Haran, through Shechem and Bethel to the land of Canaan. Canaan was then populated and inhabited by a very pagan and hostile people named Canaanites.

Canaan was the Promised Land that God would ultimately give to Abram and his descendants. To inherit Canaan at the point in time was indeed an act of faith for Abram. The circumstances and problems were too insurmountable to overcome. But Abram did not to lean unto his own understanding. He trusted in the Lord completely with all of his heart.

Not long after, there was a severe famine in the land of Canaan. And Abram moved to Egypt to dwell for a while (Gen. 12:10-20). In Egypt, Abram introduced Sarai to the Egyptians as his sister rather than as his wife in order to avoid trouble. Sarai was very beautiful. She was taken into the Egyptian palace to become the Pharaoh’s wife. The Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai. Sarai was then returned to Abram.

Upon his return from Egypt, there was strife over the pasturelands between the herdsmen of Abram and his nephew, Lot. Abram and Lot went on separate ways (Gen. 13:8-9). Lot settled in the Jordan River Valley, while Abram moved into Canaan. After this split, God reaffirmed His promise to Abram:

"And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered" (Gen. 13:16)

Abram became very rich in livestock, in silver and gold (Genesis 13:2). He had many servants and people under his leadership. Thus he was known as Abram the Hebrew (Gen. 14:13). Lot was captured, and Abram rescued him (Gen. 14:14-17).

In Genesis 15, the Lord reaffirmed His promise to Abram. The relationship between God and Abram should be understood as a covenant relationship - the most common form of contractual arrangement between individuals in the ancient world. According to such an arrangement, individuals or groups agreed to abide by certain conditions that governed their relationship to each other.

In this case, Abram agreed to go to the land that God would show him, and God agreed to make Abram a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3). However, Abram became anxious about the promise of a nation as he became advanced in age. The Lord thus reaffirmed the earlier covenant again.

A common practice of that era among heirless families was to adopt a slave who would inherit the master's wealth and estate. Since Abram was childless, he proposed to make a slave, Eliezer of Damascus, his heir (Gen. 15:2). But God rejected this option and challenged Abram's faith.

God brought Abram out one night and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them. So shall your descendants be." (Gen. 15:5). And Abram believed in the Lord, and God accounted it to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6). The rest of chapter 15 was a ceremony between Abram and God that was commonly used in that era to formalize a covenant (Gen. 15:7-21).

In Genesis 16, Sarai gave an Egyptian maidservant, named Hagar, to Abram to bear him a child. This was also a custom at the time. According to this custom, if the wife had not had a male child by a certain time in the marriage, she was obligated to provide a substitute, usually a slavewoman, to bear a child to her husband. This would ensure that the family tree could be continued. Hagar bore a son by Abram and named him Ishmael. Although Ishmael was not the child that would carry on the Abrahamic Covenant, he was nevertheless given a favorable blessing (Gen. 16:10-13; 17:20).

The most substantial account of the covenant between Abraham and God was given in Genesis 17. This covenant was extended to include all future generations of Abram. As the sign of the covenant, Abram and all the male members of his household were required to be circumcised (Gen. 17:10-14). It was there and then Abram was renamed Abraham, meaning "father of a multitude", and Sarai was renamed Sarah.

In Genesis 18-19, Abraham was pleading with the Lord not to destroy the two evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the righteous ones' sake. But for the lack of righteousness in both cities, they were destroyed. Lot's wife looked back, and became a pillar of salt. Lot and his two daughters were rescued. Both daughters of Lot slept with him and bore him children. One of the sons was Moab, the father of the Moabites, and the other was Ben-Ammi, the father of the Ammonites.

Before Isaac was born, God already named him (Gen. 17:19). After Isaac was born to Sarah (Gen. 21:1-7), Sarah was unhappy when Ishmael scoffed at Isaac. She asked Abraham to cast both Hagar and Ishmael out of his family. Abram did that after the Lord told him that they would have His protection and blessing. Ishmael was not mentioned again until the death of Abraham (Gen. 25:9).

Abraham’s faith was put to the test crucible when God commanded him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. He was willing to give up his son in obedience to God. At the climactic moment, the Lord intervened and Isaac was spared (Gen. 22:1-13). The Lord again reaffirmed the Abrahamic Covenant that the descendants of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens as a result of Abraham's obedience (Gen. 22:16-18).

Sarah died at the age of 127 (Gen. 23:1-20). When Isaac was of marriageable age, Abraham did not want Isaac to marry a daughter of the Canaanites. He feared that this would introduce pagan practices into the Hebraic faith. Thus, Abraham sent a senior servant to Haran, the city from which he came from, to find a wife for Isaac. This mission was successful. Isaac married Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's brother, Laban (Gen. 24:1-67).

Abraham remarried and fathered six children by Keturah (Gen. 25:1-6). He died at the age of 175. He was buried besides Sarah in the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 25:7-11).

Written on:
7 January 2004

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary