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[AY bruh ham] (father of a multitude); originally Abram (exalted father)-the first great PATRIARCH of ancient Israel and a primary model of faithfulness for Christianity. The accounts about Abraham are found in Gen 11:26-25:11, with the biblical writer focusing on four important aspects of his life.

The Migration. Abraham's story begins with his migration with the rest of his family from UR of the Chaldeans in ancient southern Babylonia (Gen 11:31). He and his family moved north along the trade routes of the ancient world and settled in the flourishing trade center of HARAN, several hundred miles to the northwest.

While living in Haran, at the age of 75 Abraham received a call from God to go to a strange, unknown land that God would show him. The Lord promised Abraham that He would make him and his descendants a great nation (Gen 12:1-3). The promise must have seemed unbelievable to Abraham because his wife Sarah (called Sarai in the early part of the story) was childless (Gen 11:30-31; 17:15). But Abraham obeyed God with no hint of doubt or disbelief. He took his wife and his nephew, Lot, and went to the land that God would show him.

Abraham moved south along the trade routes from Haran, through Shechem and Bethel to the land of Canaan. Canaan was a populated area at the time, inhabited by the war-like Canaanites; so Abraham's belief that God would ultimately give this land to him and his descendants was an act of faith. The circumstances seemed quite difficult, but Abraham's faith in God's promises allowed him to trust in the Lord.

The Famine and the Separation from Lot. Because of a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abraham moved to Egypt for a short time (Gen 12:10-20). During this trip, Abraham introduced Sarah to the Egyptians as his sister rather than as his wife in order to avoid trouble. Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler, then took Sarah as his wife. It was only because "the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife" (Gen 12:17), that Sarah was returned to Abraham.

Upon his return from Egypt, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, quarreled over pasturelands and went separate ways (Gen 13:8-9). Lot settled in the Jordan River Valley, while Abraham moved into Canaan. After this split, God reaffirmed His promise to Abraham: "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).

Apparently Abraham headed a strong military force by this time as he is called "Abram the Hebrew" (Gen 14:13). He succeeded in rescuing his nephew Lot from the tribal chieftains who had captured him while raiding the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 14:14-17).

The Promise Reaffirmed. In Gen 15 the Lord reaffirmed His promise to Abraham. The relationship between God and Abraham should be understood as a COVENANT relationship-the most common form of 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 Abraham agreed to go to the land that God would show him (an act of faith on his part), and God agreed to make Abraham a great nation (Gen 12:1-3). However, in Gen 15 Abraham became anxious about the promise of a nation being found in his descendants because of his advanced age. The Lord thus reaffirmed the earlier covenant.

As we know from recent archaeological discoveries, a common practice of that time among heirless families was to adopt a slave who would inherit the master's goods. Therefore, because Abraham was childless, he proposed to make a slave, ELIEZER of Damascus, his heir (Gen 15:2). But God rejected this action and challenged Abraham's faith: "Then He [God] brought him [Abraham] outside and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them:' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be'" (Gen 15:5). Abraham's response is the model of believing faith. "And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness" (Gen 15:6).

The rest of chapter 15 consists of a ceremony between Abraham and God that was commonly used in the ancient world to formalize a covenant (Gen 15:7-21).

According to Gen 16, Sarah, because she had not borne a child, provided Abraham with a handmaiden. This also appears to be a familiar custom of the ancient world. According to this custom, if the wife had not had a child (preferably a male) by a certain time in the marriage, she was obligated to provide a substitute (usually a slave woman) to bear a child to her husband and thereby insure the leadership of the clan. Thus, Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant, had a son by Abraham and named him ISHMAEL. Although Ishmael was not understood to be the child that would carry on the line promised to Abraham, he was given a favorable blessing (Gen 16:10-13; 17:20).

The most substantial account of the covenant between Abraham and God is given in Gen 17-a covenant that extended the promise of the land and descendants to further generations. This covenant required Abraham and the male members of his household to be circumcised as the sign of the agreement (Gen 17:10-14). In this chapter Abraham and Sarah receive their new names. (Their old names were Abram and Sarai.) The name of the son whom God promises that Sarah will bear is designated as Isaac (Gen 17:19-21). The practice of CIRCUMCISION instituted at this time is not unique to the ancient Hebrews, but its emphasis as a religious requirement is a unique feature of God's Covenant People. It became a visible symbol of the covenant between Abraham and his descendants and their redeemer God.

After Isaac was born to Sarah (Gen 21:1-7), Sarah was unhappy with the presence of Hagar and Ishmael. She asked Abraham to cast them out of his family, which he did after the Lord told him they would have His protection. Ishmael does not play an important role in the rest of Abraham's story; he does reenter the picture in Gen 25:9, accompanying Isaac at Abraham's death.

The Supreme Test. God's command for Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac was the crucial test of his faith. He was willing to give up his son in obedience to God, although at the last moment the Lord intervened to save Isaac (Gen 22:1-13). The Lord's promise of descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens was once again reaffirmed as a result of Abraham's unquestioning obedience (Gen 22:16-18).

Abraham did not want Isaac to marry a woman from one of the local tribes. Possibly he feared this would introduce Canaanite religious practices into the Hebrew clan. Thus, Abraham sent a senior servant to Haran, the city from which he had migrated, to find a wife for Isaac. This mission was successful, and Isaac eventually married REBEKAH, the daughter of Abraham's brother Laban (Gen 24). Sarah had died some time earlier (Gen 23); Abraham eventually remarried and fathered several children by Keturah (Gen 25:1-6). Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried alongside Sarah in the cave of Machpelah, near Hebron (Gen 25:7-11).

Summary. Abraham was the father of the Hebrews and the prime example of a righteous man. In spite of impossible odds, Abraham had faith in the promises of God. Therefore, he is presented as a model for human behavior. Hospitable to strangers (Gen 18:1-8), he was a God-fearing man (Gen 22:1-18) who was obedient to God's laws (Gen 26:5). The promises originally given to Abraham were passed on to his son Isaac (Gen 26:3), and to his grandson Jacob (Gen 28:13; 35:11-12). In later biblical references, the God of Israel is frequently identified as the God of Abraham (Gen 26:24), and Israel is often called the people "of the God of Abraham" (Ps 47:9; 105:6; Isa 41:8). Abraham was such an important figure in the history of God's people that when they were in trouble, Israel appealed to God to remember the covenant made with Abraham (Ex 32:13; Deut 9:27; Ps 105:9).

In the New Testament, Abraham is presented as the supreme model of vital faith and as the prime example of the faith required for the Christian believer (Gal 3:6-9; 4:28). He is viewed as the spiritual father for all who share a similar faith in Christ (Matt 3:9; Luke 13:16; Rom 11:1).

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