The lives of this remarkable man and woman began 352 years after the flood — about 251 years after the nations were scattered from Babel. Abraham (originally known as Abram) was the son of Terah: He was born in the city of Ur, in Chaldea (c. 2017 B.C.), the ninth generation of Shem, son of Noah. Abram's birth occurred only two years after Noah's death.
Out of idolatry
As was common in Chaldea, Terah and his family were steeped in idolatry. Worship of the one true God had been obscured by a religion spawned of human imagination — adoration of dumb idols, service to the sun, moon and stars, immoral fertility rites and other heathen practices, which were continued this side of the flood by the family of Cush, Noah's grandson. The religious and political headquarters of the day was Babylon (founded by Nimrod), a hotbed of corruption and immorality. But tradition implies that Abram was a well-educated man, who had great understanding and insight into spiritual things. This prompted him to reason against other Chaldean wise men that there must be only one true God — a Creator of all life (Josephus, Ant., Bk. I, Ch. VII). The more he expounded his rational arguments, the more angry his opponents became, until they actually threatened his life. Terah finally had the good sense to move out of Ur and head south toward Canaan (Gen. 11:31). Abram, his wife Sarai (a half-sister), his orphan nephew Lot and their servants took all they owned and left with Terah for a city called Haran. They must have made a sizable caravan, because they were evidently a wealthy family with many servants (Gen. 14:14). They reestablished themselves in Haran, and lived there until Terah died at the age of 205. Abram, according to Josephus, continued his studying and teaching and earned himself a reputation for being a just and righteous man, as well as a skilled scientist.
Called of God
After Terah's death, God spoke directly to Abram — without doubt a memorable and frightening occasion. But it began a relationship — and a friendship — that was to last until Abram died. God asked Abram to leave Haran and his relatives and go to a land farther south. He promised to make Abram a great nation, through which all the families of the earth would be blessed (speaking prophetically of the birth of Christ through the line of Abraham). So, at the age of 75, without giving God any arguments or excuses, Abram moved again (Gen. 12:4). He took Sarai, Lot, several hundred servants and all his possessions and left for Canaan. This was an even greater procession than before.. In Canaan, God not only spoke to Abram, but actually appeared to him, promising that someday his descendants would own the very land where he now stood. Abram built an altar there and worshiped. They set up camp at a nearby mountain and built another altar. But because of a famine in the area, they were unable to buy sufficient food for their household and servants and decided to go farther south to Egypt (Gen. 12:10).
A "little white lie"
Abram and his troop evidently lived in Egypt for several months. Josephus says he instructed Egyptian scholars in science and actually introduced them to arithmetic. The Bible, however, records a less favorable incident — Abram's and Sarai's calculated deception of the pharaoh. It seems that Sarai was a strikingly beautiful woman. She probably had lighter skin than the women of Egypt, a lovely complexion and was possibly even a blonde — a prize for any king's harem. (Even today in parts of the Arab world it is considered especially good luck to see or touch a blonde woman.) Pharaoh's princes were so overwhelmed by Sarai's beauty and manner that they recommended he take her for a wife. Anticipating such a problem, Abram and Sarai agreed they should claim she was his sister and not his wife, for they feared that Sarai would be taken away by force and Abram killed. When the pharaoh saw Sarai, being told she was Abram's sister (she really was his half-sister), he wanted her immediately. He gave Abram a small fortune in gifts — sheep, oxen, asses, camels, men and women servants — and took Sarai into his house. At 66, she must have been a well-preserved beauty. But while Sarai was being prepared for her evening with the pharaoh, God struck him with sickness and told him not to lay a hand on her, for she was Abram's wife. At that, the pharaoh called Abram and rebuked him for not telling the truth. He then gave Sarai back and sent them away, embarrassed and perturbed over the incident. He evidently didn't recall his gifts, however, for Abram went back to Canaan richer than before (Gen. 13:1-2). In fact, Abram and Lot both had so many flocks now that their herdsmen were arguing over pasture. Abram suggested they split up and gave Lot his choice of territory. He chose the plain of Jordan, and Abram remained in Canaan. But God again told him that eventually he would possess all the land in the area, even the part Lot had taken.
A remarkable chapter in Abram's life followed. Sodom and Gomorrah were beaten in battle by an alliance of four Assyrian kings. Lot helped fight against them, but he and his household were captured, to be taken with their possessions into Assyria, as slaves (Gen. 14:12). When Abram heard the bad news, he armed 318 of his male servants, pursued and defeated the kings and rescued Lot and all others who were captive. He also recovered all the stolen possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon Abram's return, one called Melchizedek, king of Salem (or Peace), met him and provided a meal of bread and wine. This Melchizedek, also called "priest of the most high God," blessed Abram and the most high God (God the Father) and then received of Abram a 10th of all the booty he had recovered from the battle. Melchizedek was undoubtedly a human manifestation of the very person and priestly office of the Son of God, the One who later became Jesus Christ (Ps. 110:4, Heb. 7:21). Melchizedek had no recorded genealogy (Heb. 7:3),for He was a member of the Godhead. The same God (Yahweh to the Hebrews) who was present at creation, who appeared to him in Canaan, now revealed to Abram His royal priesthood (prophetic of the resurrected Christ). After paying the tithe to Melchizedek and restoring Lot's possessions, Abram returned the remainder of the spoils to the king of Sodom. He refused to take anything for himself, though it was lawful for him to keep it all. He asked only to receive "what the young men had already eaten," and requested a fair share to. be given to. three allies who has joined him in battle.
God promises a male heir
One afternoon God came to. Abram in a vision and premised him a son of his own, for Sarai was barren and Abram had no children. This was good news. Abram was actually beginning to think the steward of his household, Eliezer of Damascus, might end up being his only rightful heir, as Eliezer was the first male child born in his house. But God told Abram the heir would be his own child. And again, He promised him descendants without number, as well as possession of all the surrounding land. Abram believed God, but asked Him for a sign. God obliged. He instructed Abram to. prepare several animals for a burnt offering, but to place their carcasses en the ground without fire. Abram did as he was told, guarding the flesh from scavenger birds until sundown. Suddenly he fell into. a deep sleep, and God showed him in vision what would happen to. his descendants during a 400-year period following his death (a prophecy that included Israel's slavery in Egypt and future conquest ef the "premised land"). But God told Abram he would live to a ripe old age and die in peace (Gen. 15:13-15). After the sun had completely set and it was dark, Abram watched, wide-eyed, as God consumed the animal flesh with a miracle of smoke and fire — a sign of His promise.
What an opportunity he [Abraham] had, getting to know God as a friend and companion, face to face. We might have a tendency to envy that relationship, but would we have displayed the same humility as well as the attendant character to withstand the same trials and tests?
Abram, of course, later recounted all this to Sarai — the premise of a legal heir, their family growing into a nation of people and land from the Nile to the Euphrates! Sarai was happy about everything except that she was barren. Hew could she, now about 76 years old, have a son?
God appears again
Sarai was convinced and persuaded Abram that God must intend their heir be born of a concubine. She selected her handmaid, Hagar, and gave her to. Abram for a wife (a wife of less rank than herself). Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, and they supposed he was the heir God had premised. But this was not so.. When Abraham was 99 years old (Ishmael was now 13), God appeared to him again and repeated His premises of an heir, many descendants, land and blessings — but on the condition that Abram wholeheartedly serve God (Gen. 17:1-2). Abram lay prostrate en the ground, his face to. the earth, as God spoke. God explained that Abram's name would now be changed to. Abraham (meaning father of a multitude), because he Would be a father of many nations. He also. asked that Abraham now show God a sign of good faith: that he and all the males of his household, including servants, be circumcised. This was done the very same day. Next, God changed Sarai's name to. Sarah (meaning a princess), for He said: "I will bless her, and give thee a son of her... she shall be a mother of nations." This struck Abraham as terribly funny — that they should have a Son in their old age. He was nearly 100 and Sarah was 90. He asked God to let Ishmael be their heir instead (verses 17-18). But God replied that Sarah would, indeed, give birth to a son, and he would be called Isaac (meaning laughter), because Abraham laughed.
Three special guests
A short while later, God, accompanied by two. angels, visited Abraham again — this time at his own tent (Gen. 18:1-2). They appeared in human form, had their feet washed by a servant and were served a delicious lunch of veal, biscuits, butter and milk. It was too warm in the tent, so. they ate outdoors under a shade tree. There God again told Abraham that Sarah would have a son. And even though she had passed the age of child bearing, He Would restore her reproductive processes for the purpose of giving them an heir. Sarah, curious about the Conversation, Was eavesdropping while Abraham and his guests were eating. Hearing what was said, she began laughing quietly to herself. God knew she was laughing and asked Abraham why Sarah thought this was so funny. "Wherefore did Sarah laugh... is anything too hard for the Lord?" (verses 13-14). Sarah, both embarrassed and frightened at being caught, denied that she laughed, for which she was gently rebuked. As their guests prepared to leave, Abraham walked with them a short way. And God, knowing Abraham's concern for Lot, decided to tell him of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham importuned God, in an interesting display of salesmanship, to spare the righteous. God agreed. But only Lot, his wife and two daughters were counted righteous. When they were literally forced out of the city to safety, Lot's wife looked back in remorse (disobeying God) and was changed into a pillar of salt. Josephus writes that he actually saw the pillar in his day, the first century, A.D. (Ant., Bk. I, Ch. XI).
The honor of Abimelech
Needing better pasture for their flocks, Abraham and Sarah journeyed south into the country ruled by King Abimelech. But while there, Sarah's beauty and fair complexion once again became a topic of considerable conversation, even though she was now 90 years old! She so impressed Abimelech that he took her into his harem, for Abraham and Sarah, showing a lack of faith in God, told Abimelech she was Abraham's sister and not his wife. This was the second time they had told this half-truth for fear Abraham would be killed. And the scheme didn't work any better this time. But God didn't allow the king to defile Sarah — or himself. God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and warned him that Sarah was Abraham's wife. He also struck all the women in the king's house with sterility that same night. God then told Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham and ask Abraham to pay for himself and his household, and God would forgive him — otherwise he was as good as dead. Abimelech called Abraham early in the morning and rebuked him for his deception, getting only feeble excuses in response. Then he further humbled Abraham by giving him gifts of friendship. He then turned to Sarah, telling her that he paid her "brother" 1,000 pieces of silver to take her back, and that she should keep a veil over her eyes from now on as one betrothed (or married) to Abraham. Then Abraham humbly prayed that God would heal the malady He had placed on Abimelech's household, and the curse was removed.
The heir is born
Just as God foretold, Sarah conceived by Abraham and gave birth to a son, whom they named Isaac. The baby was circumcised on the eighth day, according to God's command, as a token of the covenant between God and Abraham. Sarah, at the age of a grandmother, now laughed out of happiness and pride. She was barren no longer. After Isaac was weaned at about 2 1/2 years, Ishmael was caught mocking the new heir, apparently jealous of suddenly finding himself in second place. This caused his and Hagar's immediate removal from Abraham's household (Gen. 21:9-10).
Abraham tested by God
Nearly 30 years later, Abraham was subjected to his most severe test of character. He was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, now a young man, as a burnt offering at Mt. Moriah! It's hard to imagine the surprise and mental agony Abraham must have suffered. Yet his deep respect for God and his promise of obedience weighed greater than the love for his own son. He didn't argue or try to talk God into changing His mind. He took Isaac and sufficient wood for the burnt offering and went up the mountain as directed. There he built an altar, prepared the wood and tied Isaac. After placing his son on the wood, Abraham took his knife — determined to obey God — and would have completed the sacrifice had not God called to him from heaven to spare young Isaac's life. God told him, instead, to sacrifice the ram whose horns were tangled in a nearby thicket, which Abraham and Isaac willingly did, rejoicing before God (Gen. 22:12-13). God was now sure of Abraham's faithfulness. His promise of blessings to Abraham and his heirs now became unconditional. They were as sure as the rising and setting of the sun — guaranteed!
A wife for Isaac
A few years after this traumatic test of faith, Sarah died, having passed her 127th birthday. Abraham buried her in a cave at Mechpelah, which he had purchased for a family burial place (Gen. 23:1-4). Then he began the task of finding a wife for his son. He wanted Isaac to marry one of his own kindred, and that meant sending his servant to Mesopotamia to the family of Nahor, Abraham's brother. There he felt, by God's direction, he would find a suitable mate. The servant did as he was told and returned with Rebekah. She became Isaac's wife, replacing Sarah (now dead about three years) as mistress of the household.
Abraham's old age
With his son's marriage taken care of — a burden that had weighed heavily on his mind — Abraham, at the young age of 140, decided to find a wife for himself also. He chose a woman named Keturah. By her he had six additional sons. And because they, like Ishmael, were not heirs of the covenant, he gave them each a portion of his wealth and sent them into the east country, away from Isaac. Abraham died at age 175 (c. 1842 B.C.) after a remarkable 100 years of literally walking and talking with God. What an opportunity he had, getting to know God as a friend and companion, face to face. We might have a tendency to envy that relationship, but would we have displayed the same humility as well as the attendant character to withstand the same trials and tests? Abraham, after living long enough to see his two grandsons, Esau and Jacob, reach the age of 15 years, died and was buried by Isaac and Ishmael beside Sarah at Mechpelah (Gen. 25:7-9). He can truly be called the father of the faithful. Through him came Isaac, Jacob (called Israel) and Christ, the Savior of the world.