|Exploring Ancient History - The First 2500 Years
PART 3: ABRAHAM'S IMPACT ON HISTORY
Abraham's World When was Abraham born? What was the world situation in his day? How was the world governed? These are the questions to be answered in the seventeenth chapter on the background of the great Patriarch.
Abraham's Birth The date of Abram's birth is based on the following information. Egyptian history proves that the Exodus occurred in 1487. This was exactly 430 years after the covenant God made with Abraham in Gen. 17:1-8 when he was 99 years old. Exodus 12:40-41 proves it was exactly a period of 430 years because verse 41 says "and it came to pass at the end of the 430 years, even THE SELFSAME DAY it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Eternal went out from the land of Egypt." Now go back and notice verse 40. The verb is not expressed in the original Hebrew. Most bibles will insert the verb was in italics. But the correct translation should be. "Now the sojourning of the Children of Israel. Who dwelt in Egypt, (COMPLETED) 430 years." (Gal 3:l6-l7 adds vital information about this period of 430 years showing that it spans the time from Abraham to the Exodus.)
Exodus 12:41 states that this period was 430 years to the day. The Exodus was in the spring of 1487. Adding 430 years to 1487 gives the date 1917 for Genesis 17. At that time Abraham was 99 — hence already into the hundredth year of his life. Using autumn to autumn reckoning — Adam was created in the autumn — year 99 of Abraham was 1919-1918. He did not become 100 until the autumn of 1917 — six months after the covenant was made. One hundred years prior to 1917 is 2017, the year of Abraham's birth.
The year of Abraham's birth is important in understanding Bible chronology. Yet Bible scholars, with all their years of research and study, are still not sure of the dating for Abraham! But the correct dates for Abraham and all ancient history can be known, proven and understood.
A Brief Look at the World of Abram When Abraham was born, what was the world like? First, a few major points of historical background. Noah, that great servant of God who had brought the human race through the Deluge under God's direction, had finally died at the age of 950 years, two years before in 2019. He died in Italy where he had been administering the patriarchal government. Shem, who had been in Egypt since 2037, had divided the power there in 2035. He left Egypt in 2019 and sailed to Italy to take over the government when his father died. He remained there until 1986.
Meanwhile, the world's evil leaders were also busy. Nimrod, of course, had passed from the scene long ago in 2167. He had died without an heir. But Semiramis lived on. At the time of Abraham's death she was about 200 years old and still retained considerable beauty and political influence. Ancient records list her as reigning in Assyria during the period 2048-2006. In 2006, when Abraham was a child, she came to a violent and fitting end at the hands of her own son, Horus. Horus, the illegitimate son of this famous and wicked woman, was at this time waging many successful battles in his efforts to build and expand the Assyrian empire. He finally died in 1968 when Abraham was 49.
This in briefest summary is the world political situation into which Abraham was born. But a little more may be said about what kind of a world this was, 352 years after the Flood and 237 years after Babel.
For one thing, the population was still relatively small. No census was taken in that day of which we have any record. However. There are definite indications of how few people there actually were. For example, in a major battle in Egypt in 1953 B.C. One of the opposing armies lost only 60 men. Gen. 14:14 shows that Abraham had a trained army of 318 men which was probably considered quite a large force in that period. Other historical evidence indicates that the population of Egypt did not really begin to reach a considerable size until after 1700.
Another major point to bear in mind: in the world of Abraham there were no national boundaries as we know them today. There were no nation-states. When someone in that day crossed a river he did not find himself within the bounds of another nation.
Instead, that world was essentially PATRIARCHAL and NOMADIC. Its governments were mainly based on tribal or clan organization. This type of government extended only so far as people lived with no concern about national boundaries encompassing a certain fixed territory. People followed the patriarch or leader to whom they owed allegiance. It was a matter of loyalty and allegiance not nationalistic patriotism and central governments.
Cities and towns were developing but it still was predominately a world of shepherds. The nomadic way of life remained the key-note. To use a modern-day analogy of the United States, as can say this world was like the west before the coming of the squatters.
However, even though the population was low and the form of governmental organization simple and basic, this does not mean that there were no learned men in that world. On the contrary, the scientific knowledge of that time was astonishingly advanced. Scholars of that day correctly understood the structure of the solar system and knew the relative positions of the planets they understood eclipses and could predict them. And a map has been discovered from that time which pictured a round world with Babylon near its center! And Abraham, as we shall see, was no stranger to this kind of knowledge.
Understanding Patriarchal Government God has had His form of government in all eras of human history. God's kind of government has, of course, always been a theocratic administration from the top down. But in each period of human experience this basic pattern has had slightly different forms to fit the needs of society in which it was set up. For example, in our modern day, God administers His government through an ordained ministry, colleges and schools. In New Testament times He employed apostles (as He still does). In the later history of ancient Israel he used prophets. Prior to that he used kings (if they were willing to obey him). In the time of Moses and after, God's government was carried out through judges. And, in earliest times, God used the patriarchs.
In general, the term patriarch refers to those famous individuals whose lives the Bible records previous to the time of Moses. Noah, Shem, Heber, and Abraham are four of the best known examples to keep in mind.
The patriarchal form of government, then, best suited the early ancient world with its basically nomadic culture. It was based on the existence of the basic tribal or clan organization in that day when the population was sparse in most areas. When the eldest member of a tribal group or family died, the next oldest would take his place. Someone had to make the decisions about directing the necessary affairs of the clan such as appointing certain ones to various responsibilities, deciding when and where to build roads, necessary dwellings, and so on. These decisions had to be made and generally they were left to the oldest and the wisest. In this way the administration of responsibilities and decisions was held within the family unit itself. This form of government was possible as long as the population was not too extensive. Decisions were made by the oldest member of the family to see that all matters were kept organized and functioning smoothly. Without proper government there is chaos. The patriarchal organization met the governmental needs of that early time.
However, patriarchal government was not as small and limited as one might visualize. A prime example is that of Noah before the flood had to administer the vast project of building and provisioning the ark. Then, after the Flood, he had to direct the affairs of the entire human family. Although many followed Cush and Nimrod who rebelled against the government of God, Noah still carried out his administration for 350 years after the Flood. He traveled all around the Mediterranean area supervising the progress of the human race — Armenia, Greece, Italy, Spain, North Africa. In this vast responsibility he was assisted by Shem and Heber as well as, undoubtedly, many others who were appointed to various responsibilities. Thus it is seen that patriarchal authority can reach vast proportions!
God's Kind of Patriarchal Government A most important point in relation to God's kind of patriarchal government is that it was more than just the government of a man over other men. Actually it was the direct rule of the Eternal over the chief patriarch and his loyal followers. In other words, the Eternal literally appeared in human form to the chief patriarch and guided his activities. Immediately after the Flood the Eternal appeared to Noah, He probably appeared to Shem on more than one occasion. And as Genesis 14 shows, when Abraham was the chief patriarch, the one who became Christ was ruling on earth in bodily form as Melchizedeck, king of Salem. In short. God worked personally with his patriarchs in ancient times.
Now for a more precise definition of patriarchal government: the word "patriarch" means "the chief father." Patriarchal government then, meant family responsibility on the part of the oldest responsible member of the family to train the children from generation to generation how to make proper decisions based on God's will.
And bear in mind that this was possible in early ancient times because of the much greater length of life people enjoyed. If a man lived for one, two, or three centuries he certainly should have been able to gain wisdom and understanding that he could teach to his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on for quite a few generations. In our society, unfortunately, grandfathers are old, weak and tottering when they should be in their prime. (A striking example of this was Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong!) But this was not the case in the early ancient world.
God's way, is and always does involve, government. In early human history, that government was carried out through patriarchs. And it was Abraham who was the great and influential patriarch of his era! With all this background in mind, his story may be presented.