Who was Abraham?
The story of Abraham is one of the most fascinating narratives in the entire Bible. It is the story of promise, disappointment, faith, weakness, tenacity, pain and joy. Abraham is such a large figure in the pages of the Hebrew Bible, it is no wonder that he has come to be known as "Father Abraham" throughout history.
Abraham was born in the city of Ur, in what would be modern day Iraq. This area was known for its idolatry, with one of the predominant gods being the Moon God, Nannar. This was a very elaborate religion with numerous temples dedicated to the worship of Nannar and his family. This religion, as so many other of the idolatrous religions of the day, was closely associated with occultism and sexual perversion. Ur was probably one of the biggest cities of its day and archaeology indicates that it was highly organized and civilized.
Somehow, Abraham encountered YAWEH, the God of creation. The Bible does not make clear how this happened. What the reader does find out, however, is that YAWEH spoke to Abraham and told him to leave Ur. "Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:1-3) The writer also included a very important piece of information about Abraham and Sarah in chapter eleven. She "was unable to become pregnant and had no children."
The author of Genesis crafts his story of Abraham around the six promises that YAWEH made to him. Each of these promises reveals a little more of God's plan for Abraham, his family and his descendants. The passage just mentioned provides the reader with the first promise. It has to do with Abraham becoming a great nation, becoming famous and being blessed by God.
This is a very general promise from YAWEH but there is no indication how any of these things are going to come to pass. The reader also finds out in Genesis 12:4 that Abraham is seventy-five years old when he receives this first promise from God. The result of God speaking to Abraham and telling him to leave his home country was that Abraham "departed as the Lord had instructed."
The trip to Canaan was a long one, around eight hundred miles. When Abraham and his large caravan arrived, God appeared to him again and reiterated one of the earlier promises. "I will give this land to your descendants." (Genesis 12:7)
At some point later, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, who had accompanied him from Ur, separated ways. Their respective flocks had gotten too large for them to live near each other. Abraham graciously allowed Lot to choose where he wanted to go. Lot chose the lush Jordan Valley, and settled near the town of Sodom.
When Lot left, YAWEH spoke to Abraham and reminded him of his earlier promise. This time God told him that he was giving him and his descendants the entire land of Canaan as a "permanent possession." YAWEH also promised Abraham more descendants than could be counted. The reader cannot help but think, however, how Abraham would have this many descendants if he did not even have a son. Abraham and Sarah were not getting any younger.
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