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Abraham: Father of Nations
In what scholars believe to be sometime around 2000 BC, a boy named Abram was born in the city-state of Ur in Mesopotamia. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods inlcuding Enlil, the wind god and ruler of humanity. Abram's father, Terah, despite being a tenth generation descendant of Noah, was polytheistic, believing in many gods. He created and sold idols of the Mesopotamian gods he worshiped.
The story tells of a time when Terah had to leave his business in the control of his young son Abram, but while he was away, Abram smashed all of the idols to bits with a big stick. He spared only the largest idol and placed the stick in the idol's hand. When his father returned, he demanded to know what had happened. Abram explained to his father that the larger idol had gone mad and smashed all of the others. Terah knew this to be a lie and told his son that it was impossible. These idols were not living beings. They were fake and not capable of what his son was saying. Abram then asked if that was true, why did his father worship them?
Following the incident with the idols, Abram was taken before Nimrod, the king who openly opposed God despite being the great grandson of Noah. For his deeds, Nimrod had Abram put into a large fire, but Abram was spared.
Abram then received a command from God that he was to leave his homeland, Ur, and take his family to Canaan. Abram obeyed the command and led his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot to the land on the Mediterranean Sea.
Abram and Lot found that life was not easy once they reached Canaan. Famine, lack of food, struck and the men were forced to take their families southeast into Egypt where they ran afoul of Pharaoh. Abram and Lot eventually parted because of a disagreement over the grazing of their sheep. Lot and his family ended up in Sodom but were kidnapped by the Elamites forcing Abram to rescue them, but God returned to Abram and made a covenant, agreement or contract, with him. God showed Abram the exact land he offered and promised that Abram would became the father of many nations if he would continue to follow God's commands.
Sarai and Hagar
Sarai was now concerned because she had never been able to bear a child for her husband, and she was now well past childbearing age. She decided to offer her maid, Hagar, whom she had received from the pharaoh of Egypt, to her husband as a second wife.
Abram accepted the gift and soon Hagar was with child, but Sarai became jealous of the younger woman and treated her so badly that Hagar ran away. She had not gotten very far, however, when an angel came to her and instructed he to go back so that her son, Ishmael, would be raised by his father. Hagar relented and returned to Abram.
Ishmael was raised by his father, but when he reached the age of thirteen, God again spoke to Abram. This time he commanded Abram that all men who followed him must be circumcised. He commanded that if Abram obeyed this command that his first wife Sarai would also bear him a child. Abram could not believe it for he was now 100 and his wife was 90, but he immediately had himself, his son Ishmael and all of their fellow believes circumcised. God also gave both Abram and Sarai new names. From that time on, they would be called Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham's Three Visitors
Very soon after Abraham had followed the command of God, three visitors appeared. Abraham instantly knew they had been sent by God and made preparations for a great feast. As the visitors ate, one of the them informed Abraham that in one year, Sarah would give birth to a child. Sarah, overhearing this, laughed in disbelief, then the visitor scolded her for not believing in the power of God.
After eating, the visitors looked toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and started discussing God's plan for punishing the two evil cities. Abraham was distraught that innocent people who lived among the evil, like his nephew Lot and his family who lived in Sodom, would be killed as well. He begged that the visitors test the people. The visitors agreed that if they could find ten good men among the evil, God would spare the towns. Two of the visitors went into Sodom to conduct the test, but found only Lot to be hospitable. Despite the efforts of Abraham, both cities were destroyed with the exception of Lot and his family who were instructed to leave before the punishment began.
Ishmael after the Birth of Isaac
One year after all of the men were circumcised, Sarah gave birth to a son just as the visitors had promised. Sarah was extremely happy to have finally had a child, but she was upset that Ishmael made fun of his newborn brother, Isaac. Out of anger, Sarah went to Abraham and asked him to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Now that she had given her husband a child, that jealousy was back and Sarah did not want her son Isaac to have to share anything of his father with Ishmael. Abraham did not want to send his son away and prayed to God for guidance. Abraham received God's answer to let Ishmael go, and both of his sons would start great nations. Abraham then gave Hagar water and sent her into the wilderness with his oldest son.
Hagar tried to care for her son, but when they ran out of water, she broke down and cried. Ishmael, then called upon God to help them. An angel then appeared and again confirmed that Ishmael would become the founder of a great nation and provided a well so the two would have the water they needed to survive.
Eventually, Hagar returned to her homeland of Egypt and found a girl to be her son's wife. Then as God had promised, Ishmael and his wife had twelve sons. Each of these young men would lead their own tribe of people throughout the Middle East. One son in particular, Qedar, founded a tribe known as the Qedarites. It was a future descendant of Qedar, Mohammed, who would become the great prophet of another group of God's people, the Muslims.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
When Isaac had grown to be a young boy, Abraham received yet another command from God. This time, he was instructed to take his son Isaac into the mountains and sacrifice him. Abraham was again distraught, but he had placed all of his faith in God and set out to do as he was commanded. As the father and son walked along, with Isaac carrying to wood of which the sacrificial fire would be made, the boy asked his father about the animal to be sacrificed and why they were not taking it as well. Abraham told his son that God would provide a lamb for the offering. Isaac remained clueless as to what was to happen until the moment that his father drew his knife. At that moment, however, another angel appeared to stop Abraham from harming his son. Abraham and Isaac then saw a ram nearby and sacrificed it to God. After passing this latest test, Abraham was promised by God that Isaac would have children and grandchildren, and God would provide for all of them.
Isaac would grow of become a man and marry a girl named Rebekah. They would have twin sons Jacob and Esau. Issues between the two boys would continue most of their lives, but Jacob would eventually receive his father's blessing, change his name to Israel and become the founder of the Israelites, the people of the Jewish religion.
The Death of Abraham
Following Sarah's death, Abraham would marry again and father six more sons. He lived to the age of 175 years old and his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him next to Sarah in the Cave of the Patriarchs upon his death.
The stories of Abraham show that neither he or his family were without faults, but it was their devotion to God that provided the beginnings of what would become the three great religions of the world.