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Abraham Israel Patriarch of Faith: The Process of Developing Faith and Obedience to God
As the patriarch of God's great promises, Abraham continues to be one of the most important figures in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is most highly regarded as a man of faith and obedience who displayed an intimate sensitivity to God's voice and responded to God's calling with extraordinary acts of obedience. Jesus even referred to Abraham as God's friend. However, an attentive reading of Abraham's life in Genesis of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures shows that Abraham's level of faith and obedience was a constant work in progress from beginning to end. This hub chronicles the development of faith and obedience of the Jewish and Christian patriarch Abraham.
Abram Son of Terah from Ur of the Chaldeans
Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldeans to a man named Terah who first gave him the name Abram. Ur was a city which was located somewhere in modern day Iraq. Terah, Abram's father, was an idolater and Abram had two brothers, Nahor and Haran.
Abram Called by God to Leave Ur
Due to a heavy emphasis on God's call to Abram recorded in Genesis 12, many devout followers of Judaism and Christianity believe Abram's faith was rock solid from an early age. However, this was not necessarily the case.
Stephen was a Christian disciple who was known as the first Christian martyr. Stephen's story was told by Luke in the Book of Acts in the Christian New Testament. Before he was stoned to death by overzealous Jews, Stephen loved to go to a place called the Synagogue of the Freedmen to debate Christian ideals with other Jewish young men. One day he said some things which the Jews thought were demeaning to God and the Jewish faith and they brought charges against him. Stephen opened his defense by describing God's call to Abram. Stephen said that Abram was first called by God when he was in Ur of the Chaldeans and before he moved with his father Terah to a place called Haran. (The Genesis account seems to indicate that Abram was first called after he and his father moved to Haran). This means that when first called Abram did not go immediately to Canaan, but waited to go until after his father's death.
Abram heard and recognized God's voice but did not respond immediately in faith.
Abram Finally Responded to God's Call
After Abram moved to Haran with his father Terah and after his father Terah died, Abram was called by God again to leave his family and everything else to go to a place God would show him. God also promised that he would bless Abram, make him into a great nation, make his name great, and bless the whole world through him. This time Abram believed God even though his wife Sarai was barren and he was advanced in years. So Abram left Haran and set out for the Promised Land in faith.
Abram Gives Away His Wife and the Promise of God
Some time after Abram settled in current day Palestine (or Israel), a severe famine plagued the land of Canaan (Genesis 12). Abram became afraid and decided to move from the Promised Land to Egypt. Before they arrived in Egypt, Abram feared for his life and told his wife Sarai to tell Pharoah, the king of Egypt that she was his brother. Abram's lack of faith in God to protect him and his wife almost caused him to lose his wife who was an integral part of God's promise to Abram to bless him and make him a great nation.
After Abram was caught in his lie, God saved him and Sarai from the hand of Pharoah and they moved back to the Promised Land. When they arrived in Bethel, Abram reiterated his faith in God by building an altar and offering a thanks offering to God.
Abram and his Nephew Lot Separate and God Reiterates His Promise to Abram
After Abram and Sarai returned to Canaan from Egypt, Abram continued to prosper and both his herds and the herds of his nephew Lot continued to increase in size (Genesis 13). As their flocks and herds increased in size the land was not big enough to hold both groups and quarreling broke out between Abram and Lot's herdsmen. So Abram, being the man of faith that he was, suggested that he and Lot separate and gave Lot first choice of whatever land he wanted. At that suggestion, Lot lifted his eyes, looked to the east, saw that the Jordan Valley along the Jordan River was well-watered and fertile, and chose to move in that direction.
After Lot left, Abram was most likely lonely and probably wondered in his heart if and when God's promise would come to fruition. At that the Lord God appeared to Abram and reiterated his promise that He would give Abram and his descendants all the land as far as the eye could see and more to the north, south, east, and west and give him descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abram believed God and rested in God's promise.
Abram Shows Great Faith and Courage by Rescuing Lot
Sometime after Lot and Abram separated, a huge battle erupted between powers outside Canaan and powers inside the Canaan area (Genesis 14). During that war, Lot and his family were carried off as prisoners. When Abram heard that Lot had been carried off, he called out his 300+ trained fighting men to go with him to rescue Lot. While in pursuit, Abram and his small band of fighting men overwhelmed the larger delegation from outside Canaan and resuced Lot and his family. That Abram was willing to match his small band against a vast army demonstrated Abram's faith and courage in the Lord God Almighty who had called him.
Abrams Faith Wanes and God Reassures Him Again
After the battle and great victory, Abram seemed to become discouraged which is a common thing after one performs such a great feat against all odds. Perhaps, Abram was worried that the massive army would return for revenge, but Abram was again worrying whether God would ever fulfill his promise (Genesis 15). At this time, the Lord God Almighty appeared to Abram again and told Abram not to be afraid for God himself was his shield and his reward. When Abram heard God, he complained that God had not yet fulfilled his promise to give him an heir from his own body. In response to Abram's complaint, God reiterated his promise, made a covenant with Abram, and Abram believed Him once again.
By a Lack of Faith, Abram and Sarai Attempt to Jump Start God's Promise
When Abram was near 86 years old and Sarai his wife 76, Sarai became impatient with God and convinced Abram to attempt to jump start the promise through an old traditional custom (Genesis 16). Even though God had made it clear that he would provide an heir to Abram through his barren wife Sarai, the two of them waned in their faith that God would fulfill that promise. So according to the local customs, Sarai chose to give Abram her maidservant Hagar the Egyptian so that Sarai could have a child through her maidservant. This was a common and acceptable practice, but not according to God's plan. Through his lack of faith, Abram went along with the plan and his first born son was Ishmael whose descends later became a thorn in the side of Israel and the Middle East. After Ishmael was born, God gave Abram time to raise his son and there is no more recorded communication between God and Abram for 13 years.
God Appears to Abram and Establishes the Covenant of Circumcision
After 13 years, when he was 99 years old, the Lord God Almighty appeared to Abram again and reiterated His promise to him (Genesis 17). At this time God changed Abram's name to Abraham (which means father of many nations) and established a new covenant, the covenant of circumcision. Abram showed faith in God and the new covenant by obeying God's stipulation to be circumcised by having the foreskin of his penis cut away. This practice of circumcision which continues on until now was a sign that God had chosen Abraham and his descendants to be his representative people in the world and to bring his many blessings of love and never ending kindness to the world. Abram demonstrated faith in God by obeying God's commands related to the new covenant of circumcision.
One year later, when Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sarah (changed from the original Sarai) was 90, God caused Sarah to conceive a child in her old age.
Through a Lack of Faith, Abraham Almost Gives His Wife Away Again
Even after he had been given the promise that Sarah would conceive and have a child within a year, Abraham in his human fear and frailty almost blew it again (Genesis 20). Another famine occurred in the land, so this time Abraham moved towards the Mediterranean coast which was ruled by a king named Abimelech. Just as he had done nearly 25 years earlier, Abraham asked Sarah to lie about their relationship and tell Abimelech that she was Abraham's brother. Like the time in Egypt beforehand, Abimelech took Sarah into his royal court, but was warned in a dream by God not to touch her. In the morning, Abimelech rebuked Abraham who prayed God's blessing on Abimelech's people and moved on. Again, Abraham's waffled in his faith and it almost cost him the promises of God.
Sarah did give birth a year later and named the infant boy Isaac.
Abraham's Faith and Obedience Comes to Full Fruition
The final test of Abraham's faith and subsequent obedience came when God commanded him to take his son Isaac to a certain place and sacrifice him as an offering to God (Genesis 22). At least by the account given in Genesis 22 and some commentary in Hebrews 11 of the Christian New Testament, Abraham did not seem to waver one bit at the request. As God had commanded so he did without reservation, Abraham took Isaac on a three days journey, led him up Mount Moriah, bound him, and placed him the alter. When he raised the knife, God called to Abraham to stop and gave him a ram to sacrifice in the boy's place. The writer of Hebrews said Abraham did so because he believed God could and would raise Isaac back from the dead. This is incredible faith and obedience.
Abraham: The Process of Developing a Life of Faith and Obedience
So we see from this brief synopsis of Abraham's (Abram's) life that Abraham was not always the best poster child for faith and obedience. Yes he is an example, a supreme example of faith and obedience for all of us, but we see from his life that developing such faith and obedience is a process of a lifetime. It does not happen overnight, but comes one decision at a time.