Abraham was one of the most important men of the Old Testament. In Genesis 11, the genealogy of Abraham is given, going back to Shem, the son of Noah. Abraham was born at about 2016 BC, or 350 years after the Flood. Bible commentaries point out that the genealogy of Genesis 11 is one of lordship, and those listed there are the patriarchal descendants of Shem.
The lordship of Abraham is attested to in Genesis 23:5-6. “And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.”
An ancient document called the Austrian Chronicle addresses 95 generations of lordship. How authentic this document is has not yet been determined. The last entries in this document were made around AD 1400. The Chronicle makes reference to the noble country of Austria. One coat of arms in ancient Austria was that of Judeisapta-the land of the Jews. The reason is that large numbers of Jews resided there, dating back to ancient times. The Chronicle tells us that Abraham was born in a country known as the “Admirable Land,” headed by a Count Sattan. War broke out between Abraham and the Count, and Abraham was forced to flee in poverty. He fled to an area around the Danube basin, known as Tanau. Portions of Europe were settled through the Danube basin, as it was one of the main entry routes into Europe. The Chronicle tells us that Abraham went back to the Admirable Land after ruling 30 years in Judeispata.
The Bible gives us no information about Abraham until he was 75 years of age. If the Austrian Chronicle is accurate, we have an important key to the earlier years of Abraham’s life.
Abraham is first introduced in Genesis 12:1-4.
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
Abraham is called a man of faith. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11:8). Abraham manifested the same kind of faith as Noah. “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10). Abraham did not question, argue, or use human reasoning. He simply believed and trusted God in this matter. And God gave him the assurance he needed. “And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him” (Gen. 12:7). Abraham’s response to God’s instruction was immediate, unquestioning, and based on faith, even though at the time of his call, he did not know where he was going.
Over his long sojourn in the land of Canaan, Abraham learned many lessons. His faith had to be perfected. Here is one example: “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land” (Gen. 12:10). Abraham assumed there would be plenty of grass and water for his livestock there. But a complication arose.
And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house (Gen. 12:11-15).
Abraham had faith, but he did not have perfect faith. He failed to trust God and at times and used human reasoning. Since Abraham could not war with the Egyptians, he submitted, but was, no doubt, greatly stressed in spite of the fact that Pharaoh treated him well. Abraham had made a mistake by going to Egypt, but was now in a helpless position. He could do nothing. But God could.
And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had. (Gen. 12:17-20)
It did not take Pharaoh long to see what was wrong. No doubt Abraham had seen his error in going to Egypt, but he also saw the power and magnificence of God in delivering his wife back to him. This could only serve to strengthen him in his resolve to obey God.
Abraham was a wealthy man, but he was not selfish. A dispute broke out among his herdsmen and those of his nephew Lot, who had accompanied him from Ur.
And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. (Gen. 13:5-12)
Most people look out for themselves when cutting a deal, but Abraham gave the choicest land to Lot. Abraham chose peace over strife and ill will. He was a kind man, magnanimous and self-effacing. But Abraham was not a pacifist. He knew how to fight, as the Austrian Chronicle indicates. The account in Genesis 14 confirms this. Abraham’s herdsmen were also warriors. Various kings from surrounding countries coveted the wealth of Sodom, so they invaded the land.
And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. (Gen. 14:12-16)
Upon his triumphant return, Abraham met Melchizedec, king of Salem, the Priest of the most high God. And what did Abraham do? “He gave him tithes of all” (Gen. 14:20). Long before the time of Moses and the Levitical priesthood, Abraham tithed. He knew this was a universal law given from the beginning. But he was also careful in his dealings with the king of Sodom. He returned all the booty that had been taken from the king. He did not want to be accused of profiting at the king’s expense, nor did he want to become rich from the spoils of war.
God had promised Abraham that his seed would become a great nation, as numerous as the stars of heaven, yet he and Sarai remained childless. They both understood that the seed was to come through Sarai, but she was now beyond child bearing age. What should they do?
Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. (Gen. 16:1-4)
The mistake was that they used human rationale. The results were not good during the years that Hagar remained with them. In the meantime, Sarai bore Abraham a son-Isaac. There was much tension between Sarai and Hagar, and it eventually became too great.
And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. (Gen. 21:9-12)
Eventually, Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away. The whole experience was very painful for Abraham. But he learned an important lesson of patience and faith. He learned that in due time, as God sees fit, He will honor His promises. But, so did Sarai. Paul tells us: “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable” (Heb. 11:11-12).
Abraham believed God’s promise of the seed, even though he yielded to Sarai’s wishes in the matter of Hagar. “And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:4-6).
The Apostle Paul adds:
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. (Rom. 4:16-20)
Abraham waited 25 years before God fulfilled His promise. This is why he is often referred to as “the father of the faithful.” As a family man, Abraham did not shirk from his duty to teach his children God’s Law. God could say this about Abraham. “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Gen. 18:19).
There was yet another test Abraham faced regarding his wife. It came about as a result of a half-truth he told the king of Gerar, and this created a problem. But once again God intervened in his behalf. We find the incident recorded in Genesis 20:1-14.
And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife. But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine. Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing? And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake. And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother. And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. (Gen. 20:1-14)
The supreme test for Abraham came after Isaac became a lad or young man. This was the trial that confirmed all of God’s promises. The account is so riveting, it is included here in its entirety.
And it came to pass after these things, that God did [test] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen. 22:1-18)
When commanded to do the unthinkable, Abraham obeyed God. He did not reason, argue, or make excuses. He simply did what God ordered. Why? Paul tells us: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead . . . ” (Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham had passed the supreme test of his life. Could he have received God’s promises had he turned from God at any time? Of course not! This is why he is referred to as “the father of the faithful.” Abraham will be in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said so. “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:28).
The life of Abraham is a lesson in faith. He was human and made mistakes, but was able to profit by them and overcome. He was humble and willing to learn. Faith along with works made him perfect. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas 2:21-24). This is why Abraham can be regarded as a great man of the Old Testament.