(Aʹbra·ham) [father of a multitude].
The name given by Jehovah to Abram (meaning father of exaltation) when he was ninety-nine years old, and when God was reaffirming His promise that Abraham’s offspring would become many.—Gen. 17:5.
FAMILY ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY
Abraham was the tenth generation from Noah through Shem and was born 352 years after the Deluge, in about 2018 B.C.E. Although listed first among the three sons of Terah, at Genesis 11:26, Abraham was not the firstborn. The Scriptures show that Terah was seventy years old when his first son was born, and that Abraham was born sixty years later when his father Terah was 130 years old. (Gen. 11:32; 12:4) Evidently Abraham is listed first among his father’s sons due to his outstanding faithfulness and prominence in the Scriptures, a practice that is followed in the case of several other outstanding Bible characters such as Shem and Isaac.—Gen. 5:32; 11:10; 1 Chron. 1:28.
Abraham was a native of the Chaldean city of Ur, a thriving metropolis located in the land of Shinar, near the present junction of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. It was about 150 miles (241.4 kilometers) SE of Nimrod’s onetime royal city of Babel or Babylon, so notorious for its unfinished tower of Babel. Now, some 170 years later in Abraham’s time, the city of Ur was still steeped in Babylonish idolatry and the worship of its patron moon-god Sin. (Josh. 24:2, 14, 15) Nevertheless, Abraham proved to be a man of faith in Jehovah God, even as his forefathers Shem and Noah; and, as a consequence, he earned the reputation “the father of all those having faith.” (Rom. 4:11) Since true faith is based on accurate knowledge, Abraham apparently received his understanding by personal association with Shem (their lives overlapped by 150 years). Abraham knew and used the name of Jehovah; to quote him: “Jehovah the Most High God, Producer of heaven and earth,” “Jehovah, the God of the heavens and the God of the earth.”—Gen. 14:22; 24:3.
While Abraham was still living in Ur, “before he took up residence in Haran,” Jehovah commanded him to move out to a strange land, leaving behind friends and relatives. (Acts 7:2-4; Gen. 15:7; Neh. 9:7) There in that country that He would show Abraham God said he would make out of him a great nation. At the time, Abraham was married to his half-sister Sarah, but they were childless and both were old. So it would take great faith to obey, but obey he did.
Terah, now around 200 years old and still the family’s patriarchal head, agreed to accompany Abraham and Sarah on this long journey, and it is for this reason that Terah as father is credited with making the move toward Canaan. (Gen. 11:31) It appears that fatherless Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was adopted by his childless uncle and aunt, and so accompanied them. Northwestward the caravan moved, over 600 miles (965 kilometers), until they reached Haran, which was an important junction on the E-W trade routes, located on the Belikh River, more than sixty-five miles (105 kilometers) above where it empties into the Euphrates. Here Abraham remained until the death of his father Terah.
SOJOURN IN CANAAN
Now seventy-five years old, Abraham began to move his household out of Haran to the land of Canaan, where he was destined to live out the remaining hundred years of his life in tents as a temporary and migratory resident. It was at that time that the covenant between Jehovah and Abraham went into effect, and the 430-year period of temporary residence until the making of the law covenant with Israel began.—Ex. 12:40-42; Gal. 3:17.
Abraham went out from Haran in 1943 B.C.E. and crossed the Euphrates River, evidently on the fourteenth day of the month that later became known as Nisan, following the death of his father Terah. (Gen. 11:32; Ex. 12:40-43, LXX) If the years of the lives of the men whose ages are listed in Genesis chapters 5 and 11 are all to be figured on a strictly autumn-to-autumn basis (according to the most ancient calendars), then the completion of Terah’s 205th and final full year of life would be counted as falling in the autumn of 1944 B.C.E., and not when Abraham left Haran. That would mean that the autumn of 1944 B.C.E. marked the end of 2,083 years of human existence since Adam’s creation. This would have the effect of increasing by one the number of years B.C.E. as shown in this publication for each date from this point all the way back to Adam’s creation, thus making that date 4027 B.C.E. How many months beyond his 205th year Terah lived is not stated. Nor does the Bible indicate the month in which Abraham actually became seventy-five years of age. But Abraham no doubt stayed in Haran for a suitable length of time after his father’s death before leaving Haran in the spring, and, according to Genesis 12:4, “Abram was seventy-five years old when he went out from Haran.”
Evidently Abraham, with his flocks and herds, traveled down through Damascus until he finally got to Shechem (now the site of Nablus), located thirty miles (48 kilometers) N of Jerusalem near the big trees of Moreh. Here Jehovah appeared again to Abraham, confirming and enlarging his covenant promise by declaring: “To your seed I am going to give this land.” (Gen. 12:7) Abraham not only built an altar to Jehovah there, but, as he moved southward through the land toward the southern part of Palestine, he built other altars along the way; and he called on the name of Jehovah. (Gen. 12:8, 9) In time a severe famine compelled Abraham to move temporarily to Egypt, and, to protect his life, he represented Sarah as his sister. And, just as Abraham had feared, Pharaoh took beautiful Sarah into his household to be his wife, but, before he could violate her, Jehovah had Pharaoh give her back. Abraham then returned to Canaan to the campsite between Bethel and Ai, and again called “on the name of Jehovah.”—Gen. 12:10–13:4.
It now became necessary, due to the increasing size of their flocks and herds, for Abraham and Lot to separate. Lot selected the basin of the lower Jordan, a well-watered region “like the garden of Jehovah,” and later established his camp near Sodom. (Gen. 13:5-13) Abraham, for his part, after being told to travel about through the length and breadth of the land, came to dwell among the big trees of Mamre in Hebron, about twenty miles (32.2 kilometers) SW of Jerusalem.—Gen. 13:14-18.
When four allied kings, headed by Mesopotamian King Chedorlaomer, were successful in crushing a revolt of five Canaanite kings, Sodom and Gomorrah were sacked and Lot was taken captive together with all his property. Abraham, upon learning of this, quickly mustered 318 of his trained household servants, made a forced march in hot pursuit more than a hundred and fifty miles (241 kilometers) northward to beyond Damascus, and, with Jehovah’s help, defeated a far superior force. Lot was thus rescued and the stolen property recovered. (Gen. 14:1-16) As Abraham was returning from this great victory a “priest of the Most High God,” Melchizedek, who was also the king of Salem, came out and blessed him, and Abraham, in turn, “gave him a tenth of everything.”—Gen. 14:17-20.
APPEARANCE OF THE PROMISED SEED
Since Sarah continued to be barren, it appeared that Eliezer the faithful house steward from Damascus would receive Abraham’s inheritance. Nevertheless, Jehovah again reassured Abraham that his own offspring would become uncountable, as the stars of heaven, and so Abraham “put faith in Jehovah; and he proceeded to count it to him as righteousness,” even though this occurred years before he was circumcised. (Gen. 15:1-6; Rom. 4:11) Jehovah then concluded a formal covenant over animal sacrifices with Abraham, and, at the same time, he revealed that Abraham’s offspring would be addicted for a period of 400 years, even being taken into slavery.—Gen. 15:7-21; see COVENANT.
Time passed. They had now been in Canaan for ten years, yet Sarah continued barren. She therefore proposed to substitute her Egyptian maidservant Hagar, that she might have a child by her. Abraham consented. And so in 1932 B.C.E. Ishmael was born when Abraham was eighty-six years old. (Gen. 16:3, 15, 16) More time passed. In 1919 B.C.E., when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, as a sign or seal to testify to the special covenant relationship existing between himself and Abraham, Jehovah commanded that all the males of Abraham’s household be circumcised. At the same time Jehovah changed his name from Abram to Abraham, “because a father of a crowd of nations I will make you.” (Gen. 17:5, 9-27) Soon after, three materialized angels, whom Abraham received hospitably in the name of Jehovah, promised that Sarah herself would conceive and give birth to a son, yes, within the coming year!—Gen. 18:1-15.
And what an eventful year it proved to be! Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Abraham’s nephew and his two daughters barely escaped. A famine drove Abraham and his wife, possibly pregnant by now, to Gerar, only to have the king of that Philistine city take Sarah for his harem. Jehovah intervened; Sarah was released; and at the appointed time, 1918 B.C.E., Isaac the long-promised heir was born when Abraham was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety! (Gen. 18:16–21:7) Five years later, when Isaac’s nineteen-year-old half-brother Ishmael poked fun at him, Abraham was compelled to dismiss Ishmael and his mother Hagar. It was then, in 1913 B.C.E., that the 400 years of affliction upon Abraham’s offspring began.—Gen. 21:8-21; 15:13.
The supreme test of Abraham’s faith came about twenty years later. Isaac was now a strong young man about twenty-five years old. In obedience to Jehovah’s instructions Abraham took Isaac and traveled N from Beer-sheba at the Negeb to Mount Moriah, situated directly N of Salem. There he built an altar and prepared to offer up Isaac, the promised seed, as a burnt sacrifice. And indeed Abraham “as good as offered up Isaac,” for “he reckoned God was able to raise him up even from the dead.” Only at the last moment did Jehovah intervene and provide a ram as a substitute for Isaac on the sacrificial altar. It was, therefore, this implicit faith backed up by complete obedience that moved Jehovah to reinforce his covenant with Abraham with a sworn oath, a special legal guarantee.—Gen. 22:1-18; Heb. 6:13-18; 11:17-19.
When Sarah died at Hebron in 1881 B.C.E. at the age of 127, it was necessary for Abraham to purchase a burial plot, for indeed he was only a temporary resident owning no land in Canaan. So he bought a field with its cave at Machpelah near Mamre from the sons of Heth. (Gen. 23:1-20) (See PURCHASE.) Three years later, when Isaac reached the age of forty, Abraham sent Eliezer back to Mesopotamia in order to find a suitable wife, one who was also a true worshiper of Jehovah, for his son. Now Rebekah, the grandniece of Abraham, proved to be Jehovah’s choice.—Gen. 24:1-67.
“Furthermore, Abraham again took a wife,” Keturah, and thereafter fathered six additional sons, so that from Abraham sprang not only the Israelites, Ishmaelites and Edomites, but also Medanites and Midianites, and so forth. (Gen. 25:1, 2; 1 Chron. 1:28, 32, 34) Thus it was that Jehovah’s prophetic utterance was fulfilled in Abraham: “A father of a crowd of nations I will make you.” (Gen. 17:5) Finally, at the good old age of 175, Abraham died, in 1843 B.C.E., and was buried by his sons Isaac and Ishmael in the cave of Machpelah. (Gen. 25:7-10) Prior to his death Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his secondary wives and sent them away, so that Isaac would be the sole heir of “everything he had.”—Gen. 25:5, 6.
PATRIARCHAL HEAD AND PROPHET
Abraham was a very wealthy man with great flocks and herds and much silver and gold, and a very large household numbering many hundreds of servants. (Gen. 12:5, 16; 13:2, 6, 7; 17:23, 27; 20:14; 24:35) For this reason the kings of Canaan considered him a powerful “chieftain” and one with whom covenants of peace should be made. (Gen. 23:6; 14:13; 21:22, 23) Yet at no time did Abraham allow materialism to blind his vision of Jehovah and his promises, or cause him to become proud, high-minded or selfish.—Gen. 13:9; 14:21-23.
The first occurrence of the word “prophet” in the Hebrew Scriptures refers to Abraham, though others like Enoch lived before him. (Gen. 20:7; Jude 14) The first identified in the Scriptures as a “Hebrew” is Abraham. (Gen. 14:13) Abraham, like Abel, Enoch and Noah, was a man of faith. (Heb. 11:4-9) But the first occurrence of the expression “put faith in Jehovah” is in reference to Abraham (Gen. 15:6), in agreement with Romans 4:11: “[Abraham is] the father of all those having faith.”
Indeed, this man of unusual faith walked with God and was in constant communication with him by means of visions and dreams, even entertaining his angelic messengers. (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15:1-8, 12-21; 18:1-15; 22:11, 12, 15-18) He was well acquainted with the name of God even though Jehovah had not at that time revealed the full significance of the greatest name in the universe. (Ex. 6:2, 3) Time after time Abraham built altars and offered up sacrifices in the name of and to the praise and glory of his God Jehovah.—Gen. 12:8; 13:4, 18; 21:33; 24:40; 48:15.
As patriarchal head, Abraham allowed no idolatry or ungodliness in his household, but constantly taught all his sons and servants to “keep Jehovah’s way to do righteousness and judgment.” (Gen. 18:19) Every male member of Abraham’s household was bound by Jehovah’s law to submit to circumcision. The Egyptian slave girl Hagar called on Jehovah’s name in prayer, and the household servant Eliezer of Damascus in a very heart-touching prayer to Jehovah demonstrated his own faith in Abraham’s God. Isaac too, in his early manhood, proved his faith and obedience to Jehovah by allowing himself to be bound hand and foot and placed atop the altar for sacrifice.—Gen. 17:10-14, 23-27; 16:13; 24:2-56.
Jesus and his disciples referred to Abraham more than seventy times in their conversations and writings. In his illustration of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus referred to Abraham in a symbolic sense. (Luke 16:19-31) When his opponents boasted that they were the offspring of Abraham, Jesus was quick to point out their hypocrisy, saying: “If you are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:31-58; Matt. 3:9, 10) No, it is not fleshly descent that counts, but, rather, having the faith like that of Abraham that enables one to be declared righteous, so said the apostle Paul. (Rom. 9:6-8; 4:1-12) Paul also identified the true seed of Abraham as Christ, along with those who belong to Christ as “heirs with reference to a promise.” (Gal. 3:16, 29) He also speaks of Abraham’s kindness and hospitality to strangers, and in his long list in Hebrews chapter 11 of illustrious witnesses of Jehovah, Paul does not overlook Abraham. Paul it is that points out that Abraham’s two women, Sarah and Hagar, were actually making a symbolic drama illustrating Jehovah’s two covenants. (Gal. 4:22-31; Heb. 11:8) The Bible writer James adds that Abraham backed up his faith by righteous works and, therefore, was known as “Jehovah’s friend.”—Jas. 2:21-23.
Archaeological discoveries have also confirmed many matters related in the Biblical history of Abraham: The geographical locations of many places, the many customs of that period of time, such as the purchase of the field from the Hittites, the choice of Eliezer as heir, the treatment of Hagar, and so forth.