Abraham, “Father of All Those Having Faith”
“YOUR word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.” One of the ways this is true of God’s Word is by its record of God’s dealings with faithful men, among the most striking of whom was Abraham. Time and again the true God Jehovah is identified as “the God of Abraham,” and to be in “the bosom position of Abraham” meant to bask in Jehovah’s favor. Not without good reason is Abraham designated “Jehovah’s friend,” and “the father of all those having faith.”—Ps. 119:105; Matt. 22:32; Luke 16:22; Jas. 2:23; Rom. 4:11.
Abram, as he was first known and which name means “lofty father,” was born 352 years after the Deluge and lived to the ripe old age of 175 years. From him sprang the Israelites, Edomites and Ishmaelites, also the Medanites and Midianites. Not only does archaeology testify to the historicity of Abram and his forebears but, above all, Jesus Christ and his apostles did, for they referred to him more than seventy times.—1 Chron. 1:28, 32, 34.
Ur, the city of his home, was situated about fifty miles from the Persian Gulf near the juncture of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. The city was said to be “of the Chaldeans,” because it was situated in the lower part of Mesopotamia, which, centuries after Abram’s day, was occupied by the Chaldeans.—Gen. 11:28, 31; 15:7; Acts 7:2.
In Abram’s day Ur was no mean city, although no longer the powerful Sumerian capital that it was some 150 years earlier, before the Elamites invaded it. Within its oval-shaped, partly-broken-down wall lived at least a quarter of a million inhabitants. According to Keller, in The Bible as History, Ur at that time was a “powerful, prosperous, colorful and busy capital city.”
But, above all, Ur was a religious city. The entire northwest quarter of it was given over to pagan worship, chiefly that of the moon god Nanna and his consort Ningal, and in this section were located the ziggurat and temples. As if this were not enough, chapels for the worship of other gods were scattered throughout the city, and every home, except those of the poorest people, had its own chapel. “Its religion was a polytheism of the grossest type,” says archaeologist Woolley in his book Abraham. Such, then, was the city in which Abram was reared.
“FATHER OF ALL THOSE HAVING FAITH”
Faith is proved by works. (Jas. 2:14-26) That Abram had faith he proved by his works for upward of a hundred years. The first real test of faith that came upon Abram, according to God’s Word, was when he quite likely was about seventy years of age and God appeared to him and said: “Go your way out of your country and from your relatives and from the house of your father to the country that I shall show you, and I shall make a great nation out of you and I shall bless you and I will make your name great; and prove yourself a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and him that calls down evil upon you I shall curse, and all the families of the ground will certainly bless themselves by means of you.” Stephen makes it clear that this call to Abram was issued “while he was in Mesopotamia, before he took up residence in Haran.”—Gen. 12:1-3; Acts 7:2.
It took real faith for Abram, together with his father Terah and his nephew Lot and all in their household, to leave Ur. Traveling many miles to the northwest, they lingered for a time in Haran. Haran also was devoted to the worship of the moon god, and so it is not surprising that at the death of Terah, at which time Abram was seventy-five years old, Abram moved on toward the land God had promised him.—Gen. 11:32; 12:4.
Most fittingly, the apostle Paul, in his discussion of faith, stresses Abram’s, saying: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out into a place which he was going to receive as an inheritance, and he went out although not knowing where he was going. By faith he resided temporarily in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents. . . . For he was awaiting the city having real foundations and the builder and creator of which is God.” Jesus Christ gave similar testimony: “Abraham your father rejoiced greatly in the prospect of seeing my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.”—Heb. 11:8-16; John 8:56.
Because of Abram’s faith Jehovah God was very real to him. Repeatedly we read of Abram’s erecting altars to Jehovah and of his calling upon Jehovah’s name, that is, declaring or preaching it, and, on the other hand, we read that Jehovah time and again appeared to Abram. When Jehovah promised Abram a son in his old age, his faith did not stagger but he “put faith in Jehovah, and he proceeded to count it to him as righteousness.” After Abram’s wandering about for twenty-four years, God instituted the covenant of circumcision with him and his household, at which time God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude.” In the meantime Abram, upon Sarah’s suggestion, had a son by her maid Hagar, whom he named Ishmael; but it was Jehovah’s will that through Sarah the promised heir was to come.—Gen. 15:6; 17:5, 9-14, 24-27.
Finally, after Abraham had waited in faith for many years, the promised heir, Isaac, was born. Tested as his faith had been during all this time, his greatest test was yet to come, when Isaac had become a young man. Then it was that Jehovah appeared to Abraham and said: “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and make a trip to the land of Moriah and there offer him up as a burnt offering on that one of the mountains which I shall designate to you.” With what heavy heart Abraham must have heard those words and set out on that journey!—Gen. 22:2.
No greater test of Abraham’s faith and obedience could Jehovah God have devised than this one, for without a doubt no human father, before or since, ever loved his son more than Abraham loved Isaac. Had he not pleaded with Jehovah: “What will you give me, seeing that I am going childless and the one who will possess my house is a man of Damascus, Eliezer?” Had he not waited many years for Isaac? Besides, had not God promised that in Isaac his seed would be called? And now he was being commanded to sacrifice him. How, then, could that promise be fulfilled?—Gen. 15:2.
But Abraham’s faith did not waver. “He reckoned that God was able to raise [Isaac] up even from the dead.” Obediently he set out on that journey to Mount Moriah. There he built an altar of stones, set the wood in order, bound his beloved son hand and foot and then “put out his hand and took the slaughtering knife to kill his son.” Having met the supreme test of faith, Abraham was permitted to go no farther with it. An angel of Jehovah called out to restrain Abraham’s hand and provided a ram in the place of Isaac.—Heb. 11:19; Gen. 22:3-14.
After Abraham had offered up this ram, God’s angel further said to him: “By myself I do swear, is the utterance of Jehovah, that by reason of the fact that you have done this thing . . . I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore, and . . . by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” Not long thereafter Sarah died, and Abraham took as wife Keturah by whom he miraculously had six more sons.—Gen. 22:16-18; 25:1, 2.
GENEROUS AND HOSPITABLE
Truly with good reason Abraham is called “the father of all those having faith” and “Jehovah’s friend.” What an example his life of faith is for all Christians! Not only in the matter of faith, but also in generosity, in hospitality and in being free from the love of money did Abraham show himself to be exemplary. Leaving his homeland and going he knew not where certainly involved no small financial sacrifice, for the country around Ur was exceedingly fertile because of being irrigated from the Euphrates; but no sooner had Abraham entered Canaan when he had to go to Egypt because of the famine in Canaanland. How free from the love of money was his treatment of his nephew Lot! Though he was the older and the head of the party, Abraham let Lot take the choicest pasture lands and he took what was left! Later, after rescuing his nephew Lot from invader kings, Abraham not only refused to accept so much as a thread or a sandal lace as spoils but offered a tenth of all he had to King-Priest Melchizedek.
And what generous hospitality he displayed toward the three strangers that one day apparently chanced to pass by! He prevailed upon them to accept the comforts of his place while he had a good and tender ox slaughtered, had his wife Sarah fix round cakes of fine flour and then set these, together with milk and butter, before his guests; offering them his very best.—Gen. 13:5-13; 14:17-23; 18:2-8; Heb. 13:1, 5.
AN EXEMPLARY FAMILY HEAD
As a family head Abraham also set a fine example. In keeping with the instructions that Jehovah later gave to both natural and spiritual Israel, Abraham ‘commanded his sons and his household that they should keep Jehovah’s way.’ No question about his training his son Isaac in the right way or Isaac never would have submitted to his aged father’s binding him hand and foot to offer him up as a sacrifice! And as a wise father, Abraham was deeply concerned that his son marry a believing wife, not a pagan.—Gen. 18:19; 24:3, 4.
When his nephew Lot was captured, together with his household, Abraham assumed the responsibility of rescuing him. With 318 of his servants he swooped down upon the enemy at night to set free Lot and those with him. Thereby Abraham doubtless became the first warrior of Jehovah and fought what may well have been the first of the battles recorded in the “book of the Wars of Jehovah.” Also, when Jehovah’s adverse judgment threatened the entire territory in which Lot resided, Abraham pleaded with Jehovah: “Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?” Abraham showed himself the right kind of family head, whether it involved the use of weapons of war or prayer to God!—Gen. 14:13-16; 18:25; Num. 21:14.
Far from being the henpecked husband that some higher critics insinuate he was, Abraham was addressed by Sarah his wife as “lord.” More than that, she readily fell in line with his suggestion that she represent herself as his sister in order to save the life of her husband. Since Abraham is nowhere censured for pursuing this strategy, and since in both instances that he pursued this course Jehovah maneuvered matters to protect Sarah from harm, we are precluded from finding fault with Abraham on this score. Both Abraham and Sarah recognized the fact that in their day women were considered expendable.—Gen. 18:12; 12:11-20; 1 Pet. 3:6.
Abraham’s exemplary life also serves as a light to our roadway in that it was filled with prophetic significance. Repeatedly he is used to picture Jehovah God. Thus Abraham’s name being made great and his becoming a blessing pictured that Jehovah would make his own name great and that He would be a blessing.—Gen. 12:2; Mal. 1:11.
Further, even as Sarah continued long barren, so God’s heavenly Jerusalem, his wifelike organization, continued long barren, until she produced Jesus as the anointed ‘seed of the woman.’ And as Abraham upon two occasions hid his relationship to Sarah, so it has seemed as though Jehovah God had denied his wifely organization or hid his relationship to her for a long period of time, tempting Satan’s agents to violate her representatives upon earth.—Isa. 54:1-8.
As Abraham had two sons by two women, so Jehovah God has had two peoples, the natural Jews by an earthly organization and the spiritual Jews by a heavenly organization, Jerusalem from above. As Hagar, the bondmaid, served in a temporary capacity, so the nation of Israel, in bondage to the law covenant, served in a temporary capacity. As Sarah, the free woman, brought forth the promised seed, so the free heavenly Jerusalem brought forth the promised Heir.—Gal. 4:21-31.
Abraham’s offering up his son Isaac pictured that Jehovah would offer up his only-begotten Son. And finally his sending forth Eliezer to procure a bride for Isaac pictured that Jehovah would send forth his holy spirit, beginning with Pentecost, to procure a spiritual bride for his Son.—John 3:16; Gal. 3:16.
Truly the Bible’s record of the lives of such men as Abraham underscores the fact that it is indeed a lamp to our foot and a light to our roadway!