Abraham—An Example for All Who Seek God’s Friendship
“He did not grow weak in faith, . . . being fully convinced that what [God] had promised he was also able to do.”—ROMANS 4:19-21.
1. Why has Satan tried to discredit the record concerning Abraham?
THE divine word set forth in the Scriptures is “alive and exerts power.” (Hebrews 4:12) Thus, the account of Jehovah’s dealings with Abraham, though written over 3,500 years ago, is a source of encouragement to all who seek God’s friendship. (Romans 15:4) The archenemy, Satan, knows this and has used religious leaders to try to discredit that record as a myth.—2 Corinthians 11:14, 15.
2. What view did Jesus’ disciples have of Abraham?
2 As part of “all Scripture . . . inspired of God,” the history of Abraham is truthful and “beneficial for [Christian] teaching.” (2 Timothy 3:16; John 17:17) Jesus’ early disciples certainly appreciated this, Abraham being mentioned 74 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In the faith-inspiring 11th chapter of Hebrews, more space is devoted to him than to any other pre-Christian servant of God.
3. How was Abraham greatly honored?
3 Abraham was no ordinary “prophet,” for Jehovah used him to enact a grand “symbolic drama” in which the patriarch was greatly honored in acting as a prophetic type of God himself. (Genesis 20:7; Galatians 4:21-26) Thus, Jesus spoke of “the bosom position of Abraham” when illustrating a position of favor with God.—Luke 16:22.
His First Act of Faith
4. According to the Bible, how did God’s dealings with Abram begin?
4 Abram, as he was originally named, was raised in “Ur of the Chaldeans.” While he was dwelling there, Jehovah 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.”—Genesis 12:1-3; 15:7; Acts 7:2, 3.
5. (a) How must God’s promise have touched Abram’s heart? (b) How did Abram respond to the promise?
5 What a challenging call! For Abram, obeying it meant leaving choice surroundings and his relatives for a life far away in a strange land. But Abram’s heart was deeply touched by God’s loving promise. As a childless old man with a barren wife, his name seemed destined soon to be forgotten. God’s promise assured the opposite: “A great nation” would descend from him. Moreover, God’s promise included a wonderful declaration of good news for all mankind, pointing forward to a time when all the nations would be blessed. (Galatians 3:8) Abram exercised faith in Jehovah’s promise and left a center of advanced civilization. “He went out,” the Bible tells us, “although not knowing where he was going.”—Hebrews 11:8.
6 Abram’s faith affected others. His household, as well as Terah, his father, and Lot, his nephew, departed with him. However, because Terah was the patriarchal family head, he is credited with making the move. (Genesis 11:31) Worthy of note is the support Abram received from his wife, Sarai, later called Sarah. She put up with a lower standard of living for the rest of her life. (Genesis 13:18; 24:67) Understandably, upon her death, “Abraham came in to bewail Sarah and to weep over her.” (Genesis 23:1, 2) Because of her strong faith and wholehearted wifely submission, she is set forth as an example of true spiritual beauty for Christian women.—Hebrews 11:11, 13-15; 1 Peter 3:1-6.
7. In what ways have Christians today demonstrated a faith like that of Abraham and Sarah?
7 Many Christians today have shown a like faith by volunteering to spread God’s message in places where there is a great need for Kingdom preachers and for the construction and operation of new facilities for printing and shipping out Bible literature. (Matthew 24:14) These Christians have shared in obeying the command, “Go . . . make disciples of people of all the nations.” In moving to an unknown country, they have often had to adjust to a different standard of living. Others have made notable material sacrifices in order to make disciples in their own area.—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Other Acts of Faith
8. What led to Jehovah’s second appearance to Abram?
8 Abram stopped in the city of Haran until the death of his father, Terah. (Genesis 11:31, 32) Then his household crossed the Euphrates River and headed south. Eventually they reached “the site of Shechem” in the middle of the land of Canaan. What a pleasant sight this must have been! Shechem lies in a fertile valley between two mountain ranges that peak at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It has been described as the “paradise of the Holy Land.” Fittingly, Jehovah here reappeared to Abram and said: “To your seed I am going to give this land.”—Genesis 12:5-7.
9. (a) In what outstanding way did Abram continue to demonstrate faith? (b) What lesson do we learn from this?
9 Abram responded with another act of faith. As the account says: “He built an altar there to Jehovah.” (Genesis 12:7) Likely, this included offering up an animal sacrifice, for the Hebrew word for “altar” means “place of sacrifice.” Later, Abram repeated these acts of faith in other parts of the land. In addition, he ‘called on the name of Jehovah.’ (Genesis 12:8; 13:18; 21:33) The Hebrew phrase “call on the name” also means “declare (preach) the name.” Abram’s household as well as the Canaanites must have heard him boldly declare the name of his God, Jehovah. (Genesis 14:22-24) Likewise, all who seek God’s friendship today must call upon his name in faith. This would include sharing in public preaching, “always offer[ing] to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—Hebrews 13:15; Romans 10:10.
10. (a) In what other ways did Abram exercise faith? (b) What example did he set for Christian family heads? (1 Timothy 3:12)
10 Abram’s faith in Jehovah was exercised in many other ways. He made sacrifices for the sake of peace and yet tackled crises with courage. (Genesis 13:7-11; 14:1-16) Though rich, he was not materialistic. (Genesis 14:21-24) Rather, he was hospitable and generously supported Jehovah’s worship. (Genesis 14:18-20; 18:1-8) Most important, he was an exemplary family head and followed Jehovah’s instruction by commanding his sons and his household after him so that they kept “Jehovah’s way to do righteousness.” (Genesis 18:19) In this, Abram’s household took a course contrasting sharply with that of the Canaanite sex perverts in neighboring Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram would certainly not have tolerated such gross sins in his household. That he presided over his household in a fine manner is reflected in the way members thereof imitated him by calling upon Jehovah’s name in faith.—Genesis 16:5, 13; 24:26, 27; 25:21.
“He Did Not Grow Weak in Faith”
11. How was Abram able to endure as “an alien . . . in a foreign land” for a hundred years?
11 Abram’s strong faith helped him endure hardships as he lived for a hundred years among people who claimed the land as their own. (Genesis 12:4; 23:4; 25:7) The Bible says: “He resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise. For he was awaiting the city [God’s Kingdom] having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God. And yet, if [he] had indeed kept remembering that place from which [he] had gone forth, [he] would have had opportunity to return.”—Hebrews 11:9, 10, 15; compare Hebrews 12:22, 28.
12. What early opportunity did Abram have to return to Ur, and how did he handle the crisis?
12 Abram had not been long in Canaan when a severe famine presented him with an “opportunity to return.” Ur, being supplied with the abundant waters of the Euphrates River, was not dependent on direct rainfall. Instead of returning there, however, Abram put faith in Jehovah and headed in the opposite direction—Egypt. That was risky. Having a beautiful wife, the foreigner, Abram, was in danger of his life in that strange land. Nevertheless, he took precautions by asking Sarai to conceal their marriage relationship. Jehovah blessed Abram for his faith, and soon he was able to return to the Promised Land with greater wealth than ever.—Genesis 12:10–13:2; 20:12.
13. What is pictured by the barrenness of Sarai and by Abram’s hiding his marriage relationship to her?
13 This too formed part of the prophetic drama that Abram unknowingly enacted for our instruction. Sarai, who was still barren, pictured Jehovah’s heavenly wifelike organization of loyal angels. This beautiful figurative wife had to wait over 4,000 years before being able to provide the true seed of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God. The outright persecution of faithful servants of God during all those years of waiting sometimes made it seem as if Jehovah had hidden his husbandly relationship to her.—Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 54:1-8; Galatians 3:16, 27, 29; 4:26.
14. (a) How did Sarai finally react to her barrenness? (b) What happened in Abram’s 100th year, and why?
14 After enduring as an alien for ten years, Abram still had no son as heir. In desperation, Sarai begged him to produce offspring from her slave woman, Hagar. Abram agreed and Ishmael was born. (Genesis 12:4; 16:1-4, 16) But the promised seed of blessing was to come through someone else. In Abram’s 100th year, his name was changed to Abraham because, as God said, “father of a crowd of nations I will make you.” Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah with the promise that she would bear a son.—Genesis 17:1, 5, 15-19.
15. (a) Why did Abraham laugh at the thought of Sarah’s bearing him a son? (b) What further proof did Abraham give of his strong faith?
15 Abraham (and later Sarah) laughed at the thought because both his and Sarah’s powers of reproduction had ceased. (Genesis 17:17; 18:9-15) But this was not the laughter of faithless disbelief. As the Bible explains: “He did not grow weak in faith . . . But because of the promise of God he . . . became powerful by his faith, giving God glory and being fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to do.” (Romans 4:18-21) On that same day, Abraham gave proof of his strong faith. As a sign of God’s covenant with him, Jehovah told Abraham to get circumcised along with every male in his large household. (Genesis 15:18-21; 17:7-12, 26) How did he react to this painful command? “He went to circumcising the flesh of their foreskins in this very day, just as God had spoken with him.”—Genesis 17:22-27.
16. (a) What happened on the day of Isaac’s being weaned? (b) What did the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael picture?
16 Isaac, whose name means “Laughter,” was born to Sarah the following year. (Genesis 21:5, 6) Soon the time came for him to be weaned. During the feast, jealous Ishmael persecuted Isaac. At this, Sarah strongly urged Abraham to expel the slave woman, Hagar, and her son from the household. Jehovah God backed up Sarah’s request. Though pained, Abraham was prompt to obey. (Genesis 21:8-14) According to Galatians 4:21-30, this pictured how the Greater Abraham would end his relationship with the nation of natural Israel. Like the rest of mankind, they were born as slaves of sin. (Romans 5:12) But they also rejected Jesus Christ, the true Seed of Abraham, who came to set them free. (John 8:34-36; Galatians 3:16) And as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, they persecuted the newly formed Christian congregation of spiritual Israel, who were the secondary part of Abraham’s seed.—Matthew 21:43; Luke 3:7-9; Romans 2:28, 29; 8:14-17; 9:6-9; Galatians 3:29.
His Greatest Test of Faith
17. How was Abraham’s faith next severely tested?
17 It is unlikely that any human father has had more love for a son than the aged Abraham had for Isaac. What a terrible shock it must have been, then, when he received this command: “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 one of the mountains that I shall designate to you.”—Genesis 22:1, 2.
18. How did Abraham respond to Jehovah’s command to sacrifice Isaac?
18 It must have been hard for Abraham to understand the reason for this grievous command. Yet he displayed his usual prompt obedience. (Genesis 22:3) It took him three agonizing days to reach the selected mountain. There he built an altar and placed firewood on top. By this time, he must have explained God’s command to Isaac, who could easily have run away. Instead, Isaac permitted his aged father to bind his limbs and lay him upon the altar. (Genesis 22:4-9) To what can we attribute such obedience?
19. (a) To what can we attribute Isaac’s courageous submission? (b) How is the relationship between Abraham and Isaac a lesson for Christian families today?
19 Abraham had faithfully carried out his responsibilities with respect to Isaac, as outlined at Genesis 18:19. No doubt he had impressed upon Isaac Jehovah’s purpose to resurrect the dead. (Genesis 12:3; Hebrews 11:17-19) Isaac, for his part, was the object of Abraham’s deep love and would have wanted to please his father in everything, especially when it involved doing God’s will. What a fine lesson this is for Christian families today!—Ephesians 6:1, 4.
20. How did Abraham obey, and with what reward?
20 Now came the climax of the test. Abraham took hold of the slaughtering knife. But as he was about to kill his son, Jehovah stopped him and said: “Now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.” (Genesis 22:11, 12) How richly Abraham was rewarded by hearing God’s own declaration of his righteousness! He could now feel sure of having measured up to what God requires of an imperfect human. More important, Jehovah’s prior estimation of his faith was vindicated. (Genesis 15:5, 6) After this, Abraham sacrificed a ram that was miraculously provided to replace Isaac. Then he heard Jehovah confirm, by sworn oath, the covenant promises. Later, he became known as Jehovah’s friend.—Genesis 22:13-18; James 2:21-23.
21. What prophetic illustration was here provided, and what should it encourage us to seek?
21 Abraham’s sacrifice was “illustrative.” (Hebrews 11:19) It typified the painful, costly sacrifice Jehovah God made when he sent his beloved Son to earth to die as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) And Isaac’s willingness to die illustrates how the Greater Isaac, Jesus Christ, lovingly submitted to the doing of his heavenly Father’s will. (Luke 22:41, 42; John 8:28, 29) Finally, just as Abraham received his son alive from the altar, Jehovah received his beloved Son back from the dead as a glorious spirit creature. (John 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18) How encouraging all of this is for seekers of God’s friendship today!
22. How have a select group of humans benefited from the unsurpassed love of God?
22 By exercising faith in this unsurpassed act of love on the part of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God, a select group of humans have been declared righteous as sons of God. (Romans 5:1; 8:15-17) Taken first from Jews and then from Gentiles, these have indeed been blessed by means of the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:25, 26; Galatians 3:8, 16) In turn, they form the secondary part of Abraham’s seed. (Galatians 3:29) Such ones finally number 144,000 and, like Jesus, are resurrected to heavenly life after proving themselves faithful to death.—Romans 6:5; Revelation 2:10; 14:1-3.
23. (a) How are millions already being blessed through the remnant of Abraham’s seed? (2 Corinthians 5:20) (b) What further blessings lie ahead for the “great crowd”?
23 Meanwhile, millions from all nations are ‘blessing themselves’ by their response to the loving ministry of the small remnant of Abraham’s seed. (Genesis 22:18) They have been thrilled to learn how sinful humans can be declared righteous as friends of God. As a result, “a great crowd . . . out of all nations” are enjoying God’s favor, having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” With the remnant taking the lead, they too render God “sacred service day and night.” Set before this great crowd is the marvelous hope of everlasting life in Paradise as earthly “children of God.” (Revelation 7:9-17; 21:3-5; Romans 8:21; Psalm 37:29) However, before such blessings become a reality, events of greater importance must take place, as we shall learn in the next article.
Questions for Review
□ How was the faith of Abraham and his kinsfolk tested?
□ How have Christians today shown a like faith?
□ In what other ways did Abraham exercise faith?
□ How are Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac examples for Christian families?
□ What was illustrated by Abraham’s greatest act of faith?