Abraham—An Example of Faith
“[Abraham was] the father of all those having faith.”—ROMANS 4:11.
1, 2. (a) How is Abraham remembered among true Christians today? (b) Why is Abraham called “the father of all those having faith”?
HE WAS the forefather of a mighty nation, a prophet, a businessman, a leader. Yet, among Christians today, he is best remembered for the quality that moved Jehovah God to view him as a friend—his unwavering faith. (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23) His name was Abraham, and the Bible calls him “the father of all those having faith.”—Romans 4:11.
2 Did not men before Abraham, such as Abel, Enoch, and Noah, show faith? Yes, but it is with Abraham that the covenant was made to bless all nations of the earth. (Genesis 22:18) He thus became the figurative father of all who would put faith in the promised Seed. (Galatians 3:8, 9) In a sense, Abraham can be considered our father, for his faith serves as an example to be imitated. His whole life may be viewed as an expression of faith, for it consisted of numerous tests and trials. Indeed, long before Abraham faced what might be called his supreme test of faith—the command to offer up his son Isaac—Abraham proved his faith in many lesser trials. (Genesis 22:1, 2) Let us now examine some of these early tests of faith and see what lessons they can teach us today.
The Command to Leave Ur
3. What does the Bible tell us about Abram’s background?
3 The Bible introduces us to Abram (later known as Abraham) at Genesis 11:26, which says: “Terah lived on for seventy years, after which he became father to Abram, Nahor and Haran.” Abram was a descendant of God-fearing Shem. (Genesis 11:10-24) According to Genesis 11:31, Abram lived with his family in prosperous “Ur of the Chaldeans,” a city that once sat east of the Euphrates River.a Thus, he did not grow up as a tent-dwelling nomad but as a city dweller in a place that offered much in the way of luxury. Imported goods could be purchased in Ur’s bazaars. Whitewashed 14-room homes, complete with indoor plumbing, lined its streets.
4. (a) What challenges did Ur present to worshipers of the true God? (b) How did Abram come to put faith in Jehovah?
4 For all its material advantages, Ur presented a serious challenge to any who wanted to serve the true God. It was a city steeped in idolatry and superstition. Indeed, its landscape was dominated by a towering ziggurat honoring the moon-god Nanna. No doubt Abram was under much pressure to share in this vile worship, perhaps including pressure from some relatives. According to some Jewish traditions, Abram’s father, Terah, was himself a maker of idols. (Joshua 24:2, 14, 15) Whatever the case, Abram was not a practicer of degrading false worship. His aged forefather Shem was still alive and no doubt shared his knowledge of the true God. As a result, Abram put faith in Jehovah, not Nanna!—Galatians 3:6.
A Test of Faith
5. What command and promise did God give to Abram while he was still in Ur?
5 Abram’s faith was to be put to the test. God appeared to him and commanded: “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; Acts 7:2, 3.
6. Why did it take real faith for Abram to leave Ur?
6 Abram was old and childless. How could he be made into “a great nation”? And just where was this land to which he was ordered to go? God did not then tell him. It therefore took real faith for Abram to leave prosperous Ur and all its comforts. The book Family, Love and the Bible observes about ancient times: “The gravest of all punishments that could be meted out to a family member who became guilty of a serious crime was to cast him out, to deprive him of his ‘membership’ in the family. . . . This is why it was such an extraordinary manifestation of unquestioning obedience and trust in God when Abraham, following the divine call, left, not only his country, but also his kindred.”
7. How might Christians today face tests like those faced by Abram?
7 Christians today may face similar tests. Like Abram, we may feel pressure to put material interests ahead of theocratic concerns. (1 John 2:16) We may have opposition from unbelieving family members, including disfellowshipped relatives, who might try to lure us into unwholesome association. (Matthew 10:34-36; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 15:33) Abram thus set a fine example for us. He put friendship with Jehovah ahead of everything—even family ties. He did not know exactly how, when, or where God’s promises would be fulfilled. Still, he was willing to stake his life on those promises. What fine encouragement this is to put the Kingdom first in our own lives today!—Matthew 6:33.
8. What effect did Abram’s faith have upon his immediate family members, and what might Christians learn from this?
8 What about Abram’s immediate family members? Evidently, Abram’s faith and conviction had a dramatic effect on them, for both his wife, Sarai, and his orphaned nephew named Lot were moved to obey God’s call and leave Ur. Abram’s brother Nahor and some of his offspring later left Ur and took up residence in Haran, where they worshiped Jehovah. (Genesis 24:1-4, 10, 31; 27:43; 29:4, 5) Why, even Abram’s father, Terah, agreed to leave with his son! The Bible thus credits him, as family head, with making the move toward Canaan. (Genesis 11:31) Might we too enjoy a measure of success if we tactfully witness to our relatives?
9. What preparations did Abram have to make for his journey, and why might that have involved sacrifice?
9 Before setting out on his journey, Abram had much to do. He had to sell property and goods and purchase tents, camels, food, and needed equipment. Abram may have suffered financial loss in making such hurried preparations, but he was delighted to obey Jehovah. What a momentous day it must have been when the preparations were complete and Abram’s caravan stood outside the walls of Ur, ready for travel! Following the curve of the Euphrates River, the caravan traveled northwestward. After weeks of travel, covering some 600 miles [1,000 km], it arrived in a city of northern Mesopotamia called Haran, a major stopping point for caravans.
10, 11. (a) Why did Abram likely remain in Haran for a time? (b) What encouragement can be given to Christians who care for aging parents?
10 Abram settled down in Haran, likely doing so out of consideration for his aged father, Terah. (Leviticus 19:32) Many Christians today likewise have the privilege of caring for aging or sick parents, some even having to make an adjustment in order to do so. When that is necessary, such ones can be assured that their loving sacrifices are “acceptable in God’s sight.”—1 Timothy 5:4.
11 Time passed. “The days of Terah came to be two hundred and five years. Then Terah died in Haran.” Abram was surely grieved by this loss, but when the mourning period was past, he immediately departed. “Abram was seventy-five years old when he went out from Haran. So Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot the son of his brother and all the goods that they had accumulated and the souls whom they had acquired in Haran, and they got on their way out to go to the land of Canaan.”—Genesis 11:32; 12:4, 5.
12. What did Abram do while living in Haran?
12 It is interesting to note that while in Haran, Abram ‘accumulated goods.’ Although he had made material sacrifices in order to leave Ur, Abram left Haran a wealthy man. Clearly, this was due to God’s blessing. (Ecclesiastes 5:19) While God does not promise wealth to all his people today, he is faithful to his promise to provide for the needs of those who ‘leave homes, brothers, or sisters’ for the sake of the Kingdom. (Mark 10:29, 30) Abram also ‘acquired souls,’ that is, a body of servants. The Jerusalem Targum and the Chaldee Paraphrase say that Abram ‘proselytized.’ (Genesis 18:19) Does your faith move you to talk to your neighbors, workmates, or schoolmates? Far from settling down and forgetting God’s command, Abram had used his time in Haran productively. But now his time there was up. “At that Abram went just as Jehovah had spoken to him.”—Genesis 12:4.
Across the Euphrates
13. When did Abram cross the Euphrates River, and what was the significance of this act?
13 Once again Abram had to travel. Leaving Haran behind, his caravan headed west, traveling some 55 miles [90 km]. It may be that Abram halted at a spot on the Euphrates across from the ancient trade center of Carchemish. This was a prime spot where caravans crossed.b On what date did Abram’s caravan cross the river? The Bible indicates that it took place 430 years before the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt on Nisan 14, 1513 B.C.E. Says Exodus 12:41: “It came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, it even came about on this very day that all the armies of Jehovah went out of the land of Egypt.” Evidently, then, the Abrahamic covenant went into effect on Nisan 14, 1943 B.C.E., when Abram obediently crossed the Euphrates.
14. (a) What could Abram see with his eyes of faith? (b) In what sense are God’s people today more blessed than Abram?
14 Abram had left behind a prosperous city. Yet, he could now envision “the city having real foundations,” a righteous government over mankind. (Hebrews 11:10) Yes, with but scant information, Abram had begun to perceive the outline of God’s purpose to redeem dying humankind. Today, we are blessed to have a far more extensive understanding of God’s purposes than did Abram. (Proverbs 4:18) The “city,” or Kingdom government, for which Abram hoped is now a reality—established in the heavens since 1914. Should we not, therefore, be moved to acts of faith and trust in Jehovah?
The Sojourn in the Promised Land Begins
15, 16. (a) Why was courage required for Abram to build an altar to Jehovah? (b) How can Christians today be bold like Abram?
15 Genesis 12:5, 6 tells us: “Finally they came to the land of Canaan. And Abram went on through the land as far as the site of Shechem, near the big trees of Moreh.” Shechem was 30 miles [50 km] north of Jerusalem and lay in a fertile valley that has been described as the “paradise of the holy land.” Even so, “at that time the Canaanite was in the land.” Since the Canaanites were morally perverse, Abram would have to take pains to protect his family from their corrupting influence.—Exodus 34:11-16.
16 For the second time, “Jehovah now appeared to Abram and said: ‘To your seed I am going to give this land.’” How thrilling! Of course, it took faith for Abram to rejoice in something that would be enjoyed only by his future offspring. Even so, in response Abram “built an altar there to Jehovah, who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7) One Bible scholar suggests: “The rearing [of] an altar in the land was in fact a form of taking possession of it on the ground of a right secured to the exercise of his faith.” Building such an altar was also a courageous act. Doubtless, this altar was of the type later specified in the Law covenant, consisting of natural (unhewn) stones. (Exodus 20:24, 25) It would be dramatically different in appearance from the altars used by the Canaanites. Abram thus took a bold public stand as a worshiper of the true God, Jehovah, exposing himself to ill will and possible physical danger. What about us today? Do some of us—particularly young ones—hold back from letting our neighbors or schoolmates know that we worship Jehovah? May Abram’s bold example encourage all of us to take pride in being servants of Jehovah!
17. How did Abram prove himself to be a preacher of God’s name, and of what does this remind Christians today?
17 Wherever Abram went, Jehovah’s worship always took priority. “Later he moved from there to the mountainous region to the east of Bethel and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. Then he built an altar there to Jehovah and began to call on the name of Jehovah.” (Genesis 12:8) The Hebrew phrase “call on the name” also means “declare (preach) the name.” No doubt, Abram boldly declared Jehovah’s name among his Canaanite neighbors. (Genesis 14:22-24) This reminds us of our duty to have as large a share as possible in making “public declaration to his name” today.—Hebrews 13:15; Romans 10:10.
18. What was Abram’s relationship with the inhabitants of Canaan?
18 Abram did not stay in any of those spots very long. “Afterward Abram broke camp, going then from encampment to encampment toward the Negeb”—the semiarid area south of the mountains of Judah. (Genesis 12:9) By keeping on the move and establishing himself as a worshiper of Jehovah in each new location, Abram and his household “publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land.” (Hebrews 11:13) All the while, they avoided getting too close to their pagan neighbors. Christians today must likewise remain “no part of the world.” (John 17:16) While we are kind and courteous to our neighbors and work associates, we are careful not to get entangled in behavior that reflects the spirit of the world alienated from God.—Ephesians 2:2, 3.
19. (a) Why would nomadic life have presented challenges for Abram and Sarai? (b) What further challenges were looming on the horizon for Abram?
19 Let us not forget that adjusting to the rigors of nomadic life could not have been easy for either Abram or Sarai. They dined on the products of their flocks instead of on food purchased at one of Ur’s well-stocked bazaars; they lived in tents instead of a well-built home. (Hebrews 11:9) Abram’s days were active; he had much to do in managing his flocks and his servants. Sarai no doubt managed the tasks traditionally done by women of that culture: kneading flour, baking bread, spinning wool, sewing garments. (Genesis 18:6, 7; 2 Kings 23:7; Proverbs 31:19; Ezekiel 13:18) Still, new trials were looming on the horizon. Soon Abram and his household would be confronted with a situation that put their very lives at stake! Would Abram’s faith prove equal to the challenge?
a Though the Euphrates presently runs about ten miles [16 km] east of the former site of Ur, evidence indicates that in ancient times the river ran just west of the city. Thus, Abram could later be referred to as coming from “the other side of the [Euphrates] River.”—Joshua 24:3.
b Centuries later, Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II used rafts to cross the Euphrates near Carchemish. Whether Abram had to do so himself or he and his caravan simply waded across, the Bible does not say.
Did You Note?
• Why is Abram called “the father of all those having faith”?
• Why did it require faith for Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldeans?
• How did Abram show that he gave priority to Jehovah’s worship?
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Based on a map copyrighted by Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est. and Survey of Israel
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It took faith for Abram to leave the conveniences that life in Ur offered
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By living in tents, Abram and his household “publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents”