Profile Of The Prophets - Abraham

by Joseph Hunting

The first eleven chapters of the Bible are devoted to the account of the Creation, the Flood and the subsequent re-peopling of the earth. Genesis chapter ten outlines the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's three sons, whilst chapter eleven describes the ancestry of Abraham. It is hard to grasp the magnitude and grandeur compressed into these first eleven chapters. Nowhere in all literature is so much described in so few words, yet all the essentials are there.

Genesis chapter eleven closes with the simple account of a family headed by Terah, his son Abram and wife Sarai together with his grandson Lot migrating from the city of Ur in Chaldea southwest to the land of Canaan on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

The following thirteen chapters centre round the life of one man. Indeed, this man who lived for 175 years and founded the Hebrew race completely dominates and captivates our attention. At 75 years of age and after his father's death, Abram was commanded by the Lord to leave his kindred and journey to the land that was to be his future home. It was at that time that God made a seven-fold promise to him and his descendants that is still honoured by God today.

Seven-fold Abrahamic Covenant

1. I will make you a great nation;

2. I will bless you

3. And make your name great;

4. And you shall be a blessing.

5. I will bless those who bless you,

6. And I will curse him who curses you;

7. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:2,3

The far-reaching dimensions of this promise still determine the destiny of both individuals and empires according to their attitude to Abraham's descendants. History is punctuated with the Divine judgements upon the Hamans and Hitlers, and the graveyards of their empires. Witness Haman's which spanned the then-known civilized world from India to Ethiopia, or Hitler's Third Reich which was planned to rule the world for a thousand years. Only faith in the Eternal's omnipotence can grasp the magnitude of the concluding promise made to Abraham that in him all the families of the earth are to be blessed.

The Child of Promise

Some years after Abram had sojourned in Canaan he was concerned that he had no son and heir. His wife Sarai was barren, so "Abram said, 'LORD God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?' And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying. 'This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.' Then he brought him outside and said, 'Look now towards heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.' And he said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' And he believed in the LORD, and he accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:2-5).

In this Scripture we have two great truths set before us. Firstly, it was physically impossible for Sarai to bear Abram a son, so he took the matter to the Lord. In spite of the impossible situation confronting both Sarai and Abram regarding their progeny the Lord promised him that he would have an heir, and furthermore, his seed would be counted as the stars of heaven for multitude.

Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that Abraham "staggered not at the promise of God". The second great spiritual truth is that it was not Abraham's status in the community, his good works, or any personal integrity that merited God's pronouncement of his righteousness. Abraham's Divinely imputed righteousness was purely on the basis of his believing God. Thus, before this great founder of the Hebrew race was circumcised, and 430 years prior to the Law being given at Mt. Sinai, Abraham's faith in God blazed a trail for Divine imputation of righteousness to all who would follow his example.

Supreme Test of His Obedience

In the process of time there was to be a supreme test of Abraham's faith. God tested him and said to him: "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Genesis 22:2).

Note that the Lord totally disregarded Ishmael, Abraham's first-born son by Hagar, as his son and heir. Isaac was referred to as "your son, your only son". And Abraham's total obedience to God's command is awesome indeed. We may marvel when we remember that the one to be sacrificed was "your only son' Isaac, the child of promise in whom resided the promise that Abraham's seed would be "as the stars" for multitude. If Isaac were to be slain on Mt. Moriah, what of this promise?

Notwithstanding all the implications, Abraham set out on the three day journey to Mt. Moriah. Every step must have sorely tested his faith. On arrival at his destination he told his companions, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you."

No faltering or turning back! Abraham believed that if he had to sacrifice Isaac God would have to restore him to life again. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son ... accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he received him in a figurative sense" (Letter to the Hebrews 11:17-19).

All God's promises for the future of the Hebrew race were bound up in Isaac's resurrection from the dead if indeed he should be offered as a burnt offering to God. Isaac, then about seventeen years of age, was bound and placed upon the altar, and Abraham was about to slay his son when God called to him. "Abraham, Abraham! ... Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Genesis 22:11,12).

This was the moment of the supreme test of Abraham's obedience and faith in God. The Divine response assured the fulfilment of Israel's destiny in the great plan and purposes of God for the Hebrew race and for the world through them.

" 'By myself I have sworn,' says the LORD, 'because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the sea-shore ... in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice'" (Genesis 22:15-18).