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Abraham

 

 

 

 

 

Abraham

 

 

The Patriarchs

 

 

by

 

 

Steven Chance

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Steven G. Chance

 

All rights reserved. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without written permission from the author, except for a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages.

 

 

 

 

To Mom and Dad

 

 

Table of Contents

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Introduction: Abraham, an Ordinary Guy 5

The Journey of a Thousand Miles, and More 6

Hi, Honey! Will You Be My Sister? 8

This Means War! 10

Hagar, the Other Woman 12

Unexpected Visitors 15

Fire, Brimstone, and Salt Shakers 17

Daddy Dearest 20

Little White Lies 22

Laughing with Isaac 24

He’s Mine! 26

Isaac, Man of Faith 29

Death of a Spouse 31

Isaac Gets a Wife 32

Ashes to Ashes 35

Closing 36

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction: Abraham, an Ordinary Guy

 

The Bible abounds with stories of God intervening in the lives of specific human beings – sometimes kings and other important personages, sometimes ordinary Joes. When God reaches down into the life of one of these biblical characters, he offers what that person needs – safety, power, or reassurance, for example – and he does it despite the fact that the recipient of his grace is often far from a paragon of virtue. It is as if God specifically chooses to work with and through very flawed, very human men and women – people like you and me.

In starting to look at the lives of some of these biblical grace-receivers, Abraham is a great place to start. As we shall see, there was nothing special about Abraham (known then as Abram) when God chose him. He was just an ordinary guy. But still God chose him to be the father of the nation that would eventually become Israel.

God and Abraham had a very special, personal relationship, and God extended grace to him at all times, even when Abraham messed things up. God gave Abraham personal protection, forgiveness when he needed it, and even, on one occasion, a miracle.

One more thing that you should know about Abraham: His life was far from boring! So let’s get started.

 

 

The Journey of a Thousand Miles, and More

 

Genesis 11:27-12:3

 

Our story begins with Terah, Abram’s father, moving his family a thousand miles up the Euphrates River from Ur to Haran. He intended on traveling all the way to Canaan but, for some unknown reason, stops four hundred miles short of his destination. Perhaps age is taking its toll. He waited until his seventies before having children and now has to be over a hundred, for he has at least one grandson, Lot, and maybe more.

The big question is: Why the move from Ur? One guess is that Terah moves in an attempt to escape his grief. He lost one son, Lot’s father, Haran, while in Ur, and no mention is made of his wife. Perhaps he wants a new start and just ups and decides to leave town, taking the remainder of his family with him, and simply gives out prior to reaching the Promised Land. He looks around him, likes what he sees, and names the place Haran as a tribute to his dead son. That’s speculative, of course, but why else would such an elderly man pack up and leave on such a long journey? Whatever caused him to move from Ur, Terah never leaves Haran, where he lives out the remainder of his days before dying at the ripe old age of 205.

No one knows how long Abram stays in Haran prior to leaving for Canaan. It may have been weeks, months, or perhaps even years before Abram starts out on his own. After he turns 75, Abram experiences a life-altering event. He meets God!  This isn’t one of the many gods that are worshiped in Ur or even in Haran. This God is the real deal, the real McCoy, the one and only Divine Being who makes all other gods seem like insignificant toys. And what happens when God shows up? God tells Abram to get off his butt, take Sarai with him, and finish the journey his father started. It’s time to go to Canaan! Abram gets up the next morning, says his goodbyes and, taking Sarai and Lot with him, heads south for Canaan.

Some may ask: Why Abram? Why would God ever choose someone with a family history of worshiping idols to be the father of a great nation? It certainly isn’t because of anything Abram did, that’s for sure. He followed his father to Haran, but so what? What son wouldn’t follow his father on such a journey if asked? All in all, Abram is like every other man. There’s some good, there’s some bad, and if someone looks hard enough, there’s probably a part of Abram that’s downright ugly. He may not be the worst person alive, but he’s certainly not in line for sainthood either. So, why Abram? Out of all the people living on Planet Earth at this point in history, why does God choose Abram?

The only thing that I can come up with is that, for whatever reason, God did choose Abram. Despite his imperfections, Abram is God’s man for the job. That might sound trite, but, before you dismiss the idea altogether, please remember, this is God’s idea, not Abram’s.

The second thing to keep in mind is just how pivotal Abram is to the story of redemption. The first eleven chapters of Genesis tell the story of those who lived prior to the birth of Abram. Starting with the last few verses of Genesis eleven, everything written in both the Old Testament and in much of the New Testament is about either Abram or his descendants. That’s an expansive amount of verbiage stemming from the life of one man.

This one man is chosen by God, not only to bring forth a nation, but through that nation, bless other nations throughout the world. Sure, the world has seen its share of troubles, and I would never want to minimize human tragedies that have occurred throughout the millennia. But Abram’s influence on world history can never be overstated.

 

Hi, Honey! Will You Be My Sister?

 

Genesis 12:4-13:18

 

Abram and his entourage travel throughout Canaan before reaching Shechem, perhaps the site of modern-day Jerusalem. There, God commits to expanding Abram’s family, making his offspring future heirs to the land. This comes as good news to Abram and Sarai. Try as they might, the couple has yet to have children. But for the moment, the two wanderers have more pressing matters to worry about than bearing offspring. Famine rages across the land, forcing many to leave in search of food. Abram, along with his wife and nephew, heads for Egypt.

Why Egypt? Why not return to Haran where they have family? I'm not sure. We're not told. Perhaps Abram doesn't want to be seen as a quitter, returning to daddy at the first sign of trouble. Maybe his ego comes into play, and Abram really does wants to make it on his own. Whatever the reason, he stops just short of Egypt and has a heart to heart talk with his bride, asking that, for as long as they remain in Egypt, she presents herself as his sister. Even though she's in her mid- sixties, Abram is convinced that someone in Egypt is going to make a move on Sarai despite their marital state. Better for Abram if he removes himself from the picture and lets whatever happens happen. Men will be men, and better to save himself from the scheme of some horny young stud than to protect the honor of his wife.

Of course, the thought that the horny stud may turn out to be Pharaoh himself never occurs to Abram, much less the idea that God might intervene. Yet that’s exactly what happens. Pharaoh sets the wheels in motion to marry the new girl in town. But, before he’s able to prepare for the occasion, Pharaoh, and those around him, experience a plethora of diseases. Looking for a possible reason for the sudden visitation of illnesses, Pharaoh discovers the con perpetrated by Abram and his supposed sister and goes ballistic, targeting his anger at Abram.  The two of them, Pharaoh and Abram, take a walk to the proverbial woodshed. To be caught in a lie is one thing, but to have a heathen king lecture you on the merits of honesty before booting you out of the country? How humiliating!

With no place to go except back to Canaan, Abram leaves Egypt with his tail between his legs, only to discover another problem. Somewhere along the line, both Abram and Lot have grown quite wealthy managing livestock. Their shepherds are fighting one another, each wanting the best grazing land for their animals. Abram makes a decision. He and his nephew should separate before war breaks out among the hired hands. As the elder of the two, Abram is well within his rights to have first dibs on where to live, a right that he forfeits, giving Lot first choice. Lot chooses the Plains of the East surrounding the Jordan River, settling near Sodom, leaving Abram with the more mountainous region of Canaan towards the West.

I imagine that Abram is a little disappointed with Lot’s selfish decision but probably not surprised. Lot could have at least talked things over with his uncle prior to taking the best land for himself. But, no. He sees an opportunity to better himself and takes it, regardless of who gets hurt. Lot leaves, and God shows up. God encourages Abram by reiterating his promise to multiply his descendants. Lot’s selfishness isn’t about to interfere with God’s plans for Abram.

 

This Means War!

 

Genesis 14:1-15:1

 

War breaks out across the Arabian Peninsula. A confederation of four kingdoms from the east, near the Euphrates River, goes on the warpath against five city-states located in the southern Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea. The small towns in the west are no match for the invading forces, and for the next twelve years they are forced to pay tribute to the conquering kingdoms. In the thirteenth year, the subjugated kingdoms revolt, only to bring about the full wrath of the East. Revolution is not an option. If the people choose to revolt, they will either die or be taken captive. The kingdoms of the East go on the march and destroy not only their unruly opponents, but everyone in their path. This is far more than a mere skirmish between rival towns. This is all out war, covering a large area of land filled with death and destruction on a scale never seen before.

Unfortunately, Lot, along with his family, lives in Sodom, located right in the middle of the war zone. Lot is taken captive. Abram, having received word of his nephew’s predicament, heads east, accompanied by 318 men highly trained in the art of war. He rushes to the scene and pursues Lot’s captors all the way to Dan, a distance of nearly 200 miles. By dividing his men and waiting until late into the night to attack, Abram uses the element of surprise to his advantage and quickly gains the upper hand. As far as the forces from the east are concerned, they have already destroyed their opposition. It is now time to rest and even celebrate. The idea of a group of well-trained men just waiting for nightfall to attack is unthinkable. When the attack begins, instead of fighting an unknown entity, the besieged men flee, leaving Lot and the other captives to fend for themselves, only to find that they have just been rescued.

As Abram returns home, he’s met by two visitors. King Melchizedek (meaning king of righteousness) of Salem comes bearing bread, wine, and a victory blessing. The king pulls double duty, also serving as a priest, hundreds of years before priests are commissioned for service through the priestly tribe of Levi. Recognizing the man’s profound greatness in a land of the not-so-righteous, Abram offers Melchizedek a tenth of his war bounty.

Abram’s second visitor, King Bera of Sodom, had the misfortune of twice losing his city. First, to King Chedorlaomer, head of the eastern alliance, and then again to Abram when Abram came looking for Lot. He wants his possessions back and resorts to begging for their return. Abram gives the king what he wants, stating that under no circumstance does he want it said of himself that he prospered from Sodom’s sins.

At this point in the story, God comes to Abram in a vision, reassuring him not to be afraid. Why would Abram be afraid? He had just sacked the Eastern confederation. These guys had been on top of their game for at least fourteen years, forcing city-states to pay them an annual tax, and ransacking anyone who got in their way. Theirs was a force to be reckoned with, a force to be feared, and one not used to losing. They are hundreds of miles from home, and all of a sudden, some nobody catches them with their pants down, robbing them of everything. You’d better believe that Abram is afraid. He fears for his life, just waiting for the Eastern alliance to retaliate.

 

Hagar, the Other Woman

 

Genesis 15:2-16:16

 

How long are you willing to wait for something before you throw up your hands and give up? A year? Two years? God had promised to give Abram so many children that they would be as numerous as the dust of the Earth. That promise had been given ten years prior, and Abram and his wife still struggle with infertility. While it’s true that God has blessed Abram with many things, those things are growing more and more meaningless. Abram is aging and recognizes the futility of acquiring possessions and not having any one to leave them to. As things stand, Eliezer of Damascus, undoubtedly one of Abram’s business advisers or even banker, will receive his entire estate upon Abram’s death. How much better would it be to have an heir of his own? God may have made a promise, but as of yet, God has not made good on that promise.

Abram goes right to the source, “God, why are you doing this to me? You’ve given me everything except the one thing you promised years ago, children!” God answers and repeats his promise, only this time assuring Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Can you just imagine Sarai’s reaction? “Hi honey, I’m home! I heard from God again.” “Oh, yeah? What did he say this time?” Not wanting to watch her hubby struggle any longer, she offers up Hagar. I bet there are more than a few men who wish their wives were as generous as Sarai. “I’m so sorry. I have a headache tonight, but here’s my sister.” You laugh, but that’s pretty much the course Sarai takes. All is well until Hagar gets pregnant. Then jealousy rears its ugly head, and all of a sudden, Sarai has a change of heart. She hates Hagar. Hagar is about to give her husband, Abram, something that she herself has never been able to give him, a son.

What's a fellow to do -- this was his wife's idea! Surely she must know that it's a bit late to pretend nothing happened! Nevertheless, Abram acquiesces and tells Sarai to do whatever she wants with her servant, Hagar. Sarai's harsh dealings with her maid servant drive Hagar batty and, before long, she just ups and takes off, leaving Abram's household and protection.

Abram doesn’t know what to think. He only did what Sarai had told him to do. Besides, hadn’t God explicitly told him that he will have a child? He never mentioned anything about Sarai being the child’s mother. Sarai had come up with the perfect solution. Now she’s going to allow a little jealousy to get in the way of God’s plans. How can she do this to him?

I like the story of Hagar, a true underdog tale.  If there ever was a nobody, it is Hagar. She’s a slave, ill-treated by her mistress, Sarai, and powerless to do a thing about it. Sarai demands that she sleep with Sarai’s husband to provide him with a child, and it’s not like Hagar could have refused. She gets pregnant as expected. OK, maybe she did have a little fun rubbing Sarai’s nose in her ability to give Abram something that Sarai couldn’t, but who could blame her? Sarai in her jealousy mistreats Hagar, until finally Hagar has had enough and leaves. Next comes my favorite part of the story. Does the Lord forget about this down-and-outer, leaving her to fend for herself? Read on. 

As she sits next to a spring, resting from her escape, the angel of the Lord joins her and makes two inquiries. Where have you come from? Where are you going? The angel listens as Hagar pours out her heart. She is alone and pregnant, not a good position for any unmarried woman to be in, much less a slave residing in a foreign land. After providing comfort and reassurance, the angel instructs Hagar to return to Abram’s household and to her mistress, Sarai. Not only does the angel of the Lord inform Hagar of the impending birth of Ishmael, he also gives Hagar a promise very similar to the one given to Abram. God promises that through Ishmael, he will provide Hagar with descendants too numerous to count. That, however, is where the similarities end. Ishmael may provide her with a multitude of descendants, but it will be through the offspring of Sarai that God will bless the world.

 

Unexpected Visitors

 

Genesis 17:1-18:15, 21:1-2

 

Thirteen years later, Abram receives two visitors, this time telling him to be on the lookout for a pregnant wife. That’s right, he’s finally going to get a son from Sarai. I don’t know about you, but if I live to be 99, I just hope that I’m still capable of having sex, never mind fathering a baby. No wonder Sarai is caught laughing. I’d laugh too, if my spouse suggested such a thing.

There is a certain irony in this story that literally gets lost in translation. Abram’s name, in Hebrew, means “father of many.” Abram’s a businessman. He meets numerous people each week, all passing through on their way to somewhere. Each one stops to pay his respects to the patriarch of the family. First question each visitor asks is, “You must be Abram?” “Yes, yes, that’s me. I’m Abram.” Next question: “So, how many children do you have?”  How embarrassing! How humiliating to have to say, for most of his life, “None.” And then, after the birth of Ishmael, he’s able to boast about having a son. One son, and even that wasn’t with his wife but with an Egyptian concubine.

As if things aren’t bad enough, God now wants to rename him Abraham, changing his name’s meaning from “father of many” to “father of a multitude”. That’s going to go over well with his already humiliated wife! “Oh, by the way, God wants to change your name, too.” If I was Sarah, I’d be livid. Abraham has been chasing a dream of siring a son through Sarah for twenty-four years, and now that she’s ninety, he still hasn’t given up. “And you want to do what? Circumcise yourself? Are you insane? Come in out of the heat!” Can you just see Sarah’s face when Abraham confides that circumcision isn’t just for his own benefit but for every man and boy attached to Abraham’s household?

I know a lot of people, but the number of people that I consider to be close friends I can count on one hand. So it must have been with Abraham. His father and his older brother, Nahor, remained in Haran when Abraham moved south into the land of the Canaanites. His nephew, Lot, went his own way upon returning from Egypt. The only person that he’s close to is his wife, Sarah. No wonder he becomes so excited when the Lord himself shows up, appearing as three guests. They recline under a shade tree, enjoy some refreshments, and talk.

After shooting the breeze over a delightful lunch, the four men, Abraham and the three visitors, get down to business. “Do you remember that promise God made twenty-five years ago? A year from now, the three of us will return, and you and Sarah will have a new-born son.” Abraham’s jaw drops. After all the years of hoping, he is about to get his wish. Sarah, on the other hand, can’t help but see the absurdity in an old man who refuses to give up his dream. She laughs at the idea of having a child at her age. Abraham hears her laughter and confronts his wife. “I didn’t laugh!” she responds, lying to her husband. But, the joke is on her, because after some time has passed, she will discover the truth of the words of Abraham’s visitors. Sarah will be pregnant.

 

Fire, Brimstone, and Salt Shakers

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Genesis 18:16-19:29

 

When the time comes for the visitors to leave, they inform Abraham of God’s intention of destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom had been enslaved by the Eastern kingdom, then rescued by Abraham. Perhaps this explains Abraham’s passion about Sodom. Abraham intercedes on behalf of those living in Sodom six times. Growing bolder with each request, he begins by inquiring whether or not God will save Sodom if fifty righteous people are found within the city. When God agrees, Abraham renegotiates, asking for clemency if only forty such people live in Sodom. After going back and forth, and already knowing the outcome, God finally agrees that if only ten righteous people are found, he will refrain from destroying the city. Unfortunately, this city was so saturated with sin that it did not even contain the necessary ten people. Lot, his wife, and two daughters are the sum of Sodom’s righteousness.

Two angels arrive in Sodom near sundown and find Lot sitting at the city’s entrance. Lot welcomes them, immediately recognizing them for the celestial servants they are and insist that they spend the night at his home. Lot and his guests have dinner, and then they hear cries originating from outside the house.

The men of the city had spotted Lot’s visitors entering Sodom and have hatched a plan for an evening of debauchery. Make no mistake about what’s occurring here. This isn’t about two adult men volunteering for a night of consensual sex. This is about rape, and gang rape at that. And how does Lot respond to the situation? He attempts to appease the men by offering them his two unmarried but betrothed daughters. How repugnant! He justifies his actions by asserting that his visitors are under the protection of his household. Really? If his visitors are under the protection of his household, what about his daughters? Don’t they warrant the same degree of protection?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Lot’s actions are necessary in order to protect the two visitors. They are fully capable of taking care of themselves. The visitors strike the would-be rapists with temporary blindness in order to rescue Lot after his failed attempt to negotiate with his so-called friends. They have come to rescue Lot from the impending doom of the city. Destruction is coming, and these two men are his only ticket to safety! Safety not only for Lot, but also for the two daughters whom he was ever so ready to throw to the wolves!

After dinner, the visitors inform Lot of the impending doom and urge Lot to prepare his household for a quick departure. His wife and daughters readily prepare to flee, but Lot’s sons-in-law assume the old man is joking and go to bed laughing.

Just prior to sunrise, the visitors again approach Lot, this time with urgency. “It’s time! Gather your family as quickly as possible and head for the hills! Whatever you do, do not look back! God is about to unleash his wrath! “

The angels take Lot, his wife, and their two daughters, drag them by the hands, and head for the mountains. It’s a good thing that I’m not God, because I would have lost patience with Lot’s fickleness a long time before this point. The two angels are doing their best to save Lot’s pathetic life, and all of a sudden, Lot puts in a request for a change in venue. Instead of moving to the mountains, he’d rather stay near the desert. Perhaps he hasn’t yet realized the gravity of the situation. Or, perhaps he doesn’t have the nerve to face Uncle Abraham. Either way, it’s ludicrous not to follow the angels’ explicit instructions. I’m unsure of why the angels give into Lot’s request. Whatever the reason, they refrain from raining total destruction upon the area until Lot reaches Zoar, a small town further to the west.

If Lot is fickle, I don’t have words strong enough to describe his wife. She must have really enjoyed life in Sodom, because, although she goes along with her husband’s escape, her heart really isn’t in the move. She does the one thing that the angels warn against. She looks back. That little game of peekaboo costs the woman her life, for she quickly turns into a salt figurine. Does that make her the world’s first Saltine? I doubt it. I was over there in the late 1970s, and our guide pointed her out. There stood Lot’s wife, the pillar of salt, all ninety feet of her. Either Lot enjoyed extra tall women or that tour guide was pulling our legs.

Let’s back up a bit. Twelve hours earlier, Abraham had pleaded with God to spare Sodom the intended annihilation. He had gone to bed that night with the confidence that surely ten righteous people would be found within the walls of Sodom, and that God would rescind his plans for the city’s destruction. He arises the following morning and rushes to a vantage point overlooking the plains below. The rotten egg aroma of sulfur is hanging in the air. Looking towards the horizon, his eyes confirm what his nose already detects. One glance to the west tells him that Sodom is now a wasteland, unfit for human habitation. He has no way of ascertaining the fate of his nephew. Lot’s decision to head for Zoar instead of following the angels to the mountains puts even more distance between him and his uncle, forever denying Abraham any knowledge of whether or not Lot has survived God’s wrath. For all Abraham knows, Lot has been consumed by the fire. What other explanation could exist for Lot’s disappearance? Abraham assumes that his nephew has suffered the same fate as the other residents of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding plains. 

 

Daddy Dearest

 

Genesis 19:30-38

 

Fearing their discovery in Zoar, Lot moves to the mountains, taking his two daughters with him. Together, the three make their residence in a local cave where the two daughters begin missing their fiances. One moment, they have their entire lives planned out. Twenty-four hours later, their worlds are turned upside down. Their fiances are dead, and the two young women are now alone without any immediate prospects of having families of their own.

They contrive to take matters into their own hands, and together, they hatch a plan to further their own bloodlines. They get daddy so drunk that he becomes oblivious to the incestuous rape from his eldest daughter. The next night, they repeat the deception, only this time the younger daughter perpetrates the rape.

I’ve heard it said that turnabout is fair play, and in this case, the rapes of Lot might seem to be appropriate paybacks for serving up his daughters for a night of gang rape on that last night back in Sodom. Unfortunately, two wrongs don’t make a right, and even though Lot’s actions were despicable, they don’t justify those of his daughters. As a guy, I can’t imagine any man imbibing to the point of being completely oblivious to a sexual interlude. But then again, I doubt Lot could ever have imagined the extreme deviance of his daughters. Apparently, living in Sodom has corrupted this family so much that they are willing to use each other in almost unfathomable ways.

Both daughters become pregnant with sons. The eldest gives birth to Moab, the future father of the Moabites. The younger daughter gives birth to Ben-Ammi, the future father of the Ammonites. These two people groups will each grow into belligerent kingdoms that will constantly harass the yet-to-be-formed Israeli Kingdom.

 

Little White Lies

 

Genesis 20

 

Scripture is unclear as to why Abraham leaves his mountainous abode for the flat lands of Gerar. I suspect that he wants to escape Zoar with its bird’s-eye view of what remains of Sodom and its constant reminder of Lot’s presumed demise. Although Lot is alive and well, living on the other side of the valley, Abraham cannot rid his mind of the smoldering images of the burning city. Whatever the reason, Abraham packs up and moves to Gerar, located in the northwestern corner of the Sinai Peninsula.

Some people never learn from their mistakes, and Abraham seems to be one of those people. Do you remember when the couple fled to Egypt and Abram referred to Sarai as his sister?  He does it again, this time in Gerar, ruled by King Abimeleck. How stupid! Even after receiving a stern rebuke from no less than Egypt’s Pharaoh himself, Abraham falls back on the plan that he and his wife had concocted before leaving Ur, years ago! That’s right! The two were in it together, and it started before leaving home!

Abimeleck is furious and rightly so. God comes to him in a dream and tells the king that he is as good as dead. Abimeleck pleads for his life, which God grants, and then lectures Abraham on the virtues of integrity.

So much for little white lies. Abraham hasn’t lied. Not technically. He and Sarah are brother and sister, albeit only through their father. The two had separate mothers, so technically they are half-brother and sister. But I have a feeling that technicalities do not hold up with God. Any way that you look at it, Abraham’s actions are rooted in deception and self-preservation. He is a coward, more willing to allow his sister/wife to serve as another man’s concubine than to live with the risk of suffering personal injury or even death. Why not throw your wife under a bus? Hey, you’re just trying to save your own skin, right?

Abraham and Sarah’s indiscretions provide me with a tremendous amount of hope. A lot of people believe that once someone embraces the Christian faith, he or she will live a life free of sin. In my experience, reality isn’t like that. I didn’t become perfect or sinless after accepting Christ, and neither does anyone else. Sinless perfection certainly wasn’t Abraham’s experience, nor was it the experience of others mentioned in Scripture, the one exception being Jesus the Messiah. Perhaps I’m just hanging around the wrong people, and the real saints are those who sit at the back of the sanctuary. I know that I am a sinner. But just as God extends a great big dose of grace to Abraham and his wife, he extends that same grace to you and me.

 

Laughing with Isaac

 

Genesis 21

 

Everyone loves a good laugh, especially when the object of one’s laughter is marked by an event such as the birth of a baby whose father has reached the century mark. Sarah finally gives birth to a baby boy, and she is overcome with joy. Not only does she have the son she has yearned for, but God has performed a miracle in opening her womb in her old age. She knows her friends and acquaintances will find a baby born to such an elderly couple to be quite comical – and in her happiness, she does not mind that a bit. She says that God has given her laughter, and this is literally true, because even the baby’s name, “Isaac,” means “he laughs.”, and is overjoyed with awe that the impossible has not only become possible, but also a reality.

Sarah’s exuberance is short lived, though, and her jealousy over Hagar and Ishmael once again rears its ugly head. When it comes time to ween Isaac from his mother’s breast, Abraham throws a party. Ishmael, now a teenager, is not happy with the new addition to the household. For years he has assumed that he would be the sole heir to his father’s estate. He hadn’t planned on sharing, especially with a half-brother whose mother harbored so much venom against him and his mother. Like a lot of teenagers, Ishmael doesn’t keep his feelings to himself. He mocks Isaac, right there at the party, not caring who hears. Sarah’s ears perk up, and after hearing the insult, she demands action. She tells Abraham that the boy and his mother must go. She wants no part of sharing her husband’s affections and wealth with the offspring of another woman. Once again, Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael be forced to leave the household. This time, Abraham seeks God’s direction. God tells Abraham to acquiesce to Sarah’s demands, again reaffirming that it is through Isaac’s descendants that God’s promises to Abraham will be kept. However, he reassures Abraham of Ishmael’s future, repeating the promise that he had once given to Hagar, that Ishmael will also be the father of a nation. The following morning, Abraham brings food and water to Hagar and their son and breaks the bad news. They must leave immediately.

After all of this family drama has been concluded, the relationship between Abraham and King Abimelech needs to be sorted out. After being chastised by no less than God himself for desiring Sarah for a wife, the thought of Abraham and Sarah residing anywhere on King Abimelech’s land was enough to scare the king witless. God had already threatened to kill the king. What’s next, a king roasting over an open fire? If that isn’t enough, I can just imagine Abimelech’s face when word reaches him of Abraham’s military accomplishments. If Abraham and his men can defeat a coalition of cities that had been terrorizing city-states for years, then Abraham is one person who represents nothing but danger to the king, something Abimelech has to nip in the bud as soon as possible.

King Abimelech goes to Abraham and suggests that the two come to an understanding, promising never to wage war against each other. Abraham likes what he hears, and the two parties enter into a treaty, barring any aggressive action between the two.

 

He’s Mine!

 

Genesis 22

 

Abraham, now in the golden years of life, remains in the land of the Philistines. Life is good. He and Sarah finally have a child of their own, and God has promised to make a great nation through that child. And then, once again, God shows up. This time, instead of appearing as the God of hope and promise, he appears as the God of doom. He’s calling in his chips and asks for a sacrifice. He tells Abraham to travel to Mt Moriah and to offer up his son, whom he loves dearly, as a human burnt sacrifice.

Can you imagine Abraham’s shock? This is the son through whom God has promised to make a great nation, and yet God’s instructions will leave Isaac dead on a burning altar. What’s a father to do?

I have a hunch that this is one conversation that Abraham keeps to himself. He certainly doesn’t tell Sarah. Isaac is her joy and pride. She had Hagar and Ishmael banished for an insult. Can you imagine her reaction if she discovers her husband’s most recent conversation with the Almighty? She’d go berserk!

Abraham arises the following morning and begins making preparations for their journey to Mt Moriah. What is going through the mind of this more than 100-year-old man as he gathers wood to be used for the sacrifice of his now one and only son? He has three days to ponder God’s request. Why now? What happened to all the promises that God has given concerning building a future nation through Isaac? On the other hand, surely God knows what he’s doing. Or does he? Abraham’s confusion is overwhelming.

This isn’t like God! If Abraham follows through and sacrifices his son, how then can God build a nation through Isaac? He can’t, and God becomes a liar! Abraham has doubted God before, and the one thing that he has learned since leaving Ur is that nothing good can come from doubting God. Thus, after the wood is gathered, Abraham, Isaac, two servants, and a donkey leave for a destination only known to Abraham.

When Abraham spots their destination in the distance, he instructs his servants to stay behind. He and Isaac will continue alone, he tells the servants, and both will return after making a sacrificial offering.

Hold everything! Did you catch what just happened? Both Abraham and Isaac are going up the mountain for the sole purpose of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Knowing this, Abraham tells his servants that both he and Isaac will return after the sacrifice is made. Either Abraham has just told a whopper of a lie, or he has things more figured out than he’s letting on.

The million dollar question is, does Abraham have everything figured out? Does he believe that God will provide an alternate sacrifice, one other than Isaac? Might he even foresee the possibility of a resurrection once Isaac is sacrificed? There are many scholars who believe Abraham did in fact have everything figured out, even to the point of believing in a resurrection. I’m just a bit skeptical. I wonder if perhaps Abraham’s actions indicate that he has finally come to a point of trusting God, even when things don’t make a whole lot of sense. He undoubtedly ponders the past. He’s reminded of the two times he claimed Sarah as his sister only to receive verbal lashings from powerful rulers. Or when he caved to Sarah’s wishes and had a son through Hagar. Or, how about the time God shared his intent with Abraham regarding the destruction of Sodom. Why should this time be any different? God can be trusted, Abraham reasons, even though every fiber in his being tells him otherwise.

After they leave the servants behind, Isaac speaks. They have the wood and the fire, but where’s the sacrifice? Abraham’s response? God will provide! I don’t know about Isaac, but I would begin to get a bit suspicious, especially when Abraham binds him with a rope, places Isaac on the altar, brings out his knife, and raises it for the kill. But then, when the two believe that all is lost, the miraculous happens. God shows himself in the form of an angel, providing a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice.

 

Isaac, Man of Faith

 

Genesis 22

 

Abraham is touted as a pillar of faith, and rightly so. But from where I sit, Isaac’s faith dominates this particular story. Abraham is over a hundred years old and well past his prime. Isaac is at least in his teens, perhaps even in his early twenties. How is it that Abraham is able to bind Isaac and place him on an altar without Isaac’s cooperation? I’m not sure that Abraham could have done it. Could this be the subject of their conversation as the two made their way up the mountain? An honest father-to-son conversation about Abraham’s walk with God, from his call at Haran to the miraculous birth of Isaac himself? A recounting of Abraham’s life including the good, the bad, and the ugly? Perhaps the two have such an intimate conversation that as their discussion deepens, Abraham’s faith becomes Isaac’s faith. I freely admit that this is pure speculation, but how else does one explain Isaac’s complete cooperation with Abraham’s plan to sacrifice Isaac’s life to God?

It seems that Abraham passes the test. That’s how God refers to it, as a test of Abraham’s faith. And because of Abraham’s response, God rewards him. Not only will God multiply Abraham’s descendants, he will do so to such a magnitude that he now compares the patriarch’s descendants to the grains of sand along the sea! That’s a lot of descendants! 

Allow me to digress for a moment and add a bit of mud to the water. No one disputes the fact that God, as God, is capable of doing whatever he pleases. But here’s the million dollar question. What would God have done if Abraham had failed the test? Would God have still kept his promise to build a great nation through him? The promise wasn’t conditional on the sacrifice of Isaac. God had already told Abraham in no uncertain terms that he will make a great nation through his son Isaac, and that all the people on Earth will be blessed through him. If Abraham hadn’t been so willing to sacrifice his son, would God have reneged on his promise? I don’t see how God had any choice in the matter if he was to retain his integrity as God. To do otherwise would be tantamount to admitting that he’s less than true to his word. 

The second question I have regards God’s sovereignty. If God is truly omniscient, why the need for a test? It doesn’t make sense. Is God doing this just for his own amusement? Does he have the same bet going with Satan as he had regarding Job? I don’t get it. If God really is omniscient, this seems like an unnecessary and even a cruel joke.

The only answer I’ve found to the question of “why?” that seems halfway plausible is to suggest that Abraham and his descendants needed this test much more than God needed it. Abraham is the father of three major religions, two of which come through Isaac, Judaism and Christianity. Abraham’s test solidifies his faith, making it tangible for people to look back upon as an example of true obedience. How far do you go in order to follow God? All the way! Everything that a person has, including children, belongs to God. Nothing is withheld! Everything belongs to the Almighty to use in any way that he sees fit. That is the level of commitment required from Abraham, and it is the level of commitment required from anyone who dares to call their Creator Lord.

 

Death of a Spouse

 

Genesis 23

 

Abraham returns home to Beersheba and receives word from his brother, Nahor. The pony express wasn’t around yet, and news from family living in far-away places is a rarity. Older brother has been quite busy building a name for himself. He now has twelve sons and probably as many daughters. He even has grandchildren, some of whom are around Isaac’s age. Nahor is living out Abraham’s dream, a large family with many children.

Abraham seems to be content, though, with his lovely wife and only son. Then tragedy strikes. Sarah dies, and Abraham mourns the loss of his life-long companion. Sarah was 127 when she passed away. We are not told how long the two had been married, but as half brother and sister, their friendship surely must have started in childhood.

Abraham faces the task of burying Sarah in a foreign land and approaches the Hittites of Hebron to request a plot of land to purchase for the burial. They readily agree, with the caveat of offering Abraham any parcel he desires without cost. Appreciative of the offer, Abraham insists on paying the fair market rate for any land he uses. Thus, the song and dance of bartering begins. Abraham already has a place for Sarah’s burial picked out, the cave of Machpelah, owned by Ephron son of Zohar. It just so happens that Ephron is among those gathered and within hearing distance. Abraham and Ephron strike a deal (400 shekels), and the cave becomes Sarah’s final resting place.

 

Isaac Gets a Wife

 

Genesis 24

 

Abraham returns to Beersheba, undoubtedly pondering his own mortality. With Sarah gone, the only family that he has left, other than his brother Nahor who lives hundreds of miles to the north, is Isaac. Isaac! The lad is approaching forty, and no thought has been given to finding an appropriate spouse for Abraham’s son. Abraham acts quickly and summons his most trusted servant whom he implores to embark on a journey to Abraham’s homeland in order to find a suitable bride for Isaac.

The servant readily agrees to the task but wonders aloud about what to do if the woman chooses not to return with him. The patriarch assures his servant of success and then insists that, if the woman refuses to accompany him home, he should return to Abraham. But under no circumstances is Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman.

How does one go about finding an appropriate mate for the boss’s son? The custom of parents choosing a spouse for their son or daughter is practically unheard of in our culture, but in other parts of the world, it’s the norm. Years ago, I had the privilege of knowing a young lady who was raised with the expectation that, when the time was right, she would enter into an arranged marriage. I asked her how it felt to have someone else choose a spouse for her, something which a vast majority of Americans do for themselves. Her response intrigued me. “I trust my parents,” she said. “They’ve known me all of my life, and they, of all people, know what’s best for me.” While I’m sure that most Americans could never imagine this kind of trust existing between parents and their offspring, I find it refreshing, even admirable.

Such is the love and trust between Abraham and Isaac. Abraham’s servant takes ten camels, loaded with supplies for the trip and gifts for the bride’s family, and heads for Nahor, about 400 miles north of Beersheba as the crow flies. Traversing the distance is the easy part. Finding the right woman for his master’s son? That requires a degree of wisdom that few possess.

He arrives at Nahor late in the day, around the time the women of the town collect their water. Whoever he brings back must have the right disposition and qualities needed to serve as the future mother of a great nation. He prays for a sign. He’s thirsty, as are his camels. Out of respect, no woman would deny him a drink of water after such an arduous journey, but might there be someone here who would also offer to water his camels? Each camel can drink up to twenty gallons and he has ten of them. You do the math. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of water and would require one person several hours to complete.  A woman strong and generous enough to volunteer for such a task would make an ideal bride for Isaac.

Before even finishing his prayer, he spots Rebekah approaching the well. Who says that you can’t pray with your eyes open? He asks for a drink, and she lowers her jar from her shoulder and offers the man water. She then offers to water his camels. He watches, wondering if she’s the one. After she provides enough water to satisfy the thirst of all ten animals, he brings out a gold nose ring and two gold bracelets, presents them to Rebekah, and asks about her family. Upon learning that she is the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, he takes a moment to thank God for a successful trip. Nahor’s grandson Laban (who in later years will take advantage of his sister Rebekah’s son) plays the role of gracious host and invites his uncle’s servant to spend the night. As they ready themselves for the evening meal, the servant insists on relaying Abraham’s message and the reason for his trip. The million dollar question is whether or not Rebekah will return with him. Laban, and his father Bethuel, both agree that the servant’s words are God inspired and consent to the marriage. But come the next morning when Abraham’s servant is ready to leave, her father and brother are reluctant to let Rebekah go. Instead of capitulating, the two men suggest that they allow Rebekah to decide for herself whether or not she leaves. She agrees to the trip, and by doing so, commits to marrying a distant cousin whom she’s never met.

 

Ashes to Ashes

 

Genesis 25:1-11

 

Abraham remarries following Sarah’s death. Keturah bears him numerous children, as do the concubines that make up Abraham’s household. Yes, Abraham has concubines and quite a few of them at that. Now before somebody gets their nose out of joint regarding the patriarch’s polygamy, perhaps a word should be mentioned regarding cultural differences between Abraham’s day and the present. There were no such thing as women’s rights when Abraham and Sarah lived. Many of the things that we take for granted today were nonexistent back then. The rights of women, though they existed, were narrow in scope. Thus, single women, whether it be from the death of a spouse or some other cause, benefited from attaching themselves to another’s household, thus gaining the protection and provisions necessary from the patriarch of that particular family.

Isaac is in line to become sole heir to Abraham’s estate. Abraham is determined not to have anything get in the way of Isaac’s inheritance and, after making provisions for his concubines and other children, has everyone except Isaac sent away. Abraham lives to be 175 and dies 38 years after the death of his first love. Isaac calls on Ishmael to help move Abraham’s remains to the cave of Machpela, where he is buried next to his beloved Sarah.

 

Closing

 

Abraham well deserves his reputation in the Bible and elsewhere for being a man of faith. Here’s a guy from a nomadic, polytheistic culture, who encountered the true God of the universe, listened to some apparently outlandish promises about becoming the father of a great nation, and turned his life upside down to follow that God for the rest of his life.

Yes, Abraham’s faith was strong, but he was also a flawed human being, with his share of mistakes to show for it. It would have been all too easy for God to throw up his hands, give Abe the boot, and start all over again with someone a bit more cooperative. That didn’t happen. God had made a promise to Abraham, and he kept it.

God’s grace protected Abram and Sarai from the consequences of deceiving Pharaoh while in Egypt. Grace prompted God to send angels to rescue Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom. When Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, and his mother, Hagar, fled Abraham’s household, God reached out to help them, thereby redeeming through grace a tragic situation caused by Sarah’s lack of faith and her jealous cruelty. And in grace, God opened Sarah’s womb, causing a miraculous pregnancy for the elderly Abraham and his wife and starting the line of descent which would someday become the nation of Israel.

 

 


Abraham

Steve Chance's unique gifts of storytelling and humor, combined with his biblical insights, make Abraham a very engaging and compelling read. While rooted in biblical accuracy, the book is both thought-provoking and riveting. Steve's ability to uncover often-missed nuances that are hidden within the story makes this book a must read for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of this patriarch. Think Abraham and other Old Testament characters are boring? Think again!

  • Author: stevechance
  • Published: 2016-09-17 05:40:11
  • Words: 8648
Abraham Abraham