The Life of Abra(ha)m from the Biblical Perspective

  • Introduction:

Abra(ha)m encompasses Genesis Chapters 12–25.

“And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.” Genesis 17:6 (KJV)

Ur of the Chaldees
Journeys of the Patriarchs

Two of the main characters will be:

God – The creator of the world and an all-powerful being. God calls himself the only true deity worthy of human worship. As the figurehead of Israel and the force behind every event, God acts as the unseen hero of the Old Testament. God reveals his intentions by speaking to people. Physical manifestations of God are always indirect or symbolic. God appears in many different forms, including an angel, a wrestler, a burst of fire, and a quiet whisper.

Abra(ha)m – The patriarch of the Hebrew people. Abraham is traditionally called “Father Abraham” because the Israelite people and their religion descend from him. God establishes his covenant, or promise, with Abraham, and God develops an ongoing relationship with the Israelites through Abraham’s descendants. Abraham practices the monotheistic worship of God, and his resilient faith in God, despite many challenges, sets the pattern for the Israelite religion’s view of righteousness.

Abrams’ birth is traditionally dated very early around 2001 BC. Though we don’t know the dates of birth and death with certainty, we have a good idea of approximate dates.

  • What’s mentioned concerning Abraham’s origination in written biblical literature?

Hebrew Bible:

Ur Kaśdim is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31, Genesis 15:7, and Nehemiah 9:7.

The distinction “Kaśdim” is usually rendered in English as “of the Chaldees.” In Genesis, the name is found in 11:28, 11:31 and 15:7. Although not explicitly stated in the Tanakh, it is generally understood to be the birthplace of Abram. Genesis 11:27–28 names it as the birthplace of Abraham’s brother Haran, and the point of departure of Terah’s household, including his son Abram.

Genesis 12:1, after Abram and his father Terah, have left Ur Kaśdim for the city of Haran (probably Harran), God instructs Abram to leave his native land (Hebrew moledet). The traditional Jewish understanding of the word moledet is “birthplace” (e.g. in the Judaica Press translation). Similarly, in Genesis 24:4–10, Abraham instructs his servant to bring a wife for Isaac from his moledet, and the servant departs for Haran.

Septuagint:

The LXX translation of Genesis does not include the term “Ur”; instead, it describes the “Land (Chora) of the Chaldees”. Some scholars have held that Ur was not a city at all, but simply a word for land.

The Septuagint Greek used the word Χαλδαίων, or Chaldaion, from which Chaldees is derived.

Jubilees:

The Book of Jubilees states that Ur was founded in 1688 Anno Mundi (year of the world) by ‘Ur son of Kesed, presumably the offspring of Arphaxad, adding that in this same year wars began on Earth.

And ‘Ur, the son of Kesed, built the city of ‘Ara of the Chaldees, and called its name after his own name and the name of his father.” (Jubilees 11:3).

Talmud:

The Talmud associated Ur with Warka (today identified as Uruk) south-eastern Mesopotamia.

New Testament:

In the New Testament, it is described indirectly in Acts 7:4, as the “land of the Chaldeans”.

Another clue to Abraham’s (Abram’s) origin. In one Scripture Israel is reminded of its nativity:

“And say, Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.” Ezekiel 16:3 (KJV)

  • Is there archeological evidence?

Ur Kaśdim, commonly translated as Ur of the Chaldees, is a city mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the birthplace of the Israelite and Ismaelite patriarch ‘Abrim’ (the Muslim interpretation of Abram). In 1862, Henry Rawlinson identified Ur Kaśdim with Tell el-Muqayyar, near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. In 1927, Leonard Woolley excavated the site and identified it as a Sumerian archaeological site where the Chaldeans were to settle around the 9th century BC. Recent archaeology work has continued to focus on the location in Nasiriyah, where the ancient Ziggurat of Ur is said to be located.

Other sites traditionally thought to be Abraham’s birthplace are in the vicinity of the Assyrian city of Edessa (Şanlıurfa in modern southeastern Turkey). Some Islamic and Jewish authorities, such as Maimonides and Josephus, placed Ur Kaśdim at various Upper Mesopotamian or southeast Anatolian sites such as Urkesh, Urartu, Urfa or Kutha.

Ur of the Chaldees2

  • Promise

Many scholars count the birth of the Jewish people here in Gen 12–15 when Abraham is of the line of Seth, a ‘Semitic’ is brought in to covenant with God regarding the Land and Seed: Israel the chosen land of Canaan and the line or generation, the seed of Abraham the chosen of God. Some count the origin as Seth, the 3rd child of Adam and Eve. The chosen status of the Jews is implied as early as the garden with the seed ‘singular’ of Messiah:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (KJV)

Genesis 12:1-3 makes two distinct but related sets of promises. The first set of promises involves blessing to Abraham (Gen 12:1-2). The second set of promises involves blessing through Abraham to the world (Gen 12:2-3).

“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 (KJV)

God makes a covenant with Abram, promising to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation. Abram agrees to leave his home and move southwest to Canaan with his wife and his nephew, Lot, to a land that God has promised to give to Abram’s descendants. Abram takes up residence there and erects several altars throughout the land as symbols of his devotion to God.

Ur of the Chaldees
Empires At The Time
  • Why Abram

At the beginning of Genesis, God creates the world by dividing it into a system of doubles—the sun and the moon, light and dark, the land and the sea, and male and female. When Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, and when Cain kills his brother Abel, good and evil enter the world. From this point on, the Old Testament writers describe the world as a place of binary opposites or sets of two basic opposing forces. These forces include positive and negative, good and bad, and lesser and greater. These distinctions characterize the ethics of the Israelites. The laws in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy outline the criteria for being ceremonially clean or unclean, and for choosing obedience over disobedience. When Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance right, the younger son triumphs over the older son by dishonest, rather than honest, means. The reversal of fortune portrays God’s covenant with humankind as a preference for the unexpected over the conventional, as well as God’s willingness to accomplish his ends by imperfect means. The epic of Samson similarly blurs the line between weakness and strength. Samson, the icon of human strength, conquers the Philistines only after they bring him to his weakest by shaving his head and blinding him. Such stories question the human ability to tell the difference between good and bad, strong and weak, first and last.

God’s covenant with humankind incorporates both his promise to grant Abraham and Abraham’s descendants a promised land and the religious laws given to the Israelites. The covenant resembles ancient legal codes and treaties in which a lord or landowner specifies the conditions of a vassal’s service and vows to protect the vassal in return. The biblical covenant, however, represents not just a contractual agreement but also a passionate, tumultuous relationship between God and humanity. God’s covenant passes to Abraham’s descendants, unifying the lives of seemingly disparate people within a developing story. The biblical writers suggest that this story is not theirs but God’s—a means for God to show his purposes and his values to humankind by relating to one family.

The covenant is a unifying structure that allows the human characters to evaluate their lives as a series of symbolic experiences. At first, the signs of the covenant are physical and external. God relates to Abraham by commanding Abraham to perform the rite of circumcision and to kill his son, Isaac. In Exodus, God shows his commitment to the Israelites by miraculously separating the waters of the Red Sea and appearing in a pillar of fire. The religious laws are also symbolling of the covenant. They represent customs and behavioral rules that unite the lives of the Israelites in a religious community devoted to God. Moses suggests that these laws are to become sacred words that the Israelites cherish in their hearts and minds (Deuteronomy 11:18). The covenant thus shapes the personal memories and the collective identity of the Israelites.

God’s affirmation of his covenant with humankind now takes the form of an ongoing, personal relationship with a specific man and his descendants. The authors of Genesis describe God himself as a storyteller who uses the lives of the people who are obedient to him to describe a divine plot. God creates various symbols as reminders of the covenant, including the fiery pot at his second encounter with Abram, the custom of circumcision, and the renaming of Abram and Sarai. Poetic devices further emphasize the literary nature of the story and the importance of the covenant. God first verbalizes his covenant with Abram in the form of a song and later comforts Hagar in verse. These elements, especially the poetic, provide a break in the Genesis narrative, slowing down the plot and suggesting the grand, metaphysical significance of God’s promise to Abraham.

Ur of the Chaldees

These stories demonstrate the ways in which God gives dramatic rewards for absolute faith and obedience. At God’s command, Abraham leaves his home to roam in a strange land; God’s reward is to cause Abraham to discover great wealth. Sarah, barren her entire life, gives birth to a son at the age of ninety, an event so unlikely that she laughs when she is told that it will occur. And finally, Abraham receives God’s greatest praise when he obediently stands poised to kill the very son through whom God has promised to fulfill his covenant. These moments depict absolute faith in God, even though his demands may seem illogical or unreasonable. What God consistently rewards is the abandonment of human reason and free will in favor of actions whose purpose is unknown or unknowable. As a result, these stories establish a version of God who knows what is best for mankind, but who reveals his purposes only selectively.

Another characteristic of the Old Testament God is the elusive way he communicates with humans. Sometimes, people directly encounter God, as when God and Abraham converse. Frequently, however, God appears in the form of someone or something else, as when he visits Abraham in the form of three men. Throughout the Old Testament, God is alternately seen and unseen. Unlike the epics of the ancient Greeks, in which every event or action is described in full detail, there are always details in Genesis and the Hebrew Bible that remain unexplained because God so often insists on removing himself from the action. The most important instance of God’s absence is when God tests Abraham. After requesting that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, God disappears without stating his true intentions, leaving Abraham to move forward in silence to the mountain where he will, supposedly, kill his son. In this story, God’s absence serves the purpose of testing Abraham’s faith in the infallibility of God, even when God does not explain his demands. Furthermore, the removal of God from the story greatly increases the drama and suspense of the Genesis narrative.

  • Abram’s life story.

Abram’s life story almost wholly comprises events that mean much more than their simple occurrence (most of what happens to Abram has a strong symbolic significance) it seems much more likely that the literary character of Abram was never intended to portray one historical individual but rather a turning point in the history of humanity in general. Jesus’ enigmatic statement that Abraham isn’t dead but alive:

“I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:32 (KJV)

It also suggests that Abraham is more than just a historical person. And the progression of generations between Noah and Israel suggests the same.

Abra(ha)m first appears in the Bible in Genesis 11:27, which says that Terah, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem, begets three children: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. (Abraham is called Abram at the moment, which means “the father is exalted.” Not until he has a child of his own, decades later, will God change his name to Abraham, which means “father of many.”) The next verse suggests that Abraham’s youngest brother, Haran, was born in a place called Ur of the Chaldeans, where he dies (though not before fathering a son, Lot). It does not say that Abraham was born in Ur.

Abraham had two wives, Sarah and Keturah. Also, he had a concubine named Hagar whose son was Ishmael. Abraham was the father of the Israelites, the Ishmaelites, the Midianites, Midianites, and Edomites. Abraham had at least two wives and several concubines and had children with all of them.

God changed Abram’s “high father or exalted father” name to “Abraham,” “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5) and his wife’s name from “Sarai,” “my princess,” to “Sarah,” “mother of nations” (Genesis 17:15–16). We know from history that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah formed many religions, including the Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Sarai cannot become pregnant, but she wants to give her husband an heir. To this end, she sends her handmaiden Hagar to sleep with Abram. When Sarai becomes upset because of Hagar’s contempt, the handmaiden flees in fear. God speaks to Hagar and comforts her, promising her a son who will be a “wild ass of a man,” and Hagar returns to give birth to Abram’s first son, Ishmael (16:12). Once again, God speaks with Abram, this time enjoining Abram to remain blameless in his behavior and adding a new requirement to his everlasting covenant. Abram and all his descendants must now be circumcised as a symbol of the covenant, and God promises Abram a son through Sarai. The son is to be called Isaac, and it will be through Isaac that the covenant is fulfilled. God renames Abram “Abraham,” meaning “father of many,” and gives Sarai a new name, “Sarah.”

One day, God appears to Abraham in the form of three men. The three men say that Sarah will have a son, but Sarah, who is now ninety years old, laughs. The three men travel toward the eastern cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy the cities because of their flagrant wickedness and corruption. Abraham pleads on the cities’ behalf, convincing the Lord not to destroy the cities if only a handful of good men can be found there. The men enter the city of Sodom, and Lot welcomes them into his home. Night falls, and the men of the city surround Lot’s home, wishing to rape the three messengers. The messengers persuade Lot to flee the city with his family, telling him and his family not to look back as they leave. However, as God rains down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looks back at her home and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Abraham continues to gain political status in the area of Canaan, and Sarah eventually gives birth to Isaac. At Sarah’s bidding, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. God again speaks to Abraham in a test, asking Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham quietly resolves to obey, and when he takes Isaac to the mountains, Isaac asks what animal they are going to sacrifice. Abraham replies that God will provide an offering. Isaac is laid on the altar, and just as Abraham is ready to strike, the angel of the Lord stops him. God is impressed with Abraham’s great devotion and, once again, reaffirms His covenant.

  • Death and Burial’s

Sarah dies. Abraham sends his chief servant to Abraham’s relatives in Assyria to find a wife for Isaac, to prevent his lineage from being sullied by Canaanite influence. The servant prays to be guided to the correct wife for Isaac. God leads him to Rebekah, whom he brings back to Isaac. Isaac marries Rebekah, and Abraham dies soon thereafter.

In Acts 7:16, Stephen claims that the cave of the Patriarchs is located in Shechem.

“So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, And were carried over into Sychem and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt.” Acts 7:15-17 (KJV)

According to the Book of Genesis 23:1–20, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, “died in Kiryat-Arba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan”. Abraham the Hebrew (Avraham Ha-Ivri) was tending to business elsewhere when she died, at the age of 127 years, and he “came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.” (Genesis 23:2) After a while, he stood up and spoke to the “sons of Heth” and requested they give him a possession as a “burying place”, and they offered him his “choice” of their sepulchers. And then in verse 7 he again “stood up” to speak to them. Abraham then requested that Ephron the Hittite, the son of Zohar, give him the cave of Machpelah, at the end of his field, “for as much money as it is worth”. (verse 9) After Ephron confirmed that he would give the cave for free, but in verse 11, Abraham further requested that he give him the field for money, in verse 13. Ephron agreed and named a price which was an exorbitant or an unreasonably high price. So, through Abraham God paid a price or a claim if you will, for the land that the Israelites would eventually occupy.

“And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. And the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.” Genesis 23:16-18 (KJV)

The Life of Abra(ha)m from the Biblical Perspective

The burial of Sarah is the first account of a burial in the Bible, and this is the first commercial transaction mentioned. The next burial in the cave of Machpelah is that of Abraham, who lived “a hundred threescore and fifteen years” – 100 years unto the birth of Isaac, and threescore (60) more years unto the births of Esau and Jacob, with whom he spent his last 15 years. The title deed to the cave was part of the property of Abraham that passed to his son Isaac in Genesis 25:5–6.

“And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country. And these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, a hundred threescore and fifteen years. Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi.” Genesis 25:5-11 (KJV)

Isaac was 180 years old when he died, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. (Genesis 35:28–29) As noted above, Isaac was 60 when they were born, so they were 120 years old here, which is 10 years before Jacob, at the age of 130, stood before Pharaoh in Genesis 47:9. Jacob died later at the age of 147 years. (Genesis 47:28) There is no mention of how or when Isaac’s wife Rebecca died, but she is included in the list of those that had been buried in Machpelah in Jacob’s final words to the children of Israel:

“And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying-place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” Genesis 49:29-33 (KJV)

Abraham is not the father of many religions, but many nations. The Arab nation descends from Ishmael, the Jews from Isaac. Abraham’s sons through Ketura are identified in Chronicles and Genesis. The sons of Keturah were Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. And the sons of Jokshan were Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. Later Moses marries a Midianite woman thereby continuing the story of Abra(ha)m the Father of them all.

God’s Original Land Grant Of Israel To Abraham
God’s Original Land Grant Of Israel To Abraham
  • Conclusion

The Pentateuch comprises the first five books of the Old Testament. It depicts a series of beginnings—the beginning of the world, of humankind, first prophesy and of God’s promise to the Israelites.

Genesis, the first book, opens with God’s creation of the world. The perfect world falls into evil when humans disobey God, and the human population divides into separate nations and languages. After many generations, God speaks to a man named Abraham. God makes a promise, or covenant, with Abraham to make his descendants into a great nation and to give them a great land. Abraham shows strong faith in God, and God seals his promise with a number of signs and tests. This special covenant with God passes on to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and to his grandson, Jacob. Together, they represent the patriarchs, or fathers, of the Israelite people. Jacob’s twelve sons move to Egypt after the youngest brother, Joseph, miraculously becomes a high official in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Abraham begins as a ‘Semite’ but of the eastern people, east of Israel, among pagan religions yet worshipping God, then is called to Haran, then the plains of Moreh near Ai. In Gen 15 the covenant of the seed is established with Abraham by sacrifice, sealed with a sign in the flesh of circumcision marking the family line of the Jews or chosen people, the flock of God, a nation above nations later called the Children of Israel.

This section contrasts with the earlier parts of Genesis by telling the extended story of one man, Abraham, and his family rather than combining stories, songs, and genealogies. Genesis traces Abraham’s ancestry from Adam (the first Adam) through Adam’s son Seth to Noah’s son, Shem, to establish that Abraham is a member of both the Hebrew and Semitic peoples and the line extends to Jesus Christ (the second Adam).

Three Christian beliefs that flow from the story of Abraham are a belief in one God. Promises of: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Lastly in God’s only Son Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross prophetically perpetrated by Abram and his only son.

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