OT Survey 113 Seminar 6 Abraham
Andrew Hodge 1st May 2006
Old Testament Survey OTE113
Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago; Genesis 11-22; Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 11:8-10; Henry M. Morris The Genesis Record Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1976 pp 245-390; Willmington’s Guide to the Bible Tyndale House, Wheaton, Illinois sixth printing 1985.
Discuss Abraham’s lineage, social and cultural backgrounds:
Little is known about the history of mankind for the 200-plus years between Babel and Terah in Ur. Early history was probably not lost, however in that even Noah lived until Terah was 128 years old, and Shem lived until 278 years after Terah’s birth. God continued to preserve His line with named individuals, until the time was right to call one of these to special service, out of whom a Chosen Nation would arise from the uniformly rebellious nations that remained on the earth. Perhaps because of their rarity, few individuals outside the line are recorded as being righteous - only Job and Melchizedek come to mind.
It has been estimated that by Terah’s son Abram’s 75th year, the population of the earth would have risen to 300 million from the 8 in the Ark (Morris p 284), ample time and ample population to develop complex urbanised societies, all consistent with known archaeological discovery.
Stephen states in Acts 7:1-4 that God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia telling him to get out of his country and ‘come into the land which I shall shew thee’. The relationship between Abram (probably the youngest son) and his father Terah, and the possible business interests of his elder brother Haran who had died, may be the reasons why the family moved northward about 1000 km to the city of Haran. (Why should a call of God to only the youngest son cause a whole family to move so far? Was Terah also called by God to go to Canaan but stopped and died in Haran because he found the comfort there [Joshua 24:2] greater than his willingness to go another 650 km to an unknown land? Genesis 11:31 suggests that it was Terah who took the initiative in the move. Did they go because the family had to tidy up business interests of the dead Haran in Haran? Neither Genesis 12:1-4 nor Hebrews 11:8 specify that Abram was called from Ur, but that he was brought from Ur (15:7), nor that God appeared to Abram in Ur, which is curious when compared to the non-contemporaneous account in Acts 7.)
Ur as a city of the Chaldees and Haran in the north were both idol-worshipping. All of the essential characteristics of the pagan deities of the East (including those of historical Rome, Greece, India, Egypt and others) originated with the pantheon established by the Hamitic Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-9) and the Babylonians (Revelation 17:5) at Babel after the Flood, as they followed their rebellion against God according to the natural pattern of sin in Romans 1:18-32, no doubt aided and abetted by Satan (Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:9). (Morris pp264-5, 278).
The post-Flood language prior to Babel was that of the pre-Flood people, and may even have been Hebrew in that the names given to men and places only have meaning in Hebrew. It may also have been that Shem did not participate in the settlement at Babel hence retaining Hebrew as the language of his descendants (see Morris p 267).
One of these was Eber (Genesis 11:14-16), from whom the naming of Abram as a Hebrew is said to have arisen (Genesis 14:3). This of course would mean that there were more descendants of Eber than Abram that would be entitled to call themselves Hebrews, although there are no others mentioned in Scripture. There is nothing scriptural which suggests that either Abram (“exalted father” - the name he had when first called a Hebrew) or Abraham (“father of a multitude”) are roots suggesting the basis for ‘Hebrew’. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the language Abram spoke was identified with him as being Hebrew, and it is possible that this was the same as the pre-Flood, pre-Babel world wide language originally spoken between Adam, Eve and the Lord in pre-Fall Eden.
Because of his brother Haran’s early death, Abram took on the guardianship of Haran’s son Lot ie uncle - nephew. Abram marries Sarai, his half sister (Genesis 20:12) but did not have any children in Mesopotamia (the birth of the child of promise had to wait until they were in the land of promise). Incestuous marriage did not need prohibition until much later (Leviticus 18:6-14). Note that Nahor is not mentioned in the family group that travels from Ur to Haran, but he and his descendants (Laban, Rebekah) came to live nearby (Genesis 22, 24, 27, 28, 29). This may well have occurred before Abram departed Haran, allowing a family reunion before Abram departed.
Ur was a large city with a substantial library (archaeological discoveries - Morris pp 288, 307) and was a large seaport at the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf - now inland on account of millennia of alluvial delta deposits. Haran was also important as it lay on the trade route between Canaan/Egypt, Syria, Babylon and Ur. Archaeological digs have uncovered a large ziggurat possibly patterned after the tower at Babel, and dedicated to the moon-god Nannar, and another to his wife Ningal (Willmington p 37).
When Abram departed Haran, he was wealthy with servants, herds and flocks, as was Lot. Everyone and everything went. Did his wealth delay his departure?
Discuss the nature and elements of Abraham’s faith:
God spoke directly to him in both Ur (assuming Acts 7:1-4 to be a description of the actual events) and in Haran (Genesis 12:1-4). The personal effect on Abram of these revelations is not described but he does obey (possibly after some delay). God tells him some important things at this time, which Abram apparently takes at face value: 1. I will make of thee a great nation; 2. I will bless thee; 3. I will make thy name great; 4. Thou shalt be a blessing; 5. I will bless them that bless thee; 6. I will curse him that curseth thee; and 7. In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. The Covenant is established.
These promises of God to Abram are unconditional, assume that Abram would fall in with God’s plan for him, and that Abram’s descendants would similarly benefit. God has kept these promises in spite of doubt on Abram’s part and outright rebellion on the part of the Chosen Nation.
It should be remembered that Abram was an individual selected by God out of an idolatrous environment for a service - he was not yet ‘saved’ and would not be for some time. God knew his heart however.
Explain how Abraham expressed his faith:
At his first stopping place in Canaan, Shechem, Abram built an altar to the Lord. He did this after the first chronologically recorded appearance of God in theophany, to Abram (12:7), in which the Lord promised to give that very land to Abram’s descendants. At the time, this land belonged to a Canaanite called Moreh. (NB God had previously ‘walked and talked’ with Adam and Eve, Enoch and Noah but the form in which He appeared is not described. With Abram Jehovah makes Himself clearly visible).
When Abram first entered the land, although rich, he lived as a nomad finding water and pasture as needed and presumably avoiding the existing inhabitants. He moves by faith, setting up his next altar at Bethel in order to get more directions (Genesis 12:8). Neither he nor Lot lacked for provision or protection, until God sent a test of faith in the form of a famine in Canaan (Genesis 12:10).
God had told Abram to go to Canaan, not to Egypt. Abram gives in to the human wisdom of going where needs would be met, there being no record of whether Abram consulted God about this first.
To begin with, Abram and Lot’s move to Egypt appears very profitable (12:16) on account of Sarai being taken into Pharaoh’s court. She was a beautiful woman and a prospect for royal marriage, but Abram passes her off as his sister (which she was - see above) - an example of deception on Abram’s part for self preservation. This was probably a decision that he had to make on the spur of the moment, but was a result of deliberately mixing in the wrong company, of fear for his own life and continuing to fail to depend on God. Rationalising our own solutions independent of God never works (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
God deals with this situation before any real damage can occur by revealing to Pharaoh that Sarai is already married to Abram, in the process destroying any possibility that Abram could witness to the Egyptians concerning his God (what graciousness and mercy and longsuffering on God’s part!). Abram and Sarai probably spent many hours in prayer with God wondering how they were going to get out of the mess they had created - a low point in the Abram-God relationship. Pharaoh kicks Abram, Sarai and Lot out of Egypt but allows them to keep all their presents which not only effectively tides them over the Canaanite famine, but also makes them materially richer, which causes the next test.
Abram returns to the last site where he communed with God at an altar - Bethel - and called on the name of the LORD (13:4). It is assumed that he was keen to restore his relationship with God, as we are urged to do (1 John 1:8-9).
Lot’s material wealth and his experience with Abram in Egypt result in conflict and separation, Abram allowing Lot to choose his own (sinful) path. This too was a bad testimony to the locals (13:7), although Abram had now learnt that he could trust God to do the right thing by him in the matter of where he should live.
God now confirms that all the land Abram could see would belong to him and his descendants (13:14-15) and in addition, that his descendants would be ‘as the dust of the earth’ in number (13:16). When one remembers that Abram’s descendants include both Jew and Arab, there have been and are many millions. It must also be remembered that Abraham is ‘the father of all them that believe’ (Romans 4:11) in the sense that Abram’s ‘seed’ was Christ (Galatians 3:16), vastly increasing the number of Abram’s descendants by the size of all the saved (Galatians 3:29). Abram (rather, Abraham) was therefore indeed the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).
God urges Abram to walk throughout the land, in a sense claiming it all for himself by faith (13:17). Abraham never personally owned all this land and it is debateable whether that at any time in its history so far Israel has owned it all (even under Solomon - see map 5 Thompson Chain Reference Bible).
Abram’s next test was from a confederacy of four powerful northern kings opposed by a southern Canaanitic confederacy of five kings. The route of the invading northern army did not contact Abram as it travelled down to the rich mineral deposits near the Dead Sea on the east side of Jordan, Abram being on the west, himself confederate with three local rulers. His response to this was entirely different to his rationalism that got him into so much trouble in Egypt.
The scripture again does not tell us whether Abram consulted God, but when Lot, his family and goods were taken as booty by the more powerful northerners Abram is galvanised into action to recover ‘just’ Lot (righteous even though he had moved in with the wicked 2 Peter 2:7-8). This foray was stunningly successful because of the leading and intervention of the Lord (14:20) as Abram acted in faith (14:22) - 318 armed men against a whole invading army.
On his way home, Abram meets Melchizedek. The identity of this man is difficult, but he was superior to Abram in such a way that Abram gave him a tithe of all his recovered booty (plus a tenth of all of his possessions?). Melchizedek’s place in the narrative is important as a type of Christ (Hebrews 7) but there are many unanswered questions eg How can a man of God arise, exist and rule in a thoroughly idolatrous land? How could he be generally recognised as the priest of the one true God? How could he be king of Jerusalem which was inhabited only by idolatrous Jebusites, without himself being a Jebusite? How did Abram recognise him as God’s priest? Why didn’t God use a man already on the spot to create a new nation instead of doing it the hard way with Abram? Melchizedek’s priesthood was already superior to that of Levi’s/Aaron’s (Hebrews 7:7-11).
Abram also met the defeated king of Sodom, who recognised that the booty that Abram had recovered, initially belonging to Sodom, now belonged to Abram by right of capture. By now Abram had recognised that God provided all material things so that in fact everything belonged to God, and he declined to keep anything that originally belonged to Sodom (although he allowed his confederates to keep the portion that they would have normally expected for their part in the recovery). Abram is growing in spiritual maturity and wisdom, as well as faith, setting the scene for the next step up.
Perhaps after this mountain-top experience, Abram reflected on the facts - he was still fundamentally alone in a hostile idolatrous country and he had no heir - not even one with which to start becoming an ‘exalted father’ let alone of many nations, as God had already promised. Whatever the reason, God has cause to cheer him up: “Fear not……I am thy shield and exceeding great reward” (15:1); “one that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” (15:4), ‘thy seed shall be as numerous as the stars of heaven’ (paraphrase 15:5) and “to give thee this land to inherit it” (15:7) effectively restating His covenant with Abram.
Then comes a most important moment. Abram “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (15:6). This verse is quoted in three Epistles of the NT (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23) and describes the principle of true salvation in Christ down through all the subsequent ages and dispensations. Sinful humanity is credited with the righteousness of God so that eternal fellowship with Him can be restored.
With Noah, ‘grace’ comes before righteousness. With Abram, ‘faith’ comes before righteousness. In the first, God’s sovereignty is able to overrule; in the second, man’s responsibility is demonstrated, both necessary to all who have wished to be saved ever since (Ephesians 2:8-9). Abram is therefore a type of all the saved.
Even though Abram now fully believes God, he asks for a sign (15:8). This is more in the way of seeking explanation and detail than expressing any doubt. God arranges a special sacrificial ceremony symbolising death and deliverance (15:9-21), emphasising to Abram the long times of difficulty that his descendants would have before all promises would be fulfilled, specifically the term of slavery (in Egypt), the exodus, the eisodus, and the specific borders of the future promised land.
God alone passed through the line of divided animals showing that His promise to give the Israelites the land was unconditional.
Abram now makes a grave mistake with God. Again thinking rationally, he still has no heir and both he and Sarai are rapidly running out of steam. Sarai gives in first and offers Abram her maid as a ‘surrogate’. Abram accepted the course proposed by his wife (where have we heard this before? NB Abram was willing to expose Sarai to Pharaoh in Egypt) and Hagar (an Egyptian) produces Ishmael. The inevitable conflicts arise between Sarai and Hagar, Sarai and Abram, but Abram dearly loves his new son (17:18).
God prophesies that Ishmael would “be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (16:12) well fulfilled in the history of the Arabian nations and the current Arab-Israeli conflict.
The time for the son of promise to arrive had now come, for both Abram and Sarai had given up all hope of ever having any children - Abram was 99 and Sarai 89. The country was at peace, Ishmael was 13 and the apple of his daddy’s eye (21:11). Hagar’s experience with God at “the well of Him Who seeth me” and her return to Sarai had likely partially restored relationships since Hagar now appreciated at least a little of who the God of Abram was and what He could do.
It was necessary for God to refresh His unconditional covenant with Abram prior to Isaac’s miraculous birth although as we have seen he has been told four times already. In 17:2-21 God uses the term ‘covenant’ 13 times, and also reveals Himself to Abram by a new name El Shaddai - Almighty God. God commands Abram to “walk before me, and be thou perfect (whole, mature)” 17:1. No choice with this. The terms of the covenant are restated and God stresses that the covenant is not only with Abram but “to thy seed after thee” (17:7) and that it was an everlasting covenant ie no one will be able to permanently remove Israel’s entitlement to the land.
The visible seal or sign of this covenant is circumcision, which Abram underwent at 99 and Ishmael at 13, with all the males in Abram’s household older than 8 days. It says a lot for Abram’s standing with his household that the males agreed to this, but by this time it would have been obvious to them that Abram’s God was a powerful God.
At this time God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s to Sarah (“Princess”). She was to be the mother of Royalty.
God tells them that they will have a son of their own within the year and they both laugh at the joyfulness and the ridiculousness of the thought - hence God’s name for him is Isaac (“laughter”). The Lord certainly has a sensayuma.
God also reminds Abraham that His covenant is with Isaac, not with Ishmael. Abraham intercedes for his son Ishmael and God blesses him with twelve sons and a great nation.
Abraham is subsequently successful in interceding with God on behalf of any ‘righteous’ in Sodom (18:23-33). Then follows the sorry story of Lot, his wife, and two daughters with their deception producing the progenitors of the Moabites and Ammonites, frequently at war with Israel.
Genesis 20 is difficult to fit into the narrative at this point because Abraham and Sarah make the same mistakes with Abimelech the king of Gerar as they made with Pharaoh king of Egypt all those miracles before. If the chronology is correct, Sarah was probably pregnant with Isaac at the time (retaining her beauty as a consequence). God directly intervenes once more though both Abraham and Sarah are roundly reproved.
The last piece has now fallen into place and both parents are ready for Isaac. Paul comments on this in Romans 4:17-22. Paul also notes that Abraham received righteousness before he was circumcised (Romans 4:9-12), and long before the law was given (Galatians 3:16-18). The writer of Hebrews also notes that Sarah had developed strong personal faith (Heb 11:11). Both of them had developed full confidence in the Word of God because He always did what He said He would do.
As Isaac grows, Sarah’s resentment of Hagar and Ishmael increases and the conflict is used by Paul to describe the difference between law and grace (Galatians 4:22-31).
Genesis 22 describes Abraham’s supreme and final test of faith. God asks him to offer his beloved son and heir as a sacrifice, the one through whom God had promised descendants without number, an offering which was to be burnt. Isaac was a young man by this time and not yet married. Abraham says OK. Isaac’s relationship of complete trust in his father allows him to completely comply. We should be the same (Romans 12:1). The Lord means more to Abraham than even Isaac and Sarah do.
The root for the word “love” is used for the first time in Scripture in 22:2 and of all the possible situations it might have been used in, it is used to describe the bond between father and son, and that between a father who was willing to slay his son. Isaac is a type of Christ (Galatians 3:16; Hebrews 11:17-19), Abraham a type of God the Father.
The first occurrences of the word “love” in the Synoptics describes God’s approval of Jesus at His baptism; the first instance in John is 3:16. 1 John 4:9-11 is worth quoting in full: “9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac also foreshadowed the Temple sacrifices to be performed on the very same spot, all foreshadowing Christ.
Abraham’s faith allowed him to promise his two servants they both he and Isaac would return when they had finished their offering (Hebrews 11:17-19). The primary meaning of ‘worship’ is to ‘bow down’ to the will of God, and in this sense both Abraham and Isaac were fulfilling this to the utmost. Note Matthew 26:39 and John 19:30. Abraham received righteousness imputed by faith, but his faith was supremely tested by this ‘work’ (James 2:21-24).
God’s parting message to Abraham is contained in the immediately following verses: Genesis 22:15-18 “And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shored; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”
Relate how the Abrahamic covenant affected his relationship with God, man and the earth:
Show the sense in which all the nations of the earth are to be blessed through Abraham:
Know and articulate Abraham’s background:
See above. If the Scriptural chronologies are without gaps, then Shem was still alive in Abram’s time, and did not die until 35 years after Abraham died! Abram was 58 when Noah died. It is strange that if contact between these individuals was possible, that no mention is made of it in the scripture.
In addition, someone had to record the history of the families and their respective lineages and experiences, and those records would have had to be handed down to the appropriate people eg Noah - Shem - Abraham(?) - Isaac - Jacob - Joseph - Moses. It is not impossible but in my view unlikely that Moses wrote all the detail of the early history in the Pentateuch only under inspiration from God without having access to extant historical documents that the Lord needed him to include. It is not in the Lord’s character to trade on our credulity.
Traditional Ussher chronology places Abram’s birth 1948 years after Creation, ie 2056 BC. Numerous variations exist, especially as a consequence of the timing of the Egyptian dynasties which are still poorly understood (see postings from Creation Ministries International eg www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/546 with several additional articles on an ‘Egyptian Dynasties’ search).
It should be noted that in spite of presuppositions when assessing historical and archaeological evidence, no fact has contradicted the descriptions given in Genesis, and new facts entirely agree, provided they are assessed from a Biblical point of view. For example, the lush nature of the southern Jordan valley and the area around Sodom and Gomorrah were lush and like ‘the garden of the Lord and like Egypt’ (Genesis 13:10) when Lot wanted to live there - completely unlike what it is today.
Explain the aspects of Abraham’s faith:
Communicate Abraham’s various relationships in light of God’s covenant with him: