Perhaps nothing could speak to the importance of a person more than having a religion named after them. So what does it say about Abram, later and more commonly known as Abraham, whose name is attached to the world’s three major religions? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are often referred to as the Abrahamic faiths because of Abraham’s significance in all three. It was Abraham’s bloodline that the Bible followed throughout its narrative, particularly in the Old Testament. What kind of person must Abraham have been for God to use him as the patriarch for His Chosen People?
First and foremost, he was obedient. God gave Abraham instructions with a promise attached:
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3So many of us would hear such a promise and believe it to be outlandish or wonder why we had to leave our homes behind for it to be fulfilled. We would hesitate and protest even in the face of being promised something great, but Abraham did not. Even at the ripe age of 75, he took Sarah (his wife), Lot (his nephew), and the people attached to him and promptly left to go where God instructed.
Some might argue that anybody would uproot their lives the way Abraham did if they were promised such great things. If we’re being honest, that’s not true. Everyday people miss out on blessings for lack of obedience, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say that was true. The Bible includes a greater example of the extent of Abraham's obedience. Perhaps the most well-known story involving Abraham concerned his son Isaac. God blessed him with a son against all odds. The idea of Abraham having a son by his wife at that point in their lives seemed so absurd that Sarah laughed when she heard it (Genesis 18:11-12). But God’s initial promise of making a nation through Abraham required that Abraham have an heir, so God made a way for that to happen, and Isaac was born as promised.
Abraham cherished Isaac, so imagine what it must have felt like when God instructed Abraham to kill Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22). Abraham received no promise of greatness or anything special along with that particular command. It was simply a duty given to him. Abraham treated it the same way he treated all the other commands given to him and was prepared to fulfill that duty. Through his actions, Abraham showed that whether God promised him riches or requested the sacrifice of something precious, he would obey without question. Few others in the Bible could say they did the same, and certainly such obedience to God is rare in today’s world.
On the other hand, maybe it was not just obedience. Abraham believed God. He believed God’s promise and that God knew what was best. He had faith that God would never steer him wrong. Maybe that faith is what fueled his obedience. Abraham didn’t know what God had planned. He didn’t know that he was simply being tested. What he knew was that God was good and had already provided so much, so he believed that if God asked anything of him, there was a good reason for it. That turned out to be true, there was a good reason indeed.
Skeptics may ask why God would test Abraham with something as barbaric as killing his son. Why was it necessary to torture him by putting him on the precipice of doing something so unthinkable? No one can truly say what’s in God’s mind, however, questions like these often miss a key point. God never intended events in the Bible to serve solely as moments in the lives of the Biblical characters. It was always his plan to use the events to serve as lessons and examples for the people that followed. God didn’t burden Abraham with this test solely to determine whether or not Abraham loved him. God already knew Abraham’s heart. He had already seen Abraham’s obedient actions. God had already promised to build a nation through Abraham, so he already knew Abraham would pass the test. The test was given to Abraham, but it was for our benefit. God wanted us to understand the nature of the relationship he seeks with us. He wanted us to know that he has no desire to take away the things that we love when we properly prioritize them under Him. He wanted us to know that in all circumstances, he will provide for us. He also wanted us to see what kind of sacrifice true love can require.
Love in its purest form can come with pain. Out of his love and faithfulness to God, Abraham had to be prepared to endure the pain of losing his son. God knew in his heart that Abraham loved Him above all and spared Abraham undo pain. Abraham did not have to make that sacrifice, but God did. God didn’t ask Abraham to do anything that God himself wasn’t willing to do. God expected Abraham to love God more than his own son. So what does it mean that God sent Jesus to Earth to die for us? Drawing a parallel to Abraham, doesn’t that mean that God’s sacrifice of his Son proves his great love for us? Think about how powerful a revelation that is, and it was all foreshadowed through Abraham’s story.
Does it sound far fetched that God was using Abraham to set the stage for Jesus’ coming and sacrifice? Consider this, in Genesis 18:1-13 Abraham meets the Lord, who we know to be God in the form of a man otherwise known as the Son. This means that Abraham actually met Jesus, and it was Jesus that helped introduce us to what Abraham would become. Of course, this wasn’t Jesus as we know him in the New Testament. He had not yet become a human being and was instead just taking on that form to interact with Abraham. Christophany is the technical term for examples of Jesus showing himself before his advent in the New Testament. It was Jesus that revealed to Abraham that Sarah would give birth to Isaac. In other words, Jesus set the stage for Abraham to foreshadow His own advent. God set quite an intricate lesson for us didn’t he?
Abraham’s story is full of important moments and lessons. As Believers we can’t just read the Bible as a book of stories. We have to recognize it for what it is, the Word of God, meant to teach and enlighten us. Through his obedience and faithfulness, Abraham was able to serve as the instrument for many lessons that God wanted to teach, and for that he received everything God promised and his name has stood the test of time.