Abraham plays an important role in the Christian faith. He is one of the most important figures in the Bible apart from Jesus. It is through his lineage that the Savior of the world comes (Matthew 1; Luke 3). No one can understand the Old Testament without understanding Abraham, for in many ways the story of redemption begins with God’s call to this patriarch. Abraham was the first man chosen by God for a role in the plan of redemption. The story of Abraham contains the first mention in the Bible of God’s righteousness assigned to man as the sole means of salvation (Genesis 15:6). It was Abraham whom God chose to be the father of many nations, simply because it was His will. God knew that Abraham would struggle with the call set before him, but He also knew that his struggle would produce great growth and faith.
Abraham’s name was originally ‘Abram’, which means ‘the father is exalted’. His name was changed to ‘Abraham,’ which means ‘father of a multitude’, when God initiated His covenant with him (Genesis 17). God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many people. However, he and his wife Sarah were apparently past the normal age of having children; therefore, it would clearly be a miracle of God were they to have any. Nevertheless, Abraham trusted God and believed God could accomplish what He had promised.
God promised Abraham children (Genesis 15:5; 22:17). But when this didn’t take place as quickly as Abraham thought it should, he became impatient with God and took matters into his own control. His wife, Sarah was still childless, so she told Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, so that they might get a child from the union. A son was born from this union; his name was Ishmael. However, this was not God’s plan. God’s promise was for the offspring of Abraham and Sarah’s union (Genesis 15:3-4). Isaac was the name of the son that came from the union of Abraham and Sarah; it would be through Isaac that the nations would be blessed.
When God told Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child in their old age, they both laughed. Their laughter at God’s plan showed their disbelief that He could do what He said He would do. The Bible tells us, “Then the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, not that I am old?’ Is there anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh.’”(Genesis 18: 13-15). We would like to think Abraham believed God at once without any doubt, but this is not the case. He finds God’s word nearly impossible to believe. After all, Sarah is well past the age of childbearing. However, his response to the Lord does not display total disbelief in the covenant promise. He falls on his face, symbolic of submission, trust and worship. Abraham shows us that real confidence in God doesn’t rule out times when His incredible promises are hard for us to see.
After Abraham was called by God to leave Haran, he obediently did so. In Genesis 12, we read of Abraham (then called Abram) leaving Haran, where his father Terah had settled, and setting out to find the promised land. This account gives Abraham’s age at this time as 75, but Genesis 11 and Acts 3 suggest that Abraham was much older than this when he left Haran. Scripture also tells us that he was 86 when his first son Ishmael was born through Hagar, 99 when he was circumcised and 100 when his son Isaac was born through Sarah.
Abraham and Sarah were very happy with their new son Isaac; however, God had a test for Abraham. God told him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2). This would have been a tremendous shock to any parent; to be blessed by a long awaited child, only to have God tell you to sacrifice that child. The Bible does not say that Abraham hesitated for a moment. In fact, there are certain passages that indicate Abraham’s strong faith that God would not take his son at all (Genesis 22:5, 8). Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac back to life if the sacrifice actually did take place (Hebrews 11:19). Whether for God’s, Abraham’s, Isaac’s or for our sake as an example, Abraham took his son up to a mountain, lay him down and prepared to kill him in obedience to God’s command. However, God intervened by stopping Abraham from killing his son and by providing a sacrifice in the form of a ram caught in the nearby brush. While Abraham’s faith had been tested, he proved his faith by his obedience to God.
Abraham had a long and challenging journey. Throughout this journey, he worked hard and experienced grief and blessings. Most of the time, he wasn’t able to see the path ahead, but he held strong to the promise in his heart. God would continue to fulfill that promise over a thousand years after Abraham’s death, until its completion in His Son Jesus Christ. We know through Abraham that God always keeps His promises. We may not have all the answers but God surely does.