(uhb ra haym) Personal name meaning, “father of a multitude.” The first Hebrew patriarch, he became known as the prime example of faith. He was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah's son, Shem. (Genesis 11:27). His childhood was spent in Ur of the Chaldees, a prominent Sumerian city. He was known at the beginning as Abram (“father is exalted”), but this was changed subsequently to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) (Genesis 17:5).
Terah, his father, moved to Haran with the family (Genesis 11:31) and after some years died there. God called Abram to migrate to Canaan, assuring him that he would father a vast nation. At different times he lived in Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, and Beer-sheba. His wife Sarai's beauty attracted the pharaoh when they moved to Egypt during a famine (Genesis 12:10), but God intervened to save her. The trouble arose partly because Abram had claimed her as his sister rather than his wife, and in fact she was his half-sister (Genesis 20:12). After returning to Palestine, Abram received further covenantal assurances from God (Genesis 15:1). He decided he could produce offspring by taking Sarai's handmaid Hagar as a concubine. Though the union produced a son, Ishmael, he was not destined to become Abram's promised heir. Even after another covenantal assurance (Genesis 17:1-21) in which the rite of circumcision was made a covenantal sign, Abram and Sarai still questioned God's promise of an heir.
Then Sarai, whose name had been changed to Sarah (“princess”), had her long-promised son, Isaac (“laughter”), when Abraham was 100 years old. Ishmael's presence caused trouble in the family, and he was expelled with his mother Hagar to the wilderness of Paran. Abraham's faith and obedience were tested by God in Moriah when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. God provided an alternative sacrifice, however, saving the boy's life. As a reward for Abraham's faithfulness, God renewed the covenant promises of great blessing and the growth of a mighty nation to father and son.
Subsequently, Sarah died and was buried in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:19), after which Abraham sought a bride for Isaac. A woman named Rebekah was obtained from Abraham's relatives in Mesopotamia, and Isaac married her gladly (Genesis 24:67). In old age Abraham remarried and had further children, finally dying aged 175 years. Abraham recognized God as the almighty Lord of all and the Author of a covenant by which the Hebrews would become a mighty nation. God Himself was known subsequently as the God of Abraham (Exodus 3:6). Through him God had revealed His plan for human salvation (Exodus 2:24). The promises to Abraham became assurance for future generations (Exodus 32:13;
Exodus 33:1). Abraham became known as “God's friend forever” (2 Chronicles 20:7).
John showed that descent from Abraham did not guarantee salvation (Matthew 3:9). See
Romans 9:1. Indeed, foreigners would join him in the kingdom (Matthew 8:11). Compare
Luke 16:23-30. Lost sons of Abraham, Jesus invited to salvation (Luke 19:9). True children of Abraham do the works of Abraham (John 8:39).
For Paul Abraham was the great example of faith (Romans 4:1;
Galatians 3:1). In Hebrews Abraham provided the model for tithing (Hebrews 7:1) and played a prominent role in the roll call of faith (Hebrews 11:1). James used Abraham to show that justification by faith is proved in works (James 3:21-24).
R. K. Harrison