GOD CALLING ABRAM
Abram became the fourth witness, in the world, so that the world could see what God was like. God put “His Spirit” back into Abram. Therefore, Abram was recognized as a man of God in the world. Abram became God’s special project to awaken the “image of God” and the “likeness of God” in him. This “image of God” and the “likeness of God” became visible to others, with more direct intervention and with more guidance. God’s projects and experiments with Adam and with Noah did not pen out. Their offspring’s, instead of becoming people of God, they became the subjects of false gods created by the imaginations of man. Kings and leaders took the place of God. Babel became their god. With Abram, the fourth messenger, God laid out a new plan for the world to follow. God used Abram to build a nation, which would become the envy of all nations. Then, the nations would, on their own, turn to the God of Abram. Abram became “Abraham.” To learn how to be the image of God; in this world, Abram became a willing servant of God.
To the writers that gave us the Bible, the projects of Adam and Noah were preludes to the rise and the fall of the descendants of Abraham. Only eleven chapters in the Book of Genesis were allotted to the preludes and thirty-nine books were about Israel. The writer of Genesis was very partial with Abram and depicted a nameless God who adopted Abram and tolerated all his mistakes. Abram was seventy-five years old at the time of his adoption. And he was being treated like a child, in the process of growing up. Abram could marry his sister, lie about who Sarai was, commit adultery with the maid Hagar to give him a son, and then sent Hagar and the child into the desert to die. All that was done because God willed it and they even presumed that God even punished the people that caused Abram to lie. As we shall see in this study later on, God instructed Moses and the Prophets to correct those errors. Then God sent His Son, Jesus, to reaffirm the Law and the Prophets. These writers believed that God did change His mind when in reality that was impossible. God, by His very nature, cannot change. It is man that must change by allowing the “image of God” and the “likeness of God” to be reborn by God’s Spirit. God, literally took Abram by the hand, and led him back to Himself, and God changed his name to “Abraham.”
Abraham, the fourth messenger, God practically hand-picked him to produce a God-fearing people. Abraham, himself, had to learn how to believe and trust in God. Abraham came from a polytheistic and polygamistic culture. Noah’s influence as a godly person had long disappeared. It was actually Terah, Abraham’s father who came to the decision that living in Ur of the Chaldeans was not benefiting his family. Terah had decided to move to Canaan. He ended up being stranded in Haran. Terah had three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot and he died in Ur. Nahor stayed in Ur and then settled in Aram. Nahor became the father of Rebekah, wife of Isaac and mother of Esau and Jacob. His son, Laban, married off his daughters Leah and Rachel to Jacob, son of Isaac. Abram and Lot went to Haran with Terah. Abram was married to Sarai, his half-sister, of the same father, but of different mothers. Terah had more than one wife. It is not surprising that Abram, who’s name was changed to Abraham (father of many), continued the practice to marry close kinfolk and also practiced polygamy. Sarai’s name was changed to “Sarah” (princess or mistress). Moses was ordered to abandon the practice, but he did not succeed in eliminating polygamy.
At the time Abram and Sarai, before they became Abraham and Sarah, the couple had no children. Abram induced Hagar to be the surrogate for Sarai to produce an heir. They named him Ishmael, “man from God.” And then, Sarai turned around and regarded the whole affair as an act against God’s will. It is a practice still in use today. The historian of Abraham wants us to understand that God had designated an heir, and to do so, the couple had to be beyond their time to bear Children. They had to become thoroughly acquainted and tested in their dependence on God. The formation of this new people or nation was God’s design and not man’s. God had a name that only Abram knew and no one else. We are not told how God appeared and spoke to Abram. When the three uninvited strangers were guests in Abram’s lodge, it was time for Sarai to conceive Isaac. Abram honored God by building altars and also by making sacrifices to God. God blessed Abram materially, so that he became powerful enough to rescue his nephew and several kings from the bandits. It was during this time, that Melchizedek, king of Salem, and priest of “God Most High,” recognized God’s hand in Abram. Melchizedek paid homage to Abram by offering him wine and bread. Melchizedek then blessed him, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered our enemies into your hand” (Genesis 14:18-20). The significance of this encounter was that the priest saw God at work in Abram.
Abram also acknowledged Melchizedek as a legitimate priest of God Most High. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of his income. Four centuries later, Moses did designate the tenth as God’s servant’s share in perpetuity. The tenth became essential for maintaining a theocracy until the time of Samuel. The tenth was the least costly system of governing a nation. After the incident with God’s priest, God, in a vision, made a covenant with Abram. God reassured Abraham that the land would be given to his descendants and not to his servants. Finally after four hundred years later, and after they did go through some harsh times as slaves, the covenant became a reality. Apparently, Abram and Sarai did not take that dream seriously enough; and therefore, they began to use Hagar to produce an heir. Hagar pleased Abram. And Sarai became jealous and kicked Hagar out. However, an angel of the Lord sent Hagar back with a promise that her son, Ishmael would also become a father of many nations. Hagar swallowed her pride and she continued to serve Sarai until Isaac was born. When she and her son Ishmael were completely disinherited and cast out; the Lord did not forsake them. The behavior of Abram and Sarai were less than human. Yet, we are made to believe that they had to go, so that God’s purpose for the seed of Abram could not be derailed. From then on, God used human mistakes to further the establishment of a nation that would be his own on earth. It was with God’s blessing that Jacob stole his birth right from his older brother Esau. Jacob swindled his father-in-law Laban out of his daughters, his servants, and more than half of Laban’s goods and gods. Jacob’s ten sons sold their half-brother Joseph into slavery, but God used their evil act to save his intended future witnesses from starvation. For a New Testament believer, especially, one who is a follower of Jesus, it is difficult to perceive a God that would allow his people to deal so treacherously. However, considering the conditions and circumstances, we have to be immensely grateful that we have a God who can turn our mistakes into blessings. Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, the Lord lets us know that we must not let mistakes ruin us and stop us from getting back into God’s favor. Jesus, the Christ, has made it all possible.
Abram and Sarai’s celebration of Ishmael, as their heir, was short lived. God again appeared to Abram and informed him, “I am God Almighty; walk before and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Imagine, Abram is ninety and Sarai eighty, and God is telling them it is time to get serious. It is time to have a son, so that they can produce some offspring. Was it any wonder that Sarai laughed when she too heard the three men tell her husband that she would become a mother? Earlier, her husband, God’s messenger, called him Abraham, “a father of many nations” and Sarai was to be called a “princess or a mistress, the mother of many nations.” To confirm all this, Abraham had himself and all the males in his household, more than three hundred men, circumcised. This too would become a sign that one belonged to God Almighty. And as God promised, three strangers graced Abraham’s tent and Sarai became pregnant and the miracle son was on its way. Great joy filled their hearts. God put Abraham to a test of loyalty that defies all human reasoning.
Why would God want Abraham to sacrifice his son as a burned offering? I have come to believe that it was more than a test of Abraham’s loyalty to God, but the evidence that this God who could not be named rejected human sacrifices. In those days, the gods were appeased with children and with virgins sacrifices. Abraham’s God preferred a goat to a human life and Abraham had come to believe it and God rewarded him for it. To become an example in the world, God needed a man who would not shed the blood of a human being to please a god. Moses would institute the system that would replace human sacrifices with animal sacrifices, particularly with pigeons, sheep and goats. Unfortunately, man has continued to shed blood for his own benefit and for his own pleasure. Man still regards the shedding of the blood of human beings as a necessity to his survival. Jesus and his followers have become the sacrifice for the well being of evil in this world.
One would assume, that after Abraham’s encounter with Pharaoh, that he had learned to trust in God’s care for his wife and himself. But that was not the case. Abraham lied to king Abimelech that Sarah was not his wife. Abraham had to learn that the king was also a God-fearing man. Abimelech also had received a message, in a dream, not to touch Sarah. God even spoke to Abimelech in a dream, “Yes, I know you have done this of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you shall live.” This, again, tells us that God was no stranger in Egypt and in Canaan. Abraham was not the only one or the first monotheistic advocate. Perhaps the highlight of Abraham’s period was when Pharaoh recognized the Spirit of God in Joseph. Before Pharaoh installed Joseph as his head minister over his kingdom, he spoke these words, “Can we find such a man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God.” The king of Egypt had received dreams, alerting him of the need for some one to interpret them, but it was Joseph who introduced God to Pharaoh, as the “One” who can reveal their meaning (Genesis 11-18, 20-22, 41). Jacob, who became “Israel.” Jacob had dreams and visions of some one like the Lord God, but he used them for his own personal and material well being and his ten sons walked in his footsteps. Abraham’s descendants were far from being witnesses for God, the Almighty. Abraham’s descendants were to face slavery before they would become free to serve God. What did they do when they were given the chance? (Bible quotes are from RSV)