Abraham, at first Abram [in Hebrew, Abram denotes exalted father; the change to Abraham appears to consist merely in strengthening the root of the second syllable, in order to place increased emphasis on the idea of exaltation].
Son of Terah, progenitor of the Hebrews, father of the faithful, and the friend of God (Gen. 11:26; Gal. 3:7, 9; Jas. 2:23).
1. His life before his arrival in Canaan, 75 years. In his early life Abraham dwelt with his father and his brethren in Ur of the Chaldees. He married Sarai, his half-sister. After the death of his brother Haran, he, his wife, and Lot his nephew migrated, under the headship of Terah, from Ur to go to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:27-31). The motive which led the family to change its habitation is not stated in Gen. 11. Josephus inferred from the narrative that Terah was actuated by a desire to escape from associations which reminded him of the son who had died (Antiq. 1:6, 5). It has also been suggested that the migration of the family may have been prompted by the wish to better their condition in a new and freer country, or have been incited by political disturbances in Chaldea, such as an invasion of the Elamites. Stephen understood Gen. 12:1 to refer back to this time, and to be the initial command, given while the family was yet in Ur, for he says: "God appeared unto Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran" (Acts 7:2, R. V.). Stephen's interpretation is countenanced by Gen. 15:7 and Neh. 9:7; although these passages might refer to God's providence. All the various causes suggested may have cooperated; and the natural motives may have been the means providentially employed by God to persuade the party to obey the heavenly vision. The family departed from Ur and, taking the customary route, followed the Euphrates toward the northwest. On reaching Haran, the party temporarily abandoned the purpose of journeying to Canaan and took up residence where they were. When Abraham was 75 years old, he departed from Haran to go to Canaan. This move may have been due to God's will as revealed by him in Ur, or to a command now first received. Stephen, as already said, adopts the former interpretation and the wording of the details in Gen. 12:1 well suits, with our present meager knowledge of the community at Haran, this explanation. The departure is related after the record of Terah's death. It does not follow, however, from this that Abraham tarried at Haran until his father died. The narrator as usual concludes what he has to say of Terah before taking up the detailed history of Abraham. Still it is a plausible conjecture that Abraham did tarry so long; for the same party that left Ur now, with the exception of Terah, leaves Haran: and this also is the interpretation of Stephen.
But if so, Abraham was born when Terah was at least 130 years old, and not 70, as is often unnecessarily inferred from Gen. 11:26. In this passage Abraham is mentioned first, either be cause he was the firstborn and born in Terah's 70th year, or else, if he was a younger son and born after Terah's 70th year, because he was the progenitor of the chosen people.
From Haran Abraham went to Canaan. What route did he take? Probably the road by way of Damascus, for a great highway led from Mesopotamia past that city to Canaan; and later mention is made of Abraham's steward, Eliezer of Damascus. Abraham did not stop long at any place along the way, but properly speaking journeyed continuously; for he was 75 years old when he left Haran, and he spent ten years in Canaan before he took Hagar to wife (Gen. 16:3), and he was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael (16); so that not more than a year elapsed between the departure from Haran and the arrival in Canaan.
I. 2. Unsettled life in Canaan, at most 10 years.
He encamped at Shechem (Gen. 12:6), at Beth-el (8), journeyed to the south country (9), and was driven by famine into Egypt. In Egypt, through fear for his life, he represented Sarah merely as his sister (10-20). He returned to the south country (13:1), was again at Beth-el (3). He and Lot now separated on account of their increasing possessions. Lot chose the plain of the Jordan (5-12). Abraham afterwards moved his tent to the oaks of Marmre at Hebron (18).
I. 3. Residence at the oaks of Mamre, at least 15, perhaps 23 or 24 years.
Abraham is in treaty with the Amorite chieftains of the vicinity (Gen. 14:13), pursues Chedorlaomer (1-16), is blessed by Melchizedek (17-24). The promise of an heir is given him and is believed; and the promise of Canaan as an inheritance is confirmed by covenant (15). Birth of Ishmael (16). After an interval of 13 years (16; 17:1), the promise is unfolded. Man's attempt to fulfill God's promise does not alter God's intention; not the bondwoman's child, but the free woman's; not the child of the flesh, but the child of promise. On this occasion the covenant sign of circumcision is appointed, and the name Abram is changed to Abraham (Gen. 17). Sodom is destroyed (18 and 19).
I. 4. Residence in the south country, some 15 years during the childhood of Isaac.
Sarah taken to the court of Abimelech (Gen. 20). When Abraham is 100 years old, Isaac is born, and a week later Ishmael is expelled (21:1-21). At a well owned by Abraham, Abimelech and he conclude a treaty, and Abraham names the well Beer-sheba (22-34). When Isaac was somewhat grown (22:6; Josephus conjectures 25 years, Antiq. 1:13, 2), Abraham's faith was put to an open test by the command to sacrifice his only son. In obedience to this command, he and Isaac repaired to the mountains of Moriah, when a ram was graciously substituted for Isaac. They returned to Beer-sheba (22:1-19).
I. 5. Again at Hebron, after an uneventful interval of 20 years.
Here Sarah died, aged 127 years (Gen. 23).
I. 6. Probably in the south country with Isaac, about 38 years.
After the death of Sarah, when Abraham was 140 years old (24:67; 25:20), he sends to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife from his own people for Isaac. Rebekah is brought back and meets Isaac at Beer-lahai-roi, perhaps 'Ain Muweileh (24). That Abraham took Keturah to wife is next recorded. Abraham died, aged 175 years, and was buried in the cave of Machpelah (25:1-9).
II. The size of the community under Abraham.
Abraham departed from Haran with his wife, his nephew, and the souls that they had acquired (Gen. 12:5), and in Canaan he obtained additional servants by purchase, by gift and doubtless by birth (16:1; 17:23, 27; 18:7; 20:14). He was rich in flocks and herds and their necessary accompaniment, menservants and maidservants (12:16; 13:2, 7; 24:32, 35, 59; 26:15). He led 318 trained men, born in his house, to the rescue of Lot (14:14). He was recognized by the neighboring chieftains as a mighty prince (23:6), with whom they do well to make alliances and conclude treaties (14:13; 21:22 seq.). Yet when deprived of the aid of his allies, as when he went to sojourn in Egypt, his sense of insecurity triumphed over his better self, and he repressed part of the truth in regard to Sarah. He desired peace and was a man of peace (13:8), yet like many other hardy settlers would in time of need brave hardship and danger and do battle for relatives and friends (14).
III. The religious belief of Abraham.
His nearer ancestors served other gods (Josh. 24:2). Their worship was at least corrupted by the prevalent animism of Babylonia, which assigned a spirit to every object in nature, and which led to the conception of eleven great gods besides innumerable minor deities. The great gods were the deities of the majestic and impressive objects in nature: of the sky, of earth's surface, of the ocean and all subterranean waters; of the moon, the sun, and the storm; and of the five planets visible to the naked eye. The gods were powerful, were active in nature, bestowed special care on favorite individuals and communities, heard and answered prayer. Abraham's faith was distinguished from the belief of the great majority of his contemporaries of whom we have any knowledge, in that Abraham believed in God the almighty (Gen. 17:1), the everlasting (21:33), the most high (14:22), the possessor or maker of heaven and earth, i.e. the actual and lawful Lord of all (ibid., 24:3), the righteous Judge, i.e. the moral governor of all the earth (18:25); and in accordance with the faith of his contemporaries, Abraham believed in this God as the disposer of events, who seeth and taketh knowledge of what occurs on earth, and who giveth and withholdeth as he will. In this faith Abraham obeyed, worshiped, and guarded the honor of God.
How came Abraham by this faith?
1. Reason lent its aid, as it still helps the intelligent Christian. Polytheists have often arrived at henotheism; and there are traces of henotheism among Abraham's countrymen in Babylonia. A clear, logical mind, such as Abraham exhibits, would tend to pass from henotheism to monotheism. Melchizedek had come to worship the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth; and his religious conceptions and practices called forth profound recognition from Abraham. Monumental evidence seems to show that occasionally an individual among the Assyrians and Babylonians arrived at a speculative belief in the unity of God, but without influencing the people at large. It is no more unique for Abraham to believe in one God, Lord over all, than for Hosea or Amos to do so.
2. The religious inheritance, which he received from his forefathers, aided Abraham. In support of this source of religious information may be urged.
(a) the reasons for believing in a primitive revelation:
(b) the existence of the line which began with Adam and included such true worshipers of God as Seth (see Gen. 4:26), Enoch, and Noah; and
(c) the historical fact of the transmission to the Hebrews of traditions like that of the creation and the flood.
3. Special revelation was granted to Abraham by dreams, visions, and theophanies (12:7; 15:1, 12, 17; 17:1; 18:1, 2; 22:1, 2). Theophanies are as conceivable in Abraham's time as is the manifestation of Christ at a later age.
Harmony between the Hebrew record and contemporary history.
1. The language of Canaan. Before the conquest of the country by the Israelites under Joshua not a few places and persons bore Semitic names. Abimelech and Urushalim, i.e. Jerusalem, were in vogue.
2. The narrative of Abraham fits into Egyptian history. Biblical chronological data place the arrival of Abraham in Canaan about 645 years before the Exodus. This date explains at once Abraham's willingness to go to Egypt when famine prevailed in Canaan and his kindly reception by Pharaoh, for the date of his journey falls within the period when Asiatics, the so-called shepherd kings, held the throne of Egypt. The biblical data place not only Abraham's visit to the Nile country, but also the descent of Jacob and his sons to Egypt, within the period of the shepherd rule: a strong confirmation both of the chronological data and of the authenticity of the narrative.
3. The narrative fits into Babylonian history.
(1.) About the time assigned by the Hebrew record to Abraham and the invasion of the west, the populous plain at the mouth of the Tigris was ruled by an Elamite dynasty.
(2.) Under the Elamite sovereign vassal kings exercised sway, as described in Genesis.
(3.) The Babylonian kings of this period made expeditions into the far west and held Canaan in subjection (cp. Kudurmabug and Amrnisatana).
(4.) Chedorlaonier, the name assigned to the king of Elam, is a genuine Elamite name. Chedor, i.e. Kudur, is constantly used in the composition of Elamite royal names, and Laomer, i.e. Lagamar, is the name of an Elamite god. Thus the Hebrew record gives an accurate and somewhat detailed picture of the political condition of Babylonia as well as of Canaan. It may be added that Chedorlaomer's own name and those of his allies have been recently reported as discovered in the Babylonian inscriptions.