Abraham Bible Story

The story of Abraham tells us that Abraham is one of the most venerated figures in the history of the Holy Land. The single largest group of religions in human history, the Abrahamic Religions, is named after him.

Genealogy of Abraham - the Three of Abraham
Genealogy of Abraham - the Three of Abraham

The Big Three, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all recognize Abraham as a key figure in establishing the Word of God on Earth, and he is considered not only a prophet but the forefather of a long line of prophets extending anywhere from nearly 1,500 years (Judaism) or 2,000 years (Christianity) to about 3,000 years (Islam).

At least 4,000,000,000 (four billion!) people around the world follow a variant of the religion founded by this holy man some four thousand years ago.

It should be noted that the story of Abraham we shall present now is based solely on accounts present either in the Bible, or ancient Judaic and medieval Islamic texts. So far, secular scholarship has repeatedly failed to bring forth any archaeological or contemporary written evidence to shed light on the life of Abraham or any related figures.

Youth; Refusal to bow to Idols

Reading about Abraham in the bible then little is known of his early life apart from the fact that he was probably born “Abram”. Nevertheless, there is a well-established story from his early years found in great detail in the Qur’an, in addition to some ancient Jewish texts.

Abraham’s father (or according to many Islamic accounts, uncle), Terah, is believed to have been an idol crafter in the city of Ur, Sumer (modern Iraq), around 2,000 B.C. From his very early years, the venerated Abraham always despised the worship of man-made idols and never accompanied his father to the temples.

King Nimrod
King Nimrod

Nevertheless, at some point in his youth, he was once taken to the shop by his father, who left him with the idols for a while. In the meantime, Abraham proceeded to smash all but the largest of the idols and left the ax in the hands of the one still standing.

At the angry inquiry of his father, Abraham told him that the “Big One” had broken them all in a fit of rage. Terah responded by suggesting that idols cannot do anything, at which Abraham pointed out, quite aptly:

“Still, you worship them?!”

Though humiliated, Terah was a strong traditionalist and took Abraham to the king named Nimrod for punishment. Nimrod decided the treason was too big to be forgiven and had Abraham thrown into a big fire.

However, Divine providence forbade the flames from doing any harm and Abraham returned safely after some time (even months, according to some tales).

Apparently, Abraham was left alone after this incident and no doubt, gathered a lot of followers over the course of the following decades.

His relationship with his father after these events is unclear (the Christian Bible does not mention it at all).

Migration to Canaan

The story of Abraham tells us that according to the Bible, Abraham married a woman named Sarah during his youth, but she did not bear him any child at Ur. Meanwhile, Abraham’s brother, Haran, died at Ur as well (in his father’s lifetime), leaving a son named Lot.

When Abraham was 75 years old, the family migrated to northern Israel-Palestine, Terah, Abraham, Sarah, and Lot (probably along with his immediate family).

This was the land of Canaan, a Pagan people mostly living in small mountainous villages far from the Mediterranean coast. Abraham is hinted to have gathered some following in his new home as well. God promised Abraham that his descendants will rule this to-be Holy Land with glory.

Abraham's Migration

Journey to Egypt

At one time during his stay in Palestine, Abraham’s family suffered from severe regional famine and decided to buy provisions in neighboring Egypt. At reaching Egypt, Abraham told the officials that Sarah was his sister in order to avoid possible execution.

It turned out that the Pharaoh had indeed developed a liking for Sarah and his officials abducted her soon. He did, however, reward Abraham with a lot of wealth, stock, and slaves.

Nevertheless, only shortly after Pharaoh took Sarah, his entire household was cursed with various forms of “Plagues” and figured out something was wrong.

As soon as it was discovered that Sarah was actually married, Pharaoh let go of her and she returned to the Promised Land with Abraham and the rest of the family.

The Story of Lot

This story of Abraham is not complete without the story of his nephew Lot because it is deeply connected to that of Abraham himself. By the time they returned to the Holy Land, both Abraham and Lot were quite wealthy and prosperous. Sometimes the Egyptian trip, the shepherds of the two holy men engaged in a quarrel, claiming that the local land was not sufficient to sustain the flock of both.

Eventually, Abraham and Lot decided to separate and live in different areas, with Lot choosing to live on the east bank of River Jordan while Abraham settling in the city of Hebron in the modern West Bank.

While living in the city of Sodom, Lot and his family were caught in the crossfire of an invasion from Mesopotamia (although this might have been a local war, as no such invasions are known from this period) and taken captive.

The old Abraham was devastated at the news and decided to take military action to free him. According to Genesis, the army he gathered was solely comprised of Abraham’s servants, which means Abraham was, by now, a very powerful local lord who could afford such a costly private endeavor.

Abraham’s expedition managed to catch up with the retreating Elamite army and ambushed it at night from multiple directions. The result was a complete victory, and all the prisoners, including Lot, were liberated and their properties captured back.

A king of Elam, Chedorlaomer, was also killed during the battle, according to the account of Genesis. After the battle, negotiations began with the king of Sodom, Bera. Abraham released his share of the enemy captives, along with their possessions, but his allies kept theirs.

Hagar and Ishmael

So far, Abraham had spent another ten years of his life in the Holy Land without having a child. Finally, his wife Sarah herself offered Abraham an Egyptian slave named Hagar to keep as a concubine, according to the custom of the day.

Abraham reluctantly agreed and Hagar quickly became pregnant. However, Hagar and Sarah were soon at odds with each other, as Hagar knew she would have to concede her child to Sarah. One day, Hagar left home and fled to the desert, where an angel eventually came and convinced her to go back to Abraham.

She was promised that her progeny will be “Too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:9) and exhorted to obey her mistress Sarah, at which she agreed to return. Hagar bore Abraham his first son when he was 86 years old. The son was named Ishmael by the instructions of God.

Here, the Islamic tradition inserts a new, detailed account of Ishmael’s childhood not found in Christian traditions. It is only natural since the Qur’an and prophetic sayings are directly addressing the descendants of Ishmael, who were more interested in knowing about Hagar’s story than that of Sarah and her offspring.

The Jewish tradition tells us that Abraham was ordered by God to leave Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, where they would not only survive, but thrive and Ishmael’s descendants would become a great nation. The Qur’anic exegeses and other books of Islamic tradition claim that the place where the mother and her infant son were left was Mecca, then an uninhabited wilderness.

However, it had already been decided that a holy temple will be built there in the near future, for Abraham said in his prayer:

“Oh our Lord! I have settled some of my progeny in a valley without vegetation, near your Sacred House” (Quran 14:37).

After Abraham left, Ishmael almost died of thirst. Reluctant, Hagar ran seven times around the nearby hills, hoping to find a caravan to no avail. Eventually, she discovered a well which had sprung miraculously at Ishmael’s feet.

This event is still much celebrated in Islam; the hills which Hagar climbed are known as al-Ṣafā and al-Marwah and the well is known as Zam-Zam. Later, when Ishmael grew to be a young man, Abraham returned to Mecca to pay a visit, where the two built a holy shrine, believed to be at the location of the current Ka’bah in Mecca (another event referred to in the Quran 2:127).

Covenant of the Pieces and Name Change

When Ishmael was thirteen years old, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (“Father of Many”), as he is known today. He also received instructions to adhere to the Covenant of the Pieces, whereby he had himself and all other male members of his family circumcised.

He was, once again, promised that his children will rule the Promised Land and will be countless in numbers. Although about a hundred years old at this point, Abraham was still far from disappointed with God’s promises, when one day, a holy sign came.

The three angels in the story of Abraham

Three Holy Guests

In the meantime, Abraham, who lived in a tent due to humility, once received three strangers as guests. Overjoyed, Abraham greeted them with a humble bow and had them rest under a tree. He washed their feet with water, ordered Sarah to prepare a lot of bread herself, and chose a good-quality calf out of his flock for a servant to slaughter and cook for them.

Abraham himself fetched some milk and cheese and after all, presented the food to the guests. While they ate and Abraham stood beside, it was revealed that these three were actually angels sent by God.

According to the Qur’an, they revealed their identities by refusing to eat, since angels cannot eat or sleep even in human form. Abraham first thought of another possibility, however, that they might be his enemies and fear poison in the food, but the guests themselves clarified the situation. (Quran 51:24-30)

One of the angels gave Abraham the glad tidings of a son from his first wife Sarah within a year, something Sarah herself overheard. Finding the statement quite unusual, Sarah laughed, but the angels declared:

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:13)

Scared, Sarah denied laughing and was now sure that this was indeed a prophecy from God.

Abraham worries for Lot

After the men finished eating, they started towards Gomorrah and Sodom, where his nephew Lot lived. Soon, Abraham received a revelation to the effect that the cities were going to be destroyed in punishment for the enormous sins of their inhabitants.

Prayer for Righteousness
Prayer for Righteousness

Terrified, Abraham pleaded to God for mercy, invoking the presence of many “Righteous People” in those settlements along with the sinning masses. In a beautiful display of the power of prophets and saints, a long conversation ensued between the two.

God offered to forgive the cities if there were as low as fifty righteous people there, but Abraham repeatedly requested a reduction in the requirement, until the number finally settled at only ten. Unfortunately, even ten righteous men were not found in the two cities.

The only ones saved from the wrath of God were Lot and his family, transported by the angels outside Sodom, from where they walked to the small town of Zoar with Divine consent.

Migration to the Desert

Having seen the terrible ending of these Jordanian cities with his own eyes, Abraham decided to leave the whole region and migrated with his whole family for the second time, now to the Negev Desert where he settled “Between Kadesh and Shur”. (Genesis 20:1)

Here, a second incident resembling that of Pharaoh is related by the Bible, with Sarah again being taken by a monarch (this time, King Abimelech of Gerar) who later discovers his error. Interpretations of the incident have varied, but most Christian and Jewish scholars take both incidents at face value. Alternatively, others view one or both as symbolic demonstrations of the protection God offers to his beloved people.

Isaac

In accordance with the prophecy, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a son when Abraham was 100 years of age. The son was named Isaac and was circumcised on the eighth day of his birth in keeping with the Covenant.

Now, according to the Genesis account, relations between Hagar and Sarah soared once again after the birth of Isaac, and eventually, Hagar was again forced to leave home (a decision withheld by God himself), this time for good. The Islamic and Jewish accounts dispute this, as discussed before.

At some point, probably before Isaac had reached puberty, God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son in a distant land. Without a moment’s hesitation, Abraham obliged and set off with Isaac. Just as he was about to cut Isaac’s throat, an angel stopped Abraham and offered a ram instead. Abraham slaughtered the ram and his sacrifice was accepted. (Genesis 22)

The Jewish and – most likely – early-Islamic traditions agree with this premise; however, later Islamic scholars attributed this event to Ishmael instead of Isaac, and this is how the event is popularly related in Islam today.

Abrahams Final Years

Abraham lived long enough to see his grandsons’ flourish. In the end, Sarah passed away at a very old age (127 according to Genesis 23:1) and Abraham buried his faithful wife in the Cave of Machpelah, after having purchased the land from a Hittite nobleman named Ephron.

After Sarah, Abraham married Keturah, with whom he had six sons and countless grandsons. Sometime later, Abraham passed away at the age of 175, having spent his whole life in complete submission to God and largely seen His gracious promises fulfilled.

Today, Abraham is remembered as the forefather of hundreds of prophets and Biblical figures and is considered a key founder of the true “Abrahamic Religion” by Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike.

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