Parent Category: Bible
Category: Biblical People
Abraham (abraham), or Abram (abram). [Heb. Abraham and Abram, the former meaning "the father is exalted," the latter possibly "the father of a multitude,"as the Arabic ruham, "multitude," suggests. The name occurs first in the Ebla texts of the prepatriarchal period, and then in Old Babylonian as Abraham, in Egyptian texts of the 19th cent. b.c. (as the name of a prince in Palestine) as Ibwrhn, in ancient South Arabic as brhn, in Pharaoh Shishak's list of conquered Palestinian places as Ibrm, on a Ugaritic inscription as Abrm, and on an ancient Hebrew seal as brm. Gr. Abraam.]
The world in which Abraham lived. According to the Biblical chronology adopted in this dictionary Abraham was born in 1950 b.c. left Haran for Canaan after the death of his father in 1875 b.c., visited Egypt between 1875 and 1864 b.c., and died in 1775 b.c. after having lived in Canaan for 100 years. He was born in Ur in southern Mesopotamia during the Neo-Sumerian period. In about 1960 b.c., according to the so-called Low Chronology, shortly before his birth, the strong 3d dynasty of Ur, which had ruled for more than 100 years, came to an end, and was replaced by the rival dynasties of Isin and Larsa, under which Ur declined somewhat in importance as a political centre in the Mesopotamian valley. During the 75 years that Abraham lived in Ur and Haran the country was under the domination of Sumerian rulers, although the Amorites, who had already taken over most of Syria and Palestine, were already pouring into Mesopotamia. By 1830 b.c. they founded the powerful 1st dynasty of Babylon, whose 6th king, Hammurabi (c. 1728-1686 b.c.), became the strongest ruler.
When Abraham entered Canaan he found the country for the greater part in the hands of the Amorites. The country was not a unified state, however, but consisted of numerous city-states of various sizes with kings and kinglets of Amorite stock forming the ruling class. Egypt, on the other hand, was at that time ruled by the powerful kings of the 12th dynasty (1991 to c. 1780 b.c.). If Abraham was in Egypt between 1875 and 1864 b.c. (see Gen 12) he must have met Sesostris III as king of Egypt who ruled from 1878 to 1840 b.c. According to ancient records this king conducted a military campaign into Palestine, directing it against S kmm, which is probably Shechem, but did not occupy the country. It seems that the campaign was a punitive raid, and that its object was not conquest.
During Abraham's time occurred the military campaigns described in Gen 14. None of the kings mentioned in the narrative can be identified with monarchs known from secular sources (see Chedorlaomer; Amraphel; Arioch; Tidal); however, archaeological evidence confirms the narrative. The explorations of Albright and Glueck have brought to light evidence that a flourishing culture and many cities in Transjordan were destroyed in the 20th or 19th cent. b.c., and that the country remained almost entirely uninhabited for several centuries afterward. There is also some evidence that Sodom and Gomorrah, which presumably lay at the southern end of the Dead Sea, were destroyed at that time (see Sodom). The cities Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned in a cuneiform text from *Ebla of the prepatriarchal period.
The life of Abraham may be considered under four major periods: (1) His life prior to his journeying to Canaan, at the age of 75. (2) His early sojourn in Canaan to the birth of his son Isaac, a period of 25 years. (3) His life from the birth of Isaac to the death of Sarah and the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah, about 40 years. (4) His later life, old age, and death, about 35 years.
His life prior to arrival in Canaan. Abraham was born in or near the city of Ur in lower Mesopotamia. Abraham's father Terah had 2 other sons, Nahor and Haran the father of Lot (Gen 11:27). The family worshiped heathen deities as well as the true God (Jos 24:2). The Genesis record says nothing about God appearing to Abraham prior to the departure from Ur, but Acts 7:2-4 clearly applies the command of Gen 12:1-3 to the time when the family still lived in Ur. The original destination of the family caravan of Abraham, Terah, Nahor, and Lot, as it set out from the lower Mesopotamian valley, was Canaan (ch 11:31). They settled first at Haran in northern Mesopotamia, but how long they remained there is not known, nor is the reason for the sojourn there given. They may have planned to stay only long enough to rest the flocks and herds, or perhaps Terah's advanced age made it impossible for the group to journey farther (cf. v 32). The fact that Nahor did not accompany Abraham to Canaan after the death of their father may imply, also, that opinion was divided about the wisdom of leaving the lush grazing lands of Haran. In time, however, the call to Abraham was repeated, and taking his nephew Lot with him he left Haran and went to the land of Canaan. Apparently the two had accumulated considerable "substance" €”primarily flocks and herds €”and were accompanied by slaves and retainers (ch 12:1-5).
Early sojourn in Canaan. During the 25 years that elapsed between Abraham's entrance into the land of Canaan and the birth of Isaac, the patriarchal family moved intermittently from place to place. From Shechem, their first place of sojourn (Gen 12:6), they journeyed southward to Bethel (v 8), and thence toward the Negeb, or south country (v 9), and eventually to Egypt (v 10). Returning to the Negeb (ch 13:1) and to Bethel (v 3), they finally settled at Mamre, near Hebron, where they remained for a major portion of the period of early sojourn (chs 13:18 to 19:38). Not long before the birth of Isaac, Abraham again journeyed toward the Negeb and "sojourned in Gerar" (ch 20:1).
The journey into Egypt was apparently made not long after Abraham entered Canaan. Drought and famine, which intermittently brought suffering to Palestinian dwellers, impelled him to seek food in a land where there was usually plenty in spite of the fact that there is practically no rainfall (Gen 12:10). While in Egypt, fear for his personal safety led the patriarch to represent Sarah as only his sister. This manifest lack of faith in God to protect His servants resulted in embarrassment and in Abraham's expulsion from the land (vs. 11-20). When Abraham returned to Canaan he is described as being "very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold" (ch 13:1, 2). Lot also "had flocks, and herds, and tents" (v 5). Insufficient pasturage and water for these large herds led the patriarch and his nephew to separate. Lot settled first in the luxuriant Jordan Valley and later "pitched his tent toward Sodom," whereas Abraham returned to Mamre, near Hebron (vs. 6-18), where he remained for approximately 20 years.
During this residence at Mamre a number of important events occurred. The first of these was an invasion of Canaan by a confederacy of four kings from Mesopotamia under the leadership of Chedorlaomer (Gen 14:1-10). Five kings in the vicinity of Sodom banded together against the invaders, but were defeated, with the result that their peoples and property were lost (vs. 11, 12). Upon learning that his nephew was in the hands of the invading army, Abraham pursued the Mesopotamian kings with his own private army of 318 men and rescued the captives from the vicinity of Sodom, together with their possessions (vs. 13-16). It was upon his return from this expedition that Abraham met, and paid "tithes of all" to, Melchizedek, priest and ruler of Salem, as Jerusalem was then known (vs. 17-24). Soon after this experience the Lord entered into solemn covenant with the patriarch, assuring him that, eventually, his descendants would possess Canaan as their own (ch 15). As the years went by at Mamre without the birth of an heir, Abraham took matters into his own hands and married Hagar, his wife's Egyptian maid, who presented him with his first son, Ishmael (ch 16:1-4). This ill-advised marriage brought discord into the home which culminated in the eventual banishment of Hagar and Ishmael from the home (chs 16:5-16; 21:9-21).
During this residence at Mamre the Lord renewed His covenant with Abraham, and instructed him to institute the rite of circumcision as a token of the covenant (Gen 17). Later, the Lord appeared in the form of a wayfarer and renewed the promise of a son and heir, and upon the same occasion warned Abraham of the imminent destruction of Sodom and its sister cities, which took place the following day (chs 18; 19). Soon after this event the patriarchal family moved to Gerar, where Abraham again pretended that Sarah was not his wife (ch 20), but only his sister.
With Isaac in the southland. Not long after the move to Gerar, Isaac was born (Gen 21:1-7). Soon friction arose between Sarah and Hagar, doubtless over the matter of whose son should be heir to Abraham, with the result that Hagar and her son were banished from the home forever (vs. 8-21). Abraham remained in the vicinity of Gerar and Beer-sheba until Isaac reached manhood (vs. 22-34). It was while the patriarchal home was at Beer-sheba that God tested Abraham's faith by calling upon him to offer his son as a sacrifice. God's promises that the land was to belong to him and to his descendants were as yet unfulfilled after nearly half a century of residence in the land of Canaan, yet, with repeated tests to his faith, that faith now rose in majesty to the supreme test and triumphed (ch 22). The writer of Hebrews devotes nearly a third of his comment on evidences of faithfulness in the lives of the ancient worthies to incidents in the life of Abraham that tested and proved his faith (Heb 11:8-19). Toward the close of this period of his sojourn in Canaan, Abraham apparently returned to Hebron, where, at the age of 127 years, Sarah died (Gen 23:1, 2). By purchase from a local Hittite, Abraham came into possession of the first portion of Canaan that he could call his own €”the Cave of Machpelah and the field in which it was located €”and it was there he buried his beloved wife (vs. 3-20).
Later life and old age. With the passing of Sarah, Abraham realised that his own life might soon end. Though Isaac was nearly 40 years of age he was yet unmarried, and the patriarch felt constrained to make provision for the perpetuation of the family line concerning which the promises had been made. Accordingly, he sent his trusted servant Eliezer to Mesopotamia, where his kinsmen (Gen 22:20-24) lived, to arrange for a wife for Isaac who might be expected to understand and appreciate the covenant privileges and responsibilities (ch 24:1-9). The mission was successful, and in due time Eliezer returned to Canaan with Rebekah, a daughter of Bethuel, Abraham's nephew, a son of his brother Nahor (vs. 10-67). Love cemented the union thus arranged, and some 20 years later the first children were born (ch 25:20-26). For about 35 years after his marriage, Isaac shared the ancestral home with his father Abraham, who married again and reared several children born to him by his wife Keturah (vs. 1-4).
Prior to his death, at the age of 175 years, Abraham arranged for the transfer of all his property, with the rights and privileges appertaining to it, to Isaac as heir to the covenant promises (Gen 25:5), while to his other sons he gave substantial gifts €”consisting doubtless of cattle and herds €”and sent them away to the eastward (v 6). Ishmael and Isaac buried their father in the Cave of Machpelah, the place where Sarah had been buried some time earlier (vs. 8-10).
In spite of the frailties that are common to man, Abraham persevered in his life-long purpose to follow wherever God should lead, whether it be on the long trek from Ur to Canaan or to Mount Moriah to offer his only son, the son of the promise. Through the fires of trial, delay, and disappointment, his faith was perfected, so that he became "the Friend of God" (Jas 2:23). The high esteem in which his descendants rightfully held him eventually degenerated almost to the point where they honoured him above God. But the lustre of his faith and long life of devotion to the will of God shine forth undimmed for all generations -- Seventh-day Adventist Dictionary.