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Abraham and Sarah

   By Art Ferdig Page 1 2 Good News April, 1980

The lives of this remarkable man and woman began 352 years after the flood — about 251 years after the nations were scattered from Babel.

Abraham (originally known as Abram) was the son of Terah. He was born in the city of Ur, in Chaldea (c. 2017 B.C.), the ninth generation of Shem, son of Noah. Abram's birth occurred only two years after Noah's death.


Out of idolatry

As was common in Chaldea, Terah and his family were steeped in idolatry. Worship of the one true God had been obscured by a religion spawned of human imagination — adoration of dumb idols, service to the sun, moon and stars, immoral fertility rites and other heathen practices, which were continued this side of the flood by the family of Cush, Noah's grandson. The religious and political headquarters of the day was Babylon (founded by Nimrod), a hotbed of corruption and immorality.

But tradition implies that Abram was a well-educated man, who had great understanding and insight into spiritual things. This prompted him to reason against other Chaldean wise men that there must be only one true God — a Creator of all life (Josephus, Ant., Bk. I, Ch. VII). The more he expounded his rational arguments, the more angry his opponents became, until they actually threatened his life.

Terah finally had the good sense to move out of Ur and head south A toward Canaan (Gen. 11:31). Abram, his wife Sarai (a half sister), his orphan nephew Lot and their servants took all they owned and left with Terah for a city called Haran. They must have made a sizable caravan, because they were evidently a wealthy family with many servants (Gen. 14:14).

They reestablished themselves in Haran, and lived there until Terah died at the age of 205. Abram, according to Josephus, continued his studying and teaching and earned himself a reputation for being a just and righteous man, as well as a skilled scientist.


Called of God

After Terah's death, God spoke directly to Abram — without doubt a memorable and frightening occasion. But it began a relationship — and a friendship — that was to last until Abram died.

God asked Abram to leave Haran and his relatives and go to a land farther south. He promised to make Abram a great nation, through which all the families of the earth would be blessed (speaking prophetically of the birth of Christ through the line of Abraham).

So, at the age of 75, without giving God any arguments or excuses, Abram moved again (Gen. 12:4). He took Sarai, Lot, several hundred servants and all his possessions and left for Canaan. This was an even greater procession than before.

In Canaan, God not only spoke to Abram, but actually appeared to him, promising that someday his descendants would own the very land where he now stood. Abram built an altar there and worshiped.

They set up camp at a nearby mountain and built another altar. But because of a famine in the area, they were unable to buy sufficient food for their household and servants and decided to go farther south to Egypt (Gen. 12:10).


"little white lie"

Abram and his troop evidently lived in Egypt for several months. Josephus says he instructed Egyptian scholars in science and actually introduced them to arithmetic. The Bible, however, records a less favorable incident — Abram's and Sarai's calculated deception of the pharaoh.

It seems that Sarai was a strikingly beautiful woman. She probably had lighter skin than the women of Egypt, a lovely complexion and was possibly even a blonde — a prize for any king's harem. (Even today in parts of the Arab world it is considered especially good luck to see or touch a blonde woman)

Pharaoh's princes were so overwhelmed by Sarai's beauty and manner that they recommended he take her for a wife. Anticipating such a problem, Abram and Sarai agreed they should claim she was his sister and not his wife, for they feared that Sarai would be taken away by force and Abram killed.

When the pharaoh saw Sarai, being told she was Abram's sister (she really was his half-sister), he wanted her immediately. He gave Abram a small fortune in gifts — sheep, oxen, asses, camels, men and women servants — and took Sarai into his house. At 66, she must have been a well-preserved beauty.

But while Sarai was being prepared for her evening with the pharaoh, God struck him with sickness and told him not to lay a hand on her, for she was Abram's wife.

At that, the pharaoh called Abram and rebuked him for not telling the truth. He then gave Sarai back and sent them away, embarrassed and perturbed over the incident. He evidently didn't recall his gifts, however, for Abram went back to Canaan richer than before (Gen. 13:1-2).

In fact, Abram and Lot both had so many flocks now that their herdsmen were arguing over pasture. Abram suggested they split up and gave Lot his choice of territory. He chose the plain of Jordan, and Abram remained in Canaan. But God again told him that eventually he would possess all the land in the area, even the part Lot had taken.


Rescuing Lot

A remarkable chapter in Abram's life followed. Sodom and Gomorrah were beaten in battle by an alliance of four Assyrian kings. Lot helped fight against them, but he and his household were captured, to be taken with their possessions into Assyria as slaves (Gen. 14:12).

When Abram heard the bad news, he armed 318 of his male servants, pursued and defeated the kings and rescued Lot and all others who were captive. He also recovered all the stolen possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Upon Abram's return, one called Melchizedek, king of Salem (or Peace), met him and provided a meal of bread and wine. This Melchizedek, also called "priest of the most high God," blessed Abram and the most high God (God the Father) and then received of Abram a 10th of all the booty he had recovered from the battle. Melchizedek was undoubtedly a human manifestation of the very person and priestly office of the Son of God, the One who later became Jesus Christ (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:21).

Melchizedek had no recorded genealogy (Heb. 7:3), for He was a member of the Godhead. The same God (Yahweh to the Hebrews) who was present at creation, who appeared to him in Canaan, now revealed to Abram His royal priesthood (prophetic of the resurrected Christ).

After paying the tithe to Melchizedek and restoring Lot's possessions, Abram returned the remainder of the spoils to the king of Sodom. He refused to take anything for himself, though it was lawful for him to keep it all. He asked only to receive "what the young men had already eaten," and requested a fair share to be given to three allies who has joined him in battle.


God promises a male heir

One afternoon God came to Abram in a vision and promised him a son of his own, for Sarai was barren and Abram had no children. This was good news. Abram was actually beginning to think the steward of his household, Eliezer of Damascus might end up being his only rightful heirs as Eliezer was the first male child born in his house.

But God told Abram the heir would be his own child. And again, He promised him descendants without number, as well as possession of all the surrounding land.

Abram believed God, but asked Him for a sign. God obliged. He instructed Abram to prepare several animals for a burnt offering, but to place their carcasses on the ground without fire.

Abram did as he was told, guarding the flesh from scavenger birds until sundown. Suddenly he fell into a deep sleep, and God showed him in Vision what would happen to his descendants during a 400-year period following his death (a prophecy that included Israel's slavery in Egypt and future conquest of the "promised land"). But God told Abram he would live to a ripe old age and die in peace (Gen. 15:13-15).

After the sun had completely set and it was dark, Abram watched, wide‑eyed, as God consumed the animal flesh with a miracle of smoke and fire — a sign of His promise.


What an opportunity he [Abraham] had, getting to know God as a friend and companion, face to face.
We might have a tendency to envy that relationship,
but would we have displayed the same humility as well as the attendant character
to withstand the same trials and tests?


Abram, of course, later recounted all this to Sarai — the promise of a legal heir, their family growing into a nation of people and land from the Nile to the Euphrates! Sarai was happy about everything except that she was barren. How could she, now about 76 years old, have a son?