the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Ab´raham (father of a multitude), the founder of the Hebrew nation. Up to Genesis 17:4-5, he is uniformly called Abram (father of elevation, or high father); and this was his original name; but the extended form, which it always afterwards bears, was given to make it significant of the promise of a numerous posterity which was at the same time made to him.
Abraham was a native of Chaldea, and descended, through Heber, in the ninth generation, from Shem the son of Noah. His father was Terah, who had two other sons, Nahor and Haran. Haran died prematurely 'before his father,' leaving a son Lot, and two daughters, Milcah and Iscah. Lot attached himself to his uncle Abraham; Milcah became the wife of her uncle Nahor; and Iscah, who was also called Sarai, became the wife of Abraham (Genesis 9:26-29) [SARAH].
Abraham was born A.M. 2008, B.C. 1996 (Hales, A.M. 3258, B.C. 2153), in 'Ur of the Chaldees' (Genesis 11:28).
Although he is, by way of eminence, named first, it appears probable that he was the youngest of Terah's sons, and born by a second wife, when his father was 130 years old. Terah was seventy years old when the eldest son was born (Genesis 11:32; Genesis 12:4; Genesis 20:12); and that eldest son appears to have been Haran, from the fact that his brothers married his daughters, and that his daughter Sarai was only ten years younger than his brother Abraham (Genesis 17:17). Abraham was 60 years old when the family quitted their native city of Ur, and went and abode in Charran. The reason for this movement does not appear in the Old Testament; but it is mentioned in Acts 7:2-4 : 'The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was (at Ur of the Chaldees) in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Depart from thy land, and from thy kindred, and come hither to a land which Iswill shew thee. Then departing from the land of the Chaldees, he dwelt in Charran.' This first call is not recorded, but only implied in Genesis 12, and it is distinguished by several pointed circumstances from the second, which alone is there mentioned. Accordingly Abraham departed, and his family, including his aged father, removed with him. They proceeded not at once to the land of Canaan, but they came to Charran, and tarried at that convenient station for fifteen years, until Terah died, at the age of 205 years. Being free from his filial duties, Abraham, now 75 years of age, received a second and more pointed call to pursue his destination: 'Depart from thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land which I will shew thee' (Genesis 12:1). This second call required the patriarch to isolate himself, not only from his country, but from his family. He however took with him his nephew Lot, whom, having no children of his own, he appears to have regarded as his heir, and then went forth 'not knowing whither he went' (Hebrews 11:8), but trusting implicitly to the Divine guidance.
When Abraham arrived in the land of Canaan, he found it occupied by the Canaanites in a large number of small independent communities, which cultivated the districts around their several towns. The country was however but thinly peopled; and, as in the more recent times of its depopulation, it afforded ample pasture-ground for the wandering pastors. In their eyes Abraham must have appeared one of that class. In Mesopotamia, though the family had been pastoral, they had dwelt in towns and houses, and had sent out their flocks and herds under the care of shepherds. But the migratory life to which Abraham had now been called, compelled him to take to the tent-dwelling form of pastoral life. The rich pastures in that part of the country tempted Abraham to form his first encampment in the vale of Moreh, which lies between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. Here the strong faith which had brought the childless man thus far from his home was rewarded by the grand promise from God:—'I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed' (Genesis 12:2-3). It was further promised that to his posterity should be given the rich heritage of that beautiful country into which he had come (Genesis 12:7). The implied condition on his part was, that he should publicly profess the worship of the true God, and accordingly 'he built there an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.' He soon after removed to the district between Bethel and Ai, where he also built an altar to that 'Jehovah' whom the world was then hastening to forget. His farther removals tended southward, until at length a famine in Palestine compelled him to withdraw into Egypt, where corn abounded. Here his apprehension that the beauty of his wife Sarai might bring him into danger with the dusky Egyptians, overcame his faith and rectitude, and he gave out that she was his sister. As he had feared, the beauty of the fair stranger excited the admiration of the Egyptians, and at length reached the ears of the king, who forthwith exercised his regal right of calling her to his harem, and to this Abraham, appearing as only her brother, could offer no resistance. As, however, the king had no intention to act harshly in the exercise of his privilege, he loaded Abraham with valuable gifts, suited to his condition, consisting chiefly of slaves and cattle. These presents could not have been refused by him without an insult which, under all the circumstances, the king did not deserve. A grievous disease inflicted on Pharaoh and his household relieved Sarai from her danger, by revealing to the king that she was a married woman; on which he sent for Abraham, and, after rebuking him for his conduct, restored his wife to him, and recommended him to withdraw from the country. He accordingly returned to the land of Canaan, much richer than when he left it 'in cattle, in silver, and in gold' (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:2).
Lot also had much increased his possessions: and soon after their return to their previous station near Bethel, the disputes between their respective shepherds about water and pasturage soon taught then: that they had better separate. The recent promise of posterity to Abraham himself, although his wife had been accounted barren, probably tended also in some degree to weaken the tie by which the uncle and nephew had hitherto been united. The subject was broached by Abraham, who generously conceded to Lot the choice of pasture-grounds. Lot chose the well-watered plain in which Sodom and other towns were situated, and removed thither [LOT], Immediately afterwards the patriarch was cheered and encouraged by a more distinct and formal reiteration of the promises which had been previously made to him, of the occupation of the land in which he lived by a posterity numerous as the dust. Not long after, he removed to the pleasant valley of Mamre, in the neighborhood of Hebron (then called Arba), and pitched his tent under a terebinth tree (Genesis 13).
It appears that fourteen years before this time the south and east of Palestine had been invaded by a king called Chedorlaomer, from beyond the Euphrates, who brought several of the small disunited states of those quarters under tribute. Among them were the five cities of the Plain of Sodom, to which Lot had withdrawn. This burden was borne impatiently by these states, and they at length withheld their tribute. This brought upon them a ravaging visitation from Chedorlaomer and four other (perhaps tributary) kings, who scoured the whole country east of the Jordan, and ended by defeating the kings of the plain, plundering their towns, and carrying the people away as slaves. Lot was among the sufferers. When this came to the ears of Abraham, he immediately armed, such of his slaves as were fit for war, in number 318, and being joined by the friendly Amoritish chiefs, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, pursued the retiring invaders. They were overtaken near the springs of the Jordan; and their camp being attacked on opposite sides by night, they were thrown into disorder, and fled. Abraham and his men pursued them as far as the neighborhood of Damascus, and then returned with all the men and goods which had been taken away. When the victors had reached 'the king's dale' on their return, they were met by several of the native princes, among whom was Melchizedek, king of Salem, which is generally supposed to have been Jerusalem. He was one of the few native princes, if not the only one, who retained the knowledge and worship of 'the Most High God,' whom Abraham served. This circumstance created a peculiar relation between the king and the patriarch, which the former recognized by bringing forth 'bread and wine,' and probably other refreshments to Abraham, and which the latter acknowledged by presenting to Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils. By strict right, founded on the war usages which still subsist in Arabia, the recovered goods became the property of Abraham, and not of those to whom they originally belonged. This was acknowledged by the king of Sodom, who met the victors in the valley near Salem. He said, 'Give me the persons, and keep the goods to thyself.' But with becoming pride and disinterestedness Abraham answered, 'I have lifted up mine hand [i.e.I have sworn] unto Jehovah, the most high God, that I will not take from a thread even to a sandal-thong, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich' (Genesis 14).
Soon after his return to Mamre the faith of Abraham was rewarded and encouraged, not only by a more distinct and detailed repetition of the promises formerly made to him, but by the confirmation of a solemn covenant contracted, as nearly as might be, 'after the manner of men' [COVENANTS] between him and God. It was now that he first understood that his promised posterity were to grow up into a nation under foreign bondage; and that, in 400 years after (or, strictly, 405 years, counting from the birth of Isaac to the Exodus), they should come forth from that bondage as a nation, to take possession of the land in which he sojourned (Genesis 15).
After ten years' residence in Canaan (B.C. 1913), Sarai, being then 75 years old, and having long been accounted barren, chose to put her own interpretation upon the promised blessing of a progeny to Abraham, and persuaded him to take her woman slave Hagar, an Egyptian, as a secondary or concubine wife, with the view that whatever child might proceed from this union should be accounted her own [HAGAR]. The son who was born to Abraham by Hagar, and who received the name of Ishmael [ISHMAEL], was accordingly brought up as the heir of his father and of the promises (Genesis 16). Thirteen years after (B.C. 1900), when Abraham was 99 years old, he was favored with still more explicit declarations of the Divine purposes. He was reminded that the promise to him was that he should be the father of many nations; and to indicate this intention his name was now changed (as before described) from Abram to Abraham. The Divine Being then solemnly renewed the covenant to be a God to him and to the race that should spring from him; and in token of that covenant directed that he and his should receive in their flesh the sign of circumcision [CIRCUMCISION]. Abundant blessings were promised to Ishmael; but it was then first announced, in distinct terms, that the heir of the special promises was not yet born, and that the barren Sarai, then 90 years old, should twelve months thence be his mother. Then also her name was changed from Sarai to Sarah (the princess); and to commemorate the laughter with which the prostrate patriarch received such strange tidings, it was directed that the name of Isaac (laughing) should be given to the future child. The very same day, in obedience to the Divine ordinance, Abraham himself, his son Ishmael, and his house-born and purchased slaves were all circumcised (Genesis 17).
Three months after this, as Abraham sat in his tent door during the heat of the day, he saw three travelers approaching, and hastened to meet them, and hospitably pressed upon them refreshment and rest. They assented, and under the shade of a terebinth tree partook of the abundant fare which the patriarch and his wife provided. From the manner in which one of the strangers spoke, Abraham soon gathered that his visitants were no other than the Lord himself and two attendant angels in human form. The promise of a son by Sarah was renewed: and when Sarah herself, who overheard this within the tent, laughed inwardly at the tidings, which, on account of her great age, she at first disbelieved, she incurred the striking rebuke, 'Is anything too hard for Jehovah?' The strangers then addressed themselves to their journey, and Abraham walked some way with them. The two angels went forward in the direction direction of Sodom, while the Lord made known to him that, for their enormous iniquities, Sodom and the other 'cities of the plain' were about to be made signal monuments of his wrath and of his moral government. Moved by compassion and by remembrance of Lot, the patriarch ventured, reverently but perseveringly, to intercede for the doomed Sodom; and at length obtained a promise that, if but ten righteous men were found therein, the whole city should be saved for their sake. Early the next morning Abraham arose to ascertain the result of this concession: and when he looked towards Sodom, the smoke of its destruction, rising 'like the smoke of a furnace,' made known to him its terrible overthrow [SODOM]. Almost immediately after, Abraham removed into the territories of Abimelech, king of Gerar, where, by a most extraordinary infatuation and lapse of faith, he allowed himself to stoop to the same prevarication in denying his wife, which, twenty-three years before, had occasioned him so much trouble in Egypt [ABIMELECH].
The same year Sarah gave birth to the long-promised son; and, according to previous direction, the name of Isaac was given to him [ISAAC]. This greatly altered the position of Ishmael, and appears to have created much ill-feeling both on his part and that of his mother towards the child; which was in some way manifested so pointedly, on occasion of the festivities which attended the weaning, that the wrath of Sarah was awakened, and she insisted that both Hagar and her son should be sent away. This was a very hard matter to a loving father; and Abraham was greatly distressed; but being apprised in a dream that this demand was in accordance with the Divine intentions respecting both Ishmael and Isaac, he, with his habitual uncompromising obedience, hastened them away early in the morning, with provision for the journey. Their adventures belong to the article Hagar.
When Isaac was about 25 years old (B.C. 1872) it pleased God to subject the faith of Abraham to a severer trial than it had yet sustained, or than has ever fallen to the lot of any other mortal man. He was commanded to go into the mountainous country of Moriah (probably where the temple afterwards stood), and there offer up in sacrifice the son of his affection, and the heir of so many hopes and promises, which his death must nullify. But Abraham's 'faith shrunk not, assured that what God had promised he would certainly perform, and that he was able to restore Isaac to him even from the dead' (Hebrews 11:17-19), and he rendered a ready, however painful, obedience. Assisted by two of his servants, he prepared wood suitable for the purpose, and without delay set out upon his melancholy journey. On the third day he descried the appointed place; and informing his attendants that he and his son would go some distance farther to worship, and then return, he proceeded to the spot. To the touching question of his son respecting the victim to be offered, the patriarch replied by expressing his faith that God himself would provide the sacrifice; and probably he availed himself of this opportunity of acquainting him with the Divine command. Isaac submitted patiently to be bound and laid out as a victim on the wood of the altar, and would most certainly have been slain by his father's up-lifted hand, had not the angel of Jehovah interposed at the critical moment to arrest the fatal stroke. A ram which had become entangled in a thicket was seized and offered; and a name was given to the place (Jehovah-Jireh—'the Lord will provide') alluding to the believing answer which Abraham had given to his son's inquiry respecting the victim. The promises before made to Abraham were again confirmed in the most solemn manner (comp. Hebrews 6:13; Hebrews 6:17). The father and son then rejoined their servants, and returned rejoicing to Beersheba (Genesis 23:19).
Eight years after (B.C. 1860) Sarah died at the age of 120 years, being then at or near Hebron. This loss first taught Abraham the necessity of acquiring possession of a family sepulchre in the land of his sojourning. His choice fell on the cave of Machpelah [MACHPELAH], and after a striking negotiation with the owner in the gate of Hebron, he purchased it, and had it legally secured to him. This was the only possession he ever had in the Land of Promise (Genesis 23). The next care of Abraham was to provide a suitable wife for his son Isaac. It has always been the practice among pastoral tribes to keep up the family ties by intermarriages of blood-relations: and now Abraham had a further inducement in the desire to maintain the purity of the separated race from foreign and idolatrous connections. He therefore sent his aged and confidential steward Eliezer, under the bond of a solemn oath to discharge his mission faithfully, to renew the intercourse between his family and that of his brother Nahor, whom he had left behind in Charran. He prospered in his important mission [ISAAC], and in due time returned, bringing with him Rebekah, the daughter of Nahor's son Bethuel, who became the wife of Isaac, and was installed as chief lady of the camp, in the separate tent which Sarah had occupied (Genesis 24). Sometime after Abraham himself took a wife named Keturah, by whom he had several children. These, together with Ishmael, seem to have been portioned off by their father in his lifetime, and sent into the east and south-east, that there might be no danger of their interference with Isaac, the divinely appointed heir. There was time for this: for Abraham lived to the age of 175 years, 100 of which he had spent in the land of Canaan. He died in B.C. 1822 (Hales, 1978), and was buried by his two eldest sons in the family sepulchre which he had purchased of the Hittites (Genesis 25:1-10).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Abraham'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/abraham.html.