Abraham’s life, as recorded in the Bible, has a large focus on faith in God. I am going to look at 2 different incidents in his life and consider how important his faith in God seems to be to him in each. The incidents that I will examine are Genesis (Gen) 22 – where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son; and Gen 16 – when Abraham, in his attempt to get a son, sleeps with a slave girl. These incidents show a time of great faith and a time of little. Through studying the Old Testament it can be seen that Abraham was considered a great man of faith and he seemed to have a very close relationship with God.
Abraham travelled around as a nomad with his wife Sarah and they were quite well off – owning many cattle and slaves. They also lived with other family, such as Abraham’s nephew Lot. Boadt refers to Abraham as being “devoted to God’s commands” and many scholars consider him “chosen by God” (Moberly). Abraham first hears God’s voice in Gen 12, when God tells him to get up and leave -which he does, taking several family members and all of his possessions. On their travels they stop in Egypt where Abraham sells Sarah to Pharaoh to save himself, but God saves her.
Then, Abraham’s nephew – Lot – separates from him to go somewhere that he considers better. God then promises him a son, but when he doesn’t get one right away Sarah suggests that he sleeps with her slave girl, Hagar, as a son from her would belong to Sarah since the slave belongs to her. God then sets up his covenant with Abraham and seals it through circumcision, and he is promised a son. God also tells Abraham that He must destroy Sodom and Gomorrah since there is too much evil there. Abraham faithfully intercedes for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and to save Lot and his family who are living there.
God saves Lots family, telling them to escape, before He destroys the cities. Abraham is then born a son, whom he names Isaac, and is instructed by Sarah to send away Hagar and his son, which he does. In Gen 22 Abraham is then instructed to sacrifice Isaac to God, and faithfully goes to do so, but God saves him from doing so, knowing that Abraham wont hold anything back from Him. Sarah then dies and is buried before Abraham arranges for a wife to be found for Isaac. Abraham then dies at 175 years old. This investigation focuses on the faith in Abraham’s life that he had for God.
The dictionary defines faith as ‘strong, unshakeable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence’ (Oxford English Dictionary). However this definition seems inadequate when applied to the example of Abraham’s life. Abraham does have a strong unshakeable faith but it can be shown to come about because of evidence or proof – in his case it is the direct call from God. Besides, if there is no proof or evidence of any kind for something then you cannot really know about it, and if you can’t know about it you can hardly believe in it.
The Old Testament traditional meaning of faith is always applied to a person. You can only believe in something, whereas you have faith in someone, and this faith is only deep if there is a relationship with that person. When applied to God it can be shown that Abraham has faith rather than just belief since he has a personal relationship with him. This type of faith leads to many other virtues such as trust, confidence, firmness and steadfastness. Furthermore, if someone has faith in a person then they will obey them. To obey someone is the next logical step after having faith in them.
If you do not obey what someone says then you do not have faith in what they are saying or faith in them. This concept followed also applied to God – in Old Testament times if you heard God you would obey him. On the subject of Abraham and faith the New Bible Dictionary says this, “Abraham’s whole life gives evidence of a spirit of trustfulness, of a deep faith. ” For Abraham to have a deep faith he would have to have had a close personal relationship with God. The first time in Abraham’s life where he shows great faith is in Gen 12 – the call.
At this time God first speaks to him and tells him what He wants him to do as well as where He wants him to go. God tells him to go from his fathers house to somewhere God will show him, He tells him that he will receive descendants (make him a great nation), He will give him blessings and people will be affected by what Abraham does. Abraham then goes, as God had said, with family, slaves and servants and possessions. Abraham goes to Canaan and God promises it to him – so Abraham builds him an altar. This occasion in Abraham’s life has been called one of the greatest moments, if not the greatest, in his faith.
Looking at it briefly shows that God spoke and Abraham followed – it shows great faith on his part because it seems to show immediate, unquestioning obedience to God’s will. However, a closer study reveals more. What God has asked Abraham to do by saying “Go” isn’t a small thing. Abraham’s whole life is changed dramatically by this one command. What we must look at is how Abraham and his family’s life as nomads would be affected by this decision. Nomads would travel around in groups, usually families, looking after each other. They would work together, live together, educate each other, fight together and so on.
When Abraham is told to leave, he isn’t just saying goodbye to friends for a while – he is turning his back on his family. He would lose out on being part of the tribe. He would lose out on any help from them. His source for crops, cattle and generally food would be cut down considerably and he would be relying on less. Also, Abraham had much less security from an attack. Nomads would travel around in large groups for the protection that they had. Someone was less likely to attack a large group of people. However, by leaving them behind, Abraham is giving up some of his defence.
There is no one to look after him from attack. Furthermore, by leaving the rest of his tribe behind, he would have no help when it came to his and Sarah being too old. They would have no-one to look after them and care for them in old age as they would in a larger family tribe. They would also have no one to look after them if they became sick or disabled in any way. One more possible problem is that if they were to end up with a son they have turned down another source of information for his education and upbringing. So all in all, Abraham was giving up a lot by following God’s command to “Go”.
Abraham has not only effectively given up his entire past, but he is gambling his future in something that he doesn’t know. This act of trust shows great faith in God on Abraham’s behalf. The Complete Bible Handbook considers the 2 most important divine commands in Abraham’s life are the call in Gen 12 and the sacrifice in Gen 22. This source also points out that Abraham was relinquishing his past completely by leaving his nation and his family. So, a great example of Abraham’s faith is shown in Gen 12 by his leaving behind his past for a future he is uncertain of but is guided by God.
One of the situations in Abraham’s life that shows his unfaithfulness is how he ends up with his son Ishmael. This takes place in Gen 16 when Sarah, who is barren, approaches Abraham with the suggestion of using her slave Hagar to get children. Abraham then sleeps with Hagar who conceives but looks down on Sarah. This was against what God wanted for Abraham and things get out of hand. Sarah is angry with Hagar and treats her unfairly. In the end, Hagar runs away but God speaks to her and tells her to go back, since he will protect her.
Hagar then bears a son and he is named Ishmael. Now, when Sarah is mentioned in the Old Testament she is always referred to as being barren, and in the time of the Patriarchs this was seen as having God against you. The Von Rad Commentary suggests that Sarah was likely to have concluded that God had spoken and decided that she would be barren, since the gift or denial of life was God’s only to make. For women in this time there was no greater humiliation than being barren, and so when she comes to Abraham it would seem that they both fall into temptation.
Texts discovered at Mari and Nuzu, in the Middle East, suggest that the solution Sarah comes up with was a legitimate practice at the time. If a maid was given to bear a child by her owner’s husband, then that child would rightfully belong to her owner. Sarah’s proposal was completely legal according to the customs of the time, so Abraham and Sarah may have been tempted to think that this was the way in which they could receive a son. However, by this act, Abraham has gone against God’s promise that he would receive a son through Sarah and has attempted to take matters into his own hands, rather than trust in and wait for God’s timing.
This is one of the times in Abraham’s life which are pointed at when discussing his unfaithfulness or lack of faith. It seems that, when looking at this event, Faith isn’t very important to Abraham, and his only interest in life is receiving a son and carrying on the family line. Abraham’s life consists of many up and down points in “faith in God”. There are many times when Abraham shows great faith and obedience to God by following him completely. These times lead to a lot of good things for Abraham – by showing faith in God, Abraham ends up with more than he had and everything works out for the best.
However, when Abraham practices disobedience to God and shows little or no faith things end up difficult for him and he ends up in one of the low parts of his life. Abraham’s life is focussed on faith and as such is a seen as a model of “how life should be” for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike (Complete Bible Handbook). Faith in God is of high importance to Abraham’s life, although there are many times when he does disobey God, his life wouldn’t be close to what it is without the faith that he has.