Every nation has its heroes—men and women who serve as rallying points for people’s sense of identity and destiny. European countries have their kings and queens and generals. America has George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
National heroes are legendary in more than one sense. Not only is their actual history revered but legends grow up around them. For example, it is said that our well-loved Pope Francis leaves the Vatican at night to visit the poor.
Ancient Israel also had her heroes. Three of them were Abraham, Moses and King David. All three lived keenly in the memory of the people because of their central roles in Israel’s identity and history. All three were the objects of legends that underscored their greatness.
Chapters 12-50 of Genesis tell the stories of the founding fathers and mothers of Israel: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Joseph.
Abraham, our father in the faith
Because Abraham lived about a thousand years before any known documents were written about him, we must give generous allowance for legends that grew up around this historical figure. The authors of Getting to Know the Bible write: “The legends that grew up around Abraham and are preserved in the Bible add to the core factual accounts by making clear what kind of a man Abraham was and how God gave him a foundational role in salvation history”
Abraham lived around 1800 B.C. He was born in the ancient city of Ur, now in the southeast of modern Iraq.
The one thing we are called to believe about Abraham is that he was a man of great faith in the God who revealed himself to him. “Of all God’s people, Abraham had the least tangible evidence to believe that God would be faithful to his promises yet no one adhered to God more tenaciously than he did. Not only was Abraham the first to believe in the true God; the intensity of his faith placed him first among all believers” (ibid p. 28).
Three great religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—hold Abraham up as their father in the faith.
In the rest of this article, I will focus on some of the key events in the Abraham story (chs 12-25). As you will see, Abraham does not become a man of great
faith overnight. His faith in God’s promise to make him the father of a great nation is tested many times.
The call of Abraham (12:1-14).
Until Genesis 17,Abraham and Sarah have been called Abram and Sarai.
Out of the blue, God calls to Abram, a man steeped in beliefs about many gods. This new God tells Abram to leave behind all that is familiar to him and to go to some unknown land (Canaan—which will become known as the Promised Land). God makes a threefold promise to Abram: he will receive a land he can call his own and become the father of a great nation, and his ancestors will become a blessing to all the communities of the earth—a promise that will be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus who will die for all people and seek to bring all people under the mantle of God’s love.
Abram’s faith response to God.
When God calls to Abram, he could have said: “Which God are you?” or “Sorry, God, at 75 years of age, Sarai and I have just retired and have no interest in uprooting our lives and going to some unknown land.” But amazingly Abram doesn’t say that.
Genesis 12:4 tells: “Abram went as God had directed him.” With that and several more faith responses,Abram becomes the model believer for both Jews and Christians—the model of obedient faith (Heb 11:8-12). But as we stated above, Abram’s faith in God is tested many times.
The first test to keeping faith in this new God comes when a famine hits Abram’s new location. So Abram has to get the first bus to Egypt in search of food (see 12:10-20). In Egypt, Abram almost gets into big trouble for letting on that his beautiful wife is his sister.