Abraham, Father of the Faithful

THE NEWS MEDIA HAD a release in August 1999 about the Pope’s planned visit to the city of Ur to honor Abraham. The trip was not planned until early December, but one of Italy’s leading experts on ancient Mesopotamia announced to the media that the Pope was going to the wrong location. The release, printed in “The Guardian,” said:

“ROME—Pope John Paul’s controversial pilgrimage to visit the home of the Jewish patriarch Abraham in Iraq could be taking him to the wrong Ur, according to Giovanni Pettinato, one of Italy’s leading experts on ancient Mesopotamia.

“‘The Pope will be going to the wrong place, because Abraham has nothing to do with the Sumerian city of Ur,’ Pettinato told an Italian newspaper. He said the birthplace of Abraham was some 1,250 miles away in what today is Syria.

“The Pope’s determination to visit Ur of the Chaldees, traditionally considered the place where God first spoke to Abraham, has brought the Vatican into conflict with the United States and Britain, which fear the visit will be used to bolster Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“There are also security implications since Ur, 100 miles northwest of Basran, is in the no-fly zone.

“The trip, expected to take place early in December, forms part of a tour of key sites in the Bible story that John Paul wishes to make to mark the end of the first Christian millennium. Abraham, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, is honored for his readiness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at God’s request.

“Pettinato’s view is based on recent archeological discoveries, made by a team from Rome’s La Sapienza University, in the Syrian city of Ebla. Clay tablets refer to a city called Ur not far from Haran, where Abraham lived.

“‘It seems the obvious candidate to be the place of origin of Abraham and his family,’ Pettinato said. He believes the Biblical tradition placing Abraham in the Iraqi Ur is probably a mistake. The pastoral pursuits of Abraham’s family are difficult to reconcile with the thriving metropolis that became an imperial capital in about 2150 B.C.,’ he says.”

Several questions could be asked about this news release. One would be: “Is Pettinato correct in saying that the city of Ur in Iraq was not where Abraham dwelled?” Second, “What is so important about Abraham that the Pope wants to honor him?”

The contention created by Pettinato is not new. Several sites have been suggested by others over the years as being the site of Ur, and many of these are a great distance from Ur in Iraq—1,500 miles. The basis for his argument is mentioned on a clay tablet found in Syria of another Ur believed to be in Syria.

Our evaluation of such matters depends upon what has been written in the Bible. Terah and his three sons, Haran, Nahor, and Abram, lived in Ur of the Chaldees. (Gen. 11:28,31) It is called the land of their nativity. Chaldea, or the land of the Chaldees, is believed by historians to be equivalent to southern Iraq of today. When God called Abram to leave Ur to go to the land of Canaan, his nephew, Lot, and his father, Terah—as well as their wives—all accompanied him. They went toward Haran—a city on the Euphrates River, about 1,200 miles north of Ur. It is most likely that Terah, as senior member of the party, directed where they should go. Arriving at Haran in Syria, they dwelled there; how long is not known, except that when Terah died, God again spoke to Abram confirming his promise to him. Abram followed God’s command, and went directly to Canaan, which was their goal when they had left Ur.

Another point of argument by Pettinato is that Ur of the Chaldees was too metropolitan for raising cattle and other livestock. When Abram left Ur, no mention is made of his livestock. Upon leaving Haran there is mention. One can conclude that he raised livestock while in Haran because, indeed, the area was conducive for this purpose. The Scriptures confirm this matter when it is written: “Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran.”—Gen. 12:5

The Italian expert on Mesopotamia believes that all of Abram’s life was pastoral; whereas, when he was in Ur of the Chaldees it likely was not. Based on Biblical evidence, and the research of many competent writers, it does not appear that Pettinato is correct in saying that the Pope will visit the wrong area when he goes to Iraq in December to honor Abraham.

The second question raised by this proposed visit is: What is so important about Abraham that the Pope wants to honor him? Three major religions already honor Abraham: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He is a direct ancestor of both Jews and Arabs. His son Isaac is father of the Jews; Ishmael is father of the Arabs. Both natural descendants revere Abraham and in their religion honor his memory.

For Christians, Abraham is considered to be the father of the faithful, because through his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. God had in mind as that seed the man Jesus Christ, who would provide the ransom needed so very much by all mankind. As it is written, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:6-8) Later, the Apostle Paul shows how all footstep followers of Jesus become incorporated into Abraham’s family when he says: “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—vs. 29

The knowledge that Bible Students have about the importance of the Abrahamic promise has given them great respect for Abraham. They see his life being used to teach important and necessary lessons to Christians. For example, an allegory is given in Galatians 4:24-31, where Abraham represents God, and Sarah and Hagar—his two wives—representing covenants made by God. The freewoman, Sarah, brought forth the promised seed—Isaac—miraculously. The bondwoman brought forth Ishmael, picturing the nation of Israel under the Law. Again, in giving this allegory, Paul says: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”—vs. 28

Another reason that makes the Abrahamic promise so important is that God made his plan plain through it. Prior to that time God made promises, but their language was veiled. In the Garden of Eden, God said to the serpent (a personification of evil) in the presence of Eve, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) From this small piece of information we are told that one day, born of a woman, would come the One who would crush evil once for all.

More elaboration as to how this was to be done occurred when Abel offered up a lamb as an acceptable sacrifice to God. (Gen. 4:2) Events that occurred in the succeeding years give no evidence of God’s plan until Noah came upon the scene. By then, the earth was filled with violence by the hybrid race—seed of angels and men—causing God to plan their destruction with the great Flood. Only Noah, his wife, and three sons and their wives, were carried over into the ‘next world’ by the ark, to start life anew. But not much more information was added to reveal God’s plan. It was not until Abraham was called by God. Then it became plain that God intended to bless all the families of the earth.—Gen. 12:3

God could not have revealed this information in any plainer manner. The wonderful covenant (Gen. 15:18; 17:4-8) given to Abraham promised that one day his seed would be instrumental in blessing all mankind—none excluded! This was indeed good news; and it has remained such to our time. The Old Testament further elaborated this promise through the many writings and experiences of God’s people. Finally, the one awaited for so long came as the babe in Bethlehem. The angelic messenger spoke to poor shepherds watching their sheep in the hills of Judea announcing this great event by saying, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) The seed of Abraham who was to bless all nations had arrived.

Blessings came to Israel when Jesus began his ministry through his healing works. But these were just a sample of greater works to come. Unknown to the natural descendants of Abraham, this promised seed had to die to provide his life as a ransom for all mankind. When Jesus was eventually taken captive by his enemies and crucified, the disciples were crushed. But soon they were revived with the news of his resurrection. Jesus confirmed this miracle by revealing himself to them on a number of occasions. Finally, on the Day of Pentecost, the obedient apostles received the promised Holy Spirit, their spiritual eyes were opened, and all became clear to them.

If Israel had made sharper observations of Abraham’s life, they would have realized that God had dramatized this necessary event, using Abraham to represent himself, and Isaac to represent Jesus. God said to Abraham: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.”—Gen. 22:2,3

Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran. (Gen. 12:4) How long he was in Haran after leaving Ur of the Chaldees is not known, but it could have been several years. More than ten years elapsed when Abraham suggested to God that Eliezer of Damascus, who had been born in Abraham’s house and was the steward of his goods, be made the official heir. God made it plain that the heir had to come forth from Abraham’s own loins. When Abraham was 86 years old, Ishmael was born of Hagar, a bondwoman given to him by Sarah. Abraham now had a flesh and blood heir in Ishmael, after fifteen years of waiting. But, God did not accept Ishmael as Abraham’s heir—God wanted Sarah to be the mother. So when Abraham was one hundred years old, Sarah indeed became the mother of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Isaac was truly a miracle child!

The Bible does not give Abraham’s age when he was told to take Isaac up to Mount Moriah, but we estimate it was when Isaac was 18 years old, or older. Some of this reasoning comes from Genesis 22:5,6, where it tells of Abraham taking two young men servants to carry the wood and other supplies to Moriah. When they reached the bottom of the mountain, Abraham told these young men to wait for him and Isaac to return while they went alone further up the mountain. Abraham laid the wood on Isaac to carry the rest of the way, and he would not have been able to do this if he were a mere child.

After waiting more than twenty-five years for his true heir, God now—about 18 years later—asked Abraham to sacrifice this son. We may question what was going through Abraham’s mind as God approached him with this request. In Genesis 22 we note Abraham’s prompt obedience, but nothing else is revealed to us. It is not until the Apostle Paul told of this same incident in Hebrews 11:17-19, where we learn that Abraham had perfect confidence that Isaac would be raised from the dead.

Abel had known that a lamb was an acceptable offering to God. Likewise, young Isaac knew. As he and Abraham went up the mountain, Isaac asked his father, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7) Abraham’s answer was prophetic. He said to Isaac: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” (vs. 8.) Many years later God did, indeed, provide that Lamb, even as John the Baptist announced to all upon seeing Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Up to Abraham’s day, some knew that a sacrifice was necessary to restore mankind. In the drama that unfolded with Abraham and Isaac, it became known that this sacrifice would be a most beloved son.

When Abraham revealed to Isaac that he was to be sacrificed, Isaac did not try to overpower his aged father, but yielded completely. So also, Jesus submitted to his Father completely. But it was not necessary to slay Isaac to foreshadow Jesus’ death. God stayed Abraham’s hand as he was about to plunge the knife into Isaac. God provided a ram caught in a thicket to be sacrificed instead.

Abraham is worthy of honor. How will the Pope honor him? We must wait to see. We know how God will honor him, because he will be used as an important figure in God’s kingdom. Jesus alluded to this when commenting on the great faith displayed by the Roman Centurion. He said: “Verily I say unto you, I have not seen so great faith, no not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of [controlled by] heaven.”—Matt. 8:10,11

Abraham’s trial of faith ended with his death. The many references that we find of his faith indicate that he was indeed faithful, and has given us an example to emulate. May we be as faithful as Abraham was.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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