Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are collectively referred to as Abrahamic religions. They all trace back to one man, Abraham. All of these religions worship the same god, the god of Abraham. Judaism refers to him as Yahweh. Christianity refers to him as Jehovah or just God, although because of the magic of the Trinity, Jesus is also considered God. Finally, Islam simply refers to him as God (or Allah, in Arabic). This seems to be the beginning of monotheism in the old testament. His story will be broken into several sections. The first is his origins, and we will end with his death and wrap up the implications of his story and how they influenced the three religions. SPOILERS: Abraham starts out Abram, and changes later. Stay tuned.
The Story Of Abraham
Sometime after the Tower fiasco, Terah had three sons; Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran died young, and the Bible specially says Nahor married Haran’s daughter, so we get that little burst of incest out of the way. Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot (Haran’s son) and moved to Harran.
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And 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 him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Genesis 12:1-3 (KJV)
Abram is told he is “the chosen one.” He takes Lot and moves into Canaan. There, God appears and tells Abram his offspring will be given the land of Canaan (in verse 7). Immediately, (in verse 9, after God told him he was literally in the land God was giving his descendants) he continues moving on. There was a great famine, so he was going to Egypt.
This is where it gets weird.
And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
Genesis 12:11-13 (KJV)
Abram tells his wife Sarai, “You are smoking hot. Those dirty Egyptians are going to kill me so they can bang you. If anyone asks, just tell them you are my sister. That way they won’t kill me.”
He was right, the princes of Egypt immediately approach Sarai. They were taken to live with the Pharaoh! The Bible clearly states the were given cattle and servants and treated, well, like royalty. Unfortunately for Pharaoh, God punished him and his house with “great plagues.” Once they realized what had happened, they were furious at Abram.
And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
Genesis 12:18-20 (KJV)
Now, God sent plagues to Egypt (which is foreshadowing…we’ll get there) to punish the royal house for something significant, right? It would be fair to say Abram knowingly let his wife have sex with at least one Prince because of his lies. It’s also important to note that God punished the Egyptians FOR ABRAM’S SINS. Dick move. Then, when Abram leaves, it is noted he is wealthy. God’s chosen people getting thrown out of Egypt and taking a bunch of their stuff is also foreshadowing…well get there.
In fact, when they (Abram and Lot) returned to Canaan, they had so much livestock they could no longer live near one another. Abram told Lot to chose either Canaan or Jordan. Lot chose Jordan and the Bible drops a spoiler by saying Sodom is wicked.
Abram stays in Canaan and God appears (for a second time) and tells him (for the second time) that all these lands will be his offspring, and that his offspring will be numbered like the dust.
Let the violence begin!
In Genesis 14, there is a war between several kings. A summary of this can be found here. The important takeaway is that Sodom and Gammorah are ransacked, and Lot and his family are captured and taken away.
“When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.”
Genesis 14:14-16 (KJV)
Let’s address this. The army in question was the combined army of four kingdoms. They had defeated the combined army of five kingdoms, and ransacked two cities. This is a large, formidable army was routed and pursued by 318 people. After this miraculous victory, his commandos returned with the captives and all the spoils. Abram is met in the Valley of Shaveh by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
Genesis 14:18-20 (KJV)
Once again, Abram is blessed. (It never stops for this guy). The King of Sodom offers him everything (except the persons) he recovered as a reward. This is not a small thing, as the Bible said everything in Sodom was taken. He was literally offering Abram everything, which would have destroyed Sodom, as the people would have starved to death. Abram refuses, saying…
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’
Genesis 14:22 (KJV)
This is where it gets weird, part 2.
Once this episode is over, God, well, you know. Abram is blessed (for the third time) and is told he will have a son. He is then told his descendants will be as many as there are stars! So, next time someone tells you God is returning soon, just remind them that God promised that Abram would have 70 billion trillion (70×1022) descendants! We’ve got plenty of time left. The God tells him to do something gruesome.
And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
Genesis 15:9-18 (KJV)
He told Abram to take five different animals, and cut all the mammals in half. That night, he fell into a trance and had a vision. In this vision, he sees his descendants not in the land promised by God, but in captivity for 400 years. Then they take the land promised…then it’s gone again. This is the covenant between God’s chosen (later to be the Jewish religion/nation of Israel) and God. The Jews were promised all the land from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates river in Iraqi. They have never had political control over this area. They have lived over this region, but they have also lived all over the world. The Kingdom of Israel only existed for a few hundred years, but was never significant in size or influence. Even the promise refers to hundreds of years of oppression. As far as divine promises go, this one is pretty lousy.
This act of killing and cutting the animals in half was the signs of a covenant. The bizarre blood rituals of the ancient middle east are as interesting as they are unusual. For more reading, check out these links here & here .
God makes an empty promise to Abram. His children will rule the middle east, except they will be in captivity for hundreds of years. God punishes someone (the Egyptians) for another’s sins (Abram). We have a fairy tale battle, and a gruesome, bizarre blood sacrifice to seal the story up. The heroes of this story lie and commit incest. Don’t fret, it goes downhill from here.
Up next, here come the kids!
Cartoon Images provided by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Painting is public domain