This is part one of an overview of the story of Abraham. This is will look over Genesis 12-18.
After the creation, fall, flood, and scattering from Babel in Genesis chapters 1-11, we are introduced to Abram (later Abraham) when he is 75. We aren’t given much info about his history, just that he descends from Noah’s son Shem and his father is Terah. Abram has two (likely older) brothers Haran and Nahor, and a half-sister whom he marries named Sarai (later Sarah) who is 10 years younger than him, and they all live in Ur of the Chaldeans. His brother Haran dies and leaves behind two daughters Milcah and Iscah, and a son named Lot. Milcah marries Nahor who is her uncle, and Lot goes to live with Abram and his wife. Terah moves from Ur of the Chaldeans after Haran’s death along with Abram, Sarai, and Lot toward Canaan but settles in the region of Haran (Paddan-Aram). There Terah dies at 205 when Abram was 75 (Terah was 130 when Abram was born).
In Chapter 12 Abram is called by God to continue to Canaan (where his father was going), and God makes a promise to bless Abram and his descendants with this land and bless the nations through him. Abram (75 years old) moves to Canaan the year his father dies, and takes Lot and Sarai his wife with him, along with the servants and livestock they inherited from their fathers Terah and Haran. He first settled in Shechem at the oak of Moreh and built an altar to God. Then went south to an area between Bethel (Luz) and Ai and built another altar. He then went further south toward the Negev, but then there was a famine so he went to Egypt for relief. When he got there he told Sarah to lie and say she was not his wife but only his sister, because he was afraid they would kill him and take his wife. Some Egyptians inquired about her and because of his lie they took Sarai to the Pharaoh and he paid Abram in gifts or servants and livestock to have her. However, plagues came against the Pharaoh’s house and he found out she was a wife and gave her back to Abram. Pharaoh sent Abram away for lying and nearly getting him in moral (divine) trouble.
Comment: Ancient Egyptians along with many other ancient cultures had moral laws similar to the ones in the Torah, like laws against adultery and murder. From a biblical perspective, these laws were passed on through the Noahide covenant, since human capital punishment is introduced in Genesis 9 when Noah gets off Ark. It seems the Egyptians were more conscious of committing adultery than murder since it was suspected they would kill Abram and take his wife, rather than just taking her and committing adultery. If he is dead she is no longer his wife and therefore it is not adultery to sleep with her. However, God already promised to make Abram the father of many nations so, he really had nothing to worry about because God would have to keep him alive in order to keep the promise.
In Chapter 13, Abram and co return to the Negev (in Canaan) with all the new servants and livestock he received in Egypt and he was very wealthy. They then went back to Bethel (Luz) and Ai where he made his 2nd altar in Canaan. However the land couldn’t support Abraham and Lot so they separated and Lot went east of the Jordan and then south to Zoar, near Sodom and Gomorrah. Meanwhile, God promised Abram that the land of Canaan would all belong to his descendants and they would be as numerous as the sands on the shore. So Abram moved south toward Hebron, near the oaks of Mamre, and built another altar.
In Chapter 14, it’s the 14th year of the reign of King Chedorlaomer of Elam, and a war breaks out between Chedorlaomer and his confederacy in the north, and some rebels in the south. On his team were: King Amraphel of Shinar (Babylon), King Arioch of Ellasar, and King Tidal of Goiim. They were against the southern rebel kingdoms of King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (also called Zoar). It was 4 Kings in the north vs 5 rebel kings in the south who had resisted paying tribute to Chedorlaomer for a year. The northern Kings fought their way down south defeating many tribes along the way like the Rephaites at Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzites at Ham, the Emites at Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites at Mount Seir, all the way to El-Paran. They also took down the Amalekites in En-mishpat (Kadesh), and the Amorites in Hazazon-tamar. Then they went south of the Dead Sea to fight against the southern kings and defeated them. They took plunder and hostages from Sodom and Gomorrah including Lot (Abram’s nephew). One of Lot’s servants escaped to tell Abram, and Abram teamed up with three Amorite allies, Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, along with 318 men to rescue Lot. Abram’s team attacked Chedorlaomer’s army at night and chased them as far north as Damascus and successfully rescued Lot and the others from captivity along with all the goods and hostages. He celebrated with God’s High Priest Melchizedek, the King of Salem, with a feast and he blessed Abram. Abram then gave 10% of all his spoils to Melchizedek. The King of Sodom offer to let Abram keep the goods he retrieved, but Abram didn’t want to be indebted to him, so he rejected the offer and requested that he gives his Amorite allies their fair share.
In Chapter 15, Abram cries out to God that the blessings and protection don’t do him any good if he doesn’t have a descendant. He complains that Eliezer of Damascus a servant will be his heir. God promises that he will have a son and will be the father of many nations and have descendants as numerous as the stars and that the Land of Canaan will belong to his descendants. Abram believed and ask God for confirmation of the promise and God had Abram do a ceremonial sacrifice of a heifer, a female goat, and a ram, all 3 years old, as well as 2 birds (a pigeon and turtle dove). Abram killed them and laid them out and that night God showed a sign of a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passing between the bodies of the animals. God prophesied to Abram that his promised seed (Isaac) and his descendants would endure persecution (in Canaan) and enslavement (in Egypt) for 400 years and then God will punish their slave owners and delivery them. Then four generations after the birth of their nation, God will give them the Land of Canaan. Then God defines the borders of the land the Israelites will receive, from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates River. This land was originally occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.
Chapter 16 takes place 10 years after God established the covenant with Abram. Abram presumably still lives near the oaks of Mamre near Hebron, and he is now 85 and Sarai is 75. They still don’t have any children, so Sarai gets desperate. Sarai pressures her maidservant Hagar, whom they got from the Pharaoh when Abram lied and sold Sarai to him, to sleep with Abram, and he gets her pregnant. Hagar flaunts her pregnancy and it irritates Sarai so much that she abuses Hagar. Hagar then runs her away into the wilderness crying and God appears to her and comforts her near a spring in the wilderness. God tells her to return to her mistress and he will bless her with many descendants, and her son will be called Ishmael which means ‘God hears’ because God heard her crying in the wilderness. He prophesied that Ishmael will be like a wild and untamed donkey, and will have hostility with his relatives. Hagar names the spring Beer-lahai-roi, which means “well of the Living One who sees me”, and its location was between Kadesh and Bered. The next year, when Abram was 86 (Sarai 76), Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, Abram’s first son.
Chapter 17 takes place 13 years after Ishmael was born, which is 24 years after God called Abram and established the covenant, so Abram was 99 and Sarai was 89. God then calls Abram to “walk before me, and be thou perfect”, meaning he has to repent of any sins he committed (like sleeping with Hagar and lying about his wife to various powerful men) and dedicated himself to God. In this chapter, God lays out the terms and conditions of the covenant. God first changes Abram’s name (meaning great father) to Abraham (father of many nations). Then God declares his personal obligation in this everlasting covenant, which is to give the land of Canaan to all the nations that descend from him. Then God tells Abraham what his obligation is, and that is to teach his descendants to only worship the one most high God and to dedicate themselves to him through male circumcision. Then God talks about Sarai’s role in the promised covenant and God changes her name to Sarah (meaning princess) and says she will be blessed as the mother of nations (Jacob/Israel & Esau/Edom). God promises that he will have a son from Sarah his wife next year and Abraham laughs at the thought of Sarah and him having a natural child at such an old age. Then Abraham wishes that Ishmael could be in God’s covenant, but God replies that Sarah will have a son and he will receive the everlasting covenant, and his name will be Isaac which means “laughter”. God confirms that Ishmael is rejected as the promised seed that will inherit the everlasting covenant, but promises to give him and the 12 princes that will later come from him as a blessing for being Abraham’s descendant. Then God reiterates that the everlasting covenant is only for Isaac because he is Sarah’s son. That day Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and every male servant in his household, and circumcised them as well as himself.
Chapter 18 takes place soon after the events of chapter 17, and Abraham is visited by three messengers of God (angels), and he has his wife prepare a meal for them so that can rest from their walk in the hot sun and wash their feet. One of them says he will return around that same time the next year and Sarah will have a son. Sarah who was in the tent overheard and laughed, because of how old they were. God asked Sarah why she laughed and she denied it, but he called her out for laughing and confirmed again in exactly one year Isaac will be born. This means they will conceive about 3 months from this point in time. (Note: Abraham also laughed when told this in the previous chapter and that is why God told them ahead of time to name the child Isaac which means “laughter” because God gets the last laugh when he is born.) Afterward, as the men were leaving, God consulted with them about revealing his plan to Abraham. God had enough of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah so he planned on destroying both cities, and two of the angels left for Sodom. However, Abraham interceded on behalf of any potential righteous people living in the region and asked God to spare the cities if there are at least 50 righteous people. God says he will, and Abraham then pushes God and lowers the threshold down to 45, then 40, 30, 20, and 10 righteous people. God goes along with it and agrees to spare the cities if there are at least 10 righteous people.