Updated: Jun 28, 2022
Abram's name was changed from “exalted father” to Abraham meaning “father of a multitude”. He is called father by the three major religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Each one claiming their version of his story as the correct one. None disagree that he was called by God (even though Islam has a different god) to be a father of many nations and that he is the father of us all; the head of the family. But the question which has always baffled me is -why Abraham? What was so special or different about this man?
In Genesis 18:18-19 we read:
Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
We see here one of the attributes of Abraham: all the nations of the earth would be blessed by him (but why?) and he would TEACH his children and household descendants to keep the way of the LORD.
OK great! He had a job to do (to teach those who descended from him and his whole household) and he was going to do it well but that still doesn't tell me why God chose him to begin with.
What if I told you that there are six overlooked verses in the Bible that seem to explain why God chose Abraham? These are the type of verses that we just quickly read over and they don't gain much of our attention.
Let's read them now:
Genesis 11:27-32 And this is the genealogy of Teraḥ: Teraḥ brought forth Abram, Nahor, and Haran. And Haran brought forth Lot. And Haran died before his father Teraḥ in the land of his birth, in Ur-kasdim. And Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milkah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milkah and the father of Yiskah. And Sarai was barren, she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur-kasdim to go to the land of Kena‛an. And they came to Ḥaran and dwelt there. And the days of Terah came to be two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. (TS2009)
We usually think that there isn't much to see here so we just read it fast and move on. Here is the high points - Terah has 3 kids: Abram, Nahor and Haran. His son Haran dies in Ur of the Chaldees and has three surviving kids: Lot, Milkah and Yiskah, one son and 2 daughters. We are introduced to Sarai as being Abram's wife and told that she can't have children. Why would we even care about that at this point? That story comes later. Nahor takes his niece, Milkah, to wed. OK, they did that back then – not gonna do it now – but OK. Terah takes Abram, Sarah, and Lot and goes to Haran. Nahor and Milkah stay behind. And then Terah dies in the land of Haran. End of story, right? Not exactly. So what about this Yiskah. What happened to her? This is the only time that she is mentioned in scripture. Did nobody care about poor Yiskah? Is she just left to fend for herself? Are we to assume she was the unloved child that was forgotten about?
As it turns out – Nope! Yiskah is the same as the Hebrew word for princess - Neshikaw. Rabbi's say that Yiskah and Sarai are the same person. Her name was Yiskah (princess) but apparently Abram called her by her pet name Sarai – meaning “my princess”. Sarai comes from the masculine root “sar” meaning prince. It would be the female version of that. This is interesting because God later changes her name to Sarah which means simply princess, or noble woman. In Genesis 17:16 God states that, like Abraham, she shall be a “mother of nations and that kings of people shall be from her”. He stated the same to Abraham in Genesis 17:6 “I will make you exceedingly fruitful and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” So, Sarai was elevated from being just the princess belonging to Abram (my princess) to being a princess (noblewoman) to many nations (Sarah).
This changes things. Abram also takes his niece, Sarah or Yiskah, to be his wife. The scripture lists Abram in taking Sarah first, then Nahor follows suit and takes Milkah. Probably at Abram's suggestion. Then Abram leaves Haran and takes Lot with him. In other words, Abram has made sure that his dead brother's children are taken care of.
This flies in the face of the culture of Abram's day. Unknown to most, Abram lived at the same time as the Tower of Babel event. I will leave most of this topic for another article but anyone can add up the given ages that people lived in the Bible and come to the same conclusion - that Abram would have lived and known Noah and his son Shem. In fact, Shem outlived Abraham.
It is noted that the people of the Tower of Babel event wanted to make a “name for themselves” (Gen. 11:4). They built cities in that day to make a name for themselves. This goes back to Cain who was the first recorded to build a city and name it after his son. He wanted to make a name for himself. Abram, on the other hand, was more interested in preserving the name of his dead brother, Haran. Abram was about preserving his FAMILY. That is why we are the family of Abraham. It is interesting that Abram seemed to practice a form of the Levirite law which stated that if a man died not having heirs that the kinsman redeemer (his brother or nearest kin) was to take the widow and bring forth children to his dead brother. Tamar and Judah also seem to have understood this concept before it was even recorded in the written Torah.
Cain asked “am I my brother's keeper?” No, Cain was not interested in anyone but himself. Neither was Nimrod or any of the others, but Abram was! Abram not only worshiped one God, contrary to the culture at the time, but he also understood the concept of right relationships with fellow human beings and especially the continuity of family. He was not interested in building a name for himself but in prolonging the name of his dead brother.
Is it not strange how our culture has evolved into a culture of “I”? We have the iPhone, iPad, iPod, the me too movement, the my body - my choice movement, and people take more “selfies” than anything else on their phones. I find it ironic that on the back of the iPhone you will find that their logo is an apple with a bite out of it. I shouldn't need to explain that one!
This story of Abram doesn't end here but in the story of Ruth it comes full circle to bring forth the promise made to Abraham and Sarah. Let me explain.
Abram leaves with Sarai and his nephew Lot. He wanted to make sure Lot had the proper care. We later learn what happened to Lot and his two daughters. Through incest they bring forth two sons: Moab and Ammon. Needless to say that Lot was a shady character and scripture indicates that he was really spared because of Abraham (Genesis 19:29). It also indicates that he was vexed by the things pertaining to Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:7). Nevertheless, God would bring Lot back into the family by his descendant, Ruth. Just as Abram made sure to save the lineage of his dead brother, Ruth would return the favor to the promised seed and would reunite all the children of Terah into one body.
We can find her story in the book of Ruth. I will try to shorten it here but encourage everyone to read the entire book. You will surely appreciate the story more and understand why it was included in the Bible after reading this. Ruth was a descendant of Moab (from Lot). Elimelech, a descendant of Judah, left Bethlehem of Judea during a famine and went to the land of Moab with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons. The two sons took wives: Orpah and Ruth. Afterwards, Elimelech and the two sons die. They had no children upon their death. Naomi wants to return to Bethlehem and her two daughter-in-laws want to go with her. Orpah is persuaded and stays behind in the land of Moab but Ruth is determined to stay with Naomi and goes to Bethlehem. Then we meet Boaz who is a kinsman redeemer of Elimelech. Boaz and Ruth marry and have a child, Obed. Obed is the father of Jesse, and Jesse is the father of King David. Hence, the promise made to Abraham and Sarah that “kings” would come from them now comes to pass with the story of Ruth. Ruth, in effect, saved the dead line of Judah. This was the promised line and she reunited the line of Lot graciously back into the family.
We all say that Abraham is our father and the originator of the lineage but actually it is the whole family of Terah. Let's observe:
When Abraham wants a wife for Isaac he sends his servant back to his brother Nahor's household. And who does Isaac marry: Rebekah, the granddaughter of Nahor and Milkah. Who does Jacob marry: Leah and Rachel. Again, from Rebekah's family. The family of Terah begot all of our patriarch's and matriarch's whose faith we cling too: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. The promised lineage was saved by Ruth, the daughter of Lot.
So, why is Abraham so important? He was the one who cared for the family. The whole family of Terah his father. He was the one who taught "the family" the ways of God.
We call ourselves the “mishpochah”, the family of God. We say we are the sons and the daughters of Abraham. We claim the promises made to Abraham. We call him the father of the faithful. FAMILY was started with Terah and was cared for by Abram. A man with the heart of God. A family man. Now, all nations can be grafted into the family of Abraham, just like Ruth, by accepting His Messiah Yeshua.
Are you part of the family? Do you care for the family or do you just care about “I”?
As a side note: When Abraham goes down into Egypt and encounters Pharoah and again when he deals with Abimelech he tells Sarah to tell them that she is his sister so that they will not kill him. In Genesis 20:12 Abraham states "But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daugher of my mother, and she became my wife". So, this seems to indicate she was his half-sister and thus what I said above could not be true. However, if you look at the broader picture – she was a female relative. A sister. She would actually have been the granddaughter of his father. It would have been standard for him to call her a sister.
I pray that you have enjoyed this article and that it has in some way touched your heart.
I would like to give credit to Rabbi David Fohrman at alephbeta.org for the enlightenment that his teachings brought forth regarding the six verses about Abram.