honest Abram: an introduction to a Patriarch

Abram worked as a nomadic herdsman [Genesis 11:31-32]. Abram’s family settles in Haran, which is in modern day Iraq, near the tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9].[1] As a nomad, he did not have permanent property;[2] instead he would live with his herds of camels, cattle, and goats that moved around to new land to graze [Genesis 12:10; 13:2, 5-6]. Nomads took all their possessions—family, houses, and servants—with them wherever they traveled [12:5]. Nomads can have great power and influence because they own many animals, which are lucrative for trading. Yet God will call them from this land to travel to an unknown land of promise and blessing!

Abram worshiped as pagan idolater [Genesis 11:27-29]. Say it is not so? According to Joshua 24:2, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Surely, this is some other guy named Abraham? Nope. Abraham’s daddy and brother are named with him too. When we first meet Abram he is an ordinary godless Babylonian.[3] Yet God will draw them out of this land into a new land with a new God!

Abram’s wife was barren and broken [Genesis 11:30]. Barrenness might not sound like a big deal. Today, some women chose not to have children, and even if they are barren they can visit the doctor to get fertility treatments or consider adoption. However, barrenness in Abram’s day was much different. Barrenness was thought of as punishment or curse from a pagan god. With bareness came personal humiliation and community pressure because no children meant, no power to invent a future [i.e. no family lineage].[4] In Abram’s day there were no 401K retirement accounts or nursing homes to take care of the elderly. You either had your family care for you or you died alone. Barrenness is a picture of hopelessness in the ancient world. Yet God will use her barrenness to lead their family to a fruitful future of faith!

[1] Nehemiah 9:7 and Acts 7:2-3 seem to indicate that God in fact called Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans he may have even been called out of Babylon as a Babylonian that perhaps even sought to help build that great city which God judged as the key city of the Chaldeans was Babylon [i.e. Isaiah 13:19, 48:14; Jeremiah 24:5, 25:12, 50:1; Ezekiel 1:3, 12:13, 23:15].

[2] The only property Abraham ever owned was the property he bought for Sarah’s grave [Gen 23:1-20].

[3] Even Abram’s relative’s names have pagan roots: Terah [Hb: yerah; moon], Sarai [Hb: princess; Akkadian: Sharratu, name of wife of moon god Sin], and Milcah [Akkadian: Ishtar, daughter of moon god Sin] have pagan roots.

[4] Children are a mark of God’s blessing. God shares many examples of barrenness in the Bible [25:21; 29:31; 1 Samuel 1:2; Isaiah 54:1].