God called Abram (later called Abraham) out of the city of Ur in Mesopotamia (southern Iraq). He was called to come out of an idolatrous, pagan culture and to go to a land that God would show him (Genesis 12.1). This so-called “Promised Land” turned out to be ancient Canaan (the western half of which is now called Israel). There Abraham would receive great promises.
This was Abraham’s first step of faith since he went out “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11.8). In all it amounted to a journey of some 1,500 miles. It is interesting that God guided Abraham and his family along the so-called Fertile Crescent, a route characterized by unusually fertile soil. The religious center of Beersheba in the Negev became Abraham’s ‘home base’.
But Abraham’s greatest test of faith came later once he had settled in Canaan. More specifically, it happened on a specific mountain in the land of Moriah. Today many see this as Mt Zion, the long eastern ridge (running north-south) of present-day Jerusalem, link. Here God tested Abraham’s faith through his son Issac: Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac when God provided the needed sacrificial lamb. Abraham was rewarded for his trust in God with two unconditional promises, namely, through his descendants there would be reconciliation to God through Christ, and his descendants would become a numerous people (leading to the nation, Israel).
That is why Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, are blessed. Despite many attempts over nearly 3,000 years to exterminate the Jews, a remnant has always survived. Today, Israel has been restored as a nation and the number of Jews in Israel has increased by over 7,000 percent in just 100 years! Israel is blessed with technological and agricultural progress, new discoveries of vast gas and oil resources, demonstrated intelligence (as in a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes), and the homeland promised for Abraham’s descendants. Israel is a western-style democracy where Israelis (citizens of Israel) from all ethnic groups and religious beliefs can participate in regular elections.
Testing Abraham’s Faith
In Genesis 22:1-18 we read how God tested Abraham. Let’s read the incredible test that earned Abraham an incredible reward for his descendants. God said to him:
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord Will Provide’. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Abraham’s Faith is Rewarded
As the scriptures say, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith”. So God could use Abraham for the future and He rewarded him through several unconditional promises.
First, through Abraham’s descendants (specifically through the tribe of Judah) came the New Covenant between God and man: man’s reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. That stands today. Through Jesus all the nations of the earth are blessed (Gen 12.3). If only they would believe and receive the blessing!
Secondly, God said that He would make the descendants of Abraham numerous – and into a great nation (Gen 12.2). This became true under David and Solomon, and Israel subsequently survived nearly 3,000 years despite her diaspora (scattering). Today we see God fulfilling the nation promise as the Jews return to their promised land (aliyah) and Israel once more becomes God’s witness to the nations (Isa 43.10). Many see the promise of a multitude of descendants (“as the sand on the seashore” Gen 22.17) in the ten tribes of Israel scattered throughout the nations, link.