Why is Abraham Important in the Bible?
Religious or not, you’ve probably heard of Abraham. And maybe you’ve wondered…
What’s so important about him?
The story of Abraham is significant to three world religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. He’s a core character in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.
Found in the book of Genesis, Abraham was a nomadic patriarch, called by God to leave his home country and go to the land of Canaan—the Promised Land. God made a covenant, or agreement, with him to bless his descendants and make them a blessing to the world.
The nation of ancient Israel descended from him.
But how did he become such a great patriarch?
We’ll follow his journey and answer some important questions:
- Who was Abraham?
- What was God’s covenant with him?
- What legacy did he leave behind?
- What are key lessons from his life?
Let’s learn more about Abraham’s heritage.
Who was Abraham?
Abraham, first known as Abram, was a man who came from the Ur of the Chaldeans (present-day Iraq) around 2000 BCE. His father Terah had settled in Harran, but Abraham received a special call to go to the land of Canaan, where God promised to make his descendants into a great nation (Genesis 11:27–12:3).
Today, three major religions—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—consider him their founding father.
How do the adherents of each faith view him?
A father of the faith to Jews through Isaac
Those of the Jewish faith consider Abraham their founder and call him “Abraham our Father.”1 They revere him because through him, God’s covenant came to the nation of Israel, and later the Jewish people.2
A father of the faith to Muslims through Ishamel
The Islamic faith began through descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom God also promised to make into a great nation (Genesis 16:10–12; 21:17–21). Muslims call him “Ibrahim.”
Though they don’t consider Abraham a Muslim, they call him a prophet and believe that all other prophets, including Muhammad, descend from him.3
A father of the faith to Christians
God’s promise to Abraham extends not only to the nation of Israel but also to all who become part of his family through faith—Christians.
Abraham was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:8, 17). The Bible writer Paul uses him as an example of someone who received salvation through faith (Romans 4:3, 13).
And did we mention that Jesus’ genealogy begins with Abraham in Matthew 1:1?
But being a child of Abraham isn’t so much about blood lineage as it is about living out the faith Abraham had (John 8:39). All who choose to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior become part of that heritage (Galatians 3:6–7, 15, 29).
God’s covenant with Abraham
God made a special covenant with Abraham to bless him and his descendants, to make him a great nation, and to give him the land of Canaan. It’s sometimes known as the Abrahamic covenant or everlasting covenant.
To build Abraham’s trust, God repeated and enlarged that covenant many times throughout his life. We’re going to look at each of those experiences and see how they apply to us today. Though given to Abraham, that covenant comes down to our time with promises of blessing through Jesus Christ.
The call to leave his home (Genesis 12)
The first time God comes to Abraham, He asks Abraham to leave his home and family in Haran.
God knew that Abraham needed to get away from an environment of idolatry in order to become a man of faith (Joshua 24:2).
He promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation, and in him “all the families of the earth [would] be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB).
This promise was an echo of God’s promise to Adam and Eve—that one of their descendants would become the deliverer of the people from sin and evil (Genesis 3:15).
Eventually, Jesus would be born from this family line as its greatest blessing.
The restatement of the covenant (Genesis 13)
Abraham obeyed God’s command and went to the land of Canaan, but challenges abounded. A famine forced him and his family to find help in Egypt. There, Abraham failed to have complete faith in God and lied to protect himself. But despite his mistake, God led Abraham out of Egypt and then reassured him of the covenant.
This time, God emphasized His promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. He said:
“Arise, walk about in the land through its length and width” (Genesis 13:17, NASB).
The words “walk about” were words of dominion. Because of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, Satan had claimed the earth as his dominion (Job 1:7). But here, God is promising that it would belong to Abraham and God’s people once again.
God’s pledge to keep the covenant (Genesis 15)
Abraham struggled with fears and doubts—just like we do. Instead of giving up on him, God gave him tangible assurances of the covenant.
Here’s what happened.
Back in Canaan, Abraham receives news that his nephew Lot’s camp has been captured by an alliance of kings. Abraham gathers together a small army and, with God’s help, defeats these kings and rescues Lot.
Despite the victory, Abraham is unsettled. Will the Canaanite kings return and attack him?
That’s when God comes to him with these words:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1, NKJV).
But Abraham continues to question. With all these great nations in Canaan, how will this land become his? And he doesn’t even have a son that could become a great nation!
God took Abraham out under the night sky, blanketed in stars. All those stars? That’s how many descendants Abraham would have.
But in his humanness, Abraham questions again: “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit [the land]?” (Genesis 15:8, NKJV).
To answer this question, God instructed Abraham to perform a special tradition used for establishing a covenant (Genesis 15:9–18). Through it, God pledged to uphold every word that He had spoken. He understood Abraham’s doubts and gave him the needed assurance.
New names and the symbol of circumcision (Genesis 17)
God gave Abraham another reminder of the covenant and added the rite of circumcision as a symbol of it.
See, Abraham had become a little impatient. He and his wife were both getting old. What if Abraham had a child with her servant Hagar instead? Culturally, this wasn’t an unusual practice when a woman was not able to conceive. As a result, he had a son with Hagar and named him Ishmael.
Abraham had rushed ahead of God, but God still didn’t give up on him. It was at this time that God changed his name from Abram to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), which means “father of a multitude.”
He gave Abraham the rite of circumcision as a symbol of the covenant. It represented having a sensitive heart toward God instead of being hardhearted.4
He showed Abraham some tough love too by telling him that Ishmael was not the promised child. Sarah would still have a child. To emphasize this, God changed Sarah’s name from Sarai to Sarah to symbolize her role as the mother of a nation (Genesis 17:15–16).
But Abraham’s greatest test was still to come.
The testing sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
At last, the promised child—Isaac—arrived. But Abraham had struggled to trust God up to this point. Now, God gave him a final test, asking him to sacrifice his only son on Mount Moriah. Imagine Abraham’s agony and confusion!
You may read this story and think that this test doesn’t sound like something a loving God would require.
But keep in mind:
This was not Abraham’s first experience with God. Abraham knew God’s heart and had seen His mercy and faithfulness over and over again.
Thus, he didn’t hesitate to obey. In fact, it seems that he believed God was going to provide in another way (Genesis 22:5, 8; Hebrews 11:19).
That’s just what happened.
Before Abraham could use his knife to slay his son, an angel stopped him. It was enough.
Abraham had been victorious through faith. And through the experience, he caught a glimpse of the greatest sacrifice to come—God the Father giving His Son Jesus Christ for us (John 3:16).
One last time, God repeated the promise of that blessing to him and his descendants (Genesis 22:15–18).
Abraham’s family and legacy
Abraham died at 175 years of age, from old age (Genesis 25:7–8). He left behind a legacy through his children: Isaac, Ishmael, and his six sons from his second wife Keturah (he married her after his wife Sarah died).
His son Isaac had two sons: Jacob and Esau. While they were still in the womb, God promised that they would both become nations (Genesis 25:32). Jacob became the patriarch of the nation of Israel, and father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Esau’s descendants became the Edomites.
Ishmael went on to have descendants that became Arab tribes and nations in the Middle East.
And finally, Abraham’s six other sons (Genesis 25:1–2)—Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah—formed other people groups. We don’t know much about their descendants, except that Midian’s family became the Midianites.
But greater than his lineage is the example that Abraham left behind for us.
Lessons from Abraham’s life
Let’s look at three key lessons that we can learn from the life of Abraham:
Importance of waiting on the Lord
Impatience is human. It’s not easy to trust in God when we can’t see the outcome.
When you find yourself waiting for God to move in your life, remember Abraham’s experience. Don’t try to rush the process or fulfill God’s plan your own way. Instead, be faithful with what God has placed in front of you and rest in the assurance that He is working.
Through the process, you will come to trust Him more deeply. And to see the wonderful things in store for us when we follow His will.
Obedience when it doesn’t make sense
Obeying God may go contrary to what we think is best. But we can choose to believe in Him and act accordingly (Genesis 15:6).
Yes, He gives us evidence to hold onto, but we still have to take steps of faith, like Abraham did when called to leave his homeland or asked to sacrifice his son (Hebrews 11:17; Genesis 22:1).
God’s faithfulness to His promises
Sometimes, God’s promises seem to be delayed. But He always fulfills them at the right time.
The covenant God made with Abraham had nothing to do with Abraham’s promises. It was all based on God’s promise. And God came through. It was fitting, then, that Abraham called the place where he was asked to sacrifice Isaac “Yahweh provides” (Genesis 22:14).
His life is testimony to this fact.
And through this, we learn that salvation is all about what God has promised, not what we do or promise. Salvation from sin and victory comes through Jesus and everything that He has done for us (Ephesians 2:8–10).
The promise to Abraham is for us too
We see Abraham as a great patriarch, and he was—as three of the world’s major religions would agree.
But Christians also understand that Abraham was human. He made mistakes and struggled to trust God—just like we do.
If anything, this encourages us! It means that his story has relevant lessons for us and that God can use us too, even when we struggle! He is faithful to His covenant and still longs to give us the blessing through Jesus that He promised to Abraham.
Liked this character sketch of Abraham?
- Posner, Menachem, “Who Was Abraham? The First Patriarch in the Bible,” Chabad.org. [↵]
- “Abraham,” Jewish Virtual Library, jewishvirtuallibrary.org. [↵]
- Siddiqui, Mona, “Ibrahim–the Muslim View of Abraham,” BBC Religions, bbc.co.uk, Sept. 9, 2004. [↵]
- Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4 [↵]
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