I’ve been hearing the idea among Christians lately that Father Abraham of the Old Testament, patriarch of nations and revered as “father of the faithful” in the New Testament, wasn’t so faithful after all. Curious.
The idea that Abram (his name before God changed it) was ever unfaithful to God runs contrary to my understanding of Scripture. True, he was not without sin and, yes, he took his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar, to bed so that she might bear a surrogate child for an heir (Gen. 16). But God never commanded Abram to be faithful only to his wife, and it was Abram’s wife’s idea in the first place. She, Sarai, told him to do it. God’s agreement with Abram (Gen. 15), that he would give his descendants the land between the great river of Egypt and the great river Euphrates, was based only on God’s acceptance of Abram’s faith (Gen. 15:6). Abram’s faith made him right with God.
By the way, the land God said he would give to Abram’s descendants is much larger than just modern-day Israel. It includes many modern-day Islamic countries too.
After Hagar gave Abram a son, whom Abram named Ishmael (Gen. 16:15), God revisited Abram thirteen years later and changed his name from Abram to Abraham — because, God said, “I am making you a father of many nations. I will give you many descendants (Gen. 17:5-6).”
I can’t imagine that God would have given Abraham this proof of His previous agreement if Abraham had in any way been unfaithful. Anyway, how was Abram to know that the descendants of whom God had previously spoken would not be those fathered with other wives or slaves? It was, after all, customary in Old Testament times for men to take more than one wife and not unlawful, even under Mosaic law, for a man to have sex with his slaves http://bible.org/question/why-did-godly-men-ot-have-more-one-wife. The Torah, in fact, does not forbid polygamy http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/558598/jewish/Does-Jewish-law-forbid-polygamy.htm.
Further on in Genesis, God says, “And I will make an agreement between me and you and all your descendants from now on. I will be your God and the God of all your descendants (Gen: 17:7).” Abraham’s part of the agreement was that he and all his descendants would be circumcised to show that they are part of the agreement “that lasts forever (Gen. 17:13).”
I find it interesting that circumcision is practiced to this day by Muslims http://www.circumstitions.com/Islam.html, but not by Christians as an act of faith, not since Peter declared it and the Mosaic law to be an ‘unbearable yoke’ (Acts 15:7-11).
When I read Genesis 17:7 to Christian friends during a prayer breakfast recently, one questioned the Hebrew meaning for the word, all, as is used in the English translation of Genesis referring to Abraham’s descendants. The Hebrew word for all is Kǒl, as in Kǒl HaKdoshim, which means all saints http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091023053101AAO2kOr. Kǒl can also mean “voice” depending on the way it is used. But I very much doubt God said, “… ‘voice’ your descendants.”
Abraham is called the father of the faithful (Gal. 3:16-29; Rom. 4:11) and “the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23). He is an example to us in many ways. Nearly every action in Abraham’s life shows his great faithfulness to God. He left his country and countrymen never to return (Heb. 11:8-16). He believed the promise of a son though such a birth was naturally impossible (Rom. 4:18-21). He cast out his son, Ishmael when Sarah and God commanded it (Gen. 21:9-14). He was even willing to offer Isaac, the son of promise, when God demanded it (Heb. 11:17-19). Therefore, because God did not question Abraham’s faithfulness, neither should we.
I don’t know, but I suspect that this so-called “Christian” idea, that Abraham was somehow unfaithful to God in taking Hagar to bed for an heir has a lot to do with Christianity’s reluctance to accept the fact that the descendants of Hagar’s son, Ishmael, are also God’s people. The sins of the father revisited upon his sons, if you will. Surely, questioning the Hebrew meaning of the word, all, in God’s promise to Abraham, was an effort to cast doubt on this. But all Christians don’t see it this way. I don’t.
Yes, after Abraham sent his son, Ishmael and his mother into the desert with little more than provisions sufficient to guarantee their deaths (a sin in my book), God heard Ishmael crying and sent an angel to rescue them with a promise that God’s agreement with Abraham and all his descendants also would apply to him (Gen. 21:8-20).
Read what another Biblical scholar, not that I’m one by any means, has to say about this — http://www.fatherdave.org/article/article_51.html. It’s a good read.
I know, I know – John 14:6. But that’s for another discussion and another posting on another day.