“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” — Genesis 22:17,18
The Father of Faith
Who is this man upon whom the three monotheistic religions of the world are based? Who is this man called “friend of God” (James 2:23), the one whom we call “Abraham Avinu” (“Our Father Abraham”)? Who is this mere mortal by which the King of the Universe defines Himself?
The One, True, Living God — the God of the Bible — is known as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He initially reveals Himself to this man Abraham as אל שדי (“El Shaddai“) — “God Almighty” or the “All Sufficient God.” However, His first self-designation, to anyone other than Abraham is that of “God of Abraham” (Genesis 26:24) He identifies Himself in relationship to this one man whom He called out from among his brethren to become the singular person through whom all humanity will be blessed. The Holy One is also known as the “Shield of Abraham,” from His promise to Abraham which states, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1). In any case, God has inseparably wrapped Himself up in this man named Abraham.
Abraham is probably best known as the “Father of Faith,” a title which has been bestowed upon him because of how he exemplifies one who is trustworthy in all things. Both Paul and the author of Hebrews refer to him in similar terms. In one instance, Paul refers to him as “Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9). In both his epistle to the Romans and to the Galatians, Paul makes the argument that besides the physical descendants of Abraham, all those who trust in Yeshua (Jesus) are considered spiritual children of Abraham because they model Abraham by responding to their calling through faith. Thus Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11).
The Testing of Abraham
In order to secure this faith, Abraham had to undergo severe testing. Clement of Rome, said to be a disciple of the Apostle Peter, says this of Abraham, “Abraham, called the Friend, was found faithful, in his being obedient to the utterances of God” (1 Clement 10:1). In other words, Abraham’s faith resulted in faithfulness.
The sages say that Abraham underwent ten tests of his faith. “With ten tests was Abraham, our father, tested and he stood steadfast in them all; [they were] to show how great was His love” (Avot 5:4). These ten tests are enumerated differently by the sages. Here are two traditional enumerations:
According to Rashi
- Abraham hid underground for thirteen years from King Nimrod, who wanted to kill him.
- Nimrod flung Abraham into a burning furnace.
- Abraham was commanded to leave his family and homeland.
- Almost as soon as he arrived in Canaan, he was forced to leave to escape a famine.
- Sarah was kidnapped by Pharaoh’s officials.
- The kings captured Lot, and Abraham was forced to go to war to rescue him.
- God told Abraham that his offspring would suffer under four monarchies.
- At an advanced age, he was commanded to circumcise himself and his son.
- He was commanded to drive away Ishmael and Hagar.
- He was commanded to sacrifice Isaac.
According to Rambam
- Abraham’s exile from his family and homeland
- The hunger in Canaan after God had assured him that he would become a great nation there.
- The corruption in Egypt that resulted in the abduction of Sarah.
- The war with the four kings.
- His marriage to Hagar after having despaired that Sarah would ever give birth.
- The commandment of circumcision.
- Abimelech’s abduction of Sarah.
- Driving away Hagar after she had given birth.
- The very distasteful command to drive away Ishmael.
- The binding of Isaac on the altar.
The Testing of the Children
There is a popular Hebrew phrase which states, “maaseh avot siman lebanim”, meaning “the deeds of the fathers are portents for the children.” It is used to explain how the events with which the forefathers engage are replicated to some degree in subsequent generations. It reminds us to look for patterns in our lives that mimic those of our forefathers, causing us to look deeply into them for spiritual significance.
Often, we tend to view the hardships of life as attacks from the adversary. However, just as Abraham, the father of our faith was tested, we — the spiritual children of Abraham — also should expect testing. And not only should we expect testing, but we should embrace it as a blessing from the Lord. Yes, this is more easily said than done, but it’s what the Holy Scriptures tell us. James, the brother of our Master, says we should “count it all joy” when we face suffering in this life:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
Why does he say this? Because he has learned the lesson of his father, Abraham, and knows the result of such testing:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
A similar statement is made in the Didache, one of the earliest non-canonical apostolic writings dating to the end of the first century, in regard to the last days:
Then the creation of man will come to the fiery trial of testing, and many will stumble and perish, but those who endure in the faith will be saved alive from under the curse. (Didache 16:5)
We can see by these references that not only was Abraham tested, but he passed those tests and became an example for all who would descend from him.
The Deeds of Abraham
The deeds of Abraham are recorded in our Bibles beginning in Genesis 12 and continuing until around chapter 25. We find his life to be one of faith and miracles.
There are several traditions which attest to Abraham’s deeds outside of the biblical narrative of Abraham’s life. Here are a handful.
“For his faith and hospitality a son was given unto him in old age” (1 Clement 10:7)
“For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he did righteousness and truth through faith?” (1 Clement 31:2)
“Abraham bore great witness, and was called Friend of God. And he said, looking intently to the glory of God, being humble-minded, ‘I am but earth and ashes.'” (1 Clement 17:2)
“All who possess these three qualities belong to the disciples of Abraham our father: a generous eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul. But he who possesses the three opposite qualities—an evil eye, a proud spirit, and a haughty soul—is of the disciples of Balaam the wicked.” (Avot 5:22)
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works…?” (James 2:21)
According to Daniel Lancaster, the “deeds of Abraham” are daunting:
“He endured tests and and trials without wavering. He stood against idolatry and was willing to sacrifice his life for his convictions. He practiced extravagant hospitality. He obeyed God without hesitation. He steadfastly and confidently clung to the promises of God. He loved peace and willingly underwent personal loss and sacrifice for the sake of peace with family and neighbors. He remained devoted to his wife through trial, hardship, and disappointment. He spread the knowledge of God among human beings, and he prayed for sinners. He interceded even for the wicked, negotiating with God and praying on their behalf. He repaid ingratitude with loyalty; he risked his own life to rescue his family members; he gave a tithe to the LORD; he refused to take reward from the wicked. He accepted circumcision at the age of one hundred, and in his last trial, the tenth test, he obeyed the order to sacrifice his son. That is what is means to be the father of our faith.”
Children of Abraham
It is interesting to note, however, the reason Abraham was chosen. The Scriptures tell us the reason clearly:
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19)
God’s plan was not only that Abraham would hear His voice and be obedient to it, but that his children would do likewise. Yeshua expected the same. In the Gospel of John we find an account in which he criticizes the natural-born offspring of Abraham for rejecting his teaching on being slaves to sin. They answer proudly that they are the children of Abraham and claim that they are a free people who have never been enslaved. Yeshua response by saying,
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did…” (John 8:39)
Although non-Jews cannot claim to be physical descendants of Abraham, we can claim spiritual adoption according to the Apostle Paul. Again, he says that Abraham is “the father of all who believe.” He also says that we should “walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham” (Romans 4:12). So what does this mean? In brief, it means that as children of Abraham we should at the bare minimum:
- Endure suffering with a cheerful attitude
- Walk in faith & faithfulness
- Be humble
- Be hospitable
- Be generous
- Teach our children
- Say little and do much
- Spread the knowledge of God
- Pray for sinners
- Obey our calling without deviating
Isaac, the Reflection of His Father
The word “toldot” is an interesting word in Hebrew. It can mean a variety of things. Typically, it is rendered “generations” or “genealogy” or “offspring.” However, in most cases it could easily be rendered as “legacy.” The toldot of a person is generally their offspring. However, in the biblical narrative this is not always the case. In the case of Noah, his “toldot” is listed before enumerating his children. His toldot was “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). His legacy was his character, rather than his children.
In the case of Isaac, he receives the smallest attention of the three patriarchs in the biblical narrative. But yet he has a glorious memorial forever etched into the Holy Writ in regard to his toldot:
These are the generations (תּוֹלְדֹת – toldot) of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham fathered Isaac.
Isaac’s legacy is that he was known as the son of Abraham. But not only in biological terms. He was truly his father’s son because he did the things Abraham did. His life reflected the fact that he was his father’s son. Both Yeshua and Paul expect this to be our testimony as spiritual children of Abraham as well. Per Yeshua’s argument with the natural-born children of Abraham in John 8, we need to also ask ourselves if our actions reflect our father as Abraham or that of the devil? Isaac’s legacy was that he was known as the son of his father through his life and deeds. May it be so for us, his spiritual descendants as well until the time of our Master’s return. Maranatha!
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