Introductory Thoughts on Abraham

This is part of a larger piece on Abraham I’ve been tinkering with. I find he is highly underrated as a core theological figure.

Image h/t https://catholic-resources.org/Art/Dore-OT.htm

Abraham is the spiritual father of both covenants (Galatians 4:22-24), and therefore any proper understanding of the contrast of Old and New must begin at Abraham.

Abraham’s life consists of two periods, separated by God’s renaming of him in Genesis 17:5. The first period includes Ishmael’s birth, but is prior to Isaac’s birth. It was at the point of renaming Abraham that God made explicit that his lineage would be through Sarah, rather than the more ambiguous “he that shall come out of thy bowels, him shalt thou have for thy heir” (Gen 15:4), which Abram allowed his wife to convince him could be fulfilled by going into Hagar. The Abram/Abraham periods correspond to the general progression of the two covenants and the details of Abraham’s life inform them.

The threads of nearly every aspect of both covenants are ultimately found in Abraham. Moses repeatedly referred to the LORD as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Both natural Israel and Our Lord went into Egypt. Israel’s subsequent return had its purpose in claiming what was promised to them, as was Christ’s stated intention according to the set of prophetic verses he read to a stunned crowd one Sabbath day (Luke 4). To natural Israel, the land on which Abraham trod and its prosperity was being reclaimed and Canaan was resuming its role as servant to the lineage of Shem. To the Church through Jesus, the endgame was much larger: the salvation of all the gentile nations by the servanthood and teaching of the Church. Christ consistently appeals to the roots of the law in its universal origins in Adam, or more particularly in Abraham. He appeals to Abraham notably in debate with the Pharisees (John 8:31-44), first pointing out that physical lineage from Abraham alone did not make the sons of Keturah or Hagar heirs of the promise, and says in subtle terms what St. Paul says clearly in the epistle to the Galatians: that the Jews, by thinking their genetics would save them, had become Ishmael.

Abraham’s life chronology is significant to deepening one’s understanding of salvific history. Long before he laid Isaac on the altar and raised the knife, his assent of the will in faith was credited to him as righteousness by God. However, as the Epistle of James indicates, without the act of faith culminating in intent to sacrifice, Abraham’s faith would not have been completed (James 2:22). Likewise, without the Christian pursuing the physical acts (provided opportunity) that accompany faith as well as signify it, his faith is incomplete and his spiritual state is in doubt. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was also a foreshadowing of the Passover (both Old and New Covenant versions), as will be shown.

In the parable of the sower (Mark 4, Luke 8, Matthew 13), the word of the kingdom is compared to seed cast upon varying types of soil. The type of soil Abraham represents was good soil, where faith’s fruits of a total consecration to God were borne. It did not fall into the three major errors of the parable of the sower:

  1. For Abraham, the seed did not fall along the path, where birds could devour the seed (recall Abram driving away the birds from his sacrifice to God in Genesis 15:7-11).
  2. It also did not fall in shallow, rocky, or thorny soil, where the cares of the world and temptations choke the seed; remember that Abram swore by God to reject any gifts from the King of Sodom (Gen 14:22-23) and allowed Lot to choose the land that was pleasing to the eyes, not considering the nature of the men who dwelt there (Gen 13:10-11), while Abram settled in Canaan.
  3. The seed did not fall among rocky soil, where the roots could not go deep for the best water supply; Abram dug deep wells in the region, which require upkeep and protection, indicating a commitment to maintaining the land and putting down roots such that a household was not scorched by the heat of the sun or bound to live only close to the rivers which flooded regularly (Mark 4:6, Genesis 21:25, Genesis 26).

Abraham is also the first person in biblical history who God renames, along with his wife Sarah. Those who seek to identify with the God of the patriarchs must do so through Abraham, and this is part of the case for each of the major monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Interestingly, Abraham has children through three women: Hagar (spiritually representative of natural Israel, the Jews), Sarah (spiritually representative of the Church), and Keturah (perhaps spiritually representative of Islam, considering that the geographic regions corresponding to the descendants of Keturah included the Midianites, Sheba, and Dedan, among others).

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