(NLT Study Bible)

“By faith… Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land…. He went without knowing where he was going…. By faith… Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him” (Heb 11:8, 17). These key events in Abraham’s life illustrate the faithful obedience for which he is best known.

God called Abram from the city of Ur to become the patriarch of God’s people. Abram’s family relationships are recorded in Gen 11:26- 32. Terah had three sons:Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Terah left Ur with Abram, Abram’s wife Sarai, and Lot, whose father, Haran, had died. On his way to Canaan, Terah settled in the city of Haran (11:31). God had called Abram to a new land while he was still in Ur (Acts 7:2- 4); God told Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (12:1). God blessed Abram by making a covenant with him that included promises of great blessing, numerous descendants, and a new land (12:1- 3). These promises later saved Israel from destruction when they repeatedly failed to keep their covenant with God (see Lev 26:40- 45).

Abram left Haran at age seventy- five. Entering Canaan, he went first to Shechem, a Canaanite city between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. God appeared to Abram near the oak of Moreh, a Canaanite shrine (see note on 12:6- 7). Abram built altars there and near Bethel (12:8), proclaiming the one true God at these centers of false worship. Abram later moved to Hebron by the oaks of Mamre, again building an altar to worship God (13:18).

When God again promised blessings to Abram in a vision (15:1), Abram exclaimed that he was still childless because Sarai was barren (11:30), and that Eliezer of Damascus was his heir (15:2). This obscure statement is clarified by the Nuzi documents. According to Hurrian custom, a childless couple of means could adopt an heir, often a slave who would be responsible for their burial and mourning. A natural son born after the slave- heir’s adoption would supplant him. Apparently Abram had adopted Eliezer in this manner, but God promised that Abram’s own son would be his heir (15:4).

The hallmark of Abram’s life was that he believed the Lord, and the Lord considered him righteous because of his faith (15:6; see Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jas 2:23). Abram’s righteousness was not because he never sinned- on several occasions he failed to do what was right, twice he lied about Sarah out of fear, and he took the provision of a son into his own hands with Hagar rather than praying for God to act (16:1- 5; cp. 25:21). But he consistently returned to faith as the fundamental principle of his life before God.

Abram was eighty- six years old when Ishmael was born to Sarai’s servant Hagar. When Abram was ninety- nine, the Lord appeared to him and reaffirmed his covenant promise of a son and of blessing (ch 17), adding circumcision as the mark of the covenant relationship (17:9- 14). God also changed Abram’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah (17:5, 15). Abraham laughed at the promise of another son (17:17). Shortly afterward, the Lord appeared again to Abraham (ch 18) and again announced the promised son. This time, Sarah was caught laughing in disbelief (18:12- 15). Abraham was 100 years old and his wife 90 when the Lord did “exactly what he had promised” (21:1). The long- promised son was born and was fittingly named Isaac (“he laughs!”).

The supreme test of Abraham’s faith came when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac (ch 22). Abraham obeyed faithfully, trusting that God would not thwart his own purposes (see Heb 11:17- 19). Just as the knife was about to fall, the angel of God stopped Abraham and provided a ram for him to sacrifice in Isaac’s place (22:13). Abraham’s faith was complete (22:12).

Christians understand the sacrifice of Isaac as prefiguring God’s provision of his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God has fulfilled his covenant with Abraham through Jesus Christ, through whom the blessing of salvation is extended to all who have faith (Rom 4:16- 17), and believers become Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Gal 3:29). Abraham’s life shows that God is faithful and worthy of belief and obedience. The full import of God’s promise was realized when the gospel was preached to all nations and people from all families of the earth responded in faith (see Gal 3:6- 9).

Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chr 20:7; Jas 2:23). All who live by faith are challenged to live as he did, daily venturing into the unknown with trust in God’s guidance and sustenance. Abraham is one of many great “witnesses” to a life of faith (Heb 12:1; see Heb 11), inspiring believers to persevere in faith because we know God is faithful.