“I will bless those who bless you , and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In the second year after the Great Flood, when Shem was 100 years old, his wife gave birth to their first son, Arphaxad, and over the next 290 years 10 generations of Shem’s descendants were born, culminating in my birth. My name is Abram (later changed by God to Abraham) the first of three sons born to Terah. Shem was alive to see all these offspring come into the world and in fact was still alive when I died at the age of 175. It shows you how the flood related collapse of the water vapor canopy that had surrounded and protected the Earth had dramatically shortened human life spans.
After I had grown to be a man and married Sarai (later Sarah) my dad took the two of us, and my nephew Lot, and set out northward along the Euphrates River for the land of Canaan, modern Israel. It was a monumental journey for our time that would have covered well over 1000 miles had we completed it. As it turned out we stopped in Haran, a flourishing city on the caravan route in what you would call southeastern Turkey, some 300 miles northeast of Damascus.
Keep in mind the land of Canaan was only about 600 miles due west of Ur (the city in what you call southern Iraq from which we had begun our journey). But there was a large and dangerous desert between us. So the accepted route of travel was to head northwest along the Euphrates to a place called Carchemesh and then turn southwest along the Mediterranean coast to Canaan. It added 4 or 500 miles to the journey but meant you had at least a fighting chance of arriving at your destination alive. Haran was about 75 miles short of Carchemesh, but seemed like a nice place, so we stopped there.
Even though our family worshiped idols, and in fact made our living producing images of these false gods, I had had several encounters with the true and living God while searching for answers no idol could provide. Later God promised my descendants that they would always find Him when they sought Him with all their hearts. (Jere. 29:13) I was perhaps the first dramatic example of that promise. Although it was only a few hundred years after the Great Flood, and less than that since the Tower of Babel had been destroyed, the people of the world had already forgotten all about their Creator again.
But God wasn’t about to give up on His children that easily, and though I didn’t realize it till later, He had chosen me to begin a new race of humanity, through whom He would reveal Himself to the world. One day He told me to leave my father’s household and go to a land He would show me. He said He would make my descendants into a great nation through whom all the people of the Earth would be blessed, and that He would bless all those who blessed me, but curse all those who cursed me.
My family thought I had gone crazy, but I knew I had finally met and heard the voice of the One True God. So against their advice, I took Sarai and started out. I was 75 years old at the time and Sarai was 10 years younger. Our nephew Lot came with us, as did the employees and servants we had amassed to help tend our flocks and look after our business interests. I knew we had done well in Haran, but I was still surprised at the size of our retinue. By many of the standards of the day I had become a wealthy man, but one of the true indications of wealth had eluded me. Sarai and I had no children.
Many days after we passed through Carchemesh and turned southward, we came to a place in central Israel called Shechem, near Mt. Ephraim. While we were there, the LORD appeared to me again, saying, “To your offspring, I will give this land.” I built an altar and worshipped Him there, before continuing to Bethel. I built another altar just east of Bethel and again worshiped the LORD.
We finally settled in the south at a place that would later be called Hebron and for a time lived there in peace. But then a drought brought famine on the land, and so we packed up and headed for Egypt where the Nile River assured a plentiful supply of water and food for the animals and us.
Having learned something of the customs of Egypt, I knew the Pharaoh had acquired a harem of beautiful young women. He had done so by sending his spies to search for the most desirable young women in the land and bringing them to him. It was a crime in Egypt to take another man’s wife. So if they a discovered a married woman they thought Pharaoh would like they simply faked an accident resulting in the husband’s death. Then they took the newly widowed woman into the harem.
Incredibly although Sarai was nearing 70 years old, she was still as attractive and desirable as any of the young women in Pharaoh’s harem. It was one of the many gifts the LORD had given us. I was afraid that Pharaoh would want her for his own and have me killed, so I told Sarai if she was questioned by the Egyptians to identify herself as my sister rather than as my wife. I knew I was powerless to prevent them from taking her, but at least I could stay alive that way. Sure enough she soon came to Pharaoh’s attention and he took her.
In return for taking Sarai, Pharaoh helped me acquire many cattle, sheep and other animals at favorable rates. But I missed her terribly, and the increase of my wealth, as significant as it was, did little to relieve the anguish of my heart. The LORD must have heard my prayers for her return because He inflicted terrible diseases on Pharaoh and his household, and caused Pharaoh to realize that this punishment was because of Sarai. In anger he commanded his officers to find and arrest me. “Why did you lie to me and say she is your sister,” he demanded? “Look what you’ve done to me!” He immediately released Sarai, and told the officers to escort us out of his kingdom. Hagar, the Egyptian handmaiden Pharaoh had assigned to Sarai, came with us. I remember thinking at the time, “What harm can that do?” Little did I know that I was unwittingly helping to start a family feud that’s lasted nearly 4000 years. More next time.