Abraham’s Story: Part 3, Genesis 16-18

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Abraham's Story

“I will bless those who bless you , and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” -Gen 12:3

Twenty years had passed since the famine had driven us to Egypt, and though we had been back in Canaan for the last 10 of those years, we still had not been given the son the LORD promised us. My wife Sarai became impatient (she was 75 years old after all) and decided to take matters into her own hands. Being barren was a source of great shame for her in a time when a woman’s crowning achievement was to produce sons for her husband. The inability to do so was considered a curse from God, and she was worried that He wasn’t going to fulfill His promise to us.

In my day the 282 laws in the Code of Hammurabi governed standards of conduct and behavior. He was a great king from the first Babylonian Dynasty who reigned about 2250 years BC and who had compiled the world’s earliest written system of laws. Invoking a clause from the Code she arranged for her handmaiden Hagar to become a surrogate mother. According to this clause, I was to make Hagar pregnant and the son she bore would be Sarai’s and mine, insuring that we would have a male heir. I did, Hagar did, we finally had our baby boy, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

As soon as Hagar became pregnant, she began to despise Sarai, as only one who has been inferior and has suddenly become superior, at least in her own mind, can. The tension between the two of them was unbearable. In response Sarai treated Hagar so badly that she finally ran away.

The Angel of the LORD found Hagar in the wilderness and directed her to return and submit to her mistress. He said she would have a son whose descendants would be too numerous to count. She was to name him Ishmael, which means, “God hears” showing the LORD had heard of her misery. Ishmael would be like a wild donkey, He said, always contrary to everyone and everyone against him. His people would live in hostility toward all their brothers. Obedient to the LORD, Hagar returned and gave birth to our son, who we named Ishmael. I was 86 years old.

Thirteen years later, The LORD appeared to me again. “I am El Shaddai,” He said, “Walk before me and be blameless.” (He was cleansing me of all my sins.) He had come to confirm His covenant with me that would result in my descendants inheriting all the land of Canaan, and to announce the soon coming birth of the son He had promised us.

He then changed my name from Abram, which means exalted father, to Abraham, which means father of many, signifying the number of my descendants. By doing so, He also put a hint of His name into mine because to say “Abraham” requires expelling a breath, as He had expelled His breath into Adam to bring him life. From now on every mention of my name would be a reminder that the LORD is our Creator. He also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, changing her as well. Sarai means dominating, while Sarah means princess. Then he ordered me to have all the males among my people circumcised as a memorial to this covenant. This was to be done from that time forward every time a newborn male reached the eighth day of his life signifying the everlasting nature of the covenant, and that the land was to be ours as an everlasting possession. (As a sign of His mercy, He had created the body’s natural anesthetic and coagulation enzymes to always be at their lifetime’s peak on the eighth day of a male’s life.)

I reminded the LORD that we already had a son, Ishmael. He replied that while He would bless Ishmael making him the head of a great nation, the father of 12 rulers, the son He had promised us was yet to come. When I laughed at the prospect of becoming a father at 100 years of age, the LORD told me to name our son Isaac, which means, “he laughs.” Sarah would become a mother after all, and at age 90!

A little while later, while I was camped near the Oaks of Mamre, three strangers came along. As it was nearly mealtime, I invited them to stop and rest, and to eat with us. I had Sarah prepare some unleavened bread while some of my men slaughtered and roasted a tender young calf. I brought them some cheese and milk, and in our conversation discovered that it was the LORD Himself, with 2 angels who had become our impromptu guests. He told me that by this time next year Sarah would have delivered our promised son. Sarah overheard this and laughed in disbelief at such a thing, and though she later denied it, the LORD had heard her. Can’t blame her, I had laughed myself, when I first heard it. But the LORD gently scolded her, asking if she thought anything would be too hard for the LORD.

After the meal I learned that the LORD was on His way to inspect Sodom and Gomorrah to see if their lewd and offensive behavior was really as bad as had been reported. I pleaded for the innocent among them, and after a little negotiating the LORD finally promised that if He could find even 10 innocent men in the two cities He would spare them all. Those two cities were a gross offense to Him, and next time I’ll tell you about their destruction.

But as the LORD left I became aware that He had called me His friend. That word meant a great deal more then than it does in your time. It meant that we were bound in a covenant relationship, pledged to each other’s well being for the rest of our lives. In our case, because of the LORD’S eternal nature all people on Earth through all the generations of humankind would be either blessed or cursed according the way they treated my people. It’s nice to have friends in high places. More next time.