Abram’s Birth

One of the most important persons at Nimrod’s court in Ur of the Chaldees in Babel, or Babylonia, was Terah, the son of Nahor, a great-great grandson of Eber. Terah had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

The night before Abram was born, Nimrod’s astrologers were gathered at Terah’s house. Looking out into the night sky, they read in the constellation of the stars that the newly born child was to become the chief and the father of a mighty nation. This discovery was communicated to Nimrod, who became afraid that the new star might darken his own.

Nimrod’s Attempt on Abram’s Life

Nimrod asked Terah to bring the newly born baby to the palace to be killed. Terah tried to talk Nimrod out of it, but he couldn’t. He risked his life and the lives of his whole family, and exchanged his son with a servant’s child born the same day as Abram. Nimrod did not suspect the ruse, and he killed the baby with his own hands. Meanwhile, Abram was hidden in a cave.

Young Abram Recognizes G-D

Abram stayed in the cave until he was ten years old. During this time he came to believe in the existence of G‑d through reasoning. Abram had watched the sun and the moon and the stars coming and going, each in its own time. He had noticed the sun giving way to the moon, despite its apparent divine power, and the moon giving place to the sun in the morning. And so he reasoned that there must be a Power above and beyond all the visible forces of nature, a Power Who had created them, and Who regulated and controlled them at all times. Behind the limited power of all nature, young Abram perceived the unlimited and timeless existence of G‑d.

Then G‑d made Himself known to Abram and taught him the right way of living. Later Abram went to the house of Noah and Shem. There he stayed many years; there he studied and learned to serve G‑d.

Abram Destroys the Idols

Nimrod had long forgotten the threat of the new star which his astrologers had predicted. He had rewarded Terah for his faithfulness and had given him even higher honors than before. For Terah was clever, and Nimrod took his advice in matters of state. Besides, Terah had always appeared an obedient servant with regard to the new idols Nimrod introduced in his empire. Nimrod had no reason to hold any grudge against Terah, in spite of his astrologers’ predictions.

Abram had been taught the knowledge of the true G‑d, and he despised the idol worship of the people around him. He therefore decided to do everything in his power to crush the belief in idol worship. He talked to all the visitors at his father’s house and convinced many that their belief in idols was false and foolish.

G‑d's Command and Promise to Abram

Meanwhile, Abram married Sarai. And the people in Mesopotamia did not worship G‑d. They worshipped all kinds of idols and followed the wicked ways of Nimrod and his people. G‑d saw that Abram was the only one who was righteous and G‑d fearing. G‑d, therefore, appeared to Abram and said: "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you."

Abram’s Obedience

Abram did as G‑d told him. At the age of seventy-five years, he left Haran, accompanied by his wife Sarai, and nephew Lot, the son of his brother Haran. They wandered into the land of Canaan. Here, near the city of Shechem, in the oak groves of Moreh, G‑d again appeared to Abram and said: “This land I shall give to your children.” Abram built an altar to G‑d and traveled through the country to spread the knowledge of G‑d wherever he went.

Abram Goes To Egypt

While Abram was on this journey, a famine broke out in the land, and Egypt, so long known as the storehouse of the world, became the goal of Abram’s wandering. Knowing the evil ways and morals of the Egyptians, Abram tried to hide his fair wife Sarai. But the custom-officers discovered her and took her into King Pharoah’s palace, believing her to be Abram’s sister and not his wife. At night, G‑d appeared to Sarai and assured her that nothing would happen to her. And G‑d smote Pharaoh and his men with plagues, and they could not touch Sarai. When they found out the reason for all the trouble that had come to them, Pharoah called Abram and rebuked him for not having revealed to him that Sarai was his wife. Then he sent Abram and Sarai away, after he had given them many gifts of cattle and servants. Abram and Sarai returned now to the Land of Canaan.

Abram now received from G‑d another of those promises so full of hope and gladness. He was bidden to lift his eyes to the north and south, the east and west; for all that land should belong to him and to his descendants forever. And great and numerous should be his offspring, for G‑d pledged, “I shall make your seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then your seed shall also be numbered. Arise, pass through the land, in its length and in its width; for to you I shall give it.”

Thus commanded by G‑d, Abram traveled southward, until he reached the city of Kiryath Arba, later called Hebron. There he was welcomed by Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, the resident lords of the Amorites. They formed an alliance, and Abram settled down in the oak-groves of Mamre.

Count the Stars

G‑d appeared to Abram and promised him further protection and great reward. Abram exclaimed, “Of what avail is all my wealth if I go childless, and there be no one to carry on my work after me?”

The answer full of comfort came forthwith, that no stranger should be his heir, but his own child. To enhance the force of these words, G‑d called Abram from his tent and told him to look upwards to the heavens. The next moment Abram was standing at the door of his tent, gazing upwards and listening to the Divine words: "Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So will be your seed."

Although Abram was already an old man and his wife could hardly be expected to have children, now after she had been childless for so many years, Abram believed this promise, and G‑d gave him much credit for his great faith. Again G‑d appeared to him in a vision, this time not altogether of a comforting nature. And He said to Abram, “You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years. And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions. But you will come to your forefathers in peace; you will be buried in a good old age. And the fourth generation will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites will not be complete until then.” As the voice of G‑d ceased in the midst of the dense darkness, a flame descended upon the sacrifice Abram had offered up; and while the animals were consumed, G‑d reappeared: “To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates river.”

The Covenant

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, G‑d appeared unto him again and changed his name from Abram to Abraham, meaning “the father of a multitude of nations.” Sarai also received the direct blessing of G‑d; before she had been called Sarai, but now she should be known by the noble and proud name of Sarah, “Queen”: “I shall bless her,” said G‑d, “and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be of her.”

G‑d then made a covenant with Abraham. According to this covenant Abraham and his future generations must follow in the path of G‑d, and G‑d promised them the land of Canaan and His protection and care. The command for circumcision (Brit) was then given as a symbol of this covenant. Every newly born Jewish boy should be circumcised at the age of eight days. Abraham himself, despite his ripe age, and all the male members of his household, underwent that operation, and the covenant was established for all generations to come.

Abraham’s Guests

Abraham was recovering from his operation when G‑d visited him in his tent in the groves of Mamre. The day was hot and Abraham was in pain.

It was not so much the discomfort of the heat that troubled Abraham, as the thought that the blazing sun was keeping all wayfarers off the road. G‑d decided that He would not deprive Abraham of the pleasure of welcoming guests and visitors. G‑d sent three angels disguised as wandering Arabs to walk past the grove. Abraham saw the wandering Arabs and ran forth to meet and greet them, forgetting all his pain.

He urged them not to pass by but to rest beneath the shade of the trees, whilst he fetched water to wash their feet, and bread for refreshment. No servant was to assist in preparing the strangers’ meal, but Sarah herself baked the cakes of fine flour, while Abraham hastened to the herd, choosing a young and tender calf, which was made ready without delay. Only later, when the angels announced that a year from that day Sarah would give birth to a son, did Abraham realize who his guests were; and happiness filled his heart. Sarah too, heard the message, and could hardly believe that at the age of ninety she was yet to be blessed with a child!