Abram (later renamed Abraham) is a very important man in the Biblical scheme of things because God’s promises to him recorded in Genesis 12:1-3 (and repeated multiple times afterward) set the course for human history. In God’s relationship with Abram we find out that God is willing to obligate himself to people as a free gift – as an act of Grace. This Grace is received by faith, by those who will trust and follow God based upon his promise.
At root, this is the human dilemma in the Bible: be your own God (by living life on your terms), or place your faith in God (and his promises and trust and follow him). Pick one or the other; your choice determines your destiny.
God made this promise to Abram:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2, 3)
Abram was simply asked to trust and follow.
As stated in Genesis 12:2,3 there are two parts of the promise that are particularly significant to us and to an understanding of the major contours of the Bible. First, God promised to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation; and second, God promised to bless all nations of the world through Abram. The two parts of this promise formed the basis of the two major divisions of the Bible: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
It is not just the promises that are important, but also Abram’s response to God. Abram is a significant figure in Biblical history. He is an example for all people of what it is to have faith in God and his promises (Romans 4:1-3; James 2:20-24; Galatians 3:6-9). When God made the promise, Abram believed him. Abraham trusted and followed rather than being his own “god” by leaning on “his own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
At first Abram’s faith was weak — though he believed God, he didn’t trust him enough in the early years to keep away from sin. Abram deceived Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20), and then Abimelech, the leader of a group in the land of Canaan (Genesis 20:1-18). He trusted God, but he was still learning to completely trust him. As he came to a deeper trust in God, he resorted to this kind of behavior less often.
God was patient with Abram and, over time, Abram found that he could trust God in new areas of his life. Later, when he was ready, God tested his faith. He asked Abram to sacrifice his son Isaac, by killing him as an act of obedience.
This was Abram’s dear son, the one through whom the promises of building a great nation and blessing all other nations were to be fulfilled. By this time Abram trusted God enough to do it. He brought the boy to the place of sacrifice. And just as he raised the knife and was about to kill his son, God stopped him. God said:
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)
Thus, Abram proved to be faithful and the promises were fulfilled. Because of his faith, Abram became the forefather of all who enter into faithful relationships with God. He is our example and role model. God wants our faith to grow as Abram’s faith grew.