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Abraham – Patriarch of Jews, Muslims and Christians

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, irony in all the major world religions is that Jews, Muslims and Christians have a common religious patriarch – Abraham. Muslims trace their lineage back to Ishmael, son of Abraham.[i] Jews trace their ancestry back to Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Christians trace the lineage of Jesus through the line of David back to Abraham.[ii]

A Chaldean having been born in the Chaldees, a future region of Babylon, Abram moved with his father, Terah, and their entire family to Haran in the land of Canaan.[iii] Decades later as a 75-year old man, God told Abram to move his own family to an unnamed destination promising “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[iv] Faithfully, Abram eventually resettled at the mounts of Moriah near a city named Salem. 

Abram one day asked God how His blessing would be honored since he and his wife, Sarai, was childless and were both very old. They had already second guessed God by agreeing that Abram would produce a child through Sarai’s maid servant, Hagar, their son being named Ismael.

In a rare angelic birth announcement, God promised Abram and Sarai she would miraculously have a son at her old age of 90, the newborn to be named Isaac.[v] The Angel of the Lord blessed Abram, changed his name to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and promised Abraham that his descendants would produce nations and kings, a seemingly difficult concept for a man who had no nation to call his own:

Gen. 17:5-6 “And your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you.” (Complete Jewish Bible)

After Isaac was older, God tested Abraham’s faith once again instructing him to sacrifice his only son without whom the promise of a royal legacy would also die.[vi] Horrific human sacrifices such as to the pagan gods Baal and Moloch were not uncommon in that era. On the sacrificial alter, Isaac was spared at the last moment by the Angel of the Lord and was redeemed with a substitute sacrificial ram entangled in a thicket.[vii]

Isaac went on to marry Rebekah, a story in its own right. To them was born a set of paternal twin boys, Esau and Jacob, with completely opposite personalities. Eventually Jacob, the second born, would deceive his blind father and steal Esau’s firstborn blessing.[viii] Isaac unwittingly passed along to Jacob his inheritance blessing received from his father Abraham.

Enraged, Esau planned to kill his twin brother, but Rebekah tipped off Jacob who fled the country. Over the next 20 years in exile, Jacob fathered 10 sons through his first wife, Leah and one to his second wife, Rachel. Jacob decided to risk returning to his homeland with all his family and possessions still believing Esau might want to kill him.[ix]

Ratcheting up the fear factor, the night before entering his homeland Jacob received word that Esau was coming to meet him with a band of 400 men – certainly not the appearance of a friendly welcome home party. In a dream that night, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.[x] The next day, Israel entered the land of Abraham and much to his relief, Esau welcomed him with open arms.[xi]

Rachel would die during the childbirth of Israel’s last and 12th son, Benjamin. She was buried near Ephrath, in the district of Bethlehem, a very short distance from Salem, one day to be called Jerusalem.[xii] Israel’s sons would live to become known as the fathers of the 12 tribes of the Children of Israel.[xiii]

Years later, Israel still oft called Jacob, and his sons were forced to flee their enemies. Returning with his clan to the site of Bethel, the place where God had changed Jacob’s name, he offered a sacrifice. God reappeared to Jacob reinforcing that his name had been changed to Israel and blessed him saying:

Gen 35:11 …”I am the Almighty God; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a multitude of nations shall come into existence from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins. (CJB)[xiv]

A severe famine in the land of Canaan compelled Israel to send his sons to Egypt in search of food as his grandfather Abraham had once done. The second most powerful man in Egypt turned out to be their long lost brother, Joseph, whom the jealous brothers had sold into slavery years before telling their father he had been killed by a wild animal.[xv]

Returning home to get their father and families, eventually all would be joyfully reunited in Egypt with Joseph where they lived out their lives under his protection. Before Israel died, he gave a blessing to each of his sons. For only one son, Judah, did he provide a blessing of power and royalty describing him as a lion:

Gen 49:8-10 “Judah, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you.  A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah.  From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?  The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the student of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him will be a gathering of peoples.” (CJB)

Rabbi Rashi, one of Judaism’s most revered scriptural interpreters, identified Shiloh as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs” and the scepter refers to the royal lineage of “David and thereafter.” [xvi] According to Rashi, the prophetic blessing of Judah was a pretext to the establishment of the kingdom of David.

Jesus of Nazareth is a direct descendant of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham, all of whom were blessed by God to produce a kingdom, in fact, the Messiah – was it merely by chance that Jesus was born in this lineage?

REFERENCES:

[i] Qur’an Surah 2:127-128, 133; 3:68, 84.  Cross reference Qur’an passages about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Surah 3:65; 4:163; 6:84; 19:47-52; 29:27; 33:7; 38:45-47.
[ii] I Chronicles chapter 1. Matthew 1. Luke 3. Qur’an Surah 3:33; 19:58.
[iii] Genesis 11- 12.
[iv] Genesis 12:3.  NASB, NKJV, NRSV.
[v] Genesis 15, 17, 21.  Qur’an Surah 11:69-73; 14:39; 21:72; 37:109-112.
[vi] “Human Sacrifices.”   Bible-history.com.  n.d.  <http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/human_sacrifice.html>  Last accessed 8 June 2014.   Hefner, Alan G. “Baal.”  Encyclopedia Mythica.   11 Jan. 2004.  <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html>   Last accessed 24 May 2014.  “Sacrifice.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.
[vii] Genesis 22.
[viii] Genesis 25, 27, 29.
[ix] Genesis 29-30.
[x] Genesis 32, 35.
[xi] Genesis 33.
[xii] Genesis 35.
[xiii] Genesis 35; I Chronicles 2.  Qur’an cites the “Children of Israel” 41 times – Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
[xiv] Cross reference Qur’an Surah 19:6; 21:71
[xv] Genesis chapters 37; 39-47.  Qur’an 12:4-102, 111.
[xvi] Rashi. The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary.  Commentary on Gensis 49:10.  “Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki).”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2014.   Mindel, Nissan. “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki – Rashi.” Publisher:  Kehot Publication Society.  2008.  Chabad.org.  2014.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111831/jewish/Rabbi-Shlomo-Yitzchaki-Rashi.htm

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