As baby Abraham gave his first lusty cry at being brought into this cold and cruel world, few would have guessed that his influence would be felt down through the ages. Three of today’s major religions trace their roots back to him, each viewing him as their founder or at least their forefather. Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam see Abraham as an important character in their past, each sees him this way for a different reason.
Abraham is very important to Judaism. Jews believe that God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees (Mesopotamia) in order to make a covenant with him. Through this covenant, God would bless him and give Abraham’s descendants a new land. Abraham left his home to become a wandering herdsman because he had faith in God’s promise: “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 earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-4) God led Abraham through a series of trials in order to test whether or not Abraham really believed God’s promise. The most drastic trial Abraham experienced occurred when God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac through whom the future Messiah (Savior) was promised. Although greatly troubled, Abraham went through with God’s request because he reasoned that God would still somehow fulfill his promise. God rewarded Abraham’s obedience by sending and angel to stop him from killing Isaac and providing a lamb to take Isaac’s place. In essence, without Abraham, Jews would not be the “chosen people” among the nations through which a Savior would later come.
Abraham is indispensable to Christianity, but for a far different reason than he is to Judaism or Islam. Christians hold to the same historical account as the Jews do; but Christians make a further-reaching conclusion. Christians view God’s interaction and covenant with Abraham as something leading up to the coming of Jesus Christ. God’s love for his creation was so infinite that he determined to somehow bridge the immeasurable gap that man had made when he sinned. To this end God made the first covenant with Abraham which included the promise of a future savior, Jesus, who would come through Abraham’s descendants. Any covenant that was made demanded blood to seal the pact. Just as Abraham killed “…a heifer, a goat, and a ram each three years old, along with a dove and young pigeon, “ (NIV, Genesis 15:9) to seal the first covenant, Christians believe that Christ’s blood, when he died on the cross, sealed the second. Christians draw many parallels between Jesus and Abraham’s life. One of the best known examples is the story of Isaac. Isaac was Abrahams dearly loved, only son through whom God had promised the future salvation of the world. Yet God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to see if Abraham’s faith extended that far. Just before Abraham was about to plunge the knife into his only son, an angel stopped him and God provided a ram to die in Isaac’s stead. Christians see Jesus as God’s only son whom he loved infinitely, yet for the sake of mankind God sacrificed his only son. Jesus became the sacrificial lamb so that: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved.” (NIV, Romans 10:13) In conclusion, although they don’t trace their lineage back to Abraham, Christians view themselves as adopted sons because they consider themselves sons of Jesus who was the future promise for Abraham’s descendents.
Abraham’s role in Islam is different from that which he plays in either Christianity or Judaism. Arab Muslims trace their lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. They also see Ishmael as the one through whom God’s covenant would be fulfilled. The Koran says about Ishmael: “And mention Ishmael in the Book; surely he was truthful in (his) promise, and he was an apostle, a prophet. And he enjoined on his family prayer and almsgiving, and was one in whom his Lord was well pleased.” (Marium 19:54-55). Islam’s historical account is a second distinction from the other two. Abraham’s story in the Koran is not as extensive as that of the Hebrew account. The Koran account of Abraham dwells mostly on a struggle going on between Abraham and his father over Abraham’s father’s idol worship. Abraham tries to convince his father not to worship these things that cannot see, hear, feel, taste, or smell, but he only manages to get himself rejected. So he leaves his father to become a true worshipper of Allah and in return for his faithfulness Allah gives Abraham two sons Jacob and Ishmael. In summary, Abraham is not so much the founder of Islam, as he is an example of someone who sought Allah’s will.
Abraham grew up in one of the most advanced cities of his day. Yet when God asked him, Abraham turned away from a life of comfort. He lived a life of faith, seeking after God with all his heart. Perhaps the reason why three major religions claim him as their father is not so much that they can trace their lineage back to him, but the fact that Abraham had such a successful relationship with God.