Announcing Bruce’s forthcoming book, The First Love Story, from Penguin Random House
The following passages regarding Abraham from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Koran are meant to inspire direct commentary from the text. They are grouped thematically.
The lord said to Abram, “go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, at the terebinth of Moreh. The Canannites were then in the land.
Hoping against hope, [Abraham] believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “so numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death, and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old — and Sarah herself was barren — because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
Now Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she added, “who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children! Yet I have borne a son in his old age.” The child grew up and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.
Sarah saw the son, whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, playing. She said to Abraham, “Cast out the slavewoman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac. The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed.” Early the next morning Abraham took some bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them over her shoulder, together with the child, and sent her away. And she wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, “let me not look on as the child dies.” And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears.
God heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “what troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink. God was with the boy and he grew up; he dwelt in the wilderness and became a bowman. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Look, the Lord has kept me from bearing. Consort with my maid, perhaps I shall have a son through her.” And Abram heeded Sarai’s request. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian — after Abram had dwelt in the land of Canaan ten years — and gave her to her husband Abram as a concubine.
He cohabited with Hagar and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was lowered in her esteem. And Sarai said to Abram, “the wrong done me is your fault! I myself put my maid in your bosom; now that she sees that she is pregnant, I am lowered in her esteem. The Lord decide between you and me!” Abram said to Sarai, “Your maid is in your hands. Deal with her as you think right.” Then Sarai treated her harshly, and she ran away from her.
An angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur, and said “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” And she said, “I am running away from my mistress, Sarai.”
And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress, and submit to her harsh treatment.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly increase your offspring, and they shall be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are with child and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has paid heed to your suffering. He shall be a wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; he shall dwell alongside of all his kinsmen.” And she called to the Lord who spoke to her, “you are El-roi,” by which she meant, “have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it is between Kadesh and Bered.- Hagar bore a son to Abram, and Abram gave the son that Hagar bore him the name Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “here I am.” And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights which I will point out to you.” So early the next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set for the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, “you stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. He himself too the firestone and the knife; and the two walked off together. Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he answered, “Yes, my son.” And he said “Here are the firestone and wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them walked on together.
They arrived at the place of which God had told him. Abraham built an altar there; he laid out the wood, he bound his son Isaac, he laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
And Abraham picked up the knife to slay his son. Then an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven: “Abraham! Abraham!” And he answered, “here I am.” And he said “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham named that site Adonai-yireh, whence the present saying “On the mount of the Lord there is a vision.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said “by myself I swear, the Lord declares: because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command.”
We gave him news of a gentle son. And when he reached the age when he could work with him, his father said to him: ‘My son, I dreamt that I was sacrificing you. Tell me what you think.’
He replied: ‘Father, do as you are bidden. God willing, you shall find me steadfast.’
And when they had both submitted to God, and Abraham had laid down his son prostrate upon his face, We called out to him, saying ‘Abraham, you have fulfilled your vision.’ Thus do We reward the righteous. That was indeed a bitter test. We ransomed his son with a noble sacrifice and bestowed on him the praise of later generations. ‘Peace be on Abraham!’
Thus do We reward the righteous. He was one of Our believing servants.