the flood, Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth, moved away and each
went to live in a different place. They all had large families, and from
their children and their children's children, and their descendants for
many generations, the great nations of the ancient world came into being.
stories in the Old Testament tell of one of these nations, a people who
have been known as the Israelites, the Hebrews, and later the Jews. The
Bible tells us of their beginnings, their growth as a nation, and the many
troubles they faced; but most of the entire Bible is concerned with the
special relationship these people had with God. They have been called
God's Chosen People because God made a solemn agreement with them. He
promised to make them grow and prosper and to help them when they called
upon Him. In return they must obey God's commands and keep alive the true
knowledge of God, so that some day, through them, all mankind would know
special relationship with God began with a man named Abram. He was a
descendant of Noah's son, Shem. He and his wife Sarai lived in a place
called Ur, in the land of the Chaldees on the Euphrates River. They had no
children, and Abram was already an old man when God spoke to him and told
him he must move to a new land.
God told Abram, he would have a family that would become a great nation
and through his family all families would be blessed. It took great faith
to obey this command, but Abram kept this faith. Abram gathered his flocks
of sheep and herds of cattle and set out with his wife, his very aged
father Terah, a brother Nahor, and Lot, the son of another brother who had
traveled up the Euphrates River to a place called Haran. There Terah died
and Nahor decided to stay on. After his father's death, Abram continued
his travels with Sarai and Lot. God had not told Abram where he was to
settle, but when he came into a land called Canaan, God came to his tent
and told Abram He was giving that land to his children and to their
families forever. And this is the area, which became the land of Israel,
the home of the Hebrew people.
and Lot raised sheep and cattle, so they had to move around a great deal
to find the best grass for their animals. Shortly after they arrived in
Canaan they went as far away as Egypt. There they were very successful,
and when they returned to Canaan, they had so many cattle the land could
hardly feed them. The herdsmen of Abram and those working for Lot began to
quarrel about grazing rights, so Abram proposed they separate. He let Lot
choose the land he wanted. Lot went down to the fertile plain of the River
Jordan and Abram stayed in the mountains. As Lot prospered he moved into
the city of Sodom.
he had chosen the richest land, Lot found nothing but trouble because he
had settled among very evil people. First he was captured in a war and
taken as a slave. When Abram heard of this he gathered together all the
men who worked for him, over three hundred in all. He caught up with the
conquering army; beat them in a surprise attack at night, and rescued Lot
and all the other captives. Abram brought Lot and the others back to
Sodom, but refused to take any reward from the king of the city. And then
he returned to his home in the mountains.
was, by this time, a very old man. While he had many families living and
working with him, he and his wife Sarai no longer expected to have any
children of their own. God appeared again to Abram and told him more about
the special relationship his family would have with God.
God changed Abram's name to Abraham, which means father of nations, and He
changed Sarai's name to Sarah, which means princess. Then He told Abraham,
as he was now called, that he and Sarah would have a son. Abraham was so
astonished that he laughed. But God reassured him that the promises He had
made to him would
continue to his son, who would be called Isaac.
next time the Lord returned to Abraham, He appeared as one of three
travelers whom Abraham had invited to his tent to rest and eat. This time
Sarah heard that they were to have a son and she also laughed in
astonishment, but was assured it would really happen.
walked down the road with the three travelers as they left. When they
reached a point where they could look out toward Sodom, where Lot lived,
God told Abraham that He was going to destroy the city along with the
nearby city of Gomorrah, because the people living there had become so
wicked. Abraham pleaded that it was not right to destroy the good people
along with the bad, so God promised to spare the cities if He could find
even ten good people living in them. He could not. The cities were
destroyed in a great fire, but Lot was rescued by two angels who appeared
at his house as travelers.
those days Abraham, and others who loved God, showed this love by placing
on an altar made of stones some of their best food, as a gift to God.
Since they raised animals, this offering was usually a sheep or a calf.
knew that He must impress upon Abraham that the promises He made were part
of a solemn agreement. Abraham must obey all God's commands, no matter how
terrible and painful they might seem. Only in this way could Abraham and
his family understand the seriousness of the agreement they had entered
God ordered Abraham to place his son Isaac upon an altar and kill him just
as if he were a sheep. Abraham was shocked and filled with grief. He had
promised to obey all commands of God, not just those that seemed right to
him. He knew also that God had promised that Isaac would be the father of
a great family, which would lead to a great nation. Perhaps he thought God
would somehow bring Isaac back to life. Whatever Abraham might have
secretly hoped, this was surely the greatest test of faith a man could
face. Abraham set out to obey. He had three days to think over his
decision and change his mind; three days while he traveled with his
beloved son, to the mountain where God had said that he must sacrifice the
they started up the mountain Isaac spoke up and asked his father,
"Where is the lamb for the offering?" Abraham replied, "My
son, God will provide Himself a lamb."
built an altar, tied his son up, and laid him upon the altar. As he stood
with the knife in his
hand, a voice cried out, "Abraham! Abraham!" and he replied,
"Here I am." And then an angel appeared and told him that God
had seen that he had not withheld even his only son, whom he loved, from
God. And so Isaac was spared.
God blessed Abraham and told him again of His great promise that Abraham's
family would be a blessing to all people on earth.
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