After 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. 

The 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 God. 

This 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. 

There, 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 died. 

They 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. 

Abram 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. 

Though 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. 

Abram 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. 

First, 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. 

The 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. 

Abraham 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. 

In 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. 

God 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 into. 

Therefore, 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 boy. 

When 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." 

Abraham 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. 

Then 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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