the Real Abraham
Please Stand Up
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and
your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 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" (Bereshit / Genesis 12:1-3)
I was recently reminded of a well-known legend about the life of Abraham. According to
this legend Abraham's father, Terah, owned an idol shop in their town of Ur. One day young
Abram (that was his name before God later changed it) was left in charge of the shop.
While his father was gone he smashed the idols. When Terah, upon his return, saw the
damage done, he asked Abram how it happened. Abram replied that the idols were hungry and
asked for food. They got into an argument and the largest idol destroyed the others. When
Terah exclaimed that idols couldn't do any such thing. Abram said, "Father, let your
ears hear what your tongue speaks."
While the teaching of this story about the foolishness of idolatry contains truth, it
actually detracts from the teaching of the Torah. The legend creates for us an impression
of Abraham different from that of the biblical account.
In the Torah, God calls Abraham and makes several promises to him. He will later tell
him that his wife, Sarah, will miraculously give birth to a son who will be the heir of
these same promises. Then when God calls him to risk losing these promises, he trusts God
to the end.
According to the Bible, God initiated his relationship with Abraham. God speaks,
Abraham believes. God initiates, Abraham responds. The legend on the other hand puts the
emphasis on the exploits of Abraham. Abraham becomes the hero of monotheism, rather than
the humble servant of the Almighty.
The creation of such a legend is but one example of how we tend to mold the teachings
of Scripture into our own likeness. This is not something that only ancient Jewish
teachers did. Many of us, when we take upon ourselves a religious cause or emphasize a
particular idea, begin to read those causes and ideas into the Bible.
The shift in emphasis created by the Abraham legend is a common one. It appears that we
have a difficult time accepting the Bible's message that God is the one who has taken the
initiative in restoring our relationship with him. We tend to think that people come to
know God based on something inherently in them rather than through a gracious act of mercy
on God's part.