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What Religion Was Abraham?

February 25, 2011

Here's an interesting question. What religion was Abraham?

After all - he is claimed as the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Based on that claim, some would say that we all believe in the same "god".

Since the Jewish religion appears first in the Bible, it may make sense to claim that Abraham was a Jew.

But - he was the father of Ishmael - who the Muslims claim to be descended from. Which gives them a claim to Abraham as their father. Even though Islam came last in terms of when it arrived on the earth - they still claim Abraham for their own.

And then there's the Christians - who come in the middle - sort of. The thing is - Jesus entered the earth as a Jew - from the house of David - ultimately traced back to Abraham.

Of course - there's always Noah. Everyone can trace back to him as well. Was Noah Jewish?

And that's how this whole article got started. Mike Mason's book, The Gospel According To Job, asks the question like this -

Was Noah a Jew? Was Abraham a Jew? It was the patriarchs who spawned the Jewish nation, not the other way around.

So - let's start at the beginning and see where this goes. BTW - as usual, all references and searches are based on the NIV Bible.

The first instance of God making a covenant with someone is Noah, as we see in Genesis 6:17-21 --

"I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

The first 8 times the word covenant is used all relate to God's covenant with Noah - that God will save Noah and his family and the animals that they take on the ark - and everything else on the earth will perish.
From that - we are all descendants of both Adam and Noah. Doesn't matter what religion - everyone is descended from both men.
And - at this time - there are no Jews and certainly no Christians or Muslims.

The next instance of the word covenant comes in Genesis 15:18-20 --

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

At this time, Abraham was still known by his original name - Abram.
His wife, later known as Sarah - was known as Sarai at this time.

So - God tells Abram that He is making a covenant to give the land to Abram's descendants. If we go to the Hebrew words, it would be more like the King James Version, which says "unto thy seed" - as in -

So - the land wasn't to go to Abram (AKA Abraham) - it was his descendants that were to receive it.

Now it gets interesting. Which descendants?

Here, things get messy. It's like watching a modern day soap opera.
As we see in
Genesis 16:1-5

Ge 16:1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

Good grief!

Was this really what God intended - or did Abram and Sarai just really mess things up?

Let's look at how this continues - in Genesis 16:6-10 --

Ge 16:6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

Ge 16:7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Ge 16:9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

So now God has a covenant with Abram's descendants - and has promised to make Hagar's descendants too numerous to count.

But - the big question - is this two different groups of people - or just one?

Let's keep going, Genesis 16:11-16 --

Ge 16:11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:

“You are now with child

and you will have a son.

You shall name him Ishmael,

for the LORD has heard of your misery.

Ge 16:12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;

his hand will be against everyone

and everyone’s hand against him,

and he will live in hostility

toward all his brothers. ”

Ge 16:13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi ; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

Ge 16:15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Hagar's descendants are to be the seed of Ishmael. This is the path from which the Muslims descend.

But - at this point - we still don't know where things stand as far as whether or not the Jewish people will also come from this part of the family tree.

Let's continue, moving on with Genesis 17:1-8 --

Ge 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Ge 17:3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

OK - so now God promises to greatly increase Abram's numbers - to make him the father of many nations - and now the parties to the covenant have changes ever so slightly -

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

It's now between God, Abraham (no longer called Abram) and Abraham's descendants.


Sounds like the covenant leaves out Ishmael.

Should there be any doubt - Genesis 17:15-16 makes it clear –

Ge 17:15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Looks like the covenant is not with Ishmael.

BTW - if you've noticed - Ishmael is actually not a descendant of "Abraham". He's a descendant of "Abram". The same person - but different.

And - just to make sure this is perfectly clear - God continues in Genesis 17:19-22

Ge 17:19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Clearly - the covenant is to be made not with Ishmael - but with Isaac.

If you've read carefully - you noticed that verse 19 starts with God saying "Yes, but...". What was the question? From Genesis 17:18

Ge 17:18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

No covenant with Ishmael or his descendants.

From there - the soap opera continued with Jacob and Esau - Isaac's children.
Genesis 25:19-26 tells about them –

Ge 25:19 This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

Ge 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.

Ge 25:23 The LORD said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you will be separated;

one people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger. ”

Ge 25:24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

So we have Esau and Jacob.

And as the soap opera of their lives went on - things ended up just as the Lord foretold.

First - Esau gives up his birthright to Jacob, in Genesis 25:29-34

Ge 25:29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. )

Ge 25:31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright. ”

Ge 25:32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

Ge 25:33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Ge 25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

Then, as Isaac is dying - he gives his blessing to Jacob instead of to Esau because he was tricked into believing it was being given to Esau. The result is seen in Genesis 27:30-40

Ge 27:30 After Isaac finished blessing him and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

Ge 27:32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

Ge 27:33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”

Ge 27:34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

Ge 27:35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

Ge 27:36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob ? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

Ge 27:37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”

Ge 27:38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

Ge 27:39 His father Isaac answered him,

“Your dwelling will be

away from the earth’s richness,

away from the dew of heaven above.

Ge 27:40 You will live by the sword

and you will serve your brother.

But when you grow restless,

you will throw his yoke

from off your neck.”

So - Jacob gets Esau's blessing and birthright.

What's this got to do with Ishmael? How about Genesis 28:6-9

Ge 28:6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

The wives that Esau already had were Canaanite. Oops.
So he goes to Ishmael to take another wife.
That may be pleasing to Isaac - but it still puts Esau on the wrong side of the family tree for God's blessing.

Eaton's Bible dictionary concludes it's section on Esau with this

At the age of forty years, to the great grief of his parents, he married (Gen 26:34,35) two Canaanitish maidens, Judith, the daughter of Beeri, and Bashemath, the daughter of Elon. When Jacob was sent away to Padan-aram, Esau tried to conciliate his parents (Gen 28:8,9) by marrying his cousin Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael. This led him to cast in his lot with the Ishmaelite tribes; and driving the Horites out of Mount Seir, he settled in that region. After some thirty years' sojourn in Padan-aram Jacob returned to Canaan, and was reconciled to Esau, who went forth to meet him (33:4). Twenty years after this, Isaac their father died, when the two brothers met, probably for the last time, beside his grave (35:29). Esau now permanently left Canaan, and established himself as a powerful and wealthy chief in the land of Edom (q.v.).

Long after this, when the descendants of Jacob came out of Egypt, the Edomites remembered the old quarrel between the brothers, and with fierce hatred they warred against Israel.

(from Easton's Bible Dictionary, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

So now we have the link between Ishmael, who didn't get the covenant with God - and Esau, who didn't get Jacob's blessing.
Then - as time goes on in the Bible, the descendants of these two are always at odds with God's chosen people - who are ultimately identified as the Jewish nation.

OK - what next?
So far we have Sarai giving her servant to Abram and having Ishmael as a son from them.
Then God changes their names to Abraham and Sarah.
Then Abraham and Sarah have Isaac. has two sons - but the second one (Jacob) gets the birthright and blessing that would normally have gone to the first (Esau).
Esau goes to Ishmael to get another wife, trying to please Isaac.
There have been problems related to this ever since.

Well - something else happened a bit later - another name change. We don't find out about that until Exodus 6:2-5

Ex 6:2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

So - not only did Ishmael come from Abram (and Hagar) and Isaac from Abraham (and Sarah) - but God reveals a new name to Moses and the Israelites long after that.

This begs another question. What were those names?

Back in Genesis 17:1 we have -

Ge 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

God Almighty. The Hebrew word used is Shadday:

So that's how Abraham knew God.

What about Hagar - the mother of Ishmael, who in turn was the father of one of Esau's wives? How did she know God?

Ge 16:13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

The God who sees me, with the word God translated from the Hebrew as -

Not the same.

What about Moses? What did God tell Moses His name was?

Ex 6:2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.

Now God calls Himself Yahweh in Hebrew, which is translated as -

Fascinating stuff. Sorry to go through so many translations and all - but I think it's the only way to make the point.

When Muslims talk about their religion having Abraham as it's father - and that they believe in the same "god" as the Christians and Jews - it's true - up to a point. The same people are involved.

But - God changes their names in between the time of Ishmael's birth and Isaac's birth. When this happens in the Bible - it's more than just a name change. It's a major change in the person and their heart - God has done something to them.
For example - look at the Apostle Paul. As Paul - he wrote a large part of the New Testament - built many churches - led an incredible life for Jesus and to bring others to Jesus. But - prior to the name change, he was Saul. As Saul - he was the ultimate Pharisee - knew the Jewish law like the back of his hand and persecuted Christians at every opportunity.

So - we have name changes for the people.

We also have a name change for God - revealing another side of Himself. And this is how He will be know to the Jewish people. But that name is first given to Moses - not to Abraham.

The God that Hagar knew wasn't the same as Abraham - even though they lived at the same time. Yes - it's the same God - but not the same, in that Hagar didn't have the same understanding of Him as Abraham.

And even Abraham didn't have the same understanding as Moses.

The temptation here is to get lost in questions like why does God do things like this.
I'd like to know that myself. The thing is - He's God - and I'm not. He can do whatever He wants. And He doesn't have to explain the why to us.

But - He does reveal to us the fact that He did these things - that He reveals Himself differently to different people. It was like a learning experience for the Israelites in the Old Testament.

But - for us now - we can go back and see what they were "taught".

And if we look closely - take the time to go through all the stuff above and see what the original words were - what they actually meant - as opposed to the translations that we get today that are meant to be easy to read - but maybe lose important parts of the original context and definitions - it's clear that differences exist between the God of the Jewish people and of the Muslims.

And that's not even getting into the huge differences written about in other articles on the site as it relates to Islam versus Christianity.

Yes - God did say He would make a great nation of the descendants of Ishmael. yes - Isaac did give Esau a rather strange blessing. And maybe that blessing is coming to fruition now -

Ge 27:39 His father Isaac answered him,

“Your dwelling will be

away from the earth’s richness,

away from the dew of heaven above.

Ge 27:40 You will live by the sword

and you will serve your brother.

But when you grow restless,

you will throw his yoke

from off your neck.”

But in the final analysis - there are major differences. The covenant was made between God and Abraham's (not Abram's) descendants through Sarah (not Hagar).

Try as they might - there's nothing Muslim's can say to convince the world they we all believe in the same "god" - as long as we all really know which "god" we all believe in.

Which God do you believe in?

In a sense - that's almost a trick question.

It's more like - which teaching about "god" do you believe in?

If you're a regular reader of my site - you know I talk about free will. In a sense, there almost has to be more than one teaching about "god". Otherwise - there'd be no free will to exercise. Once we have the free will to believe or not believe what God says about Himself - someone is going to start making changes to what He said. Then there's different versions. Maybe it's by an outright deception - maybe by a lack of full understanding - but it's just bound to happen.
We all have an opportunity to learn the truth. But we don't all take it.
This is something I've wondered about for quite a while - but the last few weeks is the first time I've really taken the time to check it out in such detail. It's been most interesting for me. Hopefully it is for you too.

So let's re-word that question about which "god" you believe in.
Let's make it - which version of "god" do you believe in?
Is it the one handed down from Abram / Hagar / Ishmael / Esau?
Or the one that came from Abraham / Sarah / Isaac / Jacob?

If it's Abram / Hagar / Ishmael / Esau - then you're following the path to Islam.

If it's Abraham / Sarah / Isaac / Jacob - then you're on the path that ultimately leads to Jesus.

Make no mistake - they may have started from a common point - but it is two paths - and they most certainly do not lead to the same place.

Think not?

Consider this one last thing, from Malachi 1:1-5

Mal 1:1 An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.

Jacob Loved, Esau Hated

Mal 1:2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob,

Mal 1:3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Mal 1:4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.

Mal 1:5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD—even beyond the borders of Israel!’