7.2. The message of the Suhuf Ibrahim: What did the God of Abraham start?
From the above you can see that the Suhuf Ibrahim (scripture pages of Abraham) in the Hebrew Tawrat Musa (Torah of Moses) is essentially a family story of Abraham and of his wife, i.e. a Sira of Abraham and Sarah. To summarize the overall message of these Suhuf Ibrahim, we will focus on how the LORD dealt with and what he said to Abraham and his wife Sarah and how in these encounters the LORD became the God of Abraham. While summarizing these events we will find the answer to the question as to what the God of Abraham started.
In chapter 2 above we noted that the Koran does not mention geographical details about where Abraham lived and where he traveled to. In addition, the 242 verses of the Koran about Abraham do not provide any chronological information, which would allow you to order the events in the life of Abraham in their historical order according to the verses of the Koran. This is again completely different in the Suhuf Ibrahim. There you find information about the ages of Abraham and of his wife Sarah in connection with a number of events of their lives, which are described in the Suhuf Ibrahim. These chronological details show that the passages in the Suhuf Ibrahim follow the order of the events in the lives of Abraham and Sarah. As we summarize the message of the Suhuf Ibrahim we will follow this chronological order.
Also, you will notice that in the Suhuf Ibrahim there was a change in the names of Abraham and Sarah. Their names were first Abram and Sarai, which were later changed by the LORD to become Abraham and Sarah. We also remain faithful to this special characteristic of the Suhuf Ibrahim in the following key events in the lives of Abraham and Sarah:
7.2a) When Abram was 75 years old, he was sent by the LORD to a promised land: The first truth about Abram is that the LORD did not send him to his people, like many prophets later were sent to their people as messengers from the LORD. Rather, Abram was sent away from his people, because the LORD wanted to start something radically new with and through Abram. This can be seen in the beginning of the life story of Abram: "1 Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and from your relatives and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make you (to become) a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' " (Genesis 12:1-3) Here the LORD commands Abram to leave his native place and family. This command is connected with a promise of the LORD to Abram: he himself will become a great nation or people, he will be blessed and he will be a blessing for all mankind. So, the reason, why Abram was not sent by the LORD to his people like all other prophets, was that the LORD wanted to begin a new and special people through him. This makes Abram unique among those, who were sent by the LORD.
Abram obeyed this command of the LORD: "4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your seed (i.e. offspring) I will give this land.' So, he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him." (Genesis 12:4-7) The land to which the LORD had sent him was the land of Canaan, which today is called Palestine or Israel. When he arrived there, the LORD did not only speak to Abram, but the LORD made himself to be seen by Abram. This means that the LORD came to Abram to speak to him directly. What did He tell him? Abram was not only to have offspring, but this offspring would also receive this land of Canaan that he had reached.
7.2b) When Abram was between 75 and 85 years old the LORD affirmed His promises to him: After Abram had reached the land, where the LORD had sent him, he traveled to the south. After spending some time in Egypt, where Abram and Sarai faced problems with the Pharaoh, out of which the LORD saved them (Genesis 12:1-20), he then returned to the land of Canaan, where he and his nephew Lot separated (Genesis 13:1-3). This way Abram and his wife Sarai did not only leave their native land and most of their relatives, but now they had separated from all their relatives, as the Lord had told him in the beginning. Lot and his servants chose the fertile Jordan valley and Abram with his servants moved to the less fertile hill country of Canaan. Then we read: "14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, 'Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.' " (Genesis 13:14-16) Notice that the LORD is not telling Abram what he is to preach to other people, like normal prophets. Rather the LORD is giving additional details concerning His promises to Abram: he was not only to get part of the Land of Canaan, but all of it, and his offspring would not just become a nation, but would be uncountable.
The years passed by without Abram and Sarai having any offspring. They were longing very much to have a son. Therefore, Abram started having his doubts and became troubled. In this situation we read: "1 … the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: 'Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.' 2 But Abram said, 'O Lord LORD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?' … 4 And behold the word of the LORD came to him: 'This man shall not be your heir, your very own son shall be your heir.' 5 And he brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:1-5) It is amazing that the LORD did not punish Abram for his doubts, but that He encouraged him to continue trusting the LORD. Also, He made his promises to Abram even more precise in that the LORD promised him that he will have a son and his offspring would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. How did Abram react? He believed and trusted the LORD, who counted it to him as righteousness. This is a revolutionary spiritual truth: you do not become righteous by obeying the LORD, but you become righteous by believing in the LORD and trusting what He promises you. The whole Injil al-Masih (Gospel of Christ) is built on this foundation of righteousness by faith. This passage ends with another detail: "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates …' " (Genesis 15:18) Here God did not just make a promise, but he concluded a covenant, in this case a one-side contract with Abram, in which Abram's portion would be that his offspring will own the whole land and nothing else would be demanded on the side of Abram, other than his trust and faith in the LORD that He would fulfill His promises.
7.2c) When Abram was 85 years old his wife Sarai and he himself tried to solve their problem of childlessness on their own: In spite of all these promises and even a covenant of the LORD with him, the doubts of Abram and of his wife did not stop. Finally, they wanted to work out their own solution. Here is what they did: "1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, 'Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant, it may be that I shall obtain children from her.' And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the Land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress." (Genesis 16:1-4) This is the trick, which Sarai and her husband Abram used to produce offspring. The result was that Sarai became jealous of her maid Hagar and treated her harshly to the extent that Hagar fled from her into the wilderness.
7.2d) When Abram was 86 years old his son Ishmael was born: There in the wilderness the angel of the LORD found Hagar and said to her, "9 … 'Return to your mistress and submit to her.' 10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, 'I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.' 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, 'Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction.' … 15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram." (Genesis 16:9-11 and 15-16) This is an amazing turn of events. A woman, even a slave woman, is sought out by God through the angel of the LORD, who gave Hagar not only instructions, but also incredible promises! She would give birth to a son, whose name Ishmael was chosen by the angel of the LORD himself, and Hagar's offspring from her son would be multiplied so that for them too, nobody would be able to number them. This is a moving testimony to the mercy and gentleness of the LORD. It was not the fault of the maid Hagar, that Abram and Sarai had tried to trick the LORD into a crooked solution to their childlessness. Therefore, Hagar was not punished, rather she was blessed with lasting and numerous offspring.
7.2e) When Abraham was 99 years old the LORD became the God of Abraham and promised him a son from his barren wife Sarah: After this event the Suhuf Ibrahim are silent about what happened then. It is only thirteen years later that the LORD intervened again. We read: "1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you greatly.' 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 'Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. … 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to BE YOUR GOD and (the God) of your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will BE THEIR GOD." (Genesis 17:1-5 and 7-8) Again this is an amazing turn of events. The LORD did not punish Abram for his crooked plot to trick God into an offspring through the maid of his wife. He only received an admonishment to walk before the LORD and to be perfect, i.e. to abide only and exclusively by what the LORD commands and promises him. This touched Abram deeply and therefore he fell on his face in fear. He expected to be judged and condemned for disobeying the LORD. But instead God renewed His promise of offspring to him and gave Abram the new name Abraham, meaning "Father of nations". And then the LORD became the GOD OF ABRAHAM! Through this God in a unique way bound himself to Abraham and to his descendants so that henceforth he would be called the God of Abraham. Thereby he also became the God of this future people, which would proceed from Abraham's seed: a new people, GOD'S OWN PEOPLE. This is what the God of Abraham wanted to start with and through Abraham. Also, the LORD renewed the promise that Abraham and his offspring would come to possess the land, in which Abraham was journeying, i.e. the Land of Canaan.
And after instituting the sign of this covenant, which was the circumcision of the foreskin of all male members of Abraham's household, God went one step further. We read: "15 And God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of people shall come from her.' 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?' 18 And Abraham said to God, 'Oh that Ishmael might live before you!' 19 God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.' " (Genesis 17:15-21) This had been the intention of God from the very beginning, to give Abraham a child from his barren wife as a sign for all eternity, that God is at the origin of this new people. However, because of their trick with Hagar and Ishmael the LORD had to explicitly set things straight. God now showed that he wanted to set up His covenant with the offspring of Abraham from his true wife Sarah. Since both of them were very old, this promise of God made Abraham laugh in astonishment. Therefore, God told him that the name of his son from Sarah would imply laughing, for the name "Isaac" literally means "He laughs", meaning Abraham is laughing about this incredible promise by God. Also, in view of Ishmael, who had already been born by Hagar, God promised to multiply him too. However, God contradicted Abraham, by ruling that His covenant with Abraham would only pass by his heir from his true wife Sarah.
7.2f) When Abraham was 100 years old Isaac was born from his barren wife Sarah and Ishmael was sent away with his mother: One year later exactly this happened. What the Lord had foretold Abraham and Sarah came to pass. Here are the details: "1 The LORD visited Sarah as he had said; and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. … 5 Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him." (Genesis 21:1-3 and 5) Never doubt the word and promises of God! The LORD, the God of Abraham, is unique in that He is utterly truthful and faithful. It is impossible for Him to lie! And these verses prove this characteristic of the God of Abraham. His promise one year earlier was truthful and He was faithful in letting this miracle in Sarah take place. She was barren and humanly speaking it was impossible for her to bear a child. This may be the reason, why the name of Abraham is not mentioned in connection with the conception of Isaac. Only in connection with Isaac's birth is Abraham mentioned. For this reason, later, the offspring of Abraham through Isaac were sometimes called "sons of the LORD" (See for example in the Torah: Deuteronomy 14:1 "You are the sons of the LORD your God.")
Then the two sons of Abraham grew up. It was inevitable that rivalry and jealousy would arise. Finally, Sarah, as the mistress, had enough. She demanded from Abraham to dismiss Hagar with her and his son Ishmael. This very much displeased Abraham. However, then God again intervened: "12 But God said to Abraham, 'Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring. 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba." (Genesis 21:12-13) In a way this is the punishment, which Abraham had expected all along. But now it came in a form that he did not anticipate. It hurt him very much to drive out his first-born son with his mother into the desert. But by this time, he had learned his lesson: never argue with the LORD, who is full of truth, faithfulness and compassion. So, he entrusted Ishmael and Hagar to the care of this LORD, who had helped him in so many difficult situations.
And this is exactly what happened. The boy and his mother suffered badly from lack of water. The boy cried heartbreakingly. But God intervened: "17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Get up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.' 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt." (Genesis 21:17-21) Here again we see the compassion and gentleness of the God of Abraham at work. He did not leave this firstborn son of Abraham to die in the desert, but he helped his mother and him to survive and to regain confidence through a wonderful promise. The result was that even though Ishmael no longer was permitted to live with Abraham, he did develop into a strong and energetic man and later on founded a complete people, the Ishmaelites. From the point of view of Abraham, however, this was one further step in fulfilling the original command of the LORD to him, namely to leave all his relatives and begin a new people only with Sarah, his true wife. Abraham was obedient in this point too. But there was one more test he had to go through, which was the most difficult one.
7.2g) When Abraham was older than 100 years, he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac to test his fear of God: We conclude this summary of the message of the Suhuf Ibrahim by coming to the most difficult and painful event in the life of Abraham. God asked Abraham to do something terrible. Here is what we read: "1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' 2 He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.' 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him." (Genesis 22:1-3) After all these decades of waiting for a son from his barren wife Sarah, and after experiencing the miracle that God gave him a son in spite of their old age, God came and asked him to do this terrible thing. How did Abraham react? In the meantime, after seeing how the LORD had dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah (which we did not treat here) and after seeing God's great power of creation in the birth of his son Isaac, he had learned to trust this almighty God. Therefore, he obeyed on the spot without questioning God in any way. He trusted this God completely, whom he had come to experience as being truthful, faithful and merciful. He went with his son Isaac to the appointed place, built an alter for sacrificing a burnt offering, placed wood on top of the altar and bound Isaac on to top of the wood to kill him and then burn him with the wood as a burnt offering for his God.
But just as Abraham was about to slaughter his son Isaac something unexpected happened: "11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' 12 He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.' 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son." (Genesis 22:11-13) This passage proves that Abraham was correct in trusting his God, the LORD! He was truly merciful in sparing the life of his son Isaac and it was really Him, who had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, because God intervened just in the right moment to save the life of Isaac. This strengthened the faith and trust of Abraham in his God enormously.
God then reacted in a unique way to this readiness of Abraham to sacrifice his son unto the LORD: "15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, 'By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your seed (i.e. offspring) shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your seed shall all the peoples of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.' " (Genesis 22:15-18) When we utter an oath, we usually appeal to something more powerful than ourselves. God, however, has nothing more powerful than himself to appeal to. Therefore, he swears by himself, because he is utterly truthful and faithful. God did not give Abraham just a blessing-wish, but a totally dependable blessing-oath by swearing that he as the almighty God would surely bless him and that one seed from Abraham through Isaac would come, in whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. This seed is Christ, whom God sent into the world as a source of blessing for all the peoples of the earth. In Christ God himself took upon himself to fulfill, what he did not let Abraham complete: God sacrificed his only begotten son Jesus Christ on the cross of Golgotha in our place so that we can receive forgiveness and eternal life. (This happened in the very same spot, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac.) We should have been condemned by God for all eternity and thrown into hellfire. But the God of Abraham in His incomprehensible mercy and grace let His own son, whom He loved much more than Abraham had loved Isaac, to die in our place to overcome our sin, our death penalty and the power of Satan, who wants our destruction. By raising Jesus Christ from the dead, the God of Abraham then proved that the death of His Son was for our justification and salvation. We no longer need to be afraid of sin, death and hell, because by faith in Christ, we have the assurance of salvation to eternal life. This truth, which has changed the whole world, was hinted at and foreshadowed in this final event in the life of Abraham, which we list here. This was the aim in the life of Abraham: he was to be the founder of the people, from whom this Savior of the world would come, namely the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob; and with his promised son Isaac, this Abraham was to foreshadow the greatest event in God's history of salvation, namely the vicarious death of Christ on the cross for our sins. This is why Abraham was and is such a unique man of God, so much so that the LORD decided to be named by this man as being the God of Abraham!
7.2h) Summary: So, what is the message of the Suhuf Ibrahim? God did not send Abraham to an existing people, like he did many prophets before and after him in order to call these sinners to repentance. No, God wanted to start something completely new through Abraham and his wife Sarah, namely a new people, His own people, from whom and among whom he would send his Savior and Lord to save not only His people, but also all those who believe in God's Savior Jesus Christ. To achieve this aim, Abraham had to obey this God, and do what he wanted him to do, namely to separate himself from all other people in the world, to start a completely independent new people of God. For this reason, he had to leave his homeland and relatives and come to a new land, the promised land of Canaan. And he had to be separated from his nephew Lot there. Then after God miraculously made his son Isaac be born to his barren and very old wife Sarah, Abraham also had to be separated from Ishmael, whom Abraham had produced trying to do what God had not done for so many years, namely give him an offspring.
By letting this Isaac be born to Abraham and Sarah, God did several things simultaneously: He first of all proved that it was Him as God, who was founding this new people through Abraham and Sarah to become His own people; then in the process he revealed and proved that He is a truthful, faithful and merciful God, whom one can trust completely and fully; and finally he revealed that he had an agenda that went way beyond anything that Abraham could imagine, namely the blessing of all people in the world through Abraham's coming seed, the Savior Jesus Christ.
Thus, Abraham according to the Suhuf Ibrahim was not a Muslim (i.e. "one who has submitted"), blindly submitting to an unknowable God. Rather Abraham was a Mufraz (i.e. "one who was set apart"), getting to know his God in many different situations as truthful and faithful, while being set apart in order to found a new people, the people of God. They like Abraham, were also Mufraz, i.e. set apart from all other people. Among this chosen people of God, the Sons of Jacob, the God of Abraham brought about the salvation of the world as a completely new source of blessing for mankind, a blessing in Abraham's seed, Jesus Christ. All those who believe in this Savior, whom the God of Abraham had promised and then sent into world, also become Mufraz, i.e. set apart from the world. This way they become a unique in the world, testifying to the mercies and grace of the God of Abraham, who wants to save everybody by faith in Jesus Christ. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you will also become a Mufraz, a person set apart to glorify the God of Abraham.