What religion was Abraham?


What religion was Abraham?

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

In February 2011 I wrote an answer to that question. Since then, I’ve been prompted by God to re-examine the answer. In fact – there’s the beginnings of a whole new section called Islam: Peace, Love and Hope. It’s maybe not what you’re expecting. You may like it. You may not like it. Actually – even if you don’t like it – maybe it would be a good idea to check it out. It’s been – and still is – an interesting journey for me. When you really look at the Bible with Muslims in mind – it puts things in a different perspective. But – rather than give away the conclusion – let’s look at this question from the beginning. (Not the God said let there be light beginning – just the first references to Abraham.)  

It’s now August 2016.  I’m moving to a new site, so it seems like a good time to revisit what I’ve got here.
While God never changes – we do.  We grow – hopefully.  We understand God better – hopefully.  
I’ll put the new updates in text like this, so you can identify the latest changes.

Another update – this time July, 2017.  Just noticed that some of the links to the original Hebrew text in the Bible and their corresponding definitions are broken.  This happened because of an update I made on the site from which they came.  They are now included entirely within this page, so that can’t happen again.  Sorry for the problem.

While I’m at it, am also fixing some formatting issues.

Originally Abraham lived in a pagan land.

Here’s the first we hear of him in the Bible, from Genesis 11:27-32 –

Ge 11:27 This is the account of Terah.

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.
Ge 11:31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.
Ge 11:32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

Notice – at this time – Abraham was called Abram in the Bible.

After writing the original article, I was asked why I made such a big deal out of the name change – from Abram to Abraham. The reason is because God saw fit to change his name. The same is true for Sarai – her name was changed to Sarah at the same time as Abram was changed to Abraham. There are events that took place and promises that were made by God to Abram. After the name change – there were additional events that took place and promises that were made by God to Abraham. In order to keep track of how those events and promises track to us today, it’s important to know about the name change – and to be able to trace the descendants of Abram (by way of Hagar) – and also through the descendants of Abraham (by way of Sarai) – as well as those made to Abram only (regardless of whether the descendants were from Hagar or Sarai).

About the pagan thing – The account of Terah – Abraham’s father – shows that he was from Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Sarai were on their way to Canaan, but ended up in Haran. Given that the original destination was Canaan – let’s look at what was going on there (as far as religion at the time. We see the following in the New Bible Dictionary.

The Canaanites had an extensive pantheon, headed by El. More prominent in practice were *BAAL (lord’), i.e. Hadad the storm-god, and *DAGON, with temples in Ugarit and elsewhere. The goddesses *ASHERAH, Astarte (*ASHTAROTH) and Anath—like Baal—had multi-coloured personalities and violent characters; they were goddesses of sex and war. Kothar-and-Hasis was artificer-god (cf. Vulcan), and other and lesser deities abounded.
Actual temples in Palestine include remains at Beth-shan, Megiddo, Lachish, Shechem and especially Hazor (which had at least three), besides those in Syria at Qatna, Alalah̬ or Ugarit. The Ugaritic texts mention a variety of animals sacrificed to the gods: cattle, sheep (rams and lambs) and birds (including doves)—plus, of course, libations. Animal bones excavated in several Palestinian sites support this picture.  [1]New Bible Dictionary, (Kitchen, K. A. (1996). c. Religion. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 164). … Continue reading

You see – there was no covenant yet. The significant events preceding the time of Abram were “the flood” and the Tower of Babel – both of which can be checked out in either the Bible or the Qur’an. I’m not going to do that here, since it would raise other questions not related to the topic. Feel free to Google it if you want to verify (although the reference The Tower of Babel in the Qur’an is disputed depending on which Muslim scholar you read.)

Anyway – we have Abram (not renamed at this point) settled in Haran. Let’s see what happens after that.

Right now – He’s the father of nothing. No Kids. No descendants. No promises from God yet. No future religions. Nothing.

So what of the claim that Abraham is the father of three religions: 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.

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 go back to Noah and see what happened.

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

Ge 6:17 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. 18 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. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 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. 21 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 —

Ge 15:18 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— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 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:

Ge 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, 20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, 21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.  [2]The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ge 15:18–21). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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

2233 זֶרַע [zeraʿ /zeh·rah/] n m. From 2232; TWOT 582a; GK 2446; 229 occurrences; AV translates as “seed” 221 times, “child” twice, “carnally + 7902” twice, “carnally” once, “fruitful” once, “seedtime” once, and “sowing time” once. 1 seed, sowing, offspring. 1A a sowing. 1B seed. 1C semen virile. 1D offspring, descendants, posterity, children. 1E of moral quality. 1E1 a practitioner of righteousness (fig.). 1F sowing time (by meton).  [3]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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; 2 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. 3 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. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 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?

I guess we should keep in mind here, some will say this must be what God intended, because God literally controls every little detail of everything that happens.
For those like me, we believe that God has plans for us – but because He gives us free will – sometimes we can mess things up.  However – even with that, we also believe that in the end, God’s will is what will be done.

Let’s look at Joseph in the Old Testament as an example of this.  Remember – some of his brothers wanted to kill him.  They ended up selling him into slavery.  Joseph ended up the number two person in all of Egypt after being a slave there!  This is the scene when Joseph is finally reconciled with his brothers –

Joseph Reassures His Brothers

Ge 50:15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
Ge 50:18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
Ge 50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

We see Joseph tells his brothers that even though they intended to do harm to him – God turned that into something good.

You may ask why I think this distinction is important.  God wants us to love Him.  True love – real feelings – must be a choice.  If there’s no choice on our part – if we have no free will – there cannot really be love.  
However – there are certain things that God will make sure they occur.  His ultimate plan cannot be thwarted.  We saw that with Joseph.  And we’ll see the same with Abram / Abraham, Sarai / Sarah, and Hagar.  They sure tried hard to mess things up.  But what God wanted to happen did in fact end up happening.

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. 8 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.” 10 The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

OK – so where are we now?

God made a covenant with Abram, not specifying who the mother would be. Abram. Sarai, and Hagar manage to produce a child, although likely not by way God intended. But – they did it. Then Hagar and the unborn child are kicked out. The angel of The LORD tells Hagar to go back to Sarai. The angel also to Hagar “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” Now there’s a covenant with Abram – a promise to Hagar – and Sarai seemingly still has nothing.

Let’s make things a little more complex, because this is way too simple, right? (just kidding.) Christians generally consider the “Angel of The LORD” here to be – are you sitting down – preincarnate Jesus. Think about what that means now, for Christians at least. Jesus – our Messiah, has promised to make Hagar’s descendants too numerous to count!

Well – let’s keep going – see if this thing gets cleared up. We see in 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.” 14 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. 16 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.

Those were the easy / obvious points of this passage. But did you notice – Jesus named Ishmael! There are very few instances of God naming someone before birth. This has got to be a very significant happening – Jesus telling Hagar to name her unborn infant Ishmael.

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. 2 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, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 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. 8 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 changed 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. 16 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.”

It’s really looking 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. God changed Abram’s name for a reason. It’s the “death” of Abram and the “birth” of Abraham. It’s like a foretelling of the Christian baptism. The name change is a huge thing.

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. 20 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. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 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!”

Abraham wants God to bless Ishmael as well as the unborn Isaac. God says no. Looks like Ishmael is out in the cold.

But wait! What about the promise Jesus made to Hagar? What about Jesus telling Hagar that her descendants would be too numerous to count? Did God, the Father just overrule God, The Son? No. There’s something going on here that’s not explained – at least not yet. In fact – we don’t even know if Abraham is aware of the promise that Jesus made. Remember – Hagar had been kicked out – the angel of The LORD (Jesus) appeared to Hagar while she was away from Abram & Sarai. There’s no reference to Hagar ever telling Abram or Sarai about the visit from the angel of The LORD.

So Ishmael isn’t out in the cold. There’s something for His offspring. Jesus wouldn’t make a promise like that – and then just have ti disappear like a forgotten thread in a bad movie. Something’s up. Something’s going to be coming for the offspring of Ishmael.

Let’s add another clarification note here.

Islam does not recognize the name change for Abram – sort of.  In the Qur’an, Abraham was always Abraham – so what it does not recognize is the name “Abram”.  As such – “Abraham’s” first son was Ishmael.  That’s one source of difference between Christianity and Islam.

Another difference is in the treatment of “The Angel of The Lord” and Jesus.  In Islam – Jesus is not the Son of God.  In Islam, Jesus is just another prophet – an important one, to be sure – but still a prophet.  As a prophet, and therefore a man (not the Son of God) – Jesus could not have been the Angel of The Lord.  So what Christians would view as an important promise from Jesus would not have that same impact to a Muslim.  Actually – in Islam, this promise was pretty much meaningless – since Islam considers the covenant promise to have been to Abraham & Ishmael – not to Abraham and Isaac – since Islam considers Isaac to be the second son of Abraham.

So let’s keep going. No more counting on it getting simplified or cleared up. Let’s see how it can get even messier!

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, 20 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. 22 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. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 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.

Yeah – it got worse. Now we have the issue of Issac and Ishmael, and add to that on Isaac’s side the new issue of Jacob and Esau.

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. 30 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. 31 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.

Talk about messed up.

First we had Ishmael and Isaac, If we disregard the name change – as Muslims do – Ishmael is the first son and Isaac is the second. Normally, the first son gets the blessing. However, since God changes Abram’s name to Abraham (and Sarai to Sarah) – then Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah – Isaac is the first born of Abraham (according to Jews & Christians, at least). Messy.
Now – Esau is first born (by seconds) and Jacob was second. No name changes here. It was a straight out case of the second born getting the birthright and blessing that would normally have gone to the first born. Very messy.
Guess what? It’s going to get even messier!
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,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 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 [4](Easton’s Bible Dictionary, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved) concludes it’s section on Esau with this

At the age of forty years, to the great grief of his parents, he married (Gen 26:34Open in Logos Bible Software (if available),35Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) 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 28:8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available),9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) 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.

Ishmael and Esau

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.

One thing to remember though – because it gets to be important later – some of Ishmael’s descendants come through Esau – but most don’t. We’ll get into why this is important in the Islam section – just try to keep it in mind. It may also stir something in you with this, as we proceed.

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.
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 upset Isaac.
There have been problems related to this ever since.

Well – something else happened (of course) 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. 3 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. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. 5 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:

7706 שַׁדַּי [Shadday /shad·dah·ee/] n m dei. From 7703; TWOT 2333; GK 8724; 48 occurrences; AV translates as “Almighty” 48 times. 1 almighty, most powerful. 1A Shaddai, the Almighty (of God).  [5]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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

7210 רֳאִי [roʾiy /ro·ee/] n m. From 7200; TWOT 2095f; GK 8024; Six occurrences; AV translates as “see” four times, “look” once, and “gazingstock” once. 1 looking, appearance, seeing, sight. 1A seeing. 1B appearance. 1C sight, spectacle.  [6]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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 – yahweh

3068 יהוה, יְהוִה [Yâhovah /yeh·ho·vaw/] n pr dei. From 1961; TWOT 484a; GK 3378; 6519 occurrences; AV translates as “LORD” 6510 times, “GOD” four times, “JEHOVAH” four times, and “variant” once. 1 the proper name of the one true God. 1A unpronounced except with the vowel pointings of 0136. Additional Information: Jehovah = “the existing One”.  [7]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Fascinating stuff (to some of us at least). 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.

It’s important to point out here that God isn’t changing.  He is giving us different views of Himself – allowing us to learn more about Him – but not changing.
It’s also important to point out that while two people may see the same events, they may interpret them differently.  In the same way, two people can read the same thing and come to entirely different conclusions about what was written.  That does not mean that the words written were wrong – it means the interpretations were different. More is coming on that topic, but it’s important so I want to bring it up now.

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”.

In the original version of this subject – it went further. I’ve chosen to not do that here. The original version said there are differences between the God of the Hebrews / Jews / Christians / Muslims. And in a sense that’s true — but in a “better” sense – it isn’t. God doesn’t change, but we do. He changes the way He presents Himself to us. As we’re ready and able in our development as people – God reveals more of His character. But that doesn’t mean He changes.

To the Jewish people – they look at the covenant with Abraham following through to Jacob – who was eventually renamed Israel – and derive their religion from that source.

To the Christians – we look at the covenant with Abraham – but also the path through Jacob – and David – to Mary & Joseph – to Jesus. And we derive our religion from that source.

To the Muslims – they look at the promise to Abraham (Abram in the OT, but they don’t use Abram in the Qur’an – it’s always Abraham) – through Ishmael – to Muhammad – and derive their religion from that source.

Of course, each religion has their reasons why their view is the “correct” one.

What’s of interest to me – and the thing I felt led to pursue – is the differences between Christianity and Islam. There’s plenty written about Jewish and Christian ties – and where each leads to in the end. Christians believe – as is already happening with Messianic Jews – that a large number of people of Jewish faith will be led to Jesus and be saved – as it says in the Book of Revelation.

As far as Islam is concerned – to be very general, Islam believes that Jews and Christians have misinterpreted / corrupted the Bible and will either convert to Islam or be condemned.

This is an interesting claim – one I have been checking out further, including working on a Sura by Sura comparison (in revelation order, not the printed order) between Islamic and Christian writings / teachings.  One thing that is fascinating is the claim from Muslims about the alleged corruption of the Bible.  The problem is that from the time of Muhammad, his followers were expected to read and know portions of the Bible – including the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament; the Gospels – especially Matthew, Mark and Luke; Psalms; and indirectly other books of the Bible because they were referenced in the Qur’an – such as the book of Job.

Those texts that Muhammad would have read / known were exactly the same ones that are in print now.  Furthermore, later archaeological expeditions have proven that the Bible is very much intact from it’s original writings.  In fact, it has more proof of authenticity than any other book from it’s time, or even earlier.  So a claim of changing / corrupting it just doesn’t hold true.

There is much more on this topic – the Qur’an / Bible comparisons that I’m working on.

As for Christianity – the New Testament seems – according to many Christians – has nothing to say about Muslims. The more I’ve checked all this out, the more I wonder about that – including looking into Islam from both the point of view of Muslims still in the faith – and Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Of course – Islam generally considers those who have converted to Christianity to be apostates and subject to death. But – they have a very interesting story to tell. They talk about the reasons they felt compelled to convert, in order to save their souls – even if it meant the death of their physical bodies.

So – here we’ve seen how each religion has laid claim to Abraham as the father of their religion. It all appears to be logical – at a high level – and from face value.

But – there’s always more. The more will be coming – in the series to be called Islam – peace, love and hope. And I’m learning a lot. It makes the puzzle much more clear – one can see how things ended up the way they are.

While this particular article is of interest to both Christians and Muslims – it is also the first in a series called Islam: peace, love and hope.  I invite you to check out the rest of the series.  
As I’m moving all of this to a new site – it will take time to move the existing ones over.  Next, I’ll continue the series.  One last reminder – if you’d like to get an email when new items are added, please “follow” this site by using one of the links at the top / right of this page.

As a tease to get you to continue – let me just put this out for you to think about and pray on.

Remember the promise the angel of The LORD (Jesus) made to Hagar? What happened with that?

Ge 21:14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.
Ge 21:15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.
Ge 21:17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Ge 21:19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

The promise is made again to Hagar that Ishmael will be made into a great nation. God showed Hagar a well of water that had been there all along – but she couldn’t see it. Ishmael drank from the well – and did not die.

This just keeps getting better and better.   Hope to see you as this series continues.


1New Bible Dictionary, (Kitchen, K. A. (1996). c. Religion. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 164). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press)
2The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ge 15:18–21). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
3, 5, 6, 7Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
4(Easton’s Bible Dictionary, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved)

6 thoughts on “What religion was Abraham?”

  1. Excellent biblical expose regarding Abraham and the three religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Thank you so much.

    I’ll be awaiting for the finished product. Bless you.

    1. Your welcome – and thank you for your comment. It’s been a very enlightening project – not at all what I was expecting going into it.
      I do plan on continuing the series after completing the one on The Lord’s Prayer.

    1. I’ve put all of the Islam related posts into the Islam: peace, love and hope category. In general, they look at the Qur’an in order of revelation – not the printed order – and compare / contrast that with the Bible. They also look at history and current events. There are a few others in the list as well, as the topic comes up in other posts. I’ve taken a break from it for a bit – have more research to do. I expect to be getting back to it early in 2016. The thing is – we are all God’s people – and we cannot lose sight of that. Given that – we have to look to Him for guidance.

  2. Please note Jesus is the only way and there is no other way mine the way you present your teachings, the fact that God says Ishmael will be great does not mean his way of worship is acceptable to God. The word of God says in Matthew 5:45 that God blessess both the righteous and the unrighteous, In Isaiah 45 God used the king and bless him does not mean God approves of their form of worship
    Please note there is no other way except with Christ

    1. Appreciate the comment, but please read the rest of the series. This is merely an introduction. As far as it goes, there is nothing incorrect in what is said.

      It’s an examination – one that takes time and prayer. The different religions lay claim to Abraham as the father of their religion. To say that any of them are “wrong” from the start would likely take away any interest in further examination from those who were just told they were wrong.

      My goal is to encourage the examination and have the reader pray to the God who made these various promises. He is the one who will lead people to the truth – not me, you, or any other person.

Please leave a comment or ask a question - it's nice to hear from you.

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