03. God’s Covenant with Abraham and the birth of Ishmael and Isaac

On being commanded by God, Abraham who had left the city-state of Ur for Canaan began to settle down there with his family and people. As they had to create their world from nothing, his clansmen learnt various vocations. Some even practiced farming.
covenant
The Pharaoh gives Sarah back to Abraham

But soon the region was struck with a massive famine. As a result Abraham immigrated to neighbouring kingdom of Egypt along with wife Sarah and his clan. But even at that age Sarah was so beautiful that on the journey and in Egypt too, Abraham passed her off as his sister so as to avoid being killed by those who, attracted by her beauty, would have tried to abduct her. In Egypt, Abraham’s assumptions indeed came true. Just in a few days the reports of Sarah’s beauty reached the Pharaoh, the Egyptian monarch. With an intention to marry her, the Pharaoh sent for his soldiers to bring her to the palace. It is said that it was here that God intervened. Pharaoh’s household was suddenly infected by ‘great plagues’. When one after the other, his family members started to get infected, the Pharaoh was forced to think of something being amiss. It was then that God gave the Pharaoh a vision and made him realize what wrong he was about to do. It is said that God also revealed the true identity of Sarah to him and ordered him to return her to Abraham after which, the Pharaoh as repentance for his deed, bestowed upon Abraham and his family, wealth, precious gifts, servants, cattle and flocks. Later in a few days, Abraham learnt that the famine in Canaan had subsided and so he moved back to Canaan along with his family, clan and carts laden with generous gifts.

Here he was accompanied by his nephew ‘Lot’. They now had plenty of wealth. It so happened that once their herders clashed over grazing of their flocks. Abraham’s herders were said to be righteous and followed the path shown by him while Lot’s herders were the exact opposites. Hence to avoid any future disputes Abraham and Lot separated by dividing their land amongst themselves. The land demanded by Lot was rich in resources but the people living there were not righteous. When their sins touched their nadir, God decided to destroy their city (Sodom). For the purpose He sent three angels. While on their way to the city they met Abraham and revealed the impending destruction to him. Even though Lot lived among unrighteous people, Lot was righteous and followed Abraham’s path. Hence Abraham pleaded to God to spare Lot and the city of Sodom. To this God replied that if Abraham managed to lay his hands on a mere ten righteous people in the city, He would spare the whole of Sodom for their sake. Since Abraham failed, the destruction of the city was inevitable. But God did spare Lot and commanded him and his family to leave the city. Further it is said that the moment Lot left, it rained fire and the city was destroyed. An extremely salty body of water was formed in the place of the destroyed city which later went on to be known as the ‘Dead Sea’.
The destruction of Sodom                                                                                      Dead Sea
In the meanwhile, Abraham’s father Terah passed away. He is said to have reached the age of 205 years at the time.

One of the three angels we spoke about earlier, again reminded Abraham of the vision given to him by God. It was now ten years since Abraham had received the divine vision and yet the couple had no issue. It made Sarah sceptical. Here, it was one of the three angels again who reassured her of God’s omnipotence and that nothing was impossible for Him. After destruction of Lot’s city of Sodom, God again gave Abraham a vision and reminding him of the promise He had given him earlier, made a covenant with him. In the covenant, God promised to guide the descendants and the people of Abraham, protect them and give them their ‘Promised Land’. It is said that it was here that God changed the names from Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah. God also commanded Abraham and all the male members of his family to undergo a ‘specific ritual’. That moment on this was going to be the chief ritual for all his descendants and followers of the religion that Abraham was initiating.

God’s Covenant with Abraham

Abraham fully followed God’s command in letter and spirit, neither asking a question nor expressing doubt. God further told Abraham that his descendants would certainly rule the Promised Land but also warned him that they would have to stay in a country that was not their own. He added that they would be strangers there and that the people there would make slaves of them and be cruel to them. God went on to foretell that, that would be their suffering for 400 years.

God had promised the creation of a great nation from the descendants of Abraham. Also, both Sarah and Abraham had now reached 80-85 years of age and yet were issueless. Sarah gave a thought to the problem and found a way out.

Under these circumstances and according to the custom prevalent during those times, Sarah selected her Egyptian handmaid Hagar for her plan. Hagar was Pharaoh’s daughter who was sent to Abraham and Sarah as a handmaid by Pharaoh himself after their importance was revealed to him.

With Sarah’s consent, Abraham fathered a child from Hagar. This child was Abraham’s son ‘Ishmael’. Later, it was from Ishmael (Ismail) that the ancestry of Arabs originated, state the Muslim and Jewish beliefs. At the time of Ishmael’s birth Abraham’s age was 86 years.

Though Abraham had a son from Hagar, yet he was not going to be entitled to become the torchbearer to the religion that was promised to Abraham in the divine vision. Rather, the Jewish religious texts mention that the son that Abraham would have from Sarah was to be the torchbearer as per the divine vision that God gave Abraham a second time.

Years passed by. With their diligence and determination Abraham, Sarah and their people who had settled in Canaan, built a life, created their world in its arid and a rocky land.

13 years later Sarah and Abraham bore a son who was named Isaac (Yisḥaq). By this time Abraham was a centenarian and his wife, a nonagenarian. Abraham had yet again experienced the power of God’s omnipotence.

But the unease that developed between Sarah and Hagar after both had sons, ultimately resulted in Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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