And what is the meaning of the phrase “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (James 2:23)?
Traditionally, we call Abraham the father of all believers, considering him an example, or a model of Christian faith. It is noteworthy that an Old Testament figure is set as an example of faith, for believers of the New Testament time. What is so important about Abraham’s faith?
When we profess our faith, we usually claim that we believe in God, that is, we have confidence in His existence and His providence for us and our salvation. The Scripture says a little differently about the faith of Abraham. It says, “Abraham believed ̶i̶n̶ God”. At first glance, the difference is minor, if not negligible. But this is only at first glance.
We first read about Abraham in the 11th chapter of Genesis, where he is mentioned in the genealogy of Shem. But already in the beginning of the 12th chapter we read about the call of God addressed to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12: 1). If it seems to someone that this is something common that God says to His chosen ones, then let me assure you, this is far from the case.
The approximate time of Abraham’s life is the 19th century BC, a time when people lived with a deeply tribal consciousness. Harsh conditions are easier if shared by many, and in the Middle East of that time they included an arid climate, water scarcity, the need to work hard for long hours, the conflicts and wars between tribes and cities, the robbers looking for their victims wherever it was possible etc. And so, Abraham, a rich cattle breeder, the head of a family clan belonging to the Aramean tribe, is commanded by God to leave his home and go with his family, relatives and slaves through Syria to the land of Canaan, joining the category of wandering families widely spread across the territory of the Middle East and involved in various trades, from hunting to robbery. Notably, Abraham’s was no small family, but a group of more than three hundred people living hitherto a sedentary life. Admittedly, Abraham did have some experience of nomadic life. We know from Scripture that Abraham’s father, Terah, brought his large family to Harran from Ur of the Chaldees. But a single (even if long) journey is not yet a nomadic life, besides, we do not know what losses such an unsafe endeavour could have cost Terah. In any case, leading Abraham on a difficult and dangerous journey and forcing him to separate from his tribe, thereby placing himself in a much more vulnerable position than before, God calls this man to selflessness and complete confidence in Himself.
So, Abraham did not simply believe in God; he completely trusted Him, without the slightest doubt. This is how a child trusts his father when he throws him up and catches him completely relaxed, joyful and laughing. Interestingly, young children are otherwise very sensitive; even loud noises or sharp movements may become a very traumatic experience for them. But a child knows that his father will definitely catch him, and this knowledge makes him burst into laughter instead of becoming frightened. God called Abraham into the unknown, and Abraham was not afraid, believing that God would be with him all along.
Abraham set off on his journey, not hesitating and fearing neither robbers, nor diseases, nor the loss of livestock, nor wild animals. He set off without a moment’s doubt in God’s promise to produce a great people from him, a seventy-five-year-old man and the husband of the barren Sarah. It is this childishly naive trust in God, Who is faithful to His every word and promise, that was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness and made him “a friend of God “.
The fruits of Abraham’s faith are well known to us. He safely reached the land of Canaan, suffering no damage or losses from robbers, diseases or predators, not even when he recaptured Lot from the Sumerian-Elamite army. The Lord appeared to him many times, fulfilling His every promise word for word. For us, he has become a model of ingenuous, sincere, firm, transforming and saving faith. Abraham’s faith was truly Christian, despite the fact that he lived a little less than two thousand years before the birth of Christ.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds