Why do we think and believe the way we do? What has molded and shaped our perspectives over the centuries? What has made the world the way it is? In this series, we are going to focus on individuals, ideas and events that have had a major impact on the world and changed the course of history. While many today assume the flow of history is random—that things just happen—others suspect there is evidence of purpose and direction, and that an outside force is guiding history. In spite of what critics believe, the Bible makes numerous claims that God determines the rise and fall of nations, and guides the course of history (Job 12:23; Daniel 2:21; 4:17).
In these Turning Points columns, we will look at evidence indicating there is a God who is working out a plan on this earth and that He has used individuals and nations to accomplish His purposes. It is quite an amazing story—especially when we are willing to view the Bible as history and not just a book of fables.
One of the most remarkable men we encounter in the biblical record is Abram, whom God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5). He lived in the city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia about 2000bc—about 350 years after the biblical flood and more than a century before the famous Babylonian king Hammurabi. Abraham's life and influence, when viewed from a historical perspective, proved to be a major turning point in civilization's history. "He was born into a world where idolatry and the worship of multiple gods were universal. He died with the practice of monotheism [the worship of one supreme God] firmly implanted, never to be extinguished" (The Mark of a Giant, Ted Stuart, p. 3). Three great monotheistic faiths of our modern world trace their roots to Abraham.
However, Abraham did not "invent" monotheism. According to the Bible, God was known to Noah (an ancestor of Abraham who lived centuries earlier) and to previous generations back to Adam. Yet, over time, knowledge of the true God and His way of life was rejected and lost. The Bible records that God spoke to Abraham when he was about 75 years old and worked with him for one hundred years (Genesis 12:4; 25:7). During that century of personal instruction, God saw Abraham's faith and obedience (Genesis 12:1–4; 22) and his unselfishness and big-mindedness (Genesis 13:7–12). God also provided Abraham with moral instruction (Genesis 12:10–20; 20:1–18), and Abraham saw the terrible consequences of moral depravity when God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sinful actions. Because of Abraham's faith and obedience to God's commandments and instructions (Genesis 26:5), God made promises to Abraham and his descendants that would have a major impact on the history of the world far into the future.
Scripture reveals that God took a special interest in Abraham to train him to be the individual who would teach his descendants about his experience with the one true God (Genesis 18:19) and eventually become the "father of the faithful"—future generations of believers (Romans 4:11–16). God was preparing Abraham to change the course of history—to restore the knowledge of the one true God in a world dominated by idolatry and polytheism (the worship of many gods).
However, it was not just monotheism that Abraham introduced to the ancient pagan world. It was the worship of a God who is unique in all of history. The God of the Bible and the God of Abraham is not an impersonal force, but He is a personal God who walked, talked, instructed and advised Abraham (See Genesis 18). The God of Abraham operates by ethical standards—not by caprice. The Babylonian flood story records that the gods sent a flood to destroy human beings who were making too much noise, which somehow disturbed the gods. The Genesis account records that God sent a flood to end a human civilization that had become evil, wicked, corrupt and filled with violence (see Genesis 6). Noah and his family were saved because Noah was righteous, not because he was a favorite of the supposed "gods." The biblical account is concerned with ethics and morals; the Babylonian account depicts whimsical actions of capricious gods. The ethical God of biblical monotheism is concerned with absolute values of right and wrong. The one true God has one moral standard for all mankind—and it applies to people as well as their leaders. One author has observed, "Words cannot convey the magnitude of the change wrought by the Hebrew Bible's introduction into the world of a God who rules the universe morally" ("Ethical Monotheism," Prager, JewishVirtualLibrary.org).
The God of the Bible who spoke to Abraham cares about His creation, and He is involved in the lives of those with whom He is working. God's plan for mankind involves everyone. This caring God created human beings to be capable of caring for others. The God of the Bible who made human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26–28), views all human life as sacred—which is why human sacrifice and murder—whether of adults, children or the unborn—are evil and wrong (Genesis 4:8–12; Exodus 20:13). The God of Abraham also demands holiness among His followers (Leviticus 19:2), which involves showing love to neighbors and treating others as you would like to be treated (Leviticus 19:18).
The knowledge of a personal, all-powerful, ethical, caring God of the Bible that Abraham experienced and transmitted to his descendants was totally different from the cold, insensitive, impersonal and powerless idols of the polytheistic nations of Abraham's day. Abraham and his descendants rejected the pagan fertility rites and sexual perversions practiced by neighboring nations, and they emphasized that the true God required sexual morality in His followers. The God of Abraham required honesty, right conduct, and respect for human life among all people—including their leaders. As one author notes, "Wherever Abraham's influence has been most powerfully found, philosophy and religion have been very different from where there is no such influence" (Stewart, p. 20).
While modern critics and scholars prefer to ignore biblical accounts, history and biblical evidence reveal that Abraham's life and legacy and the God he encountered have had a remarkable and lasting impact on the world. The influence of ethical monotheism that God used Abraham to re-introduce to the world changed the course of history—and that influence remains today, in our world where half of its peoples follow a monotheistic faith with roots that go back to Abraham. The life and teachings of Abraham about the one true God represent a major turning point in the history of the world—one that still determines how we think and what we believe today! The God of Abraham is alive. He has a plan. He is still working in people's lives and He continues to guide the course of history.