"Abraham put his faith in God, who counted this as making him justified". (Genesis 15:6) The Covenants that God made with Abraham are demonstrations of obedience and response, rather than rules and laws. This is how a relationship with Jesus is described by James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the original Jerusalem Church: "The Scripture is fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God." (James 2:23). We find this reference to Abraham as the Friend of God very common in the Middle East; Abraham is seen as the most important Patriarch not only to Jews but Muslims. The Koran says "For God did take Abraham for a friend." (Koran,Surah 4.125)
This relationship began with God speaking to Abram, who tradition says already knew something of God and had rejected the idols of his father's family. "Leave your country, your family, and your father's house;for the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name to famous that it will be used as a blessing." (Genesis 12:1-2) This promise is repeated a number of times in the story of Abram, renamed Abraham. Abram obeyed, moving his own family out without knowing where they were going, but knowing that it was where God wanted him.
When Sarah died, Abraham purchased a cave at Machpelah as a burial place. This later became the tomb of Abraham himself, as well as Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. This has always been a sacred place. The city of Hebron grew up around it, 19 miles south of Jerusalem.This was the first capitol of King David, before the conquest of Jerusalem. In Arabic, it is called Khalil, which means Friend, after Abraham, who is referred to as Khalilullah, the Friend of God. Herod the Great built a huge sanctuary there, similar in style to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is still there, having been modified and decorated over the centuries. It became a Byzantine church, then a mosque with the Moslem conquest, then a church again during the Crusades,. then a mosque again under the Ottomans and later Jordan. Hebron is one of the largest Palestinean cities in the West Bank. During Jordanian rule, the area was closed to Israelis, including Jewish pilgrims; when I was there in 1963, foreign tourists were allowed to visit. There had been a small Jewish community there since the 16th Century, which was forced out in 1948 but there have been controversial Jewish settlements there since 1968. In 1997, there was an agreement made to split the city between a Palestinean Authority sector and an Israeli sector, and there is no love lost between them. It is ironic that the memory of Abraham has led to rivalry and strife between those who claim his legacy.
The basic principles of the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham involve the promise that Abraham would be the father of a great tribe of people, but also that his descendants would be a blessing to all the world. There was also the promise that the land that God led Abraham to was to be the home of this people. As a symbol of Abraham's obedience, he was commanded to circumcise all the males in his family and descendants, as a reminder in the body of this relationship. Muslims also claim descent from Abraham, through Ishmael, and also circumcise their sons. They see Abraham as the examplar of submission to God, which is meaning of "Islam."
As followers of Jesus, we are also called to faith, obedience, and friendship with God. Jesus, in that last night with His disciples, tells them "A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you...I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my father." (John 15:13-16)Can we live up to the challenge of Abraham to be a blessing to the world as friends of God?