In Genesis 25 the eulogy for Abraham says simply that he died “an old man and full of years” (verse 8). In English this phrase, old and full of years, seems redundant. But in Hebrew it means Abraham died having lived a rich and blessed life of many years, satisfied both emotionally and spiritually. His life ended, not with a struggle and string of regrets, but with a deep sense of contentment and satisfaction.
We see four dimensions that gave Abraham’s life fullness and allowed him to conclude his years in this exemplary manner.
First, he made peace with the unpredictability of life. Called from Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham left his stable life and became a nomadic wanderer in obedience to God’s call. He never was a king or military general, nor a monarch or prince. He was a common man, made remarkable because of his calling, courage, and choices. At each stage of his life he maintained a peaceful attitude of trust (Gen. 15).
Second, he managed the diverse relationships of his life. Abraham managed the domestic interactions with his first wife, Sarah, his concubine, Hagar, then his second wife, Keturah. He daily handled the challenges of raising his sons, Ishmael and Isaac, and later daughter-in-law Rebekah, nieces, nephews, relatives, and a large, diverse line of grandchildren (Gen. 21).
Famously, he had conflicted relations with his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family and staff. He had dynamic and sometimes hostile relations with kings, and shifting relations with the citizens of Canaan, Egypt, and Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities. Though not perfect or exemplary, Abraham managed his relationships patiently, in a learning mode, always in light of his calling (Gen. 13).
Third, he leveraged the unintended consequences of life. A full life is not necessarily an intended life. Abraham’s life wasn’t ideal, and it didn’t proceed along expected lines. However, in each case, when experiencing nomadic wanderings, rebounding from questionable practices, attempting bold undertakings, or recuperating from failings, Abraham always moved ahead in the goodness of God. Whatever the situation—the near sacrifice of Issac, the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, separation from Lot, intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah—Abraham sought the way of adaptability, humility, and resilience. Whether right or wrong, Abraham centered his life with tenacious trust in divine providence (Gen. 19).
Finally, Abraham responded to life events with a God-centered faith. Abraham saw his relationship with God as the North Star of his life. It gave meaning to all other events and relationships. The apostle Paul highlighted this centrality of Abraham’s relationship with God as a model of faith when he wrote: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Abraham’s understanding of the righteousness of God given to him by faith was the ultimate stabilizing source in his life, death, and future hope (Gen. 17).
May Abraham’s life’s end be a motivating inspiration to each of us.
Delbert W. Baker is vice chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa, near Nairobi, Kenya.