As the father of faith, Abraham has always been a hero and an example for me, but I always thought of him as a loner. I thought he left the big city to get away from people and basically had Sarah and no son with him. I thought that he started with practically nothing and he only saw God’s blessings by looking into the future. The more I learn about the ancient world, the more I’m having to revise my understanding.
Abraham lived around 1900 B.C., at the beginning of what archaeologists label the Middle Bronze Age, although it varied by region. The University of Pennsylvania Museum places him at the end of the Early Bronze Age (https://www.penn.museum/sites/Canaan/EarlyBronzeAge.html). That would have been the 10th, 11th, or even the 12th dynasty of Egypt. Mari was an important city-state in Syria. Larsa was the important city-state in Mesopotamia, since Ur had lost its dominance. All that, to say that it was a VERY long time ago.
The fact that changes everything is that Genesis 14 says that Abraham (technically, Abram at that time) had 318 trained men that were born in his house. If we add the “untrained” men, women, and children, Abraham was the 75 year old patriarch of an extended family that could have numbered thousands. It was like a small town. It’s like he took a wagon train to the West. (This is of course my own personal view of it.) We do know that he left Syria with “the people that they had acquired in Haran”. We just don’t know how many.
When Abram arrived in the Levant, walled cities existed but were declining and being abandoned. As a pastoralist or shepherd, Abram would have entered into mutually beneficial relationships with city-states such as Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, and Gerar. In his book, “Understanding Biblical Kingdoms & Empires”, Paul Wright describes these contracts based upon contemporary documents from Mari. So Abram would have cooperated with local towns while managing his tribe as a large family business.
At one point, the business became so large that there was strife between “the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock”, so Lot created his own corporate spin-off. Later, Abram took on and defeated the king of Elam, which proves that Abram was also a political and military force in Canaan that could not be dismissed.
Abram had everything he needed. He was “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold”. God’s promise to Abraham was not to make him richer, but to increase the size of his team. Through him would all of the nations of the world be blessed.
My conclusion from this is that I should have faith, not just for myself, but for others. Where is my “Team Jerry”? Where is your team? We find God working through teams all through the Bible. Think Apostles and churches. Think David and Saul. “And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched.” (1 Sam 10:26)