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The Ten Trials of Abraham

The Ten Trials of Abraham (first mentioned in Pirkei Avos 5:4 and elucidated in later commentaries) charts the dramatic spiritual and personal journey of the first man to recognize and obey God.

His journey begins with the wrenching pain of exile from family and land of his birth (1). Notably his wife Sarah remained steadfast at his side.

Previously at the age of 50 Abraham had risked certain death to defend his belief in the One God before the cruel King Nimrod and his fiery furnace (2).

Once Abraham had arrived in Canaan he was immediately ordered by God to descend to the sensual kingdom of Egypt where his wife was abducted to become part of Pharaoh’s harem. Sarah’s fear and suffering shocked Abraham (3).

Upon Abraham’s return to Canaan, his nephew Lot was kidnapped and Abraham was forced to wage war with five powerful kings to free him. His final victory was crowned by his refusal to accept spoils of war offered by the King of Sodom (4).

Troubles abounded on the home front as his wife Sarah, barren from birth, insisted that Abraham take her Egyptian maidservant Hagar as a second wife in order to produce an heir. The resulting intimacy went further than expected and Abraham seemed to fall in love with the slave girl (5).

Perhaps no other test evidences Abraham’s obedient faith than God’s command that he circumcise himself at the age of 99 (6).

Earlier he had been subjected to a complex and harrowing vision of “The Covenant Between the Parts” that prophesizes the Egyptian exile and inheritance the Land of Israel to his descendants, the Jewish people. As part of this vision he sets out sacrifices bizarrely sliced in half. Birds of prey attempted to devour them but Abraham bravely drove them away (7).

Abraham’s family life had grown more complex and troubled as Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and then Sarah miraculously gave birth to Isaac 13 years later. The festering animosity between Sarah and Hagar finally exploded as Sarah demanded that Abraham exile Hagar, his second beloved wife, along his first-born son Ishmael (8).

Their new family life was finally shattered when God commanded Abraham to take his only heir, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on the altar to God (9).

Compounding the emotional scars this caused Isaac, the news of the near sacrifice of Isaac so shocked Sarah that this was the proximate cause of her death (10).

Abraham’s blind obedience cost Sarah her life. Abraham was now bereft of his life-long companion, soul mate and faithful wife. He was now more deeply alone than he had ever been in his long life.

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