Abraham is central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He encapsulates the way in which, by listening to the deepest level of reality, a person may arise from a landscape of death and journey to new life. The result is blessing—blessing for oneself and blessing for many others.
The narrative, almost fourteen chapters, falls fairly easily into seven units of about two chapters each, seven diptychs. The opening three units (chaps. 12–13; 14–15; and 16–17) recount the initial trials. Abraham struggles with changing fortunes, and Sarah hovers on the edge of bitterness.
The remaining four units bring powerful encounters with the forces of life and death. First there is a great catastrophe, the burning of a whole city—an event that causes much soul searching for Abraham (most of chaps. 18–19). Then, in contrast, there are a series of births, events which, at least in the case of Isaac, bring great joy (19:30-chap. 21). The result is that when Abraham is faced with the greatest challenges of all—the offering of his son and the death of his wife (chaps. 22–23)—he responds with a striking degree of serenity. At the end, through Rebekah and in his death, he is surrounded by blessing (24:1–25:18).