Abraham is acknowledged by over half the world’s population as the Father of Faith; Christians, Jews, and Muslims of course, but several of the world smaller religions too, such as Yazidism, Bahai-ism and Rastafarianism. Abraham is one of the most important people in history and yet most of us hold to a very flat and unrealistic images of him. I find myself imagining a lonely nomad wondering the desserts in richly coloured nightwear with a community of extended family and servants, a few camels and a flock of sheep.
But then you read about how Abraham rallies 318 of him fittest men to pursue, and defeat the armies of four kings. Four kings with an army that had just trashed five city states and where trafficking their inhabitants North and into slavery. Abraham’s nephew Lot was a captive. So clearly my image of Abraham is too cosy.
If Abraham had 318 fighting men then he was head of a community, a household of well over 1000 people with many thousands of of sheep and goats.
In modern terms we could think about Abraham as the CEO of an SME (Small to Medium Enterprise), Abraham’s household was not a nuclear affair, it was a complex wealth creating venture that could both threaten and bless the settled communities it dealt with. Abraham had to negotiate cross border deals and the rights to natural resources with a range of different officials and cultures, Genesis 23:3-20.
Interestingly the English word “economics” comes from the Greek word “oikonomia” which means a “household”, because large households where the Limited Companies of the ancient world. They where the building blocks that created the commercial success of a region.
So how does thinking about Abraham as the owner/director of a significant company change what we understand about him?
Well first we need to lose the idea of Abraham leading a simple life sitting by dessert streams watching his sheep. Every day would be busy, and Abraham had responsibilities for every layer of the lives of those who worked for him, from wages to worker disputes to even to marital arrangements.
So when Abraham took time to seek The Lord or to offer sacrifices, it wasn’t from a place of indulged interest in spiritual things. It was a necessity to make good decisions on behalf of large community of dependents.
Now that community would have been pluralistic, reflecting worship practices and deities from the various cultures Abraham had collected people from. Abraham had to create a spiritual environment that protected and was healthy for everybody, while at the same time following the very precise and sometimes counter-intuitive requirements of the God who had called him.
As we look at Abraham through the lens of business executive we find all sorts of examples and models that can be applied by and for those called to lead and direct commercial enterprises in the modern world.
We see Abraham interceding for a parallel and to a degree symbiotic industry, Genesis 18:23-33. You see archaeology has shown us that Sodom grew rich by harvesting and exporting the bitumen that bubbled up to the surface of the Dead Sea in bronze age.
Abraham had to trade in an immoral environment, which meant that to increase his work force he sometimes had to buy slaves from the nations around him. But when he did, Abraham was to include them in the mission, promise and family God was building through him, see. Genesis 17:13.
Fundamentally Abraham was tasked with blessing others as God blessed him, Genesis 12:3. Commerce done the right way always blesses the communities is both serves and relies on.
It is my conviction that if the modern/western world is going to rediscover business as blessing rather than as just control and power, it will need a multitude of SMEs led by CEOs who walk in and with the Faith of Abraham. A new generation of Rowntrees, Cadbury’s Samuel Lloyds and the like.by