The Bible relates the story of the great flood that destroyed the human race, save for one man – Noah – and his family. After the flood subsided, it was left to Noah and his family to repopulate the earth, and so, humanity owes its very existence to Noah, his wife, and their children.
To the degree that Noah was the progenitor of the human race, Abraham, born ten generations after Noah, was the progenitor of monotheist faith. But it is important to note that Abraham was not the first human to believe in one God. Noah definitely believed in one God – the God who caused the flood, and who saved Noah and his family – as did Adam and Eve, who God created, and who disobeyed Him.
So what was so unique about Abraham that made him stand out as the forefather of the Jewish people and the originator of faith in one God? And why was Noah not chosen for this incredible task?
When it came to standing up for one’s beliefs while in a hostile environment both Noah and Abraham were exemplary. Noah spent years building a massive ark while his friends and neighbors laughed at him for speaking of impending doom. And while Noah never succeeded in convincing his neighbors to repent and to forego their sinful way of life, he never fell into their debauchery.
Abraham, too, was born into a corrupt society. The Jewish sages relate that Abraham’s own father, Terach, owned a shop that sold idols for worship. And yet, with no one to show him the way, Abraham’s insatiable desire to unveil the one true God led him to reject the religion practiced by his own family, his friends, and the culture around him.
So both Noah and Abraham withstood the pressure to go along with society, instead serving God with incredible conviction and integrity. However, when it came to their roles within morally deficient and spiritually corrupt societies, we see two very different men.
Through the entire story of the flood – including God’s foretelling of the impending destruction – we find a crucial element missing on the part of Noah. Yes, Noah did what he was told, but maybe God expected more from his servant. Where was Noah’s prayer? Where was his protest? Noah listened in silence as God foretold the destruction of all of humanity. But he didn’t pray in an effort to stop the flood from happening, and he didn’t save even one person from the ensuing death the flood caused. Only Noah and his family were spared, and no one else.
Abraham, on the other hand, enthusiastically took on the mission of spreading the word of God. He and his wife Sarah did so through kindness and hospitality. Abraham’s tent always had guests, and his guests inevitably learned about God from their gracious host. Abraham began a spiritual revolution that reshaped the world, and today, there are more believers in God than ever before.
The Bible tells us that when Noah left the ark, he planted a vineyard right away. Eager to ferment grapes for wine, Noah drank himself into a stupor, an act that angered God and was the downfall of Noah’s son, Ham.
Noah was a prophet and did not lack in his faith in God, but it appears he lacked faith in humanity. Spending most of his life witnessing his generation’s spiritual and physical regression had a negative affect on Noah, which led to his despair as seen in his drunkenness.
Abraham, on the other hand, felt it was his duty not only to spread faith in God to man, but to advocate faith in humanity to God. Even Sodom – a city that glorified evil and was the antithesis of everything Abraham stood for – still found compassion when Abraham protested God’s plan to destroy the wicked place and its inhabitants.
Abraham believed in peoples’ ability to change and to improve, and he grasped that God created man to illustrate His kindness, as opposed to His wrath. And so Abraham never gave up on trying to improve humanity through his teaching and his kindness. He was the shepherd who would ultimately lead humanity to God, and his belief in mankind’s ability and desire to repent and turn to God earned him the title of forefather of our faith.