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In addition to the central theme of his covenant with God, Genesis provides two main stories about Abraham. The first concerns his need for an heir. His wife, Sarah, is childless. By a marriage convention of the time she provides her husband with a slave girl, Hagar; and Hagar produces the necessary heir, Ishmael. But Sarah then conceives and gives birth to a legitimate son, Isaac. In her son's interest she makes Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness.

But God promises Abraham that Ishmael, like Isaac, will become father of a great nation. It is a promise followed up in the Qur'an, where Ishmael comes to Mecca as a founding father of Islam (see Biblical events in Mecca).

The other central theme in the Abraham story is God's test of his obedience. He instructs Abraham to sacrifice to him, as a burnt offering, his beloved son Isaac. Abraham makes the necessary preparations. Not until the boy is bound on top of an altar of wood, with the knife poised in Abraham's hand, does an angel of the Lord appear to say that he has passed the test. A ram is found nearby and is sacrificed in Isaac's place.

The Lord is entirely satisfied by Abraham's obedience. He promises victory and prosperity to his people. Much closer to historical times, the Hebrews still regard human sacrifice as acceptable in a good cause. In Judges Jephthah kills his own daughter to fulfil a vow made to God.

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