Abraham is called the friend of God, the father of the Jews, and the father of the faithful. He is honored by Jews, Muslims, and Christians as a great man, but what religion did he follow before being called by Yahweh?
Abraham was born and raised in Ur of the Chaldees, which is in modern Iraq, near Nasiriyah in the southeastern part of the country. Joshua 24:2 says that Abraham and his father worshiped idols. We can make some educated guesses about their religion by looking at the history and religious artifacts from that period.
Ur of the Chaldees was an ancient city that flourished until about 300 BC. The great ziggurat of Ur was built by Ur-Nammu around 2100 BC and was dedicated to Nanna, the moon god. The moon was worshiped as the power that controlled the heavens and the life cycle on earth. To the Chaldeans, the phases of the moon represented the natural cycle of birth, growth, decay, and death and also set the measurement of their yearly calendar. Among the pantheon of Mesopotamian gods, Nanna was supreme, because he was the source of fertility for crops, herds, and families. Prayers and offerings were offered to the moon to invoke its blessing.
When God called Abraham (then called Abram) in Genesis 12:1, He told Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. Everything familiar was to be left behind, and that included his religion. We do not know what Abraham knew about the true God at that point, but it is likely that he had received some instruction from his father, as each generation passed down their history to the next. As a worshiper of other gods, Abraham must have been surprised to receive a direct revelation from Yahweh. The moon god and other deities were distant objects of worship, and they did not personally interact with men. Abraham obeyed God’s call, and, when he arrived in the land of Canaan, he built an altar to Yahweh at Shechem (Genesis 12:7). The text indicates that God’s appearance to Abraham was a deciding factor in his choosing to worship Him. Hebrews 11:8 says that Abraham’s departure from Ur was an example of faith in action.
Abraham continued to learn about this God he now worshiped, and in Genesis 14:22, following the example of Melchizedek, Abraham calls Yahweh “the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” This statement shows that Abraham set Yahweh above and apart from the moon god. His decision to worship God alone was settled in Genesis 17, when God established the covenant of circumcision with him. God appeared to Abraham, saying, “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1). In verse 7 God said the covenant He established with Abraham was to be everlasting and that He alone was to be God to Abraham and his offspring. Abraham chose to follow God alone, and he demonstrated his commitment by circumcising every male in his household.
Though Abraham forsook moon worship, the worship of heavenly objects became a continual problem with his descendants. Many times in the Old Testament, God rebuked the children of Abraham for their idolatry and renewed His call to worship Him alone. In Deuteronomy 17:2–5, God specified the punishment for idolatry—death by stoning. Moses described idolatry as doing what is evil in the sight of God and transgressing His covenant. Much later, King Hoshea of Israel was defeated and the people taken captive. Second Kings 17:16 says the defeat happened because the people “bowed down to all the starry hosts.” In 2 Kings 23:4–5 King Josiah of Judah led a revival of Yahweh worship and deposed the false priests who burned incense to the sun, moon, and stars.
God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, wants people to worship Him, not the things He created. In Romans 1:18–20, we are told, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” When we worship creation instead of the Creator, we exchange the truth about God for a lie (Romans 1:25) and reject what God has revealed about everything in life. God saved Abraham out of idolatry, changed his name, and called him to follow Him. As a result of God’s blessings to Abraham, the whole world is blessed (Genesis 18:18).