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Abraham the Leader – in Biblical and Modern Perspectives


1. Abraham in the Bible

1.1. Important events in the life of Abraham

1.1.1  God’s call

1.1.2  Separation of Lot from Abraham

1.1.3  Abraham battle with Chedorlaomer

1.1.4  Abrahamic Covenant

1.1.5  The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael

1.1.6  Moriah Sacrifice

1.1.7  Deathof Sarai and Second marriage


1.2. Personality of Abraham.

1.2.1 Religious Beliefs

1.2.2  Morality

1.2.3. Personal Traits

2. Analyzing Modern leadership Theories and styles with Abraham the great leader

2.1 Trait theories

2.2 Contingency theories

2.3 Behavioral theories

2.4 Relationship theories

2.5 Leadership Style theories

3. Learning points for the Church Today




Abraham the Leader – In Biblical and Modern Perspectives


Leadership is a key method of management. There are different conceptions on this term. The Bible is clear that God expects certain qualifications when someone is put in a position of responsibility. He expects certain standards and behavior in a chosen person for a role of leadership and service to others. This is first brought out when God chose Abraham and his decedents and then with the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt in order to form them a new nation. Moses and Paul understood that leadership needs moral authority to be credible (Exodus:18:21-, 1Timothy3:1-10, Titus1:7- ). If someone is to accept advice, decisions and instructions from leaders, one must have confidence in the core values and moral foundation behind their words[1].

Here are some guiding principles found in the Word of God to consider when choosing leaders[2].

1). Leaders have a Vision. Leaders are able to communicate their vision clearly with motivation. “Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tables, that he may run that reads it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)

2). Leaders don’t use ‘I’ and ‘me’. Leaders use the term ‘we’. They understand that they are part of the team. “But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” (Luke22:26)

3). Leaders don’t think of themselves as better than everyone else. They recognize that every human resource is a valuable contributor. “Careful that you do not think more highly of yourself than you should.” (Romans 12: 3)

4). Leaders care about the people. “As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” (Ezekiel 34:12)

5). Leaders are able to communicate the mission and goals. They know where the organization is headed and have a plan for getting there. “Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place which I have spoken unto thee: behold, Mine Angel shall go before thee:” (Exodus 32:34)

6). Leaders can be trusted. They are fair. And they keep their word. “The just man walks in his integrity: his children are blessed after him. (Proverbs 20:7)

7). Leaders are objective. They are guided by wise decisions and reasoning. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delights in his way.” (Psalm 37:23)

8). Leaders understand the importance of earning respect and having a good reputation as opposed to focusing only on the bottom line. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold”. (Proverbs 22:1)

9). Leaders count the cost before making decisions. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he has sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:28)

10). Leaders exhibit excellence and diligence. “See thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.” (Proverbs 22:29)

11). Leaders spend money prudently. The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

12). Finally, Leaders understand that the ultimate leader is God, and seeking Him is paramount to success. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33).

In this scientific paper, I would like to analyze the leadership of Abraham in the Bible with modern leadership theories and styles and its importance in the present scenario of the church and the world at large. The first part speaks briefly on the life of Abraham and the second part is about analysing his leadership with some modern leadership theories.  The third part is on the relevance of his leadership today in the church.

1. Abraham in the Bible

According to the genesis narration, Terah, the tenth in descent from Noah, was father of Abraham, Nahor and Haran. Terah, along with Abraham, Sarai and Lot departed for Canaan, but settled in a place named Haran, where Terah died at the age of 205. (Genesis 11:27-11:32) Abraham first appears in the book of Genesis as Abram, until he is renamed by God in Genesis 17:5. The narrative indicates that Abraham means “The father of a multitude”. Abraham lived around from 1812 to 1637 BC. He died at the ripe old age 175 and was buried in Machpelah.

1.1. Important events in the life of Abraham

1.1.1 God’s call

After settling in Haran, God then told Abram to “go” from his country and his father’s house for a land that He would show him, promising to make of him “a great nation”, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, and curse those who cursed him. (Genesis 12:1–3) Following God’s command, at age 75, Abraham took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the wealth and persons that they had acquired, and travelled to Shechem in Canaan.

1.1.2. Separation of Lot from Abraham

 Abram’s and Lot’s sizeable numbers of livestock occupied the same pastures in Bethel and Hai area (“and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.”) This became a problem for the herdsmen who were assigned to each family’s cattle. The conflicts between herdsmen had become so troublesome that Abraham graciously suggested that Lot choose a separate area, either on the left hand or on the right hand, that there be no conflict amongst “brethren”. But Lot chose to go east to the plain of Jordan where the land was well watered everywhere as far as Zoar, and he dwelled in the cities of the plain toward Sodom. Abraham went south to Hebron and settled in the plain of Mamre (Genesis 13:1-18)

1.1.3. Abraham battle with Chedorlaomer

Lot was along with his property seized by Elimites. Once Abram received this news, he immediately assembled 318 trained servants. Abram’s elite force headed north in pursuit of the Elamite army. When they caught up with them at Dan, Abram devised a battle strategy plan by splitting his group into more than one unit, and launched a night raid. Not only they were able to free the captives, Abram’s unit chased and slaughtered the Elamite King Chedorlaomer at Hobah, just north of Damascus. They freed Lot, his household, possessions, and recovered all of the goods from Sodom that were taken. (Genesis 14:13–16).

1.1.4.  Abrahamic Covenant

The word of God came to Abraham in a vision and repeated the promise of the land and descendants as numerous as the stars. Abram and God made a covenant ceremony, and God told of the future bondage of Israel in Egypt. God described to Abram the land that his offspring would claim: “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Genesis 15).

1.1.5. The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael

 Abraham was fond of his son Ishmael from Hagar, who had grown up to be fourteen years old when his son Isaac was born. Now that Sarah had finally borne her own child, she could no longer stand the sight of either Hagar or Ishmael. When the teenager was jesting around, Sarah told Abraham to send the two of them away. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham was greatly distressed by his wife’s words and sought the advice of his God. The Lord told Abraham not to be distressed but to do as his wife commanded. Early the next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. He gave her bread and water and sent them away (Genesis 21:9-14).

1.1.6. Moriah Sacrifice

At some point in Isaac‘s youth, Abraham was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, he was prevented by an angel, and given on that spot a ram which he sacrificed in place of his son. As a reward for his obedience he received another promise of numerous descendants and abundant prosperity (Genesis 22; 9-16).

1.1.7  Deathof Sarai and Second marriage

Abraham became very sad due to the death of his wife, Sarai. As he was a wanderer in different places he had to purchase some land for burial. Sarah was buried at Machpelah . Then he got married kethurah. From her he got some children – Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah.

1.2 Personality of Abraham.
1.2.1 Religious Beliefs

The religion of Abraham centerd in his faith in one God ( Ellohim), the creater  of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:22; 24:3), sovereign judge of the world (Genesis 15:14)), controller of the forces of Nature (Genesis 18:14; 19:24; 20:17 f) and eternal (Genesis 21:33), He was also his personal God in a closeness of fellowship (Genesis 24:40; 48:15). Abraham attributed To Yahweh the moral attributes of Justice (Genesis 18:25), righteousness (Genesis 18:19), faithfulness (Genesis 24:27), wisdom (Genesis 20:6), goodness (Genesis 19:19), mercy (Genesis 20:6). He manifested Himself in dreams (Genesis 20:3), visions (Genesis 15:1) and theophanies (Genesis 18:1), including the voice or apparition of the Divine messenger (“angel”) (Genesis 16:7; 22:11). So far as the Biblical tradition goes, Abraham’s monotheism was not aggressive (otherwise in later Jewish tradition)[3]. Abraham was  vibrant in his religious faith by offering sacrifices, making covenant (Genesis 21:23), taking of oaths (Genesis 14:22; 24:3) and observing divine commandments piously (Genesis 17:10-14). These are considered as the glory and source of all his achievements.

1.2.2.  Morality

The ethical attributes of God such as Justice, righteousness, faithfulness, wisdom, goodness, mercy and generosity were considered by Abraham as the ethical requirement of man. In the sphere of applied ethics and casuistry Abraham’s practice, at least, fell short of this ideal, even in the few incidents of his life preserved to us. It is clear that these lapses from virtue were offensive to the moral sense of Abraham’s biographer, but we are left in the dark as to Abraham’s sense of moral obliquity. To impose our own monogamous standard of marriage upon the patriarch would be unfair, in view of the different standard of his age and land. It is to his credit that no such scandals are recorded in his life and family as blacken the record of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38), Reuben (Genesis 35:22) and Judah (Genesis 38:15-18). Similarly, Abraham’s story shows only regard for life and property, both in respecting the rights of others and in expecting the same from them–the antipodes of Ishmael’s character (Genesis 16:12) [4].

1.2.3. Personal Traits

Abraham’s personality has certain characteristics that make contrast among the other great figures of history even if he is morally strict and demanded. But the great credit is given to his amicable and attractive character. His trust and reverence to God and others exalt him as the head of religion. His love that is “the fulfilling of the law,” manifested in such piety toward God, showed itself toward men in exceptional generosity (Genesis 13:9; 14:23; 23:9,13; 24:10; 25:6), fidelity (Genesis 14:14,24; 17:18; 18:23-32; 19:27; 21:11; 23:2), hospitality (Genesis 18:2-8; 21:8) and compassion (Genesis 16:6; 21:14) when rightly understood, Genesis 18:23-32). A solid self-respect (Genesis 14:23; 16:6; 21:25; 23:9,13,16; 24:4) and real courage (Genesis 14:14-16) were, however, marred by the cowardice that sacrificed Sarah to purchase personal safety where he had reason to regard life as insecure (Genesis 20:11)[5].



2. Analyzing Modern Leadership Theories and Styles with Abraham the Great Leader

Leadership skills are suppose a leader has to possess. They are for guiding our own leadership behavior and learning, aligning team members around organizational strategy and values, training others and building unity in a time of change. The modern leadership skills are developed from some of the leadership theories such as Trait theories, Situational theories, Behavioral theories and Relationship theories etc., are analyzed with the leadership of Abraham

2.1 Trait Theories

Trait theories assume that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. Trait theories often identify particular personality or behavioral characteristics shared by leaders[6]. The trait approach attempted to identify physiological (appearance, height, and weight), demographic (age, education and socioeconomic background), personality, self-confidence, and aggressiveness, intellective (intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge), task-related (achievement drive, initiative, and persistence), and social characteristics (sociability and cooperativeness) with leader emergence and leader effectiveness[7].

Abraham was a man of integrity and charismatic

Integrity refers to having strong internal guiding principles that one does not compromise. Many experts believe that solid senses of right and wrong and strong guiding principles are the most essential and basic of all leadership skills or characteristics. Integrity promotes trust, and not much is accomplished without trust. Integrity is a skill to the extent that we see it in action. People can’t directly see your level of integrity, but they judge it based on actions and words[8]. The story of Abraham’s test, in which God asked him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, indicated Abraham’s willingness to make a personal sacrifice for God (Genesis 22). It is interesting to note Abraham’s reaction after being told by an angel of God (Genesis 22:12): “Lay not your hand upon the lad nor do anything to him for now I know that you are a God-fearing man.” This may have been God’s way of indicating to Abraham that spreading monotheism would require great sacrifice on the part of believers. Indeed, it took thousands of martyrs before monotheism prevailed over paganism. Abraham was a person who was willing to make a great sacrifice and that is why he proved that he was the right choice as the first patriarch. Throughout the centuries, Abraham’s followers – believers in monotheism – also made great sacrifices to spread his values in a pagan world.

Abraham had the ultimate divine gift since God assured him that (Genesis 12:3): “I will bless those that bless you, and him that curse you I will curse.” Moreover, almost four thousand years after his death, he is still a role model for billions of people. The Hittites respected him and referred to Abraham as a “prince of God” when he approached them about purchasing a burial plot for Sarah. His followers were very loyal to him and Abraham was able to send his servant with ten camels laden with goods to a distant country without worrying that the servant would abscond with his property (Genesis 24). His servant did indeed do an excellent job of finding a wife for his master’s son and brought back Rebecca. Abraham must have been quite influential since even King Abimelech and his captain, Phicol, desired to make an alliance with him. Their primary reason for wanting an alliance with Abraham was because (Genesis 21:22-33): “God is with you in all that you do.” Apparently, Abraham, the man from Ur, was so well known and revered throughout the world that even a king wanted to make a covenant with him.

2.2 Contingency Theories

Contingency theories of leadership focus on particular variables related to the environment that might determine which particular style of leadership is best suited for the situation. According to this theory, no leadership style is best in all situations. Success depends upon a number of variables, including the leadership style, qualities of the followers and aspects of the situation. Different styles of leadership may be more appropriate for certain types of decision-making[9]

Abraham had courage, confidence and ability to take decision

The Bible (Genesis 14) relates how Abraham mobilized his clan and, with only 318 people, waged war with four powerful kings in order to rescue his nephew Lot. Abraham was greatly outnumbered but pursued four powerful adversaries who had just soundly defeated five powerful kings (the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and three allies). Abraham was not only courageous but loyal to the members of his clan, even one who left to live in Sodom and confident in the ability of all those with him.

 A leader must be able to wade through information, comprehend what’s relevant, make a well-considered decision, and take action based on that decision. Making decisions too quickly or too slowly will impede your leadership effectiveness[10]. For the proper decision taking one has to gather data, analyze and ponder endlessly and consult with others. In making decision Abraham is a role model. When God said to leave his country and kindred to the land Canna, Abraham along with his wife and Lot got ready to move (Gn12.1). There was clear conviction on the departure in which he was guided by inner inspiration and trust in god. Another was to take Hagar as wife at the request of Sarah to get children. Later he sent Hager and Ishmael away so that Isaac would inherit the head of the family (Genessi16.2-6). When god asked him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac without hesitating he took decision to do will of God. All these show that Decisiveness is another example of an essential leadership quality of Abraham.

2.3 Behavioral Theories

Behavioral theories of leadership are based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born. Rooted in behaviorism, this leadership theory focuses on the actions of leaders not on mental qualities or internal states. According to this theory, people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation[11]

Abraham was humble and a true visionary

Abraham was a man of great humility and simplicity. He referred to himself as “but dust and ash” (Genesis 18:27). When his wife Sarah passed away, Abraham approached the Hittites to purchase a burial site. Abraham spoke to the Hittites with the greatest respect and even bowed to them several times (Genesis 23:4). Abraham refused to take advantage of an offer that was not genuine. When Abraham and his nephew Lot left Egypt they both had a considerable amount of cattle. Their respective shepherds began to quarrel because there was insufficient grazing land for the two herds. Abraham was a lover of peace and said to Lot to take a choice to solve the issue (Genesis 13:8-9). Abraham, though Lot’s uncle and the head of the clan, was not arrogant and allowed his nephew to decide first in which direction to head. Arrogant people generally have difficulty providing subordinates with individual attention and often lack sensitivity to the needs of others. Abraham’s vision was to found a new nation – the Promised Land, one where his descendents would live as a unified people believing in monotheism, concern for the helpless, and justice for all. Abraham was a monotheist in a pagan society and spread the name of God wherever he travelled (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 13:18). Abraham planted a grove in Beer Sheba “and there he proclaimed the name of God, Lord of the Universe” (Genesis 21:33). It seems that the purpose of this grove was to provide hospitality for travellers and to spread monotheism through the pagan ancient world. This approach enabled Abraham to spread monotheism and the values of hospitality and concern for others throughout the ancient world. It is not surprising that he was known in the ancient world as a “prince of God” (Genesis 23:6). Abraham not only had a vision but was also able to communicate this vision to descendents living hundreds of generations later.

2.4. Relationship Theories

Relationship theories, also known as transformational theories, focus upon the connections formed between leaders and followers. Transformational leaders motivate and inspire people by helping group members see the importance and higher good of the task. These leaders are focused on the performance of group members, but also want each person to fulfil his or her potential. Leaders with this style often have high ethical and moral standards[12]. Relationships develop from good interpersonal and group communication

Abraham cared about people and had a strong sense of justice

Abraham was the first person to tithe his possessions (Genesis 14:20). Abraham was also extremely hospitable to three strangers (Genesis 18) even showed his guests the courtesy of accompanying them part of the way. Even if he sent out Ishmael and Hagar from his house, he gave them sufficient wealth that they deserved. Abraham’s concern for others was also manifested when he heard that God intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham was so upset that he dared to ask God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” Abraham’s “haggling” with God to save Sodom and Gomorra from destruction indicated a great love for people and an optimistic nature (Genesis 18:20-33).This story demonstrates Abraham’s great love of humanity and his optimism. Abraham could not believe that some people were so wicked that they were hopeless.

2.5 Leadership Style theories

Leadership style is the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. Kurt Lewin (1939) led a group of researchers to identify different styles of leadership. This early study has been very influential and established three major leadership styles[13]. The three major styles of leadership are, Authoritarian or Autocratic, Delegative or Free Reign Participative or democratic.

Abraham uses all three styles, but Autocratic was dominant. His leadership is inherent (born) not made. Because he was the head of a big family and many faithful servants.  The actions of Abraham depended on mental qualities or internal states. At the same time he motivates and inspires people by leading high ethical and moral standard of life

3. Learning points for the Church today

Church is the community believers. It has got a hierarchical structure to lead and teach the believers. Therefore the efficient people are required for the leading and teaching processes. Many of our churches are experiencing a lack of godliness and effectiveness because of a failure to train and select qualified leaders. We may intend to select our leaders on the basis of personal successes or social standing. The Biblical standards for church leadership are personal character qualities, not college or seminary degrees, business administrative skills or personal charisma. Hereby some points are given out of reflection on Abraham’s life for the successful church leaders.

1)      Leaders of the present church should have the aim of spreading the faith through all possible activities in the living situations. Abraham’s clan was distinct and unlike the people that surrounded them. Abraham was a monotheist in a pagan society and spread the name of God wherever he traveled (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:5; Genesis 13:18). Abraham planted a grove in Beer Sheba “and there he proclaimed the name of God, Lord of the Universe” (Genesis 21:33). It seems that the purpose of this grove was to provide hospitality for travelers and to spread monotheism through the pagan ancient world.

2)      Leaders must have an authentic love towards followers and be concerned for their welfare. Abraham’s concern for others was also manifested when he heard that God intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. This story demonstrated Abraham’s great love of humanity and his optimism. Abraham could not believe that some people were so wicked that they were hopeless.

3)      Leaders of church have to be willing to reject the status quo and do things differently. Great leaders have visions that require great changes. Individuals who are afraid to do things differently are unlikely to make their mark as great leaders. Abraham’s view on hospitality to strangers was also diametrically opposed to the philosophy of Sodom and Gomorrah, countries that hated strangers. Strangers were not treated well in much of the ancient world and Abraham himself was afraid when traveling with his wife to Egypt. He feared that he would be killed so that his wife could be stolen away (Genesis 12: 11-13).

4)      Leaders have to practice a willingness to be different, a passion for justice, humility, and a concern for others. Abraham was a man of great humility and simplicity. He referred to himself as “but dust and ash” (Genesis 18:27). Humility is regarded as the mother of all virtues. It comes as no surprise that coldness and arrogance are major reasons for our leadership failure.

5)      Spreading Christian values and establishment of the church is to be done in unchristian world. For every adventure there should be vision, confidence and great sacrifices.  Abraham’s vision was to found a new nation – the Promised Land, one where his descendents would live as a unified people believing in monotheism, concern for the helpless, and justice for all. 

6)      Relationship based on love, communication and concern help to influence the faithful and make friendliness to the other faiths. Abraham had strong relationship with his own family members and others. He was called by pagans as prince of God.

7)      Each church leader is called to be the spiritual father of the people. It is fostered through the intimacy with God in prayer and contemplation and Eucharist etc. Faith and trust in God and observing commandments of God was the strength of Abraham. This made him to be the father of multitude.

8)      For the proper decision taking for the future endures leaders have to gather data, analyze and ponder endlessly and consult with others.

9)      Personal character and spiritual maturity should be the key issues for the selection of the leaders.

10)  Today church needs leaders like Abraham to lead society which is influenced by fashion designs, immoral views, broken relationships, corruption, social injustice, ritual and tradition centered church systems, riots and communalism and so on.


Who is a leader? What is the qualification to become a leader? Can you be leader? These questions have its own significant in every context till the end of the world. A leader is a person who is at the helm of taking forward the community safely. Quality cannot be substantiated with some educational degrees. A leader has to be psychologically balanced, spiritually integrated, physically fit intellectually advanced and moral oriented. To become a leader is a great challenge. A congregation follows its leaders. Abraham the father of multitude in the Bible is one of the great leaders in history. From the brief genesis narration in the Bible we understand the leadership qualities and life styles and of him. Leaders of organizations who wish to be successful transformational leaders should study the character of Abraham, and learn what it takes to communicate a new vision to the world, a vision that has dramatically changed mankind.






Keith Crim : The interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, Abingdon press Nashville, 1986

The new Jerome Biblical Commentary.

RSV Bible 

Scott Ashaly, http://www.ucg.org/christian-living/leadership-biblical-perspective

http://www.International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Abraham

Marilyn Hodge: Positive living leadership: A Biblical perspective, http://www.anguillian.com

Kurt Lewin (1939) http://http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadstl.htmlCached – Similar


Kendra Chery: http://www.about.com psychology,Leadership theories -8 major leadership theories

http://www. managementstudyguide.com/trait-theory-of-leadership.htm




[2] Marilyn Hodge, Positive living leadership: A Biblical perspective, http://http://www.anguillian.comCached


[5] Ibid

[6] Kendra Chery: http://www.about.com psychology,Leadership theories -8 major leadership theories

[7]  http://www. managementstudyguide.com/trait-theory-of-leadership.htm

[9] Kendra Chery: http://www.about.com psychology, Leadership theories -8 major leadership theories

[11] Kendra Chery: http://www.about.com psychology,Leadership theories -8 major leadership theories

[12] Kendra Chery: http://www.about.com psychology,Leadership theories -8 major leadership theories


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