The great truth that in Abraham there began a new relationship of mankind to the material and spiritual worlds is a main theme of these three lectures, and it is worth while considering it in the light of the evolution of human consciousness which Rudolf Steiner revealed as the clue to the understanding of human history. In the ancient Indian civilisation man, in his consciousness, was still a dweller in the spiritual world, and the material world was “Maya”, Illusion, a world in which he did not feel at home and from which he longed to escape.
In the ancient Persian civilisation it was revealed to man that the material world was itself a manifestation of spirit, and the scene of a great spiritual conflict of Light against Darkness, in which man had a part to play, Man's powers of perception were still predominantly super-sensible.
In the Chaldean-Egyptian civilisation man became more and more absorbed in his experience of the physical world through his senses, and his powers of spiritual perception diminished. Two dangers threatened him. First, that he should regard the objects of the outer world merely as affording him the means for a variety of experiences, in which his unbridled passions and lust for power would have free play; secondly, that, being no longer able to perceive spiritual beings behind natural phenomena, he should make gods out of the phenomena themselves. This would lead to idolatry. These two trends were manifest in the Babylonian world into which Abraham was born. They were bound to lead man further and further from his spiritual destiny.
While he still retained clairvoyant powers, man's etheric body, which was the instrument of spiritual perception, was not wholly contained within the confines of the physical body. With Abraham the withdrawal of the etheric body into the physical body was more advanced, and the etheric forces, which had formerly exercised perception independently of the body, withdrew within the skull — the “cave” in which it was said Abraham was born — and functioned as Thought, playing upon the experiences of the physical world which were conveyed through the portals of the sense-organs. This Thought-activity upon sense-experience began to reveal the multiple relationships of “measure, weight and number” by which the diversity of sense-phenomena were brought into unity, and to discover behind this the being and working of Jehovah.
This attitude to the phenomena of Nature — never as being in themselves a manifestation of the Divine, but always as a revelation of Divine wisdom and power — is peculiar to the Hebrew race. It finds expression frequently in the Psalms. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” “The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation; the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.” “O Lord, how manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all. The earth is full of thy riches; so is the great and wide sea also.” So too, when the Lord confounds both Job and his friends, it is by his wisdom and power manifest in the created world.
This special relationship of number and weight is summed up in Isaiah in one verse (Isaiah XL, 12): “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”
The same thought is expressed by Jesus in his teaching in the New Testament. “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly Father.” “The very hairs of your head are numbered.”
Thus, man's growing awareness of the physical world, which, in the case of other nations, finally hid the divine and spiritual from him, led the Hebrews to perceive God behind, yet separate from, material objects, and so also behind all human life, and in a special way related to themselves. The psycho-physical organism of thought, which made this possible, originated in Abraham, and was passed down through their generations by a strictly-guarded heredity.
This special quality in Abraham is treated at greater length by Rudolf Steiner in the third lecture of the Course on The Gospel of St. Matthew, and also by Dr. Emil Bock in his Primeval History, chapter 3. It is also referred to by Philo of Alexandria in his allegorical study of Abraham.