While he tried to teach those who asked about the existence of one God, even Abraham’s own father resisted.

Abraham’s father, Terah, joined the adamant opposition to his son in Harran, which indicates that he had continued to cling to his profession of making and selling idols. Muhammad describes Abraham’s anguished attempts to reason with His father and persuade him to accept a new divine Message this way: “O my Father! why dost thou worship that which neither seeth nor heareth, nor profiteth thee aught? . . . verily now hath knowledge come to me which hath not come to thee. Follow me therefore—I will guide thee into an even path.” To clinch the argument, Abraham added a warning to his pleas: “worship not Satan, for Satan is a rebel against the God of Mercy . . . indeed I fear lest a chastisement from the God of Mercy light upon thee, and thou become Satan’s vassal.” – Qu’ran, 19:43-46.

Portrait of Terah from the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum' (1518)

Portrait of Terah from the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’ (1518)

Terah, unwilling to abandon earthbound images, responded to Abraham’s arguments with ferocious rejection, sundering the family bonds that had united them during the exile from Ur. “Castest thou out my gods, O Abraham?” he demanded. “If thou forbear not, I will surely stone thee. Begone from me for a length of time.” – ibid, 19:47.

When someone adamantly opposes God (becomes a “companion of the Fire” in Qu’ranic terms), Muhammad says it is not fitting for a prophet to pray for his forgiveness, even if he is a close relative. Nevertheless, Abraham responded to his father’s threats of banishment and stoning in the same tenderhearted way that Jesus asked forgiveness for those who crucified Him. “Peace be on thee!” exclaimed Abraham. “I will pray my Lord for thy forgiveness, for he is gracious to me.”- ibid, 19:48.

Praying, Abraham begged God not to let him become a test or a trial to any person who, like his father, disbelieved. Only when it became abundantly clear that Terah was determined to remain an enemy did Abraham agree to “. . . separate myself from you, and the gods ye call on besides God.” And then, having been mercilessly cut loose from the normal duties of an eldest son toward his father, Abraham turned to the source of divine mercy, saying “on my Lord will I call.” – ibid, 19:49.

God’s answer to Abraham’s call, recorded in Genesis, came in the form of a magnificent promise:

Leave your country and your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. – Genesis 12:1-3.

In lively minds, being cursed by God stirs up visions of a vengeful, angry Deity shooting bolts of lightning at the miscreant. Scripture, by contrast, holds a different, more metaphysical point of view, in which the state of being cursed or blessed is explained in terms of natural consequences, analogous to the way that being burned by a hot stove comes naturally from touching it, and not the result of active persecution by the stove. From this point of view, the laws of God’s universe include scientific realities like the speed of light or the effect of gravity, as well as moral realities like honesty and love. As mentioned in the gospel of Matthew, breaking or ignoring any of these fundamental laws is a spiritually dangerous enterprise:

Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall. – 7:26-27.

By refusing to acknowledge the truth when he heard it and, even worse, threatening the life of a messenger of God, Terah voluntarily moved away from the state of being blessed–accepting and rejoicing in the love of God–and joined the ranks of those who wished to live in the state of being cursed–refusing and abhorring the love of God. The Baha’i teachings put it this way:

Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 4.

Just as Nimrod’s name became a synonym for a dolt or a fool, Terah’s name continued to be so strongly identified with spiritual aridity that it has been used as a metaphor for the difficulties Moses faced in trying to teach the Israelites about God: “Moses lived in the wilderness of Terah.” – Horace Holley, The Spirit of the Age, p. 100.

Genesis indicates that Terah died before Abraham left Harran. But, as was the case with the prior “death” of Abraham’s brother, the Old Testament may not be speaking of physical demise but, instead, conveying a mystical truth. When Terah threatened to stone his son and thereby kill a messenger of God, he was committing spiritual suicide. Though alive and breathing, he was lifeless enough to merit being grouped with those of whom Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead.”

Like Moses leaving Egypt or the Bab shivering in an icy prison cell, Abraham had already faced years of opposition in his attempt to introduce a new revelation. And now, having survived the flames of polytheism, the judgment of Nimrod, and the exile to Harran, there was more to come. This second banishment would push Abraham completely beyond the bounds of Mesopotamia and into an alien culture.

Abraham… was born in Mesopotamia, and of a family who were ignorant of the Oneness of God. He opposed His own nation and people, and even His own family, by rejecting all their gods. At last, reduced to the utmost distress by the opposition of His enemies, He was obliged to leave His native land. In reality they banished Him in order that He might be crushed and destroyed, and that no trace of Him might be left. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, pp. 11-12.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

4 Comments

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  • Oct 27, 2016
    Frances, these are so helpful to learning this early history. You dust it off and place it in context so I as a Bahá'í better understand our spiritual heritage. These essays support the book so well. Illustrate it. Thank you.