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From the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, the Hebrew Bible, also known in Judaism as the Tanakh and in Christianity as the Old Testament, hints at the challenges we face as a human species today.
As we progress through the richly-detailed pages of the Torah, the first books of the Hebrew Bible, it reveals in multifaceted allegories, history, hymns and stories a further succession of divine messengers sent to humanity by the Creator, right down to the present day.
This concept of “progressive revelation” – the knowledge that a loving Creator continually offers spiritual and social guidance to humanity through a consecutive series of divine educators, messengers and manifestations – represents one of the central teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:
Contemplate with thine inward eye the chain of successive Revelations …. I testify before God that each one of these Manifestations hath been sent down through the operation of the Divine Will and Purpose, that each hath been the bearer of a specific Message, that each hath been entrusted with a divinely-revealed Book and been commissioned to unravel the mysteries of a mighty Tablet. The measure of the Revelation with which every one of them hath been identified had been definitely fore-ordained. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 74-75.
Through the teachings of Jesus and the spread of Christianity, most people from Christian backgrounds have at least some passing familiarity with the major prophets of the Hebrew Bible: Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Some might also be familiar with Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and the other “minor” prophets who worked within their traditions to carry forward and reinforce the teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition. These teachings and prophecies were carefully preserved, and have guided millions of believers for thousands of years.
Revealed in the ancient pages of the Hebrew Bible, God declares that the end is known from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and that He has made it known to His servants, the prophets. The mission of those successive prophets – to address the problems of their time, idolatry and disobedience to the Mosaic Dispensation – meant that the succession of the 12 minor prophets of the Hebrew Bible all called the people to follow and obey the Divine Covenant brought by Moses.
Those prophets also foretold a time of glory in, what was to them, the distant future. They prophesied that after much tribulation their descendants would inherit the promises associated with that Covenant between God and humanity. In astonishing ways, their prophetic vision reached across thousands of years, announcing a coming age of global peace and the unity of humankind.
So, could life-changing perspectives and a new awareness of universal truths await the careful modern reader willing to approach these prophecies with an open mind? The Baha’i teachings answer that question with a resounding yes:
… the universal Manifestations of God are aware of the truths underlying the mysteries of all created things, and thus They found a religion that is based upon, and consonant with, the prevailing condition of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 180.
First, we know that the Hebrew classical prophets mostly addressed the issues of their time, which fell primarily into two categories – the disobedience of the people to the Mosaic Covenant, and the impending threats of defeat first from the Assyrian empire and then the Babylonian.
Repeatedly each prophet bemoaned the sins of Israel and warned of coming conquests if the Israelites did not repent and return to the Lord. Tragically for the Israelites, these prophecies of defeat and subjugation did come true.
Many of the Hebrew prophets also foresaw that the Lord would eventually gather His people from their exile in the diaspora to their ancient home in the Holy Land. These prophecies became fulfilled with the Zionist movement of the late nineteenth century and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Seemingly out of nowhere, and thousands of years before the fact, the Hebrew prophets also foretold the coming of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith. Only in retrospect can these amazing, perplexing, surprising, and mystifying prophecies be recognized.
In the next installment of this short series of essays, we’ll explore what those Hebrew prophets said about Baha’u’llah, the one who has established the most recent worldwide religion.
Next: How the Hebrew Prophets Predicted the Coming of Baha’u’llah