Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Paragraph 7

Among the Prophets was Noah. For nine hundred and fifty years He prayerfully exhorted His people and summoned them to the haven of security and peace. None, however, heeded His call. Each day they inflicted on His blessed person such pain and suffering that no one believed He could survive. How frequently they denied Him, how malevolently they hinted their suspicion against Him! Thus it hath been revealed: "And as often as a company of His people passed by Him, they derided Him. To them He said: 'Though ye scoff at us now, we will scoff at you hereafter even as ye scoff at us. In the end ye shall know.'" (Qur'an 11:38) Long afterward, He several times promised victory to His companions and fixed the hour thereof. But when the hour struck, the divine promise was not fulfilled. This caused a few among the small number of His followers to turn away from Him, and to this testify the records of the best-known books. These you must certainly have perused; if not, undoubtedly you will. Finally, as stated in books and traditions, there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers. At last from the depth of His being He cried aloud: "Lord! Leave not upon the land a single dweller from among the unbelievers."

This paragraph begins a series of 11 paragraphs that deal with those Messengers of God we are already familiar with. You may recall from the outline that these Messengers are Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Baha'u'llah encourages us to be very familiar with our own Sacred Books, saying, "These you must certainly have perused; if not, undoubtedly you will." It is as though He wants to ensure that our foundation for the discussion is up to par.

"Peruse" means to read through with thoroughness or care. It is only in very recent times that it has come to mean the opposite, and we should be sure to understand it in the way that the Guardian did when he used this word in his translation. Obviously, Baha'u'llah is not telling us to read the Holy Books in a casual way. No, He wants us to thoroughly study them and become very familiar with their contents.

This paragraph is the first of two that reflect upon Noah.

When we think of Noah, we often look at the story of the Ark, the flood, the dove, the olive branch and the rainbow. We tend to focus on what it is that makes Noah unique. Here, Baha'u'llah focuses our attention on what He has in common with the other Messengers of God.

It is mentioned here that He suffered so much that nobody thought He could survive. According to one tradition, He was regularly beaten so badly that He would lose consciousness. His followers then asked Him to pray to God to punish His enemies, but Noah, instead, would pray for their forgiveness. It is as if He was living the example of "apprehending the true causes" of the oppressors and asking God to forgive them, because He could "appreciate the significance of their position." Finally, at the end, He cries out and asks God to "Leave not upon the land a single dweller from among the unbelievers." Is this a cry of vengeance, or could we see it, instead, as a protection? Could He have asked this so that those people could no longer endanger their own souls by harming a Messenger of God? However we view it, the ensuing flood has become one of the greatest analogies of the purification accomplished by disaster.

Another aspect that is mentioned here is the fact that some promises were made, but not fulfilled. This is yet another test that His followers faced. It begs the question of why any of them followed Him. Were they doing it only for a spot on the Ark? Or were they following out of the love of God?

We could also ask ourselves if we have truly understood the promises that were made. When Baha'u'llah says that this is the day that will not be followed by night, do we say He was wrong when the sun sets today? Or do we recognize that we may have misunderstood? This is the kind of test that Noah's followers may have faced.

One other thing that stood out to us was the very name of Noah. According to some sources, the root of His name "signifies not only absence of movement but being settled in a particular place with overtones of finality, or victory, or salvation". Other words in Hebrew that come from this word are rest, quiet and soothing.

When we think of the Ark, and how it is a haven of salvation through the flood, allowing the people rest and quiet (with all those other animals squealing and squawking on board), we are reminded that this is one of the purposes of all the Messengers of God. They give us that place of rest, security and peace amidst the turmoil of the world.

One last point to address is how Baha'u'llah casually mentions that Noah had "forty or seventy-two... followers." These two numbers come from two different traditions, and Baha'u'llah is giving us a great example of how to not be concerned about insignificant details. If Baha'u'llah mentioned only one of those two numbers, He would have alienated an entire group of people. Instead, He validates both, implying that it is not overly important. What is important is that there were very few people who followed Noah.

We believe that we could all learn from this example of Baha'u'llah's concern for unity.

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