Friday, January 7, 2011

Paragraph 11

Later, the beauty of the countenance of the Friend of God (Abraham) appeared from behind the veil, and another standard of divine guidance was hoisted. He invited the people of the earth to the light of righteousness. The more passionately He exhorted them, the fiercer waxed the envy and waywardness of the people, except those who wholly detached themselves from all save God, and ascended on the wings of certainty to the station which God hath exalted beyond the comprehension of men. It is well known what a host of enemies besieged Him, until at last the fires of envy and rebellion were kindled against Him. And after the episode of the fire came to pass, He, the lamp of God amongst men, was, as recorded in all books and chronicles, expelled from His city.

First Noah, then Hud, Salih, and now Abraham. Here we were back on familiar ground, for neither of us grew up Muslim, and so we weren't exactly familiar with the previous two.

Baha'u'llah is pointing out, once again, that the Manifestations are veiled before Their declaration. He also, interestingly enough, refers to Abraham as the "Friend of God", a title that is His alone.

It is also here that we begin to get a better glimpse of what we, the bloggers, like to refer to as "Newton's Third Law". Ok. It's not original, but it fits. "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." The more that Abraham tried to help them follow the path of God, the greater their resistance. It's not just a simple, but strong, rejection, like it may have appeared in the earlier examples, but directly related to the degree to which Abraham "exhorted them".

We also see a new result this time: envy. People are beginning to feel discontent with Abraham's power and authority, and wish that they had it for themselves.

Why is it that Baha'u'llah seems to dwell on the problems that have arisen? Why does He only talk about the rebelliousness and discontent and envy? Perhaps because "...the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God."

Now the scale to which we referred earlier is becoming clearer. With Noah, the flood wiped everything out. Hud saw the fruit of rebellion and blindness. Salih saw no fruit, which seems fairly neutral. And with Abraham, we know that some made it. The Arabs and the Jews are both His descendants, and they also have been given great promises. Baha'u'llah doesn't need to tell us this, for we already know it.

Oh, another thing we noticed, and we're sure you did, too, is how Baha'u'llah refers to the believers. He begins by pointing out how they were detached from all save God, which is almost exactly what He says in the very first sentence of this Book: "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth." Then He describes these followers as ascending on the "wings of certainty", and this is the Book of Certitude, so we seem to be at this step. Then He refers to them as having attained a "station which God hath exalted beyond the comprehension of men". This gives us a hint of what lies ahead. He may be referring to Abraham's followers here, but it also refers to us, by default.

Finally, the episode of fire? We weren't sure what that was, and had to look it up.

First is a metaphorical fire and then a literal one. The metaphorical one refers to the "fires of envy and rebellion". It is this fire that burns in the heart that leads to the persecutions that follow.

The literal one refers to a story from the Qur'an, and we like the way one scholar retold it: "Then Nimrod grew angry. He had a great fire built, and he ordered Abraham to be tied up and thrown into it. But the fire only burnt away the ropes, and they saw Abraham sitting peacefully among the flames. Beside him was an angel in Abraham’s likeness, comforting and protecting him."

So now we begin to see a spiritual interpretation laid over a historical story. This, too, lays the groundwork for much that is to follow.

One last point that has caught our attention is how Baha'u'llah masterfully alludes to the events of His day. The reference to Abraham "sitting peacefully among the flames" reminds us of the story of the martyrdom of the Bab. After the failed attempt at His execution, the Bab was found back in His cell, sitting peacefully, finishing His conversation. The second half of this point is the very last reference to Abraham's exile, which clearly alludes to Baha'u'llah's exile to Baghdad, where this Book was written.

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