Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paragraph 17

And when the days of Moses were ended, and the light of Jesus, shining forth from the dayspring of the Spirit, encompassed the world, all the people of Israel arose in protest against Him. They clamoured that He Whose advent the Bible had foretold must needs promulgate and fulfil the laws of Moses, whereas this youthful Nazarene, who laid claim to the station of the divine Messiah, had annulled the law of divorce and of the sabbath day -- the most weighty of all the laws of Moses. Moreover, what of the signs of the Manifestation yet to come? These people of Israel are even unto the present day still expecting that Manifestation which the Bible hath foretold! How many Manifestations of Holiness, how many Revealers of the light everlasting, have appeared since the time of Moses, and yet Israel, wrapt in the densest veils of satanic fancy and false imaginings, is still expectant that the idol of her own handiwork will appear with such signs as she herself hath conceived! Thus hath God laid hold of them for their sins, hath extinguished in them the spirit of faith, and tormented them with the flames of the nethermost fire. And this for no other reason except that Israel refused to apprehend the meaning of such words as have been revealed in the Bible concerning the signs of the coming Revelation. As she never grasped their true significance, and, to outward seeming, such events never came to pass, she, therefore, remained deprived of recognizing the beauty of Jesus and of beholding the face of God. And they still await His coming! From time immemorial even unto this day, all the kindreds and peoples of the earth have clung to such fanciful and unseemly thoughts, and thus have deprived themselves of the clear waters streaming from the springs of purity and holiness.

Now He turns His attention from Moses to Jesus, and His advent. As this is the last step, if you will, before Muhammad, it makes sense that Baha'u'llah would spend a significant portion of this book looking at His prophecies. Of course, by doing so, He also shows how the same pattern applies to the Bab, but that's for later. Right now, He is still pointing out the pattern of how people react to the Manifestation of God.

Once again, He demonstrates that the persecutions were even greater than before. "All the people of Israel arose", not just the leaders. If you're curious why this would be, we just need to look back at paragraph 14 for an explanation.

But here, for us, there are only a few points that we want to look at, and we'll do them one at a time.
First, there is the reference to the law of the Sabbath. It's interesting, for while Jesus seemed to annul it, what he actually did was shift the focus from the literal, and possibly stifling, interpretation of "don't work" to the more important aspect of "keep holy". This was at a time when there were many kinds of work that were forbidden, all based on some scholars' interpretation of what constituted work. This included things like lighting a fire and helping your neighbour in an emergency. And the penalty for violating this interpretation was death. Pretty stiff, if you ask us.

The second point is regarding the phrase "How many Manifestations... have appeared since the time of Moses..." It seems to be a rhetorical question, but the tendency would have been to answer two, and yet there was at least a third. Could this be another glimmer of a hint of moving the reader towards recognizing the Bab? We're just curious.

The third point concerns the idol, which is referred to as a manifestation of their own pride. 'Abdu'l-Baha goes on at length about this in many of His talks and writings, so we don't feel we need to. If you want to read more about this, you can just look at Selections From the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, pages 44 - 46.

The fourth point we find a bit more significant, or of more depth that we can grasp. It is interesting that God "extinguished in them the spirit of faith... for no other reason than that (they) refused to apprehend the meaning" of the words. They didn't merely "not apprehend" (hmm, the odd use of a double negative here sure seems to read weird, but we're sure you know what we mean); they "refused to apprehend". This is self-imposed ignorance, and that may be why they were punished. It was their conscious choice. This could be, we think, a cautious warning to the seeker, but we're not really sure.

The fifth point concerns the phrase "the flames of the nethermost fire", and the obvious reference to Hell. But we're not going to talk it about yet, as it becomes more relevant in paragraph 19.

Finally, we were struck by the last sentence. "From time immemorial even unto this day..." This is the same pattern that all people are following. It is as if it has spread from a small group to all humanity. It seems to be contagious.