“As for Me, behold, My Covenant is with Thee, and Thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall Thy name any more be called Abram, but Thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made Thee. And I will make Thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of Thee, and kings shall come out of Thee. And I will establish My Covenant between Me and Thee and Thy seed after Thee in their generations for an everlasting Covenant, to be a God unto Thee, and Thy seed after Thee.”
God Almighty speaking to the Prophet Abraham
There was a descendant of the Prophet Noah named Abram. He lived outside of the great city of Ur, in Sumer, which was a great civilisation. The people of the time worshipped many gods. Abram, on the other hand, was a member of the ancient Sabaean religion, of which little is now known. Abram upheld that there was only one God. He did not accept the gods of the people of the time. Therefore, He was exiled into the wilderness, so that His heretical beliefs would be extinguished and He might die. His persecutor is known in some traditions as Nimrod. Bahá’u’lláh says concerning the coming of Abraham:
“Among the Prophets was Abraham, the Friend of God. Ere He manifested Himself, Nimrod dreamed a dream. Thereupon, he summoned the soothsayers, who informed him of the rise of a star in the heaven. Likewise, there appeared a herald who announced throughout the land the coming of Abraham.”
(Bahá’u’lláh: “the Kitáb-i-Íqán”, pp. 62-63)
He was accompanied by His father, Terah, and His nephew Lot. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. Abram married Sarai, His half-sister (daughter of Terah) and Nahor married Milcah, the daughter of Haran. (see: Genesis 11:27-32)
One day Abram was called upon by God. He was told by the Lord, “Get Thee out of Thy country, and from Thy kindred, and from Thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew Thee: And I will make of Thee a great nation, and I will bless Thee, and make Thy name great; and Thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless Thee, and curse him that curseth Thee: and in Thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
And so, at the age of 75, He left from the land of Haran, where they had been staying, and went to the land of Canaan, which is now Israel. Terah had passed away, so Abraham left with His wife Sarai, His nephew Lot, and all the slaves and wealth they had acquired in Haran. Abraham came to the sacred tree of Moreh, in the holy place at Shechem. There the Lord appeared to Abram and said: “Unto Thy seed will I give this land.” So there He built an altar to the Lord. (see: Genesis 12:4-7)
There was a famine in Canaan, so Abram left for Egypt, to live there for a while. Before He entered Egypt He said to His wife, Sarai: “Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is His wife: and they will kill Me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art My sister: that it may be well with Me for thy sake; and My soul shall live because of thee.” The princes of Egypt saw how beautiful Sarai was, so they took her to Pharaoh. The king treated Abram very well, and gave Him flocks of sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, slaves and camels. But because Pharaoh had taken Sarai, great diseases fell on him and his palace. The king came to Abram and asked Him: “What is this that Thou hast done unto me? why didst Thou not tell me that she was Thy wife? Why saidst Thou, She is My sister? so I might have taken her to Me to wife: now therefore behold Thy wife, take her, and go Thy way.” Abram was sent away, but He had managed to preserve His life. It was not a lie that He had said. His wife was indeed His half-sister. This was allowed in the Abrahamic Dispensation, but was later forbidden in the Mosaic Dispensation. (see: Genesis 12:10-20)
Having been expelled from Egypt, He returned to Canaan. Lot went with Him. They moved from place to place. Wherever He went He worshipped the Lord. Lot also had sheep, goats, and cattle, as well as a family and servants. Because there was not enough pasture available for both families, and quarrels broke out between servants, Abram said to Lot: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between Me and thee, and between My herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from Me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” So Lot went to the Jordan Valley and parted from Abram. Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, while Lot camped near the wicked city of Sodom. (see: Genesis 13:1-13)
When Lot left, the Lord came to Abram and spoke unto Him concerning His descendants:
“Lift up now Thine eyes, and look from the place where Thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which Thou seest, to Thee will I give it, and to Thy seed for ever. And I will make Thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall Thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto Thee.” (Genesis 13:14-17)
There were many kings in the area. Four of them: Amraphel of Babylonia, Arioch of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goiim, went to war against five others: Bera of Sodom, Birsha of Gomorrah, Shinab of Admah, Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (or Zoar). They had many battles. The four kings eventually managed to inflict great losses on Sodom and Gomorrah. Since Lot was living in Sodom, they took him and all his possessions. Abram was living in the sacred trees belonging to Mamre the Amorite. A man who had escaped from the company of Lot informed Him of what had happened. The brothers of Mamre, Eshcol and Aner were allies of Abram. Abram called together all of His fighting men, which numbered more than 300 and pursued the four kings. He managed to secure all the loot that had been stolen, together with Lot, his possessions and the women and other prisoners. (see: Genesis 14:1-16)
The king of Sodom went out to meet Abram in Shaveh Valley. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and a priest of God. This means that he was probably a High Priest of the Sabaean religion, of which Abram was a member. He brought bread and wine to Abram, blessed Him, and said: “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, which hath delivered Thine enemies into Thy hand.” Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe (one-tenth) of all the loot. The king of Sodom said unto Him: “Give me the persons, and take the goods to Thyself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom: “I have lift up Mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with Me, Aner, Eshcol and Mamre; let them take their portion.” (see: Genesis 14:17-24)
After this, the Lord came unto Him in a vision and made a Covenant with Abram. He said: “Fear not, Abram: I am Thy shield, and Thy exceeding great reward.” Abram said: “Lord GOD, what wilt Thou give Me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of My house is this Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram continued: “Behold, to Me Thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in My house is Mine heir.” The Lord replied: “This shall not be Thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of Thine own bowels shall be Thine heir.” He brought Him forth abroad and said: “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if Thou be able to number them: and He said unto Him, So shall Thy seed be.” He believed in the word of the Lord. The Lord said: “I am the LORD that brought Thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give Thee this land to inherit it.” Abram said: “Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” The Lord replied: “Take Me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.” He took all of those creatures and sacrificed them to God. (see: Genesis 15:1-10)
When the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep. God said: “Know of a surety that Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And Thou shalt go to Thy fathers in peace; Thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” God made a Covenant with Abram, saying: “Unto Thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates...”
Abram had an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar. Sarai said to Abram: “Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray Thee, go in unto Thy maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.” Abram obeyed Sarai’s request. This was after they had dwelt in the land of Canaan for ten years. When Sarai saw that Hagar became pregnant, she became jealous. She told Abram, who put the affair in Sarai’s hands. Hagar fled from Sarai. The angel of the Lord saw Sarai by a fountain in the wilderness, on the way to Shur. The angel said: “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?” She said: “I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.” The angel said: “Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.” The angel continued: “I will multiply Thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” And he said: “Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” (Genesis 16:1-11) Ishmael is the ancestor of the Arabian peoples, and both Muhammad and the Báb.
Hagar gave birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael. At the time, Abram was eighty-six years old. When He was ninety-nine years old, the Lord came to Him and said:
“I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be Thou perfect. And I will make My Covenant between Me and Thee, and will multiply Thee exceedingly... As for Me, behold, My Covenant is with Thee, and Thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall Thy name any more be called Abram, but Thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made Thee. And I will make Thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of Thee, and kings shall come out of Thee. And I will establish My Covenant between Me and Thee and Thy seed after Thee in their generations for an everlasting Covenant, to be a God unto Thee, and to Thy seed after Thee. And I will give unto Thee the land wherein Thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God... Thou shalt keep My Covenant therefore, Thou, and Thy seed after Thee in their generations. This is My Covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and Thy seed after Thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the Covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations... As for Sarai Thy wife, Thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah her name shall be. And I will bless her, and give Thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.”
Abraham wondered how He, a hundred year old man, could have another son. God replied:
“Sarah Thy wife shall bear Thee a son indeed; and Thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish My Covenant with him for an everlasting Covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard Thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:19-20)
These “twelve princes” are the twelve Imáms who succeeded Muhammad as His legitimate heirs and successors. The first Imám was ‘Alí, the nephew and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The Báb is a descendant of Imám Husayn, the third Imám, who was the son of ‘Alí and Fatimih, the daughter of Muhammad.
Furthermore, God said: “But My Covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto Thee at this set time in the next year.” (Genesis 17:21)
Abraham circumcised his son, Ishmael, and all the other males of the household, including all of His slaves. Ishmael was thirteen when He was circumcised. They were all circumcised on the same day. (see: Genesis 17:23-27)
It is recorded that Sodom and Gomorrah were greatly wicked cities. Several messengers or angels came to Abraham and Sarah. The messengers announced to Abraham that “Sarah Thy wife shall have a son.” Sarah laughed, because she knew that she was very old and could not possibly have children. Nevertheless, the promise of God was fulfilled. It was announced to Abraham that the two cities would be annihilated. Abraham pleaded with God that even if ten righteous persons were in the city it would be spared. God said: “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” Lot was warned by two angels that the city would be destroyed, so he took his wife and his two daughters and fled the city. But Lot’s wife looked back, that is, she probably tarried or attempted to return to the city. She was killed in the destruction. (see: Genesis 18-19)
The Qur’án gives this account (29:30-34): “And when Our messengers came to Abraham with the tidings of a son, they said, ‘Of a truth we will destroy the in-dwellers in this city, for its in-dwellers are evil doers.’ He said, ‘Lot is therein.’ They said, ‘We know full well who therein is. Him and his family will we save, except his wife, she will be of those who linger. And when Our messengers came to Lot, he was troubled for them, and his arm was too weak to protect them; and they said, ‘Fear not, and distress not thyself, for thee and thy family will we save, except thy wife; she will be of those who linger. We will surely bring down upon the dwellers in this city vengeance from Heaven for the excesses they have committed.’ And in what we have left of it is a clear sign to men of understanding.”
There are several other mentionings of this story in the Qur’án. The messengers announced the birth of Isaac (15:54): “‘Fear not, for of a sage son we bring Thee tidings.’” In another Súrih of the Qur’án it says (11:74-76): “His wife was standing by and laughed; and We announced Isaac to her; and after Isaac, Jacob. She said, ‘Ah, woe is me! shall I bear a son when I am old, and when this my husband is an old man? This truly would be a marvellous thing.’ They said, ‘Marvellest thou at the command of God? God’s mercy and blessing be upon you, O people of this house; praise and glory are His due!’”
Sarah did indeed give birth to a son in her old age, and Abraham named him Isaac. When Isaac was eight days old, he was circumcised according to the Covenant. Genesis says that Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born. There was a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. Apparently, Sarah saw Ishmael mocking. Sarah urged Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham gave her bread and a bottle of water and allowed her to depart. God saw her in her hour of need and revealed to her a well. Ishmael grew in the wilderness and became an archer. His mother gave him an Egyptian wife. (see: Genesis 21:1-20)
It came to pass that God called unto Abraham. He replied: “Behold, here I am.” God said: “Take now Thy son, thine only son Ishmael*, whom Thou lovest, and get Thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell Thee of.” Abraham went up unto the mountains. There He built an altar and bound Ishmael, preparing to kill and burn him. But then the Angel of the LORD called unto Him: “Lay not Thine hand upon the lad, neither do Thou any thing unto him: for now I know that Thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld Thy son, Thine only son from me.” Then He turned and saw a ram caught in a thicket by its thorns. So He took the ram and offered it as a burnt sacrifice. (see: Genesis 22)
*The original verse in Genesis reads “Isaac”. This may be a scribal error or mistake by the compilers of the Torah. Abraham was called upon by God to offer Ishmael, His eldest son.
The Qur’án recounts (37:100-109): “And when he became a full-grown youth, his father said to him, ‘My son, I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee; therefore, consider what thou seest right.’ He said, ‘My father, do what Thou art bidden; of the patient, if God please, shalt Thou find me.’ And when they had surrendered them to the will of God, He laid him down upon his forehead: We cried unto Him, ‘O Abraham! Now hast Thou satisfied the vision.’ See how We recompense the righteous. This was indeed a decisive test. And We ransomed His son with a costly victim, and We left this for Him among posterity, ‘Peace be on Abraham!’”
“That which thou hast heard concerning Abraham, the Friend of the All-Merciful, is the truth, and no doubt is there about it. The Voice of God commanded Him to offer up Ishmael as a sacrifice, so that His steadfastness in the Faith of God and His detachment from all else but Him may be demonstrated unto men. The purpose of God, moreover, was to sacrifice him as a ransom for the sins and iniquities of all the peoples of the earth. This same honor, Jesus, the Son of Mary, besought the one true God, exalted be His name and glory, to confer upon Him. For the same reason was Husayn offered up as a sacrifice by Muhammad, the Apostle of God.” (Bahá’u’lláh: “Gleanings”, pp.75-76)
The symbolic of sacrifice of Ishmael was to show the absolute steadfastness of Abraham and to ransom His son for the sins of the world, just like Jesus, Imám Husayn and the Báb were sacrificed. I think it may also be a symbol that the time of human sacrifice was over. Only animals should from then on be sacrificed in the remembrance of God. Other peoples at the time practiced human sacrifice.
Sarah passed away and it was time that Isaac got married. Abraham did not want His son Isaac to marry a foreigner. Instead He sent His servant to Nahor in Mesopotamia. The servant found Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. Laban, her brother, allowed her to depart and she became Isaac’s wife. (see: Genesis 23-24)
According to Islámic traditions, Abraham constructed a temple in Arabia for the worship of God. This temple is called the Ka‘bah or Kaaba. The Ka‘bah is a solid cubic structure. In one of its corners is the Hajara’l-Aswad, the Black Stone,, which is the most revered object. It is said that the Angel Gabriel brought it to Abraham from Paradise. The structure has been renovated. (see: Balyuzi, p. 18)
The Qur’án says (3:91): “In it are evident signs, even the standing-place of Abraham: and he who entereth it is safe. And the pilgrimage to the temple, is a service due to God from those who are able to journey thither.” (2:119, 121, 125): “And remember when We appointed the Holy House as man’s resort and safe retreat, and said, ‘Take ye the station of Abraham for a place of prayer:’ And We commanded Abraham and Ismael, ‘Purify My house for those who shall go in procession round it, and those who shall abide there for devotion, and those who shall bow down and prostrate themselves... And when Abraham, with Ismael, raised the foundations of the House, they said, ‘O our Lord! accept it from us; for Thou art the Hearer, the Knower.’ ... When His Lord said to Him, ‘Resign Thyself to Me,’ He said, ‘I resign Myself to the Lord of the worlds.’”
The descendents of Ishmael and Muslims from around the world come to circumambulate the Ka‘bah every year. Originally, it was a place of worship of God, but gradually throughout time the Arabs became pagans and installed many deities in and around the temple. Muhammad ordered that all of the idols be removed and destroyed. The original monotheistic worship of God in the Ka‘bah has continued from the time of Muhammad to the present day.
Abraham took another wife named Keturah. She gave Him six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. He gave all that He had to Isaac, but He gave gifts to the sons of His concubines. He sent them into eastern lands. According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham left this world when He was 175 years old. He was buried by Isaac and Ishmael in a cave. Isaac married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor and thus a close relative. He had two sons, named Esau and Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons who became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Ishmael also had twelve sons and died at the age of 137. His descendants lived apart from the other descendants of Abraham, and the Ishmaelites later became the Arabs. (see: Genesis 25, 35)
`Abdu'l-Bahá gives this moving account of the Life of Abraham:
“One of those Who possessed this power and was assisted by it was Abraham. And the proof of it was that He 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. Alone and without help He resisted a powerful tribe, a task which is neither simple nor easy. It is as if in this day someone were to go to a Christian people who are attached to the Bible, and deny Christ; or in the Papal Court - God forbid! - if such a one were in the most powerful manner to blaspheme against Christ and oppose the people.
“These people believed not in one God but in many gods, to whom they ascribed miracles; therefore, they all arose against Him, and no one supported Him except Lot, His brother's son, and one or two other people of no importance. 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.
“Abraham then came into the region of the Holy Land. His enemies considered that His exile would lead to His destruction and ruin, as it seemed impossible that a man banished from His native land, deprived of His rights and oppressed on all sides - even though He were a king - could escape extermination. But Abraham stood fast and showed forth extraordinary firmness - and God made this exile to be to His eternal honor - until He established the Unity of God in the midst of a polytheistic generation. This exile became the cause of the progress of the descendants of Abraham, and the Holy Land was given to them. As a result the teachings of Abraham were spread abroad, a Jacob appeared among His posterity, and a Joseph who became ruler in Egypt. In consequence of His exile a Moses and a being like Christ were manifested from His posterity, and Hagar was found from whom Ishmael was born, one of whose descendants was Muhammad. In consequence of His exile the Báb appeared from His posterity,(1) and the Prophets of Israel were numbered among the descendants of Abraham. And so it will continue for ever and ever. Finally, in consequence of His exile the whole of Europe and most of Asia came under the protecting shadow of the God of Israel. See what a power it is that enabled a Man Who was a fugitive from His country to found such a family, to establish such a faith, and to promulgate such teachings. Can anyone say that all this occurred accidentally? We must be just: was this Man an Educator or not?
“Since the exile of Abraham from Ur to Aleppo in Syria produced this result, we must consider what will be the effect of the exile of Bahá’u’lláh in His several removes from Tihrán to Baghdád, from thence to Constantinople, to Rumelia and to the Holy Land.
“See what a perfect Educator Abraham was!”
(`Abdu'l-Bahá: “Some Answered Questions”, p. 12-13)
Bahá’u’lláh describes the life of Abraham (the Friend of God):
“Later, the beauty of the countenance of the Friend of God(2) 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.” (Bahá’u’lláh: “the Kitáb-i-Íqán”, pp. 10-11)
Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, is a descendant of Abraham. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains:
“The Blessed Beauty(3) is also a lineal descendant of Abraham, for Abraham had other sons besides Ishmael and Isaac who in those days migrated to the lands of Persia and Afghanistan, and the Blessed Beauty is one of their descendants.”
(`Abdu'l-Bahá: “Some Answered Questions”, p. 213)
Shoghi Effendi further elaborates on the ancestry of Bahá’u’lláh:
“He derived His descent, on the one hand, from Abraham (the Father of the Faithful) through his wife Katurah, and on the other from Zoroaster, as well as from Yazdigird, the last king of the Sásáníyan dynasty. He was moreover a descendant of Jesse, and belonged, through His father, Mírzá ‘Abbás, better known as Mírzá Buzurg - a nobleman closely associated with the ministerial circles of the Court of Fath-'Alí Sháh - to one of the most ancient and renowned families of Mázindarán.”
(Shoghi Effendi: “God Passes By”, p. 94)
Bahá’u’lláh was thus a descendant of the Prophet Abraham through Keturah, and through Isaac via Jesse and the kings of Judah.
"Had Muhammad, the Apostle of God, attained this Day," Bahá’u’lláh writes in a Tablet revealed on the eve of His banishment to the penal colony of ‘Akká, "He would have exclaimed: `I have truly recognized Thee, O Thou the Desire of the Divine Messengers!' Had Abraham attained it, He too, falling prostrate upon the ground, and in the utmost lowliness before the Lord thy God, would have cried: `Mine heart is filled with peace, O Thou Lord of all that is in heaven and on earth! I testify that Thou hast unveiled before mine eyes all the glory of Thy power and the full majesty of Thy law!'... Had Moses Himself attained it, He, likewise, would have raised His voice saying: `All praise be to Thee for having lifted upon me the light of Thy countenance and enrolled me among them that have been privileged to behold Thy face!'"
(Shoghi Effendi: “World Order of Bahá’u’lláh”, pp. 105-106)
Notes (1) to (3):
1: The Báb’s descent was from Muhammad.
BACK TO PART 3