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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Terah

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AND TERAH TOOK ABRAM HIS SON TO GO INTO THE LAND OF CANAAN

THE first Jew was a Gentile. The first Hebrew was a heathen. The father of the faithful himself was, to begin with, a child of wrath even as others. To no man on the face of the earth had it been said as yet that to him and to his seed pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. Why, we may well wonder, why was the covenant of life so long in coming in, and in taking effect? Why,-since God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,-why were all the families of the earth not embraced in the covenant of life at once? Why was that new covenant not made with Adam, the father of us all? There would surely have been a fine fitness had Adam been our father in the covenant of grace as well as in the covenant of works. Now, why was he not? It may have been because he had made such a fatal breakdown in his first covenant. Or, it may have been because he had never taken that tremendous breakdown sufficiently home to heart. Neither the greatest sanctity nor the greatest service is forfeited by the truly and sufficiently penitent man. And it must surely have been that Adam lost the fatherhood of all penitent, believing, and holy men by the lack of depth and intensity and endurance in his repentance. Abel, Adam's second son, would have made a most excellent covenant head. And, almost to a certainty, we, today, would have been called the children of faithful and acceptable Abel but for his brother's envy, and but for that foul and fatal blow in the field. Enoch, in the lack of Abel, would have made a model Abraham. How Enoch would have walked with God in Ur of the Chaldees, and in Haran, and in Canaan, and in Egypt, and back again in Canaan, confessing, all the time, that he was a stranger and a pilgrim with God on the earth! How Enoch would have told and would have taught his children after him that without faith it is impossible to please God! How he would have gone before them and shown them the way to come to God, believing that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him! But the divine will was in a strait betwixt two in Enoch's case. Enoch was sorely needed on earth, indeed; but his own desire to depart, taken together with God's desire to have Enoch with Him, carried the day; which carriage, for Enoch, at any rate, was far better. Noah, we would have boldly said, was expressly made for the faithful place, and the place for him. For by faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. And then, Noah was a preacher of righteousness to boot. But, instead of the faithful, Noah lived to become the father of all those who drown all their covenants of faith and of works alike, both with God and with man, in the wine-fat. All this time, then, all this disappointed and postponed time, the angel of the covenant had been passing unceasingly from land to land, and from nation to nation, and from tongue to tongue seeking for some of Adam's sons who should be found worthy to take up the calling and election of God; till, at last, the star came and stood over the house of Terah, on the other side of the flood. Now, this Terah, in his inherited and invincible ignorance, served other gods, and he had brought up Abram, his so devout son, to the same service. But those two Gentile men, father and son, served their Gentile gods with such truly Jewish service that God was constrained to wink at their unwilling ignorance. The God of all grace graciously accepted Terah and Abram for their love and for their obedience to the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. And thus it was that the true God raised up Abram the son of Terah, that righteous man from the east, and called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings. And thus it was also that Abram's second greatest son put Abram his father into his great catholic sermon on Mars hill, and said this about Abram: God, he said, that made the world, hath made of one blood all nations of men, that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being; for we also are His offspring. To Him that hath shall be given, is an absolute and a universal law and rule with the God of righteousness. And thus it was that He said to Abram, the son of Terah, in Ur of the Chaldees: Well done, good and faithful servant. Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, into a land that I will show thee.

It would have been entirely true to nature, and it would have been a most beautiful and a very fine lesson to all the families of the earth, had the divine call come to Terah, the father, and had Terah taken Abram, and had the son set out with the father to go together to the land of promise. But it is above and beyond nature, and it is a still nobler and a still more sublime sight, to see the call coming to the son, and then to see the father submitting himself to that call; entirely and immediately accepting it; and setting out under his chosen son to act upon that call and to follow it out. I can easily imagine a thousand suspicions, and rebukes, and remonstrances, and threatenings that Terah might have addressed to his son Abram when he first communicated the vision and the voice to his Chaldean father. It would be no imagination to repeat to you some of Terah's refusals, and remonstrances, and indictments, and protestations, and punishments. We have heard them, or the like of them, a thousand times. We have heard them as often as the same heaven opened and the same voice spoke to the young intellectual and spiritual emigrants of our New Testament day. But not one word of such stagnation, stubborn, unbelieving speeches came out of the mouth of Abram's noble father. Far from that. Nay, I know not that we would ever have had Abram, or would ever have heard his name, unless his humble-hearted, youthful-hearted, brave-hearted and believing-hearted old father had taken his chosen son by the hand, and his chosen son's wife, and had said, Yes, my son Abram, and my daughter Sarai, yes, let us set out at once for the land of Canaan. Why Terah himself was not taken, and himself made the father of the faithful, we do not know; unless it was that he was to stand at the head of human history in a still nobler fatherhood and a still more honourable office. That is to say, to be the patron patriarch and first father of all humble-minded, open-minded, free-minded, and hospitable-minded old men all the world over. Yes, that was it. Terah was taken in Ur of the Chaldees, and was there made the type and the teacher of all those wise men of the east, and of the west, and of the north, and of the south: all the elect within the election, and without: all those men old in years, but whose eye is not dim, nor their intellectual nor their spiritual strength one iota abated. Terah is the Magian father of all those sweet, wise, beautiful souls who stand rooted in a green and genial old age: all those in whom, though their outward man may perish, yet their inward man is renewed day by day. Terah, the father of Abram, is at the same time the father of all those statesmen, and churchmen, and theologians, and philosophers, as well as of all those many plain men among us, who to old age are still open to all divine visions and to all divine voices; to all new truth and to all new light; to all new departures in divine providence and in divine progress, and then to all new opportunities and all new duties. They are all Abram's brethren, and they all take of Terah, his father. All they whose living faith in the ever-living God is such that they see and feel His heavenly life still quickening all existence, and His heavenly light still lighting all men in His living word, in His living church, in His living providences, and in the living souls of all His children. A teachable, tractable, pliable son is a fine sight to see, and such a son is the best blessing that any good father can have of God. But a still teachable, tractable, pliable-minded, genial-minded, hopeful-minded father is a still finer sight to see; a still rarer, nobler, and even more delightful sight to see. A father who reads his reading son's best books, and who sits at the feet of his student son's best teachers, and who walks arm in arm with his elect son away out of the worn-out past and away up into the land of promise-that is a father to descend from, and to be proud of above peers and princes. A father who unites a large and a sage experience to a free spirit of expectation, and enterprise, and hope, and steadfast faith, and full assurance. And, thank God, at every new vision and at every new voice of His we ever find such sons of Terah in the church and in the state, in the congregation and in the family, and a right honourable place they fill, and a right fruitful. Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, into a land that I will show thee. And Terah took Abram his son and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and he went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan. Let all our old and venerable men continue to take Terah for their first father till their flesh is given back to them like the flesh of a little child, and till their youth is renewed like the eagle's.

As it turned out, then, it was neither Adam, nor Abel, nor Enoch, nor Noah, nor Terah, but it was Abram, Terah's choicest son, who was installed of God into the fatherhood of all foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified men. But, with all his excellent natural qualities and abilities, and with all that Terah could teach his son,-and then, to crown all, when he took his staff in his hand and walked out of Ur not knowing whither he went,-with all that parental instruction and example, Abram still had, himself, great things both to undergo and to perform before he was ready to be made the father of a faithful seed. A great bereavement, a great disappointment, a great temptation, a great transgression, a great humiliation, and a great surrender of his rights-all these great experiences, and more than all these, had to be passed through, and their full fruits had to be reaped up into Abram's heart and life and character, before Abram could be trusted, could be counted on, as the foundation stone of the Old Testament Church; and before the patriarchs, and prophets, and psalmists, and kings of Israel could be built up upon him. I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be thou perfect. But, like his far-off Son, Abram had first to be made perfect through suffering. And Abram's first baptism of suffering was not so much the leaving of his fatherland; it was much more the death of Terah his father and his fellow-traveller. Plato says that there is always a little child hidden away deep down in the very oldest man's heart. And Abram's heart was just the heart to have hidden away deep down in it Terah's little child. And that little child awoke in Abram's heart, and filled the tent and the camp with its cries and with its tears when Terah too soon gave up the ghost in Haran. As long as Abram had his father beside him and before him, faith, and love, and hope, and obedience were all easy to Abram. With a father like Terah to talk to, to pray and to praise with, and to walk arm in arm with at the head of the emigrant household, Abram's face shone like the sun as he turned his back on the land of his nativity. All that Abram really cared for came out of Chaldea with him. Terah, his venerable father; Sarai, his beautiful sister-wife; and Lot, his managing nephew; and under Lot's charge all his flocks and herds; and, above all, with this new, amazing, divine hope and secret in his heart-with all that with him Abram walked with God, and was already perfect. But the sudden death of Terah made that happy Chaldean company to come to a standstill in Haran. It made Abram stand still. It changed the whole world to Abram. Abram's believing heart was absolutely buried in his believing father's grave in Haran. But such was the depth, and the sincerity, and the true piety of Abram's mourning for his father, that, by the time that the days of his mourning were accomplished, Abram's first faith in God had come back again to his dead heart. The call of God sounded more and more commanding in his mourning heart; till the promise became, even more than at the beginning, both a staff of God in his hand and a cordial of God in his heart. As a great psalmist-son of his sang of himself in after days in Israel-when Abram's father and mother forsook him, then the Lord took him up. All the same, the whole after way from Haran to Shechem was often a solitary and a steep way to Abram: a dim, a headless, and a leaderless way to Terah's pious and childlike son. At the same time, when Terah died in Haran, and when Abram took the old man's death to heart with such grief, with such resignation, with such an assured reliance upon the divine promise, and with such full assurance of God's grace, and truth, and power, and faithfulness, a great step was taken both to the land of promise, and to Abram's predestination as the father of all faithful men.

Abram's great bereavement was immediately followed by a great disappointment. The Lord thy God, so sang the call and the promise in Abram's hopeful heart-The Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. But no sooner had Abram begun to build an altar at Bethel; no sooner had he begun to lengthen his cords and to strengthen his stakes, than a terrible famine of all these things fell on the whole land. Till Lot only put words upon the terrible darkness that fell on Abram's overwhelmed heart when he upbraided Abram, and said, Would God we also had died in Haran! Would God we had listened to our kinsmen in Chaldea when they dissuaded us from this folly and from this wilderness! The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children; they that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets; they that were brought up in scarlet embrace the dung-hill. We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold to us. We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria that we may have bread. No wonder that after such a sudden collapse of hope as that, Abram's faith completely gave way for a season. Sarai was all that Abram now had. She was the wife of his youth. She had come with him and she had stood beside him in all his losses and disappointments; and if he should lose Sarai in Egypt everything was lost. Say, I pray thee, that thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee. And Sarai was as weak as her husband was, and she fell into the same snare of unbelieving fear. Till the end of that sad business was that the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. And till Pharaoh called Abram and bitterly rebuked him. Were you ever bitterly rebuked for your sin by some one far beneath you in age, in knowledge, in experience, and in the calling and the grace of God? Did you ever taste that bitterest of all galls of seeing innocent men and women plagued for your sin? Then you will understand better than even Moses could tell you, what Abram felt as he saw the unoffending king of Egypt struck with plagues for Abram's falsehood and for Abram's deceit. It is not told in Moses, but I can well believe it, that nothing that ever happened to Abram so hastened forward his humility, his detachment from this world, and his heavenly-mindedness, as his fall in Egypt, and all its consequences to Pharaoh and to Pharaoh's household. What is this that thou hast done to me? Those who have these accusing words sounding in their ears from the reproaches of innocent and injured people, they will be shut up like their father Abram to that grace of which God so timeously and so fitly spake to Abram when He said to him: Fear not, Abram, for I am thy shield and thy salvation.

Jonathan Edwards, one of the purest and princeliest souls that ever were made perfect through suffering, has told all that fear God what God did for his soul. In intellect Edwards was one of the very greatest of the sons of men, and in holiness he was a seraph rather than a man. And to have from such a saint, and in his own words, what God from time to time did for his so exercised soul is a great gift to us out of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Well, Edwards testifies to the grace of God that immediately after every new season of great distress, great mortification, great humiliation, great self-discovery, and great contrition, there was always given him a corresponding period of great liberty, great enlargement, great detachment, great sweetness, great beauty, and great and ineffable delight. Till he testifies to all who fear God, and challenges us out of Hosea, saying to us: Come, let us return to the Lord our God: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come to us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. And so was it with Edwards's first father in his re-migration out of Egypt back to Canaan. But if Pharaoh was sore plagued because of Abram's transgressions, then Lot, at any rate, had his advantage out of all that. As our magnificent New Testament commentary on the Old Testament has it, Abram came out of his trespass in Egypt more than ever a stranger and a pilgrim with God on the earth. He came back to Canaan very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. But, like all his mortified sons, his heart was no more in his riches. God makes men rich who do not care for riches, and He brings to poverty those who like Lot sell their souls for sheep and oxen. He hath filled, sang Mary, the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. Abram was filled with good things as he came back to Canaan, which had now recovered from her famine. As full as he could hold, and more. But Abram's heart was less and less in his cattle pens and in his money bags; and more and more his heart was in those promises that are never received in this life, but are kept for us in that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. In former days, in the days before Haran and Bethel, and especially in the days before Egypt, if the land had not been able to bear both Abram and Lot, Abram would have said to Lot, I will journey east to Jordan, where it is well watered like the garden of the Lord, and the rest of the land thou canst take after I have left it. But after Egypt, and all the other times and places that Abram has come through, he has no heart left for any such choice or any such contention about cattle and sheep, and corn and wine. Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, for we be brethren. In Edwards's experience, Abram's mortifications and humiliations in Egypt and elsewhere had resulted in an amazing elevation, detachment, supremeness, and sweetness of soul. Till, without knowing it, on the heights above Bethel, Abram was made the father of Him who sat on those same heights long afterwards, and, remembering Abram, opened His mouth and taught His disciples, saying: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

And now, as Terah and Abram were in all that, so are all their true children. We also are continually being called to go out, not knowing whither we go. We also are sojourners in a strange land. We also die in faith, not having received the promises. We also desire a better country, that is, an heavenly. And, O! how well it is with us if God is not ashamed to be called our God, and if He has prepared for us a city! Like Abram in Ur, we are the sons of a father who hears our call, and who takes us by the hand and leads us on the way. Or it is otherwise, just as God in His deep wisdom and love wills it to be. But, fatherful or fatherless; with Terah for our father, or with God alone; still His call comes to us all to arise and come out with Him to a land that He will show us. Arise, He says to us, and go forward in faith, in obedience, in trust, and in a sure hope. The very progress of the years, were it nothing else, would be a continually renewed call to go forward, and to walk henceforth with God. From childhood, ere ever we are aware, we have migrated into youth. From youth we are soon ushered into manhood, and from one stage of manhood on into another; till, if we have God's blessing on us, we become old like Terah, with our eye not dim, nor our strength abated. Youth, man, married man, father, master, citizen, and so on. Maid, wife, mother, mistress, widow indeed, and so on. Migrating from one field of human life into another, and never leaving one field till we have reaped in its full harvest, and never entering upon a new field till we are prepared to plough it, and sow it, and reap it,-what a noble life we are called to lead on this earth, and all the time the pilgrims of God, and preparing ourselves for His city! What a noble education did divine providence pass Terah's son through, and with what profit to his mind, and heart, and temper, and whole moral character. His childhood spent in ancient Chaldea; his very crossing of the flood Euphrates on such an errand; the snows of Lebanon; the oaks of Bashan; Damascus; Salem; the Nile; the pyramids; the great temples; the famous schools and schoolmasters of Egypt, at whose feet Moses was to sit in after days,-all that, and much more that we neither know nor can imagine. What a noble education Terah's son was passed through of God. But not half so noble, not half so wonderful, not half so fruitful as our own. What were Babylon, and Nineveh, and Damascus, and Salem, and all Egypt, to this western world and to this nineteenth century after Christ! What were all the science of Chaldea, and all the lore of Egypt, but the merest rudiments and first elements of that splendid sunshine of all manner of truth and opportunity which floods around us from our youth up! And as we are led on from school to school; and from author to author; and from preacher to preacher; and from one stage of intellectual and spiritual migration and growth to another; to what a stature, to what a breadth, and to what a height of faith, and knowledge, and love, and all manner of grace and truth may we not attain. Let us be up and doing. Let us open our eyes. Let us open our cars. Let us open our hearts. For thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.

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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Terah'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/t/terah.html. 1901.

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