Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paragraph 28

As to the words -- "Immediately after the oppression of those days" -- they refer to the time when men shall become oppressed and afflicted, the time when the lingering traces of the Sun of Truth and the fruit of the Tree of knowledge and wisdom will have vanished from the midst of men, when the reins of mankind will have fallen into the grasp of the foolish and ignorant, when the portals of divine unity and understanding -- the essential and highest purpose in creation -- will have been closed, when certain knowledge will have given way to idle fancy, and corruption will have usurped the station of righteousness. Such a condition as this is witnessed in this day when the reins of every community have fallen into the grasp of foolish leaders, who lead after their own whims and desire. On their tongue the mention of God hath become an empty name; in their midst His holy Word a dead letter. Such is the sway of their desires, that the lamp of conscience and reason hath been quenched in their hearts, and this although the fingers of divine power have unlocked the portals of the knowledge of God, and the light of divine knowledge and heavenly grace hath illumined and inspired the essence of all created things, in such wise that in each and every thing a door of knowledge hath been opened, and within every atom traces of the sun hath been made manifest. And yet, in spite of all these manifold revelations of divine knowledge, which have encompassed the world, they still vainly imagine the door of knowledge to be closed, and the showers of mercy to be stilled. Clinging unto idle fancy, they have strayed far from the Urvatu'l-Vuthqa of divine knowledge. Their hearts seem not to be inclined to knowledge and the door thereof, neither think they of its manifestations, inasmuch as in idle fancy they have found the door that leadeth unto earthly riches, whereas in the manifestation of the Revealer of knowledge they find naught but the call to self-sacrifice. They therefore naturally hold fast unto the former, and flee from the latter. Though they recognize in their hearts the Law of God to be one and the same, yet from every direction they issue a new command, and in every season proclaim a fresh decree. No two are found to agree on one and the same law, for they seek no God but their own desire, and tread no path but the path of error. In leadership they have recognized the ultimate object of their endeavour, and account pride and haughtiness as the highest attainments of their heart's desire. They have placed their sordid machinations above the divine decree, have renounced resignation unto the will of God, busied themselves with selfish calculation, and walked in the way of the hypocrite. With all their power and strength they strive to secure themselves in their petty pursuits, fearful lest the least discredit undermine their authority or blemish the display of their magnificence. Were the eye to be anointed and illumined with the collyrium of the knowledge of God, it would surely discover that a number of voracious beasts have gathered and preyed upon the carrion of the souls of men.

This is the beginning of the analysis of Matthew 24, and is the first of three paragraphs that looks at the phrase "Immediately after the oppression of those days". It's a long one, as we're sure you've noticed.

To make it easier for you (well, really to make it easier for us), we're going to break it down into five little sections. The first sentence outlines the whole issue at hand. The next 3 sentences point to the "foolish leaders" of religion, ending with "hath been made manifest". The next 4 sentences talk about what they do, ending with "flee from the latter". This is followed by 7 sentences of explanation of why they do what they do. And it concludes in the last sentence with a statement of the reality of what is happening.

To start, let's look at that first sentence. There appears to be something of a crescendo in the clauses that Baha'u'llah uses:
  • the time when men shall become oppressed and afflicted,
  • the time when the lingering traces of the Sun of Truth and the fruit of the Tree of knowledge and wisdom will have vanished from the midst of men,
  • when the reins of mankind will have fallen into the grasp of the foolish and ignorant,
  • when the portals of divine unity and understanding -- the essential and highest purpose in creation -- will have been closed
  • when certain knowledge will have given way to idle fancy,
  • and corruption will have usurped the station of righteousness

It starts with everyone feeling that sense of being heavily burdened by troubles or anxiety, and continues with that pain or misery. This was obviously the case in His days, as it is in ours. Normally, feeling oppressed or afflicted does not necessarily mean that you are. It just means that you feel that way, and those feelings are real. But here, Baha'u'llah says that this oppression and affliction are real. It is the reality.

He goes on and, in the second clause, points out that the traces of the Sun and the fruit of the Tree are gone, although the Sun and the Tree are still there. Like winter-time, the fruits are gone, as is the heat of the sun.

In the third phrase, it seems that because these traces and fruits have vanished, the foolish and ignorant have been able to usurp the reins of mankind. To picture this, you only have to imagine a horse-drawn cart. We, humanity, are like the horse, and the driver is no longer that good and wise husbandman. He has been replaced by someone who is foolish and, perhaps, reckless.

In the fourth point, we begin to realize just how depraved this new driver is. Because of this foolish driver, the team of horses is no longer united, nor are they confident that the driver knows where he is going. Let's not forget, this divine unity and understanding are, as He says, the essential and highest purpose of creation.

But it doesn't stop there. In the fifth point, we now know that the driver truly does not know where he is going. His supposed knowledge has been proven to be nothing more than his own imagination. The horse cart is out of control. The driver is now like the car thief who steals the car to go on a joy ride, before crashing and burning it.

Finally, He says that it is corruption that has taken over. The moral authority that is supposed to be in charge has lost its position to corruption. The good driver has been replaced by someone without a driver's license, with no right to take the car, or the cart, to go back to our original metaphor. In the end, we feel robbed.

This is where we are now. This is the state of affairs we see in the world today, and something needs to change.

The Foolish Leaders

At this point in the paragraph, Baha'u'llah further explains who it is that He is referring to: the foolish leaders. The adjective here, "foolish", is very important, for if they were not foolish and corrupt, then they would be good and wise leaders. If this were the case, then there would be no reason for a Messenger of God to correct the situation. And let's not forget, Baha'u'llah is not condemning everyone. There are many places in which He praises the good leaders, and exalts their station. Here, though, He is focusing our attention on those foolish ones who seem to be quite prevalent.

What are some of the qualities of these foolish leaders? Baha'u'llah gives us a number of characteristics of them. They "lead after their own whims and desire", God has become an empty word in their mouth, the Holy Word is meaningless to them, and conscience and reason have been overshadowed in their hearts by their desires.

How this could happen is something of a mystery, though. After all, the portals of the knowledge of God are open, the essence of all things has been illumined and inspired by the light of divine knowledge and heavenly grace, and every atom contains a trace of the sun. In short, they are completely blind to that which is self-evident.

We only need to see how the lust for money, or sexual gratification, have led some of these leaders astray. Or we can look at how many leaders are denying such obvious realities as climate change, otherwise known as global warming, as they still try to push through their own corporate agendas.

What they do

Baha'u'llah gives us a few examples of what it is that these foolish ones are doing. He says that they imagine the door of knowledge to be closed and that His mercy has stopped flowing, as if such things were ever possible. They cling to their own silliness, instead of looking at the guidance found within the Sacred Texts, the Urvatu'l-Vuthqa, that "sure handle" and "firm cord". They prefer to seek after earthly wealth, because the other path leads to self-sacrifice. And interestingly enough, Baha'u'llah seems to understand this, for He says that it is "natural". This is something that we all can relate to. It is far easier to seek after something as simple and shallow as money, while it is much more difficult to strive to grow spiritually. Getting to know yourself, and aligning your behaviour with the standard set forth in the Holy Books is no easy task and requires a sacrifice of the ego. Even Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

But what does this mean to us, for we are surely not religious leaders? We think that it's a reminder to not be attached to dogma or surface things. For example, remember the story of Muhammad when He suddenly turned away from Jerusalem and faced Mecca during His prayers? This was a huge test for many of His followers. They were so attached to the idea that they had to face Jerusalem that they forgot to be obedient to the new Messenger.

This also applies to us. There are many things that we do in our life that are nothing more than a custom, tradition or a part of our culture, and yet we tend to think of it as being the only way to do it. In this day of multiculturalism, and the mass migration of humanity across the face of the planet, we are encountering more and more people who do things in a different way than we do. By keeping this awareness in our mind, we will more easily see the underlying unity in our actions. For example, when the Aboriginal American washes the smoke over them in a smudging ceremony, that is no different than the Catholic dipping their fingers in the Holy Water. This is also the same as the Muslim or the Baha'i performing their ablutions by washing their hands and face. All are a way of preparing oneself to encounter the sacred.

When we think that our way is the only way to do something, then we are forgetting to be detached, forgetting to see the variety and beauty of the many ways of doing that same thing. By admitting that our way is only one of many, we demonstrate a degree of self-sacrifice and humility. And, as Baha'u'llah says, many flee from this.

Why they do it

Now there are two questions that come up. The first is why do people, in general, flee from this?

In one sense, it's not that difficult to understand. By clinging to "idle fancy", we can do very well for ourselves, but by striving to follow a Messenger of God, we are called to a station of sacrifice. We sacrifice our time, our money, and sometimes our very lives. At the very least, by striving for the things regarded as worthy by society, by trying to live up to those shallow and hollow standards, we may have what others call a successful life. But by endeavouring to walk that path of faith, we will generally be ridiculed and find many obstacles and tests thrown in our way. So, in one sense, it is not difficult to understand why people flee from this.

From the vantage point of religion, we can see how shallow those standards of society are, how fleeting the accolades and riches are. We understand that the true life is that of the spirit, and it is this for which we should strive.

The second question is why do the foolish leaders do what they do? The simple answer here is because of their ego. Even though they are aware that all the religions come from God, and that the Law of God is the same everywhere, they still issue their own decrees. Why? Because they see the important thing as being in a position of leadership, as opposed to promoting truth. We see this happening around us all the time. In politics, for instance, one politician will often deride another no matter the merit in what they propose. They feel that they must stand against it if it doesn't come from themselves or their political party. If they don't, they somehow feel that this may erode their political influence, even though this is nothing short of foolishness.

The Collyrium

While this may seem a digression, this is a point that stood out to us. Baha'u'llah uses the interesting word "collyrium" to describe the knowledge of God. Collyrium is an eyewash, used to clean out the eye that is infected with a foreign object. Without the eyewash, your vision is either blurred, impaired, or altogether gone.

Imagine you're working in a warehouse, or somewhere dusty, and you get something in your eye. What do you do? You blink. You don't want to use the eyewash, mainly because it's very uncomfortable. You think you can just blink and you'll get the stuff out of your eye. In other words, you're in denial. You have something stuck in your eye and you need to get it out, but you don't want to use the prescribed remedy. You know the rules, you've had the safety training, and you know you're supposed to use the eyewash, but you still don't. (At least that's been our experience.) You figure you can just get rid of this annoying thing on your own.

But as anyone who has been in this position knows, that's just not the case. When you finally break down, admit you can't do it on you own, and use the eyewash according to the instructions, then you feel so much better and you can see clearly again. Oh, and those instructions usually prescribe using it for far longer than you think necessary. But if you really want the job done right, you better use it properly.


Finally, Baha'u'llah is telling us that we only need to look around us to see the truth of what He is saying. These leaders have preyed, but unfortunately with an "e", not an "a".

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Paragraph 27

This servant will now share with thee a dewdrop out of the fathomless ocean of the truths treasured in these holy words, that haply discerning hearts may comprehend all the allusions and the implications of the utterances of the Manifestations of Holiness, so that the overpowering majesty of the Word of God may not prevent them from attaining unto the ocean of His names and attributes, nor deprive them of recognizing the Lamp of God which is the seat of the revelation of His glorified Essence.

Here is the last of three paragraphs of introduction to Matthew 24.

Baha'u'llah immediately identifies Himself as a servant thus positioning Himself in a humble state of mind. He sets the example of how we should teach by using Himself as an example.

He reminds us that these holy words are truly fathomless. There is always more and more that we can discover within them. "And if all the trees in the earth", it says in the Qur'an, "were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted."

He also reminds us that understanding them is not a foregone conclusion. It is only with luck, or by the Will of God ("haply", remember), that we will come to a deeper understanding. Over and over again throughout this Book, He reminds us that it is always by the grace of God that we understand. Our job, as He says so well in the first few paragraphs, is to purify our heart, to sanctify our soul, and then we can begin to approach His threshold. It is important to note that it is our heart that does the comprehending, not our mind. This is so contrary to our modern "scientific" understanding in which everything can be understood from a logical and straightforward literal reading. Here we are learning about the sacred, an effort which defies the literal and straightforward and causes us to face the incomprehensible. This is a challenge for us; it involves a little spiritual labour, as well as humility.

Here, once again, He likens the sacred texts to an ocean, which can be overwhelming. This is like information overload. When a submarine goes under the water in the ocean to explore, they are only able to see a few feet in front of them. It is only by making thousands and thousands of dives, all over the ocean, and combining what we know from each one's experience that we can begin to get a bit of an understanding of the what is contained within the depths of the ocean. This is further multiplied when we consider the Holy Words.

He also points out something very interesting here, namely that this can be overpowering and can even become a barrier for some. Imagine if someone discovered a profound truth latent within a sacred verse. Now imagine someone else has discovered another very profound truth within the same verse. Can you not see how they could come to odds with each other over which interpretation, or understanding, is "correct"? It is often very difficult to recognize that both may be "correct", for there are many truths that are contained within each verse.

Even here, with all that Baha'u'llah shares about this single verse from Matthew 24, He doesn't claim that He is telling us everything that is contained within it. In fact, He is expressly telling us that there is more, far more, contained there. Although He is hoping that we will be able to "comprehend all the allusions and the implications", He is only sharing a dewdrop with us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paragraph 26

Beside this passage, there is yet another verse in the Gospel wherein He saith: "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away."[1] Thus it is that the adherents of Jesus maintained that the law of the Gospel shall never be annulled, and that whensoever the promised Beauty is made manifest and all the signs are revealed, He must needs re-affirm and establish the law proclaimed in the Gospel, so that there may remain in the world no faith but His faith. This is their fundamental belief. And their conviction is such that were a person to be made manifest with all the promised signs and to promulgate that which is contrary to the letter of the law of the Gospel, they must assuredly renounce him, refuse to submit to his law, declare him an infidel, and laugh him to scorn. This is proved by that which came to pass when the sun of the Muhammadan Revelation was revealed. Had they sought with a humble mind from the Manifestations of God in every Dispensation the true meaning of these words revealed in the sacred books -- words the misapprehension of which hath caused men to be deprived of the recognition of the Sadratu'l-Muntaha, the ultimate Purpose -- they surely would have been guided to the light of the Sun of Truth, and would have discovered the mysteries of divine knowledge and wisdom.[1 Luke 21:33.]

Here is a second warning from Baha'u'llah about how we are to approach this paragraph from Matthew, and, indeed, all the Sacred Texts: We should recognize that the laws are regenerated and renewed as needed in each Age. We will also need to submit to these new laws, and that might be difficult for us, as it is not easy to move from our old set of traditions to a new one. It is good to remember that Jesus changed some laws from the dispensation of Moses, the law of the Sabbath being one example, and we can see the effect it had at the time.

Later, at the time of Muhammad, the adherents of Jesus clung to the letter of the Law and forgot the spirit of it. They took the Words of Jesus literally and presumed that this was the only valid way to read them.

We see this as another caution. While it is acceptable, and sometimes preferable, to read the words literally, we should be cautious not to do so to an extreme. Baha'u'llah does not seem to be condemning the people of that day for using a literal interpretation, but instead for trying to impose it upon others. By doing so, they were moving beyond the bounds of moderation and humility, forgetting that they could still learn more.

This pattern, which we see here between the followers of Jesus and those of Muhammad, continues that which we had seen earlier in this Book.

Baha'u'llah, indeed all the Messengers of God, has told us repeatedly that God is exalted above the Manifestations and They do His bidding; They are all His servants. They are, as the Bab says, but a ring upon His finger. It is to God that we must become attached, and not the Words. This is the true meaning of detachment. "Forget all save Me, and commune with my Spirit".

Many Jews denied Jesus because He taught something other than what was in the Tanakh. Many Christians denied Muhammad because He taught something other than what was in the Gospels. Baha'u'llah is cautioning us not to fall into the same pattern. He specifically tells us to approach with a humble mind the true meaning of these words from every Manifestation, not just the Messenger of God we adhere to. Looking back on this pattern we should be able to identify this lack of humility in the mind.

This is a very important point to us, for it encourages us to keep an open mind about how we read things. There are some who are, of course, against this, as they see it as somehow weakening their faith. But what they fail to realize is that exploring the Writings from many points of view allows us to see where our faith, or reasoning, is weak. This type of exposure allows us to see how to strengthen our faith by reinforcing those areas of doubt. This whole Book, after all, is called the Book of Certitude, so it should not come as a surprise that we find this in here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paragraph 25

Inasmuch as the Christian divines have failed to apprehend the meaning of these words, and did not recognize their object and purpose, and have clung to the literal interpretation of the words of Jesus, they therefore became deprived of the streaming grace of the Muhammadan Revelation and its showering bounties. The ignorant among the Christian community, following the example of the leaders of their faith, were likewise prevented from beholding the beauty of the King of glory, inasmuch as those signs which were to accompany the dawn of the sun of the Muhammadan Dispensation did not actually come to pass. Thus, ages have passed and centuries rolled away, and that most pure Spirit hath repaired unto the retreats of its ancient sovereignty. Once more hath the eternal Spirit breathed into the mystic trumpet, and caused the dead to speed out of their sepulchres of heedlessness and error unto the realm of guidance and grace. And yet, that expectant community still crieth out: When shall these things be? When shall the promised One, the object of our expectation, be made manifest, that we may arise for the triumph of His Cause, that we may sacrifice our substance for His sake, that we may offer up our lives in His path? In like manner, have such false imaginings caused other communities to stray from the Kawthar of the infinite mercy of Providence, and to be busied with their own idle thoughts.

As an introduction to the passage from Matthew 24, we might do well to ponder this paragraph for a bit. While we are not certain, it does seem to us that Baha'u'llah is giving us some further guidance about how to examine this passage.

He begins with a bit of a warning about taking things too literally.

Because the divines didn`t recognize the meaning of these words, Matthew 24, and took them literally, they missed Muahmmad and His coming. Because the divines missed it, their "ignorant" followers also missed it.

To us, the message is clear: do not take these words as literal. If we do, we run the risk of even more ages and centuries passing away before we are given the bounty of a new Message.

In our heart of hearts, we hear the lament, we know the passionate appeal that gives rise to the questions He quotes from that "expectant community". But in the background, we also hear His answer. When shall these things be? They are now. When will the Promised One arise? When will we be able to offer up everything in His path? Now, dear Friends. The time is now.

Again, we hear an echo of that phrase, "O the pity", and pray that its lament is not for us. Instead, we long to be one of those dead raised up by the trumpet blast, rushing to the realm of guidance and grace. Even then, before He even declared His mission, Baha'u'llah was keenly aware of the scarcity of time and encouraged us to hurry before it was too late.

This paragraph is, to us, a very sad one. Baha'u'llah seems to be lamenting the fact that many have missed the Messengers of God due to their literal interpretation, and their failure to understand the spirit of the Words. His grief is very real and heartfelt, and He seems to be warning us so that we don't fall into the same trap in the future.

Just in case we think this is only related to the Christian community, Baha'u'llah also points out that other communities have fallen victim to this same vain imagining. We hear another warning in the background. It seems as if He is warning us, the Baha'is, not to be overly literal with His own Writings. He seems to be guiding us to be aware of the spirit of the Words, and to always remember that if our understanding does not lead to unity, then we have missed something. We are not exempt from this test, either.

Looking a bit more at this idea of literal interpretation, we have often come across people in our teaching work who are firmly committed to their literal interpretation of their sacred Books. When speaking with them, we do not say that they are wrong, nor try to denigrate their ideas. Instead we point out that these Writings are sacred, and can be read on more than just a single level. With this in mind, we ask them what other meanings we can get out of it. This usually leads to a fruitful conversation with much learned on both our parts.

On the other hand, if we fall into the trap of thinking that the literal interpretation is wrong, then we also get into trouble. Don't forget, Baha'u'llah doesn't say that this interpretation is wrong. He merely says that these people cling to it. We need to be "detached from all that is in heaven and on earth", including our own understanding of the Writings. Taking the example of the stars falling from heaven, which He goes on for pages describing the spiritual meaning of, there was also the literal star fall of 1833, as described by William Sears in Thief in the Night.

As with everything in this Dispensation, it is all about unity. We need to find ways to bridge the gap between different understandings of the Writings. While the literal interpretation is one valid way of reading the Writings, it is not the only way. We believe that our job, as Baha'is, is to help others, and ourselves, to come to a greater and greater understanding of what is contained within the sacred Books.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Paragraph 24

These are the melodies, sung by Jesus, Son of Mary, in accents of majestic power in the Ridvan of the Gospel, revealing those signs that must needs herald the advent of the Manifestation after Him. In the first Gospel according to Matthew it is recorded: And when they asked Jesus concerning the signs of His coming, He said unto them: "Immediately after the oppression[1] of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."[2] Rendered into the Persian tongue,[3] the purport of these words is as follows: When the oppression and afflictions that are to befall mankind will have come to pass, then shall the sun be withheld from shining, the moon from giving light, the stars of heaven shall fall upon the earth, and the pillars of the earth shall quake. At that time, the signs of the Son of man shall appear in heaven, that is, the promised Beauty and Substance of life shall, when these signs have appeared, step forth out of the realm of the invisible into the visible world. And He saith: at that time, all the peoples and kindreds that dwell on earth shall bewail and lament, and they shall see that divine Beauty coming from heaven, riding upon the clouds with power, grandeur, and magnificence, sending His angels with a great sound of a trumpet. Similarly, in the three other Gospels, according to Luke, Mark, and John, the same statements are recorded. As We have referred at length to these in Our Tablets revealed in the Arabic tongue, We have made no mention of them in these pages, and have confined Ourselves to but one reference.

1 The Greek word used (Thlipsis) has two meanings: pressure and oppression.
2 Matthew 24:29-31.
3 The passage is quoted by Bahá'u'lláh in Arabic and interpreted in Persian.

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah has left us nothing to do. He has already explained the context of this quote, and then gives it to us in both Persian and Arabic. He even tells us that this quote is repeated in the other Gospels.

There is very little left for us to do, except to offer a few things that stick out to us.

First, we note that He is only referring to a singular quote form Jesus, when, in fact, there are many that He can draw from. But, as we all know, this can get wearisome. How often have we seen books that offer quote after quote after quote, each one trying to prove some point that the auther wants to make? And yet here, Baha'u'llah only offers one, and then goes on at length to show how it does make the point. We can only presume that He could do this with each and every quote from the Gospels, but doesn't want to tire us out.

Second, as we have said many times, we feel that this is the crux of Part One of this Book. Everything from here until the end pivots around this paragraph, phrase by phrase.

Third, we have to continually bear in mind the skills that Baha'u'llah has just given us in the previous 23 paragraphs. We have to "be detached from all that is heaven and on earth", "cleanse (ourselves) from all that is earthly", "put our trust in God", and "consider the past". We have to remember to ponder and reflect as we go through this, and not allow our instinctive reflexes to deter us from the new spiritual habits that Baha'u'llah tells us will lead us towards reunion with our Creator.

So now, thrillseekers, buckle your seatbelts, strap on your parachutes, and tighten your britches, because here we go.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paragraph 23

O the pity! that man should deprive himself of this goodly gift, this imperishable bounty, this everlasting life. It behooveth him to prize this food that cometh from heaven, that perchance, through the wondrous favours of the Sun of Truth, the dead may be brought to life, and withered souls be quickened by the infinite Spirit. Make haste, O my brother, that while there is yet time our lips may taste of the immortal draught, for the breeze of life, now blowing from the city of the Well-Beloved, cannot last, and the streaming river of holy utterance must needs be stilled, and the portals of the Ridvan cannot for ever remain open. The day will surely come when the Nightingale of Paradise will have winged its flight away from its earthly abode unto its heavenly nest. Then will its melody be heard no more, and the beauty of the rose cease to shine. Seize the time, therefore, ere the glory of the divine springtime hath spent itself, and the Bird of Eternity ceased to warble its melody, that thy inner hearing may not be deprived of hearkening unto its call. This is My counsel unto thee and unto the beloved of God. Whosoever wisheth, let him turn thereunto; whosoever wisheth, let him turn away. God, verily, is independent of him and of that which he may see and witness.

This paragraph, to us, is the last paragraph of the introduction. From here on out, in the rest of Part 1, Baha'u'llah will be examining a single passage from Matthew 24.

Up to this point, Baha'u'llah began by reminding us of the requirements for a true seeker, and then continued by reminding us of the Messengers of the past. Our heart is no doubt touched by the desire to have been there when these other Messengers were alive. Oh, how we long to have been able to meet Them.

Baha'u'llah is lovingly telling the Uncle of the Bab, who already missed the bounty of recognizing his Nephew during His lifetime, to be ready for the next Messenger, "He Whom God will make Manifest".

"Oh the pity!" To have come this far, to actually seek out Baha'u'llah in Baghdad, and then maybe not to recognize. This is like E G Browne who met Him, and really loved Him, but still failed to recognize His Station. The Messenger is not on the Earth for long, so He is telling us to "seize thy chance". Grab it before it is too late. These Words are not only for the Uncle of the Bab, but for all of us who read this in times to come. "This is My counsel unto thee and unto the beloved of God."

This reminds us both of what we each felt when we were on pilgrimage. We wanted to just sit there and bask in the glory of His presence there in the Shrines, but no. We had to leave. We had to go back and do His work. That was the purpose of the pilgrimage. We feel that Baha'u'llah is saying something similar. Those who had the incredible bounty of being with Him had to seize every moment they could to absorb as much as they could from Him, just like us when we were at the Shrines.

These are hard times, especially for those in the Babi community. Here, at this moment in history, the Bab has already been martyred. Most of the leading Babis have been killed or exiled. Baha'u'llah has been banished to Iraq, and has just returned from His self-imposed exile to the mountains. The entire Babi community is in crisis and Baha'u'llah is helping to revive it. Even though He has not yet revealed His Mission, He is reminding the friends of this incredible promise of the next messenger to come. It is with all this in mind that we come to the prophecy of Jesus in the next paragraph.

While there is a lot more we can discuss here, including the imagery that He uses, we want to pause here and really contemplate this sense of regret that He is trying to help us avoid. He knows the incredible bounty that is right there and how much we will regret it if we miss Him, and He wants to spare us this. He doesn't want us to be disappointed.

Instead of looking at all these things contained in this paragraph, we want to leave you with a single thought on the last lines. It is so similar to the Tablet of Ahmad, "Whosoever desireth, let him turn aside from this counsel and whosoever desireth let him choose the path to his Lord." Baha'u'llah is not saying that we will be turning away from God if we don't recognize Him, but rather that we are turning aside from His counsel. And what a loss that would be.

It is with this in mind that Baha'u'llah then moves into the prophecy of Jesus concerning His return.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paragraph 22

This wronged One will cite but one of these instances, thus conferring upon mankind, for the sake of God, such bounties as are yet concealed within the treasury of the hidden and sacred Tree, that haply mortal men may not remain deprived of their share of the immortal fruit, and attain to a dewdrop of the waters of everlasting life which, from Baghdad, the "Abode of Peace," are being vouchsafed unto all mankind. We ask for neither meed nor reward. "We nourish your souls for the sake of God; we seek from you neither recompense nor thanks." This is the food that conferreth everlasting life upon the pure in heart and the illumined in spirit. This is the bread of which it is said: "Lord, send down upon us Thy bread from heaven." This bread shall never be withheld from them that deserve it, nor can it ever be exhausted. It groweth everlastingly from the tree of grace; it descendeth at all seasons from the heavens of justice and mercy. Even as He saith: "Seest thou not to what God likeneth a good word? To a good tree; its root firmly fixed, and its branches reaching unto heaven: yielding its fruit in all seasons."

Baha'u'llah is still leading us to paragraph 24, in which He will begin to discuss that prophecy from Jesus, in Matthew 24. That is the one instance that He cites, as He mentions in the first sentence.

To continue the theme from paragraph 21, there are conditions upon us when we try and help the seeker, and Baha'u'llah outlines some of them here. However, even if we are in full obedience to all of these conditions, that is still no guarantee that our aim will be fulfilled. This is why we find the word "haply" here.

There is also a rich tapestry of poetry being woven within this paragraph. There are multiple references to both Eden (the sacred Tree) and the Exodus (the bread that descendeth from the heavens), and even the ministry of Jesus (the bread that can never be exhausted). Once again, Baha'u'llah is carrying us through religious history. Interestingly enough, He is also using three references to bread in order to do this.

For us, coming from a Judeo-Christian Western background, we often think of the Tree as having an apple on it. But in one legend from Islam, the "bread tree" is the tree that Adam and Eve ate from, which was why they were exiled from Paradise. It seems to be a reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In one book we found on the internet it says, "In those days wheat still grew on the bread tree. Every one of its branches sprouted seven golden ears and in each ear there grew five snowwhite grains of wheat. Having been tempted, Eve ate one of the grains and liked it more than anything she had ever tasted." Once Adam had also tasted of it, the book goes on to say "At once, his golden crown left his head and rose up to heaven."

This led us to a reconsideration of Adam, as a Manifestation of God.

Let's go back for a moment. Here, Baha'u'llah is actually using three metaphors of bread, linking Adam to Moses to Jesus. Adam ate from the Bread Tree, but we're still not sure what that means.

Moses, as we know, fed His people with the Bread from Heaven when they were wandering in the desert. Jesus fed the masses with this bread that never ran out. But how does this relate back to Adam?

What does the Tree symbolize? What does the Bread symbolize? Is the Tree the Manifestation, and the Bread His Word? If this is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then this makes perfect sense.

There is a fascinating poem by Tahirih in which she talks about this, called Adam's Wish. She recognizes Adam as a Messenger of God, and wonders why it is that we seem to think of Him as "fallen from Grace". She suggests that, perhaps, this is the test of Adam. Remember, earlier Baha'u'llah pointed out that every Messenger has had their test for their followers. Moses, for example, was seen as a murderer, and was also a stammerer. Jesus was seen as being fatherless at a time when the stigma of this was quite harsh. This could be our test regarding Adam.

Baha'u'llah also says, elsewhere in His Writings, that if we look at the Messengers with a discerning eye, we will see Them all "uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith." How does this work for Adam?

Tahirih suggests that it was Adam who saw "the end in the beginning", and ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, setting humanity on this path of spiritual growth in order that we would be ready to receive the Revelations of the Bab and Baha'u'llah. And that He did so knowing that He would be vilified throughout history as the One who condemned humanity to sin.

Now we can see more clearly. We can begin to see the pattern that Baha'u'llah has spent so many pages unveiling before our eyes. We can see how Adam, too, fits within this pattern.

This reconsideration of Adam is also allowing us to be more open to reconsidering our understanding of the prophecies of Jesus, which will come in paragraph 24.

It also bring into clearer light this last quote that Baha'u'llah offers us here in this paragraph: "Seest thou not to what God likeneth a good word? To a good tree; its root firmly fixed, and its branches reaching unto heaven: yielding its fruit in all seasons."

In terms of Adam, the fruit gave us the knowledge of good and evil. Is this not a good thing? Is it not praiseworthy to be aware of the difference between the two? And is it not for this reason that God has always sent down His Messengers?

It seems that the more we consider it, the more we recognize that all of the Messengers really are "abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith".

And if we look closely, we'll see Adam right up there with the rest of Them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paragraph 21

Afterwards, the companions and disciples of Jesus asked Him concerning those signs that must needs signalize the return of His manifestation. When, they asked, shall these things be? Several times they questioned that peerless Beauty, and, every time He made reply, He set forth a special sign that should herald the advent of the promised Dispensation. To this testify the records of the four Gospels.

Just in case we thought that the only things Jesus said about His return were those two comments in the last paragraph, Baha'u'llah reminds us that every time He was asked about it, "He set forth a special sign".

Oh, and here we are wondering something. In the Gospels Jesus is asked about His return a few times. How often must He have been asked about it in His life? Can't you just imagine the Disciples all running around Him, "When are You coming back? When are You returning?" It would be like little kids going, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" But that's probably just us and our twisted imagination.

Getting back to Jesus and His "special signs", this always seems to be true of the Messengers of God: whenever They are asked a sincere question, They always give an answer. But this is not the same as answering every question. There were a number of times that Baha'u'llah was asked questions, but it was obvious to Him that the questioner was not sincere. Who can forget those memorable lines, "If thine aim be to cherish thy life, approach not our court; but if sacrifice be thy heart's desire, come and let others come with thee. For such is the way of Faith, if in thy heart thou seekest reunion with Baha; shouldst thou refuse to tread this path, why trouble us? Begone!"

It always seems to come back to the sincerity of the individual, doesn't it?

This may be another sign for us, if we are to see this as a model for teaching the Faith: always try to help the sincere seeker. When someone comes to us with a deep and burning question, we should try and help them uncover the answer to it. We may not always have the answer ourselves, but we can at least help them look.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Paragraph 20

Every discerning observer will recognize that in the Dispensation of the Qur'án both the Book and the Cause of Jesus were confirmed. As to the matter of names, Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am Jesus." He recognized the truth of the signs, prophecies, and words of Jesus, and testified that they were all of God. In this sense, neither the person of Jesus nor His writings hath differed from that of Muhammad and of His holy Book, inasmuch as both have championed the Cause of God, uttered His praise, and revealed His commandments. Thus it is that Jesus, Himself, declared: "I go away and come again unto you." Consider the sun. Were it to say now, "I am the sun of yesterday," it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character. Conceive accordingly the distinction, variation, and unity characteristic of the various Manifestations of holiness, that thou mayest comprehend the allusions made by the creator of all names and attributes to the mysteries of distinction and unity, and discover the answer to thy question as to why that everlasting Beauty should have, at sundry times, called Himself by different names and titles.

We see this paragraph as being in two parts. In the first part, Baha'u'llah shows by quoting Them, that Muhammad and Jesus are both Messengers of God, and that They both proclaimed God's message. In the second part, beginning with the sentence, "Consider the sun", He then gives us a metaphor by which we can better understand this truth of Their unity.

As we have alluded to earlier, the reader, in this case the uncle of the Bab, recognized that the prophecies of Jesus were fulfilled in Muhammad. Throughout the previous paragraphs in this book, Baha'u'llah has consistently shown us what the Messengers all have in common. Now, for the first time, He is beginning to explain why we see Them as different.

Then He does something even more wonderful: He gives us an analogy of this truth that we can easily understand and share with others. This is the point that will stick with the reader for the rest of the book. Whenever we get a bit confused about where this is all going, we can easily recall this metaphor.

In our teaching work, for this book is supposed to be a guide for how we are to teach, we can remember the importance of giving simple analogies, usually based on nature, that are easy to understand and accept. This is something that the Master continually did. It is interesting to observe, when reading books like Promulgation of Universal Peace, how often 'Abdu'l-Baha would refer to a physical object in the room that His audience could look at. "This flower, so beautiful, fresh, fragrant and delicately scented", or "The incandescent lamps here are many, yet the light is one."

Looking at this metaphor again, there is an interesting aspect of perspective here. If we consider the viewpoint of the sun, the whole concept of days would just be absurd. The rotation of the earth has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the sun. The sun just shines. From the point of view of those of us on the earth, however, there are times when we don't even see the shining of the sun. There are times when its light cannot reach us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paragraph 19

To them that are endowed with understanding, it is clear and manifest that when the fire of the love of Jesus consumed the veils of Jewish limitations, and His authority was made apparent and partially enforced, He the Revealer of the unseen Beauty, addressing one day His disciples, referred unto His passing, and, kindling in their hearts the fire of bereavement, said unto them: "I go away and come again unto you." And in another place He said: "I go and another will come Who will tell you all that I have not told you, and will fulfill all that I have said." Both these sayings have but one meaning, were you to ponder upon the Manifestations of the Unity of God with divine insight.

With this paragraph, Baha'u'llah is really moving into His main argument in Part One of this Book. He has already established the lineage of Messengers we acknowledge, and shown us what They have in common.

Now He is beginning to show another common point They have, which the reader will already acknowledge, namely that They have promised another Messenger to come. At the same time, He reminds us that we are "endowed with understanding", and that this is praiseworthy. Endowed, just to remind us, means to furnish or to bestow with talent. This, obviously, comes from God.

Also, if this is the model by which we are to teach the Faith, then we feel there is a lesson here. At no point does Baha'u'llah hint that what the reader believes is wrong. He shows the reader what he already knows, agreeing all the way. Step by step He carefully strips away any veils and shows what is truly important. He puts it all into a logical order so that each step makes a clear sense.

Just what is it He is pointing out? He is reminding us that all the Messengers have promised another Messenger to follow. But in doing so, Baha'u'llah also shows us more about Jesus and His life. He first points out that it was the "fire of the love of Jesus" that burned away the veils. It was neither His teachings nor His arguments. It was His love.

It reminds us of the story of 'Abdu'l-Baha in which the first pilgrims from the West were with Him, and they were to go to Mount Carmel for a meeting. But, unfortunately, May Maxwell was ill, and 'Abdu'l-Baha said that they would not have the meeting that day. He said that they could not leave behind one of the beloved of the Lord, for "We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy." This concern, this love for each one of them was so characteristic of Him. As May writes, "It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in the shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall." This was one instance in which the Master gave the friends a vision "of that infinite world whose only law is love".

Getting back to Jesus, once that was done and His station, or authority, was proven, Jesus then began the work of preparing His disciples for His passing. It makes sense, of course, for if His station were not established then the "fire of bereavement" would not be as intense.

There is such a close tie between this fire of love and the fire of bereavement that we felt it worth mentioning. The greater the love, the greater the grief. It is like when Baha'u'llah says in The Seven Valleys that the steed of the Valley of Love is pain.

But here, in this paragraph, the two quotes that Baha'u'llah put here are well-known to the reader, and the Uncle of the Bab, to whom this was addressed, no doubt recognized them as referring to Muhammad. But remember, Baha'u'llah has already been demonstrating the similarities between the Messengers. Jesus' promises fulfilled in Muhammad becomes the template by which the Bab fulfills the promises of Muhammad.

We find it interesting that Baha'u'llah uses the term "the Revealer of the unseen Beauty" when referring to Jesus. Why? What does this term mean? As usual, we're not sure, but we think of it in a couple of different ways. First, Baha'u'llah mentions that the the fire of Jesus' love burned away some veils. Veils obscure our vision. By burning away these veils, we were better able to see God and the world around us. Jesus revealed this beauty to our eyes. He also revealed the beauty of His own Self.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Paragraph 18

In unfolding these mysteries, We have, in Our former Tablets which were addressed to a friend in the melodious language of Hijaz, cited a few of the verses revealed unto the Prophets of old. And now, responding to your request, We again shall cite, in these pages, those same verses, uttered this time in the wondrous accents of Iraq, that haply the sore athirst in the wilds of remoteness may attain unto the ocean of the divine presence, and they that languish in the wastes of separation be led unto the home of eternal reunion. Thus the mists of error may be dispelled, and the all-resplendent light of divine guidance dawn forth above the horizon of human hearts. In God We put Our trust, and to Him We cry for help, that haply there may flow from this pen that which shall quicken the souls of men, that they may all arise from their beds of heedlessness and hearken unto the rustling of the leaves of Paradise, from the tree which the hand of divine power hath, by the permission of God, planted in the Ridvan of the All-Glorious.

This is a transitional paragraph, leading us into the whole idea of the Eternal Covenant.

He begins, as you can tell, by referring to Gems of Divine Mysteries, and what He wrote there. That book, in our own opinon, is sort of like a spiritual cross between The Seven Valleys and this Book. Here, in the Iqan, He has taken some of the themes he introduced in Gems and expounds further upon them here.

But there seems to be another aspect to this, too. He is taking what was revealed in Gems in Arabic and is now reiterating them here in Persian. Why do you think this would be?

We feel that this is a reminder of the importance of our mother tongue. When we hear the Words of God in our mother tongue, it seems to touch our heart even deeper than if we hear it in a language we learned later in life, or one that we don't even speak. Perhaps Baha'u'llah is offering a model of behaviour for us. We need to be ever-mindful of the importance of touching people's hearts in any we can.

It also seems as if, up to this point, one could argue that every Messenger came for a particular people. But here, Baha'u'llah is far more inclusive. He doesn't just reveal the verses in a single language, but goes out of His way to include many tongues.

As we were talking about this, it reminded us of how each language offers a different perspective on the world, in a similar way that different musical instruments can offer a different perspective on a piece of music. If you have ever heard a full symphonic version of "Ode to Joy", and then heard someone play it on the guitar, you will know what we mean. While it is not necessarily the case that one version is better, they are still very different and each offer something new to the listener. And then, if you are familiar with Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, you will really understand what we mean when you hear it played on the ukelele. Wow. Talk about a different perspective that is still quite wonderful. (Oh, and we linked both of those references to videos, just in case you're interested.)

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah, once again, gives us some marvellous imagery to really sink our spiritual teeth into (hmm, that seems too violent a metaphor, but you know what we mean).

In the first couplet, "the wilds of remoteness" and "the ocean of divine presence", we are reminded of the very first paragraph. But you knew we were going to mention that, didn't you? It seems that we now have a bit of an image of where we were before we actually got down to "the shores of the ocean of true understanding". Before we got to those marvelous shores, we were in the wilds of remoteness.

He also gives us this image of moving from the "wastes of separation" to the "home of eternal reunion". This is so comforting. We all can relate to the idea of being lost in a dessert, distant from that we which we love. And here, Baha'u'llah is warmly welcoming us back home.

In the third, He seems to indicate how this is done. We have been wandering in the "mists of error" and He has shone the "light of divine guidance". We all know how easy it is to get lost when the mists are out, and what a relief it is when we see the light guiding us home again.

This reminds us of the story of Aqa Rida, who was one of Baha'u'llah's companions in His exiles. When they were on their way to Baghdad, Aqa Rida lost his way one night. He had fallen asleep and not woken in time to see where the caravan had gone. Anxious and afraid, he wandered around looking for some sign of His Lord. Suddenly, in the distance, he saw a glowing light and rushed towards it. It was the fire in the brazier of the tea-maker, Aqa Muahmmad-Baqir. It was this light that had led him back to Baha'u'llah.

Like Aqa Rida, we, too, are fast asleep, but we are on our "beds of heedlessness". And, like Aqa Rida, we require other people to show us the light and lead us on our way.

We know that the "mists of error" have arisen from human misunderstandings, and that these mists, like the mists over the ocean, dissipate with the warmth of the morning sun. For us, today, we have the duty to be those human hearts on the horizon who are showing the light to others, and turning their attention to the "rustling of the leaves of Paradise", which grow on the tree "planted in the Ridvan of the All-Glorious". And with this Book, Baha'u'llah is giving us an example of how we can show this light to others, without blinding them.

(You'll note that we even refrained from mentioning that "haply" is mentioned twice in this paragraph. Wasn't that good of us?)

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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paragraph 16

With fixed and steady gaze, born of the unerring eye of God, scan for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed, that haply the mysteries of divine wisdom, hidden ere now beneath the veil of glory and treasured within the tabernacle of His grace, may be made manifest unto you. The denials and protestations of these leaders of religion have, in the main, been due to their lack of knowledge and understanding. Those words uttered by the Revealers of the beauty of the one true God, setting forth the signs that should herald the advent of the Manifestation to come, they never understood nor fathomed. Hence they raised the standard of revolt, and stirred up mischief and sedition. It is obvious and manifest that the true meaning of the utterances of the Birds of Eternity is revealed to none except those that manifest the Eternal Being, and the melodies of the Nightingale of Holiness can reach no ear save that of the denizens of the everlasting realm. The Copt of tyranny can never partake of the cup touched by the lips of the Sept of justice, and the Pharaoh of unbelief can never hope to recognize the hand of the Moses of truth. Even as He saith: "None knoweth the meaning thereof except God and them that are well-grounded in knowledge."[Qur'án 3:7] And yet, they have sought the interpretation of the Book from those that are wrapt in veils, and have refused to seek enlightenment from the fountain-head of knowledge.

This is the last of four paragraphs that lead us to consider some of the reasons for the denials, contention, conflict and all of the other myriad problems that the Messengers of God faced. In the first paragraph (13), Baha'u'llah pointed out that all of Them suffered the same pattern, and They also gave signs for the next Messenger's appearance. In the second paragraph (14), He gave us some of the reasons for the people denying Them, including being led astray by the leaders of religion. In the third one (paragraph 15), He drew our attention to the motives of the clergy, saying it was due to lust of leadership, as well as ignorance. Now He tells us, quite plainly, that it is their "lack of knowledge and understanding" that is the main reason for all these problems. And so we think that this whole paragraph can be understood in terms of this point. But, once again, we are not going to go there. Baha'u'llah already did, and He did it far better than we can. Instead, as is becoming our new norm, we're going to look at few tangental points, after taking a brief glance at one of the phrases we find interesting.

"Scan... the horizon" - isn't this like watching the horizon for the sun to rise during the early morning dawn? But then He mentions the tabernacle, so it is a tent, the holy tent, that is there somewhere on the horizon. And then the leaders of religion raise the standard of revolt against this sacred tent. But all this only means that these leaders are looking with their own eyes, and not the eye of God. We should look with an eye of humility, not with pride in our own knowledge and understanding.

We often say that the Jews wandered in the desert, lost, for forty years, but this is not really the case. As long as they knew where the tabernacle was, they were not lost. That was their centre. You are only lost if you cannot find that which you are seeking. After all, as Baha'u'llah says in the Hidden Words, "Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved?"

But here, the focus of the leaders of the religion is a bit off. They are not focused on the tabernacle. They are, instead, looking at their own learning and understanding. The leaders have contemplated the Writings, for that was the basis of their studies, but they haven't seen the mysteries within them. They are still ignorant of the spiritual truths of their faith, even though they are very familiar with the hermeneutics and theology (wow, pretty big words for us). These mysteries are often missed by those who study their faith from a purely intellectual perspective. They often forget that religion is fundamentally mystical at its core. They have missed the spiritual truths, and are not living according to the principles of their religion. They are obeying the letter of the law, but not its spirit. Why would this be? Well, early on, in paragraph 2, we are given the conditions our heart must manifest.
Because they haven't understood "the signs that should herald the advent of the Manifestation to come," and thought they had, they actually ended up raising the standard of revolt.

Now, rather than analyzing and repeating what is said here, we would like to look at something else Baha'u'llah is doing (or at least seems to be doing, in our own unofficial opinion). You have no doubt noticed that Baha'u'llah is constantly quoting the Qur'an. If this is supposed to be a model for how we are to effectively teach the Faith, then doesn't this imply that we should also ground our arguments in the Word of God that is recognized by the listener?

"...(S)can for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed"? Doesn't this seem to imply looking at all of the sacred Texts that have been revealed?

This is something that most people tend not to do. They generally only quote their own sacred texts, but not the sacred texts of others. How often have we, as Baha'is, tried to quote Baha'u'llah to "prove" our point? This isn't very effective if the person we're talking to doesn't recognize Baha'u'llah. We need to show the proofs in their sacred text. Jesus, for example, always answered the religious leaders of His day with quotes from their texts, the Tanakh (or the Old Testament, if you must), and not from His own parables. He used those to unveil to His followers new truths.

Here, Baha'u'llah isn't quoting the Writings of the Bab. He is quoting the holy Qur'an.

To us, this implies a need for a deeper understanding of the importance of interfaith work. As we dive into the sacred texts of other faiths, we find that we come to a greater appreciation of those works and can share in the love of that faith with its followers. We also find that, as we look at these texts through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings, we have a greater understanding of those books than we did before we were Baha'i. They just seem to make more sense.

It is also interesting to note that as we speak, with love and reverence, about these sacred texts, and try to discover some of the truths hidden within them, other people generally begin to see the widsom of the simple explanations that we offer. It is this simple look at the spirit of what is there within those texts that wins over the minds of these people. But it is our love and respect that wins over their hearts.

Only the Messengers can truly be said to understand the Word of God. Those who dwell in the everlasting realm are also privy to those same melodies, but we, who are so far from there, can only try to pass on those few phrases that we hear. It is like a song that can only be heard in the town square. We can try to offer some of that divine melody to others, in our own imperfect manner. We can train ourselves to better convey its melody, or meaning, but we must recognize that it is truly only the Messengers that can be said to understand it in its fullness.

These words are a gift. And as was said way back at the beginning of this book, it is only by purifying our heart that we even stand a chance of understanding even a bit of it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Paragraph 15

Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty. Thus, their eyes beheld not the light of the countenance of the Well-Beloved, nor did their ears hearken unto the sweet melodies of the Bird of Desire. For this reason, in all sacred books mention hath been made of the divines of every age. Thus He saith: "O people of the Book! Why disbelieve the signs of God to which ye yourselves have been witnesses?"[Qur'án 3:70] And also He saith: "O people of the Book! Why clothe ye the truth with falsehood? Why wittingly hide the truth?"[Qur'án 3:71] Again, He saith: "Say, O people of the Book! Why repel believers from the way of God?"[Qur'án 3:99] It is evident that by the "people of the Book," who have repelled their fellow-men from the straight path of God, is meant none other than the divines of that age, whose names and character have been revealed in the sacred books, and alluded to in the verses and traditions recorded therein, were you to observe with the eye of God.

As you can tell, this is the third of those four paragraphs that help us consider today's events in light of the past. He obviously draws our attention to that last part of paragraph 14, and gets us to focus on the leaders of religion. But we're not going to go there. Baha'u'llah did. And we don't need to repeat what He says so well.

By now, you know that we would normally point out the reference to the shores and draw your attention back to paragraph 1, or that we would identify the dual problems of lust of leadership and ignorance, or even the recurring theme of the bird. We would even look at the pattern of the three quotes from the Qu'ran, moving from disbelief to knowingly hiding the truth (probably due to lust for power) and therefore repelling people from the true Path.

Rather than looking at what is no more than a summary of this, we, instead, want to now look at why the Guardian says, "The friends, and particularly those who wish to become competent and useful teachers, should indeed consider it to be their first duty to acquaint themselves, as thoroughly as they can, with each and every detail contained in this Holy  Book..."

The more we study this Book, and the more we look at the minute details of how Baha'u'llah presents His case, the more we feel we can learn. It is truly an example of that humble truth, "The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know."

What have we learned here, in this Book, about how Baha'u'llah would guide someone to the Faith?

The first thing that we think we have picked up is the gentle and careful approach He seems to take. As we have noticed in the past, Baha'u'llah begins His whole approach here by first reminding the reader of what has always been required in one's search for truth. This is nothing new, and the follower of any faith tradition, or no faith, would already recognize the truth of it. If you go in with your own preconceptions, then you are not open to hearing what might actually be true.

Once this is established, after the first half dozen paragraphs, He then goes on to talk about what they both already agree upon. The above paragraph, number 15, is in the middle of all of this. His audience is Muslim, and so He speaks about those Prophets that they already recognize: Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He does so simply and systematically.

As we have tried to point out, He slowly unfolds a new understanding of each of these Messengers, showing the similarities between Their stories. He gradually moves the reader through religious history, leading them towards the unmistakable conclusion that God never withholds His bounty and will always send a new Messenger to guide us onwards.

By this point, after taking so much time to get to this early paragraph, we have already changed our own personal teaching styles. We now recognize more clearly then ever that while we need to proclaim the Most Great Name, proclamation is not the same as personal and individual teaching. This is far more intimate and requires a greater capacity to listen closely to the one we are hoping "to bring into the fold" of the Faith. This "readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception" is what allows us to decide the "suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching". It is what enables us to better gauge how long we need to take in unfolding these truths.

Of course, we also recognize that this does not take years, even with the indirect method. By this point in the book, Baha'u'llah is already beginning to allude to the station of the Bab, through inferences and subtle hints. By this point in the book, He is ready to launch His incontrovertible argument, and goes into it in just a few more paragraphs.

Everything up to this point has been, in a sense, history. It has been a reframing of the historical understanding, to be sure, but history, nonetheless.

Now, as we move towards paragraph 24, things begin to shift. This is the time when we need to start buckling our spiritual seat belt, for He is getting ready to put the car into overdrive.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paragraph 14

Reflect, what could have been the motive for such deeds? What could have prompted such behaviour towards the Revealers of the beauty of the All-Glorious? Whatever in days gone by hath been the cause of the denial and opposition of those people hath now led to the perversity of the people of this age. To maintain that the testimony of Providence was incomplete, that it hath therefore been the cause of the denial of the people, is but open blasphemy. How far from the grace of the All-Bountiful and from His loving providence and tender mercies it is to single out a soul from amongst all men for the guidance of His creatures, and, on one hand, to withhold from Him the full measure of His divine testimony, and, on the other, inflict severe retribution on His people for having turned away from His chosen One! Nay, the manifold bounties of the Lord of all beings have, at all times, through the Manifestations of His divine Essence, encompassed the earth and all that dwell therein. Not for a moment hath His grace been withheld, nor have the showers of His loving-kindness ceased to rain upon mankind. Consequently, such behaviour can be attributed to naught save the petty-mindedness of such souls as tread the valley of arrogance and pride, are lost in the wilds of remoteness, walk in the ways of their idle fancy, and follow the dictates of the leaders of their faith. Their chief concern is mere opposition; their sole desire is to ignore the truth. Unto every discerning observer it is evident and manifest that had these people in the days of each of the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth sanctified their eyes, their ears, and their hearts from whatever they had seen, heard, and felt, they surely would not have been deprived of beholding the beauty of God, nor strayed far from the habitations of glory. But having weighed the testimony of God by the standard of their own knowledge, gleaned from the teachings of the leaders of their faith, and found it at variance with their limited understanding, they arose to perpetrate such unseemly acts.

This is the second of four paragraphs that lead us to consider some of the reasons for the denials, contention, conflict and all of the other myriad problems that the Messengers of God faced. In the first paragraph, Baha'u'llah pointed out that all of Them suffered from the same pattern, and They also gave signs for the next Messenger's appearance. In this paragraph, He gives us some of the reasons for the people denying Them.

To start, He asks us to reflect on these motives. Reflecting is only a bit different from pondering. When you ponder, you consider something deeply within your heart. When you reflect on it, you turn your thoughts back to it. When you ponder, it may be the first time you are considering something. When you reflect, it has to be at least the second time.

Baha'u'llah is asking us to go back to what we already know and think about it again. We know these stories from the past. They are a part of our history, and we are very familiar with them. The questions, while rhetorical, do ask us to consider those circumstances in light of today's issues. He is asking us to discover the pattern, and make sure that we do not fall into the same one.

What were the motives in the past? What prompted such behaviour? Are they the same as the motives and promptings that we are seeing today?

But then, just as He asks these questions, He anticipates a response. He knows full well that many of the people at that time, in that culture, were told that the full teachings of Jesus were not available to the Christians. They were told that the "testimony of Providence was incomplete".

And what is Baha'u'llah's answer to that? Hogwash. Bull puckies. No way, no how. Ain't possible. Gimme a break. God is All-Bountiful, and if the testimony was incomplete, His bounty would be limited. In fact, He is saying that we cannot place the blame on God. If that were the case, how could the people be held responsible for their actions?

If this is not the reason, then the only other reason, He states, was the petty-mindedness of those who "tread the valley of arrogance and pride, are lost in the wilds of remoteness, walk in the ways of idle fancy, and follow the dictates of the leaders of their faith".

Let's take a look at the order of these. First is petty-mindedness. In other words, they spend a lot of their time thinking about insignificant things. When we concentrate on things that are insignificant, then we feel, by comparison, significant. This is in opposition to thinking about significant things, in which case, by comparison, our sense of humility is nurtured.

From this, comes arrogance and pride. This leads to being remote from God, for how can you be arrogant or proud when in the midst of the Almighty? From there, they have no choice but to follow their idle fancies, which allows them to be easily manipulated by the leaders of their faith.

He then goes on to say that these people only want to oppose whatever comes up. They want to ignore the truth. Why? Perhaps because it is a source of pride for some to be able to tear down whatever anyone else puts forth. It is sort of like debating, or those politicians who only oppose whatever the other party says, no matter what its merit. "See how smart I am? I can find the flaw in whatever you say." Of course they can, for nothing is perfect, save God. We should note that this is different from consultation, which is supremely concerned with the truth. There is no opposition, but there can be the clash of differing opinions, as both parties seek out the truth.

But how do we avoid falling into these traps? We sanctify our eyes, our ears and our heart, which is very similar to what was said in paragraph 2, and throughout this Book.

Finally, there is the reminder that these people judged the Messenger by their own deficient standard, and not the standard in the Book. Or, to put it in a way that is meaningful to us, we should not judge the Message by our own standards, but, instead, look to God's standard. This is very important today, when many of the values expressed in the media go against the standards set forth in the Writings.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Paragraph 13

And now, ponder upon these things. What could have caused such contention and conflict? Why is it that the advent of every true Manifestation of God hath been accompanied by such strife and tumult, by such tyranny and upheaval? This notwithstanding the fact that all the Prophets of God, whenever made manifest unto the peoples of the world, have invariably foretold the coming of yet another Prophet after them, and have established such signs as would herald the advent of the future Dispensation. To this the records of all sacred books bear witness. Why then is it that despite the expectation of men in their quest of the Manifestations of Holiness, and in spite of the signs recorded in the sacred books, such acts of violence, of oppression and cruelty, should have been perpetrated in every age and cycle against all the Prophets and chosen Ones of God? Even as He hath revealed: "As oft as an Apostle cometh unto you with that which your souls desire not, ye swell with pride, accusing some of being impostors and slaying others."[Qur'án 2:87.]

This is the first of four paragraphs that lead us to consider some of the reasons for the denials, contention, conflict, and all the other problems that the Messengers faced. It comes in the middle of the sections about some of the Messengers of God, from Noah through Moses, and just before Baha'u'llah talks about Jesus.

And now (brace yourselves, thrill seekers) Baha'u'llah diverts us for a moment from this history and asks us to reflect, once again. "Consider the past", as He said earlier. But now, instead of just considering the past, He wants us to ponder on one specific facet of the past: the cause of "such contention and conflict".

He points out what should be obvious to us all by now, namely that there is a pattern at work here. In fact, there are a couple of patterns. Whenever a Manifestation or chosen One appears, there is also "strife and tumult", "tyranny and upheaval". In addition to this, They also promise another Messenger of God will come, and give signs for Their advent. Though Their coming is greatly expected, They are still vilified.

It is this first point that we are to consider deeply and meditate upon. We should also remember that pondering is kind of like meditating. It takes time, and cannot be rushed. The more we ponder the more we discover. (You can even stroke your chin, if that helps.)

So important is it that Baha'u'llah actually pauses for four paragraphs, leaving His theme behind for a moment, allowing us to catch up (or at least catch our breath).

At this point, Baha'u'llah could "spew hellfire and brimstone", harshly telling us never to do such things again, but He doesn't. Instead, He simply and reasonably states the facts: that contention and conflict have arisen with every advent of a Messenger of God. He is treating us as if we are spiritually mature, as opposed to being like little children. Baha'u'llah is also asking more from us that just a simple recognition of this pattern of behaviour. He wants us to understand for ourselves why this has happened. And the best way we can do this is through pondering, or meditating, upon this.

But do we really like to ponder? Is this something we naturally do? Is it one of our spiritual habits? It seems as if He is encouraging us along this path.

So here, in this paragraph, we are asked to consider two things that appear to be at odds with each other. The first is that the people opposed the Messengers of God, as well as some who just came to Their defense (remember paragraph 12? The man from the family of Pharaoh who concealed his faith?). The second is that they did this despite the fact that those same Messengers gave them clear signs for the coming of the next Messenger.

There are no answers here. Baha'u'llah shares some of those with us later. Here He is allowing us to come to some ideas on our own. Rather than intruding upon your own reflection on this point, we're going to look at another aspect here.

It is interesting to note the words Baha'u'llah uses here: contention, conflict, strife, tumult, tyranny and upheaval. Could there be yet another path that He is helping us to see?
  • Contention means to struggle with, or to be in competition against.
  • Conflict is a bit more aggressive. It means to fight or do battle.
  • Strife is a bitter conflict, so it is even stronger yet.
  • Tumult now takes this and makes it more widespread. It is a violent or noisy outbreak; a riot.
  • But then comes tyranny, an arbitrary exercise of power and authority. It is as if Baha'u'llah is showing us that this path of denial all begins in one person's heart, growing in strength and spreading, but still headed by that one individual: the tyrant.
  • What comes next? Upheaval: a strong and violent rise, a change or disturbance in society in which that which was below moves to the top, and the top moves to the bottom. "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first." In other words, He may be pointing out to us that if we try and contend with the Messenger of God, we know what will happen in the end. We will end up on the bottom, no matter how much strength and power we may appear to have at any given time. Not only is this a caution for us to be aware of that particular path, but also a reminder that others may be treading it and not to follow them.

Baha'u'llah reminds us that He is not making this up. It is the pattern that we find in all of the sacred books. Now we can either go back and double-check, or just confirm it from our own memory.

Finally, He gives us a hint about what we might discover on our own: These denials, contention and conflict all begin with pride.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Paragraph 12

And when His day was ended, there came the turn of Moses. Armed with the rod of celestial dominion, adorned with the white hand of divine knowledge, and proceeding from the Paran of the love of God, and wielding the serpent of power and everlasting majesty, He shone forth from the Sinai of light upon the world. He summoned all the peoples and kindreds of the earth to the kingdom of eternity, and invited them to partake of the fruit of the tree of faithfulness. Surely you are aware of the fierce opposition of Pharaoh and his people, and of the stones of idle fancy which the hands of infidels cast upon that blessed Tree. So much so that Pharaoh and his people finally arose and exerted their utmost endeavor to extinguish with the waters of falsehood and denial the fire of that sacred Tree, oblivious of the truth that no earthly water can quench the flame of divine wisdom, nor mortal blasts extinguish the lamp of everlasting dominion. Nay, rather, such water cannot but intensify the burning of the flame, and such blasts cannot but ensure the preservation of the lamp, were ye to observe with the eye of discernment, and walk in the way of God's holy will and pleasure. How well hath a believer of the kindred of Pharaoh, whose story is recounted by the All-Glorious in His Book revealed unto His beloved One, observed: "And a man of the family of Pharaoh who was a believer and concealed his faith said: 'Will ye slay a man because he saith my Lord is God, when He hath already come to you with signs from your Lord? If he be a liar, on him will be his lie, but if he be a man of truth, part of what he threateneth will fall upon you. In truth God guideth not him who is a transgressor, a liar.'"[Qur'án 40:28] Finally, so great was their iniquity that this self-same believer was put to a shameful death. "The curse of God be upon the people of tyranny."[Qur'án 11:21]

First Noah, then Hud, Salih, and then Abraham. Now we move on to Moses. From here, if you remember from our outline, Baha'u'llah will ask us to consider the reasons for the denial of all the Messengers of God He's mentioned so far. Then He will turn our attention to Jesus. From there, He will look at the Eternal Covenant and finish off with His incredible analysis of the prophecy in Matthew 24 (which is, coincidentally, in paragraph 24, and on page 24). This will take us to the end of Part One. Then He will apply all of this to the case of the Bab in Part Two. Why? Presumably to make sure that we are all filled with certainty when it comes to our faith.

But going back to Moses now, Baha'u'llah begins by looking at some particular descriptions. He outlines, in a sense, the story of Moses' encounter with Pharoah after He returns to Egypt. He describes Moses as being "Armed with the rod of celestial dominion, adorned with the white hand of divine knowledge, and proceeding from the Paran of the love of God, and wielding the serpent of power and everlasting majesty".

Why? Don't we already know this well enough from our religious traditions? He seems to be stating the obvious, and yet He isn't. Perhaps He is reminding us of the station of Moses. He is telling us that a Messenger of God comes armed, adorned, and proceeds from a place of love wielding power and authority.

But another thing, isn't it out of order? If He were merely trying to retell the story, then the chronological order would be the rod, the white hand, the serpent and then Paran. For remember, He visits Pharoah and shows the rod, His staff, His only companion. Then He puts His hand to His chest and shows how His hand is now glowing white, symbolic of purity and power. After this, He turns His staff into a serpent, which devours the other snakes, those symbols of idolatry. Finally He leads His people into the desert, Paran.

But here the order is different.

Perhaps instead of telling a chronological story, Baha'u'llah may be alluding to the importance of each event. Moses is alone, symbolized by the rod. He draws His power and authority from God, symbolized by the heart, from which His hand becomes white. He leads His people to the Promised Land, symbolized by their wandering through the desert. But most importantly, He cleanses the people of their idle fancies, ensuring that they worship God, and not a set of idols.

A second aspect of this is how Baha'u'llah describes each component: "celestial dominion", "divine knowledge", "the love of God", "and power and everlasting majesty". It seems to show that God rules over all, and because He rules over all, He knows all. Due to this knowledge, He loves all. And it is this love that culminates in the power and everlasting majesty. Perhaps this can also be applied to us, in our own lives. We begin by ruling over ourselves, controlling ourself and our desires. Then we get to truly know ourselves. From there, our love grows, our love for ourself, for God and for others. And it is through this love that we can best exert a positive influence upon the world.

Combining this little insight with the story, we realize that it begins with Moses alone, as it also begins with us alone, or more accurately, relying only on God. To even step on this path, we have to be "detached from all that is in heaven and on earth." At the same time, Baha'u'llah's first counsel to us is to "possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart", and this will aid us in being more detached. You see, as we all know, it is not about waiting for the first step to be perfected, but it is about simultaneously being and doing. As we learn about ourselves, we become more detached and are able to learn even more. From there, we learn more about the world and other people, and if we begin to love, unconditionally and wholeheartedly, then we will have a greater effect on bettering the world around us.

A third aspect of this sentence is the use of verbs. Moses comes "armed" and "adorned". Then He is "proceeding" forward and "wielding". Maybe it's just us, but we see that as a warrior. First he is armed, and then someone comes up and places his cape, or perhaps a medal, or some other insignia denoting his rank, on him. Then he goes forth into the battle and wields his weapon with deadly accuracy. Sort of like a Messenger of God fighting the forces of darkness. But this image is probably just due to watching too many fantasy movies.

Now Baha'u'llah continues on to what we see as the second of four parts of this paragraph: "He summoned all the peoples and kindreds of the earth to the kingdom of eternity, and invited them to partake of the fruit of the tree of faithfulness."

This is interesting, for we often think of Moses as coming only for the Jewish peoples, but here Baha'u'llah says that He summoned everyone. Like the previous Messengers mentioned in this Book, He also called the people to God. Baha'u'llah also makes a reference to a fruit of a tree. This, obviously, reminds us of the story of Eden, but instead of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it is "the fruit of the tree of faithfulness".

Now we come to the third of four parts in this paragraph: "Surely you are aware of the fierce opposition of Pharaoh and his people, and of the stones of idle fancy which the hands of infidels cast upon that blessed Tree. So much so that Pharaoh and his people finally arose and exerted their utmost endeavor to extinguish with the waters of falsehood and denial the fire of that sacred Tree, oblivious of the truth that no earthly water can quench the flame of divine wisdom, nor mortal blasts extinguish the lamp of everlasting dominion. Nay, rather, such water cannot but intensify the burning of the flame, and such blasts cannot but ensure the preservation of the lamp, were ye to observe with the eye of discernment, and walk in the way of God's holy will and pleasure."

This is a story that we all are very familiar with, and while, on the surface, it doesn't appear that Baha'u'llah is telling us anything new, His focus is just a bit different. Instead of only referring to Pharaoh's opposition, He also mentions the opposition of the people. In other words, the King and his people fought the divine Messenger, and did all they could to stop His faith. They tried to put out that sacred fire, which itself is reminiscent of the burning bush, with water, unaware that their opposition did nothing but spread the fire further. Doesn't this sound like Nasiri'd-Din Shah and people trying to stop the Bab?

We could look a bit at the imagery of the fire, water and the tree, but we're not sure what else we could add here. Normally water is what helps a tree grow, but in this case, with the reference to the burning bush, it seems that it is the fire that helps it to grow. And obviously the Tree is a reference is to the Messenger of God, in this case. This image will also come up again and again. But really, Baha'u'llah seems to have said it all.

He concludes this paragraph about Moses with a story that further shows how the effects of the Messengers has grown: "How well hath a believer of the kindred of Pharaoh, whose story is recounted by the All-Glorious in His Book revealed unto His beloved One, observed: 'And a man of the family of Pharaoh who was a believer and concealed his faith said: "Will ye slay a man because he saith my Lord is God, when He hath already come to you with signs from your Lord? If he be a liar, on him will be his lie, but if he be a man of truth, part of what he threateneth will fall upon you. In truth God guideth not him who is a transgressor, a liar."'[Qur'án 40:28] Finally, so great was their iniquity that this self-same believer was put to a shameful death. 'The curse of God be upon the people of tyranny.'[Qur'án 11:21]"

This seems to be the first time that someone who is not known to be a believer is put to death for speaking the truth about a Messenger. The attacks are no longer directed only against the Manifestation, or even Him and His followers, but now includes any who stand up for them. How much more would he have suffered had be known to be a follower of Moses? Again, this seems to be yet another reference to the forces at play when this Book was written. The uncle of the Bab, to whom this was written, was no doubt aware of the many deaths suffered by the Babis, or even those accused of being Babi. Perhaps this was a gentle way in which Baha'u'llah was slowly showing the greatness of the Bab's Revelation. If you follow the vector, you can see how the greatness of each subsequent Revelation surpassed that of the previous.