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.