Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 033. Migration to Haran

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 033. Migration to Haran

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Migration to Haran

1. Why did Terah leave Ur? Possibly he may have been induced to move northwards by a desire to shake himself free from customs he disapproved. The Hebrews themselves seem always to have considered that his migration had a religious motive. “This people,” says one of their old writings, “is descended from the Chaldæans, and they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia because they would not follow the gods of their fathers which were in the land of Chaldæa. For they left the way of their ancestors and worshipped the God of heaven, the God whom they knew; so they cast them out from the face of their gods, and they fled into Mesopotamia and sojourned there many days. Then their God commanded them to depart from the place where they sojourned and to go into the land of Canaan.” But if this is a true account of the origin of the movement northwards, it must have been Abraham rather than his father who was the moving spirit of it; for it is certainly Abraham and not Terah who stands as the significant figure inaugurating the new era.

2. Concerning the journey of Abraham, there is naturally little to be said, the Bible narrative merely stating that Terah and his family migrated to Haran. The chief thing worth noting is that the distance they had to travel was sufficiently great-about 560 miles from Uriwa (Mugheir), and about 420 miles from Babylon, from the neighbourhood of which the family must have started if the Ur mentioned in Genesis be the Uri or Ura of the inscriptions, which was equivalent to the land of Akkad. The whole of this district was, in all probability, at this time, as later, under Babylonian rule, a state of things which must have contributed in some measure to the safe transit of the household to Haran, and also that of Abraham later on to Canaan, which, as we know from the inscriptions and from Gen_14:1-24., acknowledged Babylonian overlordship.

The early part of their way led through the rich warm Chaldæan levels; and having, as we suppose, crossed the great river and passed by Larsa and ancient Erech, and seen the ruins of great Babel, they would come to the twin cities of Sippara: and by and by rising near the great place of bitumen-pits, Hit, to the higher undulating country already occupied by tribes who had gone northwards to found the great dominion of Assur, they would leave behind the more advanced cultivation of their native plains, and begin to encounter greater difficulties and untried dangers. But through whatever vicissitudes, in due time passing up the fertile valley of the Belîkh, the caravan, ascending towards the highlands, entered the resting-place of many years, a second home, which became so familiar and dear to Abraham that we find him in his old age calling it “my country; the house of my kindred.” The region was called Padan-aram, the plain of the highlands, or simply Padan, as in Gen_48:7.

3. With regard to Haran, it is very probable that this ancient city was, by turns, under the rule either of Babylonia or of Assyria until the absorption of the former power into the great Persian Empire, when Haran likewise, in all probability, shared the same fate. Concerning the early history of the city very little is known, but it is not improbable that it was an ancient Babylonian foundation, the name being apparently the Babylonian word arranu, meaning “road.” The name given to this “road-city” is explained as originating in the fact that it lay at the junction of several trade-routes-an explanation which is very probable.

The city itself was, at the time of its greatest prosperity, a considerable place, as the remains now existing show. There are the ruins of a castle, with square columns 8 feet thick, supporting a roof 30 feet high, together with some comparatively modern ruins. The ancient walls, though in a very dilapidated state, are said to be continuous throughout. No houses remain, but there are several ruins, one of great interest and considerable extent, which Ainsworth considered to be a temple. A rudely sculptured lion, found outside the walls, is regarded as giving evidence of Assyrian occupation, which, however, is otherwise known to have been an historical fact.

In Abraham's time the place had, in all probability, not attained its fullest development, and must have been a small city. The plain in which it is situated is described as very fertile, but not cultivated to its fullest extent, on account of half the land remaining fallow because not manured.

4. Between Ur and Haran the common worship of the moon-god must have formed a special bond of union, and the citizen of Ur would have found in Haran a welcome, and all that he was accustomed to at home. That Terah should have settled in Haran, therefore, was very natural. An inscription discovered at Sinjerli, north of the Gulf of Antioch, shows that among the Semites the moon-god of Haran bore the title of the “Baal of Haran.” Haran was built on a tributary of the Belias (Assyrian, Balîkh; modern, Belîkh).

5. Thus far, then, have we followed Abraham in his search for “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” The migration from Ur to Haran may have been a general movement in which his family had a part, but that does not make it less the call of God. When Haran was reached, Abraham may have thought that he had gained the promised land. If so, he found the call come to him again (indeed in the mind of the historian the call from Haran was the chief if not the only direct call which Abraham received). For it is God's purpose with this man to make him the example of all those who are led by faith and not by sight, of those therefore who find no abiding place here, but look ever more and more clearly for that rest which remains for the people of God.

It was said of a great writer that he had a nostalgia for the beautiful. Of Dr. Bonar it may be said that he had a nostalgia for heaven. All his life on earth he was homesick. He was of those who declare plainly that they seek a country. Looking over the first volume of his Hymns, I find such titles as “No more Sea,” “The Change,” “The Homesickness,” “Dawn,” “The Morning Star,” “Hora Novissima,” “Rest Yonder,” “How Long?” “A Little While,” “Not Very Far.” These are but a few among many. In one early hymn he frankly names his pain. He speaks of his “dull weight of loneliness,” of his “greedy cravings for the tomb,” and says,

It is not that I fear

To breast the storm or wrestle with the wave,

To swim the torrent or the blast to brave,

To toil or suffer in this day of strife,

As He may will who gave this struggling life;

But I am homesick.

One has to go back to the Middle Ages to catch the same note of vehement desire. But in one of his least known but most revealing hymns he explains himself:-

My God, it is not fretfulness

That makes me say “How long?”

It is not heaviness of heart

That hinders me in song;

'Tis not despair of truth and right

Nor coward dread of wrong.

But how can I, with such a hope

Of glory and of home,

With such a joy before my eyes,

Not wish the time were come,-

Of years the jubilee, of days

The Sabbath and the sum?

These years, what ages they have been!

This life, how long it seems!

And how can I, in evil days,

'Mid unknown hills and streams,

But sigh for those of home and heart,

And visit them in dreams?

Yet peace, my heart, and hush, my tongue.

Be calm, my troubled breast;

Each restless hour is hastening on

The everlasting rest:

Thou knowest that the time thy God

Appoints for thee is best.

Let faith, nor fear nor fretfulness,

Awake the cry, “How long?”

Let no faint-heartedness of soul

Damp thy aspiring song;

Right comes, truth dawns, the night departs

Of error and of wrong.

I remember Mr. Moody reading the words, “Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven,” and saying, “Why did He so often lift up His eyes to heaven? I think He must have been homesick.”1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, in Memories of Dr. Horatius Bonar, 104.]

There is a city, builded by no hand,

And unapproachable by sea or shore,

And unassailable by any band

Of storming soldiery for evermore.

There we no longer shall divide our time

By acts or pleasures,-doing petty things

Of work, or warfare, merchandise or rhyme;

But we shall sit beside the silver springs

That flow from God's own footstool, and behold

Sages and martyrs, and those blessed few

Who loved us once and were beloved of old,

To dwell with them and walk with them anew,

In alternations of sublime repose,

Musical motion, the perpetual play

Of every faculty that heaven bestows

Through the bright, busy, and eternal day.1 [Note: T. W. Parsons.]