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Monday, June 14, 2010

The Compassionate and Merciful Called Him By Name

Abu Lahab, the uncle of Muhammad, as representative of Muhammad’s own father, was expected to look after his nephew as if he was one of his own children; but, Abu Lahab would not accept any of the teachings of Muhammad. Understand that at this time, Muhammad was just starting to preach the message of Islam and many people had not yet believed him to be the Prophet.

Abu Lahab’s animosity was seen in how he forbade his own two sons to visit their own father unless they divorced their wives (they were married to two of Muhammad’s daughters). Also, as Muhammad began preaching Islam, Abu Lahab would follow him, throwing stones and warning people not to listen, even calling Muhammad a liar. Abu Lahab’s increasing hostility to Muhammad was considered to be an obstruction to the progress of Islam. The Qur’an records that Allah Himself placed a curse on Abu Lahab (by name!) and his wife because of their opposition to the spread of Islam. Surah 111 of the Qur’an is called “Al-lahab,” which reads:

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish. His wealth and gains will not exempt him. He will be plunged in flaming Fire, and his wife, the wood-carrier, will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre.”

Here it is again, with a little clarification: “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Abu Lahab [the red-cheeked] will be burned in the flames [Al-lahab, a pun on his name] and there is nothing his “wealth and gains” [children] can do. His wife will hang because she put thorns in the path of the Prophet [an Arabic allusion to slander].”

Islam teaches that Allah (the Compassionate and Merciful) calls Abu Lahab by name and curses him because of his opposition to the message of Islam and Muhammed. Captain Sir Francis Richard Burton (1821 – 1890) was one of the first Westerners to ever visit Mecca (in disguise). He provides a matter of additional insight concerning how Islam responds to Abu Lahab in a practice that continues to this day:

“On the 5th of June, at sunset, commencing our return, we slept at the village of Muzdalifah, and there gathered and washed seven pebbles of the size of peas, to be flung at three piles of whitewashed masonry known as the Satans of Muna . . . A week later, having helped to insult the tumulus of stones which marks, according to popular belief, the burial place of Abulahab, the unbeliever, who we learn from the Koran, has descended into hell with his wife, gatherer of sticks, I was not sorry to relinquish a shade temperature of 120 degrees and wend my way to Jeddah en route for England . . .” Abu Lahab is considered to be an unbeliever who has descended into hell.

One of the 99 Beautiful Names of God in the Qur’an is “Ar-ra’uf” (“The Compassionate”). Sura 111 opens declaring Allah to be “the Compassionate and Merciful.” The prophet David wrote in the Zabbur (Psalm 103:8), “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.”

The Arabic name of God “Ar-ra’uf” is closely related to the Hebrew word (ra’aph) translated as “drop” or “(over)flow.” The prophet David uses this word to describe the trail of the heavenly chariot, as found in the Zubbur (Psalm 65:11-12, ESV), “You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy.” The prophets Isaiah uses the same word combining the imagery of salvation with that of rain: ​​​​​​​​“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it.” (Isaiah 45:8)

God, the Merciful the Compassionate, the dripper of abundance, righteousness and salvation condemns a man for throwing stones. Why did this man go to hell and not experience the mercy and compassion of God? A devoutly religious man by the name of Saul tried very hard to stop the spread of a new message sweeping through the land, the message that Jesus rose from the dead and of forgiveness by repentance through faith. Saul stood by the robes of those who stoned a young follower of Christ named Stephen to death. Since Saul was in hearty agreement that this movement be stopped, he received permission from the religious authorities to find more followers of Christ and throw them into prison. His hatred grew as he personally voted for their deaths, punished them within the walls of their own synagogues, tried to force them to blaspheme, or chased them into foreign cities. While Saul was stewing in his anger against these followers of Christ and the message they were spreading, he was called him by name from heaven.

’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘who are you, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:4-6) “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16-18)

The voice came from Jesus, who had when he walked the earth, lamented over Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus, who shed tears over a city that killed the prophets of God, is the same who called Saul by name from heaven. Saul did not receive hellfire for opposing God’s message or His messengers but was instead given the task of being God’s servant by preaching the very things he opposed! Why is that? What makes the difference?

A few hours following Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37), He prayed in Gethsemane where “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Matthew 22:44) What was He praying about so intensely? He was praying that the cup of God’s wrath be removed; “yet, not as I will but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) When He was being crucified, His life’s blood dripped . . . so we could receive the mercy and compassion of God.

Jesus' last words from the cross were a plea for mercy. Did He receive any? The prophet Isaiah was inspired to record these words of the Lord, "'For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your redeemer." (Isaiah 54:7-8)

Consider what this means for us now. Today, the Merciful and Compassionate is calling you by name to turn from sin and by faith know the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Will you recieve His merciful compassion, or in His wrath?

"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, 'We will hear you again about this.'” (Acts 17:30-31)

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