THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM'S FATHER - TERAH
By Mark Hutzler, Escatologist
In this study we will examine a great deal of information regarding around the life of Terah, the father of Abram. Who was this man and what was the culture like that he found himself living in? Who were his sons and when did he really die? Many scholars read Stephen's address in Acts and claim that Terah had died and was buried, and then Abram left Harran to follow the Lord's leading into the land of Caanan. Some claim that Terah was still alive when Abram left his father's house. Let's review all the information and see if we can't make some logical sense out of all this.
First, let's assume that Stephen is speaking of Terah's physical death.
To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.'
“So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.
There are three types of death discussed in the Bible. Spiritual Death, Physical Death and the Second Death.
There are loads of verses for each, but I will limit the selection for the sake of time.
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
When God told Adam and Eve that in partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil the consequences would be death, in the Hebrew that word is plural - muwth–muwth, meaning “in dying you shall die.” This is indeed what happened. The moment that they acted in disobedience and ate, spiritual death entered them and the results were immediate. Adam died there in the garden spiritually. He was separated from God in fellowship. Yet God made a way through the blood sacrifice of an innocent, to bridge this gap.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
2 Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike.
For Christ Himself, once for all, died for our sins, the Innocent for the guilty to bring us to God, being put to death in physical form but made alive in the Spirit
Back to Adam. It was 930 years later that Adam's physical body finally gave out and he died physically. Physical death is unavoidable for all. Death is the last enemy that is to be defeated.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
and whoever was not found enrolled in the book of Life was flung into the lake of fire which is the second death, the lake of fire.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
It is here in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, that we read about this Second Death. The eternal separation from God. To be banished to a place that will keep you from His Presence for eternity. This is the place that was created for the outlaw eternal spirits that rebelled against God. This place was made as a prison for the devil and his angels. There are over 100 verses that back this up. Matthew 25:41 just to name one.
So we have established the three types of death found in scripture. Now we need to determine which Stephen is referring to.
If it was physical what does that mean?
What we need to address is when Abram left his father's house. We know that Abram was 75. That is undisputed by scholars and rabbis alike. But how old was Terah, if he was alive at all? A physical death interpretation would state that Terah had died and his total lifespan is recorded as 205 years. There is a dispute about that too, if we take into account the Samaritan Pentateuch we accept a version that states that Terah only lived 145 years. When we assume facts that are not there, we make the assumption that the scribes erred in their work. So where can you begin, how can you be sure?
If we accept the text as it appears we accept a lifespan of 205 years for Terah. That would place the birth of Abram when Terah was 130 and not at 70 which is stated in Genesis 11.
If Abram did remain with his father until his father's death, this raising some more unanswered questions.
1) Abram would have carried with him, his portion of his inheritance.
2) Why would Abram have not taken his father with him into the land that was to be his and bury him there?
3) Abram buys a plot for his wife Sarah but nothing is mentioned about his father's funeral
4) At least twice God calls Abram to leave his father's house and his kindred. Does he just blatantly disobey?
5) There was no blessing from father to son as we see between Issac and his boys. This is because Terah is not a spiritually alive character.
What about the times Abraham commands his servant NOT to allow Issac to return to his distant kindred? Here is a clear indication of how Abraham felt about his family back in Harran.
One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh. Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.” The servant asked, “But what if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to travel so far from home? Should I then take Isaac there to live among your relatives in the land you came from?”
“No!” Abraham responded. “Be careful never to take my son there.
For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants.He will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son. If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine. But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.”
This does not sound like Abram wanted anything to do with the family that he left behind. In fact we know that when Rachel is taken to be Issac's wife, she steals idols from her father Nahor. Nahor you will remember is Abraham's brother. Where did Nahor pick up this idol worship? When you study this out you find that the trail leads back to Terah. If we have Abram staying with his father until his death to satisfy the physical death of Stephen's speech, then we are saying that despite God's command to leave, Abram stays with his idol worshipping father. Idolatry is a common theme throughout scripture in that God is seeking to keep His children from any kind of idol worship. In fact, it is the first commandment. Thou shall have no other God's before Me. God was not waiting for Terah to die before He called Abram away from his father's house and his influence.
The Jewish rabbis knew this but encountered a problem, in that, culturally Abram was dishonouring his father by not caring for him in his old age. This too was a commandment. Honour thy father and mother.
"The Jews unanimously affirm that Terah relapsed into idolatry before Abraham left Haran; and this they denominate "death," or a moral death (Kuinoel). It is certain, therefore, that, from some cause, they were accustomed to speak of Terah as "dead" before Abraham left him."
The Jewish Rabbis have recorded in the Midrash Rabbah - Pages 315-316
Now what precedes this passage? And Terah died in Haran (ib. XI, 32), [which is followed by] Now THE LORD SAID UNTO ABRAM: GET THEE (LEK LEKA). R.Isaac said: From the point of view of chronology a period of sixty-five years is still required. But first you may learn that the wicked, even during their lifetime, are called dead. For Abraham was afraid, saying, 'Shall I go out and bring dishonour upon the Divine Name, as people will say, "He left his father in his old age and departed"? 'Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him: 'I exempt thee (leka) from the duty of honouring thy parents, though I exempt no one else from this duty.
For Terah was seventy years old at Abram's birth (Gen. xr, 26), whilst Abram departed from Haran at the age of seventy-five (ib. XII, 4); hence Terah, whose age at death was two hundred and five (ib. XI, 32), died sixty-five years after this command, and yet it is narrated before.
On this Jewish literature has the explanation (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, cap. 39) that God absolved Abraham from the care of his father, and yet, that Abraham’s departure from Terah should not lead others to claim the same relaxation of a commandment for themselves, Terah’s death is noticed in Holy Writ before Abraham’s departure, and it is also added, to explain the mention of death, that “the wicked (and among them Terah is reckoned, see Joshua 24:2) are called dead while they are alive.”
Terah is the last to be mentioned in a genealogical list that begins with Noah’s son Shem. For each of those listed, we are given the age at which he fathered his son, the next link in the genealogical chain, and the number of years he lived after fathering him. The Bible does not provide a death notice for any of these figures except for Terah: “Terah died in Haran” (Gen. 11:32). Why is Terah the exception?
The Midrash is biblical exegesis by ancient Judaic authorities, using a mode of interpretation prominent in the Talmud. The midrash explains, “This teaches you that the wicked are considered as dead even during their lifetimes”—a notion expressed frequently in rabbinic midrash and therefore neither original nor surprising. By this the midrash means to say that, although Terah lived on after Abraham’s departure, the Torah considers him to have been already dead because he was spiritually moribund.
Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods."
We have to understand the culture. This is critical to proper biblical studies. Even today we can see how an orthodox Jewish family would react to a mixed marriage let alone idolatry.
Shawna Yaffe, born a Jew, celebrated what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, her parents went into mourning. On Aug. 23, 1984, Shawna married a gentile. A few days later, her parents placed their daughter's obituary in the weekly Jewish Post newspaper, requesting that "no condolences be sent or memorials be made."
The Yaffes had disowned their daughter.
Rambam, Hil. Avodah Zarah 2:5: A Jew who worships idolatry is like a non-Jew in all respects.
Keep in mind how often Abraham would not take money from rulers as he did not want anyone to be able to say that Abram was enriched by man. Abraham's inheritance was from God and God alone. Genesis 14:23. Abraham was clear that his inheritance, his wealth was not something that could be sourced back to a man. Rather, he and all he had was a result of his faithful following on the One True God.
It was not until the separation of Abraham and Lot did the Lord show up to Abraham to ratify the covenant He had made with him. By ratify, I refer to the blood oath that God swears to Abraham in Genesis 15. In Genesis 13 we read about Abraham coming out of Egypt to return once more to Caanan. Abraham and Lot are still together. When Abraham had first left Harran he had brought Lot, his brothers son with him. Abraham had no heir and Lot was the closest thing he had to an heir. Both men had grown wealthy and their flocks were growing as well. The rabbis teach that Lot's servant's would graze their cattle in the fields of Abraham's flocks because the servants of Lot felt that all the land was going to be theirs. Lot was Abraham's only heir and God had promised Abraham all the land. Yet Lot was not going to be the heir. There needed to be further separation between Abraham and his father's house. Between Abraham and his kin. God was going to manifest His promise and do all that was needed for Abraham.
If we accept that Stephen was referring to the physical death of Terah we need to go back to Genesis 11 and work the numbers in a way that will make it all fit. We will need to make assumptions about the age of Terah when he has this prophetic child - Abram. We then would have to say that although the Bible has been very clear about the ages of father's in relation to their son's up until this point in Genesis 11, we now assume that Terah was much older than stated when he father's Abram.
Now before I address the alternative point of view in that Stephen was speaking about the spiritual death of Terah, lets look at the genealogies through the lens of the Redeemer.
Within the genealogies we read a sequencing of father to son naming, and make the general assumption that the sons listed are the first born of the respective fathers. This in fact is not always the case nor does it need to be. The text does not require it to be so. What is the focal point is and always has been the Redeemer. When we forget this we can make all kinds of errors.
God is showing us the lineage of Christ, not just on a whim to show us fathers and sons from the first millennium. There is a specific purpose to how the text arrived on the pages in the manner we see today. Otherwise we can slide down the slippery slope of the scriptures being uninspired. Tampered with by man and therefore not a solid foundational gospel. Personally I cannot go there.
So when reading the genealogies I accept that the age of the father is specific to the son that will be the carrier of the bloodline in question - that of the Redeemer. So, Eber was 34 when he had Peleg, Nahor was 29 when he had Terah, and Terah was 70 when Abram was born. It is not to say that Abram was the eldest. That is not critical to the text. This is clear with Noah's sons. Shem is not the eldest, Japheth was. Noah is said to be 500 and begot Shem, Ham and Japheth. Were they triplets? No. Shem is the central character moving forward in the narrative and the one that will be in the line of Christ. So the scripture is clear to indicate to us that Noah was 500 when Shem was born. We do not need to guess. Nor do we need to know exactly how old Noah was when the other two boys were born. That is just not relevant to the story.
According to the genealogies in Genesis we know that Terah was 70 when he had children. But we do not know that he was 70 when he had his first child. What is important to know, is what God has made clear to us, that Terah was 70 when he had Abram, the child who would father a nation. Abram is the subject of importance, not Haran or Nahor. The other two brothers play a small role, virtually no role, in the general story. We see this with Cain and Abel. The brothers here are mentioned in order as they do form a critical role in the story. One kills the other. The devil seeks to kill the righteous line, thereby keeping the promise of the Redeemer from happening. Once again, it is about Christ. Further Cain's lineage goes on to demonstrate the depravity of fallen man. It shows a distinction between the righteous line that would produce such men as Enoch, Lamech and Noah and ultimately Christ and those who would give place to the wickedness in Genesis 6. This wickedness leading to the near annihilation of humanity and any chance of a redeemer for all of mankind.
Haran was the elder brother to Abram by 32 years according to the Jewish historians. It is their family history that we are discussing after all. This would make Terah 38 when he has his first born, which aligns to the pattern we see developing from the flood onwards. It is not until we get to Abram that we see a long duration in child bearing. Why do you suppose that is? I would say that once the enemy hears the plans God has for you, he will do what he can to postpone or kill that dream. Abram stands out from his family, from his father's house as a real believer in the One True God.
It is only because we refuse to see the death of Terah in Stephen's speech as being dead spiritually, that we must therefore move back to the genealogy and play with the math. All confusion and contradictions dissolve once we accept that it was not Terah's physical death that was spoken of but his spiritual death.
We assume that Terah began to have children at the age of 70 and not that he may have had Haran prior. The scriptures point is to convey to the reader the bloodline of the redeemer, to give you a specific accounting from Adam to Christ. Christ is who the story is all about and the ability to follow His lineage is profoundly important to God. How do we know this? All the genealogies in the bible serve this purpose and the first chapter in the Book of Matthew is there to illustrate the importance of this fact. If they were not there to point us to Christ then they only serve as filler without being able to be taken literally.
It was Abraham who was alive in God and dead to the sinful life that was maintained by his family. His father and brother. The Jews understood this and actually taught this in their synagogues as they still do today. It has always been taught this way.
Take for example the covenant between a man and a woman,
"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." This is covenant language and covenant practises. We need to remember that the Bible is all covenant. Old and New. Covenant language throughout. A full understanding of covenant and covenant practices are a must to understand why and how people did and said what they did, including what God has said and done.
Because Abraham was living in a patriarchal society, it was difficult for him to reject his father's wishes and leave him behind.
Terah had already lost one of his son's early. It is a tragic thing to live long enough to bury one of your own children. Now the prospect of losing another child, as Abram declares his intention to leave must have been heartbreaking. Not just for Terah, but for Abram as well, knowing what this would do to his father.
This is what makes following the call of God hard at times. There will be choices that you will have to make that will put you at odds with those you love. Even today this is still true, when a Jewish child decides to follow Jesus.
God had asked Abraham to in Genesis 12: "Now the Lord said to Abram, get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you." For many of us, interpreting what God is saying in our lives can be a challenging thing, especially if He is asking us to give up something that we love. Coffee. Chocolate. Sugar. Television.. have I hit a nerve yet? It was the same for Abraham who would have felt naturally responsible for Lot both spiritually and paternally. Lot was a follower of this new faith that Abraham was sharing. Once Abraham had fully obeyed, the covenant begins to be revealed more deeply than before. A deeper revelation is about to dawn.
Josephus states; "For Terah begat Abram in his seventieth year. Now Terah hating Chaldea, on account of his mourning for Haran, they all removed to Haran of Mesopotamia; where Terah died, [An. 1962] and was buried, when he had lived, to be two hundred and five years old: Now Abram having no son of his own, adopted Lot, his brother Haran’s son, and his wife Sarai’s brother; and he left the land of Chaldea, when he was seventy five years old: and at the command of God went into Canaan, and therein he dwelt himself, and left it to his posterity.
There is no question that Josephus recognized the age of Terah at Abram's birth. So then mathematically we can see that Terah would have been alive at the time of Abraham's departure, unless one once again tries to work the numbers to suit a theory and reduce Terah's age at death.
I prefer to see what happens if we just leave the numbers alone.
Blass seems to adopt a somewhat similar view, as he commends the reading in Gigas: “priusquam mortuus est pater ejus,” for the obedience of the patriarch, who did not hesitate to leave even his father, is opposed to the obstinacy of the Jewish people
He was 75 years old, and his father Terah was 145 years old and alive, when he left Haran (Gen 11:26, 12:4). It must have been heartbreaking for the firstborn in charge of the household to leave his father in his old age. The verse in Acts 7:4, "And from there, after his father died, God removed him into this country in which you are now living," show how determined Abraham had been to follow the Word of God. The word for "death" in Acts 7:4 is ἀποθνῄσκω (apothnesko) in Greek, used to represent symbolic death or death in a spiritual sense (1Cor 15:31). It is apparent that this word was used to signify Abraham's total separation from his filial affections for his father. Terah was as good as dead to him (Luke 14:26). Terah died 60 years later in Haran at the age of 205 (Gen 11:32). Abraham overcame the pain of such separation and followed the word with faith (Gen 12:4).
Why did we need to know about Terah leaving Ur to go to Canaan, but stopping in Haran? How are the last few verses in Genesis 11 even relevant to the story? It is relevant because it tells us about Abraham and his journey and sacrifice of faith. Abraham gets striped of everything. Barren and without an heir. Has to reject an idol worshipping family, never to return again. He has to reject the inheritance of earthly possessions choosing rather to be blessed by a God who will be his provider. He has to reject a nephew who was his hope at an heir and look to a seemingly impossible promise of barrenness becoming fruitful.
Stephen is addressing a spiritually dead people - the Jews. Stephen is not giving a Western-style careful chronological treatise on the history of the Jews. That is certainly not his intent. This is a highly emotionally charged condemnation of the spiritual pride of the Jews and their stubborn refusal to accept the Messiah who God had prepared all these years for them to accept. He is talking about the difference between those spiritually alive and those spiritually dead. The contrast is not missed on the audience who all had known and taught that Terah, an idol worshipper, was dead to Abraham who truly was a follower of God.
Stephen said that God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran. This agrees with Genesis. Then Stephen said that God told him to "leave your country and your people." Stephen did not say where Abraham was then God told him this.
Given that his father followed him to Haran, it makes sense that the command to leave his family came to Abraham in Haran. A study on the life of Abraham and his early years, the first 75, can be found at:
What happens when we adopt the meaning of spiritual death in Stephen's speech?
Do we have to adjust the genealogies to try and make something fit? No.
Do we see a profound sacrifice in Abraham's obedience? Yes.
Do we identify with Abraham's sacrifice on a culture level? Yes.
Do we understand why he felt so strongly that his son Issac was never to return there? Yes.
We know Terah worshipped other gods from Joshua 24, the Jewish rabbinical records and also from the Book of Jasher which is twice referenced in the Bible. God asked Abram to leave his spiritually dead father when he was 75 years old and I believe likely earlier than that as well. Terah continues to lead his idolatrous life and his son Nahor follows in his footsteps.
Jesus was approached by one of his followers who wanted to bury his father and Jesus responds curiously,
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
How do we suppose dead people bury dead people? Can a corpse hold a shovel? No. Jesus is talking here about spiritually dead people.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. ..... God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...
I have paraphrased these ten verses. You can see that the Bible is clear about spiritual life and spiritual death.
Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.
We have verse two looking back at the life Abraham came from. The culture and family he knew, and then verse three demonstrating the difference that God wants to make in our lives. He wants to make all things new. He leads Abram away from his family in covenant relationship. God changes his name from one that Terah gave him, renaming Abram to Abraham. A new name. A new identity. God promises Abraham an inheritance that can not be gained from any earthly source. A promised son, wealth and land. God changes Abraham's geography, his religion and his culture. History starts anew for Abraham, the old life has past away and a new life has begun.
In the book, Chronological Antiquities: Or, The Antiquities and Chronology of ..., Volume 1, by John Jackson we have a detailed analysis of these issues. Here as well it is noted that God had to ask Abram again to leave his father's house. No longer would it be referred to as his father's house if his father was dead. It would have simply stated to get away from his kindred, his remaining brother Nahor and his clan. Both the Samaritan text, with its recalculation of Terah's life, reducing his years to 145 and likewise the calculation of Abram was not born until his father was 130 are said to be offered solutions. But both are clearly devised to be solutions to the math in the genealogy to make Stephen's statement true in relation to natural death.
Nether are needed when we understand the context, the audience, the culture and the person of Terah - the subject. He was spiritually dead.
Before we get too excited about other text and other versions of ancient scripts which may back some theories let's look carefully at the sources. The Samaritan Pentateuch lists six thousand instances where the Samaritan differs from the Masoretic Text. Some of these include:
Scribal errors caused by the mistaking of one Hebrew letter for another with a similar appearance.
Scribal errors resulting in the transposition of letters in a word, or words in a sentence.
Replacement of archaic Hebrew grammatical constructions with more modern ones.
Textual adjustments to resolve grammatical difficulties and replace rare grammatical forms with more common ones.
Among the most notable semantic differences are those related to the Samaritan place of worship on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritan version of the Ten Commandments commands that an altar be built on Mount Gerizim on which all sacrifices should be offered.
The Samaritan Pentateuch contains this text at Exodus 20:17:
"And when it so happens that LORD God brings you to the land of Canaan, which you are coming to possess, you shall set up there for you great stones and plaster them with plaster and you write on the stones all words of this law. And it becomes for you that across the Jordan you shall raise these stones, which I command you today, in mountain Gerizim. And you build there the altar to the LORD God of you. Altar of stones. Not you shall wave on them iron. With whole stones you shall build the altar to LORD God of you. And you bring on it ascend offerings to LORD God of you, and you sacrifice peace offerings, and you eat there and you rejoice before the face of the LORD God of you. The mountain this is across the Jordan behind the way of the rising of the sun, in the land of Canaan who is dwelling in the desert before the Galgal, beside Alvin-Mara, before Sechem"
Yet in the Bible it states this:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls makes this declaration in line with Jewish tradition:
"He gave the land to Abraham His beloved. Terah was one hundred and forty years old when he left Ur of the Chaldees and went to Haran and Abram was seventy years old. And Abram dwelt five years in Haran. Then Terah died sixty years after Abram went out to the land of Canaan." (Commentaries on Genesis, 4Q252, 1:8-10, TDSS, 354).
C.F. Keil commentary on Genesis 11:27-32:
"When Stephen, therefore, placed the removal of Abram from Haran to Canaan after the death of his father, he merely inferred this from the fact, that the call of Abram (Gen. 12) was not mentioned till after the death of Terah had been noticed, taking the order of the narrative as the order of events; whereas, according to the plan of Genesis, the death of Terah is introduced here, because Abram never met with his father again after leaving Haran, and there was consequently nothing more to be related concerning him." (116)
If we accept that Stephen is speaking of the spiritual death of Terah than there ceases to be any conflict with the biblical chronology of events given in Genesis. We only need to keep in mind that it is all about Jesus. A trail of crumbs through history that takes us to the cross. Each step of the way, from father to son is given so that we could corroborate the account.
There are two methods that the devil has worked beautifully over the years. Destroy the knowledge of God in the earth and kill off the righteous line. When I see doubt and speculation, a shadow moving its hands over the veracity of scripture it makes me shudder a bit. Are we a generation that can claim we have no real Word of God with us? If we give place to the doubts that man has somehow corrupted the gospel then where do we turn? I suppose you have to choose this day who you will serve. Choose to believe that Christ is who He said He is and that like any distinguished High Priest, He too can recall his bloodline all the way back. All the way to the beginning, for in the beginning He was.
Would love to hear your thoughts.