Some 292 years after the flood, one of Noah’s descendants, a man named Terah, had three sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran. Abram would have been approximately 58 years old when Noah died. Imagine the stories Noah could have passed on to Abram around the campfire at night under that incredible canopy of stars above!
But something tragic happened in the life of Terah, when he still had 77 more years to live. Not only did Noah die (when Terah was 128 years old), but his youngest son Haran also died. Certainly Abram would have been special to Terah, as he was the firstborn, but as is so often the case, the youngest son, Haran was most likely the favorite. He was the baby. The last son Terah fathered.
Terah, whose name means, “delay” was late in fathering children. According to the genealogy in Genesis 11, the average age for a man to father his first child was 31 or 32 years of age. But Terah was much older. He was 70.
Then it happened. We don’t know exactly when. We don’t know how. And, as is so often the case, we don’t know WHY. But Haran, whose name means, “mountaineer”, died prematurely. He was the youngest son and should have outlived them all, but he didn’t.
According to Jewish tradition, it was unthinkable for a son to die before his father. I think it is fair to say that Terah was devastated. Bewildered even. Full of the WHY question. For many, this would be crippling. I believe it was for Terah.
Here’s how I got there…
In Genesis 11:31 we find that Terah took Haran’s son Lot (his grandson), as well as Abram and Sarai and they began the long journey to Canaan. What motivated Terah to move to Canaan we may never know, but something big was afoot to make such a dramatic move.
Did God promise something to Terah about Canaan? Something got his juices flowing to move, on foot, some 1,000 miles along popular travel routes of the day. But something happened along the way that prevented Terah from seeing and entering into what became known as the Promised Land. What could have transpired that was so big as to make him abandon his goal of moving to Canaan after he was only approximately half way there?
It was Haran.
Not his son, but rather a city named Haran. Have you ever been driving somewhere and found a street bearing your name? Or perhaps a restaurant, hotel or some place of business? What if a town had your name? What if it had the name of your favorite son who had died? Would you avoid the town? Or would you do as Terah did, and stop all forward progress and take up residence there?
I believe Terah got emotionally “stuck” in Haran. Maybe he just liked the scenery, but something I have learned about grief is that it never goes away on its own. Yes, there is a season to grieve, but it’s a season, not a permanent condition – unless you allow it. I know something about this
Six days before Christmas in 1979, I went to Vancouver General Hospital to bring my firstborn child, Jennifer Lynn, home after recovering from major surgery. I had picked out some wonderful gifts and could hardly wait to celebrate Christmas with her that week because she was now 18 months old and big enough to tear open presents.
But it was not to be.
Her lungs filled with fluid and she died that day at the hospital. Not the Christmas we had planned. At the funeral, God spoke a prophetic word through a friend, that God would multiply the fruit of my wife’s womb. In an instant I went from unbearable grief to unspeakable joy!
I left the grief at the grave and carried the happy memories forward. Of course, there were many moments when a memory would cause me sadness, but the Word God spoke to me took precedence and I was strengthened day by day. Nine moths later, we had twins!
Seventeen years later, the Lord spoke to me that a man I had never met, with whom I had only had a 5 minute business conversation, would invite my wife and I to Mexico to spend Christmas with him and his wife. The Lord told me the reason for this was so that HE could give this man and his wife, salvation for their Christmas present. Sure enough, the following phone call, this stranger invited us to their vacation home in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We accepted.
Around that time, my father who lived in Scotland was admitted to a hospital for abdominal pain. On Christmas Eve, when I was in Mexico I called to check on him and was told, the tests were complete, the cause was known and a good outcome was certain. I was relieved, but when I checked back on Christmas Day, I learned he had died unexpectedly just after my last call.
Being very close to my father, I was devastated. A few hours later, as if on cue, the man and wife we were staying with in Mexico gave their lives to Jesus in their living room and were born again, just as God had foretold me. God used His promise to remove the stinger from my heart. I cried tears of joy, leaving my grief in Mexico and carried my fondest memories to the funeral.
Fast forward to December of 2009…
My wife of 24 years was fighting a terminal illness that claimed her life shortly after Christmas in the first half of January. To say that Christmas has been a difficult time in my life would be a huge understatement. It’s supposed to be a time of joy, but for me, on three occasions it was met with irreplaceable loss.
For most, the sound of Christmas carols on the radio brings joy and happiness. While that happens to me, they also trigger some other very powerful memories. After a season of grief, God visited me with a living Word that once again turned anguish into joy – in an instant of time.
I can only compare it to a blind man receiving his sight or a crippled man being able to leap with joy. I can’t explain it, but I sure won’t deny it! Believe me when I tell you, the temptation to remain stuck emotionally, especially at Christmas, was huge. Everyone expected it.
For many, grief is a source of comfort.
But grief is a poor comforter. God is the source of my comfort. His Word is sure and certain. His joy gives me strength. He gives me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning. That is an exchange, not a process! I choose to accept it.
When you accept and embrace God’s promise of exchanging sorrow for joy, you position yourself to enter into a new season with new hope. For me, shortly after I embraced that exchange, He brought Judy Ann into my life. It was too soon for some, but right on time for me! I am inexpressibly happy this Christmas season as I share it with my beloved wife. Even as I write this blog, I hear her tenderly singing Christmas carols and joyfully anticipating the season. How can I resist that? Why would I?
Words fail me to describe His indescribable love and How HE ministered to my soul. How could I stay stuck when His promises are so rich? How could I choose perpetual sadness every Christmas when that very day is celebrated to commemorate the coming of our SAVIOR, the Lord Yeshua? I don’t believe He was really born on December 25th, but He did come and that is worth rejoicing over – perpetually!
Grief is a seductress…
It will hold you tenderly in her embrace for the rest of your life – if you let it. Moving forward in life is not a denial of your pain, but rather a profound belief in the goodness of God and His great love with which He loves us. Of course the loss was painful and I won’t forget it, but I refuse to elevate that loss above the immeasurable gains granted me in Christ.
I believe that Terah chose to remain in grief, taking up residence in a city bearing his deceased son’s name. As a result, he never made it to the Promised Land. Who knows? Maybe he would have become the father of faith instead of Abram? But he did not finish his journey. He got waylaid. Was his loss unbearable? No doubt.
Isaiah says the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, would be acquainted with grief, a Man of sorrows, and that He would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. But the problem often is, as Isaiah said, that we esteem Him not. We only tacitly acknowledge His suffering, while highly esteeming our own. We do this by enshrining it in innumerable ways and failing to appropriate His provision and promise to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.
As a result, many of us, never leave Haran. We never again find our way on the road to Canaan, the land of promise, the rich destiny God has for us.
May I encourage you this Christmas season to leave your griefs and sorrows at the cross of Christ and choose to enter into the joy, the promise… the inheritance He has planned for you. Celebrate what He has done for you, that eclipses by every measure, whatever loss you have experienced.
I choose to enter the joy HE has prepared for me, regardless of what temporary loss comes my way. I refuse to opt out of my destiny. I choose life instead. I hope you will do the same.
May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas season, celebrating the birth of our Savior, and may you take hold of every promise and your destiny, which He has so richly purchased for you.
If you know of anyone who might need this word of encouragement this Christmas, please share this with them or post it on Facebook.