For a long time I’ve thought that Terah continually gets short shrift when it comes to biblical interpretation. Abraham gets the spotlight while his father is consigned to relative obscurity. However, there are several elements within the Genesis narrative that suggest Terah is a pivotal character even though he is the subject of a handful of verses.
For one thing, according to Gen 11:31 Terah was the first to set out for Canaan, not Abraham. Yet, his journey was aborted–for whatever reason–once he made it to Haran. Only after Terah died did Abraham continue on to Canaan. In a sense, Abraham merely finished what Terah had started.
Second, and perhaps even more significant, Abraham is not the subject of a toledot clause, rather, Terah is the figure from which this genealogy originates–Gen 11:27. The toledot clauses are prominent structural markers that point to a macro-structure of Genesis and, if we are to follow one of the conclusions of a recent monograph on the toledot formula by Matthew Thomas, the Pentateuch itself (noting the toledot clause in Num 3:1). Based on these and other facts Thomas concludes:
[A]s we worked through the material around the genealogy of Terah, we found that Terah might well play more of a role in Genesis than typically assumed. Through the course of this study, we have found hints that Terah may be a rather foundational character. By the end of the book, all three of his sons’ lines are likely reintegrated in the people of Israel’s family. Given that this takes place through the women in the story and that we find a strong role for Sarah in forming the status of Isaac (and probably also Ishmael), more should be done to examine these women in the line of Terah to see what is going on here.
I couldn’t agree more.