The Depravity of Mankind
Ten years before Noah's death, the number of those subject to the three princes amounted to millions. When this great concourse of men came to Babylonia upon their journeyings, they said to one another: "Behold, the time is coming when, at the end of days, neighbor will be separated from neighbor, and brother from brother, and one will carry on war against the other. Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a great name upon the earth. And now let us make bricks, and each one write his name upon his brick."
All agreed to this proposal, with the exception of twelve pious men, Abraham among them. They refused to join the others. They were seized by the people, and brought before the three princes, to whom they gave the following reason for their refusal: "We will not make bricks, nor remain with you, for we know but one God, and Him we serve; even if you burn us in the fire together with the bricks, we will not walk in your ways."
Nimrod and Phenech flew into such a passion over the twelve men that they resolved to throw them into the fire. Joktan, however, besides being a God-fearing man, was of close kin to the men on trial, and he essayed to save them. He proposed to his two colleagues to grant them a seven days' respite. His plan was accepted, such deference being paid him as the primate among the three. The twelve were incarcerated in the house of Joktan. In the night he charged fifty of his attendants to mount the prisoners upon mules and take them to the mountains. Thus they would escape the threatened punishment. Joktan provided them with food for a month. He was sure that in the meantime either a change of sentiment would come about, and the people desist from their purpose, or God would help the fugitives.
Eleven of the prisoners assented to the plan with gratitude. Abraham alone rejected it, saying: "Behold, to-day we flee to the mountains to escape from the fire, but if wild beasts rush out from the mountains and devour us, or if food is lacking, so that we die by famine, we shall be found fleeing before the people of the land and dying in our sins. Now, as the Lord liveth, in whom I trust, I will not depart from this place wherein they have imprisoned me, and if I am to die through my sins, then will I die by the will of God, according to His desire."
In vain Joktan endeavored to persuade Abraham to flee. He persisted in his refusal. He remained behind alone in the prison house, while the other eleven made their escape. At the expiration of the set term, when the people returned and demanded the death of the twelve captives, Joktan could produce only Abraham. His excuse was that the rest had broken loose during the night.
The people were about to throw themselves upon Abraham and cast him into the lime kiln. Suddenly an earthquake was felt, the fire darted from the furnace, and all who were standing round about, eighty four thousand of the people, were consumed, while Abraham remained untouched. Thereupon he repaired to his eleven friends in the mountains, and told them of the miracle that had befallen for his sake. They all returned with him, and, unmolested by the people, they gave praise and thanks to God.