Commentary on the Quran (Chapter 2:249)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Dawood (David) and Jalut (Goliath) Part-4
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
فَلَمَّا فَصَلَ طَالُوتُ بِالْجُنُودِ قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ مُبْتَلِيكُم بِنَهَرٍ فَمَن شَرِبَ مِنْهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مِنِّي إِلَّا مَنِ اغْتَرَفَ غُرْفَةً بِيَدِهِ ۚ فَشَرِبُوا مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنْهُمْ ۚ فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ قَالُوا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ ۚ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّـهِ كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ ﴿٢٤٩﴾
2:249 And when Saul went forth with the soldiers, he said, “Indeed, Allah (SWT) will be testing you with a river. So whoever drinks from it is not of me, and whoever does not taste it is indeed of me, excepting one who takes (from it) in the hollow of his hand. (except one who sips only a handful from it)” But they drank from it, except a (very) few of them. Then when he had crossed it along with those who believed with him, they said: “There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers.” But those who were certain that they would meet Allah(SWT) said: “How many a small company (number of people) has overcome a large company by permission of Allah (SWT). And Allah (SWT) is with the patient.”
Commentary: Eventually, Talut mobilized an army from the Children of Israel and set off for the expedition along with them (فَلَمَّا فَصَلَ طَالُوتُ بِالْجُنُودِ). An army’s victory over its adversary depends on its discipline, resilience, and loyalty to its leadership. Hence, Talut was commissioned to assess his troop’s loyalty since they had accepted him with scepticism and reluctance. The soldiers gradually became tired and thirsty after riding their horses for several days. As they approached a riverbank, Talut decided to test their patience against thirst, a difficult challenge for the dehydrated army.
He called his army and said: “Allah (SWT) will be testing you with a river.” (إِنَّ اللَّـهَ مُبْتَلِيكُم بِنَهَرٍ)” “Whoever drinks from its water will not belong to me (my forces) (فَمَن شَرِبَ مِنْهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي), and whoever does not taste, it is indeed, will belong to me (my army)” (وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مِنِّي) “except one who sips only a handful from it.” (إِلَّا مَنِ اغْتَرَفَ غُرْفَةً بِيَدِهِ) Most of the army broke their covenant and drank water to quench their thirst (فَشَرِبُوا مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنْهُمْ). It is worth noting that Talut did not say whether those who drank a sip of water would stay with him.
In summary, Talut’s army became three groups. The first group, which was the majority, broke their covenant and drank water to quench their thirst completely; consequently, Talut dismissed them. The second group obeyed Talut’s command and remained with him. The third group drank only a handful of water, and Talut did not say whether they will stay with him eventually. However, the last part of the verse indicates that when the third group saw the massive army of Jalut, they became afraid to engage in battle and left Talut alone.
Talut crossed the river with the second and third groups (فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ). The third group soon realized that their numbers are few and their forces cannot match Jalut and his vast army. Once they saw the Jalut’s army from afar, they said: “There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers.”
… قَالُوا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ ۚ … ﴿٢٤٩﴾
2:249 They (the 3rd group) said: “There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers.” The second group tried to inspire them with hope by reminding them how often a small number of people won over a larger number with Allah’s permission (SWT). Nevertheless, the third group dropped out of the army and returned to their homeland. The verse states:
… قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّـهِ كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ ﴿٢٤٩﴾
2:249 But those who were certain that they would meet Allah (SWT) said: “How many a small company (number of people) has overcome a large company by permission of Allah (SWT). And Allah (SWT) is with the patient.”
The word (يَظُنُّونَ) in the phrase (الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّـهِ) means to conjecture or form an opinion or supposition about (something) based on incomplete information. Hence, the verse implies that even having a primitive belief of meeting Allah (SWT) is sufficient enough to fully believe in the promise of Allah (SWT) that a small number of people can overcome a large number of people by God’s permission.
However, some commentators take the word (يَظُنُّونَ) as equal to (يَعْلَمُونَ), which means to know. Hence, the phrase (الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّـهِ) means “those who know that they would meet Allah (SWT)” [Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol.2, P. 244], see also commentary of verse 2:46.
Fasla (فَصَلَ) means “depart from a place”, for instance in chapter Yusuf (12:94) the phrase (وَلَمَّا فَصَلَتِ الْعِيرُ) means “and when the caravan departed”. Sometimes it means ‘‘to cut’’, that is, to separate two things, for instance in chapter Al-Anam (6:57) the phrase (وَهُوَ خَيْرُ الْفَاصِلِينَ) means “And God is the best of Separators (between truth and falsehood)”.
(فِئَةً) means a group of people
2:249 [فَلَمَّا] Then when [فَصَلَ] set out [طَالُوتُ] Talut [بِالْجُنُودِ] with the forces [قَالَ] he said, [إِنَّ] Indeed [اللَّـهَ] Allah (SWT) [مُبْتَلِيكُم] will test you [بِنَهَرٍ] with a river. [فَمَن] So whoever [شَرِبَ] drinks [مِنْهُ] from it [فَلَيْسَ] then he is not [مِنِّي] from me. [وَمَن] And whoever [لَّمْ] does not [يَطْعَمْهُ] taste it [فَإِنَّهُ] then indeed, he [مِنِّي] is from me. [إِلَّا] Except [مَنِ] whoever [اغْتَرَفَ] takes [غُرْفَةً] in the hollow of [بِيَدِهِ] his hand. [فَشَرِبُوا] Then they drank [مِنْهُ] from it [إِلَّا] except [قَلِيلًا] a few [مِّنْهُمْ] of them. [فَلَمَّا] Then when [جَاوَزَهُ] he crossed it, [هُوَ] he [وَالَّذِينَ] and those who [آمَنُوا] believed [مَعَهُ] with him, [قَالُوا] they said, [لَا] No [طَاقَةَ] strength [لَنَا] for us [الْيَوْمَ] today [بِجَالُوتَ] against Jalut [وَجُنُودِهِ] and his troops. [قَالَ] Said [الَّذِينَ] Those who [يَظُنُّونَ] were certain [أَنَّهُم] that they [مُّلَاقُو] would meet [اللَّـهِ] Allah, [كَم] How many [مِّن] of [فِئَةٍ] a company [قَلِيلَةٍ] small [غَلَبَتْ] overcome [فِئَةً] a company [كَثِيرَةً] large [بِإِذْنِ] with the permission [اللَّـهِ] of Allah (SWT), [وَاللَّـهُ] And Allah (SWT) [مَعَ] is [الصَّابِرِينَ] the patient one.