Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:49-50)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Freedom from Firon’s Torment
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَإِذْ نَجَّيْنَاكُم مِّنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ يَسُومُونَكُمْ سُوءَ الْعَذَابِ يُذَبِّحُونَ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيُونَ نِسَاءَكُمْ ۚ وَفِي ذَٰلِكُم بَلَاءٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌ ﴿٤٩﴾ وَإِذْ فَرَقْنَا بِكُمُ الْبَحْرَ فَأَنجَيْنَاكُمْ وَأَغْرَقْنَا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَأَنتُمْ تَنظُرُونَ ﴿٥٠﴾
Translation: [Remember] when We delivered you from Pharaoh’s clan who inflicted a terrible torment on you, and slaughtered your sons and spared your women, and in that there was a great test from your Lord. And when We parted the sea with you, and We delivered you and drowned Pharaoh’s clan as you looked on.
Commentary: Prophet Yaqub (AS), along with his 12 children, lived in the Land of Canaan, roughly corresponding to present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. They migrated to Egypt at the time of Prophet Yusuf (AS), and their progenies in Egypt eventually developed into a nation referred to as the “Children of Israel” in the Quran.
They lived in Egypt for more than 450 years, across the fertile land of the Nile Valley, grew crops, and raised herds of sheep and goats to enjoy a prosperous life until the rise of Firon (Pharaoh).
Firon took the Children of Israel as slaves, slaughtered their sons, spared their women, and afflicted upon them the worst kind of cruelty and oppression. This excruciating torment lasted until Prophet Musa (AS) and Haroon (AS) led the exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt and back to their original homeland of Canaan. The aforementioned verses remind the Children of Israel of the divine assistance that led to their freedom from Firon’s brutality and oppression.
Exodus of the Children of Israel: For many years, Prophet Musa (AS) preached to Firon, demonstrated evidence with clear proofs and miracles to invite Firon to the Divine Faith, and pleaded with him to free the Children of Israel from the yoke of slavery. Nevertheless, Firon continued with the affliction of grievous torment. Finally, Allah (SWT) inspired Musa (AS) to leave Egypt, along with the Children of Israel, at night. This was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Israelites.
Firon and his army soon discovered the exodus of Israelites and immediately began to pursue them. They almost succeeded in capturing the Children of Israel at the shores of the Nile. This was a terrifying moment for the Children of Israel: a river in front of them with no boats to carry them across the river, and Firon with his chasing army close behind.
Allah (SWT) at this moment commanded Musa to strike the water with his cane, and Musa obeyed. Suddenly, the river parted and a dry path appeared. The Israelites walked through the path and safely reached the other side of shore. Firon, along with his army, followed the same path; midway, the Nile began to flow as per usual, and the pursuing army consequently drowned before the eyes of the Children of Israel.
The Quran counts these events as a great trial [Arabic: (بَلَاءٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌ)]. Indeed, Allah (SWT) tests His servants with both fortune and misfortune. A true believer remains grateful during blessed times, and steadfast in times of difficulty and affliction. The objective of worldly trials, as stated in the verse below, is to bring humankind closer to Allah (SWT).
وَبَلَوْنَاهُم بِالْحَسَنَاتِ وَالسَّيِّئَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ ﴿١٦٨﴾
and We tested them with good (blessing) and bad (affliction) so that they may come back.
The Arabic word “Bala” [Arabic: (بَلَا)] comes from (بَلِيَ), meaning sustained deterioration resulting from continuous use [Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol.1, P.248]. Since trials and tribulations stress the body and drain the soul, this is henceforth called “Bala”, and bounties, as well as calamities, are called “Bala” since we are tested with both.
One of the missions of messengers of Allah (SWT) is to free humankind from the yoke and chains of slavery. The Children of Israel were subjugated to physical slavery and Prophet Musa (AS) freed them from Firon’s excruciating torment. However, one should not forget that humans tend to very easily become captive and slaves of their false desire and personal ignorance. Freedom from the shackles of ignorance and mental slavery is in itself obedience towards Allah (SWT) and His messengers [Al-Araf 7:157].