Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:55-56)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَا مُوسَىٰ لَن نُّؤْمِنَ لَكَ حَتَّىٰ نَرَى اللَّـهَ جَهْرَةً فَأَخَذَتْكُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَأَنتُمْ تَنظُرُونَ ﴿٥٥﴾ ثُمَّ بَعَثْنَاكُم مِّن بَعْدِ مَوْتِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ ﴿٥٦﴾
Translation: And when you said, ‘O Moses, we will not believe you until we see Allah visibly.’ Thereupon a thunderbolt seized you as you looked on. Then We raised you up after your death so that you might give thanks
Commentary: Prophet Musa (AS), along with the Children of Israel, miraculously crossed the Nile River and arrived at the Sinai Peninsula. Soon after, Allah (SWT) called Prophet Musa (AS) to Mount Sinai so that he may receive the law of Tawrat (Torah).
Prophet Musa (AS) was concerned that skeptics or stubborn and malicious individuals would accuse him of fabricating the Torah in the name of God. He decided to circumvent this problem by taking seventy witnesses from the Children of Israel on his journey to Mount Sinai.
Prophet Musa (AS) spent forty nights on the mountain, worshipping Allah (SWT) in seclusion without distractions. This in turn, provided him with a transcendent spiritual readiness to receive the divine revelation. During his stay, Allah (SWT) inscribed him the divine tablets of law.
One might expect that Prophet Musa’s companions were ecstatic to witness the unique and historical moments of the revelation of Tawrat. Instead, unfortunately, they said, “O Musa, we will not believe [that] you [received the tablets of law from God] until we see Allah visibly.”
يَا مُوسَىٰ لَن نُّؤْمِنَ لَكَ حَتَّىٰ نَرَى اللَّـهَ جَهْرَةً
This put Prophet Musa (AS) in an uncomfortable position. On one hand, God is unperceivable; how could he ask Allah (SWT) to manifest Himself? On the other hand, how could he convince the Children of Israel that the tablets of law were from God Himself, as his own companions did not believe in him.
Naturally, Prophet Musa (AS) tried to convince the Children of Israel that it was impossible to see God. However, they insisted on their irrational demand and consequently, their stubbornness brought upon the wrath of Allah (SWT). A thunderbolt, along with an earthquake, seized them before their own eyes, and they perished:
فَأَخَذَتْكُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَأَنتُمْ تَنظُرُونَ ﴿٥٥﴾
Thereupon a thunderbolt seized you as you looked on.
The statement “as you looked on” [Arabic: (وَأَنتُمْ تَنظُرُونَ)] implies that the Children of Israel witnessed their divine punishment firsthand.
Aftermath of Death of Israelites: The death of the seventy Israelites created another dilemma for Prophet Musa (AS). Would the other Israelites believe his narration, that a thunderbolt destroyed his companions because they wanted to see God in person? Most probably not, as his own seventy perished companions did not believe him. Perhaps for this reason, he asked Allah (SWT) to resurrect his perished companions, a plea which Allah accepted in His mercy towards Musa’s request:
ثُمَّ بَعَثْنَاكُم مِّن بَعْدِ مَوْتِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ ﴿٥٦﴾
Then We raised you up after your death so that you might give thanks
The term “that you might give thanks” [Arabic: (لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ)] implies expressing gratitude for new life after death.
Genuine vs. Stubborn Skepticism: Doubt is a prelude to discovering the truth and in general, the truth is reached through a process involving logic and reason. Yet, there is a difference between genuine doubt and stubborn skepticism.
A genuine skeptic asks a rational question and makes a reasonable demand, whereas a stubborn skeptic thinks illogically and mandates an unreasonable request. For instance, the Children of Israel asked Musa (AS) to show them God in person. How could Musa (AS) show them an unperceivable God?
An example of a reasonable demand involves the Qur’an itself; the Holy Qur’an is the word of Allah (SWT), revealed to the heart of Prophet Mohammad (SAW). If one were to claim that the Qur’an is a product of human intellect, the Qur’an in turn, challenges humankind to then produce a chapter like it, a feat no man can accomplish. This is an instance of a rational demand.
Raj’a: This verse also asserts the possibility of returning from death back to life; this is known as raj’a in the Shia school of Islam. This should not be confused with reincarnation. In raj’a, a human soul is reunited with his original body, like the way the dead were brought back to life by Prophet Isa (AS), or the reviving of Prophet Uzar (AS) after 100 years, whereas reincarnation is rebirth of a soul in a new body or a new form of life.