It’s not worth fearing death, being cowardly and abandoning your homeland because God can resurrect you. That’s an interesting way to start and a clear indication to me that we’ve moved away from the topic of marriage and divorce (aren’t I quite the little detective?).
Asad says this:
We must, therefore, assume (as Muhammad `Abduh does in Mandr II, 455 ff.) that the above allusion is parabolically connected with the subsequent call to the faithful to be ready to lay down their lives in God’s cause: an illustration of the fact that fear of physical death leads to the moral death of nations and communities, just as their regeneration (or “coming back to life”) depends on their regaining their moral status through overcoming the fear of death. This is undoubtedly the purport of the elliptic story of Samuel, Saul and David told in verses 246-251.
“Most people are ungrateful,” rings so true. My mom always tells me, you’ve got to be grateful for everything. “I’m so grateful,” she says, and then I give her a hard time, saying, “I’m so grateful,” in my high-being-my-mom voice. Then we have a hearty laugh because she loves my imitation of her saying, “I’m so grateful.” But we always stop afterwards to take a minute to recognize how grateful we are. Life sucks for a lot of people and to whatever degree yours is good, it’s worth taking a minute to be grateful.
Fighting and Death
What is God’s cause, verse 244 begs? As Asad reminds us from earlier (2:190-194), God’s cause is a just war of self-defense against oppression or unprovoked aggression. That certainly seems reasonable to me. Being the aggressor is hardly ever acceptable, but protecting oneself against these terrible things is necessary. Let’s just hope, as we discussed before, that the right to fight doesn’t ever turn the tide in such a way that one becomes an oppressor himself to an unreasonable and unacceptable extent.
The concept of death (the ultimate loss, at least instinctively) is being intimately tied to God’s ability to give even more: which is to say resurrection, or life back. It really makes people start to think differently about the meaning of life, especially life in pre-Islamic tribal society which had little or no focus on the afterlife and was entirely concerned with the preservation of the tribe (and its allies) in this life. It was important in a society like that didn’t conceptualize the afterlife to change the way people conceived of death while grounding death in a context that was familiar. And later, of course, this still stays relevant for readers looking to understand death.
The Israelites and Samuel in the Book of Samuel
In verses 246ff, the Quran speaks of some events, to a greater or lesser extent, from the book of Samuel, when the Israelites saw that all those around them had kings and were protected and asked Samuel to allow God to raise up a king that would fight for them. The problem was that God was meant to be their king and God was meant to fight for them and they were supposed to fight for God and that show of faith – that when they fought God was fighting for them – was supposed to win them wars. This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. However, the ever-faithless Israelites were unsatisfied and wanted a king to call their own.
The next verse (247) is curious because the Israelites didn’t really protest Saul’s existence as king. We can infer based on the fact that David was eventually allowed to arise over Saul (we’re told it’s God’s doing but readers understand that politically the tides had changed) that the people (or God…) had rejected Saul as king but this is not until later. At first they’re enthusiastic and don’t say anything about his wealth (or lack thereof). Not entirely sure what to do with verse 248?
What are your thoughts on these verses? What did I miss or get wrong?
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The Cow 243-248
243. ART THOU NOT aware of those who forsook their homelands in their thousands for fear of death, whereupon God said unto them, “Die,” and later brought them back to life? Behold, God is indeed limitless in His bounty unto man -but most people are ungrateful. 244. Fight, then, in God’s cause,* and know that God is all-hearing, all-knowing. 245. Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan,* which He will amply repay, with manifold increase? For, God takes away, and He gives abundantly; and it is unto Him that you shall be brought back. 246. Art thou not aware of those elders of the children of Israel, after the time of Moses, how they said unto a prophet of theirs,* “Raise up a king for us, [and] we shall fight in God’s cause”? Said he: “Would you, perchance, refrain from fighting if fighting is ordained for you?” They answered: “And why should we not fight in God’s cause when we and our children have been driven from our homelands?”** Yet, when fighting was ordained for them, they did turn back, save for a few of them; but God had full knowledge of the evildoers. 247. And their prophet said unto those elders: “Behold, now God has raised up Saul to be your king.” They said: “How can he have dominion over us when we have a better claim to dominion than he, and he has not [even] been endowed with abundant wealth?” [The prophet] replied: “Behold, God has exalted him above you, and endowed him abundantly with knowledge and bodily perfection. And God bestows His dominion upon whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing.” 248. And their prophet said unto them: “Behold, it shall be a sign of his [rightful] dominion that you will be granted a heart* endowed by your Sustainer with inner peace and with all that is enduring in the angel-borne heritage left behind by the House of Moses and the House of Aaron.** Herein, behold, there shall indeed be a sign for you if you are [truly] believers.”