Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 243-248 Speaks of Fighting for God’s Cause and Brings Biblical Support

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.

Being Grateful

“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.”

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Fun with the Bible: The Use of the Word Messiah/Christ/Mashiach/Savior in the Bible, Judaism and Christianity

Oh boy is this a loaded term, and once again we get the pleasure of such a fascinating topic thanks to Kay, who was wondering about the various usages, meanings and importance ascribed to this word.

The Word Messiah as it Was Meant to Be

Let me start by saying that the word messiah did not begin with what today one would call messianic inclinations. That is, the messiah was never about some wonderful, future savior in ancient Judaism (which we should really be calling the ancient Israelite religion, since Judaism would have come from the descendants of Judea and we’re really talking about the entire area’s religion before it was just Judea). In any case, “messiah” literally meant anointed and referred to the king who was anointed into his position with oil.

You may recall such a scene in the New Testament book of Mark (14:3-9) when an old woman comes and pours nice oil on Jesus’ head. Though Jesus speaks of this as a preparation for burial, Mark’s understanding of his quality as Savior was not particularly developed, and a story like this later became prized for its value of equating Jesus with the long-awaited Davidic king. Speaking of this, David himself is anointed by Samuel (I Samuel 16), and other kings are anointed too. It was an important ritual act to signify that someone had been chosen by God.

Cyrus as Messiah

The reference to Cyrus as God’s anointed one is made by Isaiah (45:1), and makes good sense when we think about what Cyrus had done (notably, Cyrus is the ONLY non-Israelite to ever be referred to by this term). After the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and decades of Babylonian captivity, Cyrus, King of Persia, decrees that the people of Judea be allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple to their God. It would certainly seem that a benevolent and wonderful act like that could only come from a person that God himself had wanted anointed as king. (As a side note, my cat’s name is Cyrus, both because of this biblical story and because Herodotus seemed to me to describe this same king Cyrus as a mischievous fellow).

It is in the book of Daniel (9:25-26) that the term mashiach nagid (the great messiah) is used, and it is thought that this is a reference to Cyrus for the wonderful thing he did for the Jews. However, bear in mind that Daniel is not a prophecy. Though it purports to come from a captive in King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian court in the sixth century, Daniel was written in the middle of the Jewish revolt against the Greek king Antichus IV (c. 167). That’s why he is able to so accurately run through the history of the Ancient Middle East’s rulers that affect the Jews, and get increasingly specific as he describes what goes on between the Greek kings that lead up to the war of his day.

Think about Cyrus’ motivation for allowing the Jews to return to their land after he conquered the Babylonian Empire and found so many subject peoples. It wasn’t just the Jews. Cyrus was a wise statesman and realized that if he conquered the Babylonians and let all of the people they had conquered go home, they would love him and do what he says (tribute, baby). Moreover, if they rebuild their temples and pray to their gods they will pray on behalf of him, his health, wealth, and success. And that’s exactly what Cyrus asked everyone to do.

Waiting for the Messiah

So after the use of this word in these various contexts and after the Jews returned to Judea, there was no more Davidic line of kings ruling over the people in the same way that there had always been, but looking back to the time of David filled the Jews with pride and longing because it was when they were strongest, unified and their religion and homeland were the least ‘corrupted’ with outsiders (or so they thought through the lens of their backward gazing). In any case, they looked back and desperately wanted independence and their Davidic king (a king who descended from the line of David, in case that hasn’t been clear), and as this person was always mashiach, anointed, they looked forward to a time when God would give them back their anointed one. And thus begins (in an overly simplistic fashion, mind you) the beginning and longing for a Messiah that would come and free the people.

In the centuries hugging the year zero – particularly after the Romans took over the region – every person and his brother claimed to be the messiah: sent from God to rescue the people. People also claimed to be prophets at this time – in unusual abundance.

And no, to answer a question previously posed, prophets and messiahs are not the same thing. Prophets brought a message from God and the Messiah was not a messenger but a savior – the person sent to do the dirty work. He didn’t have words to deliver but a better life for the people. That idea wasn’t otherworldly in Judaism (too much, at least). It was literally about getting the king back and having independence. Jewish messianic aspirations were not always about ending this world or the world-to-come – that’s the result of two millenia of Christian influence.

Christianity and the Messiah

However, when Jesus came and was believed to be the long-awaited descendant of the Davidic line, jubilation erupted among some. His death, though, put a damper on people’s spirits (no pun intended) because they believed that he would restore the line and rescue them from the Romans. When that didn’t happen, the idea of Jesus as the anointed one was used in different ways, most successfully by Pauline Christianity who made the rest (an insanely complicated) history. Thus, Jesus was the Messiah, and when that saving was not able to be earthly salvation (the Judean kingdom), it was transformed into the other-worldly salvation of Christianity. And now Christians still await the Messiah – Jesus’ return – to bring those end of days and the good times.

Khristos, the Greek word from which we get Christ, is the term used to refer to Jesus in the language that Paul’s Christianity spread through the Greek-speaking world. That’s why that word become the popular one.

Summary

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