People Turn away from God

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The Golden Calf
When Moses arrived at the Camp with the tablets in his hand, he was confronted with a sight he never hoped to see.  A large portion of the Israelites were singing and dancing around, and prostrating to, a statue of a calf made out of precious metals.  Although he had been warned by God that this was the case, the actual sight was more than he could bear.  Furious, he threw down the tablets he was carrying, upon which the scripture and criterion had been written.[1]

The statue, perhaps due to some instrumental property which utilized any breeze that swept it, made a lowing sound.  Not that this was an excuse for taking it to be miraculously alive,  God said:

“…Could they not see that it was able neither to speak nor to guide them to a way?  They took it for worship, and they were wrongdoers.” (Quran 7:148)

He stormed into the middle of the crowd, aggrieved at the impatience of the people.  Did the promise God gave them seem too long in coming?  Did they want God to bring His wrath down on them?  Was that why they broke their promise to him?

“They said: ‘We didn’t break our promise of our own free will.  But we have been made to carry the weight of the ornaments of the people, so we cast them into the fire as Samiri suggested.’” (Quran 20:87)

Samiri had a reason for inciting the people to throw the ornaments that had taken from the Egyptians as loot.  When Moses asked him what it was, Samiri said that he had seen what no other had, the angel Gabriel at the crossing, and had taken some dust from his horse’s hoof print.  His inner soul had prompted him, he said, to throw that dust into the kiln along with the precious metals and jewelry.  Then he had taken the cast out and suggested that it was their God, except that Moses had forgotten it.[2]

So Moses made his judgment:

“Then you are exiled! And verily, your (punishment) in this life is that you must say: “Touch me not!” and verily, you have a promise (of torment in the Hereafter) that will not fail…” (Quran 20:97)

Then he tuned on his brother, grabbing him by the head:  ‘What stopped you from coming after me, as I instructed, when you saw the people going astray?’[3]

Aaron answered with conciliating words: ‘O son of my mother,’ he said, reminding him of his fraternal relationship, ‘Verily, I feared lest you should say: “You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and you have not respected my word!”’ (Quran 20:94)

He further told him that the people had been threatening to kill him.[4]

Moved, Moses prayed:

“O Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us unto Your Mercy; for You are the most Merciful of the merciful.” (Quran 7:151)

After that, he destroyed the statue and scattered its particles.  His next job was to deal with the hardcore of the miscreants.  Some of the participants in the misdeed repented that they had weakly gone astray, and then staunchly returned to obedience.  The ones, however, who had stopped hypocritically because they were forced had to be dealt with.  Moses said:

“O my people, you have indeed wronged yourself by taking the golden calf for worship.  So [those who believe] repent to your Creator and [let the righteous among you] kill [the unrighteous souls among you].[5]  That is the best for all of you in the sight of your Creator.” (Quran 2:54)

The Elders Refuse to Obey Moses
When Moses recovered his temper, he picked up the tablets.[6]  He then called out seventy men from the tribes.[7]  They were to go with him to the mountain and make their repentance to God there.  He told them that the tablets had God’s Book written on them informing His people what He commands and what he forbids, ‘as a Guidance and a Mercy’.[8]

They wanted more from Moses than just hearsay.  They asked God to give them a Book to which they would adhere, openly in person, and claimed they would not believe what he told them until they saw God himself.  In one narration, they asked ‘Why does he not talk to us as He talks to you, Moses?’[9]

So the Wrath of God fell upon them and a thunderbolt struck them, and they all died.[10]

When they fell down dead, Moses prayed to God.  He asked God what he should say to the rest of Israelites about the destruction of ‘the best of them’[11]. He said:

“…Would you destroy us (all) for what the foolish among us have done?  This is not but your trial by which You will send astray whom You will and guide whom You will.  You are our protector, so forgive us and have mercy on us.  And You are the best of forgivers.  And decree for us in this world that which is good, and also in the Hereafter; indeed we have turned back to You…” (Quran 7:155-156)

In Moses observing that their deaths were a trial, he recognized that God did not mean to kill the elders permanently, but to teach them a lesson they would never forget.  When he asked God for good, this was his hope and real request.  Some scholars say that God accepted the repentance[12]  they would manifest on returning to life, as the words, “Indeed He is the Acceptor of Repentance, the Most Merciful.” (Quran 2:54) and “We raised you up after your death so you may be grateful.” (Quran 2:56) indicate.  For if ‘raising up’ meant on the Day of Judgment, they would not be grateful for what they would be due, having died in a state of rebellion without having repented.  And so He brought them back to life.

It may be that among these elders were those who would help Moses and Aaron in he future to guide the people to doing good and shunning evil.  Their resurrection would then be of benefit, not only to themselves, but to the people of Israel.  This might also be why they had been excluded from the killing of the unrighteous mentioned earlier, as they would have returned to righteousness after this experience.

Whatever the reason may be, it is clear that Gods Mercy extends even to the stubborn who try to make conditions on God.  For, if they can be guided, God will guide them, even if not by the means originally sought by them.  The concomitant reality is that those who do not desire to be guided will not be guided by any means.  So, whether they die sooner or later, or even if they died and then were returned to the world, they would still be disbelievers on the Day of Judgment and therefore never gain the reward of Paradise in the Hereafter.  Rather, their promised destination would be Hell.

[1] The Bible reports that they were shattered into pieces, so he had to go up the mountain again for another 40 days and nights to get another set.  The Quran, however, mentions only one occasion.

[2] It is said in the records of the Jews that a man named Hur tried to stop the people from doing this, but had been killed by them.  Aaron was given the role of Samiri, allowing the statue to be cast in order to be conciliating.  However, in the Quran and Prophetic Narrations it is clear that Aaron tried to stop the event, and was near to being killed because of his opposition.

[3] Quran 7:150

[4] Ibid.

[5] In the Bible, Moses calls for ‘those who are with me’ to rally to his side.  It is said the Levites were the first to do so, and they were commanded to kill even their relatives, neighbors and friends if they belonged to the idol worshipping faction.  Some Jewish scholars state that this is where their ‘special’ privileged status was earned and that 3,000 of the people were put to the sword as a result. (Exodus 32:28)

[6] He did not need to go up the mountain again for a new set.

[7] Seventy men are mentioned in Quran 7:155 and Exodus 24.9, but in Exodus, though it is in the context of ‘the first’40 day absence, they are called for a different sin – that of complaining about manna.  The Bible mentions the seventy were respected elders and captains, (Numbers 11).

[8] Quran 7:154

[9] In Numbers 12:2, the words ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Does he not also speak by us?’ are attributed to Aaron and Miriam.

[10] Ibn Kathir Tafsir on verse Quran 2:55

[11] Commentary  by As-Suddi on Quran 2:55 & 7:155 in both Ibn Hatim  and At Tabari

[12] Ar-Rabi bin Anas and Qaatadah mention this.

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