Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 175 & 176
Verses 175 & 176
Those are the ones who have exchanged guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment; how persistent they are in their struggle to cast themselves into the fire!
(Chapter 2: Verse 175)
In the previous verse, we discussed the types of people whom God will not speak to on the Day of Judgment. He will not cleanse them of their sins, and a severe punishment awaits them. Why? God gives you the answer: They exchanged heavenly guidance for corruption, and exchanges forgiveness for punishment. This brings up a point that we should keep in mind: Many people focus on the severity of the punishment while forgetting how terrible the crime was. If you separate the crime from punishment, you may start to sympathize with the criminal who is about to suffer. Hence, when you see a punishment, it is important to recall the offence that led the criminal to this. This is especially true when a fair amount of time had passed since the crime was committed, as the severity of the crime tends to be forgotten with time. It is always advisable to hasten the punishment as soon as a person is proven guilty.
The verse starts with: “Those are the ones who have exchanged guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment.” You can only exchange an item for another if you own the original item to begin with. In other words, those who exchanged guidance for error originally possessed guidance. God’s message and scripture had reached them and they understood it; yet decided to let go of it for something far less valuable. Similarly, before committing this grave sin, they were deserving of God’s mercy and forgiveness, yet they decided to let go of forgiveness for something far less valuable. Any person who willingly acts this way is deserving of painful punishment.
The verse closes with “how persistent they are in their struggle to cast themselves into the fire!” God is reminding all of us of how terrible hellfire is. How can a person ignore this possibility and act in a way that gets him or her closer to it? How can a person take actions that exchange forgiveness for fire? Does he or she have any hope of tolerating the fire? Does he or she think that they are tough enough to handle such punishment? The people who concealed the scriptures, altered it, and misguided others were well aware of their punishment. Yet they astonishingly marched forward and insisted on their sin as the following verses illustrate:
So woe to those who write the scripture with their own hands, then say, "This is from God" in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn. They say, ‘The Fire will only touch us for a few days.’ Say to them, ‘Have you received a promise from God- for God never breaks His promise- or are you saying things about Him of which you have no real knowledge?’
(2:79 & 80)
In other words: you have no clue of the severity of the punishment that awaits you; because if you had any idea, you would not act in the way you are acting now. No person, even in this world, can tolerate a simple match fire even for 10 seconds, let alone days or decades.
Now, let’s move to the next verse in ‘The Cow’. God says:
That is because Allah has sent down the Book with the truth. And indeed, those who differ over the Book are in extreme dissension. (Chapter 2: Verse 176)
The verse begins with the phrase “That is because” referring to what we discussed earlier of sin, punishment and fire. The sin is exchanging guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment. And this deliberate action is the fundamental reason for the punishment. God punishes those who knowingly go astray and drag others behind them in sin. They are well deserving of hellfire because they acted out of malice not ignorance. God, after all, had delivered guidance to them through messengers and scriptures. He says: “That is because Allah has sent down the Book with the truth.” But the truth was inconvenient for them and they saw it as a hurdle on the way of satisfying their needs and desires. God says:
We have brought you the truth, but most of you are averse to the truth. (43:78)
Their hatred for the truth and the subsequent alteration or concealment of God’s book creates a great rift between the disbelievers and the believers. God says “And indeed, those who differ over the Book are in extreme dissension.” Had the difference and discord been in materialistic or worldly matters, it would have been easy to manage and sort out. However, when the divine values and teachings are distorted, the result is a large abyss between the two groups. God will sort out these differences as illustrated in the 3rd verse of chapter 39:
God Himself will judge between them regarding their differences. God does not guide any ungrateful liar