Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 40
O' Children of Israel, remember the favors I bestowed on you. Honor your pledge to Me and I will honor My pledge to you: I am the One you should fear. (Chapter 2: Verse 40)
God narrated to us the story of the creation of the human race. He told us about the initial experiment of applying God’s laws in the garden as Satan tempted Adam into disobedience. Adam then descended to earth and began his mission armed with God’s curriculum, and protected with repentance and mercy.
Now, Allah introduces the procession of His heavenly revelations and how they were received by the descendants of Adam. God selected the story of the children of Israel because it revolves around numerous Prophets and numerous miracles that were sent to them. This large number of prophets does not reflect that the children of Israel were favored. Rather, many Prophets were sent because they repeatedly indulged in sins after receiving guidance. Whenever a miracle came to them, they deviated away from it; and as other miracles followed, so did the rejection. Thus, and due to their actions, God decreed to disperse them all over the land only to be gathered again in one place to taste the torment and punishment for their sins and defiance. That is why the story of the children of Israel occupied a large part of the Holy Book. It was also mentioned again and again to strengthen the heart of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Moses, after all, was amongst the great prophets who faced tough challenges and immense tribulations. We should all learn from this story.
The verse starts with the phrase: ‘O children of Israel.’ When God wants to address entire mankind He says: ‘O children of Adam’ as the following verse illustrates:
O children of Adam! Dress cleanly and beautifully for every act of worship; and eat and drink, but do not be wasteful: indeed, He does not love the wasteful. (7:31)
God uses this address to remind us of His blessings since the beginning of creation. Countless bounties are granted specially and specifically to mankind. Allah created Adam with his hands and commanded the angels to prostrate before him. He prepared for us a universe filled with all that guarantees the continuation of life. Not only did Allah provide the essentials, but He also furnished us with the beautiful and the luxurious. More importantly, God familiarized Adam with the false temptations of Satan and made him acknowledge that Satan is his enemy. Allah taught us the words of repentance and showered each one of us with bounties that cannot be counted. The words 'O' Children of Adam,' should remind you of all of these blessings and bring your heart closer to Allah with love. Moreover, you should feel ashamed to reciprocate such great favors with sins. Isn't it then incumbent upon you and me to remain grateful and worship God throughout our life in this world?
This brings us back to the beginning of the verse. God said: ‘O children of Israel’. Who is Israel and why was his name chosen? The name Israel is derived from two words: ‘Isra’ and ‘El’. ‘Isra’ refers to a chosen worshipper, while ‘El’ means God in Hebrew. Thus, the word means the one chosen by God. This designation and this name are specific to Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him) and do not include his descendants. How did Prophet Jacob gain this title, you may ask? He was named Israel because he held strong to faith while he was afflicted by great trials from God. Accordingly, when God addresses the people of Moses with the title ‘O' children of Israel,’ He wants to remind them of the status of prophet Jacob, of the trials he faced and endured for the sake of Allah. God wants the Israelites to remember prophet Jacob's advise when he was on his death bed mentioned in the following verse:
and commanded his sons to do the same, as did Jacob: ‘My sons, God has chosen your religion for you, so make sure you devote yourselves to Him, to your dying moment.’ Were you witnesses when death approached Jacob, when he said to his children, ‘What will you worship after me?’ They said, ‘We will worship your God, and the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, the One God, and to Him do we submit.’ (2:132, 133)
The hour of death is the critical time where every person becomes honest with him or herself, with his Lord and with his children. Only the most valuable truths are spoken at that time. Jacob reminded his children that God is one, none are associated with Him. God has blessed and honored them with religion, thus they must cherish and hold on to His teachings till death. So, when God says: ‘O children of Israel,’ He is reminding all the descendants of prophet Jacob of their father's wisdom, patience and values. Perhaps they will follow His example and perhaps they will feel embarrassed to indulge in sins. This is similar to the example of a righteous man’s child who is reckless and corrupt, as a result, He is often asked by people who knew his father: don't you not feel ashamed? How can you do these acts? You are the son of a good man.
Here is an interesting point to note. Israel is Jacob the son of Isaac. Abraham fathered both Isaac and Ishmael (peace be upon them). Our Prophet Muhammad is from the descendants of Ishmael. Allah says: ‘O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I have bestowed upon you,’ yet, when God addresses the Muslims He does not say ‘O' sons of Ishmael remember my favors upon you.’ Rather, when God addresses the Muslims He says: ‘O' you who believe, Remember God.’ Why is it so? It is because the children of Israel are materialistic and worldly people, therefore, God reminds them of His materialistic favors upon them. There is a difference between being in the company of favors, and being in the company of the One who grants favors. Materialistic people love favors regardless of who grants them, while non-materialistic people prefer the company of the One who grants favors. Thus, Muslims are addressed with ‘remember God’ while the children of Israel are addressed with: ‘remember the favors of God’.
God praises His servants in front of angels and says: They worship me for my sake. The angels reply: rather they worship you for the sake of your blessings and favors. Allah says: If I withhold my blessings from them, they will still love me. And amongst My servants are those whose supplication is very dear to me. I afflict them with adversities so that they invoke me and say: ‘O Lord’.
Allah is indeed worthy of being worshipped even if He did not create paradise and hell. God says in a sacred narration: “I am worthy of being revered, so whoever fears me and does not associate another deity with Me, then He is worthy of my mercy."
God loves the supplications and the company of true believers. In fact, the believers are often tested with afflictions and troubles. Let's take the example of one of God's greatest bounties: health. When a person is tested and the blessing of health is taken away from him, you may view at this as being unlucky, or falling out of favor with God. But, before you rush to judgment, listen to the following sacred narration:
God says “O son of Adam I was sick and you did not visit Me. He will say: My Lord, how can I visit You?….You are the Lord of the worlds. Allah answers: Didn't you know that My servant so and so was sick, yet you did not visit him? Didn't you not that if you had visited him you would have found Me there with him?” Thus, when the blessing of health is taken away from a believer, he should never despair, because all the time he spends in sickness he remains in God’s company.