Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 58 & 59
Chapter 2, verses 58 & 59
Remember when We said, ‘Enter this town. and eat from it wherever you like, freely. Enter the gate prostrating and say, “Relieve us!” Then We shall forgive you your sins and increase the rewards of those who do good.’ (Chapter 2: verse 58)
The Israelites were blessed with great heavenly bounties. Manna and quail were quality foods available in abundance. They were sweet, pure and delicious; more importantly, they came easily in large amounts without the need for any effort or planning. However, this made the Children of Israel uncomfortable. They approached Moses requesting that he asks God to allow them to grow vegetation with their own hands.....something they would be able to see grow right in front of them. They were in constant worry about the possibility of waking up one day to find no manna nor quail. Despite being blessed with one miracle after another, the Israelites could not bring themselves to have proper faith in the Lord. God completes the story in the following verse:
Remember when you said, ‘Moses, we cannot bear to eat only one kind of food, so pray to your Lord to bring out for us some of the earth’s produce, its herbs and cucumbers, its garlic, lentils, and onions.’ He said, ‘Would you exchange better for worse? Go to Egypt and there you will find what you have asked for.’ They were struck with humiliation and wretchedness, and they incurred the wrath of God because they persistently rejected His messages and killed prophets contrary to all that is right. All this was because they disobeyed and were lawbreakers. (02:61)
God continuously granted bounties to the Israelites, but they often received them with doubt and ungratefulness. He saved them from tyranny, parted the sea, and drowned Pharaoh along with all his troops, cavalry, and weapons right in front of their eyes. They worshiped the gold calf shortly after.......Yet, Allah showered them with forgiveness and granted them the Torah. He also brought them back to life after they unjustly demanded to physically see Him and were struck dead by a thunderbolt. During their journey under the scorching desert sun, God provided constant shade with cloud cover. They had no worries about daily food and nourishment as manna -a sweet exudate of certain plants- and quail -a fatty bird- were provided for them. In spite of God’s generosity, they demanded to grow lower quality foods for themselves. God accepted their request and said: ‘Enter this town' referring to the city of Jerusalem or the present day areas of Jordan and Palestine.
The verse continues: ‘and eat from it wherever you like, freely.’ This invitation indicates that there were many varieties of foods available in abundance. It also tells us that the Israelites were invited to eat for pleasure not out of true hunger. When a person is not hungry, different varieties of food are presented in order to temp him or her to eat. When a person is truly hunger, he or she will eat from any food that is around.
The verse continues: ‘‘Enter the gate prostrating and say, “Relieve us!” Then We shall forgive you your sins and increase the rewards of those who do good.’ Here, Allah issued a simple and straight forward command. The Israelites are promised to be granted what they asked for, and they would also be forgiven for their sins and increased in reward if they performed this command properly. Whenever you do good deeds, God always rewards you many folds over. He says:
Those who do good will have the best and more! Neither dust nor debasement will darken their faces. They are the Companions of the Garden, remaining in it timelessly, forever. (10:26)
With this golden opportunity of a great reward in exchange for easy work, how did the Children of Israel fare? This brings us to the next verse in 'The Cow'. God says:
But the wrongdoers substituted a different word from the one they had been given. So, because they persistently disobeyed, We sent a plague down from the heavens upon the deviators.(Chapter 2: Verse 59)
Was this blatant disobedience and disregard for God's orders intentional? Or was it because the task was so difficult that they were unable to carry it out as instructed? Did God burden them with too much? we find the answer in the following verse:
Allah does not burden any self, except with something within its capacity: in its favor is whatever good it earns, and against it whatever evil it merits. (02:286)
Let's keep in mind that entering into the town was what the Israelites had asked for. They wanted to live in a valley where they could grow their own food. God granted their request and taught them the spiritual etiquette of showing gratitude for given exactly what they asked. Allah also added the bounty of forgiveness if properly requested. In other words, for performing a single task, the Children of Israel would be granted exactly what they asked for in this world, and the tremendous bonus of mercy and forgiveness for the hereafter.
But some of them intentionally altered God’s command by changing a single letter. God had commanded them to say 'Hita' which means: please unload our sins. Those who were arrogant and defiant said 'Hinta' -which is a form of wheat- as they entered. This was an act of defiance and complete disregard for all the bounties and gifts they have been blessed with. So when you read the last of the verse 'We sent a plague down from the heavens upon the deviators,' detailing the punishment, you will understand all the terrible actions, defiance, and disregard for the Lord that led to this result.