Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 68, 69, 70 & 71
Chapter 2: Verses 68, 69, 70 & 71
They said, `Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is.' He replied, `Says He, "It indeed is a cow neither too old nor too young, but of middle age, in between." Now do as you are commanded.' (Chapter 2: Verse 68)
This verse gives us great insight into the mindset of Moses' people. The phrase ‘call upon your Lord’ shows lack of faith as they attributed God to Moses, not to themselves. It was as if He is the Lord of Moses alone. A person with proper faith would have said: 'Moses: call upon our Lord’. Sadly, we see this trait repeated in many situation as the following example illustrates:
They said, ‘We will never enter it, Moses, as long as they are there. So you and your Lord go and fight. We will stay sitting here.’ (05:24)
The conversation between Moses and his people continued for a while. They asked one question after another, and each time Moses turned to the Lord for the answer. Every answer led to another irrelevant question. Finally, to stop this back and forth, God complicated the matter, and made His request so specific that it would fit one single cow. In other words, they made matters difficult for themselves, so God treated them in-kind and burdened them even more.
Let’s take a look at the various questions the Israelites asked. Perhaps the first question is the most foolish and irrelevant. `Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is.' They already had the answer to this question. What is it? it is a cow. God had commanded them to slaughter a cow which leaves no room for confusion. Thus, God's answer came: 'It indeed is a cow' and then He added ' neither too old nor too young, but of middle age, in between.' In essence Allah was describing the average cow that can be found at any farm. Thus, He ended the answer with a scolding: ‘Now do as you are commanded' to let the Israelites know that things are clear, and there is no need for delay. Sadly, the next verse shows, they did not listen:
They said, ‘Call on your Lord for us, to show us what color it should be.’ He answered, ‘God says it should be a bright yellow cow, pleasing to the eye.’ (Chapter 2: Verse 69)
They asked Moses about its color. God replied that it is yellow making it a delight to look at. We can see a pattern here, as more questions are asked, God answers and adds another detail indicating to the Israelites that with each question, things are getting more difficult. Thus, He answers not only with a color, but He also adds the desired shade and brightness.
One would think that the information is more than sufficient and the questions would stop, but the next verse shows otherwise:
They said, "Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is. Indeed, all cows look alike to us. And indeed we, if Allah wills, will be guided. (Chapter 2: Verse 70)
Armed with a clear description and specifications, Moses' people set out to search for this cow. However, they started to disagree and argue among themselves. One believed that a certain cow fits the description, while another refused and said no this is not the one. So they returned to prophet Moses and told him to ask God again because all the cows look alike. Moses turned to the Lord and came back with the answer:
He replied, He says ‘It is a perfect and unblemished cow, not trained to till the earth or water the fields.’ They said, ‘Now you have brought the truth,’ and so they slaughtered it, though they almost failed to do so. (Chapter 2: verse 71)
The cow has not been used to plough the earth, to draw water from a well, nor any hard labor. Thus, it is free of all blemishes and imperfections.
These very specific answers reflect that God intended to make the task difficult as a punishment for stalling and wavering on His command. In fact, this description could only fit one single cow. The Israelites said: ‘now you have brought the truth’ as if whatever He had said before about the cow was not true. Even when they were armed with what they considered the truth, they were reluctant to do the task and slaughter the cow. As you transgress against God's teachings, a barrier builds within yourself making the acts of worship difficult. God says: 'so they slaughtered it, though they almost failed to do so.' Compare that to the actions of true believers who love the Lord and look forward to fulfill His orders and be in His company. God says:
And hasten, as if competing with one another, to forgiveness from your Lord, and to a Garden as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the God-revering, pious. (03:133)
The rush of the believers to do righteous deeds echoes their love for Allah. Those with poor faith, and overwhelming love for the temporary pleasures of this world, approach God's teachings grudgingly, and only when they run out of excuses.
It is worth noting that Allah, through His wisdom and fairness, made the Israelites pay for their actions with difficulties, and at the same time, used them to benefit a righteous man who kept God first and foremost in all his affairs. It is said that among the children of Israel lived a pious man. He was poor but very careful about how he earned his living; it had to be earned honestly. Everything that he did was done for the sake of Allah, never out of greed or selfishness. On his deathbed his last words were: "O God, I entrust my wife, my little boy, and my only possession, a calf, to your care." He knew that his wife could barely take care of the household and raise his son, and she could not care for the calf. So, he entrusted this calf to God's care and let it loose right before he died.
After a few years had passed, and the little boy had grown up, his mother told him: 'Your father left you a little fortune: A calf, that should be a cow by now." The son was surprised. All these years He did not know of any calf, so he asked his mother where it was. She replied: "Your father entrusted it to God and set it free. Be like him and say: 'I put my trust in you Lord, please guide me to my cow.'"
The young man prostrated himself before God and supplicated: "O God, Lord of Abraham and Moses, return to me my father's gift." then he set out to look for it. Barely a day had passed and he saw a cow coming towards him. It stopped submissively next to him and he started to lead it to his house.
While on the way, a group of the Israelites saw the cow and realized that it fit God's description perfectly. They offered to buy it. The young man told them he would have to consult his mother first, so they accompanied him to his house and offered her three gold coins. She refused……..they increased their bid to 5 coins, then 10. They went on increasing their offer, and the mother kept refusing. Finally they urged the son to speak to his mother to be reasonable. He told them: "I will not sell the cow without my mother's approval, even if you offer me its skin-fill in gold!" When the mother heard this, she smiled and said: "Let that be the price: its skin-fill of gold."
The Israelites had backed themselves into a corner and realized that no other cow could possibly match God's description. They had to have it at any price, so they agreed to buy it.