The Ingratitude Of The Children Of Israel

After his confrontation with the magicians, Musa stayed in Egypt for an extended period of time, marked by more severe oppression meted out by Pharaoh against Musa and the children of Israel. On one hand, Musa confronted Pharaoh and his oppression, while on the other, he summoned the children of the Israel to steadfastness. Some among the children of the Israel disrespectfully criticised Musa, saying that his presence did not alleviate the repression they were subjected to:

Musa said to his people, "Seek help in God and be steadfast. The earth belongs to God. He bequeaths it to any of His servants He wills. The successful outcome is for those who have fear for God."

They said, "We suffered harm before you came to us and after you came to us."

He said, "It may well be that your Lord is going to destroy your enemy and make you the successors in the land so that He can see how you behave." (Qur'an, 7: 128-129)

The disrespect of the children of Israel towards Musa is an indication of their spiritual weakness. God had sent a prophet, to save them from the cruelty of Pharaoh, who asked them to be steadfast. Due to the weakness of their faith and their utter lack of wisdom, they were not able to forebear. Instead, with ingratitude, they began to complain and grumble to Musa. However, no matter what befalls him, a sincere believer feels grateful to God, and submits himself to everything that God had predetermined for him. In times of trouble, hardship, hunger or even under oppression or torture, a Muslim must always be in such a state of spiritual submission. This state of mind was explained by God's Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (saas) with the words "Praise be to God who created everything as is necessary, who does not hasten anything He defers and determines. God is enough for me and sufficient." (Ibn Majah) Only such submission and putting one's trust in God can change troubles into great spiritual blessings.

With the example of Musa, God shows us that the majority of the children of Israel lacked this kind of a conscientiousness. As will be made clear in the following pages, the complaints of the children of Israel, as described above, would later turn to ingratitude, and ultimately, into rebellion against God. God informs us of these events that we may take lessons from them. Just as in the case of the denial of Pharaoh, so in the weak faith and ill-hearts of the children of Israel is there a lesson for us.

He (God) has given you everything you have asked Him for. If you tried to number God's blessings, you could never count them. Man is indeed wrongdoing, ungrateful. (Qur'an, 14: 34)

The Period Of Disasters And The Folly Of Pharaoh

One after another, God sent various disasters upon Pharaoh and his subjects, a people obstinate in denial. First, there began a period of extreme drought in Egypt. Water was terribly crucial for the Egyptians, the drought directly threatening their very livelihood. As a result, agricultural products diminished in availability and famine ensued:

We seized Pharaoh's people with years of drought and scarcity of fruits so that hopefully they would pay heed. (Qur'an, 7: 130)

As the above verse informs us, the famine lasted for several years. After his confrontation with the magicians, Musa stayed many years in Egypt to communicate the message of God. Within that time, God asked Musa to build houses for his people so as to fulfil their prayers in safety. In this way too, the believers aided in staying together:

We revealed to Musa and his brother: "Settle your people in houses in Egypt and make your houses places of worship and establish prayer and give good news to the believers." (Qur'an, 10: 87)

In these houses, Musa and his adherents performed their prayers and remembered God. The people of Egypt, on the other hand, continued to encourage one another in ignorance, and blamed Musa and his adherents for the calamities inflicted on them:

Whenever a good thing came to them, they said, "This is our due." But if anything bad happened to them, they would blame their ill fortune on Musa and those with him. No indeed! Their ill fortune will be with God. But most of them did not know. (Qur'an, 7: 131)

One of the calamities inflicted by God on Pharaoh and his people was a "famine." Above is an ancient Egyptian fresco depicting Egyptians suffering from hunger.
Disasters were occurring everywhere in the land. In spite of them however, Pharaoh and his inner circle did not abandon their perverse polytheistic practices; they were zealously devoted to the "religion of their ancestors." Not even Musa's two miracles, that is, his hand appearing white and his staff turning into snake, helped them abandon their superstitious beliefs. In fact, they stated that they would not believe in him, even if he were to bring another miracle:

They said, "No matter what kind of Sign you bring us to bewitch us, we will not have faith in you." (Qur'an, 7: 132)

Because of their conduct, God inflicted upon them a number of calamities as "signs, clear and distinct" (Qur'an, 7: 133), in order for them to taste torment in this world too. The first one of these was the drought mentioned earlier, which caused a detrimental decline in the production of agricultural goods.

The Egyptians' agricultural system was based on the Nile river, and thus was not effected by changes in natural conditions. Even in the hottest seasons when no rain fell on the Egyptian soil, the Nile river carried an abundance of water from inland Africa. However, because Pharaoh and his inner circle remained arrogant and proud towards God, a disaster that had been heretounexpected befell them; a drought. This drought clearly refuted the words of Pharaoh when he said "'My people, does the kingdom of Egypt not belong to me? Do not all these rivers flow under my control? Do you not then see?" (Qur'an, 43: 51)

Nonetheless, instead of "taking heed," the unbelieving people regarded these disasters as a misfortune brought upon them by Musa and the children of Israel. They were convinced of such a delusion because of their conviction to superstitions and the religion of their ancestors. They suffered a great deal, but what was to befall them was not limited to these initial disasters. These were but the beginning. God inflicted upon them a series of calamities. They are described in the Qur'an as follows:

So We sent down on them floods, locusts, lice, frogs and blood, Signs, clear and distinct, but they proved arrogant and were an evildoing people. (Qur'an, 7: 133)

Despite all such disasters, they continued in their denial. Even when they had grasped that these disasters were a result of their denial, they persisted in their denial. Pharaoh and his companions sought to deceive Musa, and in consequence, God. When these terrible disasters came upon them, one after another, they called Musa and implored him to save them from them:

Whenever the plague came down on them they said, "Musa, pray to your Lord for us by the contract He has with you. If you remove the plague from us, we will definitely believe in you and send the tribe of Israel away with you." But when We removed the plague from them-for a fixed term which they fulfilled-they broke their word. (Qur'an, 7: 134-135)

We should note that the behaviour of the disbelievers were very similar to that of Satan. Satan refused to obey God despite acknowledging His existence. In like manner, the people of Pharaoh rejected submitting to God and His messenger, despite their acknowledgement of the fact that these disasters came from God, who they dared to refer to the "Lord of Musa." Ultimately, they acknowledged the existence of God, but nevertheless rejected submitting to Him due to their arrogance and blind adherence to the religion of their ancestors.

For a long time, Musa warned his tribe and communicated to them the religion of God. Furthermore, he effected a series of miracles as signs from God. God sent down many disasters to these people, so that they might turn to Him: however, none of the idolaters abandoned their polytheistic religion or turned to their real Lord, their Creator. In the Qur'an, God informs us that despite all of Musa's efforts, Pharaoh resisted him:

In Musa, too, there was a sign. We sent him to Pharaoh with clear authority. But he turned away with his forces... (Qur'an, 51: 38-39)

Rebuffed by this firm refusal, Musa prayed to his Lord to inflict torment upon this rebellious nation:

Musa said, "Our Lord, You have given Pharaoh and his ruling circle finery and wealth in the life of the world, Our Lord, so that they may be misguided from Your Way. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they do not have faith until they see the painful punishment."

He (God) said, "Your request is answered, so go straight and do not follow the way of those who have no knowledge." (Qur'an, 10: 88-89)

God answered the prayer of Musa. Pharaoh and his people, who did not accept the path of righteousness despite all warnings, met a "painful punishment." Their end was representative of their attitude, having been buried with all their possessions.

Do they not see that they are tried once or twice in every year? But still they do not turn back. They do not pay heed. (Qur'an, 9: 126)

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