The Tribe Of Musa (As) Strays And Worships The Golden Calf

After Pharaoh and his soldiers were drowned in the sea, Musa set off with his tribe to a safer place. In the course of their journey, however, there occurred further evidence of the Israelites' poor faith and their inclination to transgression.

The people of Egypt practiced a polytheistic religion. They worshipped numerous idols. During their stay in Egypt, the children of Israel were also influenced by this religion. The children of Israel failed to occupy themselves with the remembrance of God, and thus, failed to follow the noble way of the monotheist religions they inherited from the Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaq (Isaac) and Ya'qub (Jacob), peace be upon them all. In time, they came under the influence of the Egyptian culture, embracing some of their perverted customs and ideas. Their encounter with an idolatrous tribe on their way brought to light this very tendency towards idolatry. Some of the Jews developed an unwholesome inclination towards the idolatrous practices of these people and asked Musa to give them an idol:

We conveyed the tribe of Israel across the sea and they came upon some people who were devoting themselves to some idols which they had. They said, "Musa, give us a god just as these people have gods." He said, "You are indeed an ignorant people. What these people are doing is destined for destruction. What they are doing is purposeless." (Qur'an, 7: 138-139)

This propensity towards idolatry was to surface again. Among the people of Musa, there were some who did not feel an adequate fear for God, and thus were prone to unbelief.

Musa and his tribe headed for Mount Sinai. As the Qur'an informs us, there, God was to "make a covenant" with Musa during his stay on the mountain for a period of forty days. Musa impatiently left his tribe behind and departed early. He left his tribe under the care of Harun, also a messenger of God, who was to rule the children of Israel during Musa's absence. Prior to his departure, he gave some advice to Harun:

We set aside thirty nights for Musa and then completed them with ten, so the appointed time of his Lord was forty nights in all. Musa said to his brother Harun, "Be my caliph among my people. Keep order and do not follow the way of the corrupters." (Qur'an, 7: 142)

Leaving his people behind, Musa reached the mountain of Horeb within the appointed time. There, God addressed him once again:

When Musa came to Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, "My Lord, show me Yourself so that I may look at You!" He (God) said, "You will not see Me, but look at the mountain. If it remains firm in its place, then you will see Me." But when His Lord manifested Himself to the mountain, He crushed it flat and Musa fell unconscious to the ground. When he regained consciousness he said, "Glory be to You! I apologise to You and I am the first of the believers!" He (God) said, "Musa, I have chosen you over all mankind for My Message and My Word. Take what I have given you and be among the thankful." We wrote everything for him on the Tablets as an admonition and making all things clear. "Seize hold of it vigorously and command your people to adopt the best in it. I will show you the home of the deviators!" (Qur'an, 7: 143-145)

Meanwhile, the disbelievers among the tribe of Musa took advantage of his leaving. Insolent to Harun, they made an idol in the shape of a calf, as in the Egyptian religion:

After he left, Musa's people adopted a calf made from their ornaments, a form which made a lowing sound. (Qur'an, 7: 148)

In the meantime, God asked Musa about his tribe and the reason that led him leave early:

"Why have you hurried on ahead of your people, Musa?" He said, "They are following in my tracks. I have hurried on ahead to you, My Lord, to gain Your good pleasure." (Qur'an, 20: 83-84)

Musa was unaware of the lapse committed by his people. God informed him of the transgression, and of the existence of a hypocrite among them by the name of Samaritan, and of how he shaped certain materials into an idol in the form of a calf:

He said, "We tried your people after you left and the Samaritan has misguided them." (Qur'an, 20: 85)

Then, taking the tablets, Musa returned to his people:

Musa returned to his people in anger and great sorrow. He said, "My people, did not your Lord make you a handsome promise? Did the fulfilment of the contract seem too long to you or did you want to unleash your Lord's anger upon yourselves, so you broke your promise to me?"

They said, "We did not break our promise to you of our own volition. But we were weighed down with the heavy loads of the people's jewellery and we threw them in, for that is what the Samaritan did."

Then he produced a calf for them, a physical form which made a lowing sound. So they said, "This is your god-and Musa's god as well, but he forgot." (Qur'an, 20: 86-88)

This story provides clear details about how the members of a community, who are diseased in their hearts, can be lured away from the remembrance of God by a hypocrite. To create chaos and disorder, hypocrites always seek certain opportune situations. During Musa's absence, conditions were ripe for the hypocrites to lead astray people who were already prone to transgression. Samaritan appeared at just such a time; he was aware of these people's weakness, of their proneness to idolatry. In any case, he knew that they had previously asked Musa to make them an idol. Aware of their propensity, he devised a method by which to ensure their going astray; he built a statue of a calf and, to justify his actions, he claimed the statue to be a former god of Musa, but which he later forgot.

Just as Musa had kept his faith firm, and guided his people to righteousness when confronted by Pharaoh and his soldiers at the shore of the sea, Samaritan led the same people into transgression. This is indicative of the beneficial impact a faithful person can have over a society, and the harm a hypocrite can bring to it.

In fact, Harun had warned his tribe and explained to them that they were swerving from the right path. Nevertheless, the people did not heed his admonition:

Harun had earlier said to them, "My people! It is just a trial for you. Your Lord is the All-Merciful, so follow me and obey my command!"

They said, "We will not stop devoting ourselves to it until Musa returns to us." (Qur'an, 20: 90-91)

The foregoing conveys clearly the fact that Musa's people followed him only because they accepted him as a leader. If their obedience to Musa had been founded on a profound faith, then the situation would be otherwise; they would have immediately followed Harun as well, seeing as he was also a messenger of God. However, not accepting him as their leader, they did not respond to his appeals. Worse still, they even attempted to kill him when he tried to prevent them from their misconduct:

He (Musa) said, "What prevented you following me, Harun, when you saw that they had gone astray? Did you too, then, disobey my command?"

He said, "Son of my mother! Do not seize me by the beard or by the hair. I was afraid that you would say, 'You have caused division in the tribe of Israel and taken no notice to anything I said.'" (Qur'an, 20: 92-93)

Harun said, "Son of my mother, The people oppressed me and almost killed me. Do not give my enemies cause to gloat over me. Do not include me with the wrongdoing people."

He (Musa) said, "My Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us into Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful." (Qur'an, 7: 150-151)

Upon Harun's reply, Musa released him and turned to Samaritan, the actual person responsible for the tribe's transgression. He questioned him about his wrongdoing. In an attempt to absolve himself, Samaritan explained that he had done what he did for a reason; he claimed to have noticed things others could not. He also added that his inner self had urged him to do what he did:

He (Musa) said, "What do you think you were doing, Samaritan?"

He said, "I saw what they did not see. So I gathered up a handful from the Messenger's footprints and threw it in. That is what my inner self urged me to do."

He (Moses) said, "Go! An outcast shall you be in this life, nor shall you escape your appointed doom. Look at your god to which you devoted so much time. We will burn it up and then scatter it as dust into the sea." (Qur'an, 20: 95-97)

Here, it should be mentioned that Samaritan committed such evil acts under the delusion that he was wiser and more farsighted than the others. This arrogance of his can be clearly discerned in his words "I saw what they did not see." These feelings of grandeur and pride caused Samaritan be easily misled by the negative tendencies of his soul and by Satan. Under these negative influences, he could not escape the temptation to "do something different," and of becoming a leader in order to lead the tribe astray.

On the contrary, a true believer never acts on the assumption that he is wiser or superior to others. He is aware of his imperfections, and seeks refuge in God from committing errors. Even if he notices things others fail to, he takes it as a blessing and a test from God, and behaves accordingly. If such were to be the case, he says only: "God made me see this; the wisdom belongs only to God."

In the case of Samaritan, however, what he noticed was but what led him to transgression and evil. In regards to these developments, Musa took two important measures against the evil Samaritan had committed. He first exiled Samaritan, the source of evil and transgression in the tribe. The second measure was to abolish the idol completely. The idol the tribe worshipped was to be burnt completely, and the ashes were to be cast into the sea, so that nobody would ever find them again.

Evidently, Musa was very sincere and piously devoted to the religion. Concerned about that which had led the people to disbelief, Musa took definitive and appropriate measures to eradicate it. This assertiveness is a common feature of all prophets and the faithful leaders who have followed their path.

After destroying all sources of mischief, Musa preached to his tribe, summoning them to repentance and obedience to God:

And when Musa said to his people, "My people, You wronged yourselves by adopting the Calf so turn towards your Maker and kill your own (guilty)selves. That is the best thing for you in your Maker's sight." And He turned towards you. He is the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful. (Qur'an, 2: 54 )

Musa's words had little impact on his people. Initially, the children of Israel heeded his warnings, repented and turned towards their Lord. However, this change was temporary. As will be explored in the following pages, the children of Israel took every opportunity to disobey Musa, abusing him psychologically and emotionally in every sense.

Perverse Conduct Of The Jewish Tribe

Initially, Musa directed his struggle against Pharaoh. Before Musa came, his people, the children of Israel, were languishing in slavery. It was for that reason when, as soon as Musa had devised the plan to flee, the entire tribe willingly followed him and left Egypt. However, this in no way implied sincere faith on their part. Among them were people who joined merely out of tribal loyalties. Most probably, the majority saw Musa as a political leader who offered the possibility of release from oppression. Therefore, rather than submitting themselves to the path of righteousness, many of them seized every opportunity to return to their idolatrous practices. Thus, they constantly defied Musa and resisted the true religion brought by him.

First, God commanded Musa to divide the children of Israel into twelve separate tribes:

We divided them up into twelve tribes-communities. We revealed to Musa, when his people asked him for water: "Strike the rock with your staff." Twelve fountains flowed out from it and all the people knew their drinking place. (Qur'an, 7: 160)

The majority of the children of Israel failed to develop a deep-seated faith in their hearts. They dared to ask Musa to show them God, even to the point of declaring insolently that they would not believe unless he complied with such a wish:

And when you said, "Musa, we will not believe in you until we see God with our own eyes." So the thunderbolt caught you while you were (all) looking on. (Qur'an, 2: 55)

Apparently, the traits of this nation were greed and ungratefulness. As sustenance for the children of Israel, at one point, God prepared food miraculously for them. This food, referred to as "manna and quails" in the Qur'an, failed to please the children of Israel, though it had been a favour from God:

And We shaded you with clouds and sent down manna and quails to you: "Eat of the good things We have provided for you." They did not wrong Us; rather it was themselves they were wronging. (Qur'an, 2: 57)

And when you said, "Musa, we will not put up with just one kind of food so ask your Lord to supply to us some of what the earth produces-its green vegetables, cucumbers, grains, lentils and onions," he said, "Do you want to replace what is better with what is inferior? Go back to Egypt, then you will have what you are asking for..." (Qur'an, 2: 61)

This was yet another clear sign of the great ingratitude of the children of Israel.

The Story of Cow

The people of Musa clearly at no point seem to have had a grasp of true faith. As pointed out earlier, they probably followed Musa, not because they wanted to earn the good pleasure of God, but because they saw him as a powerful and determined leader.

In an attempt to tailor the divine religion to their own desires and to their ancient religious practices, they made deliberate distortions to it. In total disregard for the simple and clear nature of the religion, they rendered it complicated and difficult to practice. They were inclined to worship idols rather than God, and altered the religion into a series of rituals.

Their tendency to needlessly complicate the religion is best explained in a story related in the Sura Baqara. In this story, God commands the children of Israel to sacrifice a cow. The command, conveyed by Musa to his tribe, is a very simple one. However, the children of Israel complicated this plain and easy command, and concerned themselves with all sorts of trivial details which were not required. In fact, they went so far as to tell the messenger of God: "Are you making a mockery of us?":

And when Musa said to his people, "God commands you to sacrifice a cow," they said, "What! Are you making a mockery of us?"

He said, "I seek refuge with God from being one of the ignorant!"

They said, "Ask your Lord to make it clear to us what it should be like."

He said, "He says it should be a cow, not old or virgin, but somewhere between the two. So do as you have been told."

They said, "Ask your Lord to make it clear to us what colour it should be."

He said, "He says it should be yellow, a rich yellow, a pleasure to all who look."

They said, "Ask your Lord to make it clear to us what it should be like. Cows are all much the same to us. Then, if God wills, we will be guided."

He said, "He says it should be a cow not trained to plough or irrigate the fields-completely sound, without a blemish on it."

They said, "Now you have brought the truth."

So they sacrificed it - but they almost did not do it. (Qur'an, 2: 67-71)

As related in the above account, the tribe of Musa constantly raised objections against the commands of God. Only when the command became almost non-practicable, due to the petty details they begged for, they relented. In fact, the command was quite plain: sacrifice a cow.

A scrutinizing look into Judaism today will reveal this same stubborn rationale among the Jews. The Talmud, the body of traditional Jewish teaching, includes perplexing details pertaining to daily life and prayers. For instance, from milking an animal, to the use of burning incense, one will find countless details seemingly irrelevant to religion. In Judaism, a person's meticulousness in observance of these details, in his daily life and prayers, is thought to be determinant of his piety. The true essence of piety, on the other hand, that is, faith in God and the day of Judgement, is wholly neglected. As such, Judaism has been changed into a body of rituals with no relevance to the fundamentals of faith, such as remembrance of God, mercy of God, and love for Him.

Rebellion of the Children of Israel Against the Command of God

Upon the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, God promised them a homeland in which to dwell. Much has been said about the objections raised against Musa during this journey in the previous pages. This tendency of theirs persisted until the time they arrived in the Promised Land:

Remember when Musa said to his people, "My people! Remember God's blessing to you when He appointed Prophets among you and appointed kings for you, and gave you what He had not given to anyone else in all the worlds! My people! Enter the Holy Land which God has ordained for you. Do not turn back in your tracks and so become transformed into losers."

They said, "There are tyrants in it, Musa. We will not enter it until they leave. If they leave it, then we will go in." (Qur'an, 5: 20-22)

God's help had always been with the children of Israel. God saved them from Pharaoh by parting the sea and then gave them a land. Furthermore, He promised a definite victory, provided they waged a war against the tyrannical tribe dwelling there. They should have put their trust in God and followed His messenger. Instead, they did not heed Musa's warnings and were fearful. Only two among the lot of them stated that they would put their trust in God and enter the land:

Two men among those who were afraid, but whom God had blessed, said, "Enter the gate against them! Once you have entered it, you will be victorious. Put your trust in God if you are believers." (Qur'an, 5: 23)

Despite such warnings, the children of Israel opposed the messenger of God, and addressed him disrespectfully:

They said, "We will never enter it, Musa, as long as they are there. So you and your Lord go and fight. We will stay sitting here." (Qur'an, 5: 24)

The insolence of the people of Musa became aggravated to such an extent that they began to actually ignore the words of their prophets and openly objected to them. Therefore, Musa pleaded his Lord and asked Him to save him and his brother Harun from this insolent people:

He (Musa) said, "My Lord, I have no control over anyone but myself and my brother, so make a clear distinction between us and this deviant people."

He (God) said, "The land will be forbidden to them for forty years during which they will wander aimlessly about the earth. Do not waste grief on this deviant people." (Qur'an, 5: 25-26)

As mentioned here, the children of Israel were prohibited from the Promised Land for forty years, due to their insolence towards God and His messenger.

For much of his life, Musa had tried to communicate God's message to them. He strove to save his tribe from the worship of idols and guide them to the true religion. His aim was merely to warn people and save them from the torment of Hell, a mission which he carried solely to earn the good pleasure of God. To this purpose, he had confronted Pharaoh and had attempted to rid his people's beliefs of superstition. Nevertheless, he became the object to the cruelties of Pharaoh, as well as his own people. However, he was a noble servant, who lived merely to attain the good pleasure of God, and his Lord saved him from all difficulties inflicted upon him.

There are lessons to be drawn from the ingratitude of the children of Israel, a people who did not follow in their prophets' footsteps, who turned their backs to the religion entrusted to them, and so perverse as to say, "you and your Lord go and fight." God has warned mankind against succumbing to the insolence of the children of Israel towards their prophet:

You who believe! Do not be like those who abused Musa. God absolved him of what they said and he was highly honoured with God. (Qur'an, 33: 69)

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