Intro to Sura 68 – The Pen. God’s promises to Abraham, revisited.


Among other things, Sura 68 is a response to Muhammad’s sense / fear that his first revelation was from a Jinn (an evil spirit).  It confirms to him that he is not crazy or hallucinating.

This second Sura, in order of revelation, is quite long.   Other topics in Sura 68 will be covered in later posts.  But I think this one will be quite revealing for non-Muslims.

If you’re not a Muslim – I encourage you to read on, and probably notice some things you hadn’t considered before.

If you are a Muslim – I also encourage you to read on, and maybe see a different perspective towards you as a person – from a Christian.

If you’re neither one, it will still be a different take on an important world issue.  Nothing like what you’ll find in the news reports – where seemingly neither the Bible or the Qur’an are actually being read or understood. 

Already, this has been a fascinating journey for me.  Something I just need to share.

 Sura 68 – The Pen

Order of Revelation – 2
Traditional order in Qur’an – 68

Sura 68 addresses the following:

1. The sense from the Prophet that his first revelation was actually from an evil spirit. This appears to be confirming what his wife told him – that Muhammad was not crazy / hallucinating / etc.
2. Confirms that God can see what people are doing.
3. Compares the revelations to the Prophet to what others are told by their idols (gods).
4. Says that God can take care of Himself.
5. Tells Muhammad not to be like Jonah.

This is a lot of material, but let’s try to go through it.

1. Concerning the first revelation

After receiving the first revelation, Sura 96 (see articles in the left menu), Muhammad was concerned about what happened.

[68:2] You (O Muhammad) are not, by the Grace of your O Lord, a madman.

The following is from islamawareness.net – giving a short history of what happened during and after that first revelation –

Muhammad was now approaching his fortieth year, and his mind was ever-engaged in profound contemplation and reflection. Before him lay his country, bleeding and torn by fratricidal wars and intolerable dissension’s; his people, sunk in barbarism, addicted to the observation of rites and superstitions, were, with all their desert virtues, lawless and cruel. His two visits to Syria had opened to him a scene of unutterable moral and social desolation, rival creeds and sects tearing each other to pieces, carrying their hatred to the valleys and deserts of Hijaz, and rending the townships of Arabia with their quarrels and bitterness.

For years after his marriage, Muhammad had been accustomed to secluding himself in a cave in Mount Hira, a few miles from Mecca. To this cave he used to go for prayer and meditation, sometimes alone and sometime with his family. There, he often spent the whole nights in deep thought and profound communion with the Unseen yet All-Knowing Allah of the Universe. It was during one of those retirements and in the still hours of the night, when no human sympathy was near, that an angel came to him to tell him that he was the Messenger of Allah sent to reclaim a fallen people to the knowledge and service of their Lord.

Renowned compilers of authentic traditions of Islam agree on the following account of the first revelations received by the Prophet.

Muhammad would seclude himself in the cave of Mount Hira and worship three days and nights. He would, whenever he wished, return to his family at Mecca and then go back again, taking with him the necessities of life. Thus he continued to return to Khadijah from time to time until one day the revelation came down to him and the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) appeared to him and said: “Read!” But as Muhammad was illiterate, having never received any instruction in reading or writing, he said to the angel: “I am not a reader.” The angel took a hold of him and squeezed him as much as he could bear, and then said again: “Read!” Then Prophet said: “I am not a reader.” The Angel again seized the Prophet and squeezed him and said: “Read! In the Name of Your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), has created a man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught (the writing) by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.” (Ch 96:1-4 Quran).

Then the Prophet repeated the words with a trembling heart. He returned to Khadijah from Mount Hira and said: “Wrap me up! Wrap me up!” She wrapped him in a garment until his fear was dispelled. He told Khadijah what had occurred and that he was becoming either a soothsayer or one smitten with madness. She replied: “Allah forbid! He will surely not let such a thing happen, for you speak the truth, you are faithful in trust, you bear the afflictions of the people, you spend in good works what you gain in trade, you are hospitable and you assist your fellow men. Have you seen anything terrible?” Muhammad replied: “Yes,” and told her what he had seen. Whereupon, Khadijah said: “Rejoice, O dear husband and be cheerful. He is Whose hands stands Khadijah’s life bears witness to the truth of this fact, that you will be the prophet to this people.” Then she arose and went to her cousin Waraqa Ibn Naufal, who was old and blind and who knew the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians, and is stated to have translated them into Arabic. When she told him of what she had heard, he cried out: “Holy! Holy! Verily, this is the Namus (The Holy Spirit) who came to Moses. He will be the prophet of his people. Tell him this and bid him to be brave at heart.” When the two men met subsequently in the street, the blind old student of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures spoke of his faith and trust: “I swear by Him in Who hand Waraqa’s life is, Allah has chosen you to be the prophet of this people. They will call you a liar, they will persecute you, they will banish you, and they will fight against you. Oh, that I could live to those days. I would fight for these.” And he kissed him on the forehead.

The first vision was followed by a considerable period, during which Muhammad suffered much mental depression. The angel spoke to the grieved heart of hope and trust and of the bright future when he would see the people of the earth crowding into the one true faith. His destiny was unfolded to him, when, wrapped in profound meditation, melancholy and sad, he felt himself called by a voice from heaven to arise and preach. O you (Muhammad) enveloped (in garments)! Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allah) magnify! (Ch 74:1-3 Quran) He arose and engaged himself in the work to which he was called. Khadijah was the first to accept his mission. She was to believe in the revelations, to abandon the idolatry of her people and to join him in purity of heart and in offering up prayers to Allah the Almighty.

Unlike many (if not most?) of the sites I’ve seen –
I do not intend to dispute the validity of the events described above.

To what end would this be done?

If I was Muslim – and read some of what I’ve read out there –
I’d stop reading pretty quickly.

So – let’s assume that what’s presented above truly happened.
Where does that leave us?
What could it mean?

Let’s look at that first paragraph again –

Muhammad was now approaching his fortieth year, and his mind was ever-engaged in profound contemplation and reflection. Before him lay his country, bleeding and torn by fratricidal wars and intolerable dissension’s; his people, sunk in barbarism, addicted to the observation of rites and superstitions, were, with all their desert virtues, lawless and cruel. His two visits to Syria had opened to him a scene of unutterable moral and social desolation, rival creeds and sects tearing each other to pieces, carrying their hatred to the valleys and deserts of Hijaz, and rending the townships of Arabia with their quarrels and bitterness.

I read this and see a man that truly feels for his people.
He’s about to turn 40 – and doesn’t like what he sees.
Earlier in his life – spending time with his grandfather –
he would have been exposed to both Jewish and Christian people –
through the trading that his family was doing.

He would have seen the “People Of The Book” as they will soon be called in the Qur’an –
he would have seen the difference in their lives –
and
he would have wanted the same thing for his people –
this better life.

This is all good.

Continuing –

For years after his marriage, Muhammad had been accustomed to secluding himself in a cave in Mount Hira, a few miles from Mecca. To this cave he used to go for prayer and meditation, sometimes alone and sometime with his family.

Obviously –
this – the condition of his people –
is something of great importance to him –
he spent literally years praying about it.

Continuing –

There, he often spent the whole nights in deep thought and profound communion with the Unseen yet All-Knowing Allah of the Universe. It was during one of those retirements and in the still hours of the night, when no human sympathy was near, that an angel came to him to tell him that he was the Messenger of Allah sent to reclaim a fallen people to the knowledge and service of their Lord.

An angel tells him that he is to reclaim a fallen people to the knowledge and service of their Lord.

At this point – let’s take a brief side trip to see what happened earlier that might have required this reclamation from God.

Muslims trace their roots back to Ishmael. The key players involved in the story of Ismael are Abraham (known as Abram at that time), Hagar, and Sarah (known as Sarai at that time). Since their names were changed after the birth of Ismael, I’m going to stay with Abram and Sarai to keep things clear – since those are the names used in the Torah. Hagar is the maidservant of Sarai – an Egyptian woman.

The background leading up to what’s about to happen is that God has promised Abram that he will be the father of a great nation – will have offspring numbering like the stars in the sky.
But – Abram’s 86 years old and has no children!

This is where we pick up the story – from Genesis 16 –

Ge 16:1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

OK – it worked.
But – what happened next certainly isn’t what Sarai had planned –

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

Ge 16:6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

Doesn’t seem like Ismael’s getting off to a good start here.

Ge 16:7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Ge 16:9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

Ge 16:11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
“You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.

Ge 16:12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers. ”

Ge 16:13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi ; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

Ge 16:15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Well – there’s a good news / bad news situation.

God heard Hagar –
gave her the same promise that was given to Abram –
that her descendants would be too numerous to count –
and sent her back to Sarai –
with a description of Ismael’s future that would be anything but easy.

Continuing – we read in Genesis 17 –

Ge 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Ge 17:3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Ge 17:9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Ge 17:15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

It’s now 13 years later –
Abram is 99 years old.

God gives Abram and Sarai their new names –
Abraham and Sarah.

He also rewords His covenant with Abraham –
and tells Abraham that he will indeed still have a son by way of Sarah.

At this point –
it’s fair to say that God’s statement of what life would be like for Ismael –
(and his descendants) –
turned out to be quite true.
The hostility between Ismael’s descendants and those of Isaac (his brother) continue to this day.

Abraham has a hard time with what God has just told him –
and responds –

Ge 17:17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Ge 17:19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Ge 17:23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household , including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

Notice –
Abraham wants Ismael to live under God’s blessing –
apparently fearing that with the birth of Isaac (from Sarah) –
that God will abandon Ismael.

Notice God’s response –

For Isaac – 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.

What many seem to forget is what was promised for Ismael – 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.

Indeed – Ismael had 12 children – the twelve rulers –
and his descendants have been made into a great nation.

God did not abandon Ismael.

Years later – we read the following – in Genesis 21 –

Ge 21:8 The child (Isaac) grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Ge 21:11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

Ge 21:14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.

Ge 21:15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

Ge 21:17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Ge 21:19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

Ge 21:20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

So –
Sarah is upset – again –
Hagar gets sent away – again –
Abraham isn’t happy about the situation – again –
but God tells Abraham to do what Sarah said – again –
and promised Abraham that he will take care of Ismael – again.

We see that Ismael was about to die –
no water in the desert –
But an angel of God heard him crying –
and saved him –
repeating God’s promise to make him into a great nation.

Now –
God’s promise was to make a great nation from Ismael –
and also from Isaac –
but His covenant was with Isaac.

From Ismael we have Muslims.

From Isaac we have Jews.

After this – but before the time of Muhammad, Christianity also came on the scene, through Isaac.

So – the question is –
who are the fallen people who need to be reclaimed to God?

The answer –
all of them –
all of us.

All through the Old Testament –
we see how God’s chosen people –
the Hebrews / Israelites / Jewish people –
over and over again fall away from Him –
and then call out to Him for rescue and return –
only to repeat the cycle – again and again.

It’s no different for Christians or Jews.

While some people don’t even care about God –
even those of us who do care –
and want to follow Him –
we have trouble with it.

We all need to be reclaimed to Him.

So – if we assume that Muhammad wanted his people to follow the God of Ismael –
rather than the literally hundreds of gods that some of them believed in –
this is truly a fine goal.

If this is your reason for being Muslim –
to know the God of Ismael –
the one who protected him –
protected him before he was born –
protected him after he was born –
and made him into a great nation –
you are doing as God intended.

Remember –
this is the message from God –

Like Abram / Abraham –
his God made a promise about you.

like Hagar –
her God will hear you –
and will talk to you.

And like Ismael –
his God will hear you –
after all that’s what Ismael means – “God hears” –
and will take care of you – as He did Ismael.

God is faithful –
to those who truly search for Him.

I pray that you are looking for the One True God of Ismael –
that you call out to Him –
and know that He will respond.

 

Conclusion – Part 1

How much of this is new to you?  No matter what your beliefs may be – it’s just amazing how something written five thousand years ago, combined with something else written two thousand years ago, combined with still something else written fourteen hundred years ago is all coming together – today.  

 

Sura 68 will continue with part 2.

 This is part of a continuing series looking at The Qur’an and The Bible to see the relationship between Islam and Christianity.  
Click here to see a page listing the current posts, with a short description of each.
The plan is to at least start by going through the Qur’an, in the order in which each of the Sura’s was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

image from Wikipedia

 

 

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