When the people (Jewish tribes) said to Moses, “Moses, we will not believe you until we see God face-to-face,” this unreasonable stance brought distress (in the form of natural disasters, such as an earthquake, storm, etc., [see Exod. 19:16–17]) to overtake them while they looked on. Then God raised you from your unconsciousness so that you might be thankful. And God made the clouds to give you shade and sent manna (divinely provided food) and quail. Eat of the good things God has given you. (But those who continued to disobey), they did not harm God, but they did harm themselves.
And when God said, “Enter the city, then eat its abundant (food) as you wish, and enter the gate submissively (to God, without causing atrocities) and ask for forgiveness (for prior sins). God will forgive your wrongful acts and increase your rewards for doing good,” those who were unjust changed the word (of God), which was spoken to them and turned into another word (with a different and opposite meaning); so, God sent a plague (punishment) from Heaven because they caused mischief.
The followers of Moses taunted him in many ways, and one way in particular was when they demanded of God that He come in front of them in a visible manner before they would believe in Him and Moses. In spite of such an unacceptable demand, arrogance, and defiance, God was full of mercy again and again. Today’s Muslims need to take lessons from these stories, as they have lost focus, downplayed their commitment to God and their communities, and suffered from the disgrace of poverty, ignorance, and a lack of proper governance, with the consequence of lacking respect from the global community. The arrogance of Muslims and the mismanagement of various social, business, and political activities in Muslim countries have reached epidemic proportions.
There are Muslim countries where public wealth (for example, oil revenue) is considered personal property by their kings and leaders. The wealth is misused for personal gain rather than for building infrastructure, educating the masses, securing public health, and building economic and productive capacities. In addition, the rule of law is nonexistent or constantly interfered with. What is referred to here are two potential scenarios. In the first, two words sound the same in a language but have very different (sometimes opposing) meanings, and people with bad intentions take advantage of such a situation by adopting the word that suits them better. In the second, one says one thing but does the opposite. Reflect, for example, on what has happened in Syria or Libya, where leadership said they wanted peace but simultaneously perpetrated the killing of their own people in public squares. Peace and atrocities can never be the same, but that is what was being propagated.
Again, as we reflect on our past we can easily see that Muslims acquired an abundance of knowledge and wealth throughout the land and managed to create and sustain a wonderful civilization based on faith in God, social and scientific knowledge, and equality of man. But as success and affluence diminished moral values and the notion of entitlement led to corruption, intellectual shallowness, and a desire to maintain affluence without working for it, later generations of Muslims abandoned the true nature of their responsibilities while Europeans opened up to the ideas of education, freedom, and open access to knowledge for the people.
These verses make an appeal to our sense of understanding and fairness that we acknowledge God’s blessings and mercy and serve him. This section also contrasts the rewards for belief and good deeds against the punishments for disbelief and ungratefulness.
God is forever closer to those who have faith and endeavor to do good deeds than to those who might only profess to believe in God and belong to a particular religion, even if they are Muslims. God’s dealings with mankind have always been consistent, as He said repeatedly in the Qur’an that none can change the nature of God’s creation, meaning that no one can change His ways of dealing with us—giving rewards for good deeds and punishments for bad deeds both at the individual level and at the collective level (30:30). Claims by followers of a particular religion that they are a chosen people are categorically refuted in the Qur’an, and Muslims should pay particular attention to this.