This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here. You can also find the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.We finish our discussion of Moses with one of the more fanciful stories of Muhammad, and it involves Moses, his servant, and a fish. It must be stated from the very beginning that this story is completely lacking from both the Jewish and Christian scriptures.
"And when Moses said to his page [servant], 'I will not give up [stop] until I reach the meeting [confluence] of the two seas, though I go on for many years." (Koran 18:59)It is difficult to understand which seas Muhammad could be referring to. Rodwell interprets this as the meeting place of the sea of Greece and the sea of Persia, however, he acknowledges that no interpretation of this verse based on the meeting of two physical seas seems reasonable. (J.M. Rodwell, The Koran, footnote 18:15) What complicates the interpretation is that Moses was journeying with his servant. According to the Jewish record, Moses had only one servant and that was Joshua, and then only for the forty years the children of Israel were wondering in the wilderness. It is hard to understand where Moses was going, why he was going, and why he expected it to take so long. Especially since we see him and his servant arriving in the next verse.
"Then, when they reached their meeting [confluence], they forgot their fish, and it took its way into the sea, burrowing [at will]. When they had passed over, he said to his page [servant], 'Bring us our breakfast; indeed, we have encountered weariness from this our journey.' He said, 'What thinkest thou? When we took refuge [repaired to] in the rock, then I forgot the fish -- and it was [none but] Satan himself that made me forget it so that I should not remember it [mention it] -- and so it took its way into the sea in a manner marvellous [wondrous].' Said he, 'This is what we were seeking!'" (Koran 18:60-63)So apparently, the fish was to be their meal. Most likely it would have been smoked or preserved in some way to keep it on their long prolonged journey. Either way, the fish would have been dead. When they arrive at the meeting of the meeting of the two seas, they realize that they had left the fish behind in a cave, probably a cave they had spent the night in. When they realize that they had left it behind, the servant somehow comes to the knowledge that the fish had taken to the sea. How he knew that and how the fish made it from the cave to the sea is unknown to us. We are not told in the story and it is hard to imagine a literal interpretation of these events. What is even more confusing is that Moses immediately proclaims that this what they were seeking. Were they seeking the fish or the loosing of the fish" Rodwell suggests,
"The loss of our fish is a sign to us of our finding him whom we seek, namely, El-Kidr, or El-Khadir, the reputed vizier of Dhoulkarnain, and said to have drunk of the fountain of life, by virtue of which he still lives, and will live to the day of judgment. He is also said to appear, clad in green robes, to Muslims in distress, whence his name. Perhaps the name Khdir is formed from Jethro." (J.M. Rodwell, The Koran, footnote 18:16)However, if this is the case, then it is hard to understand why then they returned tracing their steps apparently looking for their fish.
"And so they returned upon their tracks, retracing them. Then they found one of Our servants unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and We had taught him knowledge proceeding from Us." (Koran 18:63-64)Upon finding this one to whom Allah had taught knowledge, Moses asks to proceed with him that he might teach Moses what he had been taught,
"Moses said to him, 'Shall I follow thee so that thou teachest me, of what thou hast been taught, right judgment [guidance].' Said he, 'Assuredly thou wilt not be able to bear with me patiently [have patience with me]. And how shouldst thou bear patiently that thou hast never encompassed [comprehendest] in thy knowledge?' He said, 'Yet thou shalt find me, if God will, patient; and I shall not rebel [disobey] against thee in anything.' Said he, 'Then if thou followest me, question me not on anything until I myself introduce the mention of it to thee [give thee an account thereof].'" (Koran 18:65-69)Moses and the man depart and they encounter three situations. In each situation, Moses is surprised and challenges his traveling partner with what he is doing, The man reminds Moses that he said Moses would not have patience with him and, in each case, Moses remembers and acknowledges his agreement with his traveling partner. At the conclusion of the journey, the man reveals to Moses what he must learn from each of the situations they encountered. For the sake of discussion, we will look at each situation and its lesson together.
"So they departed; until, when they embarked upon the ship, he [the unknown] made a hole in it. He said, 'What, hast thou made a hole in it so as to drown its passengers? Thou hast indeed done a grievous [strange] thing.'... As for the ship, it belonged to certain poor men, who toiled upon the sea; and I desired to damage it, for behind them there was a king who was seizing every ship by brutal force." (Koran 18:70, 78)
"So they departed; until, when they met a lad, he slew him. He [Moses] said, 'What, hast thou slain a soul innocent, and that not to retaliate for a soul slain [free from guilt of blood]? Thou hast indeed done a horrible [grievous] thing.' Said he, 'Did I not say that thou couldst never bear with me patiently?'.. As for the lad, his parents were believers; and we were afraid he would impose on [trouble] them insolence [error] and unbelief [infidelity]; so we desired that their Lord should give to them in exchange one better than he in purity [virtue], and nearer in tenderness [filial piety]." (Koran 18:73-74, 79-80)
So they departed; until, when they reached the people of a city, they asked the people for food, but they refused to receive them hospitably [for guests]. There they found a wall about to tumble down, and so he set it up. He [Moses] said, 'If thou hadst wished, thou couldst have taken a wage [obtained pay] for that.'... As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan lads in the city, and under it was a treasure belonging to them. Their father was a righteous man; and thy Lord desired that they should come of age [reach the age of strength] and then bring forth their treasure as a mercy from thy Lord. I did it not of my own bidding. This is the interpretation of that thou couldst not bear patiently.'" (Koran 18:76, 81)It is unclear who exactly was this traveling partner of 'Moses, the one who was to teach him the knowledge he had learned from God. There is no indication that he was an angel or a jinn, for these creatures, as far as we know, are not taught by God but know the truth because they see the truth and know knowledge because they are spiritual beings and stand in the presence of God. It is possible that this entire experience was a dream, although the Koran never represents it as a dream but as something that actually happened and it is told as if it was a real story. It is also possible that the traveler could have been a prophet, although throughout the entire story there is no indication that he received any message or revelation from God.
What is most troubling in this story is the detachment of God from His creation. In these stories it is not God who is working on behalf of men, but man himself. We see one who supposedly was wise, interfering in the live of men as he best understood their lives and best understood what was of preferable for their lives. No where in the story do we see the leading or prompting of God; no where do we see the hand of providence moving on behalf of mankind; no where do we see the agency of the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, strengthen, and bless. God is there somewhere, and He is represented in His knowledge, but He is detached from the needs and hopes of His people and relies on men of wisdom to understand and chart the best course for their lives and the lives they care of. In the end, we see the care of men, but not the care of God. How different from the message of Jesus who said, "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33) Or the words of David, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) The story of the scriptures is a story of a God who is intimately involved with thee lives of His children. It is God who is watching over us, guarding and providing for us with His providence, and leading us by His Spirit into His will. We are not left to the aid of men, we have strength with God. As David said of Him, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalms 46:1)
The second story deserves more discussion. The traveling man determined himself that error and unbelief was resident in the child. How could one make such a determination? How can man know what is in another man's heart? This knowledge belongs only to God. Furthermore, how did it come into this man's responsibility to execute judgment that belongs to God; to kill the child for what might happen and for whom the child might become? The story justifies itself in that, by slaying the evil child, the parents might have a better child and a child of greater piety. However, this story ignores the love of a parent and obscures the love of God who loves all His children, the good and the evil. It says that, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Not just some of the world, but God loved the whole world; every man, woman, and child. The Story also discounts the ability for lives to be altered and the fact that Jesus came to make all things new. In Christ we are not left to our natures as we were born with them but are free to change, free to be transformed into the very image of Christ. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) There is hope for all life. Even the most vile of persons can still find the cleansing and sanctifying grace of God to be transformed into a son or daughter of the Most High. There is always hope.
More to come...