The Quran

Commentaries for 17.4

Bani Israil (The Israelites) - الإسراء

17.4 Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And We decreed) in the Torah (for the Children of Israel in the Scripture: Ye verily will work corruption) you will indeed commit acts of disobedience (in the earth twice, and ye will become great tyrants) it is also said that this means: you will be mightily overpowered.
17.4 Asrar - Kashf Al-Asrar
And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Book: “You will surely work corruption in the earth twice and you will become high with great height.”
“We ruled and decreed, bringing the work out from the Unseen, so as to show the creatures that all of that was We, and all are We. In the Beginningless were We, in the Endless are We. Good and bad are by Our desire, profit and loss are by Our predetermination, the engendered beings and the newly arrived things are ruled over by Our prescribing and subjugated by Our determining. From the beginningless to the everlasting Our knowledge goes everywhere and We rule and command everything. The existence and nonexistence of you, who are creatures, are the same for the threshold of Our Majesty. We do not benefit from your existence nor are We harmed by your nonexistence. The perfection of Our exaltedness has no need for your obedience.”
17.4 Jalal - Al-Jalalayn
And We decreed, We revealed, to the Children of Israel in the Scripture, the Torah: ‘You shall indeed work corruption in the land, the land of Syria, through acts of disobedience, twice and you shall indeed become great tyrants’, you shall perpetrate grave injustice.
17.4 Kashani - Kashani
And We decreed to the Children of Israel, the faculties, in the Book of the Preserved Tablet, in other words, We judged therein: 'You shall indeed work corruption in the land twice: once at the station of the soul when it is commanding, at which point you will work corruption in seeking your passionate desires and your pleasures, and you shall indeed become great tyrants', by dominating the heart, overcoming it and becoming masters over it and preventing it from its perfection and putting its reflective faculty to the service of actualising your demands and your goals; and again at the station of the heart when you adorn yourselves with virtues and are illumined by the light of the heart and manifest yourselves in the bliss of your perfections, you will work corruption in manifesting yourselves through your perfections and in the veiling of the heart with your virtues from the presential vision of the self-disclosure of the Oneness. Luminous veils are more powerful than veils of darkness because of their delicateness and subtlety and because of their conceptualisation of perfections with which it is necessary to halt; and you shall indeed become great tyrants at the station of primordial nature by domineering through intellectual configurations and human perfections.
17.4-8 Kathir - Ibn Al Kathir
It was mentioned in the Tawrah that the Jews would spread Mischief twice
Allah tells us that He made a declaration to the Children of Israel in the Scripture, meaning that He had already told them in the Book which He revealed to them, that they would cause mischief on the earth twice, and would become tyrants and extremely arrogant, meaning they would become shameless oppressors of people, Allah says:
وَقَضَيْنَآ إِلَيْهِ ذَلِكَ الاٌّمْرَ أَنَّ دَابِرَ هَـؤُلآْءِ مَقْطُوعٌ مُّصْبِحِينَ
(And We made known this decree to him, that the root of those (sinners) was to be cut off in the early morning.)(15:66), meaning, We already told him about that and informed him of it.
The First Episode of Mischief caused by the Jews, and their Punishment for it
فَإِذَا جَآءَ وَعْدُ أُولَـهُمَا
(So, when the promise came for the first of the two) meaning the first of the two episodes of mischief.
بَعَثْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ عِبَادًا لَّنَآ أُوْلِى بَأْسٍ شَدِيدٍ
(We sent against you servants of Ours given to terrible warfare.) means, `We unleashed soldiers against you from among Our creatures who were given to terrible warfare,' i.e., they had great strength and weapons and power. They entered the very innermost parts of your homes, meaning they took possession of your land and invaded the very innermost parts of your homes, going between and through your houses, coming and going freely with no fear of anyone. This was the promise (completely) fulfilled. The earlier and later commentators differed over the identity of these invaders. Many Isra'iliyyat (reports from Jewish sources) were narrated about this, but I did not want to make this book too long by mentioning them, because some of them are fabricated, concocted by their heretics, and others may be true, but we have no need of them, praise be to Allah. What Allah has told us in His Book (the Qur'an) is sufficient and we have no need of what is in the other books that came before. Neither Allah nor His Messenger required us to refer to them. Allah told His Messenger that when (the Jews) committed transgression and aggression, Allah gave their enemies power over them to destroy their country and enter the innermost parts of their homes. Their humiliation and subjugation was a befitting punishment, and your Lord is never unfair or unjust to His servants. They had rebelled and killed many of the Prophets and scholars. Ibn Jarir recorded that Yahya bin Sa`id said: "I heard Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib saying: `Nebuchadnezzar conquered Ash-Sham (Greater Syria, including Palestine), destroying Jerusalem and killing them, then he came to Damascus and found blood boiling in a censer. He asked them: What is this blood They said: We found our forefathers doing this. Because of that blood, he killed seventy thousand of the believers and others, then the blood stopped boiling. This report is Sahih from Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib, and this event is well-known, as he (Nebuchadnezzar) killed their nobles and scholars, and did not leave alive anyone who knew the Tawrah by heart. He took many prisoners from the sons of the Prophets and others, and did many other things that would take too long to mention here. If we had found anything that was correct or close enough, we could have written it and reported it here. And Allah knows best. Then Allah says:
إِنْ أَحْسَنتُمْ أَحْسَنتُمْ لاًّنفُسِكُمْ وَإِنْ أَسَأْتُمْ فَلَهَا
((And We said): "If you do good, you do good for your own selves, and if you do evil (you do it) against yourselves.'') As Allah says elsewhere:
مَّنْ عَمِلَ صَـلِحاً فَلِنَفْسِهِ وَمَنْ أَسَآءَ فَعَلَيْهَا
(Whosoever does a righteous good deed, it is for (the benefit of) himself; and whosoever does evil, it is against himself.) 45:15
The Second Episode of Mischief
Then Allah says:
فَإِذَا جَآءَ وَعْدُ الاٌّخِرَةِ
(Then, when the second promise came to pass,) meaning, the second episode of mischief, when your enemies came again,
لِيَسُوءُواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ
((We permitted your enemies) to disgrace your faces) meaning, to humiliate you and subdue you,
وَلِيَدْخُلُواْ الْمَسْجِدَ
(and to enter the Masjid) meaning, Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem).
كَمَا دَخَلُوهُ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ
(as they had entered it before,) when they entered the very innermost parts of your homes.
(and to destroy) wrecking and inflicting ruin upon it.
مَا عَلَوْاْ
(all that fell in their hands.) everything they could get their hands on.
تَتْبِيرًاعَسَى رَبُّكُمْ أَن يَرْحَمَكُمْ
(with utter destruction. It may be that your Lord may show mercy unto you) meaning that He may rid you of them.
وَإِنْ عُدتُّمْ عُدْنَا
(but if you return (to sins), We shall return (to Our punishment).) meaning, if you return to causing mischief,
(We shall return) means, We `will once again punish you in this world, along with the punishment and torment We save for you in the Hereafter.'
وَجَعَلْنَا جَهَنَّمَ لِلْكَـفِرِينَ حَصِيرًا
(And We have made Hell a prison Hasir for the disbelievers.) meaning, a place of permanent detention, a prison which cannot be avoided or escaped. Ibn `Abbas said, "Hasir here means a jail.'' Mujahid said, "They will be detained in it.'' Others said like- wise. Al-Hasan said, "Hasir means a bed of Fire.'' Qatadah said: "The Children of Israel returned to aggres- sion, so Allah sent this group against them, Muhammad and his companions, who made them pay the Jizyah, with willing submission, and feeling themselves subdued.''
17.2-8 Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
As this verse has no apparent connection with the event of Mi'raj, it may appear to a cursory reader that either of the two verses has been misplaced here. But if we try to understand the matter in the context of the theme of the whole Surah, we can easily understand the connection between the two..The main object of this Surah is to give a warning to the disbelievers of Makkah. That is why the mention of Mi`raj has been made in the very first verse, as if to say, "The person whom you dub as an impostor and reject the Book sent down to him, has just now seen with his naked eyes great Signs of Allah. So you should learn a lesson from the history of the Israelites who discarded the Book of Allah and therefore, were given painful punishment."
The Arabic word "vakil" (guardian) denotes a person who is trustworthy and can be depended upon in regard to one's affairs and may be turned to for guidance and help.
That is, "You are the descendants of Noah and his companions;" therefore,you should behave in a manner as behooves such people. You should make Allah alone your Guardian, for your ancestors escaped death from the flood only because they had made Allah their Guardian."
The original Arabic word "Al-kitab"does not stand here for the Torah but for all the Divine Books.
Such warnings have been given in different Books of the Bible. As regards their first mischief and its evil consequences, the Israelites were warned in the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the warnings about their second mischief and its severe punishments are found in Matthew and Luke. Below are given extracts to confirm this statement of the Qur'an.
Prophet David was the first to warn the Israelites in his Psalms of their first mischief:
"They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the Lord commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters....Therefore, was the. wrath of the Lord kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance. And he gave them into the hand of the heathen;" Psalms: Chapter 106, vv. 34-38, 40; 41. The above events have been described in the past tense as if they had already actually happened. The Scriptures employ this mode of expression to emphasize the importance of the prophesies.
When this mischief actually carne to pass, Prophet lsaiah warned them of its ruinous consequences: "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that arc corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: everyone loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. Therefore, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel. Ah I will case me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers. Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore, the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn: and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground. Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: Therefore, this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall,.... And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters' vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a shred to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit." (lsaiah, Chapter 1:verses 4-5; 21-24,Chapter 2:verses 6,8; Chapter 3: verses 16-17, 25-26; Chapter 8: verse 7; Chapter 30: verses 9-10, 12-14.)
After this Prophet Jeremiah raised his voice when the flood of corruption swept away everything before it.
"Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity and are become vain?
And I brought you into a plentiful country to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy hands: and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest,,playing the harlot. As the thief is ashamed when he is found. so is the house of Israel ashamed: they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us. But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble; for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah. The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with sticks. Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgments that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it. How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbor's wife. Shall I not visit for these things? Saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the Lord: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understand what they say. Their quiver is an open sepulchre, they arc all mighty men. And they shall eat up thine harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should cat: they shall cat up thy flocks and thine herds; they shall eat up thy vines and thy fig trees: they shall impoverish thy fenced cities, wherein thou trustedst, with the sword. And the carcases of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of- the bridegroom and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate.
And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity. And I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the Lord: the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour and destroy." (Jeremiah, Chapter 2: verses 5-7, 20, 26-28; Chapter 3: verses 6-9; Chapter 5: verses 1,7-9 15-17; Chapter 7: verses 33, 34; Chapter 15: verses 2, 3.)
Then Prophet Ezekiel was raised to warn them in time. Addressing Jerusalem he said:
The city sheddeth blood in the midst of it, that her time may come, and maketh idols against herself to defile herself. Behold, the princes of Israel, every one were in thee to their power to shed blood. In thee they have set light by father and mother: in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in thee have they vexed the fatherless and the widow. Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my Sabbaths. In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their fathers' nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor's wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father's daughter. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion and hast forgotten me, can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? And I will scatter thee among the heathen, and disperse thee in the countries, and will consume thy filthiness out of thee. And thou shalt take thine inheritance in thyself in the sight of the heathen, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel, Chapter 22: verses 3, 6-12, 14-16.)
Besides the above mentioned warnings which were given to Israelites at the time of their first mischief, Prophet Jesus Christ warned them of the consequences of their second' great mischief. In a forceful address he criticized their morel degeneration like this:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gatherth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. " (Matthew, Chapter 23: verses 37, 38; Chapter 24: verse 2. )
Then, when the Roman officials were taking Prophet Jesus out for crucifixion, and a great company of people including women were following him bewailing and lamenting, he addressed them and gave his final warnings:
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say; Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. (Luke, Chapter 23: verses 2830. )
This refers to the terrible destruction that the Israelites suffered at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. One cannot fully appreciate the historical background of this merely from the extracts that have been reproduced above from the Books of the Prophets. A brief history of the Israelites is also needed so that a student may become acquainted with all the causes and circumstances on account of which Allah removed this nation, that professed to believe in a revealed Book, from the leadership of mankind and turned it into a humiliated, condemned and backward community.
When, after the death of Prophet Moses, the Israelites entered Palestine it was inhabited by the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzittes, Hivites, Jebusites, the Philistines, etc. These communities had adopted the worst kind of idolatry, their supreme deity being Ayl whom they regarded as the father of gods and who was usually represented by the bull-images. His consort was called Asherah from whom had descended a whole line of gods and goddesses, about 70 in number. The most powerful god among them was Baal who was regarded as the god of rain and growth and the lord of the earth and heavens. In the northern regions his consort was called Anathoth and in Palestine Ashtaroth. These two were the goddesses of love and procreation. Besides them, there was a god of death, a god of disease and famine, and a goddess of health, and thus all the worldly powers and agencies stood divided among a large number of deities. The people had ascribed such dirty and base qualities and acts to these deities that even a worst offender against morality would shun being known by them. Obviously the people who have adopted such mean deities for worship and devotion cannot remain secure from the worst kind of moral degeneration and the modern excavations have shown this conclusively.
Child sacrifice was a common thing among them. Their places of worship had turned into brothels, where women were kept as religious prostitutes and illicit relations with them were regarded as a part of worship and devotion.
The Israelites had clearly been told in the instructions given in the Torah that they should destroy those communities and wrest the land of Palestine from them, and that they should avoid mixing up with those people and ward off their moral and ideological weaknesses:
But when the Israelites entered Palestine they set this guidance aside. They not only did not establish a united kingdom of their own but fell a prey to tribal parochialism. Each of their tribes was content to take a part of the captured land and become a separate and independent state. This disunity among them did not leave any of the tribes strong enough to purge its territory completely of the idolaters, and therefore they had to allow them to live side by side with them in the same land. Not only this, but there had remained in the conquered territories a cumber of small city states of these idolatrous communities which the Israelites had nor been able to subjugate. It is this very thing which has been complained against in the extract of the Psalms reproduced above in the beginning of E.N. 6.
The first consequence of intermixing with those communities, was that the Israelites also became idolatrous, and gradually began to adopt other moral evils also. This has been complained about in the Book of Judges as below: "And the children of Israel did evil, in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth". (Judges, 2: 11-13.)
The second consequence suffered by the Israelites was that the communities whose city-states they had left unconquered and the Philistines whose land they had not at all touched set up a united front against them and drove them out of a major part of Palestine by incessant attacks, so much so that they deprived them of the Holy Ark of their Lord. At last, the Israelites felt the need of Establishing a united kingdom of their own under one ruler, and on their request Prophet Samuel appointed Saul as their king in 1020 B.C. (For details see vv. 246-48 and E.N.'s. 268-270 of AI-Baqarah.)
This united kingdom was ruled by three kings: Saul (1020 B.C. to 1004. B.C.), Prophet David (1004 to 965 B.C.) and Prophet Solomon (365 to 926 B.C.). These kings brought to completion the mission that had been left incomplete by the Israelites after the death of Prophet Moses. They annexed all the territories except the Phoenician state on the northern and the Philistine state on the southern coast, which, of course, became tributaries.
After the death of Prophet Solomon the Israelites again adopted the ways of the world and fought among themselves and split into two independent kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel in the northern Palestine and Jordan with Samaria,as its capital, and the kingdom of Judah in the southern Palestine and Edom with Jerusalem as its capital. These kingdoms were strife-ridden from the very. beginning and this state of affairs persisted till the end.
The rulers and people of the kingdom of Israel were the first to be affected grievously by the ideological and moral weaknesses of the neighboring communities. Specially after the marriage of its ruler, Ahab, with the idolatrous princess Jezebel of Zidon, idolatry and other evils began to spread unchecked among the Israelites under the official patronage. Prophets Elias and Elisha tried their very best to check this deluge but the Israelites who were rapidly degenerating, did not heed their warning. At last the wrath of Allah overtook the kingdom of Israel in the shape of the Assyrians who started subjecting Palestine to incessant attacks from 900 B.C. downward. During this period, Prophet Amos (787-747 B.C.) and them Prophet Hosea(747-735 B.C.) rose and warned the Israelites again and again but the wretched, depraved people did not heed their warnings at all, and transgressed all limits. Prophet Amos was banished by the king of Israel from the realm of Samaria and warned not to preach his mission in the country Not very long after this the wrath of Allah burst upon the kingdom of Israel and its people. The Assyrian king Sargon took Samaria in 721 B.C.and put an end to this northern kingdom. Thousands of Israelites were put to the sword and 27 thousand of their leading men were driven out of their homeland and scattered in the eastern districts of the Assyrian empire and replaced by settlers from other parts of the empire. When the remaining Israelites intermixed with the settlers they also lost gradually their national and cultural identity.
The other kingdom of the Israelites, called the kingdom of Judah, which was set up in southern Palestine also began to adopt godless ways soon after the death of Prophet Solomon, though its moral degeneration took place at a slower pace than that of Israel. Therefore, it was allowed to exist for a longer period. Then, like the kingdom of Israel, it also began to be subjected to continual attacks, its cities ruined and its capital besieged, but this kingdom could not be wholly destroyed by the Assyrians; it only became a tributary. Afterwards, when in spite of the best reformatory efforts of Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah the people of Judah did not give up idol-worship and other moral evils, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked and captured the whole of Judah in 598 B.C. including Jerusalem and took the king of Judah as prisoner. Even then the Israelites did not mend their ways and paid no heed to the warnings and guidance of Prophet Jeremiah: Instead of reforming their ways, they started making plans to change their fate by revolting against Babylon. At last in 587 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar punished them heavily by invading Judah and destroyed all its important cities. He razed Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple to the ground and did not leave a wall of it standing in place. He drove a large part of the Israelite population out of their land and scattered them into the adjoining countries. The people who were left behind were cursed and subjected to all kinds of humiliations by the neighboring communities.
This was the first calamity that came as a warning to the Israelites and the first chastisement that they suffered as a result therof.
This refers to the lease of time that the Israelites (That is the people of Judah) got after their release from the captivity of Babylon. As for the people of Israel and Samaria, they did not rise again after their moral and spiritual degeneration. But among the people of Judah there still were some people who practiced the truth and invited others also to follow it. They carried on their work of invitation to the truth among the remaining Israelites in Judah and exhorted those also to repent and follow the truth who had been driven out into Babylon and other lands. At last the mercy of Allah came to their help. The downfall of Babylon started. The Persian king, Cyrus, took Babylon in 539 B.C. and in the following year issued a decree allowing the Israelites to return to and re-settle in their homeland. The Israelites began to return home in caravan after caravan, and ties continued for along time. Cyrus also allowed the Israelites to rebuild the Temple of Solomon but the neighboring communities who had settled in this land resisted it. At last Darfius I appointed Zerubbabel, a grandson of the last king of Judah, governor of Judah in 522 B.C. who got the Temple rebuilt under the care of Prophet Haggai, Prophet Zechariah and Joshua. In 458 B.C. Ezra arrived in Judah along with an exiled group and the Persian king Artaxerxes made the following decree.
"And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.
And whosoever will not do the law of thy God and the law of the king let judgment be executed speedily upon him whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. "(Ezra, 7:25-26).
Taking advantage of this decree, Ezra carried out the revival of the religion of Prophet Moses. He gathered together all the righteous and good people from the Israelites and set up a strong organization. He compiled and spread the Pentateuch which contained the Torah, made arrangements for the religious education of the Israelites, enforced the law and started purging the people of moral and ideological weaknesses which the had adopted by intermixing with the other communities. He compelled they Jews to divorce the idolatrous wives they had married, and took a covenant from them that they would worship God alone and follow His Law only.
In 455 B.C. an exiled group came back to Judah under Nehemiah whom the Persian king appointed as the ruler of Jerusalem and ordered him to build the wall round the city. Thus, after 150 years the Holy city was fully restored and became the center of Jewish religion and culture, But the Israelites of northern Palestine, and Samaria did not benefit by the work of revival done by Ezra. They built a rival sanctuary on Mount Gerizim, and tried to make it the religious center for the people of the Book. This caused a further, and perhaps the final, split Between the Jews and the Samaritans.
The Jews suffered a set-back for a while with the fall of the Persian Empire and the conquests of Alexander the Great and the rise of the Greeks. After the death of Alexander, his kingdom was subdivided into three empires. Syria tell to the lot of the Seleucide empire, with Antioch as its capital, whose ruler Antiochus III incorporated Palestine into his dominions in 198 B.C. These Greek conquerors who were idolatrous by precept and freelance morally felt greatly ill at ease with the Jewish religion and culture. So, they began to propagate the rival Greek way of life and culture by political and economic pressure, and were able to win over a strong section of the Israelites who became their helpers. This external interference caused a split in the Jewish nation. One group among them readily adopted the Greek dress, the Greek language, the Greek way of life and the Greek sports, while the other persistently stuck to their own culture and way of life.
In 175 B.C. when Antiochus IV (who was called Epiphanes, that is, the manifestation of God) came to the throne, he used all his power and authority to stamp out the Jewish religion and culture. He got idols installed in the Holy Temple at Jerusalem and forced the Jews to prostrate themselves before them. He strictly forbade the rite of offering the sacrifices at the altar, and commanded the Jews to offer sacrifices to idolatrous deities instead. He proposed death penalty for those who would keep the Torah in their houses, or observe the Sabbath or perform circumcision of their children. But the Jews did not yield to this coercion, and started a powerful resistance movement, known in history as the revolt of the Maccabees. Though in this struggle the sympathies of the Greece-oriented Jews were with the Greeks, and they fully cooperated with the despots of Antioch to crush the Maccabean revolt, the common Jews who still retained the religious fervor of the days of Ezra sided with the Maccabees, who were ultimately able to drive out the Greeks and establish a free religious state which remained in power till 67 B.C This state prospered and in time extended to all those territories which had once been under the control the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It was able to annex a part of the land of the Philistines which had remained unconquered even in the days of Prophets David and Solomon (Peace be upon them).
This is the historical background of the verse of the Qur'an under commentary.
The historical background of the second degeneration and its chastisement is as follows:
The moral and religious fervor with which the Maccabees had started their movement gradually cooled down and was replaced by love of the world and empty external form. A split appeared among them and they themselves invited the Roman General, Pompey, to come to Palestine. Pompey turned his attention to this land in 63 B.C. and, taking Jerusalem, put an end to the political freedom of the Jews. But the Roman conquerors preferred to rule their dominions through the agency of the local chiefs rather than by direct control. Therefore, a local government was set up in Palestine which eventually passed into the hand of Herod, a clever Jew, in 40 B.C. This ruler is well known as Herod the Great. He ruled over the whole of Palestine and Jordan from 40 to 4 B.C. On the one hand Herod patronized the religious leaders to please the Jews, and on the other, he propagated the Roman culture and won the goodwill of Caesar by showing his loyalty and faithfulness to the Roman Empire. During, his reign, the Jews degenerated and fell to the lowest ebb of moral and religious life.
On the death of Herod his kingdom was subdivided into three parts. His son, Archelaus, became the ruler of Samaria, Judea and northern Edom. In A.D. 6. however, Caesar Augustus deprived him of his authority and put the state under his Roman governor, and this arrangement continued up till A.D. 41. This was precisely the time when Prophet Jesus (Peace be upon him) appeared to reform the Israelites whose religious leaders opposed him tooth and nail and even tried to get him the death sentence by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
The second son of Herod, Herod Antipas, became the ruler of Galilee and Jordan in northern Palestine, and he was the person who got Prophet Yahya (John) (Peace be upon him) beheaded at the request and desire of a dancing girl.
Herod's third son, Philip, succeeded to the territories bounded on one side by river Yermuk and on the other by Mount Hermon. Philip had been much more deeply influenced by the Roman and Greek cultures than his father and brothers. Therefore the preaching of the truth could not have even so much effect in his land as it had in the other parts of Palestine.
In A.D. 41, the Romans appointed Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, ruler of the territories that had once been under Herod himself. Coming into power this man did whatever he could to persecute the followers of Prophet Jesus (Peace be upon him) and used all the forces at his disposal to crush the movement that was functioning under the guidance of the Disciples to inculcate fear of God in the people and reform their morals.
In order to have a correct estimate of the condition of the common Jews and their religious leaders, one should study the criticisms leveled by Prophet Jesus on them in his sermons contained in the four Gospels. Even a religious man like Prophet John was beheaded before their eyes and not a voice was raised in protest against this barbarity. Then all the religious leaders of the community unanimously demanded death sentence for Prophet Jesus, and none but a few righteous men were there to mourn this depravity. Above all, when Pontius Pilate asked these depraved people, ' which condemned prisoner he should release, according to the custom, at Passover, Jesus or Barabbas the robber', they all cried with one voice 'Barabbas'. This was indeed the last chance Allah gave to the Jews, and then their fate was sealed.
Not long after this, a serious conflict started between the Jews and the Romans, which developed into an open revolt by the former between A.D. 64 and 66. Both Herod Agrippa II and the Roman procurator Floris failed to put down the rebellion. At last, the Romans crushed it by a strong military action and in A.D. 70 Titus took Jerusalem by force. About 1,33,000 people were put to the sword, 67 thousand made slaves, and thousands sent to work in the Egyptian mines and to other cities so that they could be used in amphitheaters for being torn by wild beasts or become the "practice-target" for the sword fighters. All the tall and beautiful girls were picked out for the army of conquest and the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple were pulled down to the ground. After this the Jewish influence so disappeared from Palestine that the Jews could not regain power for two thousand years, and the Holy Temple could never be rebuilt.. Afterwards the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, restored Jerusalem but renamed it Aelia. The Jews, however, were not allowed to enter it for centuries. This was the calamity that the Jews suffered on account of their degeneration for the second time.
Though this admonition has been given as a parenthesis at the end of the address to the children of Israel, it does not mean that this and the address itself are solely meant for them. As a chatter of fact, the whole address is really directed towards the disbelievers of Makkah but, instead of addressing them directly, some important historical events from the history of the children of Israel have been cited in order to serve as admonition for them.