Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(This) which I mentioned of the story of Mary and Zachariah (is of the tidings of things hidden) of the things that were unknown to you, O Muhammad. (We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad)) He says: We send Gabriel with it to you. (Thou wast not present with them) with the Rabbis (when they threw their pens) in the flow of water ((to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary) to train her, (nor wast thou present with them when they quarrelled (thereupon)) each giving argument for his better claim to be Mary's guardian.
That, which has been mentioned of the matter of Zachariah and Mary, is of the tidings of the Unseen, of the news of what was unknown to you. We reveal it to you, O Muhammad (s), for you were not with them, when they were casting quills, in the water, drawing their lots so that it be manifested to them, which of them should have charge of, [which of them should] bring up, Mary; nor were you with them, when they were disputing, about the custodianship of Mary, such that you might have known it and related it; but truly you know it only through revelation.
That is of the tidings of the Unseen, that is, the states of the unseen aspects of your existence. We reveal it to you, O prophet of the spirit, for you were not with them, [you were not] with the spiritual and ego-centric faculties, that is, at their rank or station, when they were casting their quills, which of them should have charge of Mary: that is, [when] they were vying against one another with their arrows and hurrying with their shares, which of them should govern Mary the soul and take charge of it in accordance with his opinion and what his nature entails, to preside over it and command it to what he sees as beneficial to his affair; nor were you with them, at the station of the breasts, which is the locus for the conflict between the spiritual faculties and the ego-centric ones, the locus of the their conflict being the breast, when they were disputing, in conflict back and forth seeking to be in charge when this [possibility] became manifest, before [engaging in] spiritual discipline, when the angels of the spiritual faculties were victorious with the success granted by the Truth after spiritual discipline and said to Mary the soul:
Allah states that the angels spoke to Maryam by His command and told her that He chose her because of her service to Him, because of her modesty, honor, innocence, and conviction. Allah also chose her because of her virtue over the women of the world. At-Tirmidhi recorded that `Ali bin Abi Talib said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah say,
(Many men reached the level of perfection, but no woman reached such a level except Asiah, the wife of Fir`awn, and Maryam, the daughter of `Imran. The superiority of `A'ishah (his wife) to other women, is like the superiority of Tharid (meat and bread dish) to other meals.)
We mentioned the various chains of narration and wordings for this Hadith in the story of `Isa, son of Maryam, in our book, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, all the thanks are due to Allah.
Allah states that the angels commanded Maryam to increase acts of worship, humbleness, submission, prostration, bowing, and so forth, so that she would acquire what Allah had decreed for her, as a test for her. Yet, this test also earned her a higher grade in this life and the Hereafter, for Allah demonstrated His might by creating a son inside her without male intervention. Allah said,
(You were not with them, when they cast lots with their pens as to which of them should be charged with the care of Maryam; nor were you with them when they disputed.) meaning, "You were not present, O Muhammad, when this occurred, so you cannot narrate what happened to the people as an eye witness. Rather, Allah disclosed these facts to you as if you were a witness, when they conducted a lottery to choose the custodian of Maryam, seeking the reward of this good deed.''
Ibn Jarir recorded that `Ikrimah said, "Maryam's mother left with Maryam, carrying her in her infant cloth, and took her to the rabbis from the offspring of Aaron, the brother of Musa. They were responsible for taking care of Bayt Al-Maqdis (the Masjid) at that time, just as there were those who took care of the Ka`bah. Maryam's mother said to them, `Take this child whom I vowed to serve the Masjid, I have set her free, since she is my daughter, for no menstruating woman should enter the Masjid, and I shall not take her back home.' They said, `She is the daughter of our Imam,' as `Imran used to lead them in prayer, `who took care of our sacrificial rituals.' Zakariyya said, `Give her to me, for her maternal aunt is my wife.' They said, `Our hearts cannot bear that you take her, for she is the daughter of our Imam.' So they conducted a lottery with the pens with which they wrote the Tawrah, and Zakariyya won the lottery and took Maryam into his care.'''. `Ikrimah, As-Suddi, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, and several others said that the rabbis went into the Jordan river and conducted a lottery there, deciding to throw their pens into the river. The pen that remained afloat and idle would indicate that its owner would take care of Maryam. When they threw their pens into the river, the water took all the pens under, except Zakariyya's pen, which remained afloat in its place. Zakariyya was also their master, chief, scholar, Imam and Prophet, may Allah's peace and blessings be on him and the rest of the Prophets.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
As Mary was a girl who had been dedicated by her mother to the Temple in the way of Allah, the question of her guardianship had become a problem for the keepers because of her sex. They were therefore casting lots to decide the delicate problem.
That is of the tidings of the unseen. We reveal it to you for you were not with them when they were casting quills which of them should have charge of Mary; nor were you with them when they were disputing. That is “We have told you [Muḥammad] of these stories and have spoken with you about their meanings. Although We have related these stories to you Our speech is rare and precious-it is more valuable and more perfect than if you yourself had been a witness to [these events].”