The Close: Blessings & Curses

In our last post we saw the standards Allah gave so we could recognize true prophets – that they foretell the future as part of their message.  The Prophet Musa (PBUH) himself applied this rule – making predictions about the future of the Israelites – ones that had to come true if his message was from Allah. These predictions were coming Curses and Blessings on the Israelites. You can read the complete Blessings and Curses here. The main points are below.

The Blessings of Musa

The Prophet Musa (PBUH) starts out by describing the wonderful blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Commands. These blessings would be in the sight of the other nations so that they would recognize His blessing. As it is written

Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)

However, if they failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that were the opposite of the Blessings. The Curses would match and mirror the Blessings. These curses would also be seen by the surrounding nations

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples here the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)

And the Curses would be for the Israelites themselves

They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)

And Allah warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from others.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)

And it would go from bad to worse

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)

These Blessings and Curses were established by a covenant (an agreement)

…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)

In other words this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners

Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)

Did The Blessings and Curses of Musa come to pass?

The Blessings promised were wonderful, but the Curses threatened were severe. However, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did these things happen?’ In answering this we will see whether Musa (PBUH) was a true prophet and we will gain guidance for our lives today.

The answer is within our grasp. Much of the Old Testament of al Kitab is the record of the history of the Israelites and from that we can see what happens. Also we have records outside the Old Testament, from Jewish historians like Josephus, Graeco-Roman historians like Tacitus and we have found many archeological monuments. All of these sources agree and paint a consistent picture of the history of the Israelites. This is another Sign for us. Here is an overview of the history of the Israelites pictured with Timelines to help us see better what happened in their history.

What do we see from this history? Yes indeed the Curses of Musa, terrible as they were DID come to pass – and exactly like he wrote down those thousands of years ago – before it all happened (Remember these predictions were not written down after they happened but before).

But the Curse of Musa did not end there. It continued. Here is how Musa (PBUH) concluded these curses.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

An obvious question to ask (again) is: Did that happen? Click here to see the continuation of their history.

The Close of Taurat – The Zabur anticipated

With these Blessings and Curses, the Taurat is concluded. The Prophet Musa (PBUH) dies shortly after it is completed. Then the Israelites, under the successor to Musa – Joshua – enter the Land. As explained in the History of the Israelites, they lived there without a King and with no capital city until the great King Dawood or Dawud (or David) rose to power. He started a new section of the Old Testament which the Qur’an affirms as the Zabur. We need to understand the Zabur because it continues the Signs started in the Taurat – that will help us understand the Injil. Next we see how the Qur’an and Isa al Masih speak of Dawood (PBUH) and the Zabur.

Taurat’s Sign of the Prophet

The Prophets Musa (PBUH) and Harun (PBUH) have led the Israelites for 40 years. They have written the Commands and instituted the sacrifices, and many Signs in the Taurat.  Soon it is time for these two prophets to die.   Let us review the patterns from the Taurat before we consider the close of Taurat.

Reviewing patterns in Taurat

So what is the pattern of the Signs in the Taurat?

Sacrifice in Taurat

Notice the importance and how frequent sacrifices are given.  Think about the following we looked at:

These sacrifices were all done with clean animals – either sheep, goat or bull.  They were all male except the heifer.

These sacrifices atoned for the people who offered the sacrifice.  This means that they were a covering so that the guilt and shame of the person giving the sacrifice was covered.  This started with Adam who received the Mercy of Allah in the form of skins.  These skins required the death of an animal  while covering his nakedness.  An important question to ask is:  Why are sacrifices no longer given or offered?  We will see the answer later.

Righteousness in Taurat

The word ‘righteousness’ constantly re-appeared.  We saw it first with Adam when Allah told him that the ‘raiment of righteousness was the best’.  We saw that Ibrahim was ‘credited’ righteousness when he chose to believe the promise of a coming son.  The Israelites could get righteousness if they could keep the Commandments – but they had to keep them fully – all the time.

Judgment in Taurat

We also saw that failing to keep the commands resulted in Judgment from Allah.  This started with Adam, who only had to disobey once to receive judgment.  Judgment always resulted in death.  Death was either on the person being judged or on the animal sacrificed.  Think about the following:

  • With Adam, the animal sacrificed for skins died.
  • With Abel – the animal of his accepted sacrifice died.
  • With Noah people died in the flood and even Noah, after the flood, by offering a sacrifice, had an animal die.
  • With Lut, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah died in Judgment – as well as his wife.
  • With the sacrifice of Ibrahim’s son the son would have died but the ram died instead.
  • With Passover either the firstborn son (for Pharoah and the other unbelievers) died or the lamb whose blood was painted on the doors died.
  • With the Commandments of the Law, either the guilty person died or the one goat died on the Day of Atonement.

What does this mean?  We will see as we continue.  But now Musa and Harun (PBUT) are going to finish the Taurat.  But they do so with two important messages directly from Allah, both of which looked to the future and are important for us today – the coming Prophet and the coming Curses & Blessings.  We look at the Prophet here.

The Coming Prophet

When Allah gave the Tablets at Mount Sinai He did so with a terrible display of power. The Taurat describes the scene just before the Tablets were given

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. … Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. (Exodus 19:16-18)

The people were filled with fear. The Taurat describes them this way

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)

This had happened at the beginning of Musa’s (PBUH) 40 years of leading the community. At the end, Allah spoke to the prophet Musa (PBUH) about that past situation, reminding the people of their past fear, and making a promise for the future. Musa (PBUH) records in the Taurat:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb (i.e. Sinai) on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)

Allah wanted the people to have a healthy respect so when he spoke the Commands on Tablets He did so in a way that caused great fear among the people. But now He looks to the future and promises that a time will come when a prophet like Musa (PBUH) from among the Israelites will be raised up. Then two guidelines are given:

  1. Allah himself will hold people responsible if they do not pay attention to the coming Prophet
  2. The way to decide whether Allah has spoken through a prophet is that the message should be able to predict the future and it must come true.

The first guideline did not mean that there will be only one more prophet after Musa (PBUH), but that there will be one coming who in particular we must listen to because he was to have a unique role with his message – they would be ‘My Words’. Since only Allah Himself knows the future – certainly no man does – the second guideline was a way for the people to know if a message actually came from Allah or not.  We see next how Musa (PBUH) used this second guidance to foresee the future of the Israelites in the Blessings and Curses of the Israelites – which closes the Taurat.

But what about this ‘coming Prophet’?  Who was he?  Some scholars have suggested that this is referring to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  But notice that the prophecy states that this prophet would be “from among their fellow Israelites” – thus a Jew.  So it cannot be referring to him.  Other scholars have wondered if this could be referring to the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH).  He was a Jew and he also taught with great authority – as if Allah’s words were ‘in his mouth’.   The coming of Isa al Masih PBUH was foreseen in the sacrifice of Ibrahim, in the Passover, and also in this prophecy of ‘the prophet’ with the words of God in his mouth.

Sign of Harun: 1 Cow, 2 Goats

We saw in Musa Sign 2 that the Commands given on Mount Sinai were very exacting. At the end of that article I invited you to ask yourself (because this is the intent of the Law) if you always keep the Commands or not. If you do not always keep the Law you, as am I, are in serious trouble – Judgment hangs. This is no worry if you always keep the Law, but if you fail to do so what can be done? It was Harun (also called Aaron, brother of Musa), and his descendants who addressed this by administering sacrifices – and these sacrifices atoned, or covered, sins. Harun had two especially important sacrifices that were Signs to understand how Allah would cover over sins committed in the breaking of the Law. These were the sacrifices of the Cow and the Two Goats. Surah Baqarah is named from Harun’s sacrifice of the Cow.  But let’s start with the Goats.

The Scapegoat and the Day of Atonement

From Musa Sign 1 the Passover was (and still is!) celebrated by Jewish people in memory of their deliverance from Pharaoh. But the Taurat commanded other festivals as well. A particularly important one was called the Day of Atonement. Click here to read the full account in the Taurat.

Why were such careful and detailed instructions given for the Day of Atonement? We see how they begin:

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. (Leviticus 16:1-2)

What had happened before was that two sons of Harun had died when they rashly entered the Tent where the Presence of the LORD was. But In His Holy presence, their failure to fully keep the Law (as we saw here) resulted in their deaths. Why? In the Tent was the Ark of the Covenant. The Qur’an also mentions this Ark of the Covenant. It says

And (further) their Prophet said to them: “A Sign of his authority is that there shall come to you the Ark of the covenant, with (an assurance) therein of security from your Lord, and the relics left by the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, carried by angels. In this is a symbol for you if ye indeed have faith.” Surah 2:248 (The Cow)

As it says, this ‘Ark of the Covenant’ was a Sign of authority because the Ark was the symbol of the covenant of the Law of Musa. The Stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments were kept in this Ark. And anyone who failed to keep all the Law – in the presence of this Ark – would die. The first two sons of Harun died when they had entered the Tent. So careful instructions were given, which included the command that there was only one day in the whole year that Harun could enter the Tent – this Day of Atonement. If he entered any other day he too would die. But even on this one day, before Harun could enter the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, he had to

Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household… and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. (Leviticus 16:6,13)

So a bull was sacrificed to cover, or atone, for Harun’s own sins that he committed against the Law. And then immediately after, Harun performed the remarkable ceremony of the scapegoat.

Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering.(Leviticus 16:7-9)

Once the bull was sacrificed for his own sins, Harun would take two goats and cast lots. One goat would be designated as the scapegoat. The other goat was to be sacrificed as a sin offering. Why?

“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people … In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. (Leviticus 16:15-16)

And what happened to the scapegoat?

Aaron … shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness … The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place… (Leviticus 16:20-22)

The sacrifice and death of the bull was for Harun’s own sin. The sacrifice of the first goat was for the sin of the Israelite people. Harun would then place his hands on the head of the living scapegoat and – as a sign – transfer the sins of the people onto the scapegoat. The goat was then released into the wilderness as a sign that the sins of the people were now far removed from the people. With these sacrifices their sins were atoned for. This was all done every year on the Day of Atonement.

The Heifer, or Cow in Baqarah and Taurat

Harun also had other sacrifices to make including the sacrifice of the Heifer (a female cow instead of a male bull). It is this very heifer and its sacrifice which is the reason for the title The Cow for Surah 2. So the Qur’an speaks directly of this animal. Click here to read the account in Qur’an. As you could see, the people were startled and confused when it was commanded that a cow (ie a female) be used for this sacrifice and not the usual male animal. And it ends with

So We said: “Strike the (body) with a piece of the (heifer).” Thus God bringeth the dead to life and showeth you His Signs: Perchance ye may understand. (Surah 2:73 – The Cow)

So this is also considered one of the Signs which we need to pay attention to. But in what way is this Heifer a Sign? We read that it has to do with death and life. “Perchance we may understand” as we study the original instructions in the Taurat given to Harun about this sacrifice. Click here to see the full passage from the Taurat. We see that

the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. (Numbers 19:5-6)

Hyssop was a branch from a certain leafy tree. At the Passover when the Israelites were to paint the blood of the Passover lamb on their doors so death would pass over they were commanded to

Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the … doorframes (Exodus 12:22)

Hyssop was also used with the heifer, and the heifer, hyssop, wool and cedar were burned until there were only ashes left. Then

“A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. (Numbers 19:9)

So the ashes were mixed into ‘water of cleansing’. An unclean person would perform his ablutions (ritual washings or Wudhu) to restore cleanliness using this ash mixed in water. But the ashes were not for any uncleanness but for a particular kind.

“Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with the water (mixed with the ashes of the heifer) on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the LORD’s tabernacle. (Numbers 19:11-13)

So these ashes, mixed with water, were for wudhu (i.e. ablutions) when someone was unclean from touching a dead body. But why would touching a dead body result in such a severe uncleanness? Think about it! Adam had been made mortal because of his disobedience, and all his children (you and me!) as well. Thus death is unclean because it is a consequence of sin – it is associated with the uncleanness of sin. Someone touching a dead body would then also become unclean. But these ashes were a Sign – that would wash away this uncleanness. The unclean person, dead in his ‘uncleanness’, would find ‘life’ in the cleansing from ablutions with the Hiefer ashes.

But why was a female animal used and not a male? No direct explanation is given but we can reason from the scriptures. Throughout the Taurat and the Zaboor (and all other scriptures) Allah reveals himself as a ‘He’ – in the male gender. And the Israelite nation is spoken collectively as a ‘she’ – in the female gender. As in marital man-woman relationships, Allah led and his followers responded. But the initiative was always with Allah. He initiated the command to Ibrahim to sacrifice his son; He initiated the given of the Commandments on Tablets; He initiated the judgement of Noah, etc.. It was never a human’s (prophet or otherwise) idea to begin with – his followers merely submitted to His leading.

The ashes of the Heifer were to meet a human need – that of uncleanness. Thus to be a proper Sign for a human need, the animal that was offered was female. This uncleanness points to the shame we feel when we sin, not the guilt that we have before Allah. When I sin, not only have I broken the Law and am guilty before the Judge, but I also feel shame and regret. How does Allah provide for our shame? First of all, Allah provided a covering of clothes for us. The first humans received clothes of skin to cover their nakedness and shame. And the Children of Adam ever since have always covered themselves with clothing – in fact it is so natural to do so that we rarely stop to ask ‘why?’. These ablutions with cleansing water was another way so we could feel ‘clean’ from the things that contaminate us. The goal of the Heifer was to cleanse us.

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22)

Conversely, the sacrifice of the male goats on the Day of Atonement was primarily for Allah so a male animal was used. With the Sign of the Ten Commandments, we noted that the penalty for disobedience was clearly and repeatedly specified as death (click here to check the passages). Allah was (and is!) Judge and as Judge demanded death. The death of the male bull first met Allah’s requirement that death be paid for Aaron’s sin. Then the death of the first male goat met Allah’s requirement that death pay for the sins of the Israelites. Then the sins of the Israelite community could symbolically be placed on the scapegoat by Harun, and as the scapegoat was released into the wilderness it was a sign that the sins of the community were released.

These sacrifices were celebrated by Harun and his descendants for over one thousand years. Throughout the history of the Israelites in the land given to them; when Dawood (or Dawud) became King and his sons also ruled; when the many prophets with messages warning against evil came; even through the life of Isa al Masih (PBUH) these sacrifices were performed to meet these needs.

So with these last Signs of Musa and Harun, the messages of the Taurat were coming to a close. Soon successor prophets would come and the Zabur would continue the messages from Allah. But first there was one final message in the Taurat. The prophet Musa (pbuh) was going to look into the future to the coming of a Prophet, as well as look to future blessings and curses on the descendants of Israel. These we look at in our last studies in the Taurat.