الآية رقم (249) - فَلَمَّا فَصَلَ طَالُوتُ بِالْجُنُودِ قَالَ إِنَّ اللّهَ مُبْتَلِيكُم بِنَهَرٍ فَمَن شَرِبَ مِنْهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مِنِّي إِلاَّ مَنِ اغْتَرَفَ غُرْفَةً بِيَدِهِ فَشَرِبُواْ مِنْهُ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِّنْهُمْ فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ مَعَهُ قَالُواْ لاَ طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنودِهِ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلاَقُو اللّهِ كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

(249) - (And when Saul went forth with the soldiers, he said, "Indeed, Allah will be testing you with a river. So whoever drinks from it is not of me, and whoever does not taste it is indeed of me, excepting one who takes [from it] in the hollow of his hand." But they drank from it, except a [very] few of them. Then when he had crossed it along with those who believed with him, they said, "There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers." But those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, "How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah. And Allah is with the patient.")

Each story has timing, plot, and characters. However, the Almighty has never stated who the prophet was or at which time it was. Still, the verses reveal some names to us; the first name is Saul who was given the kingship by Allah (swt) because the Children of Israel requested to have a king so that they would fight. This shows us that there used to be a prophet and a king taking care of the earthly issues at that time. On the other hand, the Holy Qur’an has not identified the time for the sake of the moral of the story. The Quranic story, on the other hand, does not focus on a certain person, and the purpose is that it informs the believers on the aspects Allah (swt) wants to highlight and not what humans are accustomed to highlight. Humans pay attention to the hero, characters, time, numbers, places … etc. whereas the Almighty ambiguates time, place, and characters -with the exception of few ones only when the story is not repeated. For example, when Allah (swt) mentions the Pharo, He never mentions if the Pharo was Thutmose, Ramesses I, or Ramesses II. It’s only that the Pharo is a king of Egypt. Likewise, He never mentions the number of the Companions of the Cave but has left people wondering about their number. This is because the goal is not the number, time, characters, nor place but the moral related to the belief. Anyway, Allah here had chosen Saul; increased him abundantly in knowledge and stature; and supported him with a sign –the chest in which the staff of Moses was placed.

( فَلَمَّا فَصَلَ طَالُوتُ بِالْجُنُودِ قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مُبْتَلِيكُم بِنَهَرٍ..) (And when Saul went forth with the soldiers, he said, “Indeed, Allah will be testing you with a river…): This means that the soldiers were arranged and moved forward. Same Arabic word of “went forth” is used in:

 {وَلَمَّا فَصَلَتِ الْعِيرُ قَالَ أَبُوهُمْ إِنِّي لَأَجِدُ رِيحَ يُوسُفَ ۖ لَوْلَا أَن تُفَنِّدُونِ }

(And when the caravan departed [from Egypt], their father said, “Indeed, I find the smell of Joseph [and would say that he was alive] if you did not think me weakened in mind.”)  (Yusuf: 94)

It means at the time when it left its position and was out sight. Then, what did Saul tell the soldiers when they were arranged?:

( إِنَّ اللَّهَ مُبْتَلِيكُم بِنَهَرٍ..) (“Indeed, Allah will be testing you with a river…): Is it that Allah (swt) wanted to test the soldiers with a river? In fact, he wanted to test the few soldiers who would fight with him against the polytheists; he wanted to test the soldiers under him; they were thirsty passing through a desert with no water, and there was a river a head of them. Such test an exercise of faith which is the most important one because the divine support comes only to the ones who deserve it and who are ready in terms of their firm faith. So, how would such test be? They would be tested by a river ahead of you.

( فَمَن شَرِبَ مِنْهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مِنِّي إِلَّا مَنِ اغْتَرَفَ غُرْفَةً بِيَدِهِ ۚ ..  )

(... So whoever drinks from it is not of me, and whoever does not taste it is indeed of me, excepting one who takes [from it] in the hollow of his hand…): They were very thirsty, and he wanted to test their patience. On the other hand, patience is the key and the major weapon for claiming victory. How do we know that? Let’s just recall the verses on the Battle of Badr:

 وَلَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ بِبَدْرٍ وَأَنتُمْ أَذِلَّةٌ ۖ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ % إِذْ تَقُولُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَلَن يَكْفِيَكُمْ أَن يُمِدَّكُمْ رَبُّكُم بِثَلَاثَةِ آلَافٍ مِّنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُنزَلِينَ % بَلَىٰ ۚ إِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا وَيَأْتُوكُم مِّن فَوْرِهِمْ هَٰذَا يُمْدِدْكُمْ رَبُّكُم بِخَمْسَةِ آلَافٍ مِّنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُسَوِّمِينَ

(And already had Allah given you victory at [the battle of] Badr while you were few in number. Then fear Allah; perhaps you will be grateful. % [Remember] when you said to the believers, “Is it not sufficient for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down? % Yes, if you remain patient and conscious of Allah and the enemy come upon you [attacking] in rage, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand angels having marks [of distinction].)  (Ali-Imran: 123-125)

Then, the condition for getting the support of the angles is patience at the first place. It is the major weapon for victory:

“And know that victory comes with patience[1].”

So, he wanted to test the most important tool of faith: patience.

( فَمَن شَرِبَ مِنْهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مِنِّي  ..  ) (... So whoever drinks from it is not of me, and whoever does not taste it is indeed of me,…): Whoever fails the test would not be of Saul’s soldiers.

( إِلَّا مَنِ اغْتَرَفَ غُرْفَةً بِيَدِهِ ۚ ..  ) (...excepting one who takes [from it] in the hollow of his hand…): ‘excepting’ is an article of exclusion which means except for the ones who would drink a handful of water, which could not quench the thirst but only waters the mouth. Notice how the Holy Qur’an has depicted the picture in a very detailed manner.

( وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ..  ) (...and whoever does not taste it…): Allah (swt) did not say ‘whoever drinks from it’ because He (swt) did not allow drinking but only tasting it. What happened then?

( فَشَرِبُوا مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنْهُمْ..  ) (...But they drank from it, except a [very] few of them…): They did not care and failed the test when they passed by the river and drank from it. They claimed to be the believers who requested to have a king to fight in the way of Allah (swt); then, Allah (swt) sent them a king whom He had increased him abundantly in knowledge and stature; and that king came up with the first exercise meant for moral preparation of the soldiers i.e. patience. Yet, they failed the test. This is the nature of the Children of Israel. They, except for a very few of them, failed the test not by tasting the water or taking it in the hollow of their hands but by drinking from it.

( فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ  ) (...Then when he had crossed it along with those who believed with him…): The test was over, and Saul crossed the river along with the believers who remained with him since they had not drunk from the river.

( قَالُوا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ ۚ  ) (...they said, “There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers.”…): The ones who believed, had not drunk from the river and remained with Saul were in sight of the enemy led by Goliath, as the text reads, said that they had no power when they saw the big number and power of the soldiers of Goliath. They thought they had no power and that victory was not possible. So, some of the ones who had passed the test of the river failed the immediate test at the beginning of the battle.

( قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّهِ كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۗ..  ) (...But those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, “How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah…): Here we have a group that was really prepared in terms of faith. If we recall the previous verse:

 {أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ خَرَجُوا مِن دِيَارِهِمْ وَهُمْ أُلُوفٌ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ فَقَالَ لَهُمُ اللَّهُ مُوتُوا ثُمَّ أَحْيَاهُمْ }

(ave you not considered those who left their homes in many thousands, fearing death? Allah said to them, “Die”; then He restored them to life.)  (Al-Baqara: 243)

The lesson related to fate was that  death is in the hands of the One who grants life and death, Allah (swt). Furthermore, humans shouldn’t fear death, and Allah (swt) loves to meet the ones who love to meet Him. Thus, here comes the actual part related to faith; those who were certain that they would meet Allah (swt). Do they think of or are they sure about meeting Allah (swt)? By way of interpreting: (who were certain that they would meet Allah0 there are two arguments. In the first one the interpreters said that you become a believer, patient and strong once you think that you would meet Allah (swt). However, the second argument states that the ones who think that will meet Allah (swt) are certain about it. So, here they are certain.

( كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۗ..  ) (...”How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah…): The balance of number and armament can never equal the divine and fiducial one. This how to weigh it here, so, they said that. The large company in terms of number and armament is that of Goliath and his soldiers who are more and stronger. Anyhow, the wrong is always more indicative and the right is less, and in case of a struggle between them, the right is victorious:

 {وَقُلْ جَاءَ الْحَقُّ وَزَهَقَ الْبَاطِلُ ۚ إِنَّ الْبَاطِلَ كَانَ زَهُوقًا }

(And say, “Truth has come, and falsehood has departed. Indeed is falsehood, [by nature], ever bound to depart.”)  (Al-Israa: 81)

Yet, when the struggle is between the wrong and the wrong victory is due to the number and the power of the arms; the strength of faith and the divine delicacy has nothing to do in this case. Divine delicacy is there only when the struggle is between the right and the wrong.

( وَاللَّهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ ) (….And Allah is with the patient.): You are under Allah’s (swt) care when you are patient. So, you get Allah’s care when you are patient on the test:

 {وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ }

(And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,)  (Al-Baqara: 155)

[1] Almu’jam Alkabeer, Atabarani, Hadiths by Abdullah Bin Abbas,Hadith no. 11265.