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When ten out of the twelve chiefs let the secret out, it was only natural that the secret became public knowledge. Hit by the news of conditions prevailing in the enemy country, they were all upset. Wailing and protesting, they said: It would have been much better if we too had been drowned in the Nile like the people of the Pharaoh! Now those who saved us there have brought us here to be killed at the hands of those tyrants! It was under these conditions that the Bani Isra'il said the following words:
يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنَّ فِيهَا قَوْمًا جَبَّارِينَ وَإِنَّا لَن نَّدْخُلَهَا حَتَّىٰ يَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا
They said, "O Musa, there is a nation of tyrants over there and we shall never go in there until they get out of it. If they do get out of it, we are ready to go in."
It appears in the next verse (23) that two persons, God-fearing and blessed by Allah, hearing the remarks made by the Bani Isra'il, gave them some good counsel by saying: Why are you so scared of death much before it has come? Just take a few steps. The gate of the city of Baytul-Maqdis is not far. Take heart and make your move. Only this much of your action, we believe, will become the cause of your victory. Once you enter the gate of Baytul-Maqdis, you will overcome your enemy who would run in defeat. These two persons mentioned in this verse are, according to most commentators, the same two of the twelve chiefs who had faithfully acted upon the advice given by Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام and had abstained from telling the Bani Isra'il everything about the Amalkites - that is, Yusha' ibn Nun and Kalib ibn Yu'qina.
At this place, the Holy Qur'an has particularly mentioned two attributes of these two elders: (1): الَّذِينَ يَخَافُونَ, that is, 'those who fear.' Not said here is as to who it is that they fear. The hint thus given is that there is only one Being in this whole world who deserves to be feared, that is, Allah Jalla Sha'nuhu, because He is the Absolute Master of this entire universe. No one can, without His will and permission, bring the least benefit to anyone, nor cause any harm and when only one Being is deserving of being feared, and that is already determined, then, there remains no need to redetermine it.
The second attribute of these two elders pointed to by the Holy Qur'an is: (2): أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمَا that is, 'Allah had blessed them.' The hint given here is that whoever has any excellence in him anywhere, that is nothing but the blessing and favour of Allah Ta'ala otherwise, these twelve chiefs were all blessed with similar outward gifts of hands, feet, eyes and ears with reason and sense on the inside, along with the fortunate company of Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام. They had all the strengths on their side, yet they all slipped except these two who stood firm on their committment. This tells us that real guidance does not depend upon one's strength of inward and outward faculties or his effort or deed. Instead, it is a reward from Allah Ta'ala. However, to become deserving of this reward, effort and deed are, no doubt, a condition.
The standard rule of conduct we learn from here is that a person whom Allah Ta'ala has blessed with reason, intelligence and smartness should not wax proud over these personal strengths while conducting the business of his life.The best course for him is to seek good guidance in all matters of his life from Allah alone.
In short, these two elders advised their people that they should not feel nervous about the apparent power of the Amalkites. If they would place their trust in Allah, just walk upto the gate of Baytul-Maqdis, victory shall be theirs. As for the decisive statement of these elders that once they reach the city gate, they will overcome and the enemy will run away defeated, it could have been based on a close assessment of the Amalkites, that they were, no doubt, unusually huge in built and strength, but were also weak at heart as a result of which, once they hear about the surprise attack, they would be unable to stay there. And it is also possible that their total faith in the Divine decree which they had heard from Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام as a glad tiding was the basis on which they said so.
But the Bani Isri'il who had not listened to their own prophet sayyidna Musa عليه السلام would have hardly listened to these elders. They gave them the same response, even in a manner which was more uncouth and grotesque. They said: فَاذْهَبْ أَنتَ وَرَبُّكَ فَقَاتِلَا إِنَّا هَاهُنَا قَاعِدُونَ (So go, you and your Lord, and fight. As for us, we are sitting right here). Had this remark of the Bani Isra'il been by way of mockery, it would have been open blasphemy (Kufr). After that, the fact of Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام living with them and praying for them in the wilderness of Tih which finds mention in the next verse would have not been possible.
Therefore, the sense of this statement given by leading commentators is: 'You go and fight them. Your Lord will help you. As for us, we cannot help you.' Given this sense, their statement cannot be taken as blasphemy, though the response given by them remains grotesque and hurtful. This is why this statement of the Bani Isra'il became proverbial.
Let us recollect a related episode from the early period of Islam. This is the Battle of Badr. An army contingent of a thousand strong young men starts marching against Muslims, who are hungry and almost unarmed. Seeing this happen, the Holy Prophet (SM) started praying before his Lord. Then, a Sahabi, Sayyidna Miqdad ibn al-Aswad رضي الله عنه stepped forward and said: 'Ya Rasul Allah , we swear by Allah we shall never say what was said to Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام by his people, that is: فَاذْهَبْ أَنتَ وَرَبُّكَ فَقَاتِلَا إِنَّا هَاهُنَا قَاعِدُونَ (So go, you and your Lord, and fight. As for us, we are sitting right here). Instead of that, we shall defend you from your right and left and from the front and rear. Please feel free of any concern and go ahead with your battle plan.'
When he heard this, the Holy Prophet (SM) was very pleased, and his Companions too were fired with a renewed zeal for Jihad. Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud رضي الله عنه always used to say: 'I really envy this feat of Miqdad ibn al-Aswad. I wish I too had this good fortune.'