The Price of Oppression
The story of Talut and Jalut took place after the time of Musa AS. During this period, the Israelites had become a stingy and controlling race, oppressing non-Israelites and treating them with injustice and prejudice. Over the years, they had become a bad mannered people who were far away from Allah. They were lovers of the material life, and were not spreading the message of Allah. Therefore, to teach them humility and to remind them to go back to Allah, Allah sent the community a trial by “tasleet”: where He permitted one of the worst tyrants of this time, Jalut (Goliath), to oppress them as a sign of torture and humiliation from Allah.
Bani Israel was weakened and exhausted by continual wars, and were repeatedly humiliated and defeated by their powerful enemies. Their trial continued for years, during which time God did not predestine for them to gain victory. Their villages were destroyed, families were cast out of their homes, children and women were kidnapped and their economy was ruined. Even the ark of covenant, the indication of strength and support from Allah, was seized from them, again as a sign of humiliation from Allah.
Eventually, they sought the counsel of their prophet during this time, Samael (Samuel) AS, promising him that they would fight in Allah’s way under the leadership of a king appointed by Allah. The prophet prayed to Allah and Allah sent His verdict, to be relayed to Bani Israel. Allah had selected Talut, a humble and kind farmer, principally for his piety, but also for his physical strength, knowledge and wisdom, to be their king, and to lead the army.
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Have you not thought about the group of the Children of Israel after (the time of) Musa (Moses)? When they said to a Prophet of theirs, “Appoint for us a king and we will fight in Allah’s Way.” He said, “Would you then refrain from fighting, if fighting was prescribed for you?” They said, “Why should we not fight in Allah’s Way while we have been driven out of our homes and our children (families have been taken as captives)?” (Qur’an 2:246)
And their Prophet (Samuel ) said to them, “Indeed Allah has appointed Talut (Saul) as a king over you.” They said, “How can he be a king over us when we are better fitted than him for the kingdom, and he has not been given enough wealth.” He said: “Verily, Allah has chosen him above you and has increased him abundantly in knowledge and stature. And Allah grants His Kingdom to whom He wills. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.” (Qur’an 2:247)
Talut did not originate from Bani Israel, and neither did he possess the rank of the elite and rich. He was an average farmer, without money or status, but Allah selected him due to the piety, knowledge and wisdom that Allah had bestowed upon him. With these qualities, Allah chose him as a king and a leader to lead the army, to demonstrate to Bani Israel that Allah can elevate whoever He wants. Such choice had nothing to do with social status or material wealth.
For Bani Israel, this was unacceptable. Like their stubborn predecessors during the time of Musa AS, they immediately rejected Allah’s verdict, and as usual, asked for a sign.
When they eventually accepted Allah’s decision, Allah gave them the miracle of the ark of the covenant, which had been under the captivity of Jalut for years previously, materialising before them from the sky.
And their Prophet (Samuel ) said to them: Verily! The sign of His Kingdom is that there shall come to you At-Tabut (a wooden box), wherein is Sakinah (peace and reassurance) from your Lord and a remnant of that which Musa (Moses) and Harun (Aaron) left behind, carried by the angels. Verily, in this is a sign for you if you are indeed believers. (Qur’an 2:248)
The Army of Talut
According to some reports Talut recruited approximately 33,000 men from the society of Bani Israel. Jalut’s army was 250,000 to 400,000 strong, and was mighty in strength and fully equipped.
Talut’s army set out to fight Jalut and his men. It was then that they were given a trial by Allah to test their sincerity. When they arrived at a river, Talut, inspired to do so from Allah, commanded his men to sip not more than one handful of water from it, even though they were extremely thirsty. This did not make sense to the majority of the men, so they disobeyed his orders and drank to their fill.
Then when Talut (Saul) set out with the army, he said: “Verily! Allah will try you by a river. So whoever drinks thereof, he is not of me, and whoever tastes it not, he is of me, except him who takes (thereof) in the hollow of his hand.” Yet, they drank thereof, all, except a few of them. (Qur’an 2:249)
Those who disobeyed, principally from the elite in society and who preferred to utilise their intellect and to argue with Talut than to obey Allah, suddenly found themselves weak and fatigued. They were discouraged and claimed that they were powerless to face Jalut and his men. Therefore, as in the past, the majority of Bani Israel broke their covenant with Allah.
But when fighting was ordered for them, they turned away, all except a few of them. And Allah is All-Aware of the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers). (Qur’an 2:246)
On the other hand, those who were steadfast in their obedience and trust in Allah continued with the journey and participated in the battle.
So when he had crossed it (the river), he and those who believed with him, they said: “We have no power this day against Jalut (Goliath) and his hosts.” But those who knew with certainty that they were to meet their Lord, said: “How often a small group overcame a mighty host by Allah’s Leave?” And Allah is with As-Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.). (Qur’an 2:249)
According to some reports, by the time they crossed the river, Talut’s men were reduced to 313 in number, which was the same number as the army of Prophet Muhammad SAW in the Battle of Badr. These men were powerful because they trusted in Allah, and obeyed Him totally with full sincerity. They knew that even though they were pitiful in numbers, they had Allah’s Might on their side.
The two armies confronted each other. Talut’s army was barely equipped and vastly outnumbered by Jalut’s soldiers who were also superior in physical stature, weaponry and experience. The odds against Talut’s army were overwhelming – at best, 313 civilians against a quarter of a million soldiers! However, the believers neither panicked nor despaired. Instead, they called upon Allah for His help.
And when they advanced to meet Jalut (Goliath) and his forces, they invoked: “Our Lord! Pour forth on us patience and make us victorious over the disbelieving people.” (Qur’an 2:250)
Before the battle commenced, Jalut arrogantly asked to challenge the best warrior from Talut’s army. Talut, upon consultation with his people, decided on a very young man, whose name was Dawud (Daud or David) AS. Dawud AS was renowned for his constant state of zikr, or remembrance of Allah and was selected primarily for his piety and closeness to Allah.
Dawud AS was extremely skillful with the sling. He took aim, and the stone sailed through the air, and, by the will of Allah, met its mark. According to some reports, the stone decapitated Jalut. The battle commenced, but it was swift and decisive. Without their leader, the forces of Jalut were soundly defeated, and the men of Talut triumphed.
So they routed them by Allah’s Leave and Dawud (David) killed Jalut (Goliath), and Allah gave him [Dawud (David)] the kingdom [after the death of Talut (Saul) and Samuel] and Al-Hikmah (Prophethood), and taught him of that which He willed. (Qur’an 2:251)
Reflection for Us
Allah SWT can humiliate a nation when its people have become stingy and so engulfed by their material needs that they stop caring for the poor and the needy, and neglect both their adherence to the message and responsibility to spread it. This can happen to anyone who disregards the message and is immersed in materialistic pursuits, individually, collectively or as a nation.
Say: “He has power to send torment on you from above or from under your feet, or to cover you with confusion in party strife, and make you to taste the violence of one another.” See how variously We explain the Ayat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), so that they may understand. (Qur’an 6:65)
Humiliation, dignity and victory are from Allah. If one carries the covenant of the message and carries the message, Allah will award him victory and elevate him. Whereas if one disregards the message, Allah will humiliate him through numerous means. The trial will escalate until he goes back to Allah, or if not, severe torture will descend, resulting in a tragic ending.
Here, Allah SWT had chosen a modest man of insignificant social standing to teach Bani Israel a lesson. Quality beloved to Allah is unrelated to financial means, or the status of name, family or tribe. This is illustrated by how a very young man, with a modest and unequipped army, with only a sip of water as sustenance, could defeat a vast and heavily equipped army.
This feat was impossible if one were to count the odds. However, Allah SWT has a lesson for us. It is not the quantity of water, equipment or numbers, nor rank in society, that grants strength. Rather, it depends on the will and support of Allah. Those who have faith in Him can obtain victory against all the odds. All that is required is faith, trust, reliance and obedience to God, and in return, He promises victory, and to change the condition regardless of the opposition.
Some men, in the old days, said that if a person is defeated inside (through lack of faith and indulgence in the material life) Allah promises to defeat him on the outside. Whereas if he is victorious on the inside, Allah promises to give him victory and support him outside. This is called the journey of victory within against the journey of defeat within.
This elementary message is much needed, individually, as a family and as a nation. The message is, not to simply look at the condition, the opposition or the situation. If you are a believer, look at Who is with you and the ultimate unlimited power and ability if He wants to support you. If Allah wants to grant you victory, nobody can defeat you, and if Allah wants to defeat you, nobody can give you victory.
Qur’anic stories are not tales to be read for entertainment, but lessons to us for every occasion and situation. Our condition today is insular and individualistic, with most of us immersed in family dramas, material lives and endless worries about the future. Such is our condition today, rife with confusion, division, indulgence in material life and conflict. We have drifted far away from the message. Whereas if we follow the news, the sad state of our ummah is apparent.
In this story, we cannot be busy trying to fix outside if we are corrupted on the inside. Rather, if we fix ourselves on the inside, Allah will fix the external circumstances for us. If we try to fix the outside, without changing inside, humiliation and defeat will be the ultimate consequence.