Life in Exile
Although in exile for their disobedience to Allah, Allah still provided Bani Israel with beautiful sustenance. He sent them food from unimaginable places, all spread out before them without any effort on their part. He also sent them manna and quails for them to consume. They were asked to eat from the good and lawful things that Allah had provided for them, and also commanded not to cause any mischief or corruption.
When they complained of thirst, Musa AS prayed for water and was commanded by Allah to strike a rock with his staff, from which twelve springs gushed forth, one for each tribe. Hence, given the circumstances, they were never lacking in provision.
Eventually, Bani Israel found reasons to be ungrateful and complain about the bounties of Allah. Instead of enjoying the heavenly provisions they said:
"O Musa! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its Fum (wheat or garlic), its lentils and its onions." (Al Qur'an 2:61)
Even Musa's AS patience with his people had its limits. He refused, saying: "Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? Go you down to any town and you shall find what you want!" (Al Qur'an 2:61)
Their ungrateful and discontented attitude provoked the wrath of Allah. Disgrace and humiliation were stamped upon them. Such is the reward for the transgressors and those who reject the signs of Allah.
Bani Israil bore the trademarks of the thankless: constantly complaining about whatever they were provided with. They were unappreciative of any divine favours, and took everything for granted, and in fact, carried within them a sense of entitlement. They were quick to lament about everything and repeatedly overstepped their boundaries with Allah. We may look at unpleasant qualities with disdain, but it is also time to ponder if we ourselves have these qualities within us!
The twelve tribes wandered in the desert for decades, walking in circles and never finding their way out. This was their punishment, but also their spiritual cleansing. Sometimes calamity can also be a trial and purification from Allah to us.
Yet, by and large, their attitudes remained unacceptable. Although provided with constant food and shade from Allah, they were constantly demanding for more, not just material sustenance and comfort, but proof of Allah's divine power. They had all but forgotten how badly they were treated in Egypt, instead behaving with a haughty sense of entitlement even to Allah. We will explore some of these stories in other articles, insha Allah.
For the majority of them, no matter what proof was shown to them, their hardened hearts would reject such evidence. In one incident, they declared that "O Musa! We will not believe in you until we see God openly." (Al Qur'an 2:55) As they demanded that, a thunderbolt seized them, and they all fell dead. They were revived, but still remained ungrateful and unwilling to recognize Allah's divine power.
In another incident (and according to Ibn Abass, in the same incident) Musa AS then stood in front of his Lord and prayed to Him to forgive the wrongdoing of his people:
And Musa chose out of his people seventy (of the best) men for Our appointed time and place of meeting, and when they were seized with a violent earthquake, he said: "O my Lord, if it had been Your Will, You could have destroyed them and me before; would You destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us? It is only Your Trial by which You lead astray whom You will, and keep guided whom You will. You are our Wali (Protector), so forgive us and have Mercy on us, for You are the Best of those who forgive. (Al Qur'an 7:155)
In another occasion, a mountain was raised over their heads, and they thought that it would fall on them so hastily prostrated to Allah. Allah said:
"Hold firmly to what We have given you [i.e. the Taurat (Torah)], and remember that which is therein (act on its commandments), so that you may fear Allah and obey Him." (Al Qur'an 7:171) But after Allah spared them from being crushed by the mountain, they again broke their covenants and pledges with Allah.
Although they constantly challenged and defied Allah, whenever they were in need of divine intervention, they would turn to Musa AS to pray to Allah for them. After the need had passed, they would again be deniers of Allah's signs, proving their earlier repentance and submission to be hollow lies. This eventually caused them to reach the point where they became spiritually blind and incapable of receiving any divine guidance.
Musa AS Meets With Allah
Earlier, we had mentioned that Musa AS left his tribe for thirty days, which then extended to forty days, for a meeting with Allah on the Mount of Tur.
At this meeting, Musa AS asked to see Allah.
"And when Musa arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, "My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You."
[Allah] said, "You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me."
But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Musa fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, "Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers." " (Al Qur'an 7:143)
Even a mountain, which is physically stronger and firmer than a human being, was unable to endure the direct vision of Allah. When Allah manifested a very small part of Himself, the mountain crumbled into fine dust. Musa AS lost consciousness and when he came to, repented to Allah.