“Hello!” to the several who have subscribed in the past few days, maybe due to the gracious, unsolicited plug from my friend and preacher Chris Altrock (check out his voluminous blog; his discipline is exemplary and his guidance is always sure).  I guess the fact that he is still willing to own me as a friend means I haven’t been too heretical yet.

Today we begin the longest surah, a Medinan one (that will be important by the end) and interestingly titled “The Cow” because of a reference to come.  At this point Allah speaks, usually in the royal “we.”  Interestingly, 2:2-4 mention three of the five pillars of Islam, the five basic acts a devote Muslim is expected to do — the statement of faith, prayer, and almsgiving.  All that is missing is pilgrimage and fasting.    

From what I understand, ancient Arabic and Hebrew are linguistic cousins.  The word Haleem translates in 2:2 “mindful” in “those who are mindful of God” is connected to the Hebrew word in Proverbs 1:7 usually translated “fear.”

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. (Prov. 1:7)

“Mindful:” what a great translation!  I have never preferred “fear.”  Sure, I was taught it had the connotation of “respect” and I could get that.  I respect my father in such a way that I would never dream about doing some things to or around him (except when I was a stupid 14-year-old).  But “mindful” says it so well.  We will be led in the right way when we keep our minds fixed on God.  We will begin to find knowledge that changes our lives when our minds are full of God.  How could we dare seek self-glory when there is no room for “self” in our focus for the day?  As Haleem says in his notes on this ayah (verse), the opposite of “mindful/fear” is not familiar or cozy or overly-friendly with God as it sounds like it should be when translated “fear” (not to say that these can’t be a problem, of course) but “to ignore Him.”  Yes, that seems to capture it nicely.  I like it! 

At this point the surah picks up the three kinds of responses to Allah mentioned in 1:7 — belief and devotion; outright rejection that stirs up anger; and an hypocrisy that attempts to straddle the fence but progressively leads one astray.

Islamic predetermination really comes out strongly in 2:6-7.  “It makes no difference” what you say to them, unbelievers are “sealed” for “great torment.” 

Then 2:8-20 is one of the most astounding images of hypocrisy I have ever read.  If you read nothing else from this surah, read these ayahs.  So much could be said here, so I will focus on what exactly hypocrisy is.  So often I hear Christians get it wrong.  The implication seems to be with some that if you claim to be a Christian but then commit a sin Christians are known to look down upon, you are a hypocrite.  In other words, we are all hypocrites in some way, at some time.  That is not hypocrisy, though; that is frailty, depravity, failure.  Yes, we all fail, but we are not all hypocrites.  Hypocrites (the word means “actors” in ancient Greek) set out to deceive and trick, to give the impression that they are something when they know full well they are not and don’t even intend to be that.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Praise God for his mercy on those who fail.  But heaven forbid that we should try to fool God and others with vain religion.