Today we come to the third story in this surah, an interesting tale about Moses unlike anything we read in the Bible. 


Moses is on a journey with a servant and maybe others as well.  He is to meet a wise teacher at the spot where “the  two seas meet,” which may mean the tip of the Sinai Peninsula where the Gulf of Aqabah and the Gulf of Suez join to form the Red Sea.  It appears they were to take a fish with them in some fashion where the fish would stay alive.  Moses would know he had come to the right place when the fish disappeared or escaped.  This happens and soon Moses meets the mysterious, unnamed teacher (Islamic tradition calls this man Khidr).  Moses pledges to follow the man and learn what he may, but the man warns Moses that he will have a hard time bearing with the man patiently and Moses is not to ask questions about anything until the man explains it in his own due time.  Moses agrees and off they go.     

As Moses and the man travelled on, they came to a boat and as they sailed the teacher drilled a hole in the hull causing it to take on water.  Moses cries out in confusing, wondering aloud why the man would do such a thing.  He is scolded by the man to not ask questions as Moses had promised.  Next, they happened upon a boy and without warning the man killed the boy.  Moses was shocked and cried out his bewilderment.  Again, the man warned Moses not to ask questions but to bear patiently with him.  Last, the two came to a town and asked for food but were refused.  In response to this lack of charity, the man saw a broken-down wall nearby and built it back up.  Beside himself, Moses again asked why the man did not seek recompense. 

At this the wise teacher announced that he and Moses would be parting ways.  As he had predicted, Moses was simply unable to bear patiently with the man.  Before they parted, though, the teacher took time to explain the three strange actions he had taken.  First, the damaged boat belonged to a poor couple who needed the boat to make a living but very shortly all intact boats would be seized by the king.  The damage would actually keep the couple from losing their boat for good.  Second, the boy was in fact headed to a lifestyle that would bring hardship on the parents, so by killing the boy the man had actually made way for the couple to have an obedient boy who would be a blessing to them.  Last, the wall that the man repaired belonged to man who had recently died but not before he buried a treasure under the wall intended for his sons when they reached maturity.  With the wall crumbling as it was, soon the treasure would be exposed and these inhospitable townspeople would take the treasure for themselves leaving the orphans to beg.  The wise teacher was honored the father’s intent and rescued the boys from destitution.       

Simply put, the message is a simple one: things are not always as they seem.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali says this about the ironic turnabouts at the end of this passage:

There are paradoxes in life: apparent loss may be real gain; apparent cruelty maybe real mercy; returning good for evil may really be justice and not generosity (18:79-82). God’s wisdom transcends all human calculation.

Can we walk with a faith that trusts the wisdom that leads us or are we too tied to our own judgment?  It will take discipline and patience.  We will have to restrain our tongue.  We will have to remain open-minded and humble.  We will have to seek after a source of wisdom, and then give ourselves to it.    

Bear in mind that this is Moses we are talking about.  Educated in the royal courts of Egypt, Moses was no country bumpkin.  This is the same Moses who had the wisdom to lead his people to the Promised Land.  Tradition also says he wrote the first five books of the Bible.  That Moses.  Even he did not possess all wisdom.  If Moses needed a humble spirit of submission, how much more do we?