In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
69:1 Oh, The laying-bare of the truth!
i.e., the Day of Resurrection and Judgment, on which man will become fully aware of the quality of his past life and, freed from all self-deception, will see himself as he really was, with the innermost meaning of all his past doings – and thus of his destiny in the hereafter – blindingly revealed. (Cf. 37:19, the last sentence of 39:68, and 50:21-22).
69:2 How awesome that laying-bare of the truth!
Implying that this sudden perception of the ultimate reality will be beyond anything that man can anticipate or imagine: hence, no answer is given to the above rhetorical question.
69:3 And what could make thee conceive what that laying-bare of the truth will be?
i.e., the Last Hour (see note 1 on 101:1). For particulars of the pre-Islamic tribes of ‘Ad and Thamud, see 7:65-79 and the corresponding notes.
69:4 The lie gave [the tribes of] Thamud and ‘Ad to [all tidings of] that sudden calamity!
69:5 Now as for the Thamud – they were destroyed by a violent upheaval [of the earth].
i.e., Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of Lot’s people (see 11:69-83).
69:6 And as for the ‘Ad – they were destroyed by a storm wind furiously raging.
i.e., metonymically (in the consensus of all classical commentators), “your ancestors”.
69:7 Which He willed against them for seven nights and eight days without ceasing, so that in the end thou couldst see those people laid low [in death], as though they were so many [uprooted] trunks of hollow palm trees.
Alluding to the punishment of evildoers and the saving grace bestowed upon the righteous.
69:8 And dost thou now see any remnant of them?
i.e., the end of the world as we know it, followed by resurrection and the Last Judgment.
69:9 And there was Pharaoh, too, and [many of] those who lived before him, and the cities that were overthrown – [all of them] indulged in sin upon sin.
The term as-sarna’ may denote here “the sky” or “skies”, i.e., the visible firmament, or “heaven” in its allegorical sense, or the aggregate of cosmic systems comprised in the concept of “the universe” (cf. surah 2, note 20). It is being “rent asunder” is perhaps a metaphor for a total breakdown of the cosmic order.
69:10 And rebelled against their Sustainer’s apostles, and so He took them to task with a punishing grasp exceedingly severe!
Or: “at its sides”.