69:11 [And] behold, when the waters [of Noah’s flood] burst beyond all limits, it was We who caused you to be borne [to safety] in that floating ark.
Since God is infinite in space as well as in time, it is obvious that His “throne” (arsh) has a purely metaphorical connotation, circumscribing His absolute, unfathomable sway over all that exists or possibly could exist (cf. note 43 on 7:54). Hence, too, the “bearing aloft” of the throne of His almightiness cannot be anything but a metaphor – namely, an allusion to the full manifestation of that Almightiness on the Day of Judgment. The Qur’an is silent as to who or what the “eight” are on whom this manifestation rests. Some of the earliest commentators assume that they are eight angels; others, that they are eight ranks of angels; while still others frankly admit that it is impossible to say whether “eight” or “eight thousand” are meant (Al-Hasan al-Basri, as quoted by Zamakhshari). Possibly, we have here an allusion to eight (unspecified) attributes of God or aspects of His creation; but, as the Qur’an states elsewhere, “none save God knows its final meaning” (see 3:7 and the corresponding note 8).
69:12 So that We might make all this a [lasting] reminder to you all, and that every wide-awake ear might consciously take it in.
i.e., “, whose record shows that he was righteous in his life on earth: cf. 17:71, as well as the symbolic expression “those on the right hand” in 74:39. The linguistic origin of the symbolism of “right” and “left” as “righteous” and “unrighteous” is explained in note 3 on 56:8-9.
69:13 Hence, [bethink yourselves of the Last Hour] when the trumpet [of judgment] shall be sounded with a single blast.
Implying that he had always been conscious of resurrection and judgment, and had tried to behave accordingly.
69:14 And the earth and the mountains shall be lifted up and crushed with a single stroke!
Thus signifying that he had been unrighteous in his earthly life, in contrast with those “whose record will be placed in their right hand” (see verse 19 and note 12 above).
69:15 And so, that which must come to pass will on that day has come to pass.
The term sultan, which primarily signifies “power” or “authority”, has here – as in many other places in the Qur’an – evidently the meaning of “argument”, synonymous with hujjah (Ibn Abbas, Ikrimah, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, all of them quoted by Tabari), in this case, an argument or arguments against the idea of life after death and, hence, of divine judgment.
69:16 And the sky will be rent asunder – for, frail will it have become on that Day.
For an explanation of the allegory of “shackles”, see note 13 on 13:5, note 44 on the last but one sentence of 34:33, and notes 6 and 7 on 36:8.
69:17 And the angels [will appear] at its ends, and, above them, eight will bear aloft on that Day the throne of thy Sustainer’s Almightiness…
See 14:49 – “on that Day thou wilt see all who were lost in sin (al-mujrimin) linked together in fetters” – and the corresponding note 64, which explains my above interpolation of the phrase, “of other sinners like him”.
69:18 On that Day you shall be brought to judgment, not [even] the most hidden of your deeds will remain hidden.
i.e., a chain exceedingly long – the number “seventy” being used here metonymically, as often done in classical Arabic, in the sense of “very many” (Zamakhshari); hence “of a measure the length whereof is known only to God” (Tabari; also Al-Hasan, as quoted by Razi).
69:19 Now as for him whose record shall be placed in his right hand, he will exclaim, “Come you all!” Read this my record!
Lit., “did not urge”, i.e., himself.
69:20 Behold, I did know that [one day] I would have to face my account!
The noun ghislin, which appears in the Qur’an only in this one instance, has been variously – and very contradictorily – explained by the early commentators. Ibn Abbas, when asked about it, frankly answered, “I do not know what ghislin denotes” (Razi). The term “filth” used by me contains an allusion to the “devouring” of all that is abominable in the spiritual sense: cf. its characterization in the next verse as “[that] which none but the sinners eat” i.e. (metaphorically) in this world, and, consequently, in the hereafter as well.