14:11 Their apostles answered them: “True, we are nothing but mortal men like yourselves: but God bestows His favour upon whomever He wills of His servants. Withal, it is not within our power to bring you a proof [of our mission], unless it be by God’s leave – and [so] it is in God that all believers must place their trust.
It is to be noted that whereas in 11:62 this reply is placed in the mouth of people of one particular community – the Thamud – and is phrased in the singular (“thy call to us”), it appears here in the plural (“your call to us”) and represents the gist of the answers given by various communities to various prophets. This generalization, underlying the entire subsequent account and containing echos of several Qur’anic narratives relating to the experiences of individual apostles of earlier times, is obviously meant to bring out the symptomatic character of the attitude referred to: the stubborn attitude of people who either deny God altogether or – while not consciously denying His existence – yet feel compelled to interpose all manner of imaginary “mediators” (thought to be divine or semi-divine) between themselves and Him, thus denying, by implication, His omniscience, and omnipotence.
14:12 And how could we not place our trust in God, seeing that it is He who has shown us the path which we are to follow?” “Hence, we shall certainly bear with patience whatever hurt you may do us: for, all who have trust [in His existence] must place their trust in God [alone]!”
Lit., “their apostles”.
14:13 But they who denied the truth spoke [thus] unto their apostles: “We shall most certainly expel you from our land, unless you return forthwith to our ways!” Whereupon their Sustainer revealed this to His apostles: “Most certainly shall We destroy these evildoers.
i.e., “until the end of your life in this world”. This is, I believe, an indirect allusion to the calamities which are bound to befall, even in this world, “those who are bent on denying the truth” (see the last paragraph of 13:31 and the corresponding note 57) – implying that they who consciously respond to the call of God, conveyed through His prophets, would be immune to this kind of suffering and would be graced with abiding spiritual happiness (cf. 13:29)
14:14 And most certainly shall We cause you to dwell on earth [long] after they have passed away: this is [My promise] unto all who stand in awe of My presence, and stand in awe of My warning!”
i.e., it is to the contents of the divine message propounded to them that all seekers after truth must turn for illumination (see 7:75 and 13:43, as well as the corresponding notes). The Qur’an dwells in many places (e.g., in 6:109-111 or 13:31) on the futility – moral as well as intellectual – of the demand that the divine origin of a prophetic message should be proved by tangible, extraneous means: for, a morally valid and intellectually justifiable conviction of the intrinsic truth of such a message can be gained only through “conscious insight accessible to reason” (12:108).
14:15 And they prayed [to God] that the truth is made to triumph.
Lit., “guided us on our paths – a plural indicating (as does the whole of the passage beginning with verse 9) the fundamental identity of the message preached by all the prophets.
14:16 With hell awaiting him; and he shall be made to drink of the water of most bitter distress.
Cf. 7:88-89, where this alternative is placed before Shu’ayb.
14:17 Gulping it [unceasingly,] little by little, and yet hardly able to swallow it. And death will beset him from every quarter – but he shall not die: for [yet more] severe suffering lies ahead of him.
Lit., “to them”.
14:18 [This, then, is] the parable of those who are bent on denying their Sustainer: all their works are as ashes which the wind blows about fiercely on a stormy day: [in the life to come,] they cannot achieve any benefit whatever from all [the good] that they may have wrought: for this [denial of God] is indeed the farthest one can go astray.
Lit., “after them”: implying a divine promise that the truth preached by the apostles would outlive its detractors (cf. verse 9 above, “None knows them [now] save God”), and would triumph in the end.
14:19 Art thou not aware that God has created the heavens and the earth in accordance with [an inner] truth? He can, if He so wills, do away with you and bring forth new mankind [in your stead].
As Zamakhshari points out, the divine promise expressed in the above verse is equivalent to the statement in 7:128 that “the future (al-aqibah) belongs to the God-conscious”.
14:20 Nor is this difficult for God.
Or: “they [i.e., the apostles] prayed for victory” or “for [God’s] aid” – both these meanings being contained in the noun fath, with which the verbal form istaftahu, used here, is connected. It should be borne in mind that the primary significance of fataha is “he opened”, and of istaftaha, “he sought to open [something]” or “he desired that it be opened”. Thus, the above passage echoes, in a generalized form, Shu’ayb’s prayer in 7:89, “Lay Thou open (iftah) the truth between us and our people”.