39:21 Art thou not aware that it is God who sends down water from the skies, and then causes it to travel through the earth in the shape of springs? And then He brings forth thereby herbage of various hues, and then it withers, and thou canst see it turn yellow, and in the end, He causes it to crumble to dust. Verily, in [all] this there is indeed a reminder to those who are endowed with insight!
39:22 Could, then, one whose bosom God has opened wide with a willingness towards self-surrender unto Him, so that he is illumined by a light [that flows] from his Sustainer, [be likened to the blind and deaf of heart]? Woe, then, unto those whose hearts are hardened against all remembrance of God! They are most obviously lost in error!
According to Razi, this describes people who examine every religious proposition (in the widest sense of this term) in the light of their own reason, accepting that which their mind finds to be valid or possible, and rejecting all that does not measure up to the test of reason. In Razi’s words, the above verse expresses “a praise and commendation of following the evidence supplied by one’s reason (hujjat al-‘aql), and of reaching one’s conclusions in accordance with [the results of] critical examination (nazar) and logical inference (istidlal).” A somewhat similar view is advanced, albeit in simpler terms, by Tabari.
39:23 God bestows from on high the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine writ fully consistent within itself, repeating each statement [of the truth] in manifold forms – [a divine writ] whereat shiver the skins of all who of their Sustainer stand in awe, [but] in the end their skins and their hearts do soften at the remembrance of [the grace of] God…. Such is God’s guidance, He guides therewith him that wills [to be guided]- whereas he whom God lets go astray can never find any guide.
This, to my mind, is the meaning of the prefix fa in fa-man – stressing, by implication, the contrast between the glad tiding given to those who have attained to faith and the suffering which awaits those “who shall have lost their own selves” through sinning (verses 15-16).
39:24 Could, then, one who shall have nothing but his [bare] face to protect him from the awful suffering [that will befall him] on Resurrection Day [be likened to the God-conscious]? [On that Day) the evildoers will be told, “Taste [now) what you have earned [in life]!”
In view of the repeated Qur’anic statements that God always accepts a sinner’s sincere repentance, provided it is proffered before the hour of death, His ineluctable “sentence of suffering” obviously relates to such as die without repentance, and hence find themselves, as it were, “already in the fire”.
39:25 Those who lived before them did [too] give the lie to the truth – whereupon suffering befell them without their having perceived whence it came.
Lit., “But” (lakin), indicating a return to the theme of verses 17-18.
39:26 And thus God let them taste ignominy [even] in the life of this world. Yet [how much greater will be the [sinners’] suffering in the life to come – if they [who now deny the truth] but knew it!
As in many other instances, the above Qur’anic reference to the endless transformations and the miraculous cycle of life and death in all nature serves to emphasize God’s almightiness and, specifically, His power to resurrect the dead – thus alluding, indirectly, to the statement at the end of the preceding verse that “never does God fail to fulfill His promise”.
39:27 Thus, Indeed, have We propounded unto men all kinds of parables in this Qur’an so that they might bethink themselves, [and We have revealed it].
Lit., “has been bestowing from on high”, i.e., step by step. The verbal form nazzala indicates both gradualness and continuity in the process of divine revelation and may, therefore, be appropriately rendered by the use of the present tense.
39:28 As a discourse in the Arabic tongue, free of all deviousness, so that they might become conscious of God.
This is the most acceptable meaning, in this context, of the term mathani (p1. of mathna), as explained by Zamakhshari in his commentary on the above verse. Another possible meaning, preferred by Razi, is “pairing its statements”, i.e., referring to the polarity stressed in all Qur’anic teachings (e.g., command and prohibition, duties and rights, reward and punishment, paradise and hell, light and darkness, the general and the specific, and so forth). As regards the inner consistency of the Qur’an, see also 4:82 and 25:32, as well as the corresponding.
39:29[To this end] God sets forth a parable, A man who has for his masters’ several partners, [all of them] at variance with one another, and a man depending wholly on one person: can these two be deemed equal as regards their condition? [Nay] all praise is due to God [alone], but most of them do not understand this.
Or: “He guides therewith whomever He wills”, either of these two formulations being syntactically correct.
39:30 Yet, Verily, thou art bound to die, [O Muhammad] and, Verily, they, too, are bound to die.
See note 4 on 14:4.