When Moses faced Pharaoh, telling him that he was a messenger of the Lord of the worlds, Pharaoh asked:
And what is the Lord of the worlds? (Al-Shu’ara’, 23).
Pharaoh was astounded and angered by Moses’ claims, for he thought – and enforced as a national creed – that he was, not only a living god, but also the most exalted lord.
Hence, deceived by his arrogance as well as ignorance, he did not take seriously what Moses had told him. Moses’ example commanded no respect.
Pharaoh categorized God as a thing, yet one of the things, belonging to an existential type with common attributes. That is why his question started with “what”, rather than “who”.
Pharaoh’s question was an attempt of misdirection and devaluation. This is an important point because Pharaoh, after all, had generally a fair idea of God. Moses told him at one point:
Verily, you know that these signs have been sent down by none but the Lord of the heavens and the earth as clear evidences (proofs) (Al-Isra’, 102).
Since there is nothing like the essence and attributes of God, and since nothing from His transcendent realm can be compared to anything from the created realm of “things”, Moses by no means could fall into Pharaoh’s trap.
Thus, Moses spoke about the results and effects of God and His attributes. He immediately went for the foremost one, which is so consequential that it instantaneously flabbergasted and silenced Pharaoh.
The Lord of the Heavens and Earth and That Between Them
The Lord of the heavens and earth and that between them, if you seek to be convinced with certainty (Al-Shu’ara’, 24).
Pharaoh could not reply anything to this. He only said to those around him, continuing to belittle Moses and his assertions:
Did you hear that? (Al-Shu’ara’, 25).
Pharaoh said this just for the sake of saying anything. He needed to save face. Assailing Moses’ personality and integrity was his best bet to stay on course.
How could it be that Pharaoh’s dominion as a “god” and “lord” was naught in comparison with Moses’ Lord? Moses’ Lord was controlling the whole universe, while Pharaoh was in charge solely of Egypt as a tiny portion of the earth, never mind the heavens.
Pharaoh was not even worth comparison with Moses’ Lord. All that was obvious. People only needed to open their eyes and minds, and to use them aright, charting then a clear path towards certainty.
This way, the debate was essentially over. Nothing but Pharaoh’s arrogance and obstinacy kept it somewhat alive. He harboured a false hope of an eventual success.
Your Lord and the Lord of Your First Forefathers
Moses went on, touching on more specific and more tangible, yet equally devastating for Pharaoh, issues:
Your Lord and the Lord of your first forefathers (Al-Shu’ara’, 26).
Moses here targeted at once Pharaoh and the elites around him. He did so because even though Pharaoh was the one deified, it was an alliance of entire socio-political systems that acknowledged and sustained the idea.
It was the case of religion being both nationalized and institutionalized. Therefore, it needed to be addressed as such.
Moses’ argument was as follows.
Inasmuch as all of you are mere creations, operating within the realm of the created universe, your Lord is the same God as mine. He is the Creator and Lord; you are but mortals and His servants.
The same applied to those before you, your forefathers. They were created by Him, lived because of Him (belonging to Him), and were in the end returned to Him.
The same destiny awaits you too. Can’t you see that you are not in command of anything, not even of your own lives? Can’t you learn from the fates of earlier generations?
Moreover, the Pharaohs from your forefathers were also “gods”. How come they are dead now, enjoying no authority whatsoever? The present Pharaoh will die as well, and will be succeeded by another one who, in turn, will also claim divinity and existential sovereignty.
And the cycle will go on until, not you, but my – and your – Lord willed.
This verity, too, was self-evident. Pharaoh knew it. However, before people could get stirred up and perhaps start asking questions, Pharaoh hastened to deflect their attention. He did so again by deriding Moses and undermining his trustworthiness.
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