Response to: Against "A Prophet Like Moses"
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
This article is a response to Against "A Prophet like Moses", which itself was written to refute the arguments I put forward in my article A Prophet Like Moses for the veracity and truthfulness of Shi'a Islam. I appreciate the time and effort that the author has put into reading and critiquing the article; however, I believe he makes several fatal errors in his approach of the material.
Firstly, the author claims that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) cannot be the Prophet like Moses because he was not an Israelite, and God has favored the Israelites with prophecy. Additionally, he says that the verses preceding the prophecy of the Prophet like Moses excludes a non-Israelite from being this prophet. Both these claims, however, are unsubstantiated. The preceding verse reads,
14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.
This is a reference to the Canaanites in the land of Israel that the Israelites go to war against, it has nothing to do with the Ishmaelites or any other people. This is clear by the description, "The nations you will disposess." Furthermore, Jewish exegetes themselves did not take this verse to exclude non-Israelites from the prophecy, although they would have the greatest motive to do so:
This is the reason why the Torah testifies about him at the end that a prophet will never arise again like Moses; even in Israel, which has the prerogative of the prophetic institution, there will never arise another like him, as he was promised; not to speak of the other nations, who are not worthy of the prophetic spirit. The Rabbis indeed say, commenting on the passage, “And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses,” there hath not arisen in Israel, but there hath arisen among the heathen, namely Balaam.
“And no other prophet arose in Israel like Moshe” - in Israel, none did arise, but among the nations of the world, one did arise; so that there not be a claim open to the nations to say, “If we had a prophet like Moshe, we would have worshiped the Holy One, blessed be He. And which prophet did they have [that was] like Moshe? This was Bilaam the son of Beor. However there is a difference between the prophecy of Moshe and the prophecy of Bilaam: Three characteristics were in the hand of Moshe that were not in the hand of Bilaam. Moshe would speak with Him, standing; as it is stated (Deuteronomy 5:28), “And you stand with Me and I will speak to you, etc.” And with Bilaam, He would only speak with him prostrate, as it is stated (Numbers 24:4), “fallen and of open eyes.” Moshe would speak to Him 'mouth to mouth,' as it is stated (Numbers 13:8), “'Mouth to mouth' I speak to him.” And with Bilaam [it is written,] “Speaks the one who hears the speeches of God” – as He did not speak to him 'mouth to mouth.' Moshe would speak to him face to face, as it is stated (Exodus 33:11), “And the Lord spoke to Moshe face to face.” And with Bilaam, He only spoke in parables, as you say (Numbers 24:15), “And he started his parable, etc.” Three characteristics were in the hand of Bilaam that were not in the hand of Moshe.
In this way we can reply to our opponents, who argue from the verse in the Torah: “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” This verse signifies, they say, that a law will be given through the new prophet as it was given through Moses; also that “from among their brethren,” means from the brethren of Israel and not from Israel itself. Our reply to these men is that granting that, according to the verse quoted, a prophet will come to give a law, as Moses did before, the expression, “I will raise them up a prophet … like unto thee,” signifies that his “raising up” and the verification of his prophetic mission, which is a fundamental dogma of divine law, as we have seen, must be of the same kind as the verification of Moses’ prophetic mission, which took place in the presence of six hundred thousand people, so that there was no doubt and no suspicion of any kind.
Here, rabbi and exegete Joseph Albo acknowledges that the verse can be read to mean that a prophet would come "from the brethren of Israel and not from Israel itself." His response, rather than to refute such a possibility, is to state that in order for this to be the case, the prophet would need to demonstrate undeniable proof of prophecy just as Moses did. Note that he also acknowledges that this prophet will "come to give a law, as Moses did before..." This is also incompatible with an understanding of any prophet other than Muhammad (ﷺ).
The famous rabbi Maimonides, also known as Rambam, also acknowledges that the phrase "from among their brethren" is compatible with a non-Jewish prophet:
The words "like unto me" were specifically added to indicate that only the descendants of Jacob are meant. For the phrase "of thy brethren" by itself might have been misunderstood and taken to refer also to Esau and Ishmael, since we do find Israel addressing Esau as brother, for example, in the verse, "Thus saith thy brother Israel" (Numbers 20:14).
Although he admits that brethren may include Ishmaelites or Edomites, he attempts to refute this by stating that a prophet "like unto" Moses must mean an Israelite, as Moses was an Israelite. This particular requirement, however, is arbitrary and is not the only way a prophet can be like unto Moses (؏). In fact, we know from Deuteronomy 34:10, as previously discussed, that no such prophet had arisen among the Israelites.
Now as for the claim that the following verse shows that Ishmaelites and Edomites are not the brethren of the Israelites:
“When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say: ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).
This is an example of begging the question, as the author assumes that the word "foreigner" includes relatives of the Israelites and therefore excludes them from being their brethren. However, if this was the case, how could God give the kingdom to Rehoboam, son of Solomon? We know that it is God who made him king, as God promises to David:
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Yet, Rehoboam's mother was an Ammonite, a descendant of the prophet Lot (؏). As being part of the Jewish nation is passed on matrilineally, this means that Rehoboam was not a Jew. One who claims that foreigner refers to every non-Israelite has two choices: either say God contradicted His own rules by appointing a foreigner who was not their brother as their king, or to say that the brethren intended in both verses includes both the Israelites and related peoples such as the Ishmaelites, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, Jewish exegetes themselves understood brethren in Deuteronomy 18 to include non-Israelites. If one wants to appeal to Biblical usage of the term brethren, the Bible also uses this term to include non-Israelites as well:
Do not desert your friend and your father’s friend;
Do not enter your brother’s house in your time of misfortune;
A close neighbor is better than a distant brother.
The famous rabbi and commentator Rashi writes relating to this verse:
and...your brother’s house: Do not rely on the children of Esau and Ishmael that they should befriend you. We find that when Israel was exiled to Babylon, they would say to those who led them in neck irons, “We beg of you, lead us on the way of our brethren, the sons of Esau and Ishmael,” and the sons of Esau went out toward them and welcomed them with various kinds of salty foods and blown up flasks.
Therefore, the brethren of the Jews are the Ishmaelites and the Edomites. We can also find this understanding in the Midrash:
Forsake not implies that if you would forsake God, remember what happened to the house of your brothers, Ishmael and Esau.
Neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity. R. Joshua the son of Levi said: When the wicked Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Israelites to Babylon, they bound their hands behind them; and coupled them together with iron chains and led them naked, like beasts. As they were passing the territory of the Ishmaelites, they said to the officers in charge: Be kind and merciful to us and take us to our brethren, the sons of Ishmael, our uncle. They did so.
Next, the author claims that the Ishmaelites were wicked in the site of God, so this somehow excludes a prophet from being sent among them. The issue with this claim is that the Israelites themselves repeatedly turned to idolatry and away from God, and that only prompts God to send down more prophets. The Ishmaelites being wicked at one time in no way precludes God sending them a prophet, especially when He has already made a covenantal promise with Ishmael (؏), as we will now discuss.
The author claims that the prophecy promising to make Ishmael's (؏) offspring "fruitful" only refers to numbers and conveys no spiritual meaning. This is not the case, however, if we look at other contexts in the Bible where this phraseology is used. Firstly, God promises that He will make Ishmael (؏) a "great nation." The same phrase is used for Abraham (؏) and Isaac (؏) in a clearly coventnal manner. Why would it mean a spiritual covenant in these two cases but not in the case of Ishmael (؏)? Secondly, regarding the word "fruitful" (והפריתי) itself, the Bible uses it in a Messianic context in Isaiah 11:1:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
This is understood by Jews and Christians alike to be a reference to the Messiah, yet the word used for "bear fruit" is the same root word in Hebrew as is used for Ishmael (؏). Nobody understands this verse to mean that Jesse would have many offspring. Similarly, the same Hebrew wording is used again in Isaiah 45:8, again in a spiritual context:
Shower, O heavens, from above,
and clet the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.
Next, the author discusses Isaiah 42 and the prophecy regarding the Servant of God. Firstly, the author mistakenly assumes that the only basis for identifying this Servant with the prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is that he is a Gentile. However, this is not the case, as there are many parallels in the passage that align closely to the life and mission of the prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), as is discussed in A Prophet Like Moses.
The author then goes on to quote Isaiah 53 and say that if one claims the Servant of Isaiah 42 is Muhammad (ﷺ), this means that the Servant of Isaiah 53 must also be him and that the attributes of the latter passage do not match him. The issue with this argument, however, is that this negates that the Servant is Christ (؏) as well!
“But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
Will the author now deny that the Servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus (؏), since Isaiah 41 clearly identifies the Servant as Israel and not as the Messiah? What about Isaiah 48:20, where the Servant is again identified with Jacob/Israel?
flee from the Babylonians!
Announce this with shouts of joy
and proclaim it.
Send it out to the ends of the earth;
say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.”
If this is the case, then, that the suffering servant is Israel as a whole, then how can we claim Isaiah 42 contains a prophecy about Muhammad (ﷺ)? This is due to no other reason than that Jewish exegetes themselves noticed that the descriptions of the Servant as he appears beginning in verse 18 is not congruent with descriptions of the Servant that appear previously in the passage or in other chapters of Isaiah:
In fact, a number of great rabbis understood the initial verses of Isaiah 42 to be a reference to a single individual, specifically the Messiah or in Ibn Ezra's case, Isaiah himself:
Malbim in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
Now [God] explains who is the the man that the prior vision referred to... he is my servant , who is the Messiah-king.
Mezudat David in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
Here is my servant who will gain my support - the Messiah-king
Radak in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
Here is my servant - that's the Messiah-king
Ibn Ezra in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
My servant. Most of the commentators refer this expression to the pious Israelites; the Gaon to Cyrus; I to the prophet, who speaks here of himself, as in 49:6.
In appealing to these commentators, my aim is not to say that they are correct in their interpretations and that this passage is actually referring to the Messiah-king, Isaiah, or Cyrus. Rather, it illustrates that it is not at all inconsistent with the text to understand that the "Servant whom I uphold" is referring to a particular individual rather than the nation of Israel. And it is therefore not consistent to apply other passages referring to the servant Israel in order to try to claim that this passage cannot be about the prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). If one is willing to do that, they must also deny that the Servant is Christ (؏), and to do that would be to deny the New Testament's fulfillment prophecies. Also Jewish commentators again did not believe the Servant must be an Israelite as the author assumes, as some claimed he was Cyrus.
Next, the author claims that Sela cannot be a reference to Medina as it was not on the coast. The passage reads, however:
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord
and proclaim his praise in the islands.
Nowhere is the verse stating that Sela is in the islands or the coastlands, it is saying that the people of Sela would proclaim the praise of God in the islands/coastlands. This certainly came to pass with the rapid growth of the Muslim empire which expanded outwards from Medina.