وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ الَّذ۪ينَ اعْتَدَوْا مِنْكُمْ فِي السَّبْتِ فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئ۪ينَ
And (remember) when Moses told his people: ‘God commands you to sacrifice a cow,’ they responded: ‘Are you making fun of us?’ (Al-Baqarah 2:67)
At the outset, there are two main messages in this verse that need to be discussed. The first is that God tested the Children of Israel on an issue that had become an inseparable part of their lives. It was hard for the Children of Israel to give up their habit. God tested them in order to measure their devotion and loyalty to Him and to warn both the Children of Israel and others concerning their relationship with Him. As for the second message, by commanding Moses’ people to sacrifice a cow, God wanted to eradicate their sanctification and worship of cows, which had spread to them from the ancient native polytheist Egyptians. This deviancy clearly demonstrates the extent to which the Children of Israel had absorbed the attitudes of the polytheist people of Egypt, in particular their sanctifying of cattle. The fundamental principle of the religion is, however, belief in the absolute Oneness of God. Therefore, human beings must adhere sincerely to this basic creed and remove any opposing ideas and inclinations from their heart and life.
However, the Children of Israel could not understand the meaning of God’s command and the wisdom in obedience to God’s commands. They vacillated between their consecration of cows and what God’s command of sacrificing a cow meant for Moses’ Messengership and their obedience to it. Therefore, instead of fulfilling the command immediately, the Children of Israel preferred to gain time using various excuses. They delayed the fulfillment, and they even avoided obeying what God commanded them to do. In addition to being yet unable to free themselves from their deification of a golden calf, they may have considered killing a cow as a revolt against the authority and religious beliefs of the Pharaohs (rulers of ancient Egypt) even though the order was from God and although Moses’ message included the fundamental creed that none but God should be worshipped. As a result, they felt they faced a situation with which they could not become entangled and said: “Are you making fun of us?”
The rest of the story is about the Children of Israel’s continuous excuses in order not to fulfill the command and the firm attitude of an honorable Messenger in the fulfillment of Divine commands.