Musa AS sought the command from Allah and:
"[Musa] said, '[Allah] says, 'It is a cow which is neither old nor virgin, but median between that,' so do what you are commanded." (Al Qur'an 2:68)
This condition was not difficult to comply with, as the description of the cow was still so general that it would have been easy to find a cow of matching description. Yet, unwilling to obey, Bani Israel continued with their loathsome questioning and this time, asked for the colour of the cow. Therefore, Musa AS had to ask Allah again for his command.
They said, "Call upon your Lord to show us what is her colour." He said, "He says, 'It is a yellow cow, bright in color - pleasing to the observers.'" (Al Qur'an 2:69)
Bani Israel, with their arrogance, stubbornness and hard heartedness, still dragged their feet, refused to comply with Allah's orders, and demanded a further description:
"Call upon your Lord for us to make plain to us what it is. Verily, to us all cows are alike. And surely, if Allah wills, we will be guided." (Al Qur'an 2:70)
This time, because of the extent of their stubbornness and their clear and direct insolence towards Allah, Allah rewarded them by stipulating exceptionally difficult conditions:
He said, "He says, 'It is a cow neither trained to plow the earth nor to irrigate the field, one free from fault with no spot upon her.' " (Al Qur'an 2:71)
With the description narrowed down to such a degree of specificity, Bani Israel was now placed in a tricky situation. Where was one to find a cow that had not worked all its life within that community, and on top of that, free from defects or blemishes? It was virtually impossible.
According to riwayat, the only cow fulfilling the detailed criteria set by Allah was that belonging to the son of the pious parents. Remembering his mother's instructions, the boy refused to sell the cow at the normal market price. The Israelites negotiated hard with him, but the boy refused to budge. Some reports say that eventually, the Israelites were forced to agree to ten times the cow's weight in gold. As a punishment for their stubborn attitudes, those involved now had to dig deep into their pocket, and collect jewellery from their women, for the staggering payment of this cow.
Even then, there was a high degree of reluctance to slaughter the cow. Bani Israel was still on the verge of disobeying Allah, as the following verse reveals:
they slaughtered it though they were near to not doing it. (Al Qur'an 2:71)
Once the cow was slaughtered, Musa AS instructed them with the command of Allah to strike the dead man with a piece of meat from the cow. When they struck the murder victim, he was resurrected by Allah the Almighty. According to riwayat, Musa AS asked him who his murderer was. The murder victim identified his murderer, and then became lifeless again.
This was a sign from Allah on how easily He can give life after death.
Thus Allah brings the dead to life and shows you His Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) so that you may understand} i.e. as you witnessed the revival of that dead man by the Command of Allah the Almighty, He can do the same to all the dead people when He wishes to. (Al Qur'an 31:28)
Allah Will Take Care of the Believers
The lesson that we can learn from the owner of the yellow cow is that if we are pious and trust in Allah, Allah will take care of us and our family, even in the next generation. The boy in this story obeyed his pious parents, acknowledging that their advice to him must have contained some higher wisdom. In return for his parent's piety and also his own obedience, Allah rewarded him abundantly by making his cow the only cow that matched the description of the heifer needed by Bani Israel.
Immediate Obedience to Allah
If we believe in Allah it is our obligation to obey as soon as possible, without excuses. If we keep disobeying, delaying, making excuses or playing games with Allah, a sickness will enter our hearts. The hypocrisy will increase and the hearts will be hardened.
Instead of obeying a relatively simple order, Bani Israel inflicted difficulty on themselves and behaved with complete contempt toward Allah and His messenger. Every time they were sent a sign from Allah, they would deny it, delay and dispute. This is why Allah made the final description of the cow almost impossible to comply with.
Of this attitude, Allah has warned that the hardening of the heart can lead one's heart to be more impenetrable than stone:
Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder. For indeed, there are stones from which rivers burst forth, and there are some of them that split open and water comes out, and there are some of them that fall down for fear of Allah . And Allah is not unaware of what you do. (Al Qur'an 2:74)
We should question ourselves today where we are as an individual and nation. Do we rush to obey Allah, or do we drag our feet until a calamity occurs? Even then, how do we deal with the calamity, and how are our attitudes after the issue has passed?
Bani Israel denied all the signs of Allah, except when trouble struck and they needed Allah's help. This behaviour is no different from those of us who have no place for Allah in our daily lives, and deny and disobey Him on so many levels. Yet, when a situation arises, we hurry to a righteous and pious man to ask him to pray for us or to beg Allah to solve the problem. After the solution has been reached, we then continue with our previous ways.
The Qur'an is targeted at the believers, so why does Allah describe Bani Israel's behaviour in so much depth to us? It is to warn us, the Muslims, not to imitate their behaviour: hypocrisy, lack of faith, arrogance and disobedience. If our behaviour resembles that of the Bani Israel described in this story, then we are no better than them, at it would be apparent that we have learnt nothing from the Qur'an. May Allah save us from having these characteristics and to continue obeying Him in all matters, large and small, ameen.