Prophets Before Us

Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed

to those before you, that you may become righteous”

 (Al Baqara 2:183).


Today marks the start of the sacred Muslim month of rest: Ramadan. For Muslims, Ramadan represents a month of blessings, for it marks the beginning of the Qur’an as revelation and the calling of Arab pagans back to the worship of the God of Abraham.

This is also a month of rest; rest from materialism and attachment to this world in the pursuit of purification. Ramadan functions as a sort of “reset button” for the self. Purification is attained by actively reading 1/30 of the Qur’an every day, offering special prayers (tarawih), giving charity to the poor (zakat), refraining from food, water and sexual relations during the daylight hours. Lying, and impure thoughts are also to be curtailed.

Because it was during Ramadan that the first part of the Qur’an came into existence, Muslims believe that the gates of Paradise are opened, and prayers more readily answered. Prophet Mohammad said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened, and the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained.” (Imam Bukhari).

One particular night has especial significance, “the Night of Power” (Laylat al Qadr) which marks the commencement of the revelation of the Qur’an to Mohammad. It is one of the nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. Muslims believe that on this night the blessings and mercy of God are abundant, sins are forgiven, supplications are accepted; some others believe that the revelation of Qur’an occurred in two phases, with the first phase being the revelation in its entirety on Laylat al-Qadr to the angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic) in the lowest heaven, and then the subsequent piecemeal dictation to Muhammad over a period of 23 years.

It has become known that many Muslims receive dreams of Isa al Masih (Jesus) during Laylat al Qadr.

(Al Qadr 97:1-5) Behold, We revealed this (Qur’an) on the Night of Power, and what do you know what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels along with the Spirit descend in it by the permission of their Lord with all kinds of decrees. All peace is that night until the rise of dawn.


The historical roots of this month go back to the year 610. All the way to the city of Mecca in Arabia,

Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may become righteous” (Al Baqara 2:183 bold mine).


In this two-part paper I will address the ayat above. In part one I will survey biblically “those before you”, who are they? Why did they fast? In part two what is the connection between fasting and righteousness.


“Prescribed to Those Before You”

Who are those who came “before”? What meaning and benefits are associated with their fasting? Especially what can we learn about God and His way of engaging with people through the experience of fasting? Abdullah ibn Umar said: “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him: ‘Ramadan fasting was decreed by God on the nations before you”.

In the Honored Tawrat, collective fasting is linked to (1) grief or mourning, (2) repentance and seeking forgiveness from sin, purification, and restoration on the Day of Atonement[2], (3) as an aid in prayer, (4) the response after experiencing the presence of God and (5) as an act of ceremonial public worship. Yet, the Honored Tawrat does not regulate or enjoin fasting for the Bani of Isra’el, except during the Day of Atonement. God commanded them was to afflict themselves in the presence of their Lord (Lev. 23:26-32).

These is common ground, between the Muslim and Christians scriptures, yet there is a motif that is uniquely tied to three messengers in the Honored Bible: Musa (Moses), Elijah and Isa al Masih (Jesus) fasted for 40 days, and their stories when read as pages from one single text create a composite picture that is both beautiful and morally compelling.


Musa (Moses), Elijah and Isa al Masih (Jesus) fasted for 40 days, and their stories when read as pages from one single text create a composite picture that is both beautiful and morally compelling.


  • Moses fasted before God at Sinai on the occasion of the reception of the 10 commandments. (Ex. 34:28, 24:18 & Deut.9:18). And again, a second time (Deut. 10:10). In the presence of the Sustainer and atop of the mountain[3], he has no need of food nor drink, because God Himself is his provision. There he learned that God’s word, and not bread, sustained him. (See Deut. 8:3 & Mathew 4:4). Moses is being kept alive not by food nor water, but by the mouth of Yahweh.
  • Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) on his way to (Horeb) Sinai fasted after the dramatic showdown of power between the One true God and the gods fabricated in the factory of the human mind. God, through an angel, sustained him with a meal that enabled him to travel without food and water for 40 days (1 Kgs 19:7-8). Food from heaven? What is the connection with Sinai again? “You shall have no other gods before Me.” ( 20:3).
  • Jesus fasted before presenting Himself as the new Moses, (Giver of the New Law Matt 4:2; Luke 4:2) , and at the beginning of His ministry calling Israel back to God (Elijah). Where Adam had failed to control his appetite, Jesus (the second Adam), fasted. Where Israel lost their path of faithfulness in the desert, Jesus was obedient trusting the guiding Holy Spirit that lead Him there. “One cannot help but note the reference to bread and stones in light of the experience of Moses, who received the Word of God on stone tablets even while being denied physical food and drink.” He is the One who is able to resist the temptation to make His own bread, and instead chooses to live on “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mat 4:4).

The same fasting trio is reunited at the time of the transfiguration: Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Once again, they are connected to mountain imagery, so that the common motif may not be lost.  Moses representing The Law (Torah), Elijah being the greatest of the OT prophets, and Jesus being the one to whom “the law and the prophets” were pointing all along (Luke 24:27). Here is the Law and the Prophets (two witnesses), pointing forward to the Messiah who will take forward the story of Israel and mankind. What is the evidence? Moses announced the coming of another after him (Deut. 18:18) and God announced the coming of another Elijah before the Day of the Lord (Mal. 4:4-6). In other words, their mission was not complete yet.

At the transfiguration we gain understanding of how the return from exile from the Garden is moving forward. The picture is one of enactment of messianic hopes. As if saying, “don’t miss it, this is where the law and the prophets were pointing all along: God’s Messiah, the one human who embodies the law flawlessly and more than a prophet, for while messengers delivered Gods’ message, Jesus is the message.”

The third witness is God himself who in the presence of Moses and Elijah points to Jesus for He said: “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him”. Why? Because, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Hb 1:1-2).

If we are asked to listen, it means that someone is speaking. In the Qur’an one of the names of Jesus is Kalimatullah, or Word of God, could this be because Jesus is divine speech, God’s thought made audible, the revealer of truth?  What is the evidence that during His life Jesus never departed from what had been entrusted to Him? His final resurrection and vindication to the right hand of God (a motif that could be supported from the Qur’an even when it is not part of mainstream Islam).

Another visual connection between Moses, Elijah and Jesus are the presence of clouds associated with the sacred mountain (which is beyond the scope of this paper).

Luke’s Gospel (9:28-36) adds that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were speaking about His departure (that is, Jesus’), “which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” The Greek word Luke uses for “departure” in the original is exodus, an obvious allusion to Moses’ exodus out of Egypt. Luke is reading history as going from Moses’ political liberation to final liberation from the chains of sin passing from Elijah who cut the ties with idolatry.

Malachi also connected Moses and Elijah when he said,

Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey. Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment (Mal 4:4-6).

Remembering the law (obedience) and receiving the new Elijah that was bringing down reconciliation (not just right teachings) was God’s way of averting negative judgment.

In summary, Jesus represents the culmination of what Moses and Elijah started: the fulfillment of the Messianic hopes where grief, sin, captivity and shame would be dealt a final blow and shalom restored. The day when fasting will be replaced with feasting, laments with songs of joy, and God will again set a banquet table to mark the final Day of the Lord.