Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

How shall we escape?

Roland Clarke

According to the Bible and the Qur'an righteous people have to endure various kinds of hardship, suffering and persecution but ultimately they are saved. In my recent article, A closer look at the rainbow, I looked at Lot as an example of a godly man who was barely saved from fiery judgment that consumed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Scripture says that Lot was 'tormented in his soul,' having witnessed deeply entrenched evil, especially rampant homosexuality. The story of his harrowing escape correlates with 1 Peter 4:17-19,

the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”[Proverbs 11:31] So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. (bold added for emphasis)1

Notice that a member of Lot's own household (his wife) suffered punishment like the Sodomites, which serves to illustrate the truth that “judgment begins with us” (God's household). Also, we should remember that the angelic messengers had earlier given fair warning to Lot's family that they would be swept away in the widespread destruction if they did not leave immediately. At dawn when Lot still hesitated, the angels mercifully “took them by the hand” out of Sodom.

Job is another example of a righteous man who endured excruciating hardships. In fact, he became so ill he said, “I have been reduced to skin and bones and have escaped death by the skin of my teeth.” (Job 19:20) Job's crisis was somewhat different from Lot, yet he too was barely saved. Another story, well known to Jews, Christians and Muslims, which shows a righteous man narrowly escaping death is the story of Jonah.

Whereas Job was not blameworthy for the disasters that befell him, Jonah's situation was different. He humbly admitted that he had disobeyed God, and therefore, deserved the disciplinary judgment from his heavenly Father. (Hebrews 12:5-10) The severe storm that threatened to kill everyone on board the ship was, indeed, Jonah's fault, and this is precisely why he asked the sailors to throw him overboard. Yet God made a way of escape, sending a huge fish to swallow him – a surprising solution!

The biblical account of Job explains in great detail how he struggled to make sense of his 'unfair' suffering. The reader realizes Job's agonizing trials were instigated by the Devil's slanderous attacks against God. But probably Job himself did not properly grasp that his misfortunes and tragedies were caused by a sinister supernatural source – the Devil. Perhaps Job did eventually come to understand the Devil's role, especially in the last three chapters where God talked directly to him and explained about two super-powerful monsters, Behemoth and Leviathin.2 In the final analysis, Job's inner turmoil and tension is resolved when he humbles himself before the LORD acknowledging that he spoke incorrectly and even admits that he accused the Lord of things that weren't true. Indeed, Job “repented in dust and ashes.” (Job 40:3-5; 42:1-6) Thereafter, as it is written, he was “lifted up in due time” (cf. 1 Peter 5:6) The LORD also bountifully rewarded him for showing patient endurance.

Did God see fit to use 'mysterious' suffering in Job's life to refine his character? Certainly Job saw it this way, according to his testimony in Job 23:10, “He [God] knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.” (HCSB) Indeed, God used the crucible of fiery trials in Job's life for his ultimate good so that “we (Job too) may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)

One thing is clear from these stories, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) (Interestingly, the Ahadith also declares, “Every son of Adam is a sinner, and the best of sinners are those who repent constantly.”)

How then can people be saved/redeemed?

In the very midst of inexplicable suffering, Job's faith in God shines brightly as he expresses confident hope,

I have been reduced to skin and bones and have escaped death by the skin of my teeth.

“Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for the hand of God has struck me.
Must you also persecute me, like God does? Haven’t you chewed me up enough?

“Oh, that my words could be recorded. Oh, that they could be inscribed on a monument,
carved with an iron chisel and filled with lead, engraved forever in the rock.

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself.
Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! (Job 19:20-27)

Job fixed his eyes and set his hope on God as his Redeemer. Many other prophets also called God by this name/title. In fact, it was Moses who witnessed many signs and wonders as part of the epic redemption story whereby God rescued the Israelites from tyranny under the brutal reign of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. Interestingly, the critical, final plague which God inflicted on the Egyptians proved to be the 'final straw' that forced Pharaoh to let the slaves go free. Indeed, it was this widespread deadly plague that explains exactly how YAHWEH redeemed his people Israel.

God provided a way to redeem the first born sons and liberate his people from slavery, as long as they obeyed Moses' command to slaughter a Passover lamb. In effect, the lamb died instead of their first born sons, as was the case with Abraham who sacrificed the ram God provided instead of his son Isaac.

One might ask, “Was it really necessary for the children of Israel to sacrifice a lamb?” Was there not a simpler way to force Pharaoh's hand? Couldn't God have broken Pharaoh's resistance by focusing solely on the Egyptians – killing only their first born sons? Surely the death angel ONLY had to visit the Egyptian homes since God's primary purpose was to force Pharaoh to release the slaves, was it not? So what was the point of the death angel going to Israelite homes? Why did God even threaten to kill their first born sons?

As we've glimpsed in 1 Peter 4 and in the stories of Lot, Jonah and Job, God has a wider and deeper purpose than executing punitive judgment against obstinate evil unbelievers. The Lord loves to show restraint and mercy not only towards his own children but even to unbelievers. Scripture is clear: “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.” (Ezekiel 18:23-24)

Let's take a closer look at the astonishing escape from Egypt under Moses' leadership. Yahweh made it painfully clear to Pharaoh after this tyrant repeatedly hardened his heart, that he and his people deserved to die. “By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth. But you still lord it over my people and refuse to let them go. So tomorrow at this time I will send a hailstorm more devastating than any in all the history of Egypt.” (Exodus 19:15-18) Clearly the Lord restrained his wrath against Pharaoh! Furthermore, even when it came to the final tenth plague, God showed mercy and forbearance. Once again he could have “wiped them off the face of the earth” yet he gave the angel permission to ONLY strike down the first born sons.

As for the people of Moses, God knew they weren't without fault either. They too were sinners and so, in all fairness, he said they too deserved to die. (cf. Genesis 2:17) This is why God pronounced the death penalty on first born sons in every home across the entire country, whether Egyptian or Hebrew. The only way one could avert the plague was to sacrifice the Passover lamb and put its blood on the door frame as required by God.

Here is the rest of the story as recorded in Exodus 12:1,3, 21-33:

... the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “... Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. … Then Moses called all the elders of Israel together and said to them, “Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down. Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” ...

God executed judgment on the Egyptians, but spared the Hebrews because they had already executed/slaughtered the Passover lamb in obedience to Moses' instructions. The message is clear: Judgment must begin in God's household (among his people). So what is the final outcome? Mercy triumphs over judgment.

We noted earlier that God showed mercy to Lot but now we need to consider more carefully how the Lord showed mercy to Job. Scripture tells us, “We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.” (James 5:10-11, bold added)

The commentator who penned the footnotes to Job in Grace and Truth Study Bible concludes by acknowledging that these verses in James 5 are;

the key to this final passage of the book [Job 42:10-17]. When will the astonishing recovery take place for us that is foreshadowed by Job's restored prosperity, his new family, his beautiful daughters, and his long life? For the Lord Jesus, whom Job's sufferings foreshadow, it took place at the resurrection and ascension. For us it will come when Jesus returns (James 5:7). We may have undeserved blessings before then, but we are not promised this resurrection prosperity—the final end to hunger, sickness, sufferings or sadness—until Jesus returns. Let us look forward with confidence to that day and pray to follow Job, and ultimately Jesus, in patient perseverance through suffering.”

As we conclude it is fitting to see Christ's statement about perseverance while describing another narrow-escape-scenario near the end of time, just before his return to earth.

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. … For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones. (Matthew 24:13,21-22)

Make no mistake: Divine judgment is real, inevitable, universal and terrifying. But mercifully, God himself provides a way of escape as he did for Lot, for Job, for Jonah, and for the Hebrew slaves. In fact, “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus died, shedding his blood, the ultimate and final sacrifice to save us from the Devil, who is the murderer from the beginning. I urge you, therefore, to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour! “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Bible Translation unless otherwise indicated.

If you have questions or perhaps you've accepted Jesus Christ as God's Lamb – the true way of escape from eternal punishment, please write to me here.

Endnote: God's Lamb, the Redeemer/Saviour

The way of escape under Moses required sacrificing the Passover lamb, foreshadowing the promised Messiah – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. Isaiah 41:23; 49:6; 53:7; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 5:9-12) Make no mistake, the principle of a sacrificial lamb was truly a vital aspect of Abraham's faith. Notice, after demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice his own son, Abraham foretold that God himself would provide the lamb. (Genesis 22:8,14) Significantly, the Qur'an glimpses this momentous ransom as reflected in the annual celebration of Eid ul Adha, “And We ransomed his son with a great sacrifice.” (Surah 37:107) See, The Mystery of Abraham's Sacrifice.

Not only does Abraham's story underscore the importance of a sacrificial lamb, it points to God's matchless love in giving up his one and only son in order to save the world (John 3:16) as John Gilchrist explains in, Isaac: The Reflection of the Father's Love

Although, the Qur'an contains helpful hints pointing to Jesus the promised Messianic Redeemer, sadly, Muslim leaders refuse to honor Allah as Redeemer (Al Fadi) as Job and Moses did. The prophet Isaiah also testified in chapter 63:8-16 how the Israelites recalled the days of Moses when God “brought them through the sea, … to gain for himself everlasting renown.” (NIV) He became their Saviour and Redeemer. (cf. Isaiah 49:26; Psalm 49:15; 78:35, 106:9-11) In fact, for 1400 years Islamic scholars have refused to acknowledge this name, Redeemer (or the 'twin' title, Saviour) among the ninety nine beautiful names of Allah! See God our Savior, Redeemer and Is there Only One Saviour God? 

The Bible goes on to explain that when the Messiah finally arrived, in fulfillment of all that the prophets foretold, the angel from God gave him the name, Jesus, meaning 'God is salvation' because “he shall save his people from their sin.” (Isaiah 49:6; Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; Revelation 5:9-12) Islam's rejection of Jesus as Saviour (& Lamb of God) should not surprise us, because Muslims believe that when Jesus returns to earth in the last days he will break the cross, in effect a denial that Jesus ever died on the cross.

Many godfearing Muslims claim to believe in Abraham, Lot and the prophets, while rejecting God's salvation and ignoring the warning of Scripture, “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3) Instead, why not investigate who Jesus truly is and what he has done out of love for you?


1. Because Job “grasps that the Lord controls even the devil, he knows God can do all things and cannot be thwarted in any way. Everything God chooses to do, he does. This world is not a battle between two opposite and equal powers; there is one Sovereign power, only one. Job repents of what he has said that has contradicted this. He has a new view of God in his majestic, wise, providential sovereignty. And therefore he has a new, more realistic sense of his own mistakes and frailty.” (footnote to Job 42 in The Grace and Truth Study Bible)

2. The footnote to 1 Peter 4 in The Grace and Truth Study Bible explains, “Peter urges the believers not to be surprised by the persecution they are experiencing; rather they are to rejoice! Returning to the metalworking imagery (1:7) Peter interprets the believers' trials as a crucible for them, a way that the genuineness of their faith will be truly authenticated. Ancient Jews and Christians anticipated a time of suffering that would precede the end, though early Christians understood this end-time suffering as beginning with the passion of Jesus and continuing with those united to him. This end-time suffering, however, would eventually culminate in end time glory. Peter reminds the believers that if they keep their suffering in this proper perspective and rejoice in the midst of their present adversity, then they will really be able to rejoice when Jesus comes again.... Peter encourages the believers to praise God for their identification with Christ because, alluding to Ezekiel 9:6, the final judgment starts with the temple itself, which metaphorically represents Christ's Church. The sufferings that the believers are undergoing serve as a disciplinary judgment that gives some indication of the full punitive judgment that will fall on unbelievers. And if God subjects his own people to such suffering, the end of unbelievers is terrifying to consider.”