Date and Context - The date for this one is varied. Pickthall says from 5-10 A.H. It is certainly when Muhammad is dealing with many Christians and Jews.
The main theme of this sura is our duty to God because he has made a covenant with the Jews, Christians and Muslims. And each group is to fulfil their covenant.
vv. 1-11 Various duties and instructions for the Muslims about food, fighting, washing.
vv. 12-32 The example of covenant duty with Jesus, the Israelites and Adam’s sons.
vv. 33-108 Is a mixture of instructions to Muslims, Christians and Jews about what it means to live for Allah and keep his covenant. It deals with oaths, apostasy and how Muslims are to live with Christians.
Vv. 109-120 How each prophet with bear witness to his community as to whether they kept their covenant with Allah. A very interesting ending where Jesus’ disciples, the model of covenant keeping Christians, ask for a table spread with food from heaven, the covenant meal.
What I found Interesting.
1. Covenant - The idea of covenant was strong. There does not seem to be any sacrifice made to start the covenant as there was with Abraham, Israel and Jesus, instead I think it is just the giving of the revelation brings a covenant and maybe the Lord’s table at the end of the sura.
2. Living with Christians - There must have been a lot of Christians around Muhammad to warrant the amount of instruction about them, but it is a real mix of instructions.
Muslim can eat Christian and Jewish food (5:5) marry Christian women (5:5) and must treat them well.
Don’t have Christians as friends.
O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. ... 5:51
The Christian leaders are liars 5:61-62
Have Christians as friends
Thou wilt find the most vehement of mankind in hostility to those who believe (to be) the Jews and the idolaters. And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not. 5:82
Christians and Jews have broken, forgotten and hidden part of their covenant with Allah 5:13-15, 41
Christians and Jews are to follow their own scriptures.
How come they unto thee (Muhammad) for judgment when they have the Torah, wherein Allah hath delivered judgment (for them)? ... Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers. And unto thee (Muslims) have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. ... For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). 5:43-48
It is very interesting to see the idea here of three parallel religious codes and that Allah made it this way. Is this saying that the Jewish and Christian covenants continue alongside of the Islamic covenant?
Say O People of the Scripture! Ye have naught (of guidance) till ye observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto you from your Lord. ... 5:58
Overall it is continuing to sow distrust towards what Christians and Jews say about God.
Is not God
They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. ... 5:17, 72-75
They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.5:73
Mary is not part of the Trinity
And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? 5:116
Just a prophet
The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away! 5:75
On judgement day Jesus will testify against the Christians for their false beliefs about him and his mother.
In the day when Allah gathereth together the messengers, and saith: What was your response (from mankind)?... 5:109
The disciples of Jesus are put forward as the model Christians. 5:112-14
4. Son of God - Not only is Jesus not the son of God, but Christians and Jews must not call themselves this also.
The Jews and Christians say: We are sons of Allah and His loved ones. Say: Why then doth He chastise you for your sins? Nay, ye are but mortals of His creating. ... 5:18
5. The Promised Land. Allah gave Israel the promised land.
O my people! Go into the holy land which Allah hath ordained for you. Turn not in flight, for surely ye turn back as losers: 5:21
I wonder how this is understood in the light of Muslims wanting to remove Israel from the land?
6. Cutting Off Hand - This is a famous verse.
As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise. But whoso repenteth after his wrongdoing and amendeth, lo! Allah will relent toward him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. 5:38-39
V. 39 says that Allah will relent towards him, this means that the thief will not go to hell not that his hand will not be cut off.
7. Apostasy - It is interesting to see that at this stage if someone leaves Islam they are not to be killed but instead Allah will raise up a better Muslim people. This is a great verse of what it means to be a covenant keeping Muslims. So what does a good Muslim look like? Read on ...
O ye who believe! Whoso of you becometh a renegade from his religion, (know that in his stead) Allah will bring a people whom He loveth and who love Him, humble toward believers, stern toward disbelievers, striving in the way of Allah, and fearing not the blame of any blamer. Such is the grace of Allah which He giveth unto whom He will. Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing. 5:54
8. The Bible - more confessions that Muslims believe all the scriptures 5:59.
9. Do not ask questions.
O ye who believe! Ask not of things which, if they were made known unto you, would trouble you; but if ye ask of them when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made known unto you. Allah pardoneth this, for Allah is Forgiving, Clement. 5:101
10. Games of Chance.
5:90 and 2:219 both prohibit games of chance. The Shariah says:
Every game played by two or more people that relies on luck, conjecture, and guessing is unlawful, no matter whether money is stipulated or not. (k29.5)... gambling, whether by itself or connected with offensive games like chess or unlawful ones like backgammon ... (w.52.1 (423)) Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, "Reliance of the Traveller."