ShakirThe lightning almost takes away their sight; whenever it shines on them they walk in it, and when it becomes dark to them they stand still; and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have taken away their hearing and their sight; surely Allah has power over all things.
In these verses al-karimah Allah سبحانه وتعالى gives two examples for those hypocrites that pretend Islam and conceal kufr. Islam will not benefit them, since they do not believe in it. Rather they increase in their misguidance wandering around blindly, because misguidance is what runs in their blood and fills their hearts.
As for the first example (verse 17); it is a man who lights a very bright fire أَضَاءتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ "it lighted all around him", so it did not only light his place, but it lit what was around it, indicating its brightness. Yet, they did not benefit from this very bright light. Instead Allah ends it completely ذَهَبَ اللّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ "Allah took away their light". The light is weaker than the brightness. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:
هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاء وَالْقَمَرَ نُورًا
"It is He Who made the sun a shining thing and the moon as a light" [Yunus, 10:5]
This means even its coals are extinguished. Not only its brightness went, but even its light. This extreme darkness enveloped them and they were left confused, wandering around blindly in the darkness (after the extreme brightness), that causes restlessness and confusion. It is an example of their lack of benefiting from Islam and their wandering blindly in kufr and misguidance. They are deaf, dumb and blind, despite the existence of their senses, yet they do not benefit from them, as they neglected them to leave the guidance and chose the clear misguidance.
Then Allah سبحانه وتعالى gives another example أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِّنَ السَّمَاء "Or like a rainstorm from the sky" i.e. like strong rain falling from the sky. But instead of benefiting from it, they were blinded. It brought with it darkness, thunder and lightning from the intensity, such that they put their fingers, i.e. their fingertips - which is a metaphorical usage, by using the part to mean the whole - in their ears afraid that their hearing will go from the loudness of the thunder, and fearing for their life from the severity of the thunderclaps. They also fear the loss of their sight from the extreme brightness of the lightening. All of that is due to the terror of that falling rain that is darkness upon darkness. They go along in the brightness of the lightening, then they stop when it ceases, which incites in them confusion and restlessness. This example is also for the hypocrites' lack of benefiting from Islam, despite its greatness, so they persist in error and misguidance.From daululoomtt.org:
It means that the fast and sudden attack of the lightning almost snatches away their sight. They are extremely frightened, however, finding themselves in the state of utter darkness, they had no choice except to benefit from the flashes of the lightning. Hence, whenever it strikes, they see the pathway and are able to walk a little. However, as soon as the flashes end, they are back in the same darkness again, and so, they remain standing still, fearful of walking ahead. In this state, Allah Has full power to take away their hearing through the loud rumbling of the thunder, and He also Has complete power to snatch away their sight through the piercing flashes of the lightning. These, He can do, whenever He wishes, for He Alone Has full control and power over everything and nothing is difficult for Him, nor is He incapable of doing anything. He however, grants them respite and allows them to benefit from the worldly life for a shortwhile.
The above similitude given is exactly the state of the hypocrites. They have confused themselves regarding Islam on account of the doubts they have entertained in their hearts. At times, they will confess having Imaan, and at times they will express Kufr. Whenever they see benefits in Islam like receiving charities, acquiring the spoils of war with the Muslims, being protected from the Muslims by showing that they are their brothers, they walked a little into Islam by confessing Islam. They are just like those who, having fallen in utter darkness, walk a little when they see the flash of the lightning. In the reverse, when they cannot gain any physical benefits in Islam, they remain firm upon kufr and disbelief. In this, they are similar to those who, in the absence of reaping benefit from the flashes of the lightning, remain standstill in darkness.
The abundant rainfall described in the similitude given in the above verse, is the beautiful religion of Islam which the hypocrites have received. Yet, they allowed themselves to be caught in the darkness of doubts and kufr (disbelief). (Just as rainfall gives life to the dead earth, so too Islam gives life to the dead hearts).
The thunder and lightning described in the similitude which strikes fear in the hearts of the people, are the warnings and threats given in the Holy Quran regarding the punishments of Allah and the fire of Hell.
On account of the hypocrisy of the hypocrites, if Allah had so wished, He could have destroyed them, yet, He granted them respite in this world for a short time.