The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn.
The 29th surah of the Qur’an takes its title from verse 41, which states: “Those who take protectors other than God can be compared to spiders building themselves houses—the spider’s house is the frailest of all houses—if only they could understand.” This sentiment has a parallel in the gospel, in Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:
“Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the flood’s came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (v. 24-27)
The main point of both parables is this: Trust in God and his messenger, and you will prosper. Do not trust in God and his messenger, and you will be destroyed. As in many previous surahs, this one draws examples from sacred history. The stories of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Lot, and Arabian prophets like Shu’ayb all point to one central fact: Those who place their faith in God will prosper, and those who do not will suffer.
This is a Meccan surah, which means it was written in the earlier period of Muhammad’s life when he and his followers faced persecution from the powerful Meccan tribe known as the Quraysh, who did not take kindly to the prophet’s message. Thus, this surah was written in a context of persecution and faith being tested. While modern readers may take issue with the harshness and over-simplicity of the “obey/prosper, disobey/suffer model”, I’m sure it provided encouragement to Muhammad’s new community of faith in 7th century Mecca.