These verses come in the middle of the story of the people of a town who rejected the messengers Allah had sent to them.
There are two things that must be mentioned about these verses. The first thing is that they mention "a man", meaning a solitary human being. There is only one man acting in his own capacity and according to the dictates of his faith. He acts without fearing estrangement from his people.
The man comes and announces in front of his people that he supports those who Allah had sent to them, and he calls the people to follow those messengers. By doing so, he against the vast majority of his people and challenges the leaders of his society who advocate falsehood.
No doubt, group efforts are important. So is cooperating with others in performing works of righteousness and taking turns in fulfilling public duties. At the same time, circumstances often require a person to act alone. This is especially true at times when society falls into ruin and its existence - or at least its distinct identity - becomes imperiled. At times like these, there are no organized entities specifically responsible to mobilize people's talents and appoint people to various duties. This is the general state of affairs for Muslims in most countries of the world, and this creates a need for an increase in individual efforts. Deficiencies have to be remedied. A well thought out plan of action has to be agreed upon to free the Muslims from their horrible condition. An Islamic program must be devised to bring about general reform. The beginnings of such efforts will usually be within the concerned heart of a single Muslim. Even the process of determining the skills that will be needed, finding those who possess them and cultivating their abilities will begin as the result of individual effort.
This in no way belittles the importance of people pooling their efforts and working together, nor does it detract from the importance of social enterprises that, by the Lord's grace, have continued to provide benefits. What is being stressed here, however, is the role of the individual in bringing about such collective efforts and the role of the individual that extends beyond those efforts.
The second thing that should be mentioned about these verses is that the use of the phrase "a man" extols the virtues of manliness, courage, and self-sacrifice. He is but a man. Nothing else is said about his identity. Manliness is an attribute that encompasses many natural characteristics and virtues such as strength, honesty, sacrifice, and patience. Men, by this definition, are few indeed. And nothing less than having to face adversity tests the mettle of a man.
The phrase "a man came running" can be found in one other place in the Qur'ân. We find it in the story where Moses killed a Coptic Egyptian. Allah relates to us that when news spread of what he did: "...a man came running from the farthest end of the city. He said: 'O Moses, the chiefs are taking counsel against you to slay you. So escape. I am truly for you a sincere advisor'." [Sûrah al-Qasas: 20]
In this verse, like the other one, we are not told the identity of the "man (who) came running." However, his action is important, since it is through him that Moses comes to know of the decree for his death that had been sent down from the Pharaoh's palace. The man then advises Moses to flee the city. He asks nothing in return
Therefore, the "man" in both stories was not discouraged by the results of his efforts, nor did the obstacles and difficulties that he had to face shake his resolve. There was long distance involved, for he came from "the farthest end of the city." Time was short, because he "came running."
In both cases, the objective was noble. There was no question of personal benefit for the man or vested interests. In the story of Moses (Moses), the man says: "I am truly for you a sincere advisor." [Sûrah al-Qasas: 20]
In the story from YâSîn, the man makes his concern for the welfare of his people perfectly clear even after his people attack him, beat him, and stone him to death. Allah says to him: "Enter paradise." The man laments: "If only my people knew the forgiveness that I have received from my Lord and how He has placed me among the honored ones." [Sûrah YâSîn: 26]
Ibn `Abbâs said: "He had advised his people when he was alive by saying: 'follow those who have been sent' and after his death by saying: 'If only my people knew…'." [Related by Ibn Abî Hâtim]
Qatâdah says: "You will find a believer to be a sincere advisor and never find him to be a deceiver. That man, when he saw with his own eyes the honor that Allah had bestowed upon him, said: 'If only my people knew…" [Related by al-Tabarânî]
The qualities inherent within a person have a marked effect on that person's behavior, no matter what that person's inclinations are. This effect can be negative or positive. Faith does not remove these qualities; it merely suppresses the base ones and cultivates the noble ones. This is why Allah's Messenger said: "You will find the people to be like resources, the best of them during the time of ignorance are the best of them after Islam, if they understand it. You will find them to be the most antagonistic people towards Islam until they accept it. You will find the worst of people to be the ones who are two-faced, coming to each group of people with a different face."
This is why the people who possessed nobility, good manners, and manliness in the times of ignorance were the same people to possess these qualities after accepting Islam and becoming good Muslims. Almost none of these people who became good Muslims and strived in the cause of Islam ever became known for hypocrisy. When Allah talks about the hypocrites in the chapter of the Qur'ân known as al-Nisâ', he mentions their punishment then says: "…except for those who repent, make amends, rely on Allah, and are sincere to Allah in their faith. These are with the believers." It is important to note that Allah describes them as being "with the believers" and not "from the believers."
Weak and fickle personalities that are prone to changes of heart are free to retreat and withdraw and are not capable of upholding trusts and bearing things with patience and fortitude.
We can see in our own times - and in every time throughout history - that some of the people who have no religion or belief in the Hereafter can exhibit considerable amounts of patience, make sacrifices, and subject themselves to risk and danger on the strength of their convictions and their generosity. They often do so to an extent that we could only wish for from many who profess faith.
As for the believers, and especially throughout their history, we find many good and blessed examples of people with these characteristics. These noble people are the ones to undertake the important efforts. They are the best suited to do so, since one of them is equal to a large number of people and possesses noble qualities that can scarcely be found among many. This is why Allah says about Abraham (peace be upon him): "Verily Ibrâhîm was a nation unto himself." [Sûrah al-Nahl: 120]