The Sapphire Tablets

When Moses was on top of Mount Sinai, God spoke to him saying, “I am going to give you ten commandments etched on two tablets but you must first bring to me the two tablets.” Then God showed Moses the two sapphire stones the law would be written on and commanded Moses to bring them into his presence. Moses tried to lift the two stones and found that they were much too heavy for a single man to lift. After struggling with the stones, Moses finally gave up and said, “I am sorry. These tablets are much too heavy for one man to lift.”

God answered, “I wanted you to see this for yourself so that you would know the miracle I am about to perform. The words I am about to etch into these tablets have such power that they will lift the tablets for you.”

So God approached the tablets, his glory obscured by the cloud, and he began to etch in the sapphire tablets the words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…” And each Hebrew word, as it was written by God’s own hand, blazed with holy fire, then glowed deep red. And each letter etched into the stone tablet took on a life of its own and sang a psalm of thanksgiving to the Creator.When God finished writing the commandments on the stone tablets. Moses picked them up and they were light as pillows. It was then that he realized the power that the words had given to the heavy stone.

As Moses came down the mountain with the two tablets in his arms, he heard the sound of laughter and drunken singing. As he came closer to the camp he could see the Hebrews had fashioned for themselves a giant golden calf and that they were worshipping it and engaging in all manner of perversion. When the glowing red letters on the tablets saw the revelry and apostasy, they were truly disgusted and they fled the stone tablets and flew to the top of Mount Sinai back to their divine source.

Suddenly, in the sight of all the people, the tablets once again became too heavy for Moses to carry and he dropped them on the ground where they smashed into a thousand pieces.

This midrashic tale was written in part to explain why Moses smashed the stone tablets when he came down from Mount Sinai and saw the Hebrews worshiping a molten image. The original story in Exodus 32 sure makes it seem like Moses smashes the tablets in anger but the ancient rabbis couldn’t fathom that a great man like Moses would behave in such a reckless way. They came up with many explanations but this creative story is far and away my favorite. More important than getting Moses off the hook, this midrash teaches us something profound. God’s word has power! It can lift even the heaviest burden but it cannot abide sin. God’s Word, even when etched in stone is living and dynamic. Those who walk in the way of Jesus are reminded by this parable of the Word who put on flesh and dwelt among us and lightens the burden of the law for us in bright red letters. Why would we bow to something manmade when we could follow the living Word back to the divine source of all things?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Chameleons on the Ark

Of course there were chameleons on the ark. There was every kind of animal on the ark and Noah was in charge of feeding them all. This was much harder than you’d think! Some animals ate plants, some nuts, some berries, and of course some animals ate other animals. Some ate during the day and some ate during the night. Some ate one large meal; some ate many tiny meals and Noah was in charge of figuring this all out. One particular animal that vexed him were the chameleons. Try as he might, Noah could not figure out what the chameleons ate.

The first day, he left them grass to eat and he came by the next day and the grass was still there. So he left berries but the following day the berries were untouched. The third day, he left flies and they were left alone on the fourth. This went on for awhile and Noah became more worried and frustrated as the chameleons became smaller and paler. He would say to the chameleons, “How I wish you would just tell me what you want to eat!” but each day, the chameleons continued to deteriorate in silence.

Finally, around day 15, Noah was passing by the chameleons’ cage with a pomegranate. As he stood there pitying the marvelous and mysterious creatures who would likely not survive the flood, he began to cut his pomegranate. As he cut into the center of the fruit, a worm hopped out and fell into the cage. One of the chameleons immediately seized the worm with their tongue and ate it. Surprised and relieved, Noah sent his sons to fetch some worms to restore the chameleons to health.

Later when the flood was over and Noah was watching all the animals file out of the ark, he spotted the two healthy chameleons and felt a great sense of relief that he was no longer responsible for their care.

This old Jewish midrash demonstrates the truth that God is a much better provider than we are. As human beings, we are often quick to criticize God’s management of the world but we don’t stop to think about all the intricacies and minute details that go into creation. This parable also speaks to our tendency to try and solve our problems without God. Noah worried himself with the fate of the chameleon and took their burden fully upon himself without praying for a solution. Surely the God who was in the midst of saving all of creation from the waters of the flood could be trusted to provide worms for two small chameleons. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Baby Moses and the Burning Coal

After the Pharaoh’s daughter took baby Moses into her own home, she loved him as if he were her own child. He was beloved in the palace and his laughter and his smile brought joy to everyone. Pharaoh, himself, was fond of Moses, looking to him as a grandson. Often he would play with the child and he would giggle and pull Pharaoh’ crown off his head and put it on his own while the Pharaoh would laugh and make faces at the baby. Not everyone was pleased by this though. The magicians in Pharaoh’s court saw the child pulling the Pharaoh’s crown off his head to be a bad omen. One day the palace magicians and wise men were huddling together discussing this amongst themselves.

“Surely this is a bad sign,” said one, “the child repeatedly pulling the Pharaoh’s crown off his head!”

“Yes,” said another, “This cannot be ignored! Surely the child means to eventually usurp our master’s throne. Has not this very thing been prophesied?”

A third spoke in a hushed whisper, “It pains me to say this but it seems to me we must put this child to death now before he is allowed to grow in strength and cunning and someday raise an army.”

The magicians and wise men all murmured in agreement except for one: Jethro, the priest of Midian.

“It seems to me,” said Jethro, “that we are reading too much into the actions of a child who has not yet reached the age of understanding. Let me propose a test. Let us put, in a basin, a piece of gold and a burning coal and place the basin in front of the child. If little Moses reaches for the gold, we’ll know the child has understanding and we can recommend to the Pharaoh that he have the future usurper executed BUT if the child reaches for the hot coal, we will know the child has no understanding and that his actions are innocent.”

The magicians and wise men all agreed to Jethro’s proposal and the next day they carried out this very test. They laid before Moses, in a basin, a piece of gold and a hot coal. The piece of gold caught the child’s attention and he began to reach for it when the Angel Gabriel suddenly appeared and moved the boy’s hand to the coal. Not only did Moses pick up the burning coal, but he put it in his mouth! From that day forward the child stuttered and was slow of speech.

The ancient Rabbincal interpreters of scripture used stories and parables to explain things in the Bible that might be considered confusing to hearers. These types of commentary on scripture are called midrash. This ancient midrash about Moses’ childhood sought to explain why God would allow his chosen prophet to be a “stutterer and slow of speech.” According to the midrash, it was God’s own merciful intervention that made Moses slow of speech. If the angel hadn’t showed up, things would have been far worse. There may be another lesson in this tale too. Our childhood traumas make us the people we are and all of us carry with us the scars of things that have happened to us in life. None of us, though, is too scarred to serve. Our past does not determine our future. It is easy to wish away all the burning coals in your past but it is impossible to know who or what you’d be without them. As disciples, we serve not because we are perfect but because, without God’s intervention, our fates would be much worse.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Third Day of Creation

On the third day of creation, as God was adding the last finishing touches on the trees, giving them sap, leaves, bark, and seed, He noticed something very troubling. The great cedars of Lebanon were towering high above the other trees. They seemed to God to be almost arrogant. God worried that there would soon be competition among the trees and that they might begin to despise one another and threaten His perfect creation. So God in His infinite wisdom decided to create iron. The trees immediately understood that iron would have the power to destroy them so they began to weep.

They cried out to God, “O King of Heaven why have you done this to us? Surely each one of us is destined to be felled by the axe!”

God replied, “The axe is nothing without the wooden handle to lift it! Go, therefore, and live in peace with one another. Stay united and refuse to betray each other and iron will be powerless against you!”

This beautiful midrash tells us far more about human nature than it does about the politics of trees. Unity is a very fragile thing. It only takes a single tree to lend its branch and an entire forest can be felled. For peace to be lasting, each side must trust the others for the limb that is given up to hurt an enemy threatens every tree. Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers. This means living in a posture of humility and forgiveness. We may know some trees that really deserve to be chopped down but let us not forget who it is that created this forest that we share.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…