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…

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…