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 Silver Window


Once there lived a kind and generous man. Every morning he would wake up and look out his bedroom window and gaze on all the townspeople below, saying prayers for them and counting his many blessings. During the day he would perform good deeds to the people he saw below and when he came home he would go to his bed satisfied and smiling.

Now one of the town’s elders surprised him by leaving a large sum of money upon his death, in reward for his kindness. The man decided he would use all of this money to do good deeds and bless the beloved people he saw out his bedroom window each morning. First though, he decided to allow himself one indulgence: he had the edges of his favorite window adorned with pure silver.

Each morning, the man got up and went out to his bedroom window and looked down as was his custom and prayed for the people below, and resolved to do good deeds for them. But each morning, he also looked at the silver adorning the outside of his window and thought, “How much beautiful would this window be, if I added a little more silver!”

Slowly, but surely, he began to spend less of his money on his fellow townsfolk and more adorning the edges of his favorite window. As the silver took up more and more of the window, he saw less and less of his fellow townspeople, so he thought of them less and prayed for them less. Until, at last, one morning the man woke up and looked into his silver window and all he saw was his own reflection.

This lovely Jewish parable reminds us that the process of becoming completely self centered is a slow one that begins around the edges, but will eventually consume us if we let it. To follow Christ means to love others as we love ourselves. To serve Him is to serve our neighbor. These things bring contentment and joy. Serving ourselves and loving ourselves brings only darkness and despair. Perhaps the difference between heaven and hell is the difference between a window and a mirror.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King’s Pardon


Once Frederick the Great of Prussia was touring one of his country’s largest prison facilities. Word had quickly spread among the prisoners that the king was in the building and their excitement grew at the prospect of receiving a king’s pardon. As King Frederick passed each of the cells the prisoner would call out to him pleading their case. They yelled things like, “I’m innocent!”, “I was framed”, or “Give me justice!”.

Occasionally he would stop and listen to a prisoner’s account of how he had landed in the prison despite his innocence of the crime he’d been charged with and then, unmoved, continue on. Finally, King Frederick passed one particular cell and it was completely silent. His curiosity was aroused. In the back of the cell, in a dark shadow, a man sat on a bench looking down at the floor. The king called out to him, “Sir, aren’t you going to plead your case to me as well?”

The man, paused for a moment, looked up at him, and said, “No, your highness, I’m guilty of everything they said I did. I’m right where I belong.”

King Frederick immediately turned to the guards and cried, “Free this guilty man at once, before he corrupts all the innocents!”

I’m not sure how historically grounded this anecdote is but it serves as a powerful parable about the freeing power of confession. We live in an age that teaches that guilt is unhealthy and that we need to learn to be OK with ourselves. The problem is that we cannot find true freedom if we are only in the business of guilt management. If we delude ourselves into thinking we are merely the product of our social environment or forced into our actions by a series of incidents beyond our control, we never truly come face to face with our true sinfulness and never experience the redemption and liberation that comes from God’s grace. The scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them, but until we look the king in the eye and tell him we’re guilty as charged, we cannot receive His pardon. St. Augustine said it best: “Assume nothing; one thief was saved. Presume nothing; one thief was damned.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Monk and the Scorpion


There was once a monk meditating beside a stream. He was finishing his prayers when he noticed a scorpion trapped on a rock in the middle of the stream as the waters were steadily rising, threatening to drown the creature. Moved with compassion, the monk waded into the stream and tried to rescue the scorpion. Each time he picked up the scorpion, it stung the monk and he dropped it back in the rock. Another monk, passing by, witnessed the exchange and called out to him, “you fool! Do you not know it is the scorpion’s nature to sting?”

“Yes!”, replied the monk, “but it is my nature to save!”

This Buddhist parable has a profoundly Christian message. In Christ we have been shown God’s nature is to save. He will keep picking us up and picking us up no matter how many times we sting Him. God does not walk away from His creation. As disciples, we are called to take on the nature of Christ, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, giving to anyone who asks of us, forgiving 7 times 7 times, and taking up our cross. Like the monk, we can become weary of being stung. Consider the two inevitable endings of this parable… Eventually the waters rise and the scorpions last sting results in its being drowned, as it falls into the flowing waters where his rock used to be. The monk walks away satisfied that it did everything in its power to save a creature who simply would not be saved… OR… maybe the seventh time, the scorpion overcomes its nature and allows itself to be rescued. This hope is what makes the nature of the monk stronger than the nature of the scorpion.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…