Words are not enough

Over the next four months I shall be releasing one small excerpt of my new book, Who Needs Words, on the first day of each month until publication. In the excerpt below, thoughts turn to our one and only example of God’s handwriting.


Generations after the creation, with the dream of Eden but a distant memory, the Bible says that God spoke to his people again, and particularly to Moses as their leader. On this occasion, however, there was to be a written record of what he said. The remarkable thing about Moses’ meeting with God on Mount Sinai was not only that he should have survived it unscathed, but that he should emerge from it with a written record of their meeting. The covenant meeting, which established the people’s relationship with their God was a miracle, and the stone tablets were the miraculous minutes of it. Those tablets, inscribed by God’s own hand, were proof that he had not done with the people just yet. Their status as the people chosen by God to receive his written word, his special law, would keep their heads held high for generations to come, even through many persecutions.

How should we interpret it, then, when these stone tablets of holy words never made it beyond the foot of the mountain on account of the people’s behaviour? Moses had no sooner arrived back at the camp than he was confronted with the unexpected spectacle of God’s people worshipping golden idols which they had made from melted-down jewellery. Uncertain about when or whether Moses would return, they had made alternative arrangements. In a fit of pique Moses threw the stone tablets to the ground, where they shattered on impact. Were the people behaving this way because they had not yet read the words, or would the words have made little difference? Would written words have left them as unmoved as spoken words appeared to do with their forebears, Adam and Eve? Whatever the answer, these shattered tablets, with their fragments of God’s calligraphy scattered on the desert floor, seem to say something about the inadequacy of language in the divine encounter. God had spoken, and now written to the people, but their relationship with him still appeared to be pretty shaky.


Who Needs Words can be pre-ordered through the Saint Andrew Press.