For the last few days, the Old Testament lesson in the Daily Office has been in Deuteronomy. We’ve been reading in piecemeal fashion Moses’ speech to the Israelites before the cross over the Jordan River and head into the Promised Land. Like many memorable leaders who have led their people to the edge of success, Moses has a few words he wants to share before the moment has passed.
At first, it was a speech of encouragement: “Know therefore that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God.” Then, it turned to a call for humility: “Do not say…[that] it is because my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land.” Today, the speech turns full circle and presents a powerful message of God’s mercy and forgiveness that transcend any specific moment in time.
Ultimately, the law given to God’s people through Moses is a second copy. The law—the single most important disclosure of God to the world in the history of the Jewish people—is a do-over. As Moses puts it, “At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’” What an amazing foundation of our faith!
God’s law—the rules, the structure, the commandments—are etched into the reality of a mistake. We screwed up, but God did not abandon us. He tried again. As a friend of mine from Montgomery wrote earlier this week, this is a story about second chances—and, of all places to find it, at the actual giving of the law.
The cosmic significance of this makes me laugh. How amazing it is that the story behind the giving of the law is based on a need for forgiveness! That is a reflection both of our propensity for sin and God’s nature of mercy. The next time you see a statue or monument or picture of the tablets of stone—remember that they are a second copy. The first one was destroyed so that we wouldn’t have to be.