Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Stonemason by Janette Hvistendahl, oil painting, 2012
And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. / And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. / And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
— Exodus 32:19 / 34:1/28
Moses, as God's agent, attempts to take God's Word to the people in the form of stone tablets created by God and containing the commandments. The people immediately disobey the commandments, worshipping an idol and holding orgies of indulgence. Moses in anger smashes the tablets. God threatens to wipe out the unbelievers, and Moses pleads for their lives. God forgives, and plans a second attempt.
The second set of tablets differs from the original set in a significant way. First we read that Moses himself is to hew the tablets out of rock for God to rewrite them, then we learn that it is actually Moses who chisels out the commandments over a forty-day labour. The commandments become, not a top-down directive, but a collaboration between man and God. It is the man-made, not the divine object that survives, and is taken seriously. As a result of the work, Moses changes. His face glows. He is now invested, and the people follow likewise.
Little has altered over the centuries in our attitude to transformation. We tend to resist top-down, imposed, coercive change, and tend to welcome change that we feel involved with, engaging with leaders who get their hands dirty, who practice what they preach. Following Moses' lead the Israelites set to work immediately, and enthusiastically to built the Tabernacle of God, to house the commandments and to carry God with them to the promised land.
"Because human beings have taken the initiative, something in them changes. Their horizons of possibility have been expanded. They now know they are capable of great things, and because they did so once, they are aware that they can do so again." 1
Whether it is political change, organisational transformation or parenting, if the people themselves are not engaged, the change will be resisted. To be free, we must have a hand in our own destinies. Anything else is oppression.
1 Quote from Two Types of Religious Encounter by Jonathan Sacks