I’ve got a heavy tongue. I’ve always known that. When you’re listening to me sometimes you will find it hard to understand me. It can take a long time for me to get around to saying what I really mean. I’ve got used to the fact that God’s people have got used to me and my temper. I’ve never got used to it. I killed a man once. An Egyptian. I lost it when I saw how he was treating a Hebrew slave. Any injustice makes me an intemperate man and I can’t control this heavy tongue.
After spending a wonderful week close up to Yahweh on Mount Sinai, I could not contain my fury when I saw God’s people committing the worst sin of idolatry. It just wasn’t fair to the Lord Yahweh. But I should have lightened my tongue and explained myself instead of just exploding so hard that I broke those two granite tablets.
And I really wonder at times. My brother has a tongue of quicksilver. Would it have been different if he had been God’s ambassador to Pharaoh and not me? If Aaron had pleaded for Yahweh’s people my Egyptian family could have been spared all those calamities: boils, water turned to blood, flies and first-born murders. I kept tripping over my tongue and confronting Pharaoh. My heavy tongue. But I got on with the task Yahweh had given me. And I don’t usually dwell on what might have been.
I guess my heavy tongue gives me an advantage. I’m slow to answer. I listen when people bring their disputes. I just don’t get a word in. But I get fired up by the one who is wrong, and when my heavy tongue eventually gets working, they trust my judgements, and come back for more… and more. Actually I took some persuading to change the system so that others could help the people sort out their disputes too.
Speaking of being fired up, you remember how I was fired up by that burning bush changed my life. I stopped then being an Egyptian prince on the run as a murderer and started being my real self. But my heavy tongue stopped me asking for what I really wanted. I saw the angel of the Lord in the spouting leaping flames. I heard God himself speak and pronounce his name, Yahweh, “I am who I am”. But I did not see what I dearly yearned to see: the glory of God himself, and I did not ask for it. “I hid my face, for I was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)
And there’s something really strange about that. It’s not strange to be afraid to look at the glory of God. We all know that you can’t see God and live. What was strange was that the very thing I longed to see in God was deeply connected to the very thing in me that was a barrier. Let me explain. In my language, the word for heavy is kavod. I have a heavy tongue, a tongue that is kavod, and my heavy tongue has always stopped me for asking God for my deepest desire: to actually see his glory. The word for “glory” is the same word: kavod. Thekavod of my tongue stops me seeing the kavod of God.
There’s something deep in me that gets in my way when I try to see God in all his glory, when I try to open myself to seeing God as God really is. For me it means, what I really want from God, I can’t ask for.
But God is overwhelmingly good. If there’s one thing I’ve learned that’s new in the history of.humanity, it’s that connection. God and goodness go together. Religion and morality are deeply connected. God is good. Eventually, after the supreme privilege of being the channel by which God’s good Law was delivered to his people, God lightened my tongue. I asked.
Moses asks to see the glory of God – and God responds in the New Revised Standard Version here.
There is an interesting, but inconclusive, scholarly article on Moses’ heavy tongue in the Bulletin of the American Schools for Oriental Research BASOR,231 (1978) 57-62, which you may be able to access here.
Questions for reflection or group discussion.
Have you ever experienced the “kavod” – the heavy glory of God. What was it like? or what do you think it would be like?
Tell the story of someone (like Aaron) who finds it easy to put their experience of God into words.
Write the story of a deeply committed Christian who seriously believes that freedom in Christ means freedom from morality.