Pre-Approved Baby Names Only

[From the archives.]

New and Approved Names

You read that right.  Not “new and improved” but “new and approved”.  That’s how things went in Iceland recently.

Iceland, like other Scandinavian countries, has official name registers and new parents are restricted to selecting pre-approved names when it comes to naming their children. That didn’t sit well with one family:

A 15-year-old is suing the Icelandic state for the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother. The problem? Blaer, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic, is not on a list approved by the government.

According to government records, her name is not Blaer but “Girl” because they can live with that. What sort of foolishness is this, you might ask? A quick visit to the Icelandic name registry page sheds some light on their thinking:

Rules for names

  • Rules for Icelandic personal names provide that names must:
    • be able to have a genitive ending or have been adopted through custom in the Icelandic language,
    • must be adaptable to the structure of the Icelandic language and spelling conventions and
    • does not cause the bearer embarrassment.
  • Girls should be given a female name and boys should be given male names.
  • No person can have more than three personal names.

If we had these rules in the English language, you couldn’t name a girl Madyson: it might not be considered as fitting English spelling conventions (as if the English language has those anyway); and someone could make fun of the child and cause her embarrassment (as if it takes an odd name for parents to embarrass their kids).

The happy news is the commission saw fit to approve her name. It took them 15 years, but Blaer (formerly known as Girl) at least now has a good story to tell her friends.

New Names

Blaer’s story took me to Revelation 2:17

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give … a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

and Revelation 3:12

The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

Jesus will give to his people and write on his people a new name, his new name, one that we will carry with us forever and that will be stamped upon us, a name that shows we belong to our blessed Savior.

It’s a name that’s new, a name that’s approved and one that is better than any we could choose for ourselves.

It’s a name I will be proud to bear and wear for eternity.

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Top 5 Pick-Up Lines – Just in Time for Summer Romance, Results Guaranteed!

[From the archives.]

The warm weather is coming and many people are hoping for summer romance. I’ve got just the thing to make your dreams come true with these guaranteed* pick-up lines.

  1. “Baby, the only thing that could top your beautiful body is a toupee.”
  2. “Has anyone ever told you your breath smells delicious … like bacony-goodness delicious?”
  3. “If you tell me your measurements in inches I can convert them to the metric system in my head.”
  4. “My idea of fun is you, me and my parents at an all you can eat buffet. When can you pick us up?”
  5. “Are you a famous director, because I’d like to follow your directions to your house. No seriously, I need directions to your house. To pick you up for a date, of course. What do you mean, ‘What date’? Come on, just give me the directions. OK, OK, no need to go into the women’s restroom; it’s not like I’ve never followed a woman into one you know. Yes, I know what a restraining order is. Why do women always ask me that. Hey, do you think your friend at the bar wants to go out with me?”

***

Please share your pick-up lines in the comments. There are a lot of people needing your help with their plans for a summer romance!

***

*The fine print: Any guarantees related to use of these guaranteed pick-up lines are nothing more than guarantees that nothing whatsoever is guaranteed.

***

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Civil Rights And The Gospel – why the struggle is worth it

I like inertia. I like that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, especially when the object is my body, and I like that an object in motion tends to stay in motion if that means I don’t have to use an appreciable amount of energy just to keep moving.

While expending energy to overcome inertia is more than I usually like to do, I do it anyway; a guy’s got to eat. But given a free choice and no lasting ill effects, I’d just keep sitting there or rolling along without taking effort to get moving or change direction.

After all, struggles can be … well, a struggle.

The Lincoln Memorial (Wikipedia)

The Lincoln Memorial
(Wikipedia)

Yet sometimes struggles are worth it and sometimes they are unavoidable. Abraham Lincoln told a regiment of soldiers why the Civil War was worth fighting:

It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives. … It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal opportunity in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained … . (Address to the 166th Ohio Regiment, August 22, 1864.)

Lincoln’s take on freedom and the right to have a fair chance and equal opportunity in life is a message we still need to hear today. Skin color, sex, physical condition, religious faith, a person’s birthplace – all these and more are used to keep people from getting a fair chance to use their abilities and talents or to enjoy the opportunities others have.

So we should struggle to fulfill not only the societal obligation to keep from hindering others, but we should struggle as well to remove those hindrances, those barriers, those chains that bind people. We should remove them and strike them down and smash them into the dust and never allow them to rise up again.

The Work Of Christ

This is the work Jesus spoke of in his first synagogue sermon recorded for us, where he read from the Prophet Isaiah and explained its meaning:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21.)

This is work we can join in whenever we see injustice. We can help strike down the barriers to freedom, and in doing so preach the gospel of freedom and point people to the ultimate and eternal freedom found in Jesus.

The gospel is worth struggling for, and is a struggle we are called to engage in as followers of Jesus. As Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:11-12.)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (Wikipedia)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)
(Wikipedia)

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8.)

You too can fight the good fight of the faith as you engage in the struggle against all that is contrary to God, including any time and place you see oppression and injustice.

The struggle is worth it.

***

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Marriage Is Not A Democracy

I’ve read much on marriage over the years. Some is wonderful, some is funny, some is heart-wrenching and some is just plain stupid.

Here’s one of the worst: In a marriage the husband and wife each have a say in making family decisions, but if they don’t agree then the husband has the final say. They both get to vote; the husband’s vote just counts more.

Marriage isn’t a lopsided democracy

Marriage isn’t anything like a democracy. The Bible says that in marriage the woman and man become one, and that means they act together. There’s no tie-breaking vote because there’s no vote taken in the first place. It’s about working together at all times, mutually submitting to one another at all times, and going through life together at all times.

Why is it so hard for men-get-the-deciding-vote people to see this is what the Bible really teaches? I hate to say this but I suspect it’s because they are more interested in power structures than in Jesus. Putting one person in charge takes less effort than the work involved in acting together as one.

I’ve wondered too why the people endorsing the man-in-charge view don’t focus instead on how the couple are to cleave together. That’s the emphasis Jesus puts on marriage:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6.)

When it comes to a marriage, the couple are not a corporation with a CEO and an underling but one single being with both together.

Making the right decisions

What does this mean for decision-making when the couple does not agree?

In healthy relationships, it means they need to talk about it more. In unhealthy relationships, it means they need to work on the relationship so they can get to where they can talk about it more.*

And as a colleague of mine told me years ago, more discussion is usually better than less. So if after talking things through you still can’t agree, perhaps that’s an indication that this decision isn’t ready to be made yet. Set it aside if possible and work on something else. Or stay at it and work through the issues.

These alternatives aren’t as easy as giving one spouse the ultimate decision-making authority in a marriage, but it sure is more biblically sound.

***

*I realize there are some relationships where no matter how hard one person works on these issues the other person will continue to refuse to try to work on anything. This post is not meant to speak to those extremely broken marriages.

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When Justice Is Too Narrow – a response to John Piper and The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition released a one minute video of John Piper speaking on justice and grace at a recent conference.

The enthusiasm about God’s grace is infectious, and I appreciate his encouragement to embrace that grace. His take on justice, on the other hand, is puzzling. I’m not sure what led him to say what he did but justice is a gospel-filled word and his use of it in that video is too narrow.*

God told his people Israel that in their courts, the basic rule was this:

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20, emphasis added.)

God didn’t tell his people that everyone deserves God’s wrath so treat them accordingly. He said that everyone is to be treated fairly in court. This principle applies outside of court as well.

Justice Daily and Everywhere

The Bible does not define justice as meting out retribution according to a person’s faults. Rather, justice is found when God’s people do the right thing for those who are lost, orphaned, widowed, or poor.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” (Exodus 22:21-22, 25.)

God tells us to care for the sick and imprisoned as well.

I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:36, 40.)

After all, justice and mercy go together.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8.)

You can’t have justice without mercy, and achieving both requires humility as well. Justice is the pursuit of what is right. It is helping those who are weak, fighting for those who have been wronged, speaking against those who oppress their fellow women and men.

To be a follower of Jesus means to stand against injustice.

This is the justice Jesus said he fulfills.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

… Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke4:18-19, 21.)

Let’s not denigrate justice. Let’s celebrate this work as a sign of God’s mercy and grace that we can join with our Savior in helping those who are poor, blind, imprisoned and oppressed.

This is God’s justice.

***

*For those thinking Mr. Piper’s comments might be taken out of context, I’ve wondered the same. The Gospel Coalition (with which Mr. Piper is closely aligned) is the group that chose to publish that video excerpt to stand on its own, and that choice denigrates the pursuit of justice that many of God’s people are involved in.

***

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Housework or Writing? The Daily Dilemma

I was going to write. Then I decided to clean the roller brush on the vacuum cleaner instead. True story.

Text (c) Tim Fall

Text (c) Tim Fall

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Bare Buttocks, Barren Soul

[As a follow-up to Wednesday’s post, here is one from the archives on a time my son and I found ourselves challenged to help a stranger.]

***

I went out to lunch with my son on Tuesday. As we left the restaurant he saw a man across the plaza and said, “That guy needs to pull his pants up.”

I looked and said, “That guy needs help,” and started running over.

The man was slumped half way between his wheelchair and a bench, barely holding on, and his pants had slipped down exposing his buttocks and upper legs. As I ran forward I saw bruises all up and down his thighs, like huge black and blue stripes. He was wearing what looked like hospital scrubs and as I got up to him I saw a hospital bracelet on his wrist. We were nowhere near the hospital.

I told him I’d help and asked if he was trying to get on the bench or into the chair. He was in obvious distress – mental and physical – and barely comprehensible, mumbling something, but I heard his raspy weak voice say “bench” so I untangled his feet from where they’d got caught under the wheelchair and swung them up, and then reached under his armpits to pull and straighten him out so he was lying down on his side. I tried to pull his pants up as best I could too, but he was on them and he was too heavy for me to lift up off the bench completely. Then I saw a blanket under him so I tugged and pulled until it came loose and laid it over the top of him. All the while I was telling him what I was doing.

This man was about as filthy as anyone I’d come across – with scraggly hair and a nose that needed wiping and clothes that were falling off him and dirt crusted hands and shoes that had stepped in things I’d rather not identify – and I wondered just what I was getting all over my hands. Better not to think about that too much. I called 911 and said there was a man who needed a welfare check.

While waiting, a man wearing slacks and a tie walked out of a nearby theater and said he was a firefighter. He knew the man on the bench and started talking to him, calling him by name. Apparently this was not the first time he’d had contact with the guy. The off-duty firefighter said he’d stay with the man, so my son and I continued on our way. From halfway down the block we saw the ambulance had arrived and they were loading the man on a stretcher. I assume he’s now at the hospital being cared for.

I’m not used to getting hands-on with people like that. Oddly, even though this man was filthy and incomprehensible and his pants had fallen down around his knees, I didn’t feel any reluctance in running over and helping him, lifting him and laying him back, covering him with his old tattered blanket. It’s not that I felt a rush of joy either. It’s just that there wasn’t much feeling going on one way or the other.

Until later that night. As I lay in bed I thought back over the events, vividly seeing his face and clothes and legs and shoes and blanket and wheelchair, that’s when I started feeling something.

I felt revulsion.

I felt like I could feel the grime again and his tattered clothes in my hands, that I could smell him and his blanket and his wheelchair, that I could hear his incoherent mumblings and raspy breathing. And as I thought of those things I felt revulsion so bad that I could feel myself almost vomit.

Who’s the sick one here? The man I helped? Sure, in one sense. But me too. I am a child of the living God for crying out loud, and yet I get repulsed by merely touching the least of these around me?

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.  A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:1-3.)

Jesus said it’s the sick who need the doctor. (Luke 5:31.) I’m sick. I have a soul barren and bruised apart from Christ.

I need healing. Jesus reached out and touched the leper’s sores and wounds and healed him.

I am healed because Jesus reached out and touched me too.

***

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Holocaust Remembrance Day – When Nazis Ran the Courts

[Holocaust Remembrance Day began at sunset last night and continues through today. Here is a post from the archives to help us remember.]

When Nazis Were Judges

Judges, even the best of judges, sometimes make the wrong decisions. And then there are courts where the wrong decision is unavoidable because wrong decisions are intentionally woven into the process.

In Law, Justice, and the Holocaust (2009, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), William F. Meinecke and Alexandra Zapruder explore the role of the German judiciary in supporting and enforcing Nazi policies from 1933 to 1945. From the beginning of the Third Reich right up to its collapse, German courts followed laws passed by the Nazi government that deprived people of basic human rights while furthering the stated aims of Adolf Hitler and his top aides.

The judges who sat in those courtrooms were not hand-picked Nazis just waiting for an opportunity to serve their Fuhrer, though. Almost all of them were hold-overs from the previous regime. Yet when told to take a new oath of office, one which explicitly elevated Hitler as the supreme object of their allegiance over the rule of law, they did so with alacrity.

Nazi leadership quickly passed laws – some signed by Hitler personally – criminalizing  free assembly and free speech, as well as providing harsher penalties for what would otherwise be minor crimes. Jews, of course, were not only specified in some of these laws as under particular restrictions, but were also singled out for that harsher punishment.

Attorney Michael Siegel paraded through Munich in 1933 with a sign reading "I am a Jew but I will never again complain to the police"

Attorney Michael Siegel paraded through Munich in 1933 with a sign reading “I am a Jew but I will never again complain to the police”

One of the most insidious laws concerned the Nazi efforts to preserve the “purity” of the nation. The national purity laws prohibited sexual relations between those the Nazis considered desirable citizens and those who were not desirable. Jews headed the list of those considered not desirable, and this law criminalized sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. As Meinecke and Zapruder describe these laws in their book, even non-sexual relationships led to convictions. The death penalty (but only for the Jewish person in the relationship) was swiftly carried out.

Standing Up For The Oppressed

You might wonder how many judges resisted these laws, perhaps even resigned in protest over them.

One.

One judge in all of Germany quietly resigned rather than sit on the bench enforcing the laws passed in furtherance of Nazi policies. The rest stayed on the job.

When the war crimes trials came following the war, their defense sounded much like the military officers who said they were only following orders. The judges insisted they were only enforcing the laws passed by the government. Many of them were convicted.

They had forgotten some of the most basic principles of judging:

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15.)

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:9.)

Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. (Deuteronomy 1:16.)

The Nazi judges forgot that courts are not tools for promoting the government’s agenda.

They forgot that everyone is to be treated the same under the law, whether a citizen of the chosen nation or a foreigner, whether rich or poor, whether needy or not.

They forgot how to judge fairly, as the verses above repeatedly require.

The Nazi judges forgot that courts are a forum for providing equal justice under the law.

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Making Peace With Your Mistakes

Stumbling comes easy to me.

When I was young, if I fell to the ground all I wanted was for no one to have noticed. I wanted to get up quickly and act like it never happened. “Nothing to see here folks, let’s all just move along.”

It didn’t usually happen that way. Usually someone (or several someones) saw it, would comment on it, and would feed my embarrassment about it. Kids are like that. Even if one of them offered to help me up it still made me feel awkward and embarrassed, maybe even more so since it called attention to me more than if I’d just gotten up on my own.

Now that I’m older I’m used to the fact that I’m going to trip or slip or lose my grip and take a tumble. I’m also grateful for people who will reach down to help me back to my feet. Their help is no longer an embarrassment to me but a blessing.

Stumbling Over Mistakes

Like catching my toe on a curb and pitching face forward to the sidewalk, I find myself stumbling over mistakes that I should be able to see coming. The Bible says this is part of life.

“We all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2.)

Sometimes that stumbling lands right on top of a relationship, whether it is a new marriage, an old friendship, or between parents and children. The same passage in the Bible that tells us to expect stumbling also tells us:

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18.)

Mistakes come easy and land hard. Peacemaking is hard but lands easy. And even if the one who stumbled didn’t land on you, there is still a part for you to play in bringing peace to the person’s life.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2.)

This law of Christ is what James calls the royal law:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8.)

Anyone you see stumbling is your neighbor, whether the person is friend or family or a stranger fallen on the road. Everyone you see stumbling is a neighbor you can care for as you’d like others to care for you.

It is good not to be alone at those times, both for yourself and for them.

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.)

When you stumble, do you accept the hand that reaches down to help you back up?

When you see someone stumble are you ready to reach down, perhaps even get down beside the person, to help them find their feet again?

Whether offering a hand or accepting a hand, this is where Jesus’ royal law of love is found.

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Why Oral Contracts Aren’t Worth The Paper They’re Written On

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37.)

Oral v. Verbal

There’s a good reason oral contracts generally aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. It’s because they’re not written at all, on paper or otherwise. Then again, with voice to text software available perhaps writing orally is becoming common. One day it might be as common as writing verbally. But oral and verbal are not identical:

  • Oral – of or pertaining to the mouth.
  • Verbal – of or pertaining to words.

An oral contract, then, is one you say out loud and a verbal contract is one you make with words. Oral contracts and written contracts are usually made with words which means both can be verbal contracts.

“Why ‘usually’?” you might ask. Because a contract is an agreement and agreements can be made with grunts and pictograms as well as with words, and they can be made with and without writing. In fact, we come to agreements with people all the time without bothering to write it down.

“I’ll get lunch today. You can pick up the tab next time.”

“OK.”

Or it could be an implied contract without any words at all. Imagine two kids at the lunch table at school. One pulls out a tuna sandwich, and holds it up for her friend because she know he likes tuna. He pulls out a package of string cheese. They swap without saying a word. The contract is complete.

Some things,though, are so important we write them down. After all, when’s the last time you paid a premium on a new insurance policy without getting the policy terms in writing?

The reason we’ve developed a body of law on contracts over the millennia  is that sometimes people won’t follow through on their promises. Today, both oral and written agreements can be enforced in court (although certain types of agreements are considered so important that writing is required).

Yes and No

The most famous contract in the Bible is the covenant between God and his people (“covenant” being a legal term of art from the law of contracts), delivered to Israel when God gave Moses the two tablets with the Ten Commandments on them.*

Centuries later, Jesus spoke of agreements and promises too. He didn’t write down a set of promises but rather gave a simple guideline for making agreements:

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.(Matthew 5:37.)

I don’t think Jesus was saying you can’t elaborate on what the promise or agreement is about. You should make clear what you are saying “yes” or “no” to. But when it comes to your trustworthiness, it doesn’t add anything to say “I really promise … may I be struck by lightning … on my grandmother’s grave” or anything else. If a simple yes or no won’t work, nothing you say can make up for it.

Which makes me smile a bit when I think of people in the courtroom. Prospective jurors, for example, take an oath to answer questions truthfully as part of the jury selection process. Sometimes one will start to answer an attorney’s question with the phrase, “To be honest with you …”.

I want to interject, “I hope you’re being honest. You just took an oath.” But I refrain (usually) because I know what they mean is that they are being candid, not that they were lying before but now chose to come up with an honest response to a question.

You might think the jurors’ oath is taking things to the level Jesus said was inappropriate, that having someone swear to tell the truth under penalty of perjury must be “from the evil one.”

Perhaps, but it’s important to remember that Jesus was speaking in the Sermon on the Mount to fellow Jews, people who would be familiar with the Old Testament requirements for oath taking and with all the traditions that had arisen since Moses brought the laws down from Mount Sinai. He was telling them to get back to basics, to what God commanded and not what the religious leaders had added to it.

Also, the translation of Matthew 5:37 could also be read as “anything beyond this is from evil.” With that reading, it is easy to see why taking an oath under penalty of perjury in a secular courtroom is important. We live in a fallen world and that oath is a safeguard against the evil of lying on the witness stand.

Words and actions both can benefit from remembering that. People count on you so give them something to count on. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

That is not from evil but from the lips of God himself, Jesus.

***

*Why two tablets? It’s not because the commandments wouldn’t fit on one. Rather, back then just as now usually a contract was written out twice so that each side kept a copy. Moses carried both sets, one he carried for Israel and the other for God as his representative to the people.

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