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We Have It in Writing

Life was getting hectic. Trade was increasing. Shipments of oil, wheat, sheep and cattle were no longer secure. Misunderstandings multiplied. Numbers were getting complicated and unwieldy. The year was 3500 B.C. in ancient Sumer, modern-day southern Iraq.

What to do? Make a list? Paper had not yet been invented, let alone Bic pens. Aha! There was plenty of clay in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. So men molded marble-sized tokens, each shaped and marked differently for various products. Eventually wedged-shaped (cuneiform) reed styluses pressed into wet clay tablets streamlined the “books.” Writing was birthed from the womb of commerce.

Hieroglyphics appeared around 3000 B.C. This “writing of the gods” was dominated by the gods of the earth: the pharaohs, and their scribes. The complicated script embalmed their names for immortality. They were etched in stone or brushed on papyrus created from the tall sedge of the Nile. Inscriptions recorded the pharaohs’ power and triumphs forever in stone, lest we forget.

Edwin Schlossberg, a designer, said, “The skill of writing creates a context in which other people can think.” Babylonian rulers and Egyptian pharaohs did not corner the market on communication. Every man and woman has an insatiable desire to think and to create. Oral societies still exist today and their powers of recall are astounding. But for most of us, the important stuff gets carefully written down so we will not forget.

The Semitic alphabet appeared in Phoenicia around 1900 B.C. The first true alphabet, it used no vowel symbols. The twenty-two shapes afforded the common man a vehicle to express himself. The Greeks, trading with the Phoenicians, “bought” the alphabet and used five leftover symbols for needed vowels. Then the Etruscans, in pre-Roman days, reshaped some letters and, in a small bid for fame, chiseled their names on tombstones, so not to forget.

Roman writing tablets made of wood and beeswax appeared. Not much later, in 105 A.D., the Chinese created paper from hemp, tree bark, rags and fishnet. Bone, animal skin (parchment), and beaten mulberry bark served as tabula rasa for communication in other tongues.

God etched words for Moses, and for us, in small tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18). One scholar believes the same ten commandments appeared on both sides of the tablets, underlining the covenant between two parties: God and man. Just speaking to Moses was not enough. God wrote it down so we would not forget.

God went even further to insure that people would not forget Him or His commandments. Romans 2:14–15 says, “The Gentiles (non-Jews) do not have the Law; but whenever they do by instinct what the Law commands, they are their own law, even though they do not have the Law. Their conduct shows that what the Law commands is written in their hearts. Their consciences also show that this is true, since their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them” (TEV).

God used yet another material to write on—our hearts. The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in 2 Corinthians 3:3: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias speaks of the tremendous emotional and spiritual impact on the apostle Peter in seeing the transfigured Christ with his own eyes. And yet, Peter returns to the written Scriptures as “a more sure word of prophecy.” Writing cannot be explained away as can our experience or our emotions. Writing cannot be forgotten.

Our immortal and eternal God has engraved His name in our hearts. He has also engraved our names in the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). We can be sure of it. We have it in writing.