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It's a Mystery

by Tim O'Hearn

Like many people, I am a fan of mysteries. There must be many of us, because the longest running play in history is a mystery by Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap. Albuquerque is home to one of the most popular mystery writers, Tony Hillerman. The mystery section in the bookstores is always popular, and well stocked. The Bible has some mysteries, too. Unlike the books of Ngaio Marsh or Faye Kellerman, though, we don’t always get answers to these mysteries. They are not murders, but little nagging questions to which we may never know the answer. As it is fun when reading a whodunit to try to guess the solution, even if you are usually wrong, so it is sometimes intriguing to try to understand some of these mysteries.

The one that stands out in my mind is: How could Moses say that he was “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex 4:10) and then make the grand speech that is the book of Deuteronomy? That is not an example of a slow tongue, when it appears to have been an oration of a single day. There are several possible solutions. Was Moses lying to God, when God called him? Was he just seeking an excuse when he could really speak well? Or did God heal his tongue, like he did with Isaiah (Isa 6:5-8)? Those are the two best known possibilities. There are others as well. Moses was probably raised bilingual, nursed by his Hebrew mother in the Egyptian palace. Perhaps he did not feel competent in either language. Moreover, he had been living as a Midianite for forty years. So now he is probably trilingual, but has not spoken his birth tongues for many years. Is he telling God that he is not comfortable that he would be able to communicate in either Egyptian or Hebrew after all this time? Is the “slowness” of tongue because he would have to remember words he has not thought about for half a lifetime? Was Midianite like American Southern, a slow, drawled language while Egyptian was spoken faster? (It took me years to fully understand what my Iowa/Arizona raised wife was saying; I always had to tell her to slow down.) It is not certain what made the difference in the subsequent forty years. Maybe God had a hand in it. Maybe living with the Israelites made a difference. Or maybe he really was just making excuses. Whatever happened, as the line from Fiddler on the Roof says, “for a man of slow tongue he sure talked a lot.” What made the difference? It’s a mystery.

Another mystery. Why did Noah wait so long to leave the ark? Genesis 8 says that he sent out a dove, which brought back an olive leaf. A week later he sent her out again and she did not come back, so he knew the waters had gone down. A month and a half later he opens the ark and sees that the ground is dry. A day short of two months later he is still in the ark. God has to order him to leave (Gen 8:15-19). Why did he wait so long? Why did he not leave on his own, but wait to be ordered off the boat? Human nature offers us several options. Noah had lived for a year on this ark. It had become home. Why should he leave? And how did he know if God might not suddenly send another flood? Or, since God had ordered him onto the ark, was he just waiting for God to countermand the order? That is, after all, the Navy way, and he was the original sailor. Noah had become the ultimate animal husbandman. Was he spending all that time getting the animals ready to leave? Or did it take that long to convince the cows to leave their stalls, or get the donkeys to decide to do anything? Did Mrs. Noah tell him they couldn’t leave until they had the ark spotless; she wasn’t going to leave it in that condition for the next tenant? Why did he wait so long? It’s a mystery.

God doesn’t answer these questions. They have nothing to do with the main story. The answers are pure speculation, and you may come up with possibilities I never thought about. Still, such questions pop up. Sometimes it is just fun to speculate, knowing the answer really doesn’t matter at all. Why? Because it is a mystery.