At that time the LORD said to me, Hew you two tables of stone like to the first, and come up to me into the mount…
1. In the next verse it is said that Moses "made an ark of shittim wood" before going up into the mount with the two tables in his hand; whereas, according to the Book of Exodus (Exodus 37:1), Bezaleel is said to have made the ark. Those who seek to trace contradictions in the Scriptures, or variety of authorship, of course, point out this "discrepancy." The obvious remark that one may be said to do what he directs another to do is probably a sufficient reply to this difficulty.
2. It is not, however, with the ark, but with the tables of the law, we are now concerned.
3. The delivery of the law, on the fiftieth day, according to the Jews, after the Exodus — an event celebrated by the Feast of Pentecost — reminds us of the contrast between the circumstances under which the old and the new law were promulgated. The thick cloud, the darkness, the thunder, the lightning, filled the Israelites with alarm. How very different are the approaches to God in the New Testament! (Hebrews 12:18-24.) But the same moral law is binding in both; and it is to this fact, God's condescension in writing a second time the words of the Decalogue, our thoughts are invited in the lesson. Let us consider some reasons for keeping the Ten Commandments; and then, how we are to obey them.
I. REASONS FOR KEEPING THE COMMANDMENTS.
1. They come from God. This may be said of the whole law, ceremonial and judiciary, as well as moral. But surely there is a difference. Not only were the Ten Commandments promulgated, as a French writer says, "avec eclat," and the people warned to prepare for the solemn event (Exodus 19:10, 15), but they were given directly by God. The first tables were "the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven on the tables." The second tables were the work of man, but the writing was still the writing of God (Exodus 34:1). They stand above the ceremonial law, as an abridgment of the duties of man, and are of lasting obligation.
2. They agree with the law written in man's heart. They are in full accord with our moral intuitions. The Divine Law was not a brand new code of ethics, but it was necessary, if man was to attain to a supernatural end. Moreover, man's moral sense was liable to be tampered with and impaired, so as at last to give an uncertain judgment: neither was it able to discern clearly always between good and evil; nor did it reach into the sphere of thought and motive. If man had been entirely dependent upon a written law, its promulgation would not have been delayed till the time of Moses. It is altogether a mistake to suppose that the Decalogue made murder, theft, adultery, and the like sinful. It forbade them because they were sinful. It fixed man's moral intuitions so that they could not be dragged down by human passion and selfishness. It made them clearer and more distinct. It clothed them with a new sanction and authority.
3. We find, when we examine the period before the law was given, a sense of the evil of the actions which it forbids. "Jacob said, Put away the strange gods that are among you." This is an anticipation of the First Commandment. Perhaps the previous observance of the Sabbath may be gathered from Exodus 16:23. So the Sixth Commandment was already in force (Genesis 9:6). Sins against purity were abhorred (Genesis 34:31; Genesis 38:24), showing that the Seventh Commandment was no novelty. Joseph's brethren were shocked at being charged with stealing the cup (Genesis 44:7). The sin of coveting "thy neighbour's wife" was evidently recognised by Abimelech as "a great sin" with regard to Sarah (Genesis 20:9). All these statements — and there are others before the giving of the law — are witnesses to the moral light which God has given to man, irrespective of external guidance or enactment.
4. The moral law did not make sin to be sin, though it added to its malice; but it clearly revealed the amount of human transgression, which was veiled in a mist before. It was like a clinical thermometer which measures the height of the fever, which might have been unknown before. It reveals the temperature of the patient, and so the seriousness or lightness of the case. "By the law," says the apostle, "is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
5. Further, obedience to the moral law of God is necessary for salvation. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:16, 17). St. Paul declares the same (Romans 13:8, 9). Again, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Corinthians 7:19) St John the same (1 John 3:22, 24).
II. HOW ARE WE TO KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS?
1. With the help of Divine grace. The law cast light upon the sinful principle in man, and by his inability to overcome it, aroused the sense of need and longing for a Saviour. Moses gave the law without the Spirit, says a commentator, but Christ gave both. Whilst on the one hand we realise that we can do nothing without grace; on the other, we must remember that we can do everything with it.
2. We have to keep all the commandments. Not nine out of ten. The commandments are not isolated precepts, so that the violation of one does not touch another. They form, if I may say so, an organic body of moral truth, as the Creed an organic body of dogmatic truth. "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).
3. Christians have to read the commandments in the light of "the Sermon on the Mount," and so to see how deeply they cut. They not only touch the outward action, but thought and motive.
1. To seek by meditation upon the law of God to know how much that law demands of us as Christians.
2. To examine the conscience by the Ten Commandments, so as to discover, by the help of the Holy Spirit, wherein we have broken them — in thought, word, deed, or omission.
3. They are the way of life.
(Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: At that time the LORD said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood.