At that time the LORD said to me, "Chisel two stone tablets like the first ones, come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood.
I. THE RENEWAL OF THE TABLES. (Vers. 1-5.)
1. Reconciliation to God is only possible through return to obedience. God cannot but require that we accept his commands, and make them the rule of our life (Matthew 5:19, 20; Romans 6:13-23). Such return to obedience is involved in gospel faith (Romans 7:4). "Repent ye" (Mark 1:15).
2. The Law is one and unalterable (ver. 4). We must change; God cannot.
3. The Law underlies the mercy-seat (ver. 2). A testimony against sins, yet the foundation of the covenant. In redemption, the covenant obligation is not annulled, but fulfilled representatively in the spiritual Head - Christ. In receiving Christ, the Law's Fulfiller, we bind ourselves to be fulfillers of it also, as no longer servants of sin, but of righteousness (Romans 6.). Our justification is in him; his Spirit of life is in us (Romans 8:1, 2; Hebrews 10:16).
II. THE SETTLEMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF RELIGION. (Vers. 6-10.) The renewal of the high priesthood in the person of Eleazar (ver. 6); the separation of the tribe of Levi for the service of the sanctuary (vers. 8, 9). The existence of ordinances is a proof of continued mercy. God punishes unfaithfulness by removing the candlestick out of its place (Revelation 2:5). The gospel ministry is Christ's gift to his Church (Ephesians 4:11). Means of grace end with the close of the day of grace (Matthew 28:20; 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2), and the removal of the individual from their midst ends the day of grace to him (Hebrews 9:27).
III. THE COMMANDMENT TO GO FORWARD. (Vers. 7, 11.) We also are commanded to go forward - to advance to the conquest of the world - to press to heaven. So long as that command stands unrepealed, so long may sinners be assured that the day of grace lasts, and that they are warranted in believing in the mercy of God towards them. - J.O.
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.
I. THE BREAKING OF THE TABLES. The tables themselves were in every respect most remarkable. Mark, first, that they were "the tables of the covenant." God said: "These are My commands, keep them, and I am your God, I will be a glory in the midst of you, and a wall of fire round about you; break My commands, disobey My will, there is an infraction of the covenant, and the safety is departed, the glory gone." Sin was the violation of the covenant; sin was the overturning and the breaking to pieces of the covenant. The sin being committed, the transgression having taken place, the covenant was at an end. This is indicated by God in the fact that Moses breaks the tables of the law, because Moses in this matter acts as mediator for God; he is invested with the Divine authority, and ordered to do what he did in that capacity and in God's name. It is said that he was in great anger, his anger waxed hot; but it was a holy and a justifiable anger, caused by great and elevated zeal for truth and for God, and so no censure is pronounced upon it. This act of breaking the tables resembled figurative actions performed by Hebrew prophets in later times. It is like Jeremiah breaking the bottle, and saying to the elders of the Jews, "Even so shall this people and this city be broken." Or when he is commanded to take a girdle, and to go with it to the river Euphrates, and to put it in a damp place until it becomes rotten and worthless: then it is — "After that manner you shall be carried captive into Babylon." Ezekiel, in like manner, is ordered to take the goods of his house, his "stuff," and to remove it upon his shoulders from one dwelling to another afar off — a figurative action, indicative of the same truth, that there was to be a removal of the people far away. And we have one instance in the New Testament where Paul's girdle is taken: "Thus shall the man be bound," it was said by Agabus, "that owneth this girdle." It was a customary mode of instruction, ordained on the part of God to be used by His prophets and the teachers of the Hebrew people; and I suppose this act of Moses breaking the tables is the most striking and exemplary instance, as it stands at the head and is apparently the first. The breaking of the tables by God's mediator signifies to the people on God's part the abrogation of the covenant, and that, so far as He is concerned, He is not their God any longer, and will hide His face from them. Precisely the same in essence, I think, it is with another memorable instance recorded in the New Testament. When Christ died, when He said upon the Cross, "It is finished," "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," and God said, "Let us go hence; this is no longer My house; this people is no longer My people." As there had been violation of the covenant by sin, there is repudiation of the covenant on the part of God. Finally, I think it intimates that the covenant upon the same principle should never be renewed, for the tables were broken in pieces. It was not simply in two pieces; they were probably smashed together in Moses' hand before they were dashed upon the ground; they were broken into shivers, so that the parts could not be brought together again. It was one offence which occasioned the expulsion from the garden — it is one offence which occasions the breaking of the tables of the covenant; and if there be one transgression in any moral agent, innocence is gone, guilt is come, and justification by the law is henceforth and forever an utter and profound impossibility.
Two tables of stone.Psalm 68:17, 18, 20; Ephesians 4:1; Deuteronomy 33:2). The entire system of ceremonial observances is evangelical — all relate to the Gospel scheme of salvation. "For unto us," says Paul (Hebrews 4:2) "was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them." As to the kind of stone used, we are left even more in the dark than as to the wood, and therefore infer it to be a matter of no consequence. Only this is plain, that they were fragile, being shattered to pieces when thrown from Moses' hands. Nor have we anything specific as to their size, unless it be that Moses seems to have carried them down the mount (Exodus 32:19), in his own hands, whence we may infer they were not very thick, and they could not have been more than forty-two or three inches long, and twenty-six wide. The first suggestion of a symbolical meaning is durability. Engraving on stone intimates permanency. Job, in his sorrows, exclaims (Job 19:23), "Oh, that my words were now written! oh, that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen and laid in the rock forever." Then he proceeds to express his faith in the living Redeemer, and his hope in a glorious resurrection: truths these, which he wished to perpetuate forever. The first tables represented the law of God as written in the heart of man at his creation: or, we may say, human race — Adam, with the law created in him. The breaking of the tables sets forth the fall of man and the utter defacement of God's law and image. The replacement of the tables by Moses, and the rewriting of the law upon them, by the power of the great Redeemer, forcibly illustrates His entire work of restoring man to the full dominion of the holy law, or, in other words, the restoration of the law to its ruling power over him; or may we not say the second Adam, the pattern of all the redeemed. The bringing of man under the power of law, the protection of the law from violence and profanation, and the security of its rightful dominion, is the grand idea herein set forth. All around it is encased within its golden enclosure. The casket indeed is precious, costly, and beautiful, but the jewels it contains are the priceless treasure. In connection, however, with the remarks above, that the ceremonial ordinances are Gospel ordinances, it is important to distinguish them from the legal matter of the old covenant. The ten words and the various applications of their principles throughout the Pentateuch, are quite different from the sacrifices, the lustrations, the incense burnings, the cities of refuge, etc. The former are legal, and whenever separated from the latter become a law of works — the very covenant made with Adam. But the latter, coalescing with and qualifying and pointing out the way of fulfilling the former, transmute the whole into the new covenant, or true Gospel, which was revealed to Adam before his expulsion from Paradise.
(George Juntem, D. D.)
II. THE RENEWING OF THE TABLES. I suppose there is a mystery in it — that there is more intended than first meets the eye. Moses, you observe, is commanded to prepare fresh tables, and to come up to the mount with them in his hand. He is represented as doing this according to the Divine commandment; and, that you may understand the mystery and see the point distinctly which I am attempting to open to you, will you mark first the things that preceded the writing of the Ten Commandments again upon the tables which Moses brought. They were these. The sin of the people was forgiven; Moses interceded on their behalf, and God said, "I have pardoned them at thy word." Before the law is rewritten God takes the tables out of Moses' hand to do that work; He forgives the iniquity of His people; and I suppose that act of indemnity, that forgiveness on the part of God, was in connection with the ulterior and remoter sacrifice to be made for sin by the Son of God, when He should come in the flesh; and when He did come in the flesh He is said to have declared the justice of Deity, in the remission of sin. The Hebrew believers are especially said to have received the redemption of the antecedent ages, the forgiveness of their transgressions which they had committed under the old covenant, when Christ died, and they became established in the everlasting inheritance in consequence of that great truth and principle: and so sin, I think, has ever been remitted of God. God affirms His sovereign right — His right to condemn the guilty, His right to reprieve them according to His own infinite and glorious will. Here is forgiveness of sin and the affirmation of grace. Here is the promise of His presence. Moses said, "If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence"; God says, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." You will find this in the chapter which precedes the account of the rewriting of the law by the Divine finger upon the tables of stone. Then there is the showing of Godhead. Moses said, "I beseech Thee, show me Thy face"; and that remarkable vision in the cleft of the rock, Moses being put into it by God, and God passing by, him, I think the same may be said of it as was said in after ages respecting Isaiah's vision in, the sixth chapter of his prophecy — "These things said Moses, when he saw Christ's glory and spake of Him." Then there is the proclamation of the Divine name — "The Lord, the Lord God, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin"; and when that announcement is made it is said, "Moses bowed down and worshipped." Then, will you mark, here is the forgiveness of sin, affirmation of the Divine grace, promise of the Divine presence, showing of Christ's glory, proclamation of that amazing name, antecedently to the rewriting of the tables? — which proves, I think, that the rewriting of the law was not the going back to the old covenant, or making a second trial of that principle in relation to the Israelites, but that it was upon altogether different principles — the principles which are enumerated — free forgiveness, revelation of Christ, His presence in the midst of His people, His name full of mercy and love. And see the effect of this: He writes the law a second time; and upon these principles it is said, "Well, go and be obedient." For it strikes me that that is the great truth which comes out in the Gospel revelation and economy — not that we are to obey the law, and then make our appeal to God's grace and mercy, but that God, manifesting His grace and mercy in a free and overflowing salvation, then says, "Let My law be rewritten; go and obey it." Secondly, what was done with the second tables? The commands were unaltered; what was written on the tables was exactly the same; but what was done with the second tables? They were not exalted, like the brazen serpent, upon a pole: they were not used as a banner, floating before the eyes of the people as they advanced to their respective encampments — they were not, as Job desired his words might be, "written with an iron pen, and graven upon a rock forever"; none of these things was done, and nothing resembling them: they were put into the ark, the chest of which we read so much, and which was, I suppose, the very first article prepared by Moses under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. That chest represented, I think, Christ. The law, never kept by angels, never kept by man in his innocence, nor by man in his restoration, nor by any moral beings in the universe, as the law was kept by God's own Son; the law, then, was put into the ark. Christ obeyed not only for Himself in person, but as the Surety and Representative of His people; "He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth." As I put the finger of faith on His person and on His life, I feel that He obeyed the law and kept the law for me. The law is in Christ fulfilled, and fulfilled for them whose cause He espoused and whose interests He had undertaken. Mark another thing. The lid upon that sacred chest was a plate of pure gold, upon which the blood of the sacrifice was to be sprinkled according to the Divine command. In order to the fulfilment of law, the rendering to law and justice everything that can be required, there are but two things. The first is, perfect obedience. If there be perfect obedience, the law is satisfied; but if the law be broken, the next thing is the penalty; and if the penalty is fulfilled, the law is satisfied and asks no more. Penalty and obedience, the only two things with which the law is conversant. We say that in Christ the penalty was paid: we say that the iniquities of man were transferred to Christ, and that He suffered for him — that "we have redemption through His blood." So I come to the blood of Christ for the expiation of my sins, put the finger of faith on His sacrifice, and feel that I am secure. Mark once more: upon this lid was the mercy seat — or, it constituted the mercy seat; and God said to Moses, "Come to the Mercy seat," and to all the people, "Come to the Mercy seat." Through that every communication was made from them to God, and from God to them; and from that hour to this — or to the clays of Daniel and the captivity — they turned their faces when they prayed towards God's presence, exalted and enthroned in grace and in mercy there. It betokened the great principle — "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"; answering prayer in the exercise of consummate rectitude and justice, as well as of clemency, condescension, mercy, and grace. One thing more I notice; and that is, that upon either end of this plate of pure gold was the cherubic figure, in reference to which the Apostle Peter says, "which things the angels desire to look into, to the intent that to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places may be made manifest by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." I infer, from all I have said, that the renewal of the writing of the tables is not the renewal of the old covenant, but a representation of God's mercy and grace in Christ Jesus, as antecedent to the law being rewritten, and written upon the hearts and upon the consciences of men. I only note, further, what followed. After the rewriting by God's own finger Moses came down. How did he come down? With the glory upon his face, so that they could not steadfastly look upon him; and the apostle says it intimated that there were things intended which the Jews had not the capacity at that time to understand. It was not proper that they should know them. The veiling of Moses' face intimated the veiling of certain profound principles which were to have a future and after manifestation. Thus in the same way, I think, the breaking of the tables and the renewing of them intimates that the law never would be fulfilled but in Christ, and that it could not be safely enforced upon man — at least, it could produce nothing but condemnation — irrespectively of Christ and the obedience which He has already rendered. But what followed besides? The completion of the tabernacle in all its parts and proportions, the ordination of priests, the crossing the Jordan, the entering into the promised land — of which things we cannot now speak; but it comes out, I think, in most beautiful conclusion, that if these matters preceded the rewriting of the tables, and the tables then written were placed in the peculiar circumstances which the passage represents, and if such things transpired when this was done, then it is not the old covenant of works, but the new covenant of grace, mercy, and salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ; and so "the law is a schoolmaster, bringing unto Christ."
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.)
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