Tuesday, January 26, 2016

God Gives Moses His Own “Handwritten” Instructions

Exodus 31:18: And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.
I wanted to deal with this last verse of Exodus chapter 31 all by itself as it contains significant information.
First we all need to realize there comes a time when God is finished speaking. While His love for us continues, there is no more He can say to us at that point. The ball then shifts to our court and we have to play it or drop it. If we haven’t got His message by that time, on the particular subject He is communicating with us on, there is nothing more He can say or do, short of hitting us with the consequences. He often chooses to just stop talking for our own sake. Those of you who are parents of older, perhaps even married children, may feel that way sometimes.
A relationship with one’s adult children, especially if they are married, is much different than a relationship with one’s minor-aged children who must obey, or even with one’s employee who ultimately must carry out the wishes of management. Adult children have freewill and need to make decisions for themselves. A parent can tell them what he/she believes is right, but ultimately, the decision to follow the advice is theirs. So, it is with God. But in both cases, there is the risk of consequences. There is somewhat of a risk in disregarding the advice of an older, more experienced, individual such as a parent, although we need to keep in mind that parents too are human and prone to error, even when trying to give wise advice to one’s children.  However, the consequences of disregarding advice given by God are most definite, as after all, He is God.
The second thing we remind ourselves of here is that Moses had gone to Mount Sinai to hear the words of the Lord. You can’t hear God easily amidst the din and clamor of the valley.  It’s not that God can’t get your attention in the busy circumstances of your life if he wanted to; believe me, He can – and it’s not always pleasant. But you need to go to the mountain (your own solitary space) where it’s quiet and you seek out God’s message to you personally. He wants to have your undivided attention to what He is about to tell you. When was the last time you had a totally private and planned date with God and not a double, or a triple, or a congregational one? If we want to hear a personal message from God, we need to be in a private space with God.
Thirdly in this verse we note that God gave Moses two tablets of the ‘testimony’ or law. They had been promised to him back in Exodus 24:12. God now delivers them to him as He sends him down from Mount Sinai to the people. They were to be properly put into the Ark. Not only were the ten commandments spoken by God, but they were now written down. There is something added to the binding power of words when they are written down. That’s why we often ask someone who feels another person is reneging on a promise, “Do you have that in writing?” That’s why we advise people to get things in writing.
[An aside: Interestingly, as I was writing this section, the daily paper carried an article about an indigenous university professor who lost her job because she refused to submit any articles or research whatsoever for peer review – something all professors are required to do.  She claimed “that peer-reviewed research is contrary to indigenous oral traditions and that (the university’s) research standard effectively discriminated against her ‘race, color, ancestry, place of origin . . . and sex.’” Strange how even God Himself wanted to write things down rather than rely totally on His ‘oral tradition’ to get His message out.]
Not only were the laws written down, but they were written in tables of stone. It is clear here (and from Exodus 24:12) that he found them all ready prepared by God. Matthew Henry suggests that the law was written in tables of stone to denote its perpetual duration. The idea being nothing lasts as long as something written in stone.
The text says they were written with the finger of God. Henry suggests that this means by God’s will and power directly, without the use of any tangible writing instrument. He indicates that some consider this to have been carried out through the ministry of angels.  He believes the implication of this ‘handiwork’ of God symbolizes that only He can write His law in our heart, utilizing 2 Corinthians 3:3 as his source. God gives us a heart of flesh, and then, by his Spirit, which is the finger of God, he writes his will in the fleshly tables of the heart.
There is no definitive explanation as to why there were two tablets and what exactly was on each one. There are basically two options that would fit with Jewish interpretation represented in the Midrash (which according to Wikipedia is a method of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal, or moral teachings. It fills in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at). Either the two tablets had five commandments on them each, or they both contained all ten commandments and were a copy of each other. The idea here being that as in all covenants, each party got a copy. If this were the case, God’s copy would be stored in the Ark of the Covenant that He had ordered built. But what about the Israelites’ copy? The Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange website gives us this possible answer:
Since the Israelites had the status of vassal vis-à-vis G-d and were the lesser partners to the Covenant, it was reasonable for them to file their copy of the Pact in the Holy Ark of the Lord their G-d. Thus we conclude that both Tablets were placed together in the Ark in the Tabernacle, and later in Solomon's Temple: "There was nothing inside the Ark but the two tablets of stone which Moses placed there at Horeb, when the Lord made [a covenant] with the Israelites after their departure from the land of Egypt" (I Kings 8:9).
So, again, Scripture helps to answer Scripture. We know for sure there were both tablets in the Ark, even if we cannot say with absolute certainty as to what was written on each. Henry suggests that what was on them was indeed called tables of testimony, because this written law testified both the will of God concerning them and his good-will towards them, and would be a testimony against them if they were disobedient.

We can also assume Moses was required to show these to the people before laying them in the Ark. This way they were seen while being read, and thus, hopefully, better remembered. But did the Israelites remember and have we remembered?

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Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

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