Tablets of Stone

Exodus 24:12-18

Exodus 24:1-11 embraces some the more weighty themes of salvation:

Being invited by God to come to Him
Proclaiming the Word of God
Promising to Obey His Commands
Believing in Blood Sacrifices for Atonement and Reconciliation
Drawing Near to God by Grace
Fellowshipping with God at a Communion Meal
Commissioning for Service as the People of God

In Exodus 24:1-11, Israel has ratified the Covenant at Sinai with the Sprinkling of Blood on the people and the leaders eating the Covenant Meal with God, which foreshadow the LORD’S SUPPER and CHRISTIANITY.

Most assuredly, the history of THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT does not end at Sinai, but it should be pursued throughout the history of Israel. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel record the hope of the NEW COVENANT that is fulfilled in the BLOOD OF THE NEW COVENANT, which Jesus poured out for many. Moses looked forward to this day in Deuteronomy 30:6—

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

The Israelites at Mount Sinai thought they could love God whole heartedly in their own strength, but they were greatly mistaken. Look at Exodus 24:3-4—

When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.

At first glance, the order of events appears to be recorded in reverse! Logically, we would expect Moses first to write down everything the LORD had said and then have the people agree to what was written! To tantalize our thinking even more, we read in verse 12—

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

Let’s review the order of events at Mt. Sinai and see if we can figure out what is going on:

First, the people promised to obey the terms of the Covenant before it is given by the LORD, saying in 19:8, “We will do everything the LORD has said.

So the LORD spoke the Ten Commandments from the dense cloud on Mt. Sinai for all the people to hear.

Out of fear for their life, the people ask that Moses speak to them instead of God. So Moses alone approached the thick darkness where God was and the LORD spoke the words of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23) to him.

Then Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws. The people responded for the second time, saying, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

Then Moses wrote down everything the LORD had said.

The next morning Moses builds an altar and burnt offerings and fellowship offerings are sacrificed. Half the blood is poured on the altar and half the blood is sprinkled on the people. Then Moses took the Book of the Covenant that he had written down and read it to the people. And they responded for the third time, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Now God invites Moses to come up the Mountain to receive the Law and Commands that He has written on Tablets of Stone.

In the order of these events, we are given insight into the making of a covenant in the ANE thirty-four hundred years ago. First, the Israelites agreed to enter into a covenant relationship with God. So God spoke the stipulations of the Covenant—the Ten Commandments. The people were afraid they would die if they continued to listen to God speak so they asked Moses to speak for Him. So Moses told them the people the LORD’s words and laws and they agreed to the oral stipulations. At this point, the Israelites have agreed to enter into the Covenant by their willingness to obey whatever God says. After hearing God’s stipulations, they agree a second time to obey.

Now the ANE custom called for duplicate copies of a covenant to be made along with ratification. Each party was to receive a copy of the covenant. Hence, Moses makes Israel’s copy of the Covenant and reads it to the people.

Now the people agree to obey the written copy so Moses ratifies it with the blood of animals, pouring half the blood on the altar and sprinkling half on the people. Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) covenants ratified with blood signified an oath of obedience. If either party broke their oath, they were to suffer the fate of the sacrificed animals.

At this point, the people have in their possession the ratified copy of the Covenant that Moses had written down. But what about God’s copy of the Covenant? That’s where Exodus 24:12 comes into the covenant making process—

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

To understand the significance of this passage, we need to jump ahead to Exodus 31:18—

When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

Inasmuch as Moses had written down Israel’s copy of the Covenant, God writes down His copy of the Covenant on tablets of stone.

Turn to Exodus 25:21. According God’s instructions in Exodus 25:21, His copy on the Tablets of Stone is to be placed inside the ark—

Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.

The ARK is identified as the ARK OF THE COVENANT 33 times and the ARK OF THE TESTIMONY 13 times in the Bible. It is first called the ARK OF THE TESTIMONY than the ARK OF THE COVENANT. It’s called by these two names because of the Tablets of Stone contained in it.

Choice and usage of words in Scripture are of utmost importance. Here God chooses to use the Hebrew word for TESTIMONY (twde `eduth) instead of COVENANT (tyrb (berith)) to identify the Tablets of Stone.

TESTIMONY comes from the Hebrew root meaning to RETURN, REPEAT or DO AGAIN. It denotes a WITNESS is one, who by reiteration emphatically affirms his testimony. This word is at home in the language of the court. It is a legal term.

Therefore, the Tablets of Stone, with the law and commands of God, will have judicial weight in any case God brings against the nation of Israel. The Law required two witnesses to establish guilt.

Israel had in their possession the TESTIMONY or WITNESS of the Law written down by Moses and God was to have in His possession the TESTIMONY or WITNESS written by His finger. His copy was to be kept in Ark placed in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, where His presence would dwell.

In Chapter 23 of Exodus, God promises to bring Israel to a prepared place, drive out the inhabitants of Canaan with His terror and hornet, and give them possession of the Promised Land. The LORD will keep His promises if the people remain loyal to Him and obey His Law and Commandments.

For the first time, God explicitly states the purpose of His Law and Commands—FOR THEIR INSTRUCTION. The word instruction comes from the same root as TORAH, the Hebrew word for LAW. The LAW is intended to instruct the people in holiness. At the same time, it will serve as a witness against them if they disobey it. Turn to Romans 7:7-12, where Paul explains this purpose—

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.

For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Turn back to Exodus 24:13-14—

Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

JOSHUA is back on the scene, not as an assistant, but a minister or servant of Moses. Joshua appeared in Chapter 17 when he overcame the Amalekite army with the sword while Aaron and Hur held up Moses hands that held the staff of God. Joshua will succeed Moses. He is young man, and God has many things to teach him before he is prepared to lead Israel. Joshua served as servant to Moses. A paradox of the kingdom of God is that greatness begins with servitude. Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 20:25-28—

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Aaron and Hur are left in charge. Moses said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you.” Aaron and Hur can deal with the issues that arise in the camp. Verses 15-16—

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud.

At some point, Moses leaves Joshua and ascends by himself ever higher into the mountain.

The glory of the LORD enveloped by the cloud appears on the mountain. The Hebrew word for SETTLED is Nkv (shakan) or SHEKINAH in English, which refers to TABERNACLING or DWELLING AMONG. The apostle may have had this appearance of the SHEKINAH GLORY in mind when he wrote John 1:14—

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Verse 17 describes the appearance of God’s glory from the perspective of the people below—

To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

There are three symbols of God’s glory in this scene: (1) the cloud; (2) the fire, and (3) the voice of God. The radiance of His presence is like a fiery furnace to the people. The writer of Hebrews also picks up on this scene when he writes, “OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE” and in 12:18—

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm.

It must have been something like a lightning storm or volcanic eruption to those who saw the glory of God from a distance. The revelations of God in the desert were connected with threats and prohibitions. Yahweh was to be feared so the people would not sin. Capture this scene in your mind. Verse 18 comes as the people are watching the awesome consuming fire—

Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

FORTY is certainly a significant number. It rained forty days and nights at the time of the Flood while NOAH and his family were protected by God in the ark. It occurs again when in the forty days of ELIJAH’S journey to Horeb the Mountain of God in the strength of the food received from the angel. JESUS fasted forty days in the desert before He was tempted by the Devil. ISRAEL wandered forty years in the desert because of rebellious unbelief. In all these cases, the number forty refers to a period of judgment, temptation, trial of faith, as well as to a period of strengthening of faith through the miraculous support bestowed by God.

Moses testifies in Deuteronomy 9:9 —

When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water.

This was truly a high and lofty position for Moses. He was called away from earth and earthly things. Abstracted from the natural influences, he is shut in the cloud with God, to hear from His mouth the mysteries of the Person and Work of Christ, Salvation and Christianity. God unfolds to Moses in the types and shadows of the Tabernacle and its Furnishings His own precious thoughts of love and counsel of grace, manifested in, and secured by, Christ. John 1:17 states—

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The Law given through Moses said, “Do this and live.” Grace says, “God freely gives us life in Christ— receive Jesus and live.”

The MORAL LAW was given to Adam, in innocence, which having been broken, and almost lost out of the minds, and memories of men, was given by Moses, in a new edition of it in writing; and points out what is man’s duty both to God and men; discovers sin, accuses of it, convicts of it, and condemns for it. But it could not give strength to perform its demands!

The CEREMONIAL LAW pointed out the pollution of human nature, the guilt and punishment of sin; was a type and shadow of deliverance by Christ, but could not give the fullness of grace and truth it foreshadowed. God’s grace is present in the ceremonial law, but the great demands made by the law were impossible to live. The law was powerless to give spiritual life. The law was good, but brought men no ability to conform to godliness.

Therefore, there was a never-ending burden to shed the blood of animals under the Law. But through Jesus Christ the once-for-all sacrifice, GRACE and TRUTH is implanted and increases in the hearts of men.. TRUTH, not only because it contains truth, and nothing but truth, it coming from the God of truth; and the substance of it being Christ, who is the truth; and being revealed, applied, and led into by the Spirit of truth; but because it is the truth of the types, and the substance of the shadows of the Law. For Jesus announced in Matthew 5:17—

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Blessed be Christ for evermore, who by grace has not left us under the Old Covenant, but who by His blood of the everlasting New Covenant has given us peace that no power of earth or hell can shake.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6).

Always keep in mind that Moses is a type of Christ. He foreshadows Jesus in many wonderful ways. Here, Moses is seen entering the glory, after having erected an altar upon which he poured blood for the atonement of sin and reconciliation to God and sprinkling blood on the people to bring them into a covenant relationship with God. That is exactly what Jesus has done for us!

Verse 15 stated that—

For six days the cloud covered the mountain and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud.

FOR SIX DAYS speaks of WORK and TOIL. ON THE SEVENTH DAY speaks of REST, which Moses, the mediator, is called by God to enter the glory. So of Him of whom Moses was the type it is written in Hebrews 4:10—

For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.

And what is the REST that Christ entered? He prays in John 17:4-5—

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

Moses going up the Mountain and entering the cloud to commune with Yahweh is a type of the ASCENSION OF CHRIST, following a triumphant completion of the work which had been given Him to do. Moses ascending out of sight into the cloud is a preview of Acts 1:9-11—

After [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus had told His disciples in John 14:1-4—

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

The elders were to wait for Moses and Joshua. One of the hardest things in life is waiting. We want things and results instantaneously. The virtue of patience is absent in many today. The people may have thought Moses deserted them or he was dead! Because their faith was dead, their hope was equally dead. They did not believe Moses would return for them to lead them on their journey to the place God prepared for them.

It took less than forty days for them to shipwreck their faith. Christians who have not been taught about Christ’s Second Coming or who refuse to live their life relying upon these prophecies are liable to shipwreck their faith as well. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:18-19—

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.

Between chapters 24 and 32, Moses records God’s instructions for the Tabernacles and its Furnishings. These seven chapters allow the reader the reader to experience the period of waiting before the narrative picks up again at the end of the forty days and nights at Exodus 32:1—

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Chapter 32 goes on to describe that the legal covenant, so glibly accepted, and was shamefully violated, showing the utter inability of the people to keep the Ten Commandments in their own strength.

Less than forty days after the people exclaimed that they would make no idols and worship no other gods, they fashioned a golden calf and worshiped it.

A scene of terrible apostasy and debauchery met Moses, the man of God, coming down from the mountain of God with the law of God in his hands. We read in Exodus 32:19—

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

The whole scene showed the inability of the Law, it was unable to make people good even though the Law itself is good. Depraved man is never saved by law keeping, but by faith. Justification (being right with God) by faith is the way of salvation in every age.

Broken Commandments and Tablets did not put an end to the Covenant, however. Exodus 34:1-4 reports—

The LORD said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.” So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.

Again, the writing was done by God. The second tablets were as authoritative as the first. The TESTIMONY—THE COVENANT—THE LAW still stands. Man breaks the Ten Commandments, but all our attempts to smash or do away with them are futile. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18—

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

The blessings and cursings that Yahweh rains down upon Israel will be a matter of obedience or disobedience to the Covenant made at Mt. Sinai. God never fails. He always keeps His oath, but Israel will prove to be fickle throughout its checkered history.

Everything that will happen to Israel, whether good or bad is connected to the making of the Covenant of Blood in Exodus 24.

The Ten Commandments condemn everyone and everyone breaks them. Without question, a holy God does not extend mercy by shutting His eyes to the guilty or by saying, “I will just forget sin.” Sin must be punished and a penalty must be paid. God by no means clears the guilty. What happens then? How does God keep His mercy and take care of iniquity at the same time?

The answers are found in the Tabernacle and its Furnishings. In our Exodus Experience, we enter into this wonderful study of our salvation next.

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