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D'varim/Deuteronomy 10:5 And I turned and I came down from the mountain and I put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And they are they are there just as the L-rd commanded.
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These words conclude Moshe's account of his second forty days on Mt. Sinai withHaShem, after the incident of the Calf. , the tablets, were therefore the second set of tablets, the ones about which HaShem said, "I will inscribe on the tablets the commandments" (D'varim 10:2, JPS). He brought the second set of tablets down with him and, once the ark had been built, they were kept there at HaShem's instructions. This is one of the three things that Moshe was commanded to keep inside the ark. The other two were a jar of manna - "And Moshe said to Aharon, 'Take a jar, put one omer of manna in it, and place it before the L-RD, to be kept throughout the ages.' As the L-RD had commanded Moshe, Aharon placed it before the Pact, to be kept" (Shemot 16:33-34, JPS) - and Aharon's rod that had blossomed as confirmation that he had been chosen by HaShem to be the high priest of Israel: "The L-RD said to Moshe, 'Put Aharon's staff back before the Pact, to be kept as a lesson to rebels, so that their mutterings against Me may cease, lest they die'" (B'Midbar 17:25, JPS). Plaut tells us that in the time of the kings, "the tablets were kept in the ark that stood in the Holy of Holies in the Temple where Solomon had brought it", but by then "there was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moshe put there at Horev, when ADONAI made the covenant with the people of Isra'el at the time of their leaving the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 8:9, CJB). Where and when the manna and Aharon's staff had disappeared is unknown - perhaps while the ark was captured by the Philistines when Samuel was a boy and Eli the high priest at Shilo died.
Why was it important that the tablets be kept in the ark? If Moshe was to write the Torah, teach it to the people and leave instructions for it to be read every seven years, what were the tablets - which could only be a summary, some say just the Ten Sayings - for?Hirsch suggests that "they remain as the pledge and witness of the re-established bond with G-d". After the first set of tablets were destroyed, it was important to preserve a physical reminder that G-d had forgiven the people and had promised to continue His relationship with Israel for ever. While anthropologists tell us that memory and retention can be amazingly good in oral cultures - where everyone depends on remembering things and society places a high value on the ability to recall vast quantities of story and data - HaShem knew that orality alone would not survive the ups and downs of the Jewish people through even the history recorded in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel needed something that they could see and touch, something that even a hardened minimalist would have to acknowledge was reality and not just myth and legend. The tablets remained in the ark until Solomon's Temple was captured and destroyed by the Babylonians; at that point the ark disappeared, presumed taken by the Babylonians but never returned with the rest of the Temple furniture and vessels in the time of Ezra. Who knows, if the ark still survives somewhere, the tablets may still be in it. By the time Jerusalsm fell to Nebuchadnezzar, writing and literacy had developed sufficiently that the whole Torah and the words of the prophets had been committed to writing and copied may times.
TheRamban offers a different answer: "'they were there' forever, 'as HaShem commanded', that His glory dwell among the children of Israel." Ramban then references HaShem's words to the Israelites when the Tabernacle was first commissioned into service: "I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will consecrate Aharon and his sons to serve Me as priests. I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the L-RD am their G-d, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the L-RD their G-d" (Shemot 29:44-46, JPS). HaShem's words are seen as a summary or a condensation of His glory that it to dwell among the people. It is as if His words are a symbol or an encapsulation of His presence: if you have the words, then in some way you have HaShem! The words reflected His glory, so that those who hear it, who read it, who practice it, are sanctified so that G-d is visible to others through them. Perhaps this is what the prophet saw when he reported, "Thus said the L-RD of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold -- they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zechariah 8:23, JPS.
At the end of D'varim, Moshe will warn the Israelites that they must obey HaShem's Torah or face the consequences. He will say, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse" (D'varim 30:19, ESV) The tablets are the basis on which that witness can be substantiated: the people have been given the terms of the covenant between HaShem and His people in writing so that ignorance will be no excuse. This is mirrored in the way that G-d will relate to all the peoples of the earth. Rav Sha'ul explains that "the wrath of G-d is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about G-d is plain to them, because G-d has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20, ESV). Creation itself is a witness to all of mankind that there is a G-d and - despite the best (or worst) efforts of the deniers - that witness remains potent in the hearts of every human being.
What, then, is to be the sign of our witness to the hope and faith that we have in Yeshua? How are we to testify to the relationship that we have with G-d, the power and presence of the kingdom of G-d in our lives and the message of reconciliation that we have to share with the world around us? The key answer is the Holy Spirit; He is the power of G-d dwelling within us, who enables us to live "in Messiah". Promised by Yeshua - "Wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:4-5, ESV) - and the apostles - "You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the L-rd our G-d calls to Himself" (Acts 2:38-39, ESV) - the Spirit is to be poured out on all those who follow Yeshua to fulfill the words of the prophet: "After that, I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel 3:1, JPS). And Yeshua explained that "these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:17-18, ESV). Incredible as it seems, Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12, NASB). This is the witness we have; when Yeshua was here in Galilee, "they brought to Him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them" (Matthew 4:24, NASB) and we should expect the same; when the early disciples preached and taught in Jerusalem, "with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33, ESV) - they were "praising G-d and having favour with all the people" (Acts 2:47, ESV) and we should expect the same; going further afield, the good news of the kingdom "was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while G-d also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will" (Hebrews 2:3-4, ESV) we should expect the same.
This is the message of the kingdom that we have been called and equipped to share, "we are ambassadors of the Messiah; in effect, G-d is making His appeal through us. What we do is appeal on behalf of the Messiah, 'Be reconciled to God!'" (2 Corinthians 5:20, CJB). As we do that, the Scriptures - which we hold to be true - testify that G-d will confirm our words and show His power through us and our lives. He has put the tablets of His covenant in our hearts, transforming them into a living witness in hearts of flesh and spirit, so that we can succeed in the mission to which He has called us. Knowing that, now go and do it!
Further Study: Isaiah 32:14-18; John 20:21; Matthew 17:20
Application: Many people have a credibility gap about the power of the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of G-d; they have little or no experience of it and struggle to believe that it is both true and part of what G-d wants to do today. If that describes you, then why not ask the L-rd to confirm His word to you: read, believe and do!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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