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Shemot/Exodus 34:1 Hew for yourself two tablets of stone, like the first ones
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HaShem's instructions here to Moshe start the re-instatement of the covenant. The following verses contains parallels to the original giving of the covenant when the people first arrived at Sinai: the tablets are replaced; Moshe is told to be ready, as the people were told to be ready; access to the mountain is restricted; the L-rd again comes down in Sinai and through fear the people back away. On this occasion, however, Moshe rather than G-d is to prepare the tablets of stone; the verb is a Qal imperative from the root , which means to cut or hew stone, to carve wood. G-d is going to do the writing, as He did before, but Moshe has to prepared the stone.
Rashi comments rather tartly, "You broke the first ones, you carve yourself other ones," as if HaShem is petulantly stamping His foot and berating Moshe for breaking the first set of tablets, but then goes on to relate a parable from Midrash Tanchuma to show that Moshe's actions had been correct. However, this points to an important aspect of this re-instatement: Moshe - representing the people - has to contribute to the process, rather than just being given a second set of tablets; he, or whoever is delegated to actually work the stone, has quite a bit of skilled physical labour to do in order to have the covenant restored.
"Carve ... like the first: like them in kind and size," addsIbn Ezra, who then goes on to list the seven ways in which Saadia Gaon claims that the second set of tablets outshone the first. Ibn Ezra is not impressed, however, and points out that "the writing was G-d's writing" (Shemot 32:16, JPS) making them equivalent in that respect. He then asks, since G-d created the first set, whereas Moshe crafted the second set, how can Moshe's work be of a higher standard or holiness than G-d's! There is also debate among the commentators as to whether the first set contained the commandments as found in Shemot 20 and the second set the form in D'varim 5, or whether the writing was identical.
The physical considerations, however interesting, should not hide what is happening at a relationship level. In the previous chapters, G-d has given Moshe a set of tablets containing His covenant with our people but, barely before the ink is dry, the people have made an idol - a golden calf - and are worshipping it at the foot of the mountain while Moshe is still on his way down. G-d decides to obliterate the people and start again with Moshe, but Moshe pleads for the people and G-d relents; three thousand people are killed by the Levites who answer Moshe's call to stand for the L-rd and G-d sends the people on their way to the Land with only an angel as guide rather than His presence, after sending a plague among the people because of their sin. Once more, Moshe intercedes, pointing out that it is only the presence of G-d among them that distinguishes the people of Israel from the other peoples; G-d not only agrees that He will come with them personally, but rewards Moshe's request to see His glory by a private theophany while he stands in a cleft of the rock. It is in that context that Moshe is told to bring two tablets so that G-d may write the covenant again for the people. This is a moment of re-making the covenant that was only so recently made and almost immediately broken.
Hirsch, in a fine piece of writing, comes so close and yet just fails to grasp the key to the matter that one might suggest that he chose his words deliberately to avoid open expression while seeing it in his own mind's eye: "The condition for the return to the original direct and intimate relationship between G-d and Israel is that Israel should again take up G-d's Law in their midst as the one mediator for this relationship. As Israel had broken this Law, it is up to them to hand G-d the blank tablets, and by that the Law may be written afresh on the new tablets by the Finger of G-d." As we have seen from the text, though, it is G-d who is taking the initiative here by instructing Moshe to bring two new tablets, it is G-d who is going to take the initiative again when He says, "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 31:30(31), CJB), and it is G-d who took the initiative of sending Yeshua to resolve the issue of sin once and for all: "there is but one Mediator between G-d and humanity. Yeshua the Messiah, Himself human, who gave Himself as a ransom on behalf of all, thus providing testimony to G-d's purpose at just the right time" (1 Timothy 2:5-6, CJB).
Hirsch's next sentences, however, are exactly on target: "Our transgressions in no wise alter the contents of the Divine Law. G-d does not modify or reform the Torah to accommodate our weaknesses. Unaltered, the Torah awaits our conversion and return." Grace is neither easy or cheap; it cost Messiah His death on the stake and it costs us everything that we have in surrender to G-d as we follow Yeshua. Yeshua made this clear when He taught: "The kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for fine pearls. On finding one very valuable pearl he went away, sold everything he owned and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46, CJB).
Further Study: John 15:9-10; Ezekiel 37:24-28
Application: G-d is calling people today to bring Him their hearts, so that He may forgive their sin and write His law inside them. Have you brought your heart to G-d, for this is something that only you can do, and are you committed to keeping the commandments of Yeshua so that you remain in covenant with G-d?
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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