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Shemot/Exodus 24:12 And I will give you the tablets of stone and the Torah and the commandment that I have written, to instruct them.
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These words are spoken to Moshe byHaShem after the giving of the Decalogue - the Ten Words - and a block of ancillary commandments. He calls Moshe to come up to Him on the mountain, where He promises to give him the two tablets of stone. We should notice the root appearing twice in the text: first as the Torah, perhaps literally, the instruction - an abstract noun formed by adding a prefix to the root; second as the verb , the Hif'il infinitive with a 3mp suffix, "to teach them". In both cases, the first letter of the root, has reverted to its older form, as is typical with many first yod verbs. The Rashbam tells us that "These are the 'tablets with G-d's writing' that He would give Moshe at the end of the forty days." Umberto Cassuto is very definite:1 "Just as they were proclaimed by G-d, so their writing must necessarily be the writing of G-d, graven upon the tablets 'The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing, incised upon the tablets' (Shemot 32:16, JPS)."
We use the word Torah today to refer to the whole of the five books of Moshe, sometimes (by metonymy) the whole of the Tanakh and, in the Orthodox world, all the rabbinic writings. How is the word being used here? Just how big were these tablets and how small was the writing?Rashi tries to have his cake and eat it by assuring us that "all six hundred and thirteen commandments are included in the Ten Words/Sayings." Other commentators suggest that just the Decalogue itself was written on the tablets, while a few have individual choices: the first and the second or the first and the fifth. Either way, for Moshe to be able to carry them down the mountain, they must have been of limited size and - so that they could be read and used by normal people with the naked eye - very limited content. Gunther Plaut is worried that this is far too small, arguing that "the expression 'the instructions and the commandment'- seems too large for the Decalogue." The Ramban claims that "this is identical with what He said in D'varim: 'and I will give you the whole instruction -- the laws and the rules -- that you shall impart to them' (D'varim 5:28, JPS)."
Following that thought, Gersonides, theRalbag, suggests that "the teachings and commandment" refer to "the stories, which are of value for developing the character and the intellect, and the rules by which to achieve success." Ibn Ezra notes that some interpret the phrase to mean, "The written Torah and the oral commandment", but insists that "rightly, He is speaking only about the tablets. This is proved when He says, 'that I have written.'" This focus on the written and the oral components of the Torah is a major theme within mainstream Judaism. The Sforno opens this up a little more: "'and the Torah' - the theoretical part of it; 'and the commandment - the practical active part of it; 'that you may teach them' - I will give them to you so that you may teach them, for although all is written, as our Sages say, 'Is there anything in the Prophets or Writings which is not intimated by Moshe in the Torah?' (b. Ta'anit 9a), and as some of our Sages say, 'The major part is written, a minor part is oral' (b. Gittin 60b), yet behold that the allusions (or implications) which are found in it, be it theoretical or in deed, cannot be understood by the majority of Israel save through a righteous teacher. Therefore the opinion of the other Sages who say, 'The major part is oral, and a minor part written' (b. Gittin 60b), is also correct." This is why Jacob Neusner refers to Judaism as "the Judaism of the Dual Torah."
RabbiHirsch picks up the same point made by the Rashbam and Cassuto earlier and then goes on to give the classic Orthodox position about the relative merits and status of the written and oral Torah: "'that I have written' - in accordance with what we are told in 31:18 at the end of Moshe's stay on the mount - 'When He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God' (Shemot 31:18, JPS). The written Law is only an instructor's text book, by reference to which the real teaching - which is to be retained for verbal tuition - is to be kept intact and ensured." Within Orthodox Judaism, the Oral Torah has precedence over the Written Torah. Or perhaps it would be kinder to say that the way the Oral Torah interprets the Written Torah takes precedence over the plain meaning of the Written Torah text. As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we have to disagree with that; we know that "All Scripture is breathed out by G-d and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV). We place the Written Word, both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures - as the indelible record of G-d's relationship with our people - above all else.
The modern scholar Nahum Sarna points out that "the stone tablets ... follows the widespread ANE practice of recording important public documents, particularly treaty stipulations, on imperishable materials" and Gunther Plaut reminds us that "scholars distinguish between various expressions used for the tablets and assign different sources to their use: Stone Tablets [E], Tablets of the Pact [P], Tablets of the Covenant [D]." Whether we accept or reject theDocumentary Hypothesis, it is important that the Torah has several ways of referring to the tablets and that Moshe and subsequent generations took care to preserve the Scriptures. Proverbs links Torah and commandments again - "Keep my commandments and live, my teaching, as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart" (Proverbs 7:2-3) - while Rav Sha'ul speaks of the writing of the Ruach: "not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:3, NASB).
Yeshua instructed His disciples to include His teachings in their outreach and disciple-making: "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matthew 28:20, NASB) and Luke tells us that the early church in Jerusalem did just that: "continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42, NASB) as they passed on the words and teachings of Yeshua, appointing deacons to deal with more practical matters when the apostles said, "we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (6:4, NASB). The written Hebrew Scriptures and the words of Yeshua were the foundation of the life and praxis. Yeshua said, "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63, NASB), affirmed by Simon Peter: "the words of eternal life" (v. 68, NASB).
In these days, when the world is in turmoil and the foundations of many are being shaken in all sorts of directions, we need to know where our foundation is. Where is our base and upon what are be basing our lives? Where are our tablets of stone?
Rav Sha'ul lays out an architectural picture for the Gentiles who are coming to faith in Yeshua at Ephesus and Asia Minor: "you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the L-rd" (Ephesians 2:19-21, ESV). In this picture, Sha'ul sees the teaching of the prophets and the apostles, centred, focused and pivoted on Yeshua as the foundation supporting the building of the people of G-d. He repeats his metaphor - Yeshua as foundation - to the Corinthians: "no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Messiah Yeshua" (1 Corinthians 3:11).
We must have a foundation, a fixed and absolute point on which we can place our feet and rest our minds, knowing that we are secure in our G-d, knowing that "the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind" (1 Samuel 15:29, NASB), that "The L-RD has sworn and will not change His mind" (Psalm 110:4, NASB). G-d, our G-d, is very clear: "I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it" (Jeremiah 4:28, NASB). He has spoken to save the world, He sent His Son - Yeshua - to redeem the world and He will return to rule the world. This - rather than the text itself, important though that is - the rock on which we stand: our faith in the unchangeable nature, grace and favour of our G-d, poured out towards us in Yeshua. He is our rock and our fortress; scholarship, other texts, the words of teachers, are nothing if we do not have Him. As the refrain of a Victorian hymn says:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
-- Edward Mote (1797-1874)
He is the foundation, our tablet of stone, our Torah and commandment, written by the finger of G-d that we may be instructed and instruct others.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:21-23; Luke 20:9-18; Acts 4:8-12
Application: Are your feet firm upon the rock, or do you waver in the breeze, blown about by every wind of scholarship or doctrine? Do you know the certainty of G-d's Torah and commandment, instructed by Him? Time to touch base with those stone tablets and know the certainty and permanence of G-d and His word.
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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