The Tablets of the Law

We read in Exodus 31:18 that the law is given to Moses on two stone tablets. These stone tablets are usually depicted as containing commandments 1-5 on one, and 6-10 on the other. However, this was likely not the case.

Treaty between Hittite king Mursili II and Talmi-sharruma of Aleppo to regulate future relations between the two states, circa 1300 BC

In the ancient Middle East, it was customary when making covenants or treaties to create two identical copies of the governing document–one for each party to keep. From about 1800 BC onward, for instance, various Hittite kings followed this model to manage relations with their suzerain or vassal states (see example, left).

God’s covenant with his people, then, likely followed this same pattern, meaning both tablets would have likely been identical copies of the whole law. By creating this covenant according to the custom of that day in that region, God was formally establishing himself as Israel’s king, and Israel as his subjects.

It is also telling, then, that rather than taking one of the tablets up to heaven (his copy), God commands Israel to retain both copies of the law together, in an ornate special container created just for this purpose: the Ark of the Covenant. Biblical scholar J.A. Motyer says “This shows that Yahweh, the Great King who is the covenant-maker, was also the resident king among his people, and the covenant was his to guard and guarantee.” This is our incarnational God, whose character it is to dwell among us.


About andyoftheway

looking for a new/old way
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