I have long been puzzled over the Bible event where Moses broke the tables of stone on which were written the ten commandments by the finger of God. I have wondered whether God approved or disapproved of the actions of Moses. There is nothing in the text to suggest that God wanted Moses to break the stone tablets, but there is also no record of God admonishing Moses for his actions. We are left to speculate as to whether or not Moses did the right thing. Or are we?
If we remember the background of what the ten commandments are, we might receive some light on this matter. God had called to Moses out of Mount Sinai and given the terms of His covenant with the nation of Israel. They were to obey His voice and keep His covenant, and in doing so they would be a special treasure to God above all other people on the earth. The “special-ness” of Israel would be that they would serve God as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is all found in Exodus 19:5-6 and if you notice, this is before God gives the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. So before the Israelites even know one of the commandments that God will give, they are commanded to obey His voice and that is how the covenant will be kept. The nation of Israel readily agreed to obey God’s voice. Then they heard the ten commandments from the voice of God. Moses wrote down all of the words in a book, the ten commandments and the rest of what God had commanded. The nation of Israel again affirmed that they would obey God’s voice, see Exodus 24:3-4. Then God invites Moses up into the mountain to be with him for 40 days and 40 nights.
When Moses comes down from the mountain, he has been experiencing communion with the one true God. He then witnesses the debauchery and sinfulness of his people who were supposed to be a holy nation to the one true God. The ten commandments, written in stone by the finger of God, embodied the covenant that God had made with the nation of Israel. It plainly described what Israel had to do to obey the voice of the LORD. Moses saw them committing sexual sin, idolatry, and every other type of pagan sin you would expect of a heathen nation. What God wanted from the nation of Israel and what they were doing were complete opposites. Just before Moses came down and witnessed this first hand, God wanted to strike the entire nation dead in His wrath. Moses interceded reminding God of His covenant with Abraham. So God did not follow through with a display of His wrath, see Exodus 32:7-14.
Immediately after this, the same one that talked God out of consuming the nation of Israel in His wrath, came down and saw first hand what had made God so angry. The anger of Moses grew hot and he broke the tables of stone. The act was based on the same anger that might have consumed the nation of Israel had not Moses interceded. It was, in essence, the same thought of God. God’s thought was, these people cannot be My people any longer. They are sinful, they disobey Me, they cannot continue with Me because I am a holy God. Moses also must have thought, how can we continue in a covenant relationship with this holy God? The tables of stone were now worthless because the nation of Israel had broken the covenant. So the action of Moses is a recognition of the failure of His people to keep the covenant. Why would they need the tables of stone any longer since the covenant was broken and there was no longer a covenant relationship between the nation of Israel and the God of Israel? Consider the following quote by Cecil Yates Biss from a sermon preached in 1896:
This breaking of the tables of stone was in itself a sign of the infraction of the holy law engraven upon them, and also of the covenant which depended upon obedience to that law. But let it be noted that the breaking of the tables was Moses’ own act: it does not seem to have been enjoined by God. Moses appears to have thought that as the law was hopelessly broken, and the blesssings of the covenant hopelessly lost, the tables must be destroyed also. He did not realise that God was able, by a new work of mercy, to overrule the sin of His people, and to cause His grace to much more abound where their sin had so grievously abounded.
I would echo this main idea, but with the modification that perhaps Moses was acting in accordance with the character of the one true God. Now the roles are reversed. Previously, Moses had interceded before God on behalf of the nation of Israel, now God intercedes on behalf of the nation of Israel encouraging Moses to come up into the mount once again. The “new work of mercy” as Biss puts it, is the creation of a second set of tables of stone. This signifies the renewal of the covenant and the continuation of this sinful nation in a covenant relationship with the God of Israel.
There is still much to ponder about in this story, but perhaps this sheds some light on the issue.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman