Table of Stone Rewritten
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

We are studying what we refer to as a parenthetical passage in the book of Exodus, beginning with chapter 31 and continuing through chapter 34. It is referred to as parenthetical not because it is any less important than other portions of the Word of God, but because it comes between the instructions for building the Tabernacle and the building of the Tabernacle itself.

The passage tells the story of how when Moses was on the mount for forty days and forty nights receiving instruction concerning the building of the Tabernacle and receiving two tables of stone upon which God had written the Ten Commandments, the people at the foot of the mountain tired of waiting for Moses and asked Aaron to give them a definite thing that they could worship. They gave their gold earrings and their gold, and there came out from the fire, as Aaron put it, a golden calf before which they bowed down and worshiped.

God told Moses about this thing, and challenged Moses to intercession by saying, “Let Me alone; I will destroy these people, and I will make out of thee a great nation.” Moses was willing to forego the opportunity to be the forbear of the nation of Israel, and immediately began the period of intercession in three stages at which we have looked. This period of intercession moved the heart of God so that Israel was not destroyed as He had intended.

Moses Communes With God

After Moses moved the heart of God concerning this matter of destruction, and God withheld His judgment, God invited Moses up into the mountain again. He said that He would give to Moses the tables of stone once more and that He would tell Moses some of the things that he wanted to know. We will consider in chapter 34 what occurred on top of the mountain. We read from verse 1:

Exodus 34

1And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.
2And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
3And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.

Notice verse 28 of this chapter:

Exodus 34

28And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the children of Israel dancing around the golden calf, he dashed to the ground the two tables of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were written. This was not done in a fit of anger. It was not done as a spoiled child breaks something with which he has been playing because things are not going exactly his way. He did it as a mediator of the old covenant, to emphasize that the covenant had been broken. What was the point in having an unbroken covenant on tables of stone when the covenant had been broken by the actions of the people?

That the breaking of the two tables of stone did not displease the Lord is evident when we remember that there is no record whatsoever of God's rebuking Moses for the breaking of the tables of stone. This time God said, “You hew two tablets.” This time God said, “Come up to the mountain, and I will write upon these tables the Ten Commandments.”

As we read in verse 28, Moses went up to the mountain and tarried there forty days and forty nights without food and without water. This does seem unusual. Skeptics might say, “How could a thing like this be?” We have no explanation as to how it could be, save that Moses was wrapped up in the things of God.

This was not the first time he had stayed in the mountain for forty days and forty nights without food and water. He was so enthralled with his fellowship with God that ordinary material things made no claim upon him. Perhaps a similar illustration can be taken from the life of our Lord Himself. You will remember that He sat on a well curb one day while his disciples went into the city to buy food because they were all hungry. When they came back, they mentioned ordinary, physical food; and the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I have food to eat that you don't know anything about. I have food to eat that eliminates the need for any ordinary food” (John 4:32).

Importance of Personal Fellowship

What a blessed time of communion this was. It is worthy of our consideration that this wonderful experience which Moses had in the mountain when he received from God the tables of stone, the Ten Commandments, all began early in the morning. We never read this passage of Scripture without being impressed with the fact that God said to Moses:

Exodus 34

2And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
3And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.

When He said, “Be ready to come up in the morning,” we are reminded that if we do have a time of fellowship with the Lord, preparation will have to be made. If this were true in Moses' day, it is certainly more true in the day in which we live because the demands which are made upon us are far greater than the demands made upon Moses; if he had to make ready a time, we likewise shall have to make ready a time. If you will notice periods of devotion in the Scripture, you will find that the morning hours were chosen most often. There is something about the morning hours that make possible fellowship with God that no other part of the day makes possible.

You find in verse 3 a warning that no man and no beast should come up to the mountain. Were we to read the commentary on this in Paul's letter to the Hebrews, we would find that the penalty was death. Since we are suggesting the importance of personal fellowship with the Lord, it might be wise to say that this verse of Scripture reminds us that our devotions must be private. They must be apart from man and from beast, figuratively speaking. Yes, there is a place for united worship; there is a place for family worship, but there must be time when we make ourselves ready for individual fellowship with the Lord.

The two tables of stone upon which Moses wrote this time at God's direction were never broken. They were preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, as was a pot of manna and Aaron's rod that budded. Over the Ark of the Covenant was the mercy seat. The mercy seat was the place where God met man; we are reminded that the covenant on the tables of stone which were once broken as an indication that man had utterly failed in keeping the promise that he had made to God, is covered by the blood of Christ. If the broken covenant were not covered by the blood of Christ, then you and I could not stand today, as is evident in the revelation which comes to us in the next paragraph.

God's Glory and God's Goodness

In chapter 33, when Moses was talking with God on the mountain at another time, he asked that God would show to him His glory. God said, in so many words, “No, Moses, I will not show you My glory; but I will show you My goodness.” How much better it is to see the goodness of God than to see the glory of God! It is perhaps more flattering to see the glory, because we are able to talk about it, and the flesh is prone to brag about spiritual experiences, but the glory of God will never bring a man into close fellowship with God. It is only when we see the goodness of God that our hearts are humble. It is only when we see the goodness of God that our hearts are overwhelmed with a vision of His grace.

Let us look at the next paragraph, beginning with verse 4:

Exodus 34

4And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.
5And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
6And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
8And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.
9And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O LORD, let my LORD, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

Let us go back over this portion of the Word and notice exactly what we have read. Moses had requested that God would show him His glory. God said, in chapter 33, verse 19:

Exodus 33

19And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

So in this visit to the mount, we find God doing exactly what He said He would do. He is proclaiming His name. We read in verse 5 that the Lord descended upon the mountain in a cloud and stood with Moses there and proclaimed the name of the Lord. We are familiar with the cloud; we have seen it three other times in the book of Exodus. We have found that the cloud is representative of the presence of the Lord; when we see the cloud, we know that the Lord is present there on Mount Sinai.

The Name of Jehovah

What was the first thing that God did? He proclaimed the name of the Lord. Notice that in the word “LORD” every letter is capitalized, so this word means “Jehovah.” The first time this name was used with Moses was in chapter 19 of the book of Exodus. God visited Moses and said, “Moses, I did not acquaint myself with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob by the name Jehovah; but I am acquainting Myself with you by that name.” The name “Jehovah” speaks of one who has an intimate relationship with the one who is being dealt with. Now again, He said, “I will proclaim my name Jehovah.” What did that mean? Did that simply mean that He announced the name, that He called the name out loud? No! In the Old Testament it was common knowledge that the name indicated the character. Quite often, individuals were named at birth to indicate the character that the parents hoped to see in the life of the child.

Read again chapter 49 of the book of Genesis, and you will recognize that this is true. There we find listed the names of the twelve sons of Jacob, and Jacob explained each name. Each name was indicative of the son's character. When God said, “I will proclaim My name before you,” actually what He was saying was, “I will proclaim my character before you.” So in verses 6 and 7, we have one of the most minute but one of the most touching descriptions of the character of God that is to be found in the Bible.

So often people say that the God of the Old Testament is so different from the God of the New Testament. So often people say that the God of the Old Testament is a god that they do not want, that they cannot tolerate, that they cannot understand. Such statements indicate a gross misunderstanding of what the Scripture actually means, because in these two verses of Scripture indeed is a presentation of the character of God that should endear Him to all our hearts.

Sevenfold Description of God's Character

Let us read those two verses and then notice the sevenfold description of the character of God:

Exodus 34

6And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

The paragraph begins with the words “the LORD”–that is, “Jehovah,” a term of intimate relationship. Our God is on intimate terms with us. He is our Father. If you think of God as the eternal God Who sits on the rim of the universe, you think of a God Who is cold and distant and Who had no real connection with you. I don't like to address God that way. I like to speak to God as my Father, for He is. I am on intimate terms with Him because He loves me and understands me. That is why the Spirit of God told us in chapter 8 of the book of Romans that the Holy Spirit Who lives within our hearts is not a spirit of fear, nor a spirit of austerity that keeps us from being on intimate terms with Him. The Holy Spirit is the One Who lives within our hearts and enables us to cry, “Abba, Father.”

The word “abba” is not a word that is translated from Greek into English; it is transliterated, because there is no certain English word to describe the meaning adequately. It is a word that speaks of intimacy. Our nearest word to “abba” is “daddy” or “papa.” It is an intimate term in speaking to God. That is what “Jehovah” is–an intimate term that God gave to Moses back in chapter 19 of the book of Exodus.

Not only did God say, “the LORD”; He said, “the LORD God.” The word “God” is a translation of the word “Elohim,” so it was “Jehovah Elohim.” “Elohim” is “the Mighty One.” Your God is as gentle as a father, but He is the mighty one as well. Nothing is too hard for Him. Nothing is He unable to do. He is able to do all.

Notice what He says about Himself. The first thing that He says is, “I am merciful.” Oh, how we need mercy. If there is one person who declares he does not need the mercy of God, he has never seen the exceeding sinfulness of his own heart and the exceeding holiness of God. God is merciful. We are told in the Word of God that His mercies are new every day (Lamentations 3:23). We are told in the Word of God that we can come boldly to the throne of grace and there find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

The next thing that He says about Himself is that He is gracious. “Gracious” is a word related to grace, which defies accurate definition, but speaks of unmerited favor. God deals with us, not on the basis of what we deserve, but on the basis of what He is. We are the recipients of His favors which we do not deserve. He is the gracious One.

He is longsuffering, which is self-explanatory. Oh, how longsuffering He was with Israel. How longsuffering He is with you and with me. Take stock of your life for a moment or two. Take inventory. Has He not been longsuffering with you? Have you not worn out His patience again and again? Yet He has been longsuffering. He has not turned you loose. He has not given you up.

Then He is abundant in goodness. It would be sufficient to say that our God is good, but He is abundant in goodness. He is abundant in goodness and truth. “Truth” is self-explanatory, but I like the way the Hebrew word is translated in other portions of the Word of God. Elsewhere this word “truth” is translated “steadfast” or “steadfastness.” The only dependable thing in the world today is truth, is it not? Yes, our God is dependable. What He is saying here is “I am dependable. I will never fail.” Nehemiah used this same word in his prophecy to describe God, but he translated it “steadfastness.”

Then in verse 7 we read that God is keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. Has He forgiven your iniquity? Has He forgiven you your transgressions? Has He forgiven you your sins? How foolish you are if you do not take advantage of His forgiveness. How foolish you are if you do not let God forgive your sin at this moment.

An Illustration of Mercy

Notice the next statement, which has proven to be a problem to so many people; it has concerned them about the God of the Old Testament: “…that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and fourth generations.” “How,” say some people, “can a God of love and understanding visit iniquity upon innocent little children who had absolutely nothing to do with the parents' sins? What kind of a God is that?”

I think there is a misunderstanding about this paragraph, and I think we can clear it up. Notice the statement, “that will by no means clear the guilty,” and the word “guilty.” It is printed in italics, which suggests that the translators are making a suggestion which is not in the original text, but which they think may help. Literally the phrase means “will by no means utterly destroy.” Is that not good–“that will by no means utterly destroy”? We are talking about a gracious God. We are talking about a merciful God. He will not utterly destroy. To amplify that statement is the statement, “visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children and upon the children's children unto the third and the fourth generation.” All that most people can see is that God visits iniquities upon children; they forget the third and fourth generations.

What this statement actually says is that God interrupts the law of heredity after the third and fourth generation. Instead of this being a sentence that describes an awful God, it is a sentence that describes a merciful God–One who is so merciful that He will even interrupt His own law after the third and fourth generation. Can you blame God if you live a life of sin and breed in your blood that which will cause diseased children in the next generation and in the next and in the next? If God were not merciful and did not stop it, it would go on forever and would blot out the human race.

Yes, He is a God of mercy. No wonder that we read in verse 8 that Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped:

Exodus 34

8And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
9And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O LORD, let my LORD, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

Do you see what He is saying? “Lord, we are a stiffnecked people. We need a gracious God like You. If You were not as You are, we would be destroyed; so, Lord, go with us. Don't let us go alone.”

I am glad that God is gracious. I am glad that I have been a recipient of His mercy and His grace.


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