The Timing of the Tablets

What is the timing of Moses’ ascents to the top of the mountain and his bringing of the two sets of the tablets of the pact aka the Ten Commandments?

While Torah gives us this information, there are some contradictions and places where it is vague. This post helps me to lay out the different timelines so I can structure the chapters.

Please also see: From Sin to Sinai

Now it’s time for the trip up the mountain. Aaron, his two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel all head up but don’t go very far. Moses and Joshua go further.

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.”

So Moses and his attendant Joshua arose, and Moses ascended the mountain of God.

Exodus 24: 12-13

Oddly, the others are to wait in that lower elevation, a place where the people in general were not allowed to be, a place where they could see God. But then people are encourage to approach if needed.

To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. You have Aaron and Hur with you; let anyone who has a legal matter approach them.”

Exodus 24: 14

Moses stays on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, the first week of which was waiting for God to call him to go inside the cloud where God was.

When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain.

The Presence of the LORD abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud.

Now the Presence of the LORD appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain.

Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24: 15-18

This is where God first outlines the instructions for building the Mishkan aka the Tabernacle. In some cases these instructions seem to be in the right place: “And deposit in the Ark [the tablets of] the Pact which I will give you.” (Exodus 25:16) And in others, it’s clear that these verses are in the Torah out of order: “As you were shown on the mountain, so shall they be made.” (Exodus 27:8) As a general rule, most commentators seem believe the Mishkan instruction details came after Moses brought the second set of tablets.

God’s description of the eternal flame and his choice of priests come after the Mishkan instructions and before the instructions for the priestly garments and their consecration, so it’s unclear if this section also was one that came much later.

You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of] the Pact, [to burn] from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages. 28

You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron.

Exodus 27: 20-21 and 28: 1

After the instructions concerning the priests, there are a few more about the Mishkan, then it goes into the taking of the census, another section that came later in time, after the giving of the tablets. Then God tells Moses to put Hur’s grandson, Bezalel, in charge of much of the work of the Mishkan creation, with assistance from Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.

Finally, in Chapter 31, God admonishes Moses to impress the rules of the Sabbath upon the Hebrews. And then:

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.

Exodus 31: 18

Now we switch our attention to the foot of the mountain.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.”

Exodus 32: 1

Aaron then makes the Golden Calf and declares the following day a festival to God. God tells Moses what is happening and threatens to wipe out the Hebrews and start over with Moses. Moses convinces God not to do this, then he hurries down to the camp, bringing Joshua who was waiting for him.

As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.

He took the calf that they had made and burned it; he ground it to powder and strewed it upon the water and so made the Israelites drink it.

Exodus 32: 19-20
Foster Bible Pictures 0069-1 Moses Throws the Tablet of Stone. From Illustrators of the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster. Artist and date of illustration not mentioned.

Moses confronts Aaron who claims it wasn’t his fault, but Moses is not convinced. Next, he calls the Hebrews who are “for the Lord” and the Levites come. He tells them to murder those who worshiped the Golden Calf.

The Levites did as Moses had bidden; and some three thousand of the people fell that day.

Exodus 32: 28

The next day, Moses tells the people he’s going back up the mountain, where he convinces God not to punish the Hebrews as a whole, but only those who sinned. God does this by sending a plague.

God reiterates the plan to give the Hebrews the land of Canaan, but says also: “But I will not go in your midst, since you are a stiffnecked people, lest I destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33: 3)

The people were upset to hear this and took off their finery. God tells them to keep it off and they do from then on.

Next we hear about Moses’ daily actions, so it seems there is a break before he returns to the mountain top.

Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought the LORD would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp.

Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent.

And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses.

When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent.

The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.

Exodus 33: 7-11

Moses then convinces God to continue to lead them after they leave Mount Sinai. He also asks God to show God’s self to him and God agrees to show him all but God’s face. Next we jump right into the second set of tablets.

The LORD said to Moses: “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered.

Be ready by morning, and in the morning come up to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to Me, on the top of the mountain.

No one else shall come up with you, and no one else shall be seen anywhere on the mountain; neither shall the flocks and the herds graze at the foot of this mountain.”

So Moses carved two tablets of stone, like the first, and early in the morning he went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, taking the two stone tablets with him.

Exodus 34: 1-5

Moses and God converse and God gives more commandments and offers them as a covenant. But this time God does not inscribe the tablets, Moses does.

And the LORD said to Moses: Write down these commandments, for in accordance with these commandments I make a covenant with you and with Israel.

And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water; and he wrote down on the tablets the terms of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 34: 27-28
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–1669), Moses with the Tablets of the Law, 1659 

When Moses returned to camp, his face was radiant, which scared the Hebrews. From then on, he wore a veil at times when he was not speaking to God or conveying what God had told him.

Next, in Chapter 35, Moses reminds the people of the Sabbath then asks for gifts of both material objects and of skilled work, so they can begin to build the Mishkan.

The rest of Exodus’ 40 chapters describe the building of the Mishkan and its consecration. Ending with:

When Moses had finished the work,

the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.

Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.

When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys;

but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift.

For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the LORD rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.

Exodus 40: 33-38

1 Comment

  1. From Sin to Sinai – Out of Egypt

    April 23, 2021 at 10:22 am

    […] Please also see: The Timing of the Tablets […]

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