Which Ten Commandments?     Ó2003 TMRobinson              

In Exodus 34:1, God said, “I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables” (Exodus 34:1b).[i]  Because of this, some people read Exodus 34:1-4 and 34:27-28 in robotic fashion and expect the account in the second giving of the Ten Commandments to be exactly jot and tittle in line with the previous Exodus 20:3-17 account.  Such “reading robots” pay absolutely no mind to the circumstance surrounding the second writing of the tablets, the covenant of reconciliation being made by God during the account, or what other biblical texts have to say concerning the passage.  Instead, these mechanistic interpreters read Exodus chapter 34, discern the following ten commandments, and then blow a fuse:

(1) Have no other god; the LORD is a jealous God;  (2) Make no molten gods; (3) Observe the feast of unleavened bread; (4) All the first-born belong to God; (5) Work six days and rest on the seventh, even during harvest time; (6) Observe the feast of weeks three times a year, first-fruits, wheat harvest, and ingathering; (7) Do not offer the blood of sacrifice with leavened bread; (8) Do not leave leftovers of the Passover for the following morning; (9) Bring the first fruits of the land unto the house of the LORD; and (10) Do not cook a lamb in its mother’s milk.


Did Moses somehow forget what he wrote about the first two tablets and God giving the Law the first time?  Did two successive periods of fasting forty days completely disorient him so that he failed to write down, “thou shalt not steal” or “thou shalt not covet” in this second encounter of receiving the Law?  The answer to these questions is “no.”  Why then are the narratives in Exodus 34 and Exodus 20 different?  Why does Exodus 20 list one set of Ten Commandments while Exodus 34 lists a different set of Ten Commandments? 


First, no written historical narrative has ever been expected to contain every detail possible.  This is especially the case when a historical narrative is written with a particular theme or purpose in view, which is one reason why additional accounts are usually helpful in creating a more in depth picture of the event.  Understanding this basic principle for reading comprehension can help unfold the mystery surrounding the second tablets of the Law (When it comes to the Bible, atheists are notorious for needing remedial reading training, but Christians are often not much better – perhaps another testimony of public education).[ii]  


In Exodus 20, Moses brought Israel near the mountain where he then went up to meet the LORD. God hewn two tablets of stone, and then He wrote the Ten Commandments upon them.  God also expounded the Law to Moses during their discourse, and being the introduction to the Law of Moses, God’s monolog was recorded in the condensed version commonly known as the Ten Commandments.  Israel then backslid and whored after a false god which caused the righteous nature of the LORD to turn against them.  It was the mediation of Moses that kept Israel from being destroyed by God over their unfaithfulness, and Moses subsequently descended the mountain in wrath, breaking the tablets.


Like a husband reconciling with his estranged wife, the second giving of the Law to Moses was a token of reconciliation between God and Israel.  One key difference in the second giving of the Law in Exodus chapter 34 is that Moses went to the mountain completely alone to meet with God, bringing tablets of stone that were hewn by Moses, not by God.  God then took the tablets from Moses and wrote upon them the same Ten Commandments as in Exodus 20.  God rehearsed the Law again to Moses, but the theme of reconciliation between God and Israel was what was highlighted and recorded in abbreviated form as Exodus 34.  This theme of reconciliation and mercy is why there is a heavy emphasis of the symbolic laws listed in the Exodus 34 passage: they signify the redemption found in Christ.  It is also why God gave very little self introduction upon giving the Law the first time (I brought you out of Egypt), but in the second giving of the Law He introduces Himself as “Jehovah ‘El ale, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7).


Unlike the actual Ten Commandments, the ten commands in Exodus 34 contains two commands regarding Israel’s previous backsliding with the golden calf (have no other gods and no molten gods) and eight commands of Israel’s duty to God.  These eight commands are steeped in symbolic portrayals of Christ’s ministry.  Incidentally, groupings of eight are often associated in the bible with “new beginnings” as in this case of reconciliation.


Another key difference in the second giving of the Law was that Moses did not return with the glory of a magistrate and an angry frown to chastise Israel.  Instead, he returned as if in the glory of an angel with tidings of peace, goodwill, and reconciliation.  The first record of the Law being given has no glory, but the second record describes a glory that shown upon Moses’ face to the point that he had to put a veil over it when talking to his fellow countrymen.  The veil signified the darkness of that dispensation: the symbolic laws spoke of Christ, grace and the gospel, but in a manner of speaking a veil was drawn over them so that the children of Israel could not distinctly see those good things to come which the law foreshadowed.


Other biblical texts that speak about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 or Exodus 34 add clarity and perspective.  For example, Deuteronomy reveals several things not found in Exodus 34, including that an ark was also involved and clarification of what was written on stone and by whom:

*   “At that time the LORD said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood.  And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark.  And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand.  And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me.  And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the LORD commanded me.” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5)


New Testament passages also shed light on the significance of the symbolic emphasis placed upon the second giving of the Law.  For example, God originally gave the Law to Israel in innocence, doing all and sustaining them Himself, and yet they broke the Law.  Though the world had been called to God, only the few, that is to say, the Nation of Israel, was chosen by God.  Though they were God’s Chosen Elect, they went to hell having died in the wilderness in unbelief (Hebrews 3:15-19).  Likewise, the vast majority of God’s Elect in the day of Peter were themselves broken off and sent to hell, having died in unbelief (Romans 11:20-23).  However, Hebrews teaches that one day Israel, the Elect of God, will make their calling sure by preparing their hearts with conviction and humility.  Like Moses hewing out the second set of stone tablets to give to God so He could write the Ten Commandments, the Elect will at last present their hearts to God and He will then write His Law upon their hearts:

*    “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:  And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:10)


The Apostle Paul picks up on the theme presented in Exodus 34, giving a nod to how the passage applies the Law of Moses to Israel, and then Paul uses its language to show that the Body of Christ operates in the Spirit and not the Letter of Moses’ Law.  This concept, also known as the Law of Death versus the Law of the Spirit, will be addressed in more detail later. 

*   “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.  And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:  Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.  But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:  How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?  For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.  For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.  For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.   Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:  And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:  But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.  But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.  Nevertheless when it [the nation of Israel] shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-16)


[i] Two different synopses of God giving the Law to Moses:



Exodus 20 – God hewn the stones and chiseled the words, and told them to Moses.   Moses took the people near the Mount.   He spent 40 days on the mountain.  He came down the mountain in wrath. 



Exodus 34—Moses hewn the stones, but God chiseled the words, and rehearsed the law to Moses, but law symbolic of redemption was emphasized on this occasion.  Moses went completely alone to the Mount.  He spent 40 days and 40 nights, and ate nothing.  He came down the mountain like an angle of mercy.  


1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. 


1. Thou shalt worship no other god (For the Lord is a jealous god).

2. You shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. 


2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. 


3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn. 

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 


4. All the first-born are mine.

5. Honor your father and your mother.


5. Six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh thou shalt rest. 

6. You shall not kill.


6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end. 

7. You shall not commit adultery.


7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread.

8. You shall not steal.


8. The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning. 

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.


9. The first of the first fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.

10. You shall not covet.


10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.





[ii] Approximately 90 percent of people claiming to be Christians send their children into anti-godly public school systems to be trained how to think.   In the bible, adults, not children, are missionaries.