With regard to the actual stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (not the writing on them), in the first case it clearly describes the tablets of being made by Yahweh, whereas in the second case they are carved by Moses.

Now the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction." (Exodus 24:12)

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. The tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing engraved on the tablets. (Exodus 32:15)

Compared to:

Now the LORD said to Moses, "Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered." (Exodus 34:1)

So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. (Exodus 34:4)

The fact that this detail is explicitly written down suggests that it may have some theological significance, as opposed to being just a recording of a historical fact.

What theological lesson have Christian theologians and Bible expositors drawn from this detail about the two sets of tablets of the Ten Commandments?

  • Why the down vote?
    – Jay
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 8:20
  • 1
    I'm not the one who downvoted. However, some of your questions do skirt the limits of what's on-topic at this site. Christianity.SE is about Christianity and what groups or denominations of Christians believe. Questions that have a fairly clear answer in the text of the Bible are also generally on-topic. Questions that tend to draw answers based on personal opinion or interpretation are generally off-topic here, and tend to get closed. Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:32
  • Here are a couple of pieces on the Christianity Meta site that help to clarify what sorts of questions do and don't work here: How we are different than other sites and We can't handle the truth. Often questions that are off-topic can be brought on-topic through some fairly simple edits. Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:33
  • "What are we to learn from the recording of this information?" This is primarily opinion based.
    – user3961
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 20:26
  • 1
    @Jacob - I would guess that the first tablets were given as representing "the covenant of works" in that there was no mediator, and Moses represents mankind in breaking them; the second set of tablets were given as representing "the covenant of grace" in that Moses acts as a mediator between God and men, a type of Christ's mediation. Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 15:31

2 Answers 2


I can answer this question from the perspective of the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), and the denominations that accept his theology.

This answer is extracted from my article, "How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads." For a fuller explanation of these passages about the Ten Commandments, and of the giving of the Ten Commandments in general as it applies to the specific form that the Bible took, please see that article.

Divine tablets vs. human tablets

Here is the significance of the tablets and the writing on the tablets as distilled from Secrets of Heaven (traditionally known by its Latin title, Arcana Coelestia) #10453, by Emanuel Swedenborg:

  1. The tablets represent the outward form of the Bible. In other words, they represent its literal meaning, with all of the history, poetry, and prophecy it offers.
  2. The writing on the tablets represents the inward form of the Bible, which is the divine truth it contains. In other words, it represents the Bible’s deeper, spiritual meaning.

(For more on these two levels of meaning in the Bible, see the article, "Can We Really Believe the Bible?")

After making these points, Swedenborg goes on to offer a fascinating interpretation of the difference between the first set tablets, which were made by God, and the second set of tablets, which were made by Moses but had the same words written on them by God:

There is a secret that has been unknown up to now in the fact that Moses broke the tablets that were the work of God when he saw the calf and the dancing, and in the fact that Moses, as commanded by Jehovah, carved out another set of tablets, on which the same words were then inscribed, so that the tablets were no longer made by God but by Moses, though the writing was still God’s writing. The secret is that the literal meaning of the Bible would have been different if the Bible had been written among a different culture, or if the particular culture in which it was written had been different than it actually was. The literal meaning of the Bible is all about that culture because that is the culture in which it was written. This is clear from the stories and prophecies in the Bible. (Secrets of Heaven 10453:3)

Imagine for a moment what the Bible might have been like if instead of being written in ancient Hebrew culture, it had been written in ancient Chinese culture. How different would it have been?

For one thing, dragons wouldn't have gotten such a bad rap! In Chinese culture, dragons are a symbol of strength, power, and good luck. If the Bible had been written in China, there's no way Eve would have been tempted by a serpent--which is later identified as a dragon, and as the devil or Satan (Revelation 12:9; 20:2).

If the Bible had been written in China, instead of being all about ancient Hebrew culture, its stories, prophecies, and poetry would be all about ancient Chinese culture--which has its own unique character.

And yet, being the Word of God, the deeper meaning within those very different outward stories would still be the same.

This is the symbolism of the tablets being carved out by Moses, but the words being written on them by God.

In his encounters with God, Moses represented the whole Israelite nation. He was a Hebrew, and he was the leader of the Hebrew people. Symbolically, when Moses carved out a new set of tablets, this means that the specific outward form of the Bible would be shaped and determined by the particular, unique character of the Hebrew people.

When we read the Bible, that is precisely what we find: stories, prophecies, and poetry that are indelibly stamped with the history and culture of the Jewish people.

In the New Testament we find stories and prophecies indelibly stamped with both Hebrew and Greek culture, salted with a dash of Rome.

But . . . if the Bible is the story of a particular human culture, how can it be the Word of God?

That's where the words written on the tablets by the finger of God come in.

The treasure chest and its treasures

You see, the literal meaning of the Bible--the stories, the prophecy, the poetry--is not the divine truth itself. It is a container for divine truth. It is like a treasure chest containing diamonds, rubies, and gold.

The chest could have been made in any culture. Each culture would have made it differently. From the outside it might look as if it had nothing in common with what we know as the Bible. And yet, if we opened it up to see the deeper meanings within, we would find the same precious diamonds, rubies, and gold of eternal divine truth hidden inside that very different container.

Another way of thinking of it is that the literal meaning of the Bible is like a matrix, and the spiritual meaning is like a gem in the matrix. The matrix itself is a coarse mixture of low-quality minerals. But within that rough matrix lies a beautiful gem worthy of a royal crown. Though the matrix isn't much to look at, it plays an essential role both in the formation of the gem and in preserving and delivering it intact to its eventual proud owner.

The stories and prophecies in the Bible may be a rough mix depicting a culture that was crude and primitive by today's standards. But that rough exterior serves to contain and deliver divine truth to us in a form that we can understand and appreciate.


Based on commentators, there are several views on the significance of Moses being asked to carve the second set.

1. Punishment for Moses
Moses having to carve the new tablets out of rock is a punishment for his anger and destruction of the first set.

2. Recognition for Moses
Yahweh grants Moses recognition of his role:

It is much more natural to seek for the cause, as Rashi does, in the fact, that Moses had broken the first in pieces; only we must not regard it as a sign that God disapproved of the manifestation of anger on the part of Moses, but rather as a recognition of his zealous exertions for the restoration of the covenant which had been broken by the sin of the nation. Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary

  • I've made this answer a community wiki to allow collaborative effort on providing a comprehensive answer.
    – Jay
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 5:26

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