Two tablets of the covenant

On the other hand, the tablets of the covenant should not be used as an example to construct our understanding of inspiration anyway. The tablets of the covenant should be understood in light of their Ancient Near Eastern background and not by our modern construct. As many scholars have noted, the Sinaitic/Mosaic covenant followed closely the structure of a treaty between a king and his newly conquered subject. It was basically like a contract between two unequal parties. YHWH was the king and the Israelites was his newly conquered subject. Although, they were not conquered in the traditional sense, since they were redeemed from Egypt to become his people. So you got a contract between a people and their god/king.

What’s the first thing to describe in the contract? First, how the two parties got into the relationship: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exo 20.2) They got into this kind of relationship only because YHWH has brought them out of Egypt. That’s why it was inherently unequal in the first place. The Israelites owed this relationship to YHWH.

And then it was followed by the stipulations of the contract, describing in details what the other party (the Israelites) need to do to keep the contract well. It’s like terms and regulations, so to speak. Like what you have in your contract with the owner of your HDB. After introducing both parties (the owner and the tenants), it continues with the things that the owner can/can’t do (thou shall not break into your house as much as you like) and the tenants can/can’t do (you shall pay the monthly fee on time, etc.). And the details of the contract went all the way from Exodus 20 to Leviticus 25.

And, finally, the blessings and the curse, which describe what would happen if the subject (the Israelites) did or did not keep the contract. If they kept the contract, blessings would follow. If not, curse would. And it’s described in Leviticus 26. Again, using the HDB contract analogy, if you did this and this (say, let the water flood the whole house), you would be kicked out from the HDB and tenantship and hence the contract broke down.

Why two tablets, then? Traditionally it was believed that the first tablet contained the first until the fourth commandment, and the second tablet contained the rest. Well, if we used the contract analogy one more time, perhaps you could guess a more plausible answer. There are two tablets of the covenant because there are two parties involved in the contract. Just as you have two copies of your tenantship contract. One for the owner and the other for the tenants. The difference is YHWH couldn’t possibly take one tablet back, so Moses brought both of them back from the mountain.


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