Some associate the 10 Commandments with Moses as the lawgiver. But what does the Bible say about who actually inscribed them on the tablets of stone? And what else does it say about who should write them and where they should be written?
The giving of the 10 Commandments was one of the most dramatic events in the Bible.
From Mount Sinai came “thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16).
Then God spoke the words of the 10 Commandments, and the people “trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).
God was clearly the Lawgiver of the 10 Commandments. And He also wrote them in stone—twice.
God writes the 10 Commandments
After giving the 10 Commandments verbally, God said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them” (Exodus 24:12).
God wrote the laws, and Moses was to teach them. So the law of God was also sometimes called the law of Moses, but it was the same law. Moses did not come up with it. In fact, the 10 Commandments were around even before Moses. See our article “Were the 10 Commandments Around Before Moses?”
“He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18).After 40 days on Mount Sinai, God finished speaking to Moses. “He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18).
But all was not well back in the camp of Israel. The people gave up on Moses and decided to make their own god in the form of a golden calf. They were sacrificing to it and celebrating as Moses made his way down the mountain.
Moses pleaded with God not to destroy the people for their infidelity and idolatry. But Moses also felt righteous indignation at them, and he had in his hand the tablets engraved by God (Exodus 32:15-16). “So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (verse 19).
Moses cuts the stone, but God writes the 10 Commandments again
After Moses dealt with the Israelites, God again called him to come up on Mount Sinai.
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke’” (Exodus 34:1).
When he recounted these events nearly 40 years later, as the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses said:
“And He wrote on the tablets according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, just as the LORD commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:4-5).
The stone tablets with the 10 Commandments were kept in the famous Ark of the Covenant in the heart of the tabernacle and later the temple. The temple has been destroyed, and the Ark of the Covenant has disappeared. But God’s law is not lost. God also had Moses write down these laws and many other things in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah or Pentateuch.
Moses writes down the Book of the Law
“When Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, … Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: ‘Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant’” (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).
This was not the only copy made, of course, and those entrusted with the copying have in general taken the job very seriously. (See our article “What Is the Most Accurate Bible Translation?”)
The first job for a king: copying the law
Beyond the professional scribes, God commanded even the future kings of Israel to copy it.
“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
This law and training book for kings was also to be taught to the next generation (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; see our article “Raising Children”). God’s beneficial law was for everyone.
But God knew there was a problem that was preventing these good laws from bringing the blessings they were intended to give. The problem is with the human heart. God said, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29).
God’s plan has always been to deal with this heart problem. Jesus Christ’s loving sacrifice made it possible for past sins to be washed away and our death penalty to be removed. This opened the way for the New Covenant.
Notice what God said was the problem with the Old Covenant: “finding fault with them” (Hebrews 8:8).
The problem wasn’t the covenant itself, and it certainly wasn’t God’s holy, just and good laws that were part of it. Human beings—our sinful human hearts—were the problem. God’s solution involves repentance, baptism and the gift of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; see our booklet Change Your Life!).
Where God wants to write His 10 Commandments
In describing the New Covenant, God again talks about writing His laws. This time, He says, “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).In describing the New Covenant, God again talks about writing His laws. This time, He says, “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).
This writing process requires the willingness and the effort of the person whose heart and mind is being opened to receive it. A love of God’s law leads to meditating on it and applying it (Psalm 119:97-104).
Read more about the New Covenant in our article “The New Covenant: What Is New About It?”
A meditation of the heart about God’s law
King David, a man after God’s own heart and one of the few mentioned in the Old Testament as having God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 13:22; Psalm 51:11), wrote a beautiful psalm about God’s law. It can help us in writing the 10 Commandments on our hearts. Drink in and think deeply about what David wrote in Psalm 19:7-14:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
“More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
“Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.
“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.
“Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.”
To learn more about writing the 10 Commandments in your heart and mind, download our free booklet God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today.