Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.X.
(1) At that time the Lord said unto me.—The forty days of intercession alluded to in the previous chapter followed this command (Exodus 34:28).
Hew thee two tables of stone . . . and make thee an ark.—The command to make the ark was given in the former period of forty days (Exodus 25:10); the command to hew the two tables was given after Moses had seen the glory of God (Exodus 33) from the cleft in the rock, but before the forty days spent in intercession. Rashi, the Jewish commentator, thinks there were two arks: one to go out to war, and the other to remain in the tabernacle. But there is no foundation for this statement. There may, of course, have been a temporary receptacle for the tables made by Moses (like the temporary tabernacle mentioned in Exodus 33:7), to receive them until the completion of the ark which Bezaleel was to make. This was not put in hand until after Moses descended with the second pair of tables. (See Exodus 35 &c.)
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.(2) And I will write on the tables.—It is a common error to suppose that Moses wrote the Law the second time. The mistake arises from the change of person in Exodus 34:28, where the same pronoun “he” refers first to Moses, and then to Jehovah. But there is no doubt as to the fact or its spiritual meaning. The tables of stone represent the “fleshy tables of the heart” as St. Paul teaches us in 2Corinthians 3:3. The first pair of tables were like the heart of Adam, which came fresh from the hand of his Maker, with the word of the Law written on them. But this perished by the fall, beneath the mountain of the Law. The humanity which ascended to receive the Spirit for us was prepared by the Mediator on earth. The “second man” receive “the new covenant,” “not the letter, but the Spirit,” which puts God’s laws in men’s minds, and writes them in their hearts, making them God’s temple. Thus the ark and the tabernacle which received the Law are a figure of God’s human temple, and of the renewed heart of man.
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.(4) According to the first writing, the ten commandments.—The words written on the second tables were the same which had been written on the first.
In the day of the assembly.—Or, in New Testament language, “the day of the Church.” The Pentecost of the Old Testament was the day when “the letter” was given; the Pentecost of the New Testament was the day of the “Spirit that giveth life.” Each of these aspects of God’s covenant produced a Church after its kind.
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.(5) I . . . put the tables in the ark which I (had) made; and there they be.—Or, and they were there, or they continued there. According to the narrative in Exodus, the ark in which the tables ultimately remained was made afterwards. The English reader must not be misled by the word “had” in “I had made.” There is no pluperfect in Hebrew. The time of an action is determined not so much by the form of the verb as by its relation to the context. “I put the tables in the ark which I made, and they remained there,” is the literal sense. “I made” may very well mean “I caused to be made,” and refers to the ark which Bezaleel constructed under Moses’ directions.
And the children of Israel took their journey from Beeroth of the children of Jaakan to Mosera: there Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son ministered in the priest's office in his stead.(6, 7) On these verses, which are among the most difficult in Deuteronomy, see a separate Excursus. The difficulty is two-fold. First, the account of Israel’s marches about the time of Aaron’s death is given in a different form here to that which we have in Numbers 20, 21, 33. Secondly, there is the further question why Aaron’s death should be recorded here. It appears to have taken place before Moses began the delivery of the discourses in Deuteronomy. It is separated by thirty-nine years from the incidents which Moses is recapitulating in this passage. The Jewish commentator Rashi gives a very curious tale to account for the allusion to Aaron’s death in this place. But though his theory is mythical, he seems to hit the main point, which is that Israel re-visited in their journey round the land of Edom four places where they had previously encamped, and among them Mosera, or Moseroth, the district in which Mount Hor, where Aaron died, was situated. There is no impossibility in this; in fact, it is highly probable, and would partly account for the statement in Numbers 21:4, that “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.” It was just about this time that the fiery serpents came.
If the connection of these verses with the train of thought in Moses’ mind is spiritual, the difficulty may be solved. The death of the priest of Israel, whose first representative Aaron was, is spiritually identical with the destruction of the first pair of tables, the death of the first Adam and of all mankind in the person of our representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. After that death He “ariseth” as “another priest, made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.” Thus the incident is connected with what goes before. The separation of the tribe of Levi “to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord,” i.e., “to bear the burden of the Law,” is the same thing in another form. It deprives them of an earthly inheritance, just as He whose representatives they were gave Himself an offering and sacrifice to God; and “His life is taken from the earth.”
Further, the names of the places themselves have in this aspect a spiritual significance. From certain “wells of water”—the wells of the children of Jaakan (crookedness)—the people of God take their journey to the scene of the high priest’s death. From thence to Hor-hagidgad, or Gudgodah, the mount of the “troop,” or “band” (Sinai is the mount of the “congregation” in the Old Testament, Zion in the New), and thence to a land of rivers of water. It is only another way of relating how from the wells of the Law we pass to the rivers of living water opened by the Gospel. But we must pass by way of the cross of Christ.
EXCURSUS ON NOTES TO DEUTERONOMY.
EXCURSUS ON Deuteronomy 10:6-7.
THESE verses have always seemed to me to present the greatest difficulty in the whole of Deuteronomy. If it were not for their beautiful spiritual connection with the context, I should not know how to account for their presence in this place at all. And even so, the difference between this allusion to Aaron’s death and the account given in Numbers, and the superficial resemblance between the four stages of the journey of Israel here mentioned, and four stages which belong to a different period (in Numbers 33:31-34)—together create a somewhat formidable perplexity. The Samaritan Pentateuch increases the confusion by introducing here the stages mentioned in Numbers 33:34-37—an obvious attempt to harmonise the accounts of two distinct things. The LXX. version of Deuteronomy 10:6-7 supports the Hebrew text. The fact that the burial of Aaron is alluded to in this place only, shows that the verses in Deuteronomy cannot have been taken from those in Numbers. The following comparison will show the difference.
In THE FOURTH PERIOD OF THE EXODUS.
IN THE FIFTH PERIOD OF THE EXODUS.
“The children of Israel journeyed from Hash-monah to Moseroth; from Moseroth to Bene-jaakan; from Bene-jaakan to Hor-hagidgad; from Hor-hagidgad to Jotbathah.”
Three other encampments—at Ebronah,Ezion-gaber, and Kadesh—intervened before their arrival at Mount Hor, where Aaron died, in the fifth period of the Exodus, on the first day of the month.
N.B.-The fourth period of the Exodus has no dates mentioned.
The fifth period begins with the death of Miriam at Kadesh in the first month of the fortieth year. Numbers 20:1.
“The children of Israel journeyed from Beeroth-bene-jaakan to Mosera, (where Aaron died and was buried), from Mosera to Gudgodah; from Gud-godah to Jotbath, a land of rivers of waters.”
Mosera is singular, Moseroth plural in form. Bene-jaakan means “the children of Jaakan”—Beeroth-bene-jaakan the wells of the children of Jaakan. Hor-hagidgad means the mount of Gid-gad, which differs from Gudgod only in the vowel pointing. Gudgodah may mean the neighbourhood of Gudgod or Gidgad, and Jotbathah may mean simply to Jotbath.
Gadgad and Etebatha are found both in Numbers and Deuteronomy in the LXX. The other names are given with some variation.
The places are not mentioned in the same order in the two passages, and the difference in the form of the words shows that neither passage is copied from the other. All four sites are at present unknown. The additional particulars given in Deuteronomy suggest a reason why Israel should re-visit two of the four places; namely, because of the water which was to be had from the wells of the children of Jaakan and in Jotbath, the “land of rivers of waters.”
The return of Israel in the last period of the Exodus to four places previously visited is in no way remarkable. We are told that they were compelled, about the time of Aaron’s death, to “journey from Mount Hor to compass the land of Edom,” which the Edomites would not permit them to cross (Numbers 21:4; Numbers 20:21). The return to these former encampments may have enhanced the weariness and annoyance of the people, so that “their soul was much discouraged because of the way,” and if they were travelling in a different direction, they may well have revisited these four places in a different order. They need not have encamped at all of them the second time. The narrative in Deuteronomy merely says “they journeyed from,” not “they encamped in.” There is no reason why the district of Mount Hor may not have been called Mosera or Moseroth. And the name “chastisement” may have been given to it by Moses, like many other significant names in the Exodus (Meribah, Kibroth-hattaavah &c), in consequence of what took place there.
Further there is some reason to believe that the number of the “goings out” of Israel in the Exodus, given in Numbers 33 is made to be 42 for a special reason, like the forty-two generations of Matthew 1, in which there are at least three evidently intentional omissions. And therefore we need not be surprised at the insertion of places elsewhere, which are not included in that list. No place is mentioned twice in Numbers 33. Yet the children of Israel were certainly twice at Kadesh (for Numbers 13:26; Numbers 20:1, cannot refer to the same time), and probably twice at many other places.
The real difficulty is not in the facts related in Deuteronomy 10:6-7, but in the question why they should be narrated there. Further, they are narrated in the third person, “the children of Israel journeyed,” but all the other portions of their journey are narrated in the first person (Deuteronomy 1:19, we went; and so Deuteronomy 2:1; Deuteronomy 2:8; Deuteronomy 2:13; Deuteronomy 3:1; Deuteronomy 3:26). A reader of Deuteronomy who was not already familiar with the earlier books, would naturally suppose that at this period of the discourse the children of Israel did journey, as the narrative says. It is only by close attention that the verses are seen to refer to a time previous to the beginning of the book, but much later than the events recapitulated in Deuteronomy 10:5; Deuteronomy 10:8.
In form, these verses correspond to what may be called the historical or editorial, as distinct from the hortatory portions of Deuteronomy; as the title, Deuteronomy 1:1-5; the parenthetical notes, Deuteronomy 2:10-12; Deuteronomy 2:20-23; Deuteronomy 3:14, and Deuteronomy 4:41-43, Deuteronomy 4:44-49; with the historical portions of the last six chapters of the book.
Upon the whole, I am disposed to think that the only reason for the insertion of these verses is the spiritual reason which I have given in the notes.
From the wells of the children of Jaakan, or perversity, the people of God removed to Mosera the place of chastisement, where their great High Priest died and was buried; and another priest arose in his stead. From thence they journeyed unto the mount of the congregation (Gudgod or Gidgad; compare Gad), and from thence to Jotbath (of which the root is good or goodness), a land of rivers of waters—the usual symbol in Scripture for the Holy Spirit given on Mount Zion, the “mount of the congregation” of Jehovah. (See John 7:37-39.)
 The following passage from the Talmudical treatise, Pirkê Aboth of Rabbi Nathan (section 34), may serve to show that the comparison between Christ and Aaron is not peculiar to the New Testament:—“These are the two sons of fresh oil who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14). “These are Aaron and Messiah. And I cannot say which of them is the best beloved. But when he saith (Ps. Exodus 4), Jehovah hath sworn and will not repent, Thou art priest for ever, then I know that the King Messiah is beloved above the Priest of Righteousness.”
The explanations given by the Jewish commentators are of a spiritual character, and in principle I am disposed to think them correct, though the details are far too fanciful for reproduction, or for our present acceptance.
At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister unto him, and to bless in his name, unto this day.(8) At that time—i.e., at Sinai, after Moses’ second descent from the mount, not at the time of Aaron’s death. Yet the death of Aaron and the separation of the tribe of Levi are similar events in their way: both alike lose territorial inheritance through bearing the burden of the Law.
To bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister unto him, and to bless in his name.—A recent critic has said that the writer of Deuteronomy knows no distinction between priests and Levites. (See on this point Deuteronomy 11:6.) Rashi’s note on this verse is better: “To bear the ark (He separated)—the Levites; to stand before Jehovah to minister to Him, and to bless in His name—the priests.”
Wherefore Levi hath no part nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, according as the LORD thy God promised him.(9) The Lord is his inheritance.—As He was the inheritance of Aaron, Moses’ brother, whom he had recently taken to Himself, and to whose death Moses had just referred.
And the LORD said unto me, Arise, take thy journey before the people, that they may go in and possess the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give unto them.(11) And the Lord said unto me, Arise, take thy journey before the people, that they may go in.—“Although ye had turned aside from following Him, and had erred in the (matter of the) calf, He said to me, Go, lead the people” (Rashi).
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,(12) And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee.—“Although ye have done all this, still His tender mercies and His affection are set upon you, and after all that ye have sinned before Him, He doth not ask anything of you but to fear,” &c. (Rashi). The Rabbis have drawn this exposition from hence: “Everything is in the hand of Heaven (to bestow), save only the fear of Heaven.” But it is written elsewhere, “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” (Comp. also Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23.)
Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.(15) Only.—“The whole world belongs to Jehovah, and for all that He chose thy fathers above all people.”
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.(16) Circumcise . . . your heart.—“For circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter” (Romans 2:29). The verse literally runs thus: Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and ye will harden your neck no more. It is the same line of thought as St. Paul’s (Galatians 5:16) “Walk in the Spirit, and (then) ye will not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”
(17,18) A great God, a mighty, and a terrible . . . he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow.—“Behold (says Rashi) His might! And close beside His might thou mayest find His humility.” It is not otherwise in later passages of Scripture: “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names.”
He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.(18) And loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.—An inclusive expression. The whole substance of Jacob our father was included in the prayer for this. “If God will . . . give me bread to eat and raiment to put on” (Rashi).
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.(19) For ye were strangers.—“The blemish which is upon thyself thou shalt not notice in thy neighbour” (Rashi). The provision made for the stranger throughout the Old Testament Scriptures has another cause besides: “For I was a stranger, and ye gathered me in.” (See a Sermon on “The Stranger” in Silver Sockets, and other Shadows of Redemption.)
Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.(20) Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve.—In the New Testament, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” It was our Lord’s last answer to the tempter in the wilderness. The order of the Hebrew gives the emphasis. “Jehovah thy God shalt thou fear, Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave;” “and (adds Rashi) after all these qualities are established in thee, then thou shalt swear by His name.” At least His name would not be profaned in such a case.
Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the LORD thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.(22) Thy fathers went down.—The simple and natural form of this allusion conveys a strong impression of the truth of the facts. If the marvellous increase of Israel in the time allowed by the sacred narrative presents a difficulty, we must remember that the Bible consistently represents the multiplication as the fulfilment of a Divine promise, and not purely natural. But the testimony of the First Book of Chronicles must not be overlooked. The genealogy of Judah, given in the second and fourth chapters of that book, discloses a very extensive multiplication, a good deal of which must lie within the period of the sojourning in Egypt. The family of Hezron is particularly to be noticed. Of a certain descendant of Simeon it is written (1Chronicles 4:27), “And Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brethren had not many children, neither did all their family multiply like to the children of Judah.” (!) Modern calculations are perhaps not quite adequate to deal with such a rate of increase as this. (See also the Note on Deuteronomy 32:8.)