The Two Tables of the Covenant -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 22:2 (May 1960)
Article: The Two Tables of the Covenant
Author: Meredith G. Kline

The Two Tables of the Covenant

Meredith G. Kline

And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone” (Deut 4:13).

It has been commonly assumed that each of the stone tables contained but a part of the total revelation proclaimed by the voice of God out of the fiery theophany on Sinai. Only the subordinate question of the dividing point between the “first and second tables” has occasioned disagreement.1 A reexamination of the biblical data, however, particularly in the light of extra-biblical parallels, suggests a radically new interpretation of the formal nature of the two stone tables, the importance of which will be found to lie primarily in the fresh perspective it lends to our understanding of the divine oracle engraved upon them.

Attention has been frequently directed in recent years to the remarkable resemblance between God’s covenant with Israel and the suzerainty type of international treaty found in the ancient Near East.2 Similarities have been discovered in the areas of the documents, the ceremonies of ratification, the modes of administration, and, most basically of course,

the suzerain-servant relationship itself. On the biblical side the resemblance is most apparent in the accounts of the theocratic covenant as instituted through the mediatorship of Moses at Sinai and as later renewed under both Moses and Joshua. Of most interest for the subject of this article is the fact that the pattern of the suzerainty treaty can be traced in miniature in the revelation written on the two tables by the finger of God.

“I am the Lord thy God”, the opening words of the Sinaitic proclamation (Exod 20:2a), correspond to the preamble of the suzerainty treaties, which identified the suzerain and that in terms calculated to inspire awe and fear. For example, the treaty of Mursilis with his vassal Duppi-Tessub of Amurru begins: “These are the words of the Sun Mursilis, the great king, the king of the Hatti land, the valiant, the favorite of the Storm-god, the son of Suppiluliumas, etc.”3 Such treaties continued in an “I-thou” style with an historical prologue, surveying the great king’s previous relations with, and especially his benefactions to, the vassal king. In the treaty just referred to, Mursilis reminds Duppi-Tessub of the vassal status of his father and grandfather, of their loyalty and enjoyment of...

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