The Covenant, Tablets of the Covenant, Tables of Testimony, Tablets of the Testimony – these are some of the names for the two stones on which were written the Ten Commandments.
Find for me if you can any other thing that is more dear to the hearts of the Armstrongist churches than the 4th Commandment. Why? Because they feel these 10 are the unalterable and eternal moral law of God, binding on all men for all time... except that they feel Jesus Christ has magnified [altered] them… all but the 4th one, that is. Now, ask any Armstrongist and they will tell that the Old Covenant is in fact gone.
But many people, including the Armstrongists, insist that the 10 Commandments are just as binding today as they were in Moses’ day. We were never taught just what the 10 Commandments actually are. Most do not understand that they ARE the heart of the Old Covenant. They refuse to accept it. Read for yourself what the very heart of the Old covenant was:
(EXO. 34: 28) So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
(DEU. 4: 13) So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
(DEU. 9: 9) When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.
(DEU. 9: 11) And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.
(DEU. 9: 15) So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands.
And now let’s turn our attention to the Ark of the Covenant. Why do you suppose they called it the Ark of the Covenant? Because it was the Ark (box, repository) of the Covenant (Ten Commandments).
(I KIN. 8: 9, 21) 9 Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 21 And there I have made a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which He made with our fathers, when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.
There are 45 verses in the KJV where the phrase “Ark of the Covenant” can be found.
(NUM. 10: 33; 14: 44; DEU. 10: 8; 31: 9, 25, 26; JOS. 3: 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17; 4: 7, 9, 18; 6: 6, 8; 8: 33; JDG. 20: 27; I SAM. 4: 3-5; II SAM. 15: 24; I KIN. 3: 15; 6: 19; 8: 1, 6, 9, 21; I CHR. 15: 25-29; 16: 6, 37; 17: 1; 22: 19; 28: 2, 18; II CHR. 5: 2, 7, 10; 6: 11; JER. 3: 16; HEB. 9: 4)
Anyone who insists the Decalogue is not the Old Covenant, I'm very sorry, but the overwhelming weight of this evidence stands against your interpretation.
Let's look at another angle. The Ark is also known as the Ark of the Testimony and the tablets the Teblets of the Testimony.
(EXO. 31: 18) And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
(PSA. 32: 12) If your sons will keep My covenant and My testimony which I shall teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forevermore
(EXO. 32: 15) And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written.
Testimony means “witness”, as in a witness in a court hearing. These two tablets were the Tablets of the Testimony. A witness between Israel and God that the Covenant was agreed to, and it bore witness both to blessings for keeping the covenant and curses for not keeping the covenant.
This is just like Paul said.. the law says “do” (ROM. 10: 5-6; GAL. 3: 10-12). However, that way is not faith. That way is not of the New Covenant. The New, glorious Covenant is not like the Old (JER. 31: 31-32). The Old was passing away in Paul’s time. In fact Paul says it was passing away as Moses descended the mountain (II COR. 3: 7, 13). In 70 AD it passed away completely.
God keeps a copy of the Testimony in His temple, much the same way as a bank keeps a copy of loan forms.
(REV. 11: 19) Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple.
These things Moses had were merely copies of the things in Heaven (HEB. 8: 4-5; 9: 23). What need do we have of the wooden box or the stone tablets? Even the food laws, Feast Days, Sabbaths, and New Moons were mere shadows (COL. 2: 16-17). The entire Old Covenant was temporary. The eternal substance, the reality is Christ! He is our rest (MATT. 11: 28; JER. 31: 2). (Thus we see even the 4th Commandment was magnified.) Jesus is the High Priest (HEB. 8: 1-2). Jesus is the sacrifice (EPH. 5: 2). Jesus is the redemption (ROM. 3: 24; EPH. 1: 7; COL. 1: 14).
And again the Old is not like the New. Three times every year all the males had to travel to the tabernacle (temporary dwelling) where this box sat and testified against them (EXO. 23: 14, 24; DEU. 16: 16). When they arrived, they were not allowed in. There was a veil that prevented anyone from even seeing the earthly copy of the Ark of the Covenant (EXO. 26: 33; 40: 3). If someone were to accidentally come into contact with the Ark, they would die (II SAM. 6: 6-7; I CHR. 13: 9-10). One day each year, on the Day of Atonement, only the High Priest was allowed to pass beyond the veil, and only after an elaborate sacrificial ritual (LEV. 16). So very many things were set in place to show that the people were set apart from God. All of that was fulfilled and changed in the New Covenant when Jesus’ blood atoned for the sins of mankind. The breach between man and God that had existed since Adam was now healed. That veil was torn in two when Jesus died (MATT. 27: 51; EPH. 2: 14). Today we have access directly to the throne of God. That is not to say that we have access to the Mercy Seat that was on the Ark of the Covenant that was kept behind the veil – no, we obtain mercy directly from the real throne of grace! We are not worthy, but Christ is.
(HEB. 4: 14-16) 14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Having reviewed some differences between the Old and New Covenants, let’s look now at how the New treats these tablets.
(II COR. 3: 4-11) 4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
Why was the Old called a “ministry of death” and “ministry of condemnation”? Isn’t the law good and holy (ROM. 7: 12)? Yes, it is. The problem was with men (HEB. 8: 8). We were not able to live up to it. And this is important! The point was that we should come to see how very sinful we are (ROM. 7: 13) and know how we cannot be perfect of our own effort, so that grace is an undeserved gift from God (EPH. 2: 8-9). This is not to say that we cannot be "good" people apart from Christianity. Mankind has a natural sense of morality, and we can discover moral truths by trial and error, but we will miss the bullseye. Even with the law in front of us we still miss the mark. Sin is not only a wholesale lawless abandonment of righteousness (I JOHN 3: 4), it can also be as simple as missing the mark. “Missing the mark” is probably the most basic definition of sin. The law no doubt about it is superior to going it alone, but even the law cannot bring God’s standard of righteousness to mankind, or else it would have done so (GAL. 3: 21). It cannot because it is external to us and it depends on our effort. It can guide us to being better than we otherwise would have been, but it cannot affect real change in our hearts. Here is a list of things that do not come by the law:
Justification (GAL. 2: 16)
Righteousness (GAL. 2: 21)
The Spirit (GAL. 3: 2)
Perfection (GAL. 3: 3)
Miracles (GAL. 3: 4)
Inheritance (GAL. 3: 18)
Life (GAL. 3: 21)
Grace (GAL. 5: 4)
Being fatally flawed because of the nature of men, and never having been meant to be eternal in the first place, the Old Covenant is gone (HEB. 8: 7-13). The Old is obsolete! Vanished away! We ask “what was the Old Covenant?” And the Bible itself tells us what the Old Covenant was (see above).
The idea that the Old is now written on our hearts and is still binding in practice stands directly at odds with the words of the Bible. Yet we see that murder, adultery, idolatry, blasphemy, theft, covetousness, etc are still against the eternal moral principles – which is summed up in one word, “love”. Is the difference merely academic? No. Why would Jesus die for an academic argument? Let’s get into that difference.
We’ve seen several times so far that the tablets were a testimony. A testimony of what? Of how wonderful and just and loyal and perfect mankind is? It should have been, but no. The law most often is an effective witness AGAINST us. The Old Covenant had blessings and curses. Read Psalms 50. It speaks of God’s love for the righteous and rebuke to the wicked. Herbert Armstrong spoke of a list of accusations against us. HWA used a certain verse as his reference point to this idea.
(COL. 2: 13-14) 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
We were taught in Armstrongism that this thing which was nailed to the cross was not the 10 Commandments but rather was a list of our sins. This list would be a serious testamony against us. We ask “what was the testimony?” The Bible itself tells us (see above). It was written on two Tablets of the Testimony and kept in the Ark of the Testimony. The very 10 Commandments are the testimony that was contrary to us!
How is this so??
(ROM. 7: 8-11) 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
This is how!
Now, read again Bill Hohmann’s statement from his post “The Function of the Law”
“This then reveals a purpose of the law as being a witness against the Israelites [bolding mine]. They were, by nature, rebellious and stiff-necked. Elsewhere they are described as being faithless. They did not have the heart to follow God, even after the grand display where God spoke the ten commandments and the people heard God. This law exposed their collective hearts. This law prevented their denial in regards to their hearts.”
The law, which is unbendingly holy and just and good, accuses us of our sin and witnesses against us to our deaths. Our conscience bears witnesses that the testimony of the law against us is true. Note that the law has no provision for our forgiveness. If you mess up so much as one time, you are guilty. No amount of animal sacrifices could take away sin (HEB. 10: 11). This is why a Savior had to come. Not to rescue us from morality and deliver us to lustful anarchy, but to rescue us from our own earned condemnation and translate us through oneness with Christ into grace and the promise God swore upon Himself to Abraham (GAL. 3: 14, 18, 29).
The witnesses against us are the very ordinances written and engraved in stone … which those who teach the law do not understand (I TIM. 1: 7).
You see, it is not about us; it is about Christ. Our effort gets us nowhere at all. If we do nothing good, we will have a terribly hard time in the judgment. If we follow the law perfectly, erring only one time, we deserve no better. Saul was, legalistically speaking, blameless (PHP. 3: 6). Even so, Paul counted all of his legalistic accomplishments as dung for no less of a reason than God does not want our own righteousness through the law, He wants His own righteousness in us by faith (PHP. 3-11; ROM. 3: 28). If God is in us we will be growing and changing and learning to do good works. Then, do we really work at all? No. It is Christ that works in us. So, even if you do good, it is not you that does good, but Christ in you. It is no longer us who live (GAL. 2: 20). It is by faith from first to last (ROM. 1: 17). Never earned. We know the law is not faith (GAL. 3: 12). Faith in what or whom? Christ! It is not about us.
Loved dearly by God, are you offended at this? Why? Because you keep and teach and make your boast in the Old law? Those who love to teach the law do not themselves keep the law (GAL. 6: 13). Do you not know the Old law? That it enslaves us (GAL. 4: 21-31). That we fall from grace if we seek to be justified by the law (GAL. 5: 1-4). That it tests God (ACTS 15: 10). Or is it because you love to be condemned? Or to condemn others? I don't believe that.
Is it righteousness you are concerned with? Don't turn backwards to the Old Covenant. So many people have posed the false dilemma to me that if the Old Covenant law is removed then the only alternative is lawlessness. The Old is obsolete. That’s the Bible truth! In its place is the better covenant with better promises (HEB. 7: 22; 8: 6; 12: 24). If the perfect Spirit of the righteous God is in you, how do you suppose you should conduct yourself (I PET. 1: 15; II PET. 3: 11)? In the New Covenant we do not need to look back at the Old law that was against us and was a yoke no man could bear. Christ's yoke is light (MATT. 11: 29-30). We look forward to the New law, which is not new but is the first principle - love. God is love (I JOHN 4: 8). Love fulfills the law (MATT. 5: 17; ROM. 2: 27; 8: 4; 13: 8, 10; GAL. 5: 14; 6: 2; JAS. 2: 8).
Do we need the external Decalogue, which IS the Old Covenant (see above)? No. Are those who follow it condemned? I wouldn’t think so. Be fully convinced in your own mind. Following it personally and preaching that a seventh-day sabbath is a requirement on all Christians are two separate matters. The law is good if used rightly (I TIM. 1: 8).
Rather repent, believe, hold fast, endure temptation, be changed in your heart, love, and walk according to the Spirit!