Reference: Commandments, The Ten
(Ex 34:28; De 10:4, marg. "ten words") i.e., the Decalogue (q.v.), is a summary of the immutable moral law. These commandments were first given in their written form to the people of Israel when they were encamped at Sinai, about fifty days after they came out of Egypt (Ex 19:10-25). They were written by the finger of God on two tables of stone. The first tables were broken by Moses when he brought them down from the mount (Ex 32:19), being thrown by him on the ground. At the command of God he took up into the mount two other tables, and God wrote on them "the words that were on the first tables" (Ex 34:1). These tables were afterwards placed in the ark of the covenant (De 10:5; 1Ki 8:9). Their subsequent history is unknown. They are as a whole called "the covenant" (De 4:13), and "the tables of the covenant" (De 9:9,11; Heb 9:4), and "the testimony."
They are obviously "ten" in number, but their division is not fixed, hence different methods of numbering them have been adopted. The Jews make the "Preface" one of the commandments, and then combine the first and second. The Roman Catholics and Lutherans combine the first and second and divide the tenth into two. The Jews and Josephus divide them equally. The Lutherans and Roman Catholics refer three commandments to the first table and seven to the second. The Greek and Reformed Churches refer four to the first and six to the second table. The Samaritans add to the second that Gerizim is the mount of worship. (See Law.)
These have a special place as having been written on the tables of stone by 'the finger of God.' Ex 31:18. De 10:4 margin reads 'the ten words,' and they are often referred to as the DECALOGUE. They are also called 'the words of the covenant,' in Ex 34:28. It was after hearing these ten commandments rehearsed by Moses that the Israelites said to him, "Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it." De 5:27. The two stones are also called the 'tables of the testimony,' Ex 34:29, and they were laid up in the ark of the covenant, Ex 40:20; 1Ki 8:9; Heb 9:4; over which were the two cherubim as guardians of God's rights together with the mercy-seat.
The giving of the two stones to Israel by God (who, though gracious and merciful, would by no means clear the guilty,) amid a measure of glory is referred to by Paul, when he describes the commandments written in letters thereon as 'the ministration of death;' in contrast to which he speaks of the glory of the ministration of the Spirit (that is, of Christ, for the Lord is that Spirit), and of the ministration of righteousness: it is the story of man's failure, and of God's righteousness available to the believer through Christ. 2Co 3:7-11.