And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
Exodus 32:16 (KJV)
Graven – So many of us look at the law as a burden, or restrictive. We definitely don’t refer to it as freedom, or life-giving. But the Hebrew language provides a little gem here in verse 16 that might just cause us to rethink our bias.
This is the moment that Moses descends from the mountain carrying the commandments “graven upon the tables” – the “tables” being the tablets of stone. While we’re familiar with these stones, we might be less familiar with their purpose. They were never given to bring salvation to those who kept them. They were never given to cause Israel to be bound under burdens. They were given for the purpose of freedom.
The Hebrew word here is charut which definitely means “graven”, or “engraved upon”, but as any Hebrew scholar will reveal, there are no vowels in Hebrew, so words that have the same consonants have relationships with one another in some form. So by changing the ‘a’ to an ‘e’ we get the word cherut which means “freedom”. The two words are identical in written from ( חָרַת ) but when they are spoken, the vowels are interjected and pronounced differently. So the scholars will tell you that when you read this verse, substituting the word “graven” with its sister word “freedom” is perfectly acceptable, and actually reveals a deeper meaning to the text.
Yes, the tablets are the work of God, and the writing is the writing of God, and these commandments are freedom upon the tablets. YHWH did not bring Israel out of bondage to force them under bondage again, but rather He gave them freedom. Under Egypt’s rule there were many gods, and it was impossible to know how to please them. The people lived their lives in constant fear of offending a god for some reason or other. If something bad happened in their lives, surely a god was offended, but what did they do? They never understood. Not until the true living God spoke to Moses and told him exactly what is required of His people. It was freedom upon the tablets! The Israelites finally knew how to please the one true God. They could now trace every punishment from God back to His law. They knew exactly what they were doing wrong so that they could correct their behavior and actions and make right with God. And God in turn, would alleviate their punishment.
This hasn’t changed. Is God punishing you? Don’t get upset because He chastises those He loves (Heb. 12), but rather look to His law and search for where you are living in error. Which commandments are you breaking? Where are you sinning? You have the freedom to rightly discern and to repent. And now that we understand the law is freedom, we’ve come that much closer to pleasing our Creator. So let’s first change our bias of the law and refer to it as James, the brother of Yeshua, did… it is a law of liberty (James 2).