The ministration of death - Here the apostle evidently intends the law. It was a ministration, διακονια or service of death. It was the province of the law to ascertain the duty of man; to assign his duties; to fix penalties for transgressions, etc.; and by it is the knowledge of sin. As man is prone to sin, and is continually committing it, this law was to him a continual ministration of death. Its letter killed; and it was only the Gospel to which it referred that could give life, because that Gospel held out the only available atonement.
Yet this ministration of death (the ten commandments, written on stones; a part of the Mosaic institutions being put for the whole) was glorious - was full of splendor; for the apostle refers to the thunderings, and lightnings, and luminous appearances, which took place in the giving of the law; so that the very body of Moses partook of the effulgence in such a manner that the children of Israel could not look upon his face; and he, to hide it, was obliged to use a veil. All this was intended to show the excellency of that law, as an institution coming immediately from God: and the apostle gives it all its heightenings, that he may compare it to the Gospel, and thereby prove that, glorious as it was, it had no glory that could be compared with that of the Gospel; and that even the glory it had was a glory that was to be done away - to be absorbed, as the light of the stars, planets, and moon, is absorbed in the splendor of the sun. See the notes on Romans 7 (note); and see those on Exodus 19 (note), Exodus 20 (note), and Exodus 34:29; (note), etc., where this subject is treated in all its details.
But if the ministration of death - In the previous verses, Paul had referred incidentally to the institutions of Moses, and to the superiority of the gospel. He had said that the former were engraved on stones, but the latter on the heart 2 Corinthians 3:3; that the letter of the former tended to death, but the latter to life 2 Corinthians 3:6. This sentiment he proceeds further to illustrate, by showing in what the superior glory of the gospel consisted. The design of the whole is, to illustrate the nature, and to show the importance of the ministerial office; and the manner in which the duties of that office were to be performed. That the phrase “ministration of death” refers to the Mosaic institutions, the connection sufficiently indicates, 2 Corinthians 3:13-15. The word “ministration” ( διακονία diakonia) means, properly, ministry; the office of ministering in divine things. It is usually applied to the officers of the church in the New Testament, Acts 1:17, Acts 1:25; Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 12:5.
The word here, however, seems to refer to the whole arrangement under the Mosaic economy, by which his laws were promulgated, and perpetuated. The expression “a ministration - written and engraved on stone,” is somewhat harsh; but the sense evidently is, the ministration of a covenant, or of laws written on stones. The word “ministration “there refers to the arrangement, office, etc. by which the knowledge of these laws was maintained; the ministering under a system like that of the Jewish; or, more strictly, the act and occasion on which Moses himself ministered, or promulgated that system to the Jews, and when the glory of the work was irradiated even from His countenance. And the purpose of the apostle is to show that the ministry of the gospel is more glorious than even the ministry of Moses, when he was admitted near to God on the holy mountain; and when such a glory attended his receiving and promulgating the Law. It is called the “ministration of death,” because it tended to condemnation; it did not speak of pardon; it was suited only to deepen the sense of sin, and to produce alarm and dread; see the note on 2 Corinthians 3:6.
Written and engraven in stones - The Ten Commandments - the substance of all the Mosaic institutes, and the principal laws of his economy - were written or engraved on tables of stone.
Was glorious - Was attended with magnificence and splendor. The glory here referred to, consisted in the circumstance of sublimity and grandeur in which the Law of Moses was given, It was:
(1)The glory of God as he was manifested on Mount Sinai, as the Lawgiver and Ruler of the people.
(2)the glory of the attending circumstances, of thunder, fire, etc. in which God appeared. The Law was given in these circumstances. Its giving - called here the “ministration” - was amidst such displays of the glory of God. It was,
(3)A high honor and glory for Moses to be permitted to approach so near to God; to commune with him; and to receive at his hand the Law for his people, and for the world. These were circumstances of imposing majesty and grandeur, which, however, Paul says were eclipsed and surpassed by the ministry of the gospel.
So that the children of Israel - In Exodus 34:29-30, it is said, that “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses‘ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone, while He talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.” The word rendered “steadfastly behold” ( ἀτενίσαι atenisai), means to gaze intently upon; to look steadily, or constantly, or fixedly; see the note on Acts 1:10. There was a dazzling splendor, an irradiation; a diffusion of light, such that they could not look intently and steadily upon it - as we cannot look steadily at the sun. How this was produced, is not known. It cannot be accounted for from natural causes, and was doubtless designed to be to the Israelites an attestation that Moses had been with God, and was commissioned by him. They would see:
(1)That it was unnatural, such as no known cause could produce; and,
(2)Not improbably they would recognize a resemblance to the manner in which God usually appeared - the glory of the Shechinah in which he so frequently manifested himself to them. It would be to them, therefore, a demonstration that Moses had been with God.
Which glory was to be done away - The splendor of that scene was transitory. It did not last. It was soon destroyed ( τὴν καταργουμένην tēn katargoumenēnIt was not adapted or designed long to continue. This does not mean, as Doddridge supposes, “soon to be abolished in death;” or, as others, “ceasing with youth;” but it means, that the shining or the splendor was transitory; it was soon to cease; it was not designed to be permanent. Neither the wonderful scenes accompanying the giving of the Law on Sinai, nor the shining on the countenance of Moses, was designed to abide. The thunders of Sinai would cease to roll; the lightenings to play; the visible manifestations of the presence of God would all be gone; and the supernatural illumination of the face of Moses also would soon cease - perhaps as Macknight, Bloomfield, and others suppose, as a prefiguration of the abrogation of the glory of the whole system of the Levitical law. Paul certainly means to say, that the glory of Moses, and of his dispensation, was a fading glory; but that the glory of the gospel would be permanent, and increasing forever.
Some speak of the Jewish age as a Christless period, without mercy or grace. To such are applicable the words of Christ to the Sadducees, “Ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God.” The period of the Jewish economy was one of wonderful manifestations of divine power. So glorious was the revealing of His presence that it could not be borne by mortal man. Moses, who was so highly favored of God, exclaimed, “I do exceedingly fear and quake.” But God strengthened him to endure this excellent glory, and to bring from the mount a reflection of it upon his face so that the people could not look steadfastly upon it.... SD 225.2
The very system of sacrifices was devised by Christ, and given to Adam as typifying a Saviour to come, who would bear the sins of the world, and die for its redemption. Through Moses, Christ gave definite directions to the children of Israel in regard to the sacrificial offerings.... Only clean and precious animals, those which would best symbolize Christ, were accepted as offerings to God.... SD 225.3
The Israelites were forbidden to eat the fat or the blood.... This law not only related to beasts for sacrifice, but to all cattle which were used for food. This law was to impress upon them the important fact that if there had been no sin there would have been no shedding of blood.... SD 225.4
The blood of the Son of God was symbolized by the blood of the slain victim, and God would have clear and definite ideas preserved between the sacred and the common. Blood was sacred, inasmuch as through the shedding of the blood of the Son of God alone could there be atonement for sin. Blood was also used to cleanse the sanctuary from the sins of the people, thus typifying the blood of Christ which alone can cleanse from sin.14The Signs of the Times, July 15, 1880. SD 225.5Read in context »
It was impossible, however, for Adam, by his example and precepts, to stay the tide of woe which his transgression had brought upon men. Unbelief crept into the hearts of men. The children of Adam present the earliest example of the two different courses pursued by men with regard to the claims of God. Abel saw Christ figured in the sacrificial offerings. Cain was an unbeliever in regard to the necessity of sacrifices; he refused to discern that Christ was typified by the slain lamb; the blood of beasts appeared to him without virtue. The gospel was preached to Cain as well as to his brother; but it was to him a savor of death unto death, because he would not recognize, in the blood of the sacrificial lamb, Jesus Christ the only provision made for man's salvation. 1SM 231.1
Our Saviour, in His life and death, fulfilled all the prophecies pointing to Himself, and was the substance of all the types and shadows signified. He kept the moral law, and exalted it by answering its claims as man's representative. Those of Israel who turned to the Lord, and accepted Christ as the reality shadowed forth by the typical sacrifices, discerned the end of that which was to be abolished. The obscurity covering the Jewish system as a veil, was to them as the veil which covered the glory upon the face of Moses. The glory upon the face of Moses was the reflection of that light which Christ came into the world to bring for the benefit of man. 1SM 231.2
While Moses was shut in the mount with God, the plan of salvation, dating from the fall of Adam, was revealed to him in a most forcible manner. He then knew that the very angel who was conducting the travels of the children of Israel was to be revealed in the flesh. God's dear Son, who was one with the Father, was to make all men one with God who would believe on, and trust in Him. Moses saw the true significance of the sacrificial offerings. Christ taught the gospel plan to Moses, and the glory of the gospel, through Christ, illuminated the countenance of Moses so that the people could not look upon it. 1SM 231.3Read in context »
God help us to have a knowledge of the truth, and if you have seen the truth of God, press right to the light and put up the bars behind you. Make not flesh your arm; but have a living experience for yourselves, and then your countenance will shine with the glory of God. You have walked with Him, and He has upheld you. You have wrestled with Him and pleaded with Him, and He has let His light shine upon you. FW 78.1Read in context »