Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Valerius Herberger: Who communicated the Ten Commandments?

NOW ONE MIGHT ASK, Who communicated these Ten Commandments? Moses says: “And God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God,” etc. And below in the same chapter, he says: “The LORD said: ‘You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven’” (v. 22). But St. Stephen says in Acts 7:38 that an angel spoke with Moses on mount Sinai. Thus it must be our Lord Jesus, for there is no one else in heaven and earth who is at once both Lord and God and yet can also be called an angel. Yet Stephen took his words from Moses, for when the Lord Jesus spoke out of the bush above, He was called an angel there, too, not by virtue of His nature, but by virtue of His office (Ex. 3:2). The Lord Jesus is “The LORD, our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). “He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). “He is the angel of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1). He says: “I am the LORD your God,” Jehovah Elohecha, “the only God who has revealed Himself in three persons.” This plurality is likewise explained in our Baptism in the New Testament, for Jesus spoke not only for Himself, but in the stead of the entire most blessed Trinity. He indeed conveys the Word, whence He is called Logos, the Word (John 1:1). But God the Father and the Holy Spirit agree with Him. All three persons were present and active in this work, just as below God inscribes the holy Ten Commandments upon stone tablets (Ex. 31:8) by His own finger, that is, by the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:20; Matt. 22:28).

He goes on to say that He brought the Israelites out of Egypt. St. Paul clearly applies this to our Lord Jesus: He accompanied the Jews, the Jews tempted Him in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:9). Hence it is that the ancient Doctors of the church understood St. Paul’s saying in Galatians 3:19, where he says that “the Law was set down from the angels by the hand of the Mediator,” not as referring to Moses who says “I stood between the Lord and you” (Deut. 5:5), but to the Lord Jesus. (Selneccer’s Postil, Trin. XIII) They made the sounds and were the organists, musicians, and trumpeters for Jesus’ proclamation so that it would not lack for splendor. Hence many scholars understand the words spoken by the angels as the Law (Heb. 12:19). Though the angels were integrally involved in this proclamation of the Lord Jesus (while in the Gospel, Jesus alone reigns), yet the voice is that of the Lord Jesus. And thus Moses introduced one individual as speaking. He did not speak of plural, that is, of angels. And Hebrews 12:26 just says “at that time” (when the Law was given) the voice of Christ shook the earth"; and stresses this word: Yet once more it would have to happen: (Hag. 2:7). 

Origen, who lived 200 years after Christ’s birth, said, “When John says in chapter 1, verse 3, ‘All things were made by the Word,’ you should not understand that Jesus was simply the Craftsman when God created heaven and earth, but that He was also the designator of where the Law would be given.” (in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, ch. 3); “The Law was given to Moses through the angels, and this by the hand and power of the mediator Christ; He who was the Word [of God] in the beginning, and was with God, and God was the Word, served the Father in all things. All things were made through Him, that is, not only all creatures, but also the Law and the Prophets; and He is the mediator between God and man, who was in fact made the Word at the end of world, Jesus Christ. But before this manifest advent in the flesh He was the mediator of men, though He was not yet man. However, He was at the same time mediator between God and men. Whence also the Law, given through the angels, is reckoned as given by the hand of the Mediator Himself, that it may be a holy, just, and good mandate, and all these things sanctified by Christ.” Indeed, the Lord Jesus wrote Himself that He had spoken to the prophets in the Old Testament (John 8:21, 58). Justin, in Dialogue with Triphon, says: “The Son was always the one who spoke with Moses by the Father’s will. And: “Christ brought the people out of Egypt.” Irenaeus (bk. 4, ch. 11) concludes: “The Son, with the Father, was that very God who spoke to Moses from the bush. Likewise: He who was adored by the Prophets as the living God, and the God of the living, and His Word, who spoke to Moses, as well as chastised the Sadducees.” Tertullian (Against Praxeas, ch. 14): “Moses was roundly denied his request to see the face of the Father. Yet he did see the Son transfigured, and heard Him speak tenderly to him.” Likewise [ch. 16]: “Neither should you imagine that only the works of the world were made by the Son, but also whatever God causes to happen in them.” Tertullian (Against the Jews [ch. 9.22]) writes: “He who addressed and conversed with Moses was the very Son of God who had always been seen. For no one has ever seen God the Father and lived.” Also refer to Eusebius, Demonstration of the Gospel,] V., 11, 13, 15. Brenz writes in his Catechism (p. 409): “If actual truth be told, then it was Christ Himself, the Son of God, who, while not yet become Man, yet true God from Eternity, and apart from whom there is no other God, recited the Ten Commandments to Moses on mount Sinai.” And he brings it to a very apt conclusion there. Mathesius agrees with him. 

No one should stumble at the great sternness that is seen here, thinking that it contradicts the Lord Jesus’ famous good nature. After all, He was stern when He caused fire to rain down from heaven upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And verily, on the Last Day He will demonstrate great sternness toward all the impenitent who willfully sinned against the holy Ten Commandments. True, Jesus is a preacher of Grace; but you must not understand this to mean that He wants nothing to do with the Law. For the accounts of the gospels by far prove otherwise. In Matthew 22:37, He expertly summarizes the Ten Commandments with two sentences: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; this is the chief and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments all the Law and the Prophets depend.” In Matthew 5:21, 6:22, and 7:1, the Lord Jesus personally recounts the Ten Commandments. And in chapter 5, verse 17, He says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them,” etc. He did likewise in Luke 6:9. But He explained the Law so that the sweetness of His grace might be all the more precious. And when from the Law we come to the knowledge of our wretchedness, He brings out the comforting proclamation of the Gospel from the bosom the heavenly Father lest we despair. This is what St. John means when he says, “The Law was given through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ” (1:17). 

This is very beneficial for us Christians to know. Because the Lord Jesus Himself spoke the words of the holy Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, because He Himself explained and summarized them in the New Testament, they must also apply to and be binding on Christians. Indeed, no Christian should be hesitant to learn the holy Ten Commandments and repeat them often in his house; for they alone show us whereof a Christlike and pious life consists. Moreover, it is also comforting that the same Person who uttered the Ten Commandments also fulfilled them in our stead and paid for our sins. Who could manage to fulfill the holy Ten Commandments better? And so, because this person is coming again at the Final Judgment, we have the greater consolation that He will not condemn us repentant hearts for our disobedience, but will let us partake of His full atonement. The doctor who understands the disease is able to locate the best medicine. So since Jesus knows our disease, as He proves in the Ten Commandments, He will be all the better at finding the medicine by which we ailing patients can be cured.

O Lord Jesus, I love You deeply; this You know (John 2:15). Help me, I pray You, to demonstrate my love through daily obedience according to the holy Ten Commandments. Grant me grace that I may love You and Your Father and the Holy Spirit with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and my neighbor as myself. Reside as Mayor in the little council-chamber of my heart. Direct from thence all my limbs and works, that they may be devoted to You. Let my lips sing, ring, talk, pray, and give thanks to Your glory. Help me to be devoted to You on days of rest and Sundays. Oh, Sunday is not the day of sin but the day of reconciliation. Let me have devotion then, that I may be reconciled with You. Speak to my heart every Sunday, as You spoke on the first Sunday of the world: “Let there be light,” (Gen. 1:3) that all the gloom of my sadness may disappear. Sunday is the first day when You spoke in the Bible. Let Sunday be the first day of my week in which You speak to my heart, and what I hear there from Your mouth let me apply profitably unto salvation each day. On Easter Sunday, toward evening, You said to Your disciples: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Oh, Lord Jesus, speak this comforting sentence every Sunday to my anxious heart, and the “sun of righteousness” (Mal. 3:2) shall shine upon me. Just as it was on Sunday when You poured out the Holy Spirit upon Your apostles (Acts 2:2), so let me also receive the power from on high, that I may have sincere desire to hear Your Word and to use the Holy Sacraments. Oh, what blessed Sunday-dress that would be! Direct me, that I may show glory to whom it is due (Rom. 13:7). Give me a gentle, humble heart. Guard me from impurity of body and soul. Bestow on me a desire for righteousness. Pour into my heart a distaste for all untruth. Oh, help that I may not lust after what is forbidden to my heart, that so I may leave behind me, as far as humanly possible, the reputation of having lived a Christlike life according to Your will. Amen.

Translation © 2012 Matthew Carver. From Valerius Herberger, Magnalia Dei / Die grossen Thaten Gottes (1601–1620, ed. Gleditsch, 1701).


  1. I've used "The Great Works of God" in some of my devotions with my school staff. Very nice. Thanks for translating the first part. Any plans on translating the remainder of what Herberger managed to finish before he died? On another note, did you get my queries to you about the Lehre and Wehre article on the revision of Kirchengesangbuch? The offer still stands if you think that it would be useful to you.

    1. Hi, thanks for writing. I have translated "The Great Works of God" up through Deuteronomy, but have yet to find a publisher for the remaining volumes. I received your query on the revision of the Kirchengesangbuch, thank you! However, I have not looked at this subject in quite a while and, frankly, I don't know how much use I would get out of it at the moment.