“You break it, you remake it.” Is this the connection between Moses’ breaking the first set of tablets, which were completely the work of God, and the second set, which God required Moses to cut? Is Moses being punished for a temper tantrum? I doubt it. When Moses makes the second set, it doesn’t speak against, but for Moses.
Just before Moses comes down we have the fullest description of the tablets (Exodus 32:15–16). This sets you up to be devastated at their being broken; but who really has broken these tablets? The tablets say, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The tablets say, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” Who has broken the tablets? If Moses’ breaking the tablets was wrong, far better to break these tablets the way Moses did than the way Israel did. Still, I don’t believe Moses is sinfully throwing a hissy fit, and thus, neither was his making new tablets like being required to rewrite a sloppily composed essay.
Consider the following things that speak for Moses’ action. First, the very words are used to describe God’s anger (32:10), and now used for Moses’ (32:19). Second, unlike the instance in Numbers 20 where Moses does disobey God, there is no rebuke here. Third, Moses breaks the tablets at the foot of the mountain, the place where the true altar was built and their covenant with the true God was ratified. Finally, the tablets are a visible sign of the covenant. Israel has broken covenant, and now Moses throws them down as a sign of what has happened. Moses throws down the tablets of the covenant to show them what they’ve done.
Following this, further judgments are then mediated through Moses, yet, following this, he pleads with God for the people. When the people enter back into covenant through Moses’ mediation, the second set of tablets is carved by the mediator. This isn’t punishment, rather, it speaks to the necessity and blessing of mediation before God.
What we have broken, Jesus makes new. We have received something better than the sign of tablets for our covenant breaking. We have received the cup of the new covenant. Yet all the same, we should not take this sign lightly (1 Corinthians 11:27–32). Both judgment and mercy were mediated through Moses. We should not then be dumfounded that such things can be joined together in Jesus if they were united in Moses. Jesus will both save His church and purify her. All of His mediation is good and all of it is for the good of the church.