God had a message that was essential to the well-being of all people, throughout all time. The starting point was to take a group of people and teach them a phonetic alphabet, a set of characters where each character represents a specific sound and those characters can be put together to form words.
Nothing like this existed before Moses went up Mount Sinai. There were various types of pictographs representing people, animals, trees, etc., but nothing that could represent in written form all the words and nuances of a spoken language.
All historians agree that the Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet. The word alphabet is derived from Alef and Bet, the first two characters of this writing system.
Thus, while Moses was on the mountain, God taught him the 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet and how to use them to communicate his message to mankind.
The following reflections are taken from Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary:
Written with the finger of God – All the letters cut by God himself. Dr. Winder, in his History of Knowledge, thinks it probable that this was the first writing in alphabetical characters ever exhibited to the world, though there might have been marks or hieroglyphics cut on wood, stone, etc., before this time; see Exodus17:14. That these tables were written, not by the commandment but by the power of God himself, the following passages seem to prove: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mountain, and be thou there; and I will give thee tables of stone Which I Have Written, that thou mayest teach them;” Exodus 24:12. “And he gave unto Moses, upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, Written With The Finger Of God;” Exodus 31:18. “And Moses went down from the mount, and the two tables of testimony were in his hand; the tables were Written on both their sides. And the tables were The Work Of God, and the Writing Was The Writing Of God, graven upon the tables;” Exodus 32:15, Exodus 32:16. “These words [the ten commandments] the Lord spake in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice; and he added no more, But He Wrote Them on two tables of stone;” Deuteronomy 5:22. It is evident therefore that this writing was properly and literally the writing of God himself. God wrote now on tables of stone what he had originally written on the heart of man, and in mercy he placed that before his eyes which by sin had been obliterated from his soul; and by this he shows us what, by the Spirit of Christ, must be rewritten in the mind, 2 Corinthians 3:3; and this is according to the covenant which God long before promised to make with mankind, Jeremiah 31:33.
“No time,” says Dr. A. Bayley, “seems so proper from whence to date the introduction of letters among the Hebrews as this, for after this period we find continual mention of letters, reading, and writing, in the now proper sense of those words. See Deuteronomy 27:8; Deuteronomy 31:9. Moses, it is said, was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians – in all the learning they possessed; but it is manifest that he had not learned of them any method of writing, otherwise there had been no want of God’s act and assistance in writing the two tables of the law, no need of a miraculous writing. Had Moses known this art, the Lord might have said to him, as he does often afterwards, Write thou these words; Exodus 34:27. Write on the stones the words of this law; Deuteronomy 27:3. Write you this song for you; Deuteronomy 31:19. Perhaps it may be said, God’s writing the law gave it a sanction. True; but why might it not also teach the first use of letters, unless it can be proved that they were in use prior to this transaction? It might be thought too much to assert that letters no more than language were a natural discovery; that it was impossible for man to have invented writing, and that he did not invent it: yet this may appear really the case from the following reflections:
- Reason may show us how near to an impossibility it was that a just and proper number of convenient characters for the sounds in language should naturally be hit upon by any man, for whom it was easy to imitate and vary, but not to invent.
- From evidence of the Mosaic history, it appears that the introduction of writing among the Hebrews was not from man, but God.
- There are no evident vestiges of letters subsisting among other nations till after the delivery of the law at Mount Sinai; nor then, among some, till very late.”