The Radiant Face of Moses

34: 29-35

    DIG: Why did the face of Moses shine? Why was that a cause for fear? What must Moses have said to bring the Israelites back? For whose sake was Moses’ face veiled? His own? The people’s? God’s? Why was the veil lifted when Moses spoke to God? What did that say about his relationship with the LORD? With the Israelites?

    REFLECT: Why do believers not have to wear a veil? In what ways are you being transformed into His likeness? How should we live our lives as a result of Paul’s application to us today (see Second Corinthians 4:1-18)? How will you feel when you finally see God face to face? Do that thought excite you or frighten you? Why?

    Moses came down from Mount Sinai the second time with the Ten Commandments in his hands. In contrast with the anger and holy indignation that Moses showed when he returned with the first set of tablets (32:19), the second time he came down his face radiated as a result of his talking with ADONAI (Second Corinthians 3:7). His face was shining because he had been in the very presence of God. But he was not aware of it. That made Aaron and all the Israelites afraid of him. They were so filled with awe that not only did they not approach Moses, but they also apparently fled from him. However, Moses encouraged them to listen as he spoke to them of the stipulations of the New Covenant (34:29-32). His radiant face would serve to authenticate his message and his person.

    The tablets of stone foreshadowed a new Covenant that God would make with Israel. "Here, the days are coming," says ADONAI, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by their hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated My covenant, even though I, for my part, was a husband to them," says ADONAI. "For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days," says ADONAI: "I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, 'Know ADONAI;’ for all will know Me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:31-34 CJB).

    When we read that a radiant brightness glowed from the face of Moses, we need to understand where the word radiant comes from. The verbal form for sent out rays, is a denominative of the Hebrew noun qaran, which literally means horn. The Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, and the Church father Jerome (in his commentaries) took the word literally and understood it to mean that Moses actually come down from Mount Sinai with horns on his head. Because of the Vulgate translation, many depictions of Moses in art, from medieval times onward, portray him with horns. The most famous is Michelangelo’s painting of him at Saint Peter in Chains in Rome. On the contrary, it is clear that the term qaran can have the meaning of radiating beams. For example, Habakkuk, when describing the mighty acts of God said: His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise. Rays flashed from His hand where His power was hidden (Habakkuk 3:3b-4).722

    We are introduced to the veiling procedure of Moses. The verbs indicate that they were repetitive or habitual. The procedure can be divided into two parts. First, when Moses was with the LORD, or when he was reading aloud to the people any of God’s newly given commandments, he was unveiled. Whenever he entered ADONAI'S presence in the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he removed the veil until he came out. There was no reason for veiling when he appeared before God (Hebrews 4:13), and there the radiance of his face was recharged, as it were. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Secondly, when Moses finished reading to the Israelites, he put the veil back over his face until he went into speak with ADONAI again (34:33-34). Why would he cover his face back up? Certainly it was out of humility. But it was also to accommodate the weakness of the people. The Bible gives us the impression that the radiance slowly faded, until it was recharged in the presence of God.723 If his face had faded too quickly, the implication is that it would have led to unbelief. After all, it didn’t take much for that group to lose faith.

    In Second Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul makes a comparison between the Torah under Moses and the New Covenant under Christ. The most relevant section begins when he says: Therefore, with a hope like this, we are very open (Second Corinthians 3:12 CJB). Moses’ ministry was fading but was accompanied by glory. The gospel, however, has surpassing glory (Second Corinthians 3:9-11). It is what believers have access to that causes us to be open. Why? Because we do not put a veil over our faces. Unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face, so that the people of Israel would not see the fading glory come to an end. (Second Corinthians 3:13 CJB).

    Then Rabbi Sha'ul contrasts Moses and believers today. What is more, their minds were made stonelike; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the TaNaKh; it not been unveiled, because only by Messiah is the veil taken away. Yes, still today, whenever the Torah is read, a veil lies over their heart. "But," says the Torah, "whenever someone turns to ADONAI, the veil is taken away" (Second Corinthians 3:14-16 CJB).

    The heart of the matter is found in the last verse of Paul’s argument. believers reflect Christ’s glory because the veil is taken away. We like Moses, see God’s glory. This is why we, too, reflect the glory. The difference is that the glory that we reflect does not fade away, so that we do not need to wear a veil. And our glory does not fade away because, unlike Moses, we are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from ADONAI, who is the Spirit (Second Corinthians 3:18). Moses had to keep going back to God for repeated exposure to His glory. One shot was not good enough. Eventually, Moses had to go back again and again for another “dose” of the LORD’s glory. But we are not like that. For us the veil is taken away and need not be worn, because our glory does not fade – for we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:1,3-4, 6, 9, 11, 13 and 20).724


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