Exodus 34:29-35 begins with Moses descending Mt. Sinai for the second time with two stone tablets on which the laws of God were written. Exodus 34:29 says, “he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the Lord.” This was not a special performance by Moses. This was the result of Moses being in contact with God for forty days and nights. During this time he neither ate nor drank. The creation of intimacy takes time. You can’t be in a hurry, and you can’t be distracted.
The only other recorded instance of a man’s face shining was when Stephen was being murdered. In his case, he looked up to heaven and was in direct visual contact with Jesus. In other words the critical circumstantial factor in the case of Moses and Stephen was the same. They were both in the presence of God. It is highly unlikely, though not impossible, that your face or my face would shine even after an extended period of time with the Lord. But fortunately, the shining face is not the only evidence of intimacy with Jesus. Peter and John have set an example for us. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Did Moses wear the veil when he was speaking to the people? Most of our English translations suggest that Moses wore the veil, but the Hebrew word construction could suggest that he did NOT wear the veil when speaking to the Israelites. Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 3:13 seems to favor one of these views… but which one? – “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” However a careful analysis of the two passages and the overall context indicates that, as would be expected, Paul was confirming what Exodus 34 is saying.
So here is the picture. Moses leaves the presence of the Lord with his face shining like a bright light bulb. Moses speaks to the people without a veil on his face. At first the people are scared, but are persuaded to come close. Moses finishes speaking with the people, and then puts the veil on his face. At first that does not seem to make sense, but it does. You see, Moses was not the source of the glory. He merely reflected God’s glory. The longer he remained away from the source of the glory, the less his face reflected God’s glory. So think of that 100 watt light bulb as being connected to an automatic dimmer switch. Moses veiled his face to prevent the Israelites from witnessing the fading glory on his face. When he returned to the presence of the Lord, he took off the veil, not only because there is never anything that can be hidden in the presence of God, but more importantly, so that he could get a full face-recharge from God’s glory. And so the cycle was repeated. Because God now lives within us, we can always be in His presence, and therefore always reflect His unfading glory.
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul makes the point that we are not like Moses who represented the old fading covenant. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with EVER-INCREASING glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. The extent of our intimacy with God will make the difference.
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