Moses’s Face Was Radiant Exodus 34:29-35

What an amazing moment it must have been, when the Almighty God revealed himself in all his majesty and glory and splendour to his faithful servant Moses on Mount Sinai on the occasion we thought about last week.

Exodus 33 19 And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’
21 Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’

No human could survive seeing the face of God, but God revealed himself to Moses.

Exodus 34 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’

As we saw last week, God revealed his divine name to Moses, the LORD, Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM, the eternal unchanging God. God revealed his love, his patience, his mercy and his forgiveness. At the same time God also revealed his justice and his holiness, the God who cannot leave sin unpunished. Yet in his mercy God makes a way for rebellious sinners to be forgiven. Love and holiness – bow down and worship, for this is your God.

Moses only saw God’s back and still he was a changed man. As we have just read this morning.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

God’s glory had shone so brightly that the face of Moses was shining with the glory even after he came down the mountain. That radiance from Moses’s face was so bright that everybody, even his brother Aaron was afraid.

Moses saw God’s back. As Christians we can boldly claim that we have seen God’s face, in the face of Jesus who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father”. We have seen the face of God in the face of his Son Jesus Christ, who is the visible image of the invisible God.

So where is all the glory gone? Why aren’t our faces radiant and shining as the face of Moses was when he had seen God? Surely we should be glowing even more than Moses with the glory and the love and the holiness of God? At least, that’s what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in our second reading this morning.

2 Corinthians 3 7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

The glory which Moses was reflected accompanied the giving of the Law, God’s covenant with his chosen people Israel. But we as Christians share in the glory of God’s grace which brings forgiveness and righteousness. And the glory we share, Paul says is surpassing, excelling, tremendously greater. The former glory is completely eclipsed by the glory we have encountered. We share in the victory of the Cross. We share in the resurrection life of Christ. We have God the Holy Spirit living inside us!

So where has all the glory gone? Why isn’t it shining on our face as we reflect God at work in our lives? We do receive the occasion glimpse of glory – but far too rarely, and not nearly as brightly as we should expect.

Of course we wouldn’t expect to see God’s glory if a person has never truly met with God, has never been born again. And we can understand why we wouldn’t see glory in the life of a person who met Jesus a long time ago but has lost touch with him. But there is another possible reason why we don’t see much glory shining on the faces of Christians in the church today. It is the same reason why the glory of God wasn’t seen among the Israelites.

Exodus 34 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.

The Israelites did not see the glory of the Lord because Moses put a veil over his face. A mask. But why did he do that? “Well that’s obvious,” you will tell me. “Moses wore a mask to stop the Israelites being scared.” It was all for their benefit.

Maybe you would be right. Maybe Moses was only thinking about the Israelites. And maybe some Christians keep their faith under wraps, and don’t let the glory of God shine through them, because they are worried they might scare other people. Maybe.

But here we can turn to the New Testament to give us insight into the Old Testament. Did you notice what Paul said to the Corinthians about the veil Moses wore?

2 Corinthians 3 13 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.

The Good News Translation makes it clearer. We are not like Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the people of Israel would not see the brightness fade and disappear.

Can you see the point yet? A translation called the International Children’s Bible puts the verse very well.

“We are not like Moses. He put a covering over his face so that the people of Israel would not see it. The glory was disappearing, and Moses did not want them to see it end.”

I think Paul is telling us that Moses was not worried about the Israelites being afraid. Moses was worried that the glory of God shining on his face was vanishing away and Moses didn’t want the people to see that it was fading. He didn’t want them to see that he wasn’t reflecting God’s glory any more and there was only little old Moses left. So Moses put on a veil. He put on a mask, so that people would think that the glory was still there. That meant that the people didn’t notice the glory of God fading away, but it also meant they couldn’t see the glory while it was shining either.

And maybe that is sometimes the reason we don’t see as much of the glory of the Lord in our lives and in our churches today. Because people wear masks. God blesses us, we are filled with love and joy and God’s glory shines through. But then we put on a mask so that people can’t see when the glory fades. The blessing fades, and we face problems and go through hard times and God seems far away. So we put on a mask of “everything’s OK, nothing’s changed” and we keep up appearances. We hide our true selves behind a mask pretending that the glory is still there as much as ever.

Perhaps we are afraid that other Christians won’t understand. We think they will look down on us and even reject us when they find out what we are really like deep inside. They will discover, as Michael Caine’s character in Educating Rita said, that “there is less to me than meets the eye.” So we put on our masks, so other people can’t see “the real me”. We don’t talk about our struggles or discouragements. When people ask how we are doing we say, “Fine, just fine.”

But the masks we wear to hide our real selves do four things.

First of all they stop us from seeing God properly. We will only meet with God when we come to him as we really are – even Moses took his veil off when he went to meet with God. It was those kinds of masks of respectability which stopped the Pharisees from recognising the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

Secondly, masks get in the way of our relationships with other people. If we want to be certain that God loves us and accepts us as we really are, we need to be real with other people – no masks. That way we can accept each other and love each other openly and honestly.

Thirdly, masks stop God from changing us to be like Jesus. God wants to give us a new life to live. He isn’t interested in cosmetic surgery but heart surgery, transforming us to be like Jesus. God can’t change us if all we really care about is keeping up appearances, keeping our mask looking good.

And finally, our masks will stop other people from seeing God in us. If we are only pretending to be like Christ when inside we aren’t, if it’s all for show, then we won’t be able to reflect God’s glory and people won’t see Jesus in us.

2 Corinthians 3 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.

It is only when we take our masks off that God can transform us into the image of Jesus with ever-increasing glory.

I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You,
Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone,
Crystal clear and finely honed,
Life of Jesus shining through,
Giving glory back to You.

Moses wore a veil so that the Israelites couldn’t see that the glory of God had faded away. We need to take off our masks if we want to see the glory of God in our church!

Good News Bible All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.

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