The story of the book of Exodus is the story of the progressive revelation of the glory of God in the gospel of God. As we saw previously, it is vital that we not lose this plotline.
God began to reveal this glory at the burning bush (chapter 3) and then through the various plagues, culminating in the Passover event, an experience which was both a savour of life and death.
At the Red Sea God revealed His glory and then again through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Such manifestations of the glory of God whet Moses’ appetite for more and so he cried out in Exodus 33, “Please, show me your glory” (v. 18). The LORD acquiesced to this request and revealed His glory through the proclamation of His name (34:5-7). God’s glory would be seen again as recorded at the close of the book when His shekinah glory descended upon the completed tabernacle.
But as wonderful as these revelations of God’s glory were, they could not hold a candle to the ultimate manifestation of the glory of God as revealed in the gospel of God in the new covenant. Paul described this glory when he wrote of “God who commanded light to shine out of darkness,” and “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Two verses earlier Paul wrote of “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v. 4). Finally, in 1 Timothy 1:1 the apostle spoke of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” To each of these statements Moses would have shouted a hearty amen.
Moses understood what the vast majority of the children of Israel did not: that, as glorious as their present experience of God was, it was nothing compared to what God had prepared with reference to the new covenant. This is what underlies the passage to which we turn our attention in this study.
As we begin we would do well to contemplate the reality that the gospel of God is the most glorious truth to which the world has ever—or will ever—be exposed. But too often we who experience the gospel are tempted to become ho-hum about it. May our time together in this text go a long way to restoring our appreciation of the radiance of the glory of God as revealed in the blessedly glorious gospel of God.
A Glorious Mediator
The text opens with the record of a glorious mediator. Remember, Moses had been up to the mountain on several occasions before, but when he returned to camp this time something was different.
Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them.
This is a remarkable scene for us to pause and ponder. Again, this was not the first time that Moses had ascended Mount Sinai, and it is not the first time that he had returned to camp with his hands full of the law. But it is by far his happiest return. You will recall that the last time he returned he found the people having turned to idolatry. The covenanted people of God were then engaged in orgiastic religious debauchery. That was when Moses cast the Ten Commandments to the ground, symbolising the fact that the people had transgressed their covenant with God.
In that scene the people were clearly irreverent and not in the least perturbed by Moses’ presence. In fact, they had dismissed him as of no account (32:1). But this time things were different.
As Moses now descended he once again carried the tablets with God’s covenantal law inscribed on them. But now there was something noticeably different about Moses: “the skin of his face shone” (v. 29). The word translated “shone” means “to shoot forth beams,” but the word also is related to the word for horns. In fact, many medieval paintings and statues of Moses portray him as having horns precisely because of the word picture here. Perhaps God chose this particular word to contrast Moses “horns of glory” with the horns of the idolatrous golden calf that the Israelites had earlier worshipped.
Regardless, we see one thing very clearly: Though Moses had previously been in the mount for forty days, this time his countenance had changed. What is the reason for this?
No doubt, the difference was that Moses had this time asked the Lord to show him His glory—and God had done so. After forty days in the presence of such revelation Moses’ countenance reflected it. MacArthur has pointed out that in this revelation God had “reduced His attributes to visible light” and it was because of this that Moses experienced a most remarkable tan. As we will see later, it was in fact a Son tan!
As Moses spent forty days in the mount without food and drink, sustained by the miraculous power of God, his face took on something of the countenance of God. Being exposed to God’s mercy, grace, goodness, truth, faithfulness, steadfast love, forgiveness, holiness and justice, he could not but reflect transforming results. But I find it interesting that he evidently did not notice it. This life-transforming experience was unconsciously manifested in his life.
Ryken observes, “Moses became glorious by taking his eyes off himself and looking to the Triune God. When he did this, he became an entirely different person, almost without realizing it. But other people could see the difference in his very face.”1 We can learn several lessons from this.
First, exposure to God results in a transformed countenance. Effort is very much required but effort apart from exposure will yield little fruit. We need to spend time with the Lord if His character will be manifested in our countenance.
Our countenance is a hallmark of God’s transforming power in our lives. Indeed, David described God as “the help of my countenance” and exhorted himself to “hope in God” when he was “cast down” (Psalm 42:11). Is your countenance one of anxiety, anger, heartache, confusion, frustration, or grumpiness? Time spent with the Lord is the cure for such a countenance.
Second, when we are being transformed by God we are oftentimes the last to notice. In fact, those who are the most holy are often the last to know it (cf. John 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:12-15)! Wiersbe notes, “Truly spiritual people don’t recognize their own godliness but usually feel as though they’re failures and far from what they ought to be. At Pentecost (Acts 2), each believer could see the tongues of fire above the other believers’ heads, but not over their own heads.”2
Third, as Paul would later expound, the law of God is glorious. It is interesting that there is little gospel here but much law; there is a lot of grounds for condemnation but little for salvation. Yet the law of God is good and glorious, and the sooner the church returns to such appreciation for the law, the sooner she will glory in the gospel by which we are saved from the condemnation of the law.
As Moses descended the leaders gathered at the base of Sinai to receive him. Thankfully, he did not find a repeat of chapter 32. Perhaps the people were learning their lesson?
When Moses came down from the mountain the people could not miss the obvious: God had glorified Moses. “So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone” (v. 30). God had exalted him. This was an affirming work of God on Moses’ behalf.
Duncan helps us to see the significance of this: “In ancient cultures in Mesopotamia, one of the things that kings often claimed as an attestation of their own divinity, their own relationships with the gods, was a shining radiance about them. And in granting Moses this radiance, God is exalting him in a way that everybody in that culture would have understood.”3
This man, who had been so disrespectfully treated by the people, was now exalted by God. God set Moses apart as a unique individual; He vindicated him by glorifying him. This sounds very much like someone else we know and love (Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:23-25)!
Let us learn from this that God knows how to vindicate His servants. The world (and sometimes even the church) may treat with contempt those whom God has appointed, but God will honour those to whom honour is due (1 Samuel 2:30). To be exalted by God is an honour indeed.
As Moses descended, his face shooting forth beams of light, the leaders and the people were uncomfortable in his presence. “They were afraid to come near him” (v. 30). His glorious countenance was intimidating—because it was convicting. You see, glory highlights guilt and thus there was a natural aversion to the presence of one who reminded them of God’s holiness. They were afraid to come near him. This was good; it was an encouraging sign.
There is a parallel to this scene in Exodus 20:18-21. You will recall that at that time the Lord made His presence known by the thunder and lightning on top of Sinai. The people responded with great fear and begged Moses to speak to them on God’s behalf. The presence of God made them uncomfortable then, and the presence of God—indicated by the countenance of Moses—made them uncomfortable now. Don’t miss that. The radiance of Moses’ skin was evidence to the people that they were in the presence of God. Of course, Moses was not God, but this radiance was an indication of God’s nearness.
Oh to so walk with the Lord that when people are in our presence they will sense the presence of God! This was apparently the case with Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He so walked with the Lord that when he entered the church building it was not uncommon for the congregation to fall under conviction of sin. It is not surprising then that he was famous for saying that his people’s greatest need was his own holiness, and that a holy minister is “an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
Moses was a type of the Lord Jesus and yet there arises from this text a practical application for every believer. If we will have an impact on others for the glory of God (and we can), we must first have sufficient exposure to His glory. There should be something about our lives that creates a sense of reverence in the lives of those with whom we are in contact. I am not speaking of being nice but rather of being holy.
Our lives should so reflect the goodness of God that others will sense His presence when we are in their midst. In many ways, the best thing that we can do for our fellow man is to so pursue the knowledge of God that they are made to feel uncomfortable in our presence. “Although we are not on the level of Moses, as we grow in grace, that grace in us repels the ungodly. Moses, we are told, ‘shot forth beams.’ We each in our own limited way communicate to the world around us what we are.”4
As a pastor, I have often had people use foul language in my presence, only to react with embarrassment when they have discovered my vocation. They have tended to grow apologetic, and have assured me that they would never have used such language had they known I was a minister. This is wrongheaded on one level, and yet on another there is something positive about it. People have certain ethical expectations when it comes to believers. Oh that we would so live that others would exhibit a godly fear when we are in their midst.
Do your fellow students watch their language when they are around you? Are your fellow workers hesitant to suggest unethical business practices in your presence? Do others think twice about the forms of entertainment to which they invite you? Do your fellow church members guard their tongues from gossip in your presence? A life of holiness will surely make a difference in this regard.
At some point Moses realised that his countenance had been changed and that this was creating a sense of distance between him and his people. And so “Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them” (v. 31).
Kaiser observes, “The manifestation of the divine countenance struck fear in the Israelites (v. 30). A word from Moses, however, encouraged Aaron, the leaders, and all the Israelites to approach him; and he thus delivered the word of the Lord to them.”5
I say that this was unusual because it was an act of grace; it was actually gracious humility. Moses did not assume a judgemental position with respect to them but rather came to them as a “saviour.” And we are called to do the same. Are you both convicting and comforting?
Consider, for example, the Lord Jesus Christ in John 4. When He highlighted the Samaritan woman’s sin, she immediately ran into town to invite the men of the city to come “see a Man who told me all things that I ever did” (v. 29). It is significant that she was excited about this, because the Lord in fact had pointed out her sinful lifestyle. But while she certainly came under conviction of sin, she evidently also found comfort in Christ, as evidenced by the fact that she invited others to come to Him. This blend of conviction and comfort is something that we would do well to emulate.
As Moses met with the people he revealed to them again the covenant which God had reaffirmed. After he met with the elders, and the people saw that the elders survived their meeting with “glory,” they mustered up sufficient boldness to come near as well (v. 32). Moses reiterated the commandments from the Lord. We have no record of how they responded but we can assume from what follows in the rest of the book that they too reaffirmed their earlier commitment. It would appear that the mediator had successfully interceded. But praise the Lord for the glorious Mediator who successfully interceded for us!
In comparing Moses’ forty days on the mountain with Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, Pink comments, “We scarcely know which is the greater wonder of the two: that a sinful worm of the earth was raised to such a height of honor as to be permitted to spend a season in the presence of the great Jehovah, or that of the Lord of glory should stoop so low as to be for six weeks with the foul Fiend.”6 Unusual glory indeed!
A Glorious Ministry
The scene that follows is rich with principled and practical lessons for us.
Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.
To grasp the significance of v. 32 we need to first take into account v. 33. Note the information provided: “When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.” But before he did so, “all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai” (v. 32).
At this point many make the wrong assumption that Moses covered his face as he was speaking with the people because of their discomfort at the presence of this glory. One reason for this assumption is a sloppy reading of the text. But another major reason is because of an unfortunate translation of v. 33 in the KJV, which reads, “And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.” Modern translations—such as the NKJV—get the translation correct: “And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.”
We will unpack this phrase shortly, but here I want to emphasise that Moses spoke with an unveiled face when he commanded the children of Israel on behalf of God; and he covered his face when he conversed with them as one human to another.
When Moses spoke on behalf of God—that is, when he gave them God’s commandments—he was unveiled and unapologetic. It was vital that God’s words be proclaimed without obscurity and without hesitancy. “Before the people, the divine glow confirmed the message and demonstrated the authority of the messenger.”7
Moses was well aware that the people were uncomfortable in his glorious presence; and even though he sought to reassure them by inviting them to come near, nevertheless he was unwilling to hide that glory. He was unwilling to obscure God’s glory (as revealed in His Word) for the sake of making people feel comfortable. He unapologetically spoke on behalf of the glorious God. And all preachers are called to do the same.
When the minister proclaims God’s Word he is not speaking on behalf of himself but rather in the place of God. Such was the viewpoint of the great reformers like Luther and Calvin, as well as the great confessions of faith.
Luther put it this way, “Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness. . . . For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.” Calvin echoed these sentiments: “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit . . . it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.” And the Second Helvetic Confession reads, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful.”
It is a glorious privilege to proclaim the words of God, but because of this glory it is also a fearful privilege. The servant of the Lord must be faithful to reveal what God has revealed—no more and no less (see 2 Timothy 3:15—4:2).
When the minister proclaims God’s revealed will he must do so without apology. “Face-to-face” communication is the goal of all preaching; that is, the face of God confronting the face of men. The preacher must, as Moses did, speak God’s Word under His authority proclaiming His authority.
It is for this reason, by the way, that I have never been too shy to call the church to attention when people are obviously distracted from what is being preached. To pay little heed to the words of a man in announcements is one thing (though it is rude), but to disregard the Word of God is blasphemous; it is an act of rebellion and it must not be tolerated without a response and sometimes a rebuke.
In Nehemiah 8 the people stood when the scroll of God’s Word was opened. It was an act of respect. In fact, all who were “able to understand” stood as God’s glorious Word was proclaimed—for a quarter of the day! They stood because to hear the Word of God was tantamount to being in the presence of God. Such reverence for God’s Word is vital for the welfare of God’s people!
Moses was aware of whom He represented and he wanted to help the people to take seriously God’s Word. Every preacher of the Word should be so concerned to speak for God. And to the degree that he faithfully relays God’s Word, to such a degree he faithfully represents God and therefore has no need to apologise for it. Woe to the preacher who loses sight of this!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones always said that this was his reason behind wearing a robe to preach. When he preached he donned the robe, but when he finished preaching he removed it. He wanted people to see that he took seriously the task of preaching, that he understood that there was something significant about it.
Two other observations are called for.
First, it is vital that the minister has an authentic countenance of glory. Contrived glory is fraudulent; it is spiritual prostitution. How vital for the congregation to hear from a man who has been with God!
If the congregation will take seriously the Word of God then they need to be able to respect the man of God who is delivering it. I am aware that God once used a donkey to deliver His truth but that is the exception rather than the rule. Yes, some people are able to receive and apply truth even though it is coming through an unclean vessel but should not be the norm. Rather, the man of God should spend so much time with the Lord that when he speaks there is a moral and spiritual authority that cannot be easily ignored.
The local church needs pastors who know God and who thus by their lives show God. Such are elders that the congregation can take seriously. If a pastor is known to be a gamer, a computer junkie or an obsessive sport enthusiast, how effective will he be in his ministry to his people?
Having made the eldership vulnerable by such comments, let me urge you to pray for us! Pray that the leaders of your church will be men who spend much time in communion with God in preparation for ministering to the congregation.
Second, ministers, pastors, preachers need to know the difference between commanding in Jesus’ name and conversing or communing in Jesus’ name. In other words, there is a time to speak unveiled and a time to speak veiled.
When Moses was no longer commanding in God’s name he wore the veil as he went about his daily, normal tasks. When he preached he was unveiled, but when he went on the church picnic he wore the veil. We will see in a moment the main reason for this, but here there is a hint of a supplemental reason. You see, Moses was always a mediator but he was not always speaking the authoritative Word of God.
This is a vitally and practically important point. There are (many) times when the pastor must be veiled. Those appointed by God to be ministers are not always to be authoritatively commanding; they are also to be affectionately communing.
Further, pastors need to be aware that not everything they think and say is tantamount to proclaiming the Word of God. That is, they are not always speaking for God. Sometimes they are merely giving their opinion—and everybody needs to know when this is so!
Advice is not always authoritative. A church member might ask me my opinion on the best running shoes to purchase. I have firm convictions on the matter and will gladly share my opinion when asked, but I cannot claim to be speaking God’s Word when I offer my opinion on this matter. On the other hand, when I am asked by a husband how he should treat his wife, I can with unveiled face declare, “You must love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it!”
Commanding is exhausting, though necessary. Communing is exhilarating and also necessary. Listen to your elders as they speak the Word of God but also realise that they are your brothers. In the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “we urge you, brethren, to recognise those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.” In other words, learn to appreciate them regardless of what hat they are wearing—or, better, regardless of whether or not they are veiled.
But let’s consider the main reason that Moses wore a veil after he commanded the people. Our text simply tells us that “when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face” (v. 33). But centuries later the Holy Spirit gave further insight into our text.
In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul wrote to defend his ministry against those who had sought to undermine his in an attempt to mislead the church. Wolves in sheep clothing (false shepherds) had come to Corinth and, amongst other wrongs, had corrupted the gospel message.
Most likely, these false teachers were Judaisers, who taught that one had to keep the Jewish law to truly be saved. They offered lip service to the new covenant but sought to bring the church under the old covenant. They, like many today, refused to recognise the legitimate continuity between the old and new covenants or to acknowledge the legitimate and necessary discontinuity between them.
In an attempt to undermine Paul’s influence (in a sense they were seeking to veil the glorious authority with which Paul spoke) they criticised everything about him. They claimed that he was a false apostle; that he was a fraud whose ministry did not have the approval of and thus lacked the glory of God.
Paul countered these charges—particularly in chapters 3 and 4.
In chapter 3 he noted that their very existence as a church was proof enough that God had owned his ministry (vv. 1-3). He then made it clear in vv. 4-5 that God had used him (though, unlike the false teachers, he took no credit for it). In v. 6 Paul said that, in contrast to such men, God had made him a minister of the new covenant—meaning the gospel of God.
Then, in vv. 7-18, Paul fleshed this out and argued that, even though the old covenant (disproportionately emphasised by the false apostles) was glorious, in comparison with the gospel of the new covenant it was merely a shadow of glory (see v. 7). It is in this context that Paul referred to the events we are studying in the latter part of Exodus 34.
Paul offers the primary reason that Moses veiled his face: “so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away” (v. 13). Do you see it? Moses veiled his face because the glory that he was experiencing was not sustainable. It was external and temporary; in the words of 2 Corinthians 3:7, it was “passing away.”
Some have suggested that Moses wore a veil for the purpose of guarding his own heart from pride. This may be true (although wearing a veil would in itself draw attention to him). But according to 2 Corinthians 3 he wore the veil because he knew that the glory was temporary and did not want the people to lose heart, to become discouraged. With an unveiled face it would, over time, become obvious that the glory was departing, and this could potentially discourage a people who were prone to walk by sight rather than by faith. Along this line Wiersbe comments, “The Jews saw this glory as something wonderful and exciting, but what would they say if they knew it was fading away? Who wants to follow a leader who is losing his glory? So Moses would go into the tent of meeting to talk with God, and the glory would return, but then he would wear the veil so the people wouldn’t see the glory disappear.”8 There is much truth in this, but the main reason was that Moses did not want them to become focused on that which was seen. He wanted them to look to that which was unseen. He wanted them to look beyond his glory to the glory of Christ. He wanted them to look beyond the glory of the old covenant to the glorious gospel of the new covenant!
And so Moses covered his face as an aid to their faith. He did not want them to be discouraged (by the temporary glory) and he did not want them to settle for less (by failing to see that this was temporary glory). He deliberately wore the veil for the purpose of pointing them to the glory they needed, the glory that only Christ would and could provide.
Moses apparently was clued up with reference to the plotline of the Bible. Evidently he knew that God’s redemptive dealings with Israel were part of the greater metanarrative of the Seed of the woman coming to conquer the evil one. He saw himself no doubt as a mediator of the people but at the same time was aware that his ministry was temporary and not ultimate. The Mediator was yet to come.
This fading glory was a reminder to Moses that his ministry of mediation was limited. It was for this reason that Paul contrasted his ministry as one of boldness with the implication that Moses’ was more timid. Moses had the shadow of the gospel while Paul possessed the substance of the gospel.
In summary, Moses was seeking to stir in the people a hunger for the glory that would not fade away; a glory that would only come when Christ came. The law of God was (and indeed is) glorious. But Moses did not want the people to place their trust in the law of God for salvation. Rather, he desired for them to place their faith in the coming Messiah; the one whose glory would never fade.
In fact, Paul used this incident to point out that the children of Israel to his very day were still struggling with the temptation to live by externals (“the letter”) and not being able to see beyond to whom the letters were pointing: Christ. They were still obsessed with that which was fading and thus could not see and believe in the one who is final. They could not—would not—see beyond the fading to the one who fulfilled what the fading was pointing to. We will shortly return to this point.
A Glorious Message
Having seen the connection revealed between this old covenant event and its new covenant fulfilment we need to conclude our study by focusing on the glorious gospel message that this episode points us to. We see this in vv. 34-35.
But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
As we look at these verses the words of Duncan are helpful: “The mediator saves Israel from the broken law, and the apostle Paul says until you see that, you haven’t really understood the glory of the old covenant; you haven’t really understood the glory of the gospel; you haven’t really appreciated the glory of Christ. So the apostle Paul says if you study Exodus 34, right then the One you’re going to think about is Jesus.”9 So, let’s think about Jesus!
Moses’ experience was not like the Duracell Bunny, who just keeps going. The glory that Moses experienced did not persevere on its own. The glorious countenance needed to be regularly recharged. Moses would regularly appear before the Lord for the purpose of communion and intercession. When he did so he would remove the veil and his countenance would once again take on the radiance of glory. Then, when he would speak to the people, they would see his unveiled glory.
No doubt, in such times of communion with the Lord, Moses was increasingly coming to appreciate the glory of the gospel yet to come in its unveiled form. And he was no doubt eager to share this glorious vision with his people. But each time, after proclaiming this glorious message, he would instructively put on the veil.
Sadly, rather than the veil driving the people to see what was beyond it, most were content with the shadow—like the majority of Jews in Paul’s day. They were content to live with the gospel being veiled to them. That is tragic. And it remains the tragic position of most Jews today: The gospel remains veiled. Is it veiled for you?
What Paul described in 2 Corinthians 3 is precisely where so many religious people in our day find themselves: They are unappreciative of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ simply because it is a glory which is unseen. In chapter 4 Paul wrote of the god of this world who has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe. It is interesting that, when the apostle wrote of the solution for this blindness, he did not say that unbelievers should take away the veil from their eyes but rather wrote in the passive tense, “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (v. 16). Note that there is an emphasis here both upon the responsibility of man and on the sovereignty of God. Man is responsible (though unable) to turn to the Lord, and the Lord is the only one who can remove the veil that binds the heart in unbelief.
We speak of salvation being a “monergistic” work which is a fancy way of saying, as Jonah did, that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). This is clearly what Paul was saying here. But don’t use this as an excuse to continue to go through life with the glory of God in Christ being veiled to you. Rather, seek the Lord and He will rip the veil away!
Are you are content to accept a veiled glory as the best you can hope for? Are you content to live with the shadow of the gospel and not to experience the substance of the gospel? Are you content with the unsatisfying self-righteousness that comes short of pursuing the righteousness of Christ? I hope not. Rather, I trust that you will seek beyond the veil for the one in whom all glory resides. As Paul put it in the next chapter, God graciously shines the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ into the hearts of those who desire that which the veiled glory only points to!
There is no law that you can obey which will lift this veil. You need to come to the end of yourself, to the end of your religion, to the end of your pursuits for morality, by coming to Christ Jesus alone. Ask God to lift the veil on your heart; ask Him to open your eyes that you might behold the unveiled glory of God in Christ in the gospel.
Believer, appreciate the old covenant for the one to whom it points! As Pink says, “we are permitted to read the old covenant without a veil, and to see that Christ is the ‘spirit’ of it all, and that it had in view that which could only have its fulfillment under new covenant conditions, namely, God’s glory secured in and by the Mediator.”10
As v. 35 reveals, though the glory was fading, there was a way for it to be renewed. Over and over Moses would come into the presence of the Lord and the fading glory would be renewed.
But the glorious message of the gospel is that we have a Mediator who is always glorious. “Jesus is our Mediator. His glory is inherent; it is not derived; and therefore, it is permanent; it doesn’t fade away.”9
Christ’s glory was manifested at His birth, at the temple when He was but twelve years old, at His baptism, and then in the wilderness when He resisted all temptation to sin. He manifested His glory at Cana when He performed His first miracle and continued to do so in many other miracles. His glory was manifested on the mountain when He was transfigured. In fact, His glory increasingly was manifested, but never as brightly as when He hung on the cross. No wonder the centurion cried out, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). The glory of Christ was not only unfading; it seemingly became increasingly glorious!
“The difference between Moses and Christ lies here. When Moses saw the glory, and reflected it, it was only skin-deep, and it died away upon his face. In the case of Jesus the glory did not come from without, but from within; it welled up in fountains and cascades, and issued forth from every pore of the body of His humiliation.”12
It is this glorious Mediator who makes the gospel message so glorious. His glory never fades and so our salvation and our future glory is secure; we have access to a glory that will never fade but on the contrary will, like wine, get better with age!
Paul picks up on this theme in 2 Corinthians 3 when he writes “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 18). Yahweh, who revealed His glory to Moses, is the same Spirit of the Lord who desires to increasingly reveal the unfading glory which is experienced in Christ.
What was once exclusively the privilege of Moses is now the privileged opportunity for every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone in whom the Spirit of God lives is being progressively transformed from inside out into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whereas Moses’ experience of glory was external, the believer’s is no less external and yet it is so much more—it is internal as well. What a marvellous truth that we are partakers of His glory (see 1 Peter 4:13-14)! And, in keeping with our Mediator’s prayer in John 17, our glory to will increase rather than fade!
As we close, we must remember that Moses’ request of God that He would show him His glory resulted in Moses becoming the vehicle by which God’s glory was revealed to others. And such is the purpose of the new covenant church.
This all happens through the glorious gospel of the new covenant. We could say that God when saves us He calls us to know Him and to make Him known. As we grow in grace we also grow in glory and the purpose is that others will too know this grace and glory. The result is that the glorious gospel of God will bring glory to God throughout eternity.
Ryken says it well, “Our glory does not fade but is growing brighter by degrees. Everything else in this world seems to grow dim, but the believer in Christ shines ever brighter. God is constantly turning up the wattage, so that we can display his glory with greater and greater radiance.”13
May God continue to give us the grace to grow in our knowledge of His glory as He continues to reveal His glory to us in order that we might glorify Him before others who will themselves be saved for His glory. That my friend is a glorious gospel!
- Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 1074. ↩
- Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Delivered: Finding Freedom by Following God (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1998), 173n. ↩
- J. Ligon Duncan III, “The Face of Moses,” http://goo.gl/Wg7ot. ↩
- Rousas John Rushdoony, Commentary on the Pentateuch, 5 vols. (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2004), 2:499. ↩
- Walter J. Kaiser Jr., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:487. ↩
- A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 369. ↩
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2 vols. (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:324. ↩
- Wiersbe, Be Delivered, 173. ↩
- Duncan, “The Face of Moses,” http://goo.gl/Wg7ot. ↩
- Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, 372. ↩
- Duncan, “The Face of Moses,” http://goo.gl/Wg7ot. ↩
- F. B. Meyer, Studies in Exodus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978), 459. ↩
- Ryken, Exodus, 1077. ↩