English blog

Why did Moses cover his face?

22-01-2014 - Posted by Andre Piet

1_blog_9 In Exodus 34, we read that Moses had received from God a new set of stone tablets; written by God, Himself (34:28). Forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai. When he descended the mountain all the people saw that the skin of his face shone, because of His speaking to him. (34:29.30). So much so, that the people were afraid to approach him. Moses spoke to Aaron and all the rulers and then to all the assembly, and passed on to them all what he had heard of YAHWEH, on the mount (34:31,32). And then we read:

When Moses FINISHED speaking with them, then he put a covering on his face. -Ex.34:33-

Why did Moses do this? The standard answer given to this question is that the Israelites could not tolerate the radiance of Moses’ face or were not allowed to see it. But if that were the reason, then Moses would have covered His face when he started speaking to them, but it says that he did it, right after he had spoken to them. So the question is: What did Moses have what he wanted to hide? We don’t need to guess for the answer, because it is the apostle Paul who writes directly about this, in 2Corinthians 3. In this chapter, Paul explains the great contrast between the old and the new covenant. The old covenant “with letters engraved on stone” (3:7) was a “ministry of death” and a “ministry of condemnation” (3:9,7). On the other hand, the new covenant stands for “the Spirit that makes alive (vivifies)” (3: 6) and which brings “the ministry of righteousness” (3:9); unconditionally. Behold, the Evangel that Paul declared, vivification (1Cor.15:22) and justification (Rom.3:23-24; 5:18), and “exceeding in glory” (3:9)! On this basis, he writes:

12 Having, then, such an expectation, we are using much boldness, 13 and are not even as Moses. He placed a covering over his face …

Moses lacked boldness. Therefore, he covered his face. He covered His face due to embarrassment, because he did not want them to see something. But what was it he did not want them to see? Listen to Paul’s explanation:

so that the sons of Israel were not to look intently to the consummation of that which is being nullified.

In other words, the radiance of Moses’ face became less and finally disappeared, and the latter, the Israelites were not allowed to see. They were not to see how the radiance completely disappeared from his face. That was the reason why Moses covered his face! Paul illustrates by means of this narration how the old covenant was a temporary, disappearing phenomenon. People are not to look on a vanishing glory, but on the glory of that which remains. So that we now, unashamedly and thus with an uncovered face (3:18) can reflect abundant glory… and radiate it forth! —————————————- summary of a study held on January 19,2014