The Bible

 

Exodus 34:29-35 : Moses' Face Shines

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29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.

30 And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.

31 And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.

32 And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.

33 And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.

34 But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.

35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Commentary

 

The Inner Glory Revealed

     

By Rev. William Woofenden

"And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone; and Moses put a veil upon his face." (Exodus 34:35)

This is part of an old and familiar story, but we shall never grow tired of hearing it. At this point in the narrative the descendants of Abraham have been freed from Egyptian bondage and are encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. They are not yet prepared to press forward on their journey to Canaan, for they have much to learn. To begin with, they know practically nothing of the God who has freed them from their slavery. Probably all of them had been worshiping the gods of the Egyptians.

They must receive a wonderful new revelation to guide them in the years ahead, a revelation which, if they are true to it, will make of them a great and prosperous nation. So they remain in their camp while Moses, their leader, ascends the mountain to meet with God and learn his will for Israel.

Notice how simply this astonishing experience is recorded. We read, "Moses was there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights... and he wrote on the tables (of stone) the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." And, we are told, "Jehovah spake to Moses face to face, as a man doth speak unto his friend." It was following this momentous occasion, when he left the divine presence, and descended the mountain bearing the tables of stone, that the face of Moses shone with a radiance so great that Aaron and the people "were afraid to draw nigh unto him." He had been in the very presence of almighty God.

Let us give some thought to the nature of the light which radiated from the face of Moses. The Hebrew word translated "shone" means, literally, "put forth rays." It was not merely a reflected light. It was, the text says, a light which seemed to come from within, the effect of those marvelous days and nights spent in the presence of the Lord there on the mountain top.

In this connection, it is perhaps worth noting that one reads in the writings of our church that the faces of the highest angels shine with just such a light, as though the love and wisdom from the Lord which fills their hearts and minds shines forth from their countenances.

Now, let us go in thought to another mountain top. Here we see the Savior, with Peter, James and John. There, as the faithful disciples watch in awe, the Lord is transfigured before them. Matthew tells us that "his face did shine as the sun." Notice here also that the word translated "shine" means, in the Greek, to "give light." That divine human face did give forth light, a light so gloriously radiant that it was "as the sun." It was the divine nature within, shining through the grosser covering, the human, and expressing itself in the glory of transfiguration.

Does not this help us understand something of the nature of the light which shone forth from the face of Moses? It was a light emanating from the soul of the great leaders so radiant, so awesome that those who saw it drew back in fear, until the face was covered with a veil.

Of what significance is this to us today? It is a teaching of the New Church that every incident recorded in the Word, all the acts commanded by the Lord, have a spiritual correspondence of value to men in all ages. The "flesh" — the outer ritual, deed, or phenomenon — "profiteth nothing" of lasting value. It is the" spirit that quickeneth" or gives life to it.

For example, every least detail of Jewish ceremonial worship was representative, expressing some timeless aspect of inner worship. Every incident has reference to our inner lives. What, then, is the meaning to us of that light which shone forth from the face of Moses, and the fact that he covered his face with a veil to shield the people from the light?

It was through Moses that the Lord gave the laws and rules which were to be a guide to the Hebrew nation. And in common Biblical parlance, the first five books of the Word, the books of the Law, are called the books of Moses. As we read in the Gospel, "The law was given by Moses' grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Therefore we should not be surprised to learn that by "Moses," wherever mentioned in the Word, is meant not only the man but also that body of revealed truth in the Old Testament called the Law.

We remember the parable of the Lord about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, pictured as being in hell, pleaded with Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers still on earth against a fate similar to his. Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them." He did not, of course, mean Moses the man, not the prophets as men -- they had all been dead many years. No, he meant the teachings given by the Lord through Moses and the prophets, all to be found in the Sacred Scriptures.

And so, in seeking to know the deeper meaning of this remark able incident of the face of Moses the man, shining as with an inner light, and that light being veiled from the sight of the children of Israel, we think of Moses as representing the Word, especially the Commandments. Thinking of it in that way, how true and wonderful the picture becomes. It impresses on our minds the great truth that the Word of God has an inner meanings that all God has to tell us in that Word is not expressed in the literal sense alone.

Within the written account is the spirit, the very spirit of God, divine truth itself, the spirit that" giveth life." It is the light of his divine wisdom, and the warmth of his divine love that give life to the Word. To one who goes to that Word in true humility and the earnest desire to know and do the will of God, that spirit does shine forth. It becomes as the face of Moses when he had been in the presence of God, sending forth a shining light.

But it is so easy to be like the people gathered at the base of Mount Sinai who drew back in fear when they "saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone." Many actually do fear the true spirit of the Word of God. And a common form of expression for this fear (which is often subconscious) is one either of indifference or of hostility.

For example, some, when faced with the literal strictures of the Commandments, will shrug them off as passed Others will attack them as harsh and impossible of human attainment. People with these attitudes have had no glimpse of the glory beneath the veil.

A third type, and probably the most common, is that which sees nothing more in the Commandments than a moral code, evolved through trial and error. They accept them as necessary laws of society, on the same level as the civil law. Furthermore, they believe they are being "scientific" when they refuse to consider the possibility that the Law of the Old Testament is God's law, and as a part of his Word applicable and adaptable to all stages of human progress. Even Paul fell into error in this respect when he referred to this incident in his second letter to the Corinthians, speaking of it as a fading glory. But at the same time he caught a glimpse of the real fact when he said, "To this day, when they read the old went, that same veil remains un-lifted, because only through Christ is it taken away... but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed."

Swedenborg assures us that if men would but go to the Word in humility, with the earnest and sincere desire to find divine truth there, they would see the radiance which comes forth from its pages. This doctrine is confirmed from the Word in Jeremiah as follows: "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your hearts."

If the question, which is often asked, comes to yous "Why did the Lord cause so much of the beauty and light of the Word to be hidden under a covering of symbol and correspondence?" the answer is that until a person is prepared to welcome those truths and seek to take them as guides for his life, it is far better that they be hidden from sight. For to see the true spirit, or spiritual sense, of the Word and not to try earnestly and sincerely to live that higher truth brings spiritual harm to the soul. It is of the Lord s mercy that the veil is there.

Thus we have the gist of the deeper meaning of that wonderful scene at the foot of Mount Sinai long ago. We think first of the man Moses, coming forth from the presence of Jehovah with the tables of stone on which had been written the Ten Commandments. And we see his face beaming with an inner light, so intense that the people could not bear to look at him until his face had been veiled.

Then we think of him in his representative capacity, as standing for the Word, particularly the literal sense of that Word. And we realize that the radiance which shone so brilliantly from his face pictures to us the glory of the spiritual sense — the true "spirit" of the Word — shining through the letter.

Next comes the sobering thought that unless there is a sincere and earnest desire to receive that spirit willingly and with joy, as the very truth from the Lord himself, that inner light will be for ever veiled from our eyes.

And, finally, to establish the lesson even more vividly, let us think of another veils that veil or curtain which, for two thou sand years and more, hung before the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and later in the temple, concealing the inner glory from the eyes of the people. We see Christ on the cross, and we hear his last final cry of triumph, "It is finished." And we are told that at that cry, "the veil or the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," signifying that the inner glory of "the Word Made Flesh" was now revealed to the eyes of all people.

Christ, by his victorious death and resurrection, which made it possible for men and women in all subsequent ages really to live the true spiritual life, accomplished this redemption by rending asunder the veil which had separated God and man. And this event was also prophetic of the time to come when the inner beauty of the written Word could at last be revealed clearly.

We who subscribe to the teachings of the New Church believe that that new day has now dawned, a day when all who will may enter fully into the beauty and truth of God's holy Word. The veil of the letter or literal sense can be put aside, and all men are permitted to see the inner glory now revealed. You and I are already privileged to walk in the light of this new day, if we will. May we value that privilege and seek for the radiance which will be more and more fully ours if we seek the Lord in his Word, "in spirit and in truth."