You tell your friends about this amazing movie; a movie that moved you in significant ways. Maybe it gave you a different perspective on the suffering of the oppressed. Your friends go to see the movie and you excitedly ask them how it was. They respond with an “ehh, it was okay.” What? How can they not feel the significance? How can they miss the life changing weight of it? How can they not be moved? You wanted them to feel the same thing you felt. You wanted them to grasp the significance. So, do you feel that kind of frustration when people do not get God? When they live life as if Yahweh were “ehh, okay”? Our hope is that the face of the Lord would shine upon them and light them up with his glory. Our deepest desire is that the Presence will feel significant in their hearts, shaping their lives. Right?
Exodus 34:29-35 is the account of Moses’ descent down from Mt. Sinai with the stone tablet in hand for the second time. The first time, he heard the noise of revelry and responded with anger, breaking the representation of the covenant that the Israelites had already broken in their hearts. This time, having been up there for another forty days, fasting all the while, he comes down with his face shining. Now this may not be as simple as it appears. The word for “shining” is not the normal word and this word is used only in this passage in all of the Bible. It seems more closely connected with the noun for “horns” than it does for “light”. Did Moses’ face sprout horns? Most likely not. Maybe the shining was somehow separate or raised as if it were a separate appendage. What we know is that whatever happened to the skin of Moses’ face was a result of his speaking with Yahweh. In Numbers 6:24-26 there is this prayer that may shine light upon the whole thing; it is a prayer that God commands Aaron to bless the Israelites with: “Yahweh bless you, and keep you; Yahweh make his face to shine upon you, Yahweh lift up his countenance on you, and give you peace.” This prayer is picked up in Psalm 80. So, it seems likely that the overall point is that the face of Yahweh was shining upon the skin of Moses. The Presence changed Moses’ appearance.
When Aaron and the people see Moses with face all aglow they are terrified. Moses is unaware of the change, which is a good lesson isn’t it? Moses invited them to approach and then they are willing to approach. It reads as if some kind of spell were broken by Moses’ voice. People will expend all manner of energy trying to explain why Aaron and the leaders were afraid. But, really, let’s be honest, if you saw someone you knew well shows up with the face of Yahweh shining on their face, you would also be filled with a trepidation that just may freeze you were you stood. Hearing Moses speak shook them out of their fear. When they had worked up enough courage to draw near to him, he commanded them to obey all Yahweh had said.
And then, having finished speaking, he put on a veil. Here again we have a word that is only found in this passage. It definitely means “covering” so veil is a good translation. The question is, “why does he cover his face?” One suggestion is that, having delivered the message of Yahweh, he covers face to signify that Yahweh’s communication is finished. Anything Moses said with veiled face is his own communication. So, Moses goes to appear before the face of Yahweh with his own face uncovered. He then delivered the communication to the people. When that was accomplished he covered his own face again. This became an ongoing practice. Speak to God allowing the face of God to shine upon his face. Speak to the people with that shining uncovered so that the people clearly witnessed that this message was from God. Finally, he veiled his face so that he could have un-Yahweh communication; a Moses communication, with the people. And there may be an important lesson for us here. It just may be a really good idea to separate the communication of God from our own communication. Both are important, but the one is more life-changing important. I mean, we believe that, don’t we?
Maybe the prayer of Psalm 80 was that, just as the face of Yahweh shone upon Moses, may his face shine upon you. May his glory and radiance change your appearance so significantly that others will notice it before you do. And isn’t it frustrating when we tell others about the changing glow of God, and they respond with apathy? And the truth of the matter is, the only way the face of Yahweh will shine upon you is if you are in his presence. Stand before God then and let your face shine. Peace. Walter