Kevin DeYoung / May 14, 2017 / Exodus 34:29-35
DownloadMP3 Audio File
We come, O Christ to you, true Son of God and man, By whom all things consist, in whom all life began: In you alone we live and move and have our being in your love.
We worship you, Lord Christ, our Saviour and our King, To you our youth and strength adoringly we bring: So fill our hearts, that all may view your life in us, and turn to you. Margaret Clarkson – “We Come, O Christ to You”
We pray this in your name, amen.
Today is Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day! Now turn in your Bibles to Exodus 34. I’m thankful for moms, but I’ll save that for you to celebrate as you see fit.
As we come to the end of the golden calf episode, Moses has been up with the Lord on the mountain, receiving a second set of the Ten Commandments (he broke the first set in righteous anger upon seeing Israel’s idolatry at the foot of the mountain). Now we read of his coming down again:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. Exodus 34:29-35
It’s easier than we might think for people to know where we’ve been. You can tell if your child has been traipsing around in the mud, no matter how much they protest, because they come in with their boots caked with dirt. They may say that they’ve only been inside, but you know better.
You may think that you’ll fool your mom and dad when you say that you didn’t eat a piece of chocolate cake, but when you’re a little guy or gal, and you have it rubbed all over your face, they know where you’ve been.
If you come inside to work after you’ve been exercising, you may put on nice, fancy clothes, but there could still be an aroma or aura about you so that people know you’ve been outside. They know where you’ve been.
Suppose you’re out partying, and you get pulled over by the police for swerving. If they ask you where you’ve been, you tell them that you’ve been nowhere, and yet they smell the alcohol on your breath, they can tell. It’s often easier than we might think for people to know where we’ve been.
I can remember several different times when I’ve been overseas—even in a place as culturally similar to us as the United Kingdom. They speak the same language, more or less, that we do, but I’m very aware that (though it may look as if I belong) I have an accent. Obviously, we who are from the Midwest know that everyone else in the world has an accent, and we don’t. Normal people speak like us. But no, when we go, they sometimes say, “I love your American accent!”, and then they do impressions: “I’m from Chicago!” But I was aware that people could easily tell where I was from.
If you’ve been to England before, you know that they have a few different names for things. French fries are “chips,” and chips are called “crisps.” Why? They just are. I was at a deli one time there, and (since I’m so culturally sensitive) I knew that when I wanted potato chips, I had to say “I’d like some crisps.” It was very obvious when I spoke that I’m an American, and the lady behind the counter said, “Crisps? Or do you want chips?” I instantly knew from her accent that she was an American as well. And a tear came down from my eye, and I thought, “You understand! You know where I’m from! Yes, chips! What are crisps? I just want potato chips.”
It’s easier than we might think for people to know where we’ve been, and that includes whether or not we’ve been in the presence of God. This sermon is about one of the most important lessons in Christian discipleship, and it’s fitting that we should talk about this on a day that’s filled with baptisms, professions of faith, and (later) coming to the Lord’s table. You’ve heard this before, but this passage brings it home to us with a special forcefulness. Here’s the lesson: we become what we behold. Whatever you spend your time looking at, meditating on, thinking about, and ruminating on is what you’ll become. What are you staring at? Who have you been with? Who or what has left a mark on you? What do you radiate when you walk into a room? Would anyone wonder whether you’ve frequently and habitually been with God?
We can be fairly certain that our faces will not shine with a glow like Moses’ (people would think that you’d been tanning!). But even more powerfully, the Spirit is at work. People can see more than we know, and it’s easier than we might think for them to know whether we’ve often been with God, or often been everywhere but with him. We become what we behold.
Look at what happened to Moses. He had been on the mountain 40 days and nights (verse 28). Miraculously, the Lord had sustained him without food or water for that time (this is not generally to be recommended!). He came down with two new tablets—again, it’s not as if they contained commandments 1-4 and 5-10, but because when you had a treaty with a king, you’d make a copy: one for him and one for you. Most likely, these are two identical copies.
When he comes down, his face is aglow. He didn’t know it. There was no physical sensation. He didn’t say, “Oh, I feel flushed and warm. My future’s so bright, I have to wear shades.” There was just something about him that others could see, even if he himself couldn’t.
There are a lot of things we don’t exactly know about this passage. We don’t know what this shining was like. In fact, there’s a long history of two very different translations of these verses which give significantly different senses for what’s going on here. Notice: we read that Moses’ face shone three times in this passage. Verse 29: “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone…” Verse 30: “…the skin of his face shone…” Finally, verse 35: “…the skin of Moses’ face was shining.” The verb that’s translated as “shone” or “shining” is the Hebrew word “qaran”. It only occurs one other time in the Old Testament. In that place, it’s in a different (verbal) form, so this is (in a way) the only place where this word appears. There’s another, common Hebrew word for “light” or “shining,” but that’s not what’s used here.
There is a related word, “qeren”. They almost sound identical. Qaran is a verb; qeren is a noun. The noun, in Hebrew, is a common word in the Old Testament which means “horn.” Some translators have thought that word here is not “to shine,” but “to be horned.” It’s a strange verb, but that’s how Jerome translated it in the Vulgate. The Vulgate was a 4th Century Latin translation of the Bible, which became the standard for the Roman Catholic Church. It was very influential, up until the time of the Reformation.
So, when you look at Medieval pieces of art and sculpture, you’ll often find Moses with two horns. Don’t do it now, but google Michelangelo’s Moses. It’s a famous sculpture. He has a big, flowing beard, and two little My Little Pony horns coming out of his head. That was very common in the Middle Ages because of Jerome.
So why don’t we have “horned” in our translation? Well, before that Latin translation, there was a Greek translation of the Hebrew called “the Septuagint. It was written before the time of Christ, so he and the Apostles would have been very familiar with it. In fact, it would’ve probably been the Bible that they used most. The Septuagint says that Moses’ face “doxa,” the word for “glory. That translation, which was several centuries before the Vulgate, understood the sense of the phrase to be that Moses sent forth rays of light. The word “horn” was not used literally, to mean that he had horns on his head, but that he was emanating shafts of light—figurative horns of light, as it were. That’s almost certainly the correct way to understand the passage. Whatever “horning” he had was not to be taken literally. So, all of our translations now say that his face shone, or was bright, or glowed. There was some kind of luminescence about it.
We don’t know what that was like. I’ve always tended to think that it was like he had a really bad tan at the salon, and when he came back, it was just orange-ish—he had an aura about him. But it may not have been any sort of angelic glow. We don’t know that it was palatable or pleasant to look at. It seems that they found it unnerving, and hard to look at. Many scholars think that Moses might even have been disfigured. Perhaps there was a fear, not just because this strange occurrence was happening, but because something about it was very disturbing and unnerving. They didn’t want to look at this disfigured face.
Whatever it was, Moses put a veil over it. Again, we don’t know what the veil was like. We don’t know if he was wearing a big mask, or a sort of half mask (like the Lone Ranger), or a sheer piece of fabric, like a bridal veil. We also don’t know all the reasons that he wore it. Was it for modesty? “I don’t want to seem like I’m showing off.” Was it timidity? “I’m too scared. I don’t want you to know where I’ve been or what’s happening.” Was it out of courtesy? Maybe it was all three.
We further don’t know what happened to the veil. This passage makes it sound like Moses was wearing the veil all the time. He took the veil off when he went to work, talked to the Lord face-to-face, and then put it back on when he came back out. Was he wearing this most of the time for the next 40 years of his life? We don’t know. We don’t hear about it anywhere else, so it seems like it wasn’t a constant fixture. Maybe he just wore it when he immediately came out of the presence of the Lord and gave the instructions, and then his face would fade and he could take it off.
One scholar has suggested that the veil on Moses’ face would no longer be necessary when there was a veil separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. Remember, that’s the veil that would be torn during the crucifixion. Once that veil was in place to protect and shield the people from the fullness of God’s glory, then this veil over Moses’ face was no longer necessary. We don’t know for sure, since we don’t have all of the details.
But here’s what we do know: Moses had been with God, and it showed. When you’ve really been with the Lord—studying, meditating, hearing from him in the Scriptures, and praying to him—it shows. It was an important step in the life of Moses and for the people of God. Think about it: when Moses left for the first time, they had all sorts of questions about him: “As for this Moses who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Out came this golden calf, because this Moses guy disappeared. “We aren’t sure if we can really trust him. We don’t really know. He’s a little bit fickle. Sure, he let us out of Egypt, but now he’s gone!” This glow about his face would re-establish and re-confirm him as the Lord’s man. He’s authenticated. “Okay, this is the man that God is with. This is the one that we should trust to lead us, and whom we should listen to.”
There may also be a deliberate play on words here. Remember that I just got done saying that this word “qaran” can be translated “horns”. Maybe it’s to signify horns of light—not literal horns, but glowing shafts of light.
Some people think that it could be a play on words related to the horns on the altar. Often, in the Old Testament, “horns” was a reference to the four corners of the altar. It was the place where the sacrifices were made. Perhaps something was being suggested here: Moses, as their mediator, didn’t pay for their sins, but he was the reason that the wrath of God was turned away. Maybe the horns are reminiscent of the horns of the altar.
Another suggestion is that perhaps it’s a deliberate play on words related to the other horns in this instance. Remember the other horns they would have seen in this episode: the horns of the golden calf. It may be a way of saying, “Who are you really going to follow? This pagan creation? This animal with horns, like the pagans? Or will you follow the Lord’s own horned prophet.”
However you understand it, it’s meant to tell us that Moses is God’s chosen man for the job, and they ought to follow him. Even more importantly, the glow was a visible sign that God’s presence had returned. Remember, that’s what they had been crying about in this past chapter. God said, “I will not go with you to the Promised Land. I will send an angel, but I can’t go with you. You’re too stiff-necked and stubborn. If I go with you, I will wipe you out.” They said, “No, if you don’t go with us, it doesn’t matter. You need to go with us!” And Moses has been interceding: “Please, won’t you go with us?” But here’s irrefutable evidence: the presence of God has not left them! It may be obscured for the Israelites, but at least they know that God was with Moses. It was easy to tell that.
Here’s what I want to ask you: where have you been? It’s easier than we might think for people to tell where we’ve been. Do you show any signs of having been often in the presence of God? I was thinking about this all of this week. I felt convicted, and you probably need to as well. How many of us radiate something of having been with the Lord?
And think about it: we’re able to see more glory than Moses saw! We’re tempted to think, “Okay, pastor. I want to be with the Lord, but people aren’t going to be able to tell. I don’t have this miraculous glow. I don’t get to go up on Mt. Sinai. I don’t get the cloud.” But the New Testament teaches that if you know Jesus, and you’re a part of the new covenant, you have witnessed more glory than Moses ever saw. Think about it! You and I are in a more privileged position than even Moses.
We know this from 2 Corinthians 3. It deals at great length with this episode of Moses and his face. Beginning at verse 7, Paul draws series of contrasting, if/then comparisons. In Latin, it’s called an “a fortiori” argument—that is, “to the stronger.” In other words, if we know a to be true, how much more is b true? We see three of those:
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?2 Corinthians 3:7-8
There’s the first: if this ministry, which was on stone, came with glory, how much more will a ministry that comes with the power of the Holy Spirit have glory?
Here’s the second:
For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 2 Corinthians 3:9
The Ten Commandments were holy, good, and righteous, but they did not have power to save. They were God’s rules for living in a covenant relation with him, but they had no power to justify a man or woman. In fact, as you got closer to them, you began to see how far away you really were. That’s what Paul means when he says they’re a ministry of condemnation. All of us have experienced the law in this way: “The thing that I want to do, I don’t do; and the thing that I don’t want to do is the thing that I keep on doing.
As you go through all of the Ten Commandments, they never let up! You never get an easy one. You never say, “Okay, this week. Check. I’m all good.” As soon as you begin to see what’s really required, you realize that we’ve fallen far short. The ministry of condemnation showed them how much they didn’t obey God. But if that came with glory so that Moses’ face shown, Paul says, how much more will the ministry that brings righteousness shine with glory?
Here’s the third one:
For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. 2 Corinthians 3:11
Moses’ face would fade. Moses would die. This wouldn’t be a lasting symbol for all of human history. It would end. But this new covenant—this life in the Spirit—this resurrected Christ, has no end forever and ever, amen! The covenant with Moses was good, and it came with glory, but it has been far outstripped by the glory of the new covenant. Paul argues that the glory of the gospel comes with more promise, power, and permanence. We’re in a more privileged position than Moses.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14a
Moses spoke to God in a cloud, and when he came down, his face needed to be veiled because had seen so much glory. We who know the Lord Jesus Christ have seen far more glory. That’s the point of the rest of 2 Corinthians 3: look to Christ and be changed! “How do I grow as a Christian? How do I get rid of these sins? How do I change? How am I sanctified?” Look to Christ and be changed!
Do you see verse 12?
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Do you see our lesson right there in verse 18? As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed. We become what we behold. You could say that we’re transformed by being transfixed upon the transfigured one.
Have you ever seen these connections before? Jesus went up on what we call the Mount of Transfiguration with a few of his disciples (Matthew 17). Moses went up on Mount Sinai. In one of those initial journeys up the mountain in Exodus, it says that Moses waited there six days before the Lord called him up. You recall that in Matthew 17:1, Jesus went up the mountain after six days. That’s not the most common number, and surely the readers would have understood the allusion there. Matthew 17:2 says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and Matthew 17:5 says that God spoke to them from a cloud. Do you see what was happening? God would speak to the disciples from a cloud and say, “This is my beloved Son.” He’d authenticate him, not as just another prophet, but as the prophet, priest, a king—the new Moses, after whom we’d never need another.
And unlike Moses, who hid his face, this Jesus would be lifted up so that sinners could gaze upon him and be saved. The biggest need in your life is to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that if we want more evangelism, prayer, fruitfulness, and holiness, we will not get there unless we start by drinking more deeply and fully from the fountain that is Jesus Christ.
You have a lot of problems; I understand. Some of you come here with great burdens, hurts, and pain. Listen: our main difficulty is that we do not gaze enough upon the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ.
If you want to be more merciful, look upon Jesus, who cried out at the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” If you want to be more loving, look upon Jesus, who ate with sinners, and welcomed repentant prostitutes and tax collectors into the kingdom. If you want to be purer, then look upon Jesus, whose eyes are like flames of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. If you want more courage in the face of lies and injustice, then look upon Jesus, who drove out the money changers with a whip. If you want to be stronger in the midst of suffering, look upon Jesus, who did not revile when reviled, and submitted himself wholly to the will of his Father. If you want to grow in grace, look upon Jesus, who reinstated Peter after he denied him three times. If you want more tenderness in your life, look upon Jesus, who took the little children in his arms and blessed them. If you want to display all of the diverse excellencies of God, look upon Jesus, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. There is no area in your life where you’re seeking change in which you will not be helped by looking at the face of Christ.
Let me just say a personal word here for a moment. You’re going to be looking for a pastor. You’ll want him to do lots of things. That’s right. A pastor must do a lot of things and be competent in a number of areas. I can tell you a little secret: we’re also incompetent in some areas.
But about all of the things that you’ill want, above all, you really need him to do two things: speak to God and speak for God. You need to ask: “Does he commune with the living God? Will he show me more of Christ?” That’s what you need in every elder, pastor, and senior pastor: someone who is often with God; who will come down from the mountain, as it were, and speak to you the words of God.
If you admire someone, you pick up their mannerisms and styles. You begin to imitate them. I’ve been through stages where I wrote like a seventeenth century Puritan, because it behooved me. It was just what I was reading and learning, so I started writing like that. I’ve also been through times where I wanted everything in my ministry to be like Martin Lloyd-Jones, because of all of the books I had read by him and about him, and the great respect I had for him.
We pick up habits and mannerisms. I have to imagine that I’m a much nicer and more thoughtful person than I was fifteen years ago, just by being around Trisha for all of these years. Give it time, and people will see where you’ve been.
It’s one thing to have some ability—to talk with emphasis, and be high and low, fast and slow. Anyone can do that, but over time, you’ll be able to tell whether your preacher (this one or any one) has truly been with the Lord. That’s what you want and need.
So much of our lives are trivial and ephemeral. We’re experts in a lot of things. Some of us are experts at sports. You could say who started on the defensive line for the Spartans in 1966. You know batting averages and wins above replacement. Some of us are experts in Netflix. You know the show that you are into. You just binge-watched all ten episodes last week. Some of us are experts on social media. You know what’s trending, viral, and funny. Some of us are experts in our particular field of research. Sometimes, we’re experts in political controversy. But where are the experts in God?
If you truly spend time with the Lord, some people may find it uncomfortable. We found that out with Moses. They were unnerved by with it. They didn’t say, “Hey, Moses! Come down! Your face is shining! You’ve been with the Lord! Hang out with me!” They didn’t like it. They didn’t know what to do with it. They may not know what to do with you.
I’m not talking about being weird for weird’s sake. Some of us have that down. But you will be distinct. You might not see it in yourself. This is important. Some of you may think, “I don’t glow at all.” You might not be a good judge of that. Moses came down from the mountain and didn’t know that his face was shining. You may not know how you’ve been transformed over the last number of years. Be encouraged that 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that we are transformed from one “degree” of glory to another. Some of us want to be transformed through 180 degrees, all at once. It doesn’t happen like that. It’s one degree, then another degree. A little more like Jesus this year. A little more work of the Spirit this month. A little bit more like Christ this decade.
You may not see it, just like Moses didn’t see his own face when he came down from the mountain, but others will know. We need to spend time with God in prayer, in the word, in worship, in silence, together and alone. Time with the Lord should be often, unbothered, consistent. People can tell where you’ve been. We may think that all of the things that we watch are hidden from view, and people don’t know what’s in our web browser, and that’s true; but over time, we become what we behold. It shapes how we relate to people, and think about ourselves and God. People can tell where you have been—whether you spend all of your time on ESPN, HGTV, or your phone.
We need people who are with God. You and I may know a lot of smart, impressive, gifted, and accomplished people. But how many God-stained people do we know? I know many in this church, but we need more. I want to be one of those. Do you really want to be one of those? That’s where you have to start. Some of us don’t. We’d honestly rather be experts in something else. We’d rather our face shine with some other kind of knowledge or character. But if you want to shine like Moses did, with even more glory, veil unlifted, it will not come apart from time with the Lord.
When you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, the veil is removed. You can see more than Moses saw, and shine more than Moses shone if you will but look and linger. Mark it very well. We all become what we behold.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, turn our eyes from worthless things. Turn our eyes from ourselves, and our own sins and failings, and turn them to Christ. Show us Christ. O Lord, reveal your glory. Show us Christ! We don’t want to be the same people that we are now. We want to grow in Christ. So show us Christ! Convict us, encourage us, help us, and change us. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.