Tom's the acceptable face of the All Souls Langham Place website and studying at a vicar factory in Oxford. This post is a shaft of reflected glory!
This is the second time Moses has gone up the Mountain of God and spent 40 days and forty nights with the Lord. It is the second time he has received the 10 words of God written on two stone tablets. It is the second time he has made the covenant between God and the people.
Why does it need to be done twice? What was wrong with the first time?
Please indulge me as I endeavour on a some-what allegorical journey.
The two descents of Moses represent the two descents of Christ from heaven.
The first time Christ comes, in the incarnation, he finds the people in faithlessness and sin. They are worshipping created gods [The Satanic Guardian Cherub, Ez 28:14, who has the face of a Bull], and have forgotten the Word of the Lord who gave them life, and birth as a people and nation (cf. John 1:10-11).
On seeing their faithlessness and evil, Christ burns with anger. Like Moses he smashes the covenant between the people and God. No longer can the people dwell with the living God, they must be cut off from his presence and blotted out of the book of life. Yet, moved with compassion and love for his people, Christ offers up himself to be cursed in their stead, “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Ex 32:32).
Thus, Christ dies, the people are saved from the curse of the Law, and The Golden Calf is destroyed.
We arrive at Exodus 34.
In Exodus 34:2-3, Moses ascends the Mountain of God. This time he is to ascend alone. This corresponds to the ascension of Christ to the throne room of the Father forty days after his resurrection from the dead. He is to come alone, as a representative of the human race, ready to make a new covenant between God and humankind.
When Moses reaches the top of the Mountain, two things happen. There is a great proclamation of the Lord’s greatness and character (Ex 34:6-8), and Moses, seeking acceptance and favour from God, puts in a request.
Likewise, when Christ ascended into heaven and entered through the gates of Zion, he was welcomed by songs of victory and praise, (cf. Ps 24:7-10, Rev 5:6-14). On approaching the throne of Heaven, Christ seeks the favour of his Father, and is warmly granted it. He then puts in a request with the Father, similar to that which Moses made: “O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
Why does Moses (and later Christ) request that the Lord go in the midst of the people? Two reasons: 1) The people are stiff-necked, and need to be liberated from their sinful hearts, and 2) in order that the people might become the inheritance of God.
I suggest here that this request from Moses corresponds to the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after Christ ascended to the right-hand of the Father. In the absence of Christ from his people, he does not leave us alone, but gives us another counsellor. The Spirit brings both a softening and renewal of the heart to a “stiff necked” people, and He also possesses the Church to make her co-heirs with Christ, inheritors of all the nations and the New Creation.
In 34:10-16, the Lord promises a marvellous thing. He will drive out the wicked people and nations, and hand over the Promised Land to his people. [Note here, that it is the Lord himself, Christ, who drives out the nations from the Land. In Ex 23, it is the task of the Angel of the Lord to drive out the nations. Thus, Moses perceives no difference between Yahweh and the Angel who bears that same Name.]
This great promise of the Land and the deposit of the Holy Spirit, will surely keep the Church of Christ going as they travel through the wilderness.
Inheriting the Land is underpinned by three festivals (34:18-28, see Jackie Lam on Ex 23), reminding us again, that life in the New Creation is only made possible because of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, and the redemption of the First Born.
The chapter ends with the second descent of Moses (Ex 34:29-35). This time he comes in glory. His face is shining as he comes in the likeness of God. Alas, it is still only Moses, and not the triumphant return of Christ in all his splendour at the consummation of all things. So he veils his face as a reminder to the people that these things are still to come and not the reality themselves. The ministry of Moses is still external, written on tablets of stone, and must not be confused with the ministry of the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3 helpfully reminds us of these things. The glory of Moses is coming to an end, and so he veils his face to prevent the Israelites from getting too excited (2 Cor 3:13). Moses shone because he communed with Christ. He saw him face to face, and so became like him (1 John 3:2, 2 Cor 3:18). Like the Moon staring full faced at the Sun, becomes just like him bearing his image, so we too who look to Christ, bear his likeness.
This kind of glory does not come through the law but through the reality of that to which it testifies. In veiling his face, Moses condemns the people, and prevents them from seeing the reality. For “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” (2 Cor 3:14).
Moses knew that they needed to turn to Christ for the veil to be removed. As long as they turned to him (Moses and the Law) for their hope, the veil must remain.
Let’s not be like those Israelites who trusted in the shadows rather than the realities, but turn to Christ and eagerly await his second appearing.