Why did Moses put a veil over his face?

February 13, 2013 — 4 Comments

“We are 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.” – Paul

You are probably familiar with the story of Exodus 34: Following Israel’s immediate betrayal of the covenant made on Sinai, Moses went back up the mountain to retrieve a new set of stone tablets with the Law of God written on them. He remained there for forty days and nights. When he came back down his face was shining with the brightness of God’s glory. This made the people afraid, so Moses put a veil over his face while speaking to them.

Sounds interesting, right? The reason for the veil seems obvious enough: The people were scared, so Moses covered his face in order to set them at ease. End of story.

Paul, however, saw it differently. According to him, Moses put a veil over his face so the people could not see that the glory was quickly fading away. Read 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 for his interpretation of this passage from Exodus.

The “ministry of condemnation” embodied in the Law was like the moon on a clear day, still visible for a time but gradually fading from view in light of the “greater glory” of the rising sun. You can still see it, but the appearance is fleeting.

sun and moon

The transition from old covenant to new in the first century was similar to this. Jewish Christians wrestled with the meaning of Jesus Christ for quite some time. A new glory had risen on the horizon, there was no doubt about that, but their view was still somewhat fixated upon the old thing and many of them had a hard time letting it go.

Moses had tried to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant was on its way out because he had nothing better to offer the people. Paul, on the other hand, was bold enough to declare that the former things had passed away. Now through Christ not only the Jews but all people could look upon the glory of God and be transformed into His image from one degree of glory to another.

Whereas the glory of the old covenant reached its zenith in that first encounter and quickly diminished thereafter, the glory of the new covenant is ever-increasing, like a row of steps bringing us higher and higher into God.

What’s more, Paul writes that the veil worn by Moses is figurative of the veil on every human heart who has not seen God through Christ. Only when you turn to the Spirit is that veil taken away; then you begin to see and reflect the glory of the Lord for yourself.

Have you seen His glory? Is the veil still on your heart? Turn to the Spirit, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

4 responses to Why did Moses put a veil over his face?

  1. Great post Josh, I have never seen the comparison like this. Thank God for the new covenant, and that we can behold His glory!

  2. I wonder about the interpretation you put on Paul’s statement. Here is a study note on the phrase from the NET bible: “14 tn Or “which was transitory.” Traditionally this phrase is translated as “which was fading away.” The verb καταργέω in the corpus Paulinum uniformly has the meaning “to render inoperative, ineffective”; the same nuance is appropriate here. The glory of Moses’ face was rendered ineffective by the veil Moses wore. For discussion of the meaning of this verb in this context, see S. J. Hafemann, Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel (WUNT 81), 301-13. A similar translation has been adopted in the two other occurrences of the verb in this paragraph in 2Co_3:11 and 2Co_3:13.”
    It seems out of keeping with the account in the OT to suggest Moses was trying to hide the fact that the glory was fading. No question that what we see in Christ is greater, but to suggest Moses was perpetrating a cover up in the current political sense of the word seems far fetched!

    • Tom,

      Perhaps I mis-stated my point if you think I’m suggesting Moses was intentionally deceiving the people. I did not mean to impute dishonorable motives to Moses anymore than I believe Paul did.

      I’ll look into the word studies you’ve pointed out and maybe do a follow up post to bring further clarification to my point. Thanks for bringing my attention to it.

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