Scripture: 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. Exodus 34:29 ESV
Observation: As this second forty-day retreat with the Lord on Mount Sinai continues, God engraves the tablets this second time and repeats his covenant to Moses for reiteration to Israel (34:10-28). Upon descent and greetings to Aaron and the people, Moses’ face shines with glory, having been in the presence of God (above verse). All react to Moses’ supernatural glow with fear. Nevertheless, he calls Aaron and the leader, talks to them in private, and then calls the rest to communicate all the Lord commanded him to say. After wrapping up the pronouncement, Moses places a veil over his face to ease tension (34:30-33).
The author notes that Moses followed this practice of removing the veil when in the presence of Yahweh and when pronouncing God’s words to the nation but would otherwise leave it on when in public view (34:34-35). Of interest, the Hebrew verb correctly translated as “shone” is “qeren” or “qaran,” but its etymology traces to the word “horn.” Unfortunately, St. Jerome translated its literal meaning in his Vulgate Bible. Consequently, his Latin version inspired church folklore and even Michelangelo to chisel a statue of Moses with horns. But the verb’s semantic range includes the notion of radiance, and horns also signified strength, which aptly applies as an outcome of Moses standing in the presence of God.
Takeaway: There are a couple of takeaways in this short narrative. First, like Israel, we need to keep immersing ourselves in God’s Word—particularly Christ’s commands—lest we forget the boundaries that help us navigate a world marred by sin.
Secondly, we need to take the time to dwell in his presence and behold his shekinah glory. This phrase does not appear in Scripture but from the rabbinical teachings of the targums during the inter-testimonial period. Consequently, the Christian Church applied the Hebrew word shākan, which means “to reside or permanently stay,” to the glorious indwelling of God. We see aspects in the Holy of Holies of tabernacle and temple worship. But the full manifestation is with Christ, particularly his baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, and ascension.
So what does this mean for us? Since Christ indwells us through the Holy Spirit, his glory shines through us. Thus, when we spend time in his presence (through Scripture, prayer, worship, and serving others), the Holy Spirit reveals the shekinah glory of the Son. But it’s not about us, about getting our act together, for others will see his glorious light emanating through our authentic, grace-filled lives scored by our many pocks and cracks of failures and suffering.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for revealing your glory through your Son. Would you please help us, sinners saved by grace, to pause and spend time with our Lord and Savior, that we might find refreshment and guidance to press into a lost world, letting his light shine through us? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling