34 The Face of Moses

<< Exodus 34: The Face of Moses Shining and Veiled >>

But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses face shone; and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.–Exodus xxxiv. 34, 35.

THE Israelites had many astonishing evidences of the truth and faithfulness of their great leader. By his marvelous power displayed at the Red Sea they were eminently taught that God was with him.

The pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, testified that powers higher than his own accompanied the aged chief; and now the visible presence of gleams of unwonted light about his face was a sign to every beholder that he had been in a presence higher than his own.

Such remains of spiritual intercourse, history has recorded, have sometimes played around the human countenances in later times. The ardor of love demonstrates its energy in the glow of warmth in the human body, and there seems no reason to disbelieve that the energy of heavenly wisdom may disclose itself on sufficient occasions in superhuman light. So the radiance around saintly heads has been avouched by many to have been occasionally seen both in ancient and in modern times. The angel with the rainbow round his head, seen by John, showed the beautiful sphere seen often round the blessed in the spirit world; and the shining face of Moses was a similar phenomenon produced on a lower sphere.

So the face of Moses shone in his intercourse with God: but when he conversed with his people he covered it with a Veil.

But Moses, we must not forget, was the representative of the LAW, given through him from God to men. Every occurrence, therefore, that took place with Moses was typical of what takes place with the Divine Law, in the leadership it exercises in the journey of regeneration, made by Christian men.

We have our Moses, and our Moses is the Law of God. The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.–Gal. iii. 24:

an excellent schoolmaster, and when obeyed, a salutary and loving one. They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.–Luke xvi. 29. They must indeed hear: there is no other way. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.–ver. 31.

In the early states of our reformation the law seems hard to us, and cold, perhaps severe and exacting. It forbids us where we would fain go. It threatens, warns, and admonishes. We are sinful: it is pure.

Thou shalt NOT, goes through the divine commands; and where we would often do what worldly love and selfishness desire, the Law comes with its Thou shalt not, and we are prevented and save our souls alive. If we sincerely obey, the Lord works wonderfully within us, and gives us a love of obedience. The yoke that was once hard becomes, after many conflicts, first easy, and then delightful. The law which seemed at first our enemy, as curtailing our enjoyments, becomes our friend. The friends of sensual indulgence which it has slain were really our deadly enemies. The law has broken our fetters for us, brought us out of Egypt, redeemed us from slavery, and points our way to Canaan. The law that curbed us is a general that disciplined and trained us for the glorious liberty of the children of light. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the Judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.–Ps. xix. 7-9.

When we have arrived at the state to perceive this character of the law, Moses has gone up into the mountain to speak with God. A light, which we have never seen before, beams from his face–a holy splendor, new to us, breaks from the law which tells us that the law is more precious than thousands of gold and silver. The entrance of the Word gives us light: it giveth understanding to the simple (Ps. cxix. 130). Through the keeping of the divine commandments we become wise, wiser than our enemies (Ps. cxix. 98): wiser than all our teachers (ver. 99): wiser than the ancients (ver. 100). A gleam of glory comes from the face of Moses, a true light, a holy light, a radiance from the glory of heaven.

That the divine commandments are the laws of heaven is the conclusion of the Christian when he has made them his own by experience. They are the embodiment of love to God and love to man.

Not one precept can be neglected, and happiness exist. Let us take the threefold division of the precepts which they present at first sight–namely, to love God and all that regards Him and His worship, directed by the first three; to respect our neighbor and do him no harm, prescribed in the next five; and to abstain, in motive, from the desire of what belongs to another, which is laid down in the last two. These must be the ordinances of a state of happiness. There could not be a heaven without them, and without souls trained to delight in them: to find their heaven in loving God, and promoting their neighbors good. How would it be possible to be happy without loving God, and thus abiding in Him, who is the fountain of happiness?

The soul that loves not God is out of harmony with the whole universe, which is created for His pleasure, and moves responsive to His touch. To a soul repellent of God, brightness is a pall: love a crushing hate. The evil of sin is that it reverses all mans sensations: good is evil, evil is good; sweet is bitter, bitter is sweet; falsity is truth, and truth is false. The poor soul is so reversed; its very nerves, as it were, made so contrary that what would have been its blessing becomes its curse; it becomes a body of death (Rom. vii. 24). The whole universe rasps it, crushes it, repels it. As the beams of the sun to the eye of the owl are painful, so the eye, the hearing, the taste, the smell, the touch of a soul rebellious and degraded are all deranged, and bring only affliction and distress. In act, the evil spirit says, with Shakespeare:

Divines and dying men may talk of hell,
But in my heart her several torments dwell.

Or with Milton:

Which way I fly is hell: myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.

How could souls in this condition be made happy or constitute a heaven? Manifestly there is one way to be saved–by submission to the law of God; and the first part of that law is to acknowledge God as God, to bow down to none other. We must be born again. That new birth can only come from the Lord, the Regenerator, who operates by His Word. Self, thus dethroned, God enthroned in the supreme region of the soul, better states can enter, heaven can be opened within us and we have a foretaste of heaven, with its innocence, its brightness, its beauty, and its peace.

Without, then, the first part of the law, it is clear there could be no heaven.

It is equally easy to perceive that no heaven could exist without the full operation of every one of the laws of the second division of the commandments. No one law can be trifled with without introducing universal misery; and a violation of any one of the ten involves and introduces a breach of all.

Suppose, for instance, a society of persons all disposed to set at naught the law, Thou shalt not steal. A moments reflection will assure us that the inevitable result would be universal suspicion and alarm; universal fraud; falsity and opposition; struggle, violence, cruelty, ferocity, murder. The breach of this one would involve the breach of all–the banishment of all happiness–a kingdom of misery.

So would it be with disobedience to the command, Thou shalt not covet. In inward covetous desire there is a pining for the possessions of others, a hidden stealing in heart, which only waits its opportunity to break forth into outward act; there is the gall of non-possession; there is the smoldering fire of lawless desire: hate and malignity against those who stand in the way of our attainment of the objects of our ever-lurking lusts. With these feelings, heaven, happiness, peace, are clearly incompatible; without repentance, obedience, and regeneration, misery and hell are inevitable in the states themselves. Hence the necessity of the laws, stern laws, as the very foundation of a better life. Hence its indispensable existence under all dispensations–under the Jewish as well as the Christian. There is no possibility of avoiding the leadership of the law. Moses must always bring us out of Egypt. If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments. Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets, the Lord Jesus said, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Whoso shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The commandments are indispensable; they are given from infinite love, for our good always. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God–1 Cor. vii. 19.

While our evils are strong, the commandments chafe them and seem hard and bitter. They shew us our impulses to wrong and we feel condemned, dead in trespasses and sins.

The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. We feel its claims to be righteous. We feel ourselves to be unrighteous, lost. But, in our humility, we look up, and the great and merciful Savior is there, who comes ever to seek and to save that which is lost. He lays His right hand upon us, and says, Fear not, I am the First and the Last. He commands us to arise and walk–to walk in the way of His commandments.

In our newness of life we spring forward with gratitude and with alacrity. We go out with haste as did the Israelites. We are filled with thankfulness and joy. After a time, however, we are suffered to fall into temptations. We have a desert to pass through. Some of our old states return. Many of the evils we supposed were extirpated are found to have left their roots. Many of the serpents we supposed were slain we find were only scotched. A sadness comes over us. We have to walk on in the valley, and at times it becomes the valley of the shadow of death. But we must walk on in faith, a faith grounded in love; and aided by the living Lord, our Lord Jesus, the Redeemer, we conquer again and again, and at each victory new affections are given to us by the Lord, a new heart and a right spirit. We begin to love what we once hated; we hate what we once loved. The yoke is now easy, and the burden is light.

The law now becomes elevated in us–it is like Moses on the mountain with God. It becomes lighted up with the glory of heaven. The commandments of the Divine Law are perceived to be the very wisdom of Eternal Love. The face of Moses shines. What the law utters is what the highest love utters, is what Christian loves rejoices to do.

The law says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The regenerate heart rejoins, Oh, how I love Him. He is my Heavenly Father, my adorable Redeemer, my blessed Savior, my loving Regenerator, my King, my all in all. My heaven is in loving Him. As I draw nearer and nearer to Him, and abide in Him, He gives me more and more the power of loving Him; and in this deep and tender love are stored up the richest treasures of blessedness and peace.

The law in its outward form commands us to do no ill to our neighbor. The law upon the mountain, seen in the light and glory of its spirit, is hailed with joy by the renewed heart which says–I will do my neighbor all the good I can. Not only would I not injure his person, I would not injure his mind, his thoughts, his principles, his feelings, even.

I owe him all the love I can, and nothing but what is in harmony with truest love. I owe him sympathy, affection, good will. I owe him justice, and all the ministrations of mutual love. I must not repel or destroy his generous sympathies, by withholding a response from these. The law of God is the law of heaven. By being filled with it, and all alive with love, are the angels happy. Love is the fulfilling of the Law.–Rom. xiii. 10. The law thus seen shines with a glorious light, such as the lower feelings of the mind cannot yet endure.

Yet there is nothing extraordinary in this to the inner mind, it is a native of heaven. It is only in its proper light. Moses wist not that his face shone in speaking with Him. When an internal state is by itself, it is not conscious of its marked difference from, and superiority over, things external. How different is the spirit of the Word from its letter, and how superior. How brightly shines the heavenly Canaan over the earthly; heavenly food over sensual; heavenly heroes over warriors for outward fame. Yet when we are contemplating spiritual things alone, we are not conscious of the contrast; only when the external is sensibly brought before us do we become conscious how brightly the face of Moses shines, and how needful it is, that when the law addresses itself to worldly men, it must needs be covered with a Veil.

This is, indeed, the very reason why the Word is written as it is. A more purely spiritual revelation would have been too bright for worldly men to bear, whether in their worship or their work. Often is this indeed seen, when external men get a glimpse of the inner glory of divine things. They are like Aaron, and all the sons of Israel, When they saw Moses, and behold the skin of his face shone, they were afraid to come to him.

It must needs be that Moses must veil himself in speaking with them. They must be commanded a few things to which they can attend, forbidden such things as are grossly wrong in act, and Divine Mercy must thus temper the wind to the shorn lamb.

The Christian of the letter must be led by the letter. Moses must speak to him with a veil upon his face, until higher good, imparted to him from heaven, gives to him the ability to discern higher truths They must be fed with milk as babes, until they are advanced to bear strong meat as men.

This text may also be regarded as describing the experience of the interior Christian in his intercourse with his Heavenly Father.

He is blessed at times to enter into communion with scenes and states far above those of time and sense. He ascends into experiences of celestial love, that mountain where the Lord is transfigured, and speaks heart to heart, and face to face with his Maker, he sees and feels divine things that he cannot express. He is raised for a time far above the atmosphere of earth. He partakes of hidden manna, and has a white stone, and in the stone a name written, that no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it (Rev. ii. 17). Like Peter, James, and John, when they were taken up the mountain by their blessed Master, the Christian on such occasions is filled with the thought that it is good to be here. His inner face shines with a sacred light. He sees truth in its inner splendor, he has meat to eat of which the world knows nothing, and of which it can know nothing. He adores, loves, and rejoices at this foretaste of the blissful world to which he goes. He is cheered, animated, encouraged, blessed.

The light within, beyond all human light,
The power within, beyond all human might,
Gives from each anxious care a full release,
And fills the spirit with a glorious peace.

But it is not permitted to the soul during its sojourn among men always to remain in this serene height, this golden atmosphere. The Christian must come down to other men, and to other scenes. And, like Moses, he must put his Veil on.

The world must have attention. There are duties to be performed. There are ministrations of love and active zeal, which require us to come down into the valley of life and attend to those good works without which religion is mere sentimentalism, were self-gratifying dreaming. The hands must be employed on earth, and diligently and faithfully employed, or our inward states never acquire fixity. We must cover our faces, and engage in our everyday avocations, as if for the time we had nothing else to claim our interest or our wishes. Thus will duty be duly done.

But we must not keep on the veil too long. We must beware lest earthly things altogether absorb us. The Jews became so immersed in low and sensual states that they had no heart for anything within the veil. A regal Savior, glittering with outward pomp and show, would have commanded all their hosannas. But the Savior who brought Divine Wisdom and Love only, who raised souls to a heavenly state, who poured out the splendors of heart, wealth, and riches of mind, they could not receive, for the Veil was on their hearts.

Their minds were blinded, as the Apostle said, for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.2 Cor. iii. 13-16.

The letter with the Jews was a letter that killeth. They forgot that though the bark is good the inner wood of a noble tree is better. The skin is good, but brain, nerve, heart, and lungs are better. Earth and time are good, but man is an inhabitant of two worlds; and though he must go out into earth and time to fix his character, yet all his higher thought, all his highest affections must rise at frequent intervals to heaven. On the mountain of holy love to the Lord the soul is warmed, brightened, and refreshed, and in that mountain the prophetic words are fulfilled, He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.–Isa. xxv. 7.

An alternation of state is good. Evening and morning are truly good in spiritual things, as in natural. We must be diligent in business, thus serving the Lord; but we must also look up to the mountains from whence cometh our help (Ps. cxxi. 1), and open our inmost hearts and minds to the Spirit of the Lord. The Sun of heaven will then enlighten and bless us. A warm and sunny glow will make our faces to shine. We shall enjoy for a time the luster of holy light. We shall go in and out and find pasture.

This ascent and descent, like that of the angels on the ladder which the patriarch saw, will bring a double blessing: a blessing on the mountain where we commune with the Lord; and a blessing in the valley where our inner states are covered; which at the same time are the causes of making our interior light so shine before men that they see our good works–our religion in act, and glorify our Father who is in heaven. Thus, till Moses has done speaking he must put a Veil upon his face. But when Moses goes in before the Lord, to speak with Him, he must take the Veil off until he comes out.

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)