And it came to pass when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. Exodus 34:29, 30
For a second period of forty days and forty nights, Moses abode on Mount Sinai without food and drink communing with God. There upon the mountain God revealed to Moses His glory in a vision that cannot be described and in words that are recorded for us to read yet today. God brought Moses to understand His greatness whereby He is gracious unto whom He will be gracious, and showeth mercy unto whom He will show mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. God proclaimed His name unto Moses and said, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and the fourth generation.” Great were the implications of this revelation. God would perform marvels before His people, and terrible would be the work that He would do. Before this He had revealed Himself as the God of faithfulness. He had kept Israel with His blessings while with much longsuffering He bore with the wicked and their sin. This He would do no longer. Henceforth as He went forth in the midst of Israel, He would reveal Himself also as the God of Holiness. In this holiness, indeed, He would continue to be merciful unto those of Israel whom He had chosen in His eternal, elective purpose. But He would also strike out with visitations of His holy judgment upon the wicked of the nation who had no part in Him. The path of Israel henceforth would be marked by the blood of judgment. In holiness, He would establish the glory of His name. This was the glory which Moses contemplated upon the mountain for forty days and nights.
With him, when Moses came up unto the mountain, Moses had taken two tables of stone newly carved. They were the same shape and size as the others which he had broken on the rocks below. God had commanded that he carve them and take them along. There, as Moses stood and watched, the ten words of God’s law were engraved again by the finger of God upon the face of these tables of stone. The act of Moses in breaking the first tables had been rash, and now they had to be replaced. At the moment when he had broken them, it had seemed the only thing to do. To his mind they had lost their only use. He had been there with Israel when God had first spoken those words of the law from the peaks of the mount. Again he had received those commandments engraved by the hand of God upon those first two tables of stone. At the time he had fully expected that by the law of God Israel would be led to righteousness and glory. By the grace of God, he thought, Israel would be enabled to keep the law and become a distinct nation, holy and different from all others. Could anyone, having been so richly blessed, fail to walk in obedience before God? And then he had descended the mountain with Joshua until they stood overlooking the camp where Israel, so soon after listening to the voice of God, was engaged in its heathenish rites. Boldly, at the very foot of God’s holy mountain, they were breaking all of the commandments of the law. Moses had held in his hand the two tables of stone, a permanent record of the commandments which God had spoken, but what good were they to a people who had broken them all before they were even brought? In holy indignation Moses had dashed them to pieces on the rocks below. Then he had known, Israel would never keep God’s law. And to his mind it had seemed that the law had lost all its use.
But many things had happened since then even though the time was not long. He had gone down into the camp and had found that even in their sin he continued to love them as the people of God. He could not reject them even as he had professed to God while still upon the mountain. It was for their sake that he had broken apart the idol and cast its dust into the water so that they could taste the bitterness of their sin. It was for their sake that he had slain the three thousand men in holy indignation because they had continued in their sin before his righteous admonition. For their sake he had returned to God again seeking to discover the way of atonement for them. It was an inner compulsion of heart with Moses. He had to know how Israel could be saved from its sin and the promises of God fulfilled. God heard his prayer and answered him. Slowly He led Moses into an understanding of His truth, and through it to a greater understanding of the place and purpose of His law. Already when he began to make his prayer, Moses realized of himself that the sin of Israel was too great merely to, be overlooked, and God soon told Moses that the sin was too great for Moses to make atonement for it. Rather, if God were to go on in the midst of Israel, it could only be as a consuming fire in holiness and judgment. But Moses realized that Israel needed the presence of God, and he prayed for it. It was then, upon Moses’ request, that God revealed His glory. He would go on in the midst of Israel and in doing so would reveal mercy to the elect children of Israel by forgiving their iniquity and sin. That He would do, not by merely overlooking their guilt. In the day of visitation, their sin too would be visited. But at the same time He would be a consuming fire of holiness and justice upon all that did not belong to them. He would visit their iniquity upon them and upon their children unto the third and fourth generation after them.
As for the second time Moses received the law written upon tables of stone, he realized much more what purpose it was given to fulfill. The law would never serve to make the children of Israel perfect. Their sin was much too deeply entrenched for the law to do that. Always they would be subject to temptation, and often they would go astray. As they had sinned once, they would do it in the future over and over again. But they needed the law just the same, for as long as the law was there the children of Israel would never be able to say that they did not know that their sinful deeds were wrong. Whenever they sinned, the law would be there to remind them of their guilt. This would be even more true when God would come to visit Israel in judgment. According to the law His justice would be dispensed both in the chastisement of His chosen and in the punishment of the wicked. Each time the visitation of God appeared the Israelite that knew the law would be convicted by his own conscience of his own guilt. That was the purpose of the law. It could not take away sin. It could not make the children of Israel righteous. It was a schoolmaster that would serve to teach them over and over again that they had no righteousness in themselves. In this way those who truly desired salvation would be brought more and more to look upon and trust in the promise that had been revealed to the fathers. They would place their hope in the promised seed that through the marvelous working of Jehovah would be a blessing unto them. It was the blessing they could not find in themselves. Smitten by sorrow and repentance under the chastisement of the law, true Israel would turn to the glory revealed unto Moses, even the assurance that God would have mercy according to His good-pleasure to forgive the iniquity of His people and prepare for them the way of salvation.
For forty days and forty nights Moses abode in communion with God on the mountain. During that time he did not eat, he did not drink, and he had no sleep; and yet his eyes were not dim, and his body was not exhausted with fatigue. He abode in the presence of God and partook of the meat of which Jesus was later to speak at the well of Sychar. The glory of God’s presence sustained his body even as it gave strength to his soul. We know only very little of that which was revealed to Moses while there. He must have seen a heavenly vision of glory such as, our eyes cannot imagine. He must have been told many wonderful truths about God and His counsel which were never fully revealed again until Jesus Christ came to dwell in the flesh. Moses both literally and figuratively beheld the beauty of God. He experienced that which Paul described many years later when he wrote, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” II Cor. 3:18. As Moses stood there before the beauty of God the skin of Moses’ face began to shine with a reflection of the glory of God that was being revealed to him. The truth of God entered in to fill his heart, and the beauty of God impressed itself upon his countenance. He was being given to experience a more intimaeee- communion with God than any other saint or prophet of Old Testament times, and this could not leave him unchanged. Even when the forty days and nights were over and he went down from the holy mountain, the glory of God’s presence continued to radiate from his face. But it was God’s glory and not his, and he was unaware of it.
Coming again to Aaron and the people, Moses thought to tell them immediately of all that he had learned, but the people backed away from him in fear. They saw that glory of God on Moses’ face which he unconsciously bore. They saw that radiance of divine holiness and were filled with terror. Then Moses began to realize how greatly his appearance had been changed by standing in the presence of God. Only after he had taken up a veil and covered his face would the people allow him to come close enough to them to speak. This was a warning to Moses. He had learned many wonderful things about God and His glory; but, in the form that he knew them, they were more than the people were able to endure. The people of Israel were as children in matters relating to God. As children they had to be talked to and instructed. If he would tell them directly all that he knew, it would only fill their hearts with terror. He would have to speak to them in accord with their limitations as though through a veil. The tabernacle would have to be built in the form that had been revealed to him before. Civil and ceremonial laws would be given. These would serve as types and figures through which the truth would be brought gradually to find a place in believing hearts. But always the veil would be there. Only when Moses went into the presence of the Lord could it be taken away. There he would know perfect and free communion. He could speak openly from the feeling and understanding of his heart.
Many years and ages would pass before that veil would be taken away from the revelation of the glory of God. All through the old dispensation the people of God were limited to type and shadow; for, even though they advanced in the truth, it was all that they could endure. Only with the coming of Jesus and the gift of His Holy Ghost was the veil finally removed from God’s glory, and we stand before it as Moses did, only far more so, to be transformed from glory to glory into the very image of God.