Passage: Exodus 34:29-35
Speaker: Mitch Kim
Series: Coming Home – A Journey Through Exodus
Masks are now required when we go to public places. I don’t like wearing a mask—they are uncomfortable, smell after a while, make it hard to communicate, and create a sense of distance with others. But I still wear the mask though in public—not out of fear of catching the virus but out of love to prevent spreading the virus unknowingly. In our passage today, Moses wore a mask. Why? Like us today Moses wore a mask not out of fear but out of love, to prevent the people of God being destroyed as he reflected God’s holiness to a sinful people. We see in this passage that when God’s presence shines, only grace can draw us near, but a veil remains.
First, when God’s presence shines (Exod 34:29–30), sinful people withdraw in fear. The account of the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25–40 is interrupted in the middle with this story of the golden calf. The golden calf raises the important question, “How can a holy God dwell in the midst of a sinful people?” After Moses ascend for forty days and forty nights to be with God, his face shines forth the presence of God. When the people see Moses, they recoil in fear for his face shone forth that presence, and their wayward hearts could not handle the presence of a holy God. We should have a proper fear when we think about encountering the presence of God; He is good, but He is not safe (C. S. Lewis). Sin cannot mix with a holy God.
Yet when God’s presence shines, only grace can draw us near (Exod 34:31–32). Moses calls all the people of Israel to draw near, and he speaks to them the words that the LORD had commanded him. The LORD had revealed Himself as “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6). This LORD then renews the covenant with his people, making two new tablets to replace the ones that were destroyed and calling them to serve Him and Him alone. This is grace. The people do not in any way deserve to come into the presence of the LORD; only grace and grace alone can cause them to draw near.
Yet even with God’s grace, a veil remains (Exod 34:33–35). Moses puts this veil on when he finishes speaking with them. He does not wear this mask out of fear so that the people of God would not see the glory of God fading from his face over time. Moses wears this mask out of love to keep the presence of God from destroying the sinful people of God who could not handle the revelation of God’s presence. Moses was a mediator, but he was an imperfect one. This mask represents the inability of a sinful people to enter into the presence of a holy God (2 Cor 3:12–14). However through Christ, “When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. . . . And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:16, 18). Therefore we we look forward to the removing of this veil.
So what? I long for the day when I can walk unmasked into a supermarket or a public place. That day will only come when I can take off the mask without worrying about inadvertently infecting someone else. Similarly Moses and the people of God longed for an encounter with the presence of God that did not demand a veil to keep out the presence of God. Yet in Christ the veil is removed, the threat of destruction is lifted, for Jesus himself took that destruction upon himself. Therefore we can gaze with unveiled and unmasked faces at the glory of the LORD, and we can be transformed more and more into His likeness. In Christ that day is now!