Last Sunday we read that Moses had climbed Mt. Sinai again, this time hoping to secure forgiveness for Israel because they had made and worshiped a golden calf. God loving agreed to forgive them, and promised that His angel would go before them as they continued on their journey. He assured Moses that the people would still be blessed with the LORD’s favor and protection. However, due to their severe sin, God’s manifest presence would no longer travel with the Hebrew children.
When the congregation was told that God’s personal fullness would not be escorting them anymore, they were absolutely devastated. They mourned bitterly. The pilgrims took off all of the fine jewelry that they’d be wearing since the exodus began and put it away for the remainder of the journey. This served as a visible reminder that the possessions they had were of no value compared to the presence of God in their lives.
The prospect that God’s immediate glory would be absent from Israel’s midst prompted Moses to intercede for them yet again. Ultimately, this troubling issue would lead him to go up the mountain one last time. His eighth journey to the summit of Mt. Sinai is the last of his ascents recorded in Scripture. As you might suspect, something quite remarkable happened while he was up there...
The message today will center around Moses’ final encounter with God on Mt. Sinai and the events that followed immediately thereafter. I have titled this sermon “A Bright, Shiny Face”, and I’m certain that you’ll understand why before we get finished...
I. SHOW ME YOUR GLORY (Exodus 33:7-23)
Since their arrival at Mt. Sinai, God’s manifest presence had dwelt upon the mountaintop. As such, Moses had climbed the peak on repeated occasions to speak directly with the LORD. But this arrangement was beginning to change. Moses had set up a tent, a good distance outside of the camp, where he would go and meet with God face-to-face. This “tent of meeting” could not have been the tabernacle, because the tabernacle had not yet been built. Nevertheless, it was a special place where Moses would go to speak with God without having to scale the mountain.
When God announced that His personal presence would be withdrawn from the group, all of Israel was deeply saddened. In response, Moses withdrew to the tent of meeting to intercede on their behalf. He prayed to God asking Him to reconsider, stating that apart from His presence the people would no longer be a unique nation upon the earth. The Hebrews were truly sorry for their sin and genuinely repentant. And so, once again, God consented to Moses’ petition and agreed to continue traveling manifestly with the people.
Delighted by the LORD’s answer, Moses boldly went a step further and asked God to show him His glory. Though no man can see the LORD’s face and live, God made particular arrangements for Moses to catch a glimpse His glory. Moses was to be covered by the hand of God while standing in the cleft of a rock on top of Mt. Sinai as His glory passed by. God would remove His hand at the appropriate time so that Moses could see His back.
II. THE COVENANT RENEWED (Exodus 34:1-28)
Before returning to the mountaintop one last time, Moses cut two stone tablets to replace those he’d shattered. He took them with with as he went. God rewrote the Ten Commandments on these tablets. Moses made this final climb alone, and stayed on the mountain for another forty days and forty nights. He fasted from both food and drink for the entire time. While there, he saw the glory of the LORD pass by just as God had promised.
During this final trip up Mt. Sinai, God reviewed all of the laws and commandments that He’d given previously. Moses carefully wrote them all down again. This process must have taken several days to complete. By reiterating His commands, God was effectively renewing His covenant with Israel even though they had sinned against Him and broken their word. God had forgiven His people and still intended to make of them a great nation of His own possession.
On the previous occasion when Moses tarried on the mountaintop for over a month, the people below grew restless and unruly - and bad things happened. Notice that no mention is made of them this time around. Whereas before the two went to Mt. Sinai together, now Joshua has stayed back in the camp and Moses has gone alone. I assume that he kept things in proper order, as opposed to what Aaron had done. This provided an opportunity for Joshua to gain experience leading the entire congregation, as he would eventually become Moses’ successor.
III. MOSES’ FACE SHINES (Exodus 34:29-35)
Moses had been in the presence of God Almighty for forty days and nights. From his vantage point in the cleft of the rock he had seen the glory of the LORD pass by. As a result of his closeness to God, Moses’ face shone brightly. When he came down the mountain and returned to the camp, all of the congregation saw his face beaming. They were afraid to come near him. Nevertheless, Moses called them all together and ordered them to obey all of the commands that God had given to him.
Moses then put a veil over his face to cover his shining skin. He kept it on whenever he was out among the people, but would remove it whenever entering the tent of meeting to speak with God. The veil worn by Moses served as a barrier of sorts between the glory of God which shone on his face and the assembly. It foreshadowed the veil of the tabernacle and the temple which also separated the people from the manifest presence of God. This separation was removed when Jesus died on the cross and the veil was rent in two from top to bottom.
The Bible does not state how long Moses’ face shined, but I suspect that it was for quite some time. Whenever he would converse with God in the tent of meeting, the brightness of his face would be restored. Moses was literally glowing for the LORD. How awesome is that? At some point his skin probably began to fade and eventually returned to normal. Bummer…
As we continue our study through the exodus, you will notice that Moses does not climb Mt. Sinai to speak with God any more. From this point forward he will meet with God at other locations, such as in the tent of meeting. In the closing chapters of exodus, the attention shifts to the construction and completion of the tabernacle - which will be the subject of the message next week. The tabernacle will serve as God’s new dwelling place as the people journey onward from their camp Mt. Sinai.
There are a couple of applications from this story that I want to emphasize before we close. The first one is this - the presence of God in our lives is more important than the presents of God in our lives. Let me rephrase - our possessions are empty and cheap substitutes for the personal presence of God. We need Him more than we need “stuff”, and we should therefore desire Him more than earthly things.
The second point is related to the first - if we have been in the presence of God it should be visible to others. People should be able to witness the light of God shining in and through our lives, just as the children of Israel saw Moses’ face beaming. It is impossible to spend a substantial amount of quality time with God and not be affected by it. Prolonged exposure to His glory will cause you to glow brightly- both physically and spiritually. That said…
Are you shining brightly for Jesus today? Can other people see clear evidence that you have spent time in His presence recently? Are you hiding His light behind a veil that needs to be removed? Have you allowed your light to fade by neglecting quality time with God?
Let us all put on a bright, shiny face.