22 November 2014

Exodus 34:29-35

“Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” (v. 29)


Moses has been on Mount Sinai again for another 40 days and nights, receiving the renewed covenant. In loving kindness, God has agreed to have mercy on Israel and renew the covenant and as a sign of this restored covenant God has given new stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them to replace those Moses smashed in his anger. Moses has also been given ten further laws, governing ritual purity and forms of worship, to guard against any further acts of betrayal of God by the people.

Spending so much time in the presence of God has an effect on Moses' physical appearance - his skin begins to shine; it was a common ancient belief that glory in the form of light shone from a deity, and the suggestion here is that Moses' skin has absorbed some of this glory, which now shines from him. In a similar way, Jesus' face shines in Matthew's account of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:2).

This powerful visual image is a metaphor for the transforming effect of intimate relationship with God. But Moses did not know he had been transformed (verse 29b), just as many of the holiest people demonstrate a humble unawareness of how they show God to others.

However, for some it is too much - it seems that the Israelites were afraid of this sign of God's work in Moses, which is why he had to put a veil over his face (verse 33). In the presence of God, however, Moses' face was unveiled - for God sees human beings as they truly are in their very selves without masks or veils.

To Ponder

  • Do you know anybody who shines with the presence of God? What impact have they made on you?
  • Have you had an experience of God knowing you intimately as you truly are? How does that feel?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.