Exodus 34:35 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE VEIL OF MOSES
Exo 34:35. 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.
IT is an established and invariable truth, that “those who honour God shall surely be honoured by him.” We have the clearest evidence of this, both in the antediluvian and patriarchal ages. Did Abel honour God by his offering, Enoch by his walk, and Noah by his faithful warning of an ungodly world? they also were blessed with signal manifestations of the divine favour. Did Abraham, Lot, or Job display singular piety? they were as singularly protected, delivered, and exalted by their God. The same we observe of Moses. He was faithful to his God, when all Israel, not excepting Aaron himself, revolted from him; and to him did God vouchsafe so bright a glory, that none of his countrymen were able to fix their eyes upon him; insomuch that he was constrained to put a veil upon his face, in order to facilitate their access to him, and restore his wonted opportunities of conversing with them. This veiling of his face is to be the subject of our present consideration: and we shall notice it in a two-fold view:
As a kind expedient—
The face of Moses shone with a dazzling and overpowering splendour—
[He had for forty days and nights been communing with God upon Mount Sinai: and it pleased God, for the confirmation and increase of his authority among the people, to send him down to them with a lustre upon his countenance, that should at once convince them whose servant he was, and whose authority he bare.
At the first sight of him, both Aaron and all the people were affrighted. This was the natural effect of that guilt which they had so recently contracted. They feared that he was sent as an avenger to punish their iniquity. When they found that their organs of sight were too weak to behold the bright effulgence of his glory, they felt how unable they must be to withstand the terror of his arm.
As the brightness of Moses’ face was supernatural, so the effect of it on the people was peculiar to that occasion. But there is an awe inspired by the presence of every good man, in proportion to the weight of his character and the eminence of his piety. Herod, though a king, “feared John, because he knew that he was a just and holy man.” And Job tells us, that at his presence “the aged rose, and the young men hid themselves.”]
To facilitate their access to him, he adopted the expedient mentioned in the text—
[He was not conscious of the splendour with which his countenance was irradiated, till their inability to behold him convinced him of it. Nor is it ever found that those who bear much of the divine image are conscious of their own superiority: their minds are fixed on their own defects rather than on their excellencies, and, from their deep views of their remaining corruptions, they are ready to count themselves “less than the least of all saints.” When he perceived the effect which the sight of him produced, instead of being elated with the honour conferred upon him, or desiring to employ it for the maintenance of his own authority, he put a veil upon his face to conceal its brightness, and called them to him that he might impart unto them the instructions he had received from God. As often as he returned to commune with his God, he took off the veil, as not either necessary or befitting in the divine presence: but in all his intercourse with the people, he covered his face. On this point many useful thoughts occur; but we shall reserve them for the close of our subject, where they will be more advantageously suggested in a way of practical improvement.]
We pass on to notice this act of Moses,
As an instructive emblem—
Whether Moses himself understood the full signification of his own act, we cannot say: it is probable he did not: for certain it is, that the prophets in many instances could not see the full scope of their own prophecies. But, whether he understood it or not, we are assured, on infallible authority, that his covering his face with the veil was intended by God to represent,
The darkness of that dispensation—
[The Mosaic dispensation was “a shadow of good things to come:” but what the substance was, none could exactly ascertain. The very tables which at this time Moses had brought down from God, contained a law, the nature, intent. or duration of which none of them could understand. They could not discern its spiritual import, but judged of it only by the letter. They thought it a covenant of life; whereas it was not at all designed “to give life,” but rather to be “a ministration of condemnation and death.” They supposed it was to continue to the end of time; when it was merely given for a season, till the things which it prefigured should be accomplished. Its splendour was veiled from their sight, as was the brightness of Moses’ face: and St. Paul informs us, that the expedient to which Moses resorted, was intended to shew, that the law was in itself “glorious [Note: 2Co 3:7.],” but that “the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of it [Note: 2Co 3:13.].”]
The blindness of the human mind—
[There were in the Jews of those days, and there are at this hour, a blindness of mind, and an obduracy of heart, which render them almost invincibly adverse to the truth of God. We see it, and wonder at it, in them; but are unconscious of it in ourselves, and insensible of it as a matter of personal experience: yet are we, in fact, greater monuments of obduracy than they; because there was a veil over their dispensation, which is removed from ours. Did they continue stiff-necked and rebellious, amidst all the mercies and judgments with which they were visited? so do we: the “god of this world hath blinded us:” “our understanding is darkened;” “we are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us, and because of the blindness of our hearts:” we “hate the light, and will not come to it, lest our deeds should be reproved.” Now this propensity in human nature to reject the truth, and to “account it foolishness,” was intended to be marked by this significant action of the Jewish lawgiver. St. Paul explains it in this very way [Note: 2Co 3:14-15.]: “Their minds,” says he, “were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away: even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.”]
The benefit to be expected from their promised Messiah—
[The occasional removal of his veil when he went into the presence of his God, shewed, that it was not always to continue on the dispensation, but that at a future period it should be removed, and the dispensation itself “abolished.” The Messiah, to whom they were constantly directed to look, as to that promised seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, was to take away both the foregoing veils; the one, by fulfilling the law in all its parts; and the other, by communicating his Holy Spirit to all his followers. Then the true nature of that law would be fully understood; and Christ would be recognized as “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Then should the glory of that dispensation be clearly seen, and the incomparably brighter glory of the Christian dispensation be seen also.
For this view of the subject we are also indebted to the Apostle Paul; who tells us that the Gospel, as “a ministration of the Spirit” and “of righteousness,” was to succeed, and to eclipse, the law; and that “when the Jews should turn to the Lord, the Messiah would take away that veil” from their hearts, and bring them into the light and “liberty” of the children of God [Note: 2Co 3:7-11; 2Co 3:16-17.].]
In the former part of our discourse we forbore to make several remarks, which we reserved for this place; and which, while they elucidate the subject, will afford rich instruction,
[We have seen what Moses did; and in some respects we should imitate him; but in others we should adopt a directly opposite conduct.
It was truly amiable in him to condescend to the infirmities of the people, and to veil his own glory for their good. Thus should every minister prefer the instruction of his people to the display of his own talents, or the aggrandizement of his own name. It is pitiful indeed to court applause for our learning, when we should be converting souls to Christ. St. Paul, qualified as he was to astonish men with his parts and talents, “would rather speak five words to the understandings of men, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Our blessed Lord “spake as men were able to hear it;” and reserved his fuller instructions till his hearers were better qualified to receive them. Paul also gave only “milk to babes,” whilst “to those who were of full age he administered meat.” Thus should we do, lest we blind or dazzle men by an unseasonable display even of truth itself. But are we, like Moses, to use concealment? No: the Apostle expressly guards us against imitating Moses in this particular: “NOT as Moses,” says he; “NOT as Moses, who put a veil over his face;” but, on the contrary, we must “use great plainness of speech [Note: 2Co 3:12-13.].” There is nothing in the Gospel that requires concealment, nor any thing that admits of it: we must “declare unto men the whole counsel of God.” We must discriminate so far as to judge what will, and what will not, “be profitable to men;” but the truth we must declare without the smallest mixture or reserve; and “by manifestation of the truth must commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [Note: 2Co 4:2.].” It must be our labour to rend away the veil from the hearts of our hearers: for “if our Gospel be veiled, it is veiled to them that are lost [Note: Compare the language in the original. It is the same word throughout: κεκαλυμμένον. 2Co 3:13 to 2Co 4:6.].” “The glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ;” and to shew them that glory in all its brightness, is to be the one object of our labour, as it is the unwearied effort of the devil to conceal it from their view [Note: 2Co 3:13 to 2Co 4:6. The beauty of the passage is lost if the two chapters be not read together.].]
[You should be aware that there is a veil upon your hearts, else you will never pray unto the Lord to remove it. Even the Apostle Paul, learned as he was in all biblical knowledge, had, “as it were, scales fall from his eyes,” when God was pleased to lead him to a clear view of his Gospel. So must “the eyes of your understanding also be enlightened,” before you can “discern aright the things of the Spirit.” But though God has appointed ministers to instruct you, you are all at liberty, yea you are required, to go yourselves, like Moses, into the presence of your God. Do not however veil your faces before him, but go exactly as you are. Your fellow-creatures could not endure to see all that is in your hearts; nor would it be of any use to reveal it to them: but “to God all things are naked and open;” and the more fully you unbosom yourself to him, the more will his blessing come upon you. It is by putting off the veil from your own hearts, that you shall with “open unveiled face behold his glory;” and, by beholding it, “be changed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.” Truly you shall, in a measure, experience the same benefit as Moses did: you shall be “beautified with salvation;” “the beauty of the Lord your God shall be upon you;” and all that behold you shall be “constrained to acknowledge, that God is with you of a truth.” When this effect is produced, “let your light shine before men.” You are not called to veil it, but rather to display it; not indeed for your own honour (that were a base unworthy motive), but for the honour of your God, that they who “behold your good works may glorify your Father that is in heaven.”]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.