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< 023428 > EXODUS 34:28-35 The Law had “a shadow of good things to come” ( Hebrews 10:1). A beautiful illustration and exemplification of this is found in the closing verses of Exodus 34, in which we behold Moses descending from the mount with radiant face. The key to our present portion is found in noting the exact position that it occupies in this book of redemption. It comes after the legal covenant which Jehovah had made with Israel: it comes before the actual setting up of the tabernacle and the Shekinah-glory filling it. As we shall see, our passage is interpreted for us in 2 Corinthians 3.
What we have here in Exodus 34 supplies both a comparison and a contrast with the new dispensation, the dispensation of the Spirit, of grace, of life more abundant. But before that dispensation was inaugurated, God saw fit that man should be fully tested under Law, and that, for the purpose of demonstrating what he is as a fallen and sinful creature.
As was shown in our last article, man’s trial under the Mosaic economy demonstrated two things: first, that he is “ungodly;” second, that he is “without strength” ( Romans 5:6). But these are negative things: in Romans 8:7 a third feature of man’s terrible state is mentioned, namely. that he is “enmity against God.” This was made manifest when God’s Son became incarnate and tabernacled for thirty-three years on this earth. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” ( John 1:11). Not only so, but He was “despised and rejected of men.” Nay, more, they hated Him, hated Him “without a cause” ( John 15:25). Nor would their hatred be appeased till they had condemned Him to a malefactor’s death and nailed Him to the accursed cross. And, let it be remembered, that it was not merely the Jews that put to death the Lord of glory, but the Gentiles also: therefore did the Lord say, when looking forward to His death, “Now is the judgment of this world” ( John 12:31) — not of Israel only. There the probation or testing of man ended.
Man is not now under probation. He is under condemnation: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one” ( Romans 3:10-12).
This is where the Gospel meets us. It comes to us as to those who are already “lost,” as to those who are “ungodly, without strength, enmity against God.” It announces to us the amazing graces of God — the only hope for poor sinners. But that grace will not he welcomed until the sinner bows to the sentence of God against him. That is why both repentance and faith are demanded from the sinner. These two must not be separated. Paul preached, “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” ( Acts 20:21). Repentance is the sinner’s acknowledgement of that sentence of condemnation under which he lies. Faith is the acceptance of the grace and mercy which are extended to him through Christ.
Repentance is not the turning over of a new leaf and the vowing that I will mend my ways; rather is it a settine of my seal that God is true when He tells me that I am “without strength,” that in myself my case is hopeless, that I am no more able to “do better next time” than I am of creating a world. Not until this is really believed (not as the result of my experience, but on the authority of God’s holy Word), shall I really turn to Christ and welcome Him — not as a Helper, but as a Savior.
As it was dispensationally so it is experimentally: there must be “a ministration of death” ( 2 Corinthians 3:7). before there is a “ministration of spirit” or life ( 2 Corinthians 3:8): — there must be “the ministration of condemnation,” before “the ministration of righteousness” ( 2 Corinthians 3:9). Ah, a “ministration of condemnation and death” falls strangely upon our ears, does it not? A “ministration of grace” we can understand, but a “ministration of condemnation” is not so easy to grasp.
But this latter was man’s first need: it must he shown what he is in himself: a hopeless wreck, utterly incapable of meeting the righteous requirements of a holy God — before he is ready to be a debtor to mercy alone. We repeat: as it was dispensationally, so it is experimentally: it was to this (his own experience) that the apostle Paul referred when he said, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” ( Romans 7:9).
In his unregenerate days he was, in his own estimation “alive,” yet it was “without the Law,” i.e ., apart from meeting its demands. “But when the commandment came,” when the Holy Spirit wrought within him, when the Word of God came in power to his heart, then “sin revived.” that is, he was made aware of his awful condition; and then he “died” to his self-righteous complacency — he saw that, in himself, his case was hopeless. Yes, the appearing of the glorified mediator comes not before, but after, the legal covenant. “And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water.” And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant the ten commandments” (v. 28). Our passage abounds in comparisons and contrasts. The “forty days” here at once recalls to mind the “forty days” mentioned in Matthew 4. Here it was Moses: there it is Christ. Here it was Moses on the mount: there it was Christ in the wilderness. Here it was Moses favored with a glorious revelation from God: there it was Christ being tempted of the Devil. Here it was Moses receiving the Law, at the mouth of Jehovah: there it was Christ being assailed by the Devil to repudiate that Law. We scarcely know which is the greater wonder of the two: that a sinful worm of the earth was raised to such a height of honor as to be permitted to spend a season in the presence of the great Jehovah, or that of the Lord of glory should stoop so low as to be for six weeks with the foul Fiend. “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.” Very blessed is it to compare and contrast this second descent of Moses from the from the mount with that which was before us in the 32nd chapter. There we see the face of Moses diffused with anger (v. 19): here he comes down with countenance radiant. There he be held a people engaged in idolatry, here he returns to a people abashed. There we behold him dashing the tables of stone to the ground (v. 19): here he deposits them in the ark ( Deuteronomy 10:5). “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.” This also reminds us of a N. T. episode, which is very similar, yet vastly dissimilar. It was on the mount that the face of Moses was made radiant, and it was on the mount that our Lord was transfigured. But the glory of Moses was only a reflected one, whereas that of Christ was inherent. The shining of Moses’ face was the consequence of his being brought into the immediate presence of the glory of Jehovah: the transfiguration of Christ was the outshining of His own personal glory. The radiance of Moses was confined to his face, but of Christ we read, “His raiment was white as the light” ( Matthew 17:3). Moses knew not that the skin of his face shone: Christ did, as is evident from His words. “Tell the vision to no man” ( Matthew 17:9).
This 29th verse brings out, most blessedly. what is the certain consequence of intimate communion with the Lord, and that in a twofold way. First no soul can enjoy real fellowship with the all-glorious God without being affected thereby, and that to a marked degree. Moses had been absorbed in the communications received and in contemplating the glory of Him who spake with him: and his own person caught and retained some of the beams of that glory. So it is still: as we read in Psalm 34:5. “They looked unto Him, and their faces were radiant” (R. V.). It is communion with the Lord that conforms us to His image. We shall not be more Christlike till we walk more frequently and more closely with Him. “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, by the Spirit of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18).
The second consequence of real communion with God is that we shall be less occupied with our wretched selves. Though the face of Moses shone with ‘a light not seen on land or sea,’ he wist it not. This illustrates a vital difference between self-righteous phariseeism and true godliness: the former produces complacency and pride, the latter leads to self-abnegation and humility. The pharisee (and there are many of his tribe still on earth) boasts of his attainments, advertises his imaginary spirituality, and thanks God that he is rot as other men are. But the one who, by grace, enjoys much fellowship with the Lord, learns of Him who was “meek and lowly in heart.” and says “Not unto us, O Lord. not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory” ( <19B501> Psalm 115:1).
Being engaged with the beauty of the Lord, he is delivered from selfoccupation, and therefore is unconscious of the very fruit of the Spirit which is being brought forth in him. But though he is not aware of his increasing conformity to Christ, others are. “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” (v. 30).
This shows us the third effect of communion with God: though the individual himself is unconscious of the glory manifested through him, others are cognizant of it. Thus it was when two of Christ’s apostles stood before the Jewish sanhedrin: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled: and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” ( Acts 4:13).
Ah, we cannot keep company very long with the Holy One. without His impress being left upon us. The man who is thoroughly devoted to the Lord needeth not to wear some badge or button in his coat-lapel, nor proclaim with his lips that he is “living a life of victory.” It is still true that actions speak louder than words. “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.” The typical meaning of this is given in 2 Corinthians 3:7, “But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance.”
Concerning this another has said: “Why then, were they afraid to come near him? Because the very glory that shone upon his face searched their hearts and consciences — being what they were, sinners, and unable of themselves to meet even the smallest requirements of the covenant which had now been inaugurated. It was of necessity a ministration of condemnation and death, for it required a righteousness from them which they could not render, and, inasmuch as they must fail in the rendering it, would pronounce their condemnation, and bring them under the penalty of transgression, which was death. The glory which they thus beheld upon the face of Moses was the expression to them of the holiness of God — that holiness which sought from them conformity to its own standards — and which would vindicate the breaches of that covenant which had now been established. They were therefore afraid, because they knew in their in-most souls that they could not stand before Him from whose presence Moses had come” (Mr. Ed. Dennett).
Typically (not dispensationally) the covenant which Jehovah made with Moses and Israel at Sinai, and the tables of stone on which were engraved the ten commandments, foreshadowed that new covenant which He will yet make with Israel in a coming day: “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall lie clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers: and ye shall he My people, and I will he your God” ( Ezekiel 36:24-28). “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah...
After those days, saith the Lord. I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts;... and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying. Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me. from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord” ( Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Spiritually, this is made good for Christians even now. Under the gracious operations of the Spirit of God our hearts have been made plastic and receptive. It is to this fact that Paul referred at the beginning of Corinthians 3. “The saints at Corinth had beer, ‘manifested to be Christ’s epistle ministered by us, written not with ink, but the Spirit of the living God: not on stone tables, but on fleshly tables of the heart.’ Their hearts being made impressionable by Divine working, Christ could write upon them, using Paul as a per, and making every mark in the power of the Spirit of God. But what is written is the knowledge of God as revealed through the Mediator in the grace of the new covenant, so that it might be true in the hearts of the saints — ‘They shall all know Me.’ Then Paul goes on to speak of himself as made competent by God to be a new covenant ministry, ‘not of letter, but of spirit’” (C. A. Coates). “And Moses called unto them: and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with them in Mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face” (vv. 31-33).
Ah, does not this explain their fear as they beheld the shining of Moses’ face? Note what was in his hands! He carried the two tables of stone on which were written the ten words of the law, the “ministration of condemnation.” The nearer the light of the glory came, while it was connected with the righteous claims of God upon them, the more cause had they to fear. That holy Law condemned them, for man in the flesh could not meet its claims. “However blessed if was typically, it was literally a ministry of death, for Moses was not a quickening Spirit, nor could he give his spirit to the people, nor could the glory of his face bring them into conformity with himself as the mediator. Hence the veil had to be on his face” (C. A. Coates).
The dispensational interpretation of this is given in 2 Corinthians 3:13: “And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.”
Here the apostle is treating of Judiasm as an economy. Owing to their blindness spiritually. Israel was unable to discern the deep significance of the ministry of Moses, the purpose of God behind it. that which all the types and shadows pointed forward to. The “end” of 2 Corinthians 3:13: is parallel with Romans 10:4. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “The veil on Israel’s heart is self-sufficiency. which makes them still refuse to submit to God’s righteousness. But when Israel’s heart turns to the Lord the veil will be taken away. What a wonderful chapter Exodus 34 will be to them then! For they will see that Christ is the spirit of it all. What they will see, we are privileged to see now. All this had an ‘end’ on which we can, through infinite grace, fix our eyes. The ‘end’ was the glory of the Lord as the Mediator of the new covenant. He has come out of death and gone up on high. and the glory of all that God is in grace is shining in His face” (C. A. Coates). “But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. 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” (vv. 34, 35).
Moses unveiled in the presence of the Lord is a beautiful type of the believer of this dispensation. The Christian beholds the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ ( 2 Corinthians 4:6) therefore, instead of being stricken with fear, he approaches with boldness. God’s law cannot condemn him, for its every demand has been fully met and satisfied by his Substitute. Hence, instead of trembling before the glory of God, we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” ( Romans 5:2). “There is no veil now either on His face or our hearts. He makes those who believe on Him to live in the knowledge of God, and in response to God, for He is the quickening Spirit. And He gives His Spirit to those who believe. We have the Spirit of the glorified Man in whose face the glory of God shines. Is it not surpassingly wonderful? One has to ask sometimes, Do we really believe it? ‘But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory even as by the Lord the Spirit’ ( 2 Corinthians 3:18). If we had not His Spirit we should have no liberty to look on the glory of the Lord, or to see Hint as the spirit of these marvelous types. But we have liberty to look on it all, and there is transforming power in it.
Saints under new-covenant-ministry are transfigured. “This is the ‘surpassing glory’ which could not be seen or known until it shone in the face of Him of whom Moses in Exodus 34 is so distinctly a type. The whole typical system was temporary, but its ‘spirit’ abides, for Christ was the Spirit of it all. Now we have to do with the ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness, and all is abiding. The ministry of the new covenant subsists and abounds in glory” (C. A. Coates).
The authority of Paul’s apostleship had been called into question, by certain Judaisers. In the first verses of this chapter he appeals to the Corinthians themselves as the proof of his God-commissioned and Godblessed ministry. In v. 6 he defines the character of his ministry, and this for tire purpose of showing its superiority over that of his enemies. He and his fellow-gospellers were “ministers of the new testament” or covenant. A series of contrasts is then drawn between the two covenants, that is, between Judaism and Christianity. That which pertained to the former is called “the letter” that relating to the new, “the spirit,” i.e ., the one was mainly concerned with that which was external, the other was largely fraternal: the one slew, the other gave life — this was one of the leading differences between the Law, and the Gospel.
In what follows the apostle, while allowing that the Law was glorious, shows that the Gospel is still more glorious. The old covenant was a “ministration of death.” for the Law could only condemn; therefore, though a glory was connected with it, yet was it such that man in the flesh could not behold (v. 7). Then how much more excellent would be, must be, the glory of the new covenant, seeing that it was “a ministration of the Spirit” (v. 8) — compare v. 3 for proof of this. If there was a glory connected with that which “concluded all men under sin” ( Galatians 3:23), much more glorious must be that ministration which announces a righteousness which is “unto all and upon them that believe” ( Romans 3:22). It is more glorious to pardon than to condemn; to give life, than to destroy (v. 9). The glory of the former covenant therefore pales into nothingness before the latter (v. 10). This is further seen from the fact that Judaism is “done away,” whereas Christianity “remaineth” (v. 11) — compare Hebrews 8:7,8.
At v. 12 the apostle draws still another contrast between the two economies, namely, the plainness or perspicuity over against the obscurity and ambiguity of their respective ministries (vv. 12-15). The apostles used “great plainness of speech,” whereas the teaching of the ceremonial law was by means of shadows and symbols. Moreover, the minds of the Israelites were blinded, so that there was a veil over their hearers, and therefore when the writings of Moses were read, they were incapable of looking beyond the type to the Antitype. This veil remains upon them unto this day, and will continue until they turn unto the Lord (vv. 15. 16).
Literally the covenant of Sinai was a ministration of condemnation and death, and the glory of it had to be veiled. But it had an “end” (v. 13). upon which Israel could not fix their eyes. They will see that “end” in a coming day: but in the meantime, we are permitted to read the old covenant without a veil, and to see that Christ is the “spirit” of it all, and that it had in view that which could only have its fulfillment under new covenant conditions, namely, God’s glory secured in and by the Mediator.
The language of v. 17 is involved in some obscurity: “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” This does not mean that Christ is the Holy Spirit. The “spirit” here is the same as in v. 6 — “not of the letter. but of the spirit:” cf. Romans 7:6. The Mosaic system is called “the letter” because it was purely objective. It possessed no inward principle or power. But the Gospel deals with the heart, and supplies the spiritual power ( Romans 1:16).
Moreover, Christ is the spirit, the life, the heart and center of all the ritual and ceremonialism of Judaism. He is the key to the O. T. for, “In the volume of the Book” it is written of Him. So also Christ is the spirit and life of Christianity; He is “a quickening Spirit” ( 1 Corinthians 15:45).
And “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Apart from Christ, the sinner, be he Jew or Gentile, is in a state of bondage: he is the slave of sin and the captive of the Devil. But where the Son makes free. He frees indeed ( John 8:32).
Finally the apostle contrasts the two glories, the glory connected with the old covenant — the shining on Moses’ face at the giving of the Law (when the covenant was made) — with the glory of the new covenant, in the person of Christ. “But we all, with open (unveiled) 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.” Note here: first, “we all .” Moses alone beheld the glory of the Lord in the mount: every Christian now beholds it. Second, we with “open face,” with freedom and with confidence; whereas Israel were afraid to gaze on the radiant and majestical face of Moses. Third, we are “changed into the same image.” The law had no power to convert or purify: but the ministry of the Gospel, under the operation of the Spirit, has a transforming power. Those who are saved by it, those who are occupied with Christ as set forth in the Word (the “mirror”) are, little by little, conformed to His image. Ultimately. when we “see Him as He is” ( 1 John 3:2). we shall be “Like Him” — fully perfectly, eternally.