MOSES’ FADING FACE
An enigma exists: how did the Apostle Paul know that Moses’ shinning face faded (2 Cor. 3:7) since it seems that Moses kept his shinning face veiled for much of the time (Exod. 34:33)?
And what is the theological significance of Moses’ fading face?
This essay will present possible answers for both questions from the scriptures. Please note: all scripture citations are from the New American Standard Bible, Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1995.
Moses’ Shinning Face
For the second time, Moses spent forty days and forty nights atop Mount Sinai with God. God transcribed His commandments on two stone tablets which He had commanded Moses to bring with him to the top of the mountain. Thus, God’s Ten Commandments were recorded again.
Unknown to Moses, this event resulted in his face shinning (Exod. 34:29). Upon returning to the foot of the mountain, the sons of Israel headed to greet Moses but stopped short from fear when they saw his shinning face (Exod. 34:30).
When their fears finally abated, the sons of Israel eventually approached Moses in spite of his shinning face
Probably to assuage the fears of others who might come into contact with him, Moses covered his shining face with a veil after delivering God’s instructions to the sons of Israel.
The Fading Face
The question arises, “How did Moses discover his face was fading since he kept it covered with a veil?” The answer may come from the point in time when Moses removed his veil, went into the tabernacle, and spoke (sans veil) with the Lord (Ezek. 34:34-35).
The scriptures mention “. . . mirrors (emphasis mine) of the serving women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (Ezek. 38:8). Some uncertainty exists about the precise meaning and interpretation of the “mirrors” phrase. However, what is certain is that the mirrors had reflective properties, and that Moses would certainly have exposure to the doorway leading to the tent of meeting.
As Moses approached the tent of meeting (or, tabernacle), he would remove the veil from his face and likely catch sight of his face reflected in the mirrors—a reflection which alerted him that his face was fading. This alert need happen only once or twice for Moses to realize that the shining of his face would fade.
Upon talking with the Lord in the tent of meeting, Moses’ face would shine.
The “fading face” reality likely became a tradition transmitted by the sons of Israel to each generation, eventually reaching the ears of the Apostle Paul.
The Theological Significance of Moses’ Fading Face
The early chapters of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians are a dramatic contrast between God’s old covenant and His new covenant. Paul used Moses’ experience of receiving a shining face and its temporary nature as an illustration of the old covenant and its inferiority to the new covenant.
Theologically, Moses’ fading face illustrated the temporary nature of the old covenant. It also illustrated the external nature of the old covenant.
The new covenant is both internal physically and permanent.
An aside: Paul used the stone tablets from Mt. Sinai and the Spirit’s ministry upon human hearts to illustrate that the new covenant was indeed internal (2 Cor. 3:32-6).
God had revealed to Ezekiel the internal nature of the new covenant:
26“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put n new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27”I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Furthermore, God had revealed to Jeremiah the permanency of the new covenant.
31“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, (i.e., temporary) although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33”But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it (i.e., permanent, or “everlasting,” per Jer. 32:40) and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
The old covenant which God gave to the sons of Israel was both external and temporary as .pictured by Moses’ fading face.
The new covenant is God’s gift to the church—a covenant which is both internal and permanent. Over the years however, life under the new covenant for the church has sometimes become contaminated with bits and pieces of the external and temporary old covenant (e.g., the consecrated priesthood of the Roman church whereas all church saints are priests).