Why did Moses veil his face?
Have you ever read a verse or a passage and realized that it meant something different than what you had always thought? For me, that happens a lot because I grew up reading and memorizing the KJV and only in the last few years have been exposed to the NAS and the ESV. I occasionally find verses that I have understood wrongly because of awkward wording or words that now have different meanings. This also happens because I have read passages lightly but never studied them.
Anyway, the verses in 2 Corinthians about Moses veiling his face got at lot more clear and a lot more confusing for me the other night (Kerry and I actually stayed up until 2 trying to figure it out). I always thought that when Moses saw God (well, His back parts), his face shone (reflecting God's glory), and he put on a veil because people could not bear to look at it. Then, the glory eventually faded, and he could uncover his face. This is not exactly what happened.
Exodus 34 NAS
29It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.
30So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.
31Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them.
32Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.
33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
34But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded,
35the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.
So, it is not that the people were unable to look at his shining face. Verse 31 shows that he spoke to them with a shining, un-veiled face. He put the veil on after he was done talking to them. Apparently, the glow faded after time. Then, every time he went in to the tent outside the camp (Ex. 33:7-11), his face must have glowed again (kinda like re-chargeable batteries? Glow-in-the-dark stars?), the people saw it again, and then he would cover it up.
Now, you have to go back to this passage to understand 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 and the surrounding passages.
2 Cor. 3:12-18 NAS
12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,
13and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.
14But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
15But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;
16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
This passage says (v. 13) that Moses did not want the Israelites to see the last bits of glory fade from his face. This is consistent with the Exodus account that says the Israelites did see his face for awhile, and Moses covered it as it faded. But then there is this verse just before:
1 Cor. 3:7 NAS
7But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,
8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?
Here's the ESV too:
7Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,
The "such" in the ESV leads you to think that his face was shining so much that no one could look at it. But that is the wrong sense of the word; and it can be left out. The NAS doesn't use it which is better, but the verse still seems to say that the Israelites couldn't bear to look at his bright face. Now Paul's point in verses 7-8 is that the Spirit's ministry is far superior to Moses' ministry. But he still wouldn't contradict himself...
Anyway, what I see in verses 12-18 is that the veil over Moses' face and the veil over the Old Covenant are the same. Somehow they both prevent people from seeing the truth that the OC was temporary and fading, therefore a New one was necessary.
But notice the contrast between us (posessers of the NC) and Moses. "We are bold not like Moses who veiled his face." So here's the big questions: Why did Moses veil his face? And was that right or wrong? Here's my potential conclusion, but it still has difficulties:
When God revealed Himself to Moses and made Moses' face reflect His glory, He was giving validation to both Moses and the Law. The people saw that and were in awe. However, God designed for that glory on Moses' face to fade away as a picture of what was going to happen to the law. For some reason, Moses veiled his face and prevented the people from seeing the glory fade. In the same way, there is a veil over the Old Covenant to an unbeliever who esteems the Law. He, just like most Israelites, is not able to see that the Law fades.
So that still leaves the 2 questions: Why? Was Moses embarassed that the glory was fading (hence the contrast with being bold)? Was he scared that the people would doubt his ministry if they saw the glory fade (also a timid thing to do)? Or, did he do it on purpose so the people would not see the truth that the Law was meant to fade? The answer to this question would then help answer the next: Was that right or wrong? Paul seems to call him timid and in a negative way. But maybe God wanted Moses to conceal certain things.
In spite if the confusion in this passage, the main truth shines out beautifully: Our ministry, the New Covenant that Christ purchased, is infinitely more glorious than the one Moses administered which faded away. Just as God makes clear the truth of the Old Covenant through Christ, we can clearly preach the truth of Christ trusting Him to change the dark hearts of unbelievers.