Until believers meet Jesus in Heaven, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Meanwhile, we don’t visit with God on a mountaintop like Moses did. If we saw God, we would be blinded the way Paul was blinded, or we might even die. And yet, even now, the curtain has been torn separating us from God. What does this mean to us today?
Moses and the Veil
Moses’ face glowed after he met with God on Mount Sinai a second time. The people were afraid of him and Moses had to wear a covering over his face because of God’s glory, which was all over him.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him (Exodus 34:34-35).
Moses’ veil represented Israel’s inability to come close to God’s glory — a separation — but it was also a protective mercy.
Fear overwhelmed the people, perhaps guilt too because they had behaved so sinfully during Moses’ first time on the mountain. They did not want to see the holiness, which clung to their leader.
Although there is no longer a curtain separating us from God, don’t you ever wish he couldn’t see what you’re doing or what’s in your heart? I do.
Protection and Separation
I feel a little like Noah might have in Genesis 9, but there are similarities with Exodus 34. Noah got drunk and Ham saw his father naked. He ran out and told his brothers Shem and Japheth, maybe even the whole camp too, but the brothers wanted no part in humiliating their father.
They walked backwards to him with a covering for his embarrassment. Even without the Law, they knew how to respect their father and realized this was the correct thing to do. Ham’s sin, meanwhile, brought a curse over his son Canaan.
Shem and Japheth were not two perfect men, but “while Shem and Japheth refused to go inside, Ham had no reservations about entering the tent. Whatever the failing of Noah, he was inside his own tent, in privacy,” wrote Bob Deffinbaugh. “Ham entered in, violating the principle of privacy, yet not to assist his father but to be amused at his expense.”
Long before I knew Christ as my Savior, I was a foolish teenager who made some awful choices. Only the grace of God prevented anything really terrible from happening.
Once, while experimenting with alcohol at a party, someone thought he might like to take advantage of me when I fell asleep under the influence, but I came with friends.
They pointedly told him to keep his hands to himself or else (and I won’t tell you what they meant by that. I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve much talking).
My point is that the law is not arbitrary. Its purpose is to both protect us from the consequences of our sinful proclivities and to remind us who we are before God. When we know God as our Father, we identify as children of the King. That changes everything.
Not Seeing: A Visionary Notion
The two sons protected their father from further embarrassment, but they also showed respect by not looking at something they had no business seeing.
Maybe they even put out the fires of gossip spreading all over the camp, saying something similar to “don’t even think about it, or else…”
They also protected themselves (and future generations) from a curse by not giving themselves an opportunity to so much as peek at their father’s naked body.
While the couple in the Garden wandered too close to the source of their temptation — the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — Shem and Japheth avoided temptation altogether. They decided not to see.
Adam and Eve were not blind. Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes [...]. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:6,7).
With this new sort of vision, Adam and Eve awakened shame and initiated the curse, which infects all of us. In his mercy, God provided a covering for their shame too.
The Lord wants us to cultivate wisdom, but that doesn’t mean we have to know everything. Knowledge is not wisdom and too much of it can lead to ruin.
Grace, Covering, and Revelation
We could focus entirely on Ham’s delinquency and fail to recognize the grace that his brothers demonstrated as an echo of God’s mercy towards Adam and Eve.
Jared Wilson says that Ham’s bad behavior and the curse he incurred do not tell us Noah’s “drunken exposure is not a sin. But it does seem to mean that denying a sinner grace is a bigger one.”
Noah did something wrong — he got really, really drunk. Ham took advantage of his father’s situation and spread the word in order to garner attention at his father’s expense.
Shem and Japheth, however, demonstrated mercy and grace towards their father’s sin. Wilson continues by saying Jesus “seemed to regard intentionally squandered opportunities to cover shame as somehow more heinous than (so-called) ‘sins of the flesh.’”
Moses’ supernatural complexion also led me to consider a scene in the New Testament, when Jesus appeared to his disciples after the crucifixion. They thought he was a ghost.
Jesus asked them “why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:37-39).
Instead of saying “really, guys?” and walking out with the believing females to go and preach to the crowds, Jesus demonstrated loving grace by displaying his wounds.
They continued to gape in disbelief. While he was in front of them, the disciples couldn’t recognize Jesus for who he really was. Seeing him wasn’t the revelation one might expect.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31). Their hearts knew him, but not their eyes.
Torn Veil, New Vision
Jesus highlighted the value of grace and mercy with an act of revelation, which brings me back to the covering motif. The curtain was torn; we can come close to God through Jesus by his Spirit.
But this gift is given not so that we now see the face of God and know all that is in his mind, but so that by his Spirit we are able to see his image in everyone around us and employ knowledge wisely, with grace and mercy.
We do this (imperfectly) when we yield to the sanctifying work, which softens our hearts. We see with the eyes of our hearts: with respect; with honor; with love. It’s a new “seeing” through a different veil; the covering of Christ’s blood.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.