The Revelation of God’s Name

March 19, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Exodus 32-34 |


The Revelation of God’s Name | Exodus 32-34
Brian Hedges | March 19, 2023

Let’s turn in our Bibles this morning to Exodus. We’re going to be in Exodus 32-34.

Every well-crafted story has its lowest point, the crisis moment in the story when all hope seems to be lost. Sometimes this is called the nadir of a story. It’s the lowest point, the most depressing point, the saddest point in a story. If you like Shakespeare, this is generally going to be the third or the fourth act in the five-act play. If you like Star Wars—think of the original trilogy—it’s The Empire Strikes Back. It’s when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, taken off by the bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt, Luke Skywalker loses his hand and learns that Darth Vader is his father. I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler, but the movie’s been out for forty years; you have no excuse if you haven’t seen it yet.

The lowest point in the story, that crisis point when everything seems to be lost—every well-crafted story has that point. Today we’re looking at that critical moment in the story of the Exodus. It’s in Exodus 32. We’re going to be reading from chapter 32 and then by the end of the sermon we’ll be in Exodus 33 and 34.

Let me remind you what Exodus is about. It is the story of redemption in the Old Testament. If you had asked any Old Testament Jewish believer if they were redeemed, they would have said yes. If you had asked them when they were redeemed, they would have pointed you back to the exodus, when God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.

We’ve seen in this series, which we’re almost at the end of—one more sermon after today—what we’ve seen is that God is the God who delivers his people, he rescues his people (that’s the first half of the book); and he is the God who dwells with his people. In fact, the reason why God delivered his people was so that he could dwell among them, that he could dwell in their midst. So in the last few weeks, as we’ve looked at the covenant that God has made with his people (Exodus 24), the law that he has given to them, and then the instructions for the tabernacle and Sabbath-keeping—all of this is given to Israel so that God can dwell among them and be their God. That’s the whole reason why God had redeemed them in the first place, was to be in this saving covenant relationship with them.

Having received all of that grace and all of that mercy, in Exodus 32 everything seems to go up in smoke. It’s a tragic chapter; it has to be one of the most tragic chapters in all of the Bible, Exodus 32.

We’re going to see three things this morning. We’re going to see the idolatry of Israel, the intercession of Moses, and the revelation of God’s name. The idolatry of Israel: that's the breaking of the covenant. Then the intercession of Moses, who is the mediator of the covenant. Then the revelation of God's name, in chapter 34, one of the highest points in all of Scripture, where God reveals himself to Moses, and that leads to the renewal of the covenant.

1. The Idolatry of Israel: The Breaking of the Covenant

So we begin with the idolatry of Israel in chapter 32. Moses is still on the mountain; he has been receiving all of these instructions from God. While Moses is on the mountain, on Mount Sinai, his seventh time up on this mountain, Israel gets impatient. The people get impatient. That’s where we find ourselves in Exodus 32, beginning in verse 1.

Let’s read Exodus 32:1-6. It says, “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”

The idolatry of Israel. Here they are, the people that God has chosen, the people that God has redeemed, the people that God has rescued and saved, and he’s done so with an outstretched, mighty arm. He has shown his signs and his wonders to redeem them out of slavery in Egypt. Here they are, and they’ve received the covenant from God, they received the law of God, the words from the fire, the Ten Commandments. Moses is still on the mountain, and before he even gets down from the mountain they have broken the first three commandments. They have made another god, they have made a graven image, and they have called him Yahweh, so they have taken the Lord’s name in vain. They’ve broken the covenant.

It would be like a bride who has anticipated her wedding day for many months and then marries her husband, and then that night commits adultery.

This provokes God’s wrath, his anger. His burning wrath or anger is mentioned four times in this passage. Look at verses 7-10. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt [he doesn’t even own them here], have corrupted themselves.’”

Incidentally, that word “corrupted themselves” is a word that carries the idea of ruined. They’ve ruined themselves. It’s a word that, very significantly, is used of the world before the flood in Genesis 6:11-12, where it says it three times: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” That’s the word.

So Israel here is being pictured like all the other nations, the nations that God had destroyed from the face of the earth in the flood. God says they’ve corrupted themselves.

Verse 8: “‘They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.’”

God essentially says to Moses, “Stand out of the way; I’m going to wipe them out, and I’m going to start all over with you. You’ll be the new Abraham.”

Israel has gone the way of the world; in fact, they are just like Adam and Even in the garden. They’re just repeating the same mistakes again.

This is for Israel a defining moment in her history as a nation, one that is recalled again and again and again, and unfortunately is repeated again and again and again. The psalmist reflects on this in Psalm 106:19-22. It reads,

“They made a calf in Horeb
and worshiped a metal image.9
They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.”

Those very words, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox,” that language is picked up by Paul in Romans 1 when he talks about how the whole human race has exchanged the glory of the Creator for created things. It’s the sin of Israel, the sin of idolatry. It’s the sin of Adam and Eve. It’s the sin of the world before the flood. And friends, it is the sin of the human race; it is your sin and it is mine, because we also have committed idolatry.

It was Calvin who one time said that our hearts are factories of idols. You might say, “Well, I don’t bow down to a graven image. I don’t worship a golden calf; I don’t have anything like that in my home.”

But we have to understand that in Scripture idolatry is not simply bowing down physically before a metal object. Ezekiel talks about the idols of the heart. We all have heart idols, and there are different ways that idolatry can be expressed in our lives.

Idolatry can express itself simply through false teaching and worship, where we worship God in ways that he has not authorized and where we conceive of God in our own terms rather than receiving the God revealed in Scripture with all of the hard edges of this God. We kind of shave those edges off, and we just accept the parts of God that we like. That can be idolatry.

Idolatry can be expressed through the embrace of worldly ideologies that are in conflict with Scripture. We all have a hierarchy of values. We have things that we value most that count for the highest thing in our hearts and lives. It may be something like personal freedom, the right to express myself. “Nobody can tell me who I can sleep with. Nobody can tell me who I have a right to love.”

It may be in terms of security or approval or comfort and the deep desire to have those things, the things that I want, and whatever the goods are that will bring me that sense of inner peace.

Idolatry can also be expressed through addiction. Ed Welch has written a wonderful book on addiction called Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, and he calls addictions “worship disorders.” Addictions can really take the form of either chemical/substance addictions or behavioral addictions. Examples would be addictions to alcohol or drugs, obviously, but also addictions to pornography or food or gambling or binge-watching TV or social media or playing video games or compulsive shopping, and more.

The common thread in all of these forms of addiction is the compulsive attempt to find something—relief, comfort, escape—to find something in a substance or behavior rather than in God or in God-ordained means. It is seeking rest for our souls in something other than God. It is worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

Signs of addictions would include things like significant amounts of time spent using this substance or engaging in the behavior; inability to quit using or engaging in the behavior; inability to fulfill obligations at school, work, or home; relational breakdown; relationship and social problems; increased tolerance; symptoms of withdrawal when we try to quit; or abandoning previously-enjoyed good things in our lives.

Here’s the problem with addictions and really with idolatry in all of its forms. There’s a twofold problem. Number one, idolatry dishonors God and it always breaks down our relationship with him. We lose God when we worship other things. Number two, the idols destroy us. C.S. Lewis one time said, “Idols always break the hearts of their worshippers.”

Let me ask you this morning before we move on, if you look at yourself honestly, can you see where maybe you have been seeking your joy, your peace, your satisfaction, your significance, your worth, your identity, your comfort in something other than God, his grace, and his promise? If we’re honest, we all have to confess guilty.

This is the sin of Israel, their idolatry. What they needed, having broken this covenant with God, was a mediator, someone to come and stand in the gap.

2. The Intercession of Moses: The Mediator of the Covenant

What is a mediator? A mediator is a person who stands between two parties who are estranged from one another. A mediator is someone who tries to bring them back together. The children of Israel needed a mediator. God is now against them. God is ready to wipe them out, and Moses is the one who stands in the gap and who intercedes for the people. So the second point is the intercession of Moses.

What you see in Exodus 32, the rest of this chapter, and in Exodus 33 is Moses praying again and again and again. He’s just praying to God.

We can really boil his prayers down into two different types of prayer. He prays, first of all, that God would relent from his wrath and his judgment; and then he prays, secondly, that God would reveal his grace and his glory.

(1) First of all, he prays that God would relent from his wrath and judgment. Let’s pick up in verse 11. It says,

“But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, ‘Oh Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?’”

Now stop right there. The first thing you need to see here is the way that Moses prays. Moses appeals to God himself and to the fact that these are God’s people. This is the way Moses prays. He really makes three appeals. He says, “They’re your people.” That’s verse 11. “Why does your wrath burn hot against your people?”

Then in verse 12 he says, “It’s your reputation that’s at stake!” Verse 12, “‘Why should the Egyptians say, “With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth”?’”

He’s essentially saying, “God, what are the nations going to say when they find out that you’ve wiped out your own people that you delivered? Your reputation is at stake.” So he pleads, “Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.”

Then in verse 13 he pleads God’s promises. He says, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel [Jacob], your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

And then in verse 14 the Lord relents. It says, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”

Moses prays for God to relent from his wrath. Now just stop for a minute. This teaches us something about prayer. Look at how Moses prays. He does not pray, “Lord, it wasn’t really that bad of a sin. Couldn’t you just forgive it?” He doesn’t pray on the basis of the inherent goodness of Israel. He doesn’t pray on the basis of his own faithfulness. He doesn’t ground his prayer in either the people or in himself, he grounds it all in God. His prayer is thoroughly God-centered, God-oriented. He says, “They’re your people, it’s your reputation, and it’s your promises. On the basis of who you are, I’m asking you to relent from your wrath.”

This is how you and I should pray as well. This is how the psalmists often pray. Here are some examples.

Psalm 25:6: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” You would think that the greatness of our sins would be a reason for God not to pardon us, but what the psalmist says there is, “For your name’s sake, please forgive.”

Or Psalm 44:26: “Rise up, come to our help; redeem us—” why? “—for the sake of your steadfast love.”

Or Psalm 109:21: “But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf, for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good deliver me!”

This is the way to pray.

I want you to hear this. Take this to heart. Hear it well. God’s greatest motive for hearing our prayers, for pardoning our sins, for meeting our needs, is not the fervency of our prayers, it’s not the greatness of our sins, it’s not the desperation of our circumstances. His greatest motive for hearing us and redeeming us is his own glorious character. This is good, because it means that God answering prayers and being merciful to us does not depend on our faithfulness, it depends on his faithfulness. He’s faithful to his own covenant. He’s faithful to his own character, his own reputation.

As New Testament Christians, we pray on a similar basis, don’t we? We plead the promises of God and we pray in Jesus’ name. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: those are not throwaway words that you just tag onto the end of the prayer, it’s the very basis upon which we pray. Jesus’ name.

Moses’ prayer continues the next day in Exodus 32:30-32. I’m skipping a lot. There is, by the way, judgment that happens. God does not wipe out the nation, but three thousand people die, fall by the edge of the sword, and then God sends a plague on the people. In verse 30 it says, “The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ So Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.’”

Moses the mediator, interceding for the people. He says, “Lord, if you will, forgive their sin. Literally the verb there carries the idea of carrying away sin, releasing from sin. He’s asking God to carry their sins away. He says, “If you won’t do it, then just blot me out as well. If you’re going to wipe them out, then wipe me out too.” Moses aligns himself with the people of Israel, pleading for God’s mercy.

Of course, it points us, doesn’t it, to an even greater mediator, Jesus Christ. We have these wonderful words that were read in our assurance of pardon this morning: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died; more than that, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, making intercession for us.” We have a mediator.

I love those words of Wesley:

Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary.
They pour effectual prayers;
They ever plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive!” they cry.
“Don’t let that ransomed sinner die!”

He pleads the virtue of his own atoning work. He actually did stand in the place for us so that our sins could be forgiven. And Moses points us to our great mediator, Christ.

(2) So Moses prays for God to relent from his wrath, and then in Exodus 33 the focus somewhat shifts, and now the prayer is for God to reveal his grace and his glory, to reveal his character. I’m skipping a lot, but let me just point out Exodus 33:1-3, because this sets up the tension of this chapter.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, “To your offspring I will give it.”’”

So they’re not all going to be destroyed. This is good. God’s heard the prayer; they’re not all going to be destroyed. God is saying, “Okay, go on to the promised land.”

He says, “‘I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but [here’s the problem] I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

You know what this means? It means that God is saying, “Scrap the tabernacle; I’m not going to dwell among you. You can have the promised land, I’ll send an angel before you, you can have the land flowing with milk and honey, but I’m not going to come with you.”

I wonder how many of us would have been content with that. “Alright! We’re back in business; we’re headed for the promised land!” How often are we satisfied if those kinds of prayers get answered—the financial need is met, God granted healing, marriage is doing well again, and we just kind of go off on our merry way—but we haven’t gotten God.

Moses won’t have it. Moses is not about to go without the presence of God, so Moses prays in this chapter. He essentially prays two things. This is all from Exodus 33:12-23. He prays, “Show me your ways,” in verse 13 and, “Show me your glory,” in verse 18. Let’s pick up reading in verse 12.

“Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you say to me, “Bring up this people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.”’”

That’s another key phrase in this whole narrative, finding favor in God’s sight. You know who in Genesis found favor in God’s sight? Noah. Again, there are echoes of the whole flood narrative and Noah, who had found favor in the eyes of the Lord, and now Moses is something like a new Noah. Look at what he prays in verse 13.

“‘Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

There’s your answer. But Moses just keeps pressing this home. “And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’

“This is how people are going to know that we are actually your people, is you dwelling among us, your presence with us! You with us is what makes us distinct.”

Then Moses prays in verse 18 the most daring prayer, perhaps, in all of the Bible. “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’” He wants to see an unfiltered vision of the glory of God.

God responds in verse 19: “‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’”

There’s a slight tension here in the text, because in an earlier paragraph in chapter 33 we read about how Moses would go into this tent of meeting that was outside the camp, and it says that the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend, but here Moses says, “Show me your glory,” and God says, “You cannot see my face and live.”

It’s not a contradiction. Moses had had a close communion with God there in the tent of meeting, but he’s asking for something more now. He wants to see the essence of the glory of God, and God says, “No one can see my face and live,” but the Lord makes a provision. Look at verse 21. “And the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.’”

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, / Let me hide myself in thee. That’s the picture those words are drawing from.

3. The Revelation of God’s Name: The Renewal of the Covenant

That leads us into chapter 34, and the third point of the sermon is the revelation of God’s name. Exodus 34 is the renewal of the covenant. The covenant was broken by the idolatry of Israel, Moses stands as the mediator pleading with God on behalf of the people, and then in chapter 34 the covenant is renewed. It begins in verses 1-4 as God commands Moses to cut two tablets of stone and says, “I’ll write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you had broken.” We didn’t read that passage, but when Moses in Exodus 32 had come down from the mountain and he had seen the revelry of the people of Israel dancing around this golden calf, he had thrown down the stone tablets, he’d thrown down the Ten Commandments, and they’d shattered. Now God is going to renew the covenant, and it begins as Moses cuts out of the rock two tablets of stone, so that God can give the commandments again.

Then Moses is to come up the mountain alone; it’s his seventh ascent up Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-40. (That would make a great series of sermons: “The Seven Ascents of Moses.”) Here’s the seventh time he’s on the mountain, and it’s perhaps the greatest of all, as he presents himself to God and then God reveals himself once again in a theophany of glory, where God proclaims his very name to Moses.

“It is,” says one commentary, “an act of self-revelation that surpasses anything yet recorded in Scripture.” God reveals himself, and reveals himself in terms that will be recalled again and again and again in the Old Testament Scriptures. You have it beginning in verse 4.

“So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.”

So Moses is now hidden in the cleft of the rock, and the Lord in his very presence passes by and says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

As God proclaims his name he reveals who he is, he reveals what he does; both the Lord’s name and the Lord’s actions here, almost in parallel form. In verse 6 there are three things about God’s name: he is merciful and gracious, secondly he is slow to anger, thirdly he is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. That’s language that gets used again and again in Scripture.

Do you know Psalm 103? Do you ever read Psalm 103? We use this often in our worship. Psalm 103:7-10:

“He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

That’s just a meditation on the revelation of God’s name in Exodus 34. This is who God is! He reveals himself in this abundance of mercy and grace to his people.

Then in Exodus 34:7 this is what God does: keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin—he is the God who carries our sins—but then also who will by no means clear the guilty. There is the tension right there. It is perhaps the greatest theological tension that we find in Scripture, this tension between the God who on one hand is abundant in steadfast love and mercy and faithfulness, grace for his people, and a God who is so just that he will by no means clear the guilty. How do you resolve that tension?

To borrow and kind of adapt an illustration from John Piper, it’s like there’s a symphony in Scripture, a symphony of music, and there are two themes to the symphony. They almost sound dissonant with one another, and you wonder, where’s the harmony? Where are these two themes going to resolve together into harmony? The themes are on the one hand God’s love and his grace and his mercy, and on the other hand God’s justice and his righteousness. You have God’s love for his people, you have God’s love for his name, his reputation, his glory. How are these two things to be resolved?

The answer, of course, is they are resolved ultimately and finally in the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s where the harmony comes.

Christopher Wright says, “Only at the cross of Christ do we find the ultimate resolution of the theological and spiritual tension generated by Exodus 34:6-7, for at the cross both truths about the character and action of God were acted out simultaneously and to the utmost. God finally did not indeed leave the guilty unpunished, but in order to justify the ungodly God, the holy Trinity, chose to bear the consequences of sin and guilt in God’s own self in the person of the Son of God, who knew no sin, but was made to be sin for us.”

There’s a story I’ve told many times—I read this years ago—the story of a very wise and just chief who led a nomadic tribe in ancient Russia. He was noted for his justice, his wisdom, ruling with integrity by the rule of law. Crime was punished severely. It was against the law to steal.

There came a season when many things were being stolen, a rash of thefts within this tribe, and everybody wondered who it was. The chief kept raising the penalty. First it would be ten lashes, but if there were further thefts and the thief was caught there would be more lashes with the whip. Eventually it became essentially a death penalty.

The day finally came when the culprit was found, the thief was caught red-handed, and it was the chief’s own mother. Everyone wondered, “Will the chief be true to his justice? Will he keep his integrity?” But how could he do so, because he loved his mother?

The day came for the execution. The old woman, her frail body, was there in the square of the village, her arms lashed to a pole, her back stripped. The lash was raised to fall on her back, and only at that moment did the chief raise his hand to stay the execution of justice. But rather than commuting the sentence, what he did was he walked up around her and he wrapped his broad shoulders around her frail little body, and then he lowered his hand and he took the beating himself. Thus he satisfied both his justice and his love.

That’s an imperfect story, but it gives us some faint picture of what happened at the cross, where Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead, came and took our judgment upon himself. He did it because he is both a God of justice and a God of grace and mercy and love.

I love those words of the old hymn-writer William Rees:

On the mount of crucifixion
Fountains opened, deep and wide;
From the flood-gates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Flowed incessant from above;
And heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

His justice and his peace, his mercy, united at the cross.

Exodus 34 ends with the renewal of the covenant. We have that detailed for us in Exodus 34:10-28. Then the last paragraph is kind of a mysterious paragraph. I’ll just summarize it for you. Moses comes down from the mountain, and when he comes down his face is glowing. It’s shining, because he’s seen God. He’s seen the glory of God, the radiance of the back parts of God’s glory. His face is shining; he doesn’t realize it, but the people do, and his face is shining such that they are afraid to be around him, afraid to look at him. So he had to put a veil over his face to hide his face.

It’s kind of a mysterious thing that is never, to my knowledge, commented on again in the rest of Old Testament history—the shining face of Moses, who had seen the reflection of God’s glory on the mountain. But it does get picked up in the New Testament, and Paul uses it in a really remarkable way in 2 Corinthians 3 to contrast the glory of the old covenant, which he said is a fading glory—it’s not permanent, it’s not going to last—with the glory of the new covenant given to us in Christ. I want you to see what he said in 2 Corinthians 3:12. He said,

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. [Now notice this in verses 17-18.] Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And 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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

What an amazing privilege! Paul is telling us that we have a privilege that the children of Israel couldn’t even dream of. We have the privilege of gazing ourselves on the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and in gazing on his glory we are freed from our idols and we are transformed in the death of our hearts so that we become more and more like Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, we are the people of God, we are the Bride of Christ, we are bound to him in covenant love, and we are under a better covenant with a better mediator—not Moses, but Jesus Christ—and it is our privilege now to gaze on the glory of God. He is our vision, is our chief reward, is our greatest delight. We can know him in his love, in his mercy, a just love and a just mercy. His justice and his mercy is shown for us supremely at the cross. We can gaze on that glory, and as we do, as we behold him, we are changed.

I don’t know where you are this morning. Maybe you’re fighting an addiction. Maybe you’re battling deep, idolatrous desires. Maybe there is a restlessness in your soul and you keep looking to other things to fix it. The invitation today is to look to God himself, to trust in Jesus Christ, to embrace him as your Savior, as your Lord, as the lover of your soul, as the delight of your heart. Find your freedom and your joy in him and be faithful to him in covenant love. Let’s pray together.

Gracious, merciful God, we confess this morning that we are sinners, each and every one of us. We are sinners both by nature and by practice. We have done those things which we should not have done and we have left undone those things you’ve commanded us to do. There is no health in us, from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet. We are corrupted by our sin, by our idolatry.

All we can do this morning is come, confess those sins, and ask you, Lord, to pardon our iniquity for your name’s sake, for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, for the glory of your great name, because you have pledged yourself to those who believe that those who come in repentant faith will be forgiven freely and received, justified, accepted, embraced as your sons and as your daughters.

So, Lord, we now do that together this morning. Many of us have done that before, but we do it again. We renew our faith at this moment, and we ask you, Lord, to receive us for Jesus’ sake, to remove our sins and our transgressions, to transform our hearts, and to restore us to the joy of our salvation.

We ask you, Lord, to meet with us at the table this morning as we come to receive the sacred emblems of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that as we physically take the bread and the juice we would spiritually feast on Jesus Christ himself, who is our living bread, the one who gave himself for the life of the world. We ask you, Lord, to work deeply in our hearts to bring freedom where there is bondage, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring hope where there is despair, to give us this morning a deep and lasting assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we are in a right relationship with you because of the work of your Son, Jesus, who was crucified and risen for us.

Would you draw near to us in these moments? As we come to the table, may this be more than going through motions. May it be for us a real encounter with the living God, and may you be honored in these moments. We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.