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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, February 22, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Exodus 34:29–35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (NRSV)

In a recent interview, African American social entrepreneur Trabian Shorters described the advice his grandmother once gave him. He said that Erma Lee translated the biblical phrase “humble thyself before the Lord” as follows: “You must be humble to God’s presence. But to everyone else shine.”

I think of that combination of both humility and boldness when considering this passage from Exodus. As Moses comes down the mountain at Sinai with the rewritten tablets of the commandments in hand, he must veil himself, because the brightness of his countenance overwhelms the Israelites. Veils function as shields across many cultures and many environmental circumstances. We wear hats to shield ourselves from the sun, goggles to shield our eyes from the sting of ocean water; we wear hoods to shield ourselves from rain and snow. But Moses is different. He wears his veil to protect not himself but the Israelite people from the overwhelming brilliance of God’s glory as it left an imprint—metaphorically or not—on Moses’ face; he wears no veil before God.

Why? Well, what precedes this passage is Moses’ request to see God in full, knowing that no one can see God and live. But as a kind of compromise God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock and lets God’s kol tuvi in Hebrew, or in English “all God’s goodness,” pass over him.As a result, the brilliance of Moses’ sheen comes from the radiance emanating from the hind side of God. Moses is not veiled by cloth, but in a rock, through the compassion of God. It is God who both shields and shines, and Moses does the same for his people.

God’s face leaves an imprint or mark wherever its image is given. And so, this day, where do you perceive the imprint of God’s love, justice, peace, and compassion in you and your life? Where might you shield others from your ego but let the brilliance of God’s love shine forth in you for others to see and emulate?

God, whose brilliance shines as the sun, let me not hide but bear the glowing fire of your love in ways that build up others in love. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Associate Pastor for Evangelism and Community Engagement

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