2008 - Vol. 19
Scripture Study and Reflection
on the Life of Moses - Part IV
Transformed Moses Sets the Stage for the Tent and Priesthood
from the Life of Moses
By Mark F. Whitters,
This is the fourth in a series
of Scripture meditations on the life of Moses as it is presented in the
Book of Exodus. The struggles of Moses as savior of the children of Israel
prefigure Jesus Christ, savior of the world.
Dr. Whitters is a member
of The Servants of the Word,
an ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He leads the
Servants of the Word household in Detroit, Michigan, USA, which serves
urban youth and seeks to foster racial dialogue in the inner city. He is
a lecturer in ancient history and religion at Eastern Michigan University
and a regional coordinator for a scholarly guild called the Society of
The Law Given on Sinai, painting
What God did in Moses, he also intended
to do in Israel. He singled out Moses, brought him into the wilderness
of Midian, and won him into a relationship represented by a mystical marriage
and the burning bush experience. (See Part
I and Part
II in the series.) He did the same thing with Israel, bringing them
into the wilderness of Sinai, making them dependent upon his miraculous
provision there, and then making the people a “special possession” (segulla,
an unusual Hebrew word – see Part
in the series). In this article, we find that Moses transcends his identity
as a son of Israel – that he has a divine status with God as priest and
sanctuary. His role for the children of Israel helps us to understand Christ
as priest and sanctuary for the Church. Yet in spite of Moses’ and Christ’s
lofty status, they show us our own identities and roles before God, for
we all participate in their holiness as priest and sanctuary.
Moses in the
Tent and on the Mountain
(Exodus 33:7– 34:10; 34:29-35)
encounter with God by Jen Swindle
Exodus 33:7– 34:10
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off
from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting. And every one who
sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside
the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose
up, and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until
he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar
of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the LORD
would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar
of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up
and worship, every man at his tent door. 11 Thus the LORD used to
speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses
turned again into the camp, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young
man, did not depart from the tent. 12 Moses said to the LORD, "See,
thou sayest to me, `Bring up this people'; but thou hast not let me know
whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, `I know you by name, and
you have also found favor in my sight.' 13 Now therefore, I pray
thee, if I have found favor in thy sight, show me now thy ways, that I
may know thee and find favor in thy sight. Consider too that this nation
is thy people." 14 And he said, "My presence will go with you, and
I will give you rest." 15 And he said to him, "If thy presence will
not go with me, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known
that I have found favor in thy sight, I and thy people? Is it not in thy
going with us, so that we are distinct, I and thy people, from all other
people that are upon the face of the earth?" 17 And the LORD said to Moses,
"This very thing that you have spoken I will do; for you have found favor
in my sight, and I know you by name." 18 Moses said, "I pray thee, show
me thy glory." 19 And he said, "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."
21 And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand
upon the rock; 22 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; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back;
but my face shall not be seen."
LORD said to Moses, "Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will
write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you
broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount
Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.
3 No man shall come up with you, and let no man be seen throughout all
the mountain; let no flocks or herds feed before that mountain."
4 So Moses cut two tables 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 tables of stone. 5 And the LORD descended
in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God
merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and
faithfulness, 7 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 upon the children and the children's children,
to the third and the fourth generation." 8 And Moses made haste to
bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 And he said, "If
now I have found favor in thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee,
go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon
our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance." 10 And
he said, "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels,
such as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any nation; and all
the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD; for it is
a terrible thing that I will do with you.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony
in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that
the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
30 And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin
of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But
Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation
returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 And afterward all
the people of Israel came near, and he gave them in commandment all that
the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had
finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever
Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off,
until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel
what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel saw the face of Moses,
that the skin of Moses' face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his
face again, until he went in to speak with him.
to These Passages
From the point of view of the Israelites,
God is exalted and dwells in inapproachable and inaccessible heaven. But
it is also clear that God makes himself known in increasingly intensified
and localized ways: in Exodus 24, he “descends” upon the mountain (Sinai)
in a cloud whose center seems to be a consuming fire. He still is remote
– the people are not allowed to ascend the mountain. The right of entering
the presence of God on Sinai belongs to Moses alone. Then Exodus 25-31
speaks of a stunning reversal, where God tells Moses that he is interested
in dwelling in a tent of meeting, an almost impossible thought for Israel
Yet in Exodus 33:7-11, God and Moses
already come together in “a tent of meeting” far outside the camp. This
cannot be the tent of meeting where the Ark of the Covenant will be housed,
for that tabernacle is not set up until Exodus 39-40. Rather this tent
is a place where God and Moses have temporary fellowship, so close that
they meet as friends – and partners. Yet consider that God’s presence is
marked by “the pillar of cloud” (33:10), so it is not a simple mutual or
symmetrical relationship. God chooses Moses and must either humble himself
or elevate Moses, so that the friendship can proceed.
Exodus 34:29-35 goes even further,
for it describes what happens to Moses in such a face-to-face partnership.
He shines with the brilliance of God. It is almost as if Moses is
so set apart, that he is now bodily filled with God. It is an experience
of profound unity with God appropriate for a man who is the LORD’s
own peculiar possession (see the previous article on Moses for a discussion
of the special Hebrew word for “possession”), set apart for God alone.
In effect, it is the daily prayer of Moses in his personal tent that becomes
the archetype for the soon-to-be constructed tent of meeting and the future
priesthood that will preside over sacrifices.
What are the effects of Moses' experience
of profound unity with God? For one thing, Moses now carries with him the
divine presence drawing others to worship (Exodus 33:10). Whenever Moses
goes to be before God in the tent, others see and worship at their tents.
For another thing, he is so much
like God now that people are afraid of him (Exodus 34:30). People notice
that God is so much with him that he shines like God. This status allows
him to teach them with authority; he tells them about the Law and they
listen. Often in fact the text is ambiguous about who actually is speaking
in many contexts, thus, implicitly equating the voice of Moses with the
voice of God himself (e.g., 33:14-15)!
Also God so unites himself with Moses
that God consults Moses and changes because of Moses’ counsel. For
example, in the intervening episode about the LORD
appearing to Moses and revealing his physical glory and nature (“The LORD,
the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness….” [Exodus 34:6]), Moses
immediately resorts to prayer and intercession. He says that God must take
back his people: he will not move until he has God’s assurance that God
will take ownership of the refugees and dwell in the midst of the people
Here we see that Moses refuses to
take on himself only this “set apart” condition. He unites himself with
his own people so much that God cannot take Moses without taking the people
with whom he is united. This is the priestly intersection of worship and
intercession: Moses unites with God, but he is still united with his people.
Thus, God cannot do anything against the people without going through him,
and Moses represents the people to God. His role was prefigured in Exodus
33:7-11, performed in 33:12-34:9, and fulfilled in 34:29-35…and the institution
he personifies has not even been established until the final two chapters
of the Book of Exodus!
In the New Testament, the Apostle
Paul brings the story of Moses and the glory of God to its conclusion.
He says that the Jewish people do not perceive the glory of God because
of the veil that keeps them from seeing the true message of the Scriptures
(2 Corinthians 3:13-18). The implication is that every man is to have the
full view of God’s glory.
Everyone is to enter the door of
the tent, everyone is to be so filled with the divine presence that everyone’s
face will shine. And everyone who takes down the veil will have the same
effects in their lives, namely, they will cause others to worship and they
will bring divine authority into the world and they will be able to consult
with God and intercede for changes to happen. Paul expects that everyone
in his audience will be a Moses with a glory in their lives that transforms
not only the person who sees God, but everything around them.
|Questions for reflection:
How can Moses inspire us to more power in our daily prayer?
How can he illustrate the dignity of our calling in intercession?
Think of the parallels between Jesus and Moses, especially in terms of
neither having been ordained a priest from the house of Aaron and neither
doing their ministry in the institution of the tent or temple per se.