When Moses returned from his called special session of meeting with God on Mount Sinai, he wasn’t carrying the proposals his people expected. Whatever he believed right, accurate, and proper going up the mountain felt missing as he descended the uneven path. This wasn’t what he was expecting. Moses’ assumptions about God’s priorities and how God’s people lived into a relationship with God were not the same as when they’d left Egypt. The further from Pharaoh they fled, the possibility of living without God became unrealistic. They weren’t able to say “thank you” and “goodbye” to the being that saved their lives.
Despite Moses’ extensive legislative work in the Egyptian courts, he was unprepared for the transformative nature of his encounter with God. Containing amendments, proposals, and changes; neither Moses nor the Israelites had a good idea what the stone tablets held. Moses was so busy carrying the tablets, dragging them through the sand, and worrying about what might happen that he never bothered to read them. God gave the rules to Moses. Moses left. Staying behind to debate, chat, and query God wasn’t something Moses felt comfortable doing. He knew the closer one gets to God, the closer you are to dying. Moses, despite his adventurous lifestyle, wasn’t ready to die. Perhaps, when he was at the bottom of the mountain, after water and rest, he too would have the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
Aaron made the first comment. “You know you’re glowing,” he said. “Glowing,” asked Moses? “Yes, your face is, well for lack of a better word, glowing.” Moses didn’t feel glowing, radiant, or any of the other words being bandied about. The camp’s lack of mirrors prevented Moses from immediately confirming this was a practical joke planned in his absence. Despite his hesitation, he’d have to take his brother’s word, he was glowing.
Skin care isn’t a big deal in the desert. The dry air and the sand do little to preserve natural beauty. Everyone looks rugged, Marlboro man leathery, whether you like it or not. Except for Moses, he came back from seeing God, and he didn’t only seem different, he was different.
“Maybe I am as radiant as they claim,” said Moses. “Perhaps if I look bright and shiny, the world around me will appear different.” If Moses had really changed externally perhaps there had been an inner transfiguration as well. Did he feel different? It would depend on those tablets. Moses wanted to read the two stone volumes God presented during his makeover session. He might need to make amendments or suggest changes to God. Of course, that would mean a second meeting with God. If he’d changed so much after one encounter, could he risk going up again?
There was little left to do but talk. Moses shared his experience of being around, near, and adjacent to God. Aaron and the others listened. To picture God speaking was more than some could handle. Yet when Moses described the reality of God’s presence, no one doubted what occurred. Moses was in a place where God was speaking.
It was decided. Moses would keep talking to the Lord. Their unique cliffhanger, one of divine intervention, near misses, and high drama was far from over. However, because Moses was in the presence of the Lord, he opted to make a change in his appearance. Instead of going in as before, on one on one, Moses chose to wear a veil. He’d put the cover on when the Lord was near and remove it when they’d finished talking.
Moses was already transformed and transfigured. God permanently changed his life. Now, it was up to realize the limits of humanities possible interactions with the divine. Moses thought that wearing the veil was a good idea. There is so much one can or should know. Despite all our efforts, reports, amendments, and stone tablets; God remains a mystery, something we see through a veil if we glimpse God at all. Maybe spending time in the presence of God’s will help us understand our way forward, out of the wilderness where we’re wandering. I know one thing for sure. If we do step into God’s presence, we will be changed.
Richard Lowell Bryant