Holy Moses and Holy Mystery 


And the Lord said to Moses, I will go before you with My glory, and I will call out My name, ‘the Lord’ before you; and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” And again He said, “You shall not be able to see My face, for man shall not see My face and live.” And again the Lord said, “Behold there is a place by Me; you shall stand upon the rock. And when My glory shall pass by, then I will put you in a cleft on the rock; and I will cover you with My hand, until I pass by. And I will take away My hand, and then you shall see My backside; but My face shall not appear to you.” 

And having risen early in the morning, Moses went up Mount Sinai, as the Lord had told him. And the Lord descended in a cloud, and Moses stood there before Him and called out in the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before his face, and called out, “The Lord God, compassionate and merciful, longsuffering, greatly-merciful, and true.” And Moses, making haste, stooped down to the earth and worshipped the Lord.  (Exodus 33:19-23, 34:4-8)

In the above biblical text, note the various ways in which mystery is expressed – that something is being hidden from Moses.  God tells Moses that he cannot see God’s face. God says He will cover Moses with His hand to ensure that Moses can only see God’s backside, but not His face.  God descends in a cloud.  The time of Moses and the Old Testament was not yet time for God to fully reveal Himself. Moses is described as God’s friend and yet God remains wrapped in mystery for Moses.


Moses is one of the two Old Testament saints who appears with Jesus at Christ’s Transfiguration. The other is Elijah. These two saints represent the Law and the prophets and appear with Jesus to show him in continuity with all of the Old Testament, for the entirety of the Old Testament bears witness to Christ.


Moses in representing the Law of the Old Testament is contrasted with Christ by St Paul. Modern scholars think St Paul in his epistles also contrasts Moses with Paul himself as well as with all believers. So biblical scholar Richard Hays writes referring to St Paul’s discussion of Moses having his face veiled after seeing God (2 Corinthians 3:12-16):

On the surface, Moses is a figure not like Paul, because he is veiled and mysterious, not disclosing all that he knows. He has numinous encounters, delivers oracular pronouncements, then retreats behind his veil, keeping his wisdom to himself. That is Paul’s picture of the ministry of the old covenant: revelatory glimpses of a truth that remains for the most part hidden. By contrast, Paul has nothing to hide (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). He lays bare the truth, plays no game of revelational striptease. At this surface level, the dissimile serves Paul’s apologia by highlighting his candor and appealing for his readers trust. …


[Hays is pointing out something that many church fathers also believed – that the Old Testament presented Christ to the Jews but in a veiled way, in shadows, mystery, prefiguration, or enigmatic prophecy. Christ fully reveals that which for Moses was still mystery. In Christ we see God’s face and not only His backside.  And now Paul and the apostolic authors of the New Testament all are making known God’s full revelation. The Old Testament reveals in part, it teases us, but Christ and the New Testament completely reveal what previously had been hidden in mystery.]

Below the surface, however, the current flows in the opposite direction, because Moses did, after all, encounter God face to face. Thus, he becomes a symbol of unveiling as well as of veiling.  . . .


… Moses unveiled encounters with the Lord were intermittent, punctuated by times of withdrawal and veiling. Paul’s metaphor implies, by contrast, that he and others who have now turned to the Lord through Jesus Christ live in a continuous experience of the presence of the Spirit. The veil has been removed once and for all. Thus, Moses’ occasional entry into the presence of God, while paradigmatic, remains only a prefiguration of the experience of Christians. (ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, pp 142-143)

The Feast of the Transfiguration is a feast of God revealing Himself to us in Christ. Moses and Elijah appear with Christ to emphasize – this is the One to whom we referred and to whom we pointed and whom we wrote about. The time for revelation had come and now in Christ we comprehend what previously was understood only in mystery. All that separated us from God (sin, death) has been taken away and in the Church, we celebrate this revelation of light and peace.


For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Ephesians 2:14-16)