At the Prestoncrest church we have been going through a series on worship on Sunday mornings. Gordon Dabbs, our preacher, has been doing an excellent job preaching this difficult subject. Worship is something that has historically divided many churches, and is still an issue today. Being of a much younger generation, I have never seen it as such a major issue, but I recognize the potential for Satan to use it to divide and conquer.
One key concept of worship that Gordon has been going over springs from how Jesus enables us to worship God face-to-face, without anything in the way. In my own study and research I’ve found that this subject is a powerful image of the Hebrew culture.
In the Middle East, personal privacy is highly valued, especially regarding women. Two big things to note about this privacy is someone’s name and their face. To know someone’s name is a symbol of intimacy, usually an intimacy among friends. To know someone by name is special, and meaningful, which is one reason why it was such an important event when God gave Jacob a new name. Similarly is the idea of seeing someone’s face. Islamic culture retains this long-standing tradition of the Levant, and veils are worn to this day in the Middle East to protect a woman’s privacy. Only her husband and family may see her face, for it is a symbol of intimacy. I cannot stress enough the intimacy reserved for seeing a woman’s face.
Hebrew culture today in Israel retains some of this concern over privacy too. A friend of mine who lived in Israel for a year was told on his first day of classes at Hebrew University to never say in a conversation about a woman, “Yeah, I know her.” He was told this because saying that you “know” someone, in that culture, means you are or have been intimate with that person. To say in passing “I know her” would have been a rather large scandal of inappropriateness.
The Veil of Moses
In Exodus 33, Moses goes to meet with God because he’s worried about leading the people. How can he represent God to them when he doesn’t truly know God? What follows is an amazing conversation between God and Moses that will come alive to you if you know the cultural context behind it, which I explained above.
17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
–Exodus 33:17-20 (emphasis mine)
In this conversation the cultural ideas of privacy and intimacy are drawn out. God tells Moses that he is pleased with him and knows him by name. Have you ever wondered why that mattered? Of course God knows his name….He’s God! It’s a cultural emphasis on knowing someone as thoroughly as a close family member, or even intimately as a husband knows his wife. Next God grants Moses’ wish by showing himself to Moses and proclaiming His name, the Holy name of God, known as the Tetragrammaton. God knows Moses by name and now God allows Moses the same privilege. There is only one caveat: he cannot see God’s face. It’s too Holy, too personal, too intimate for any man to see and know God in that way or they will die. That speaks volumes to a Hebrew, but unfortunately to a western Christian over 3,000 years later, it means very little. Don’t miss the intimacy of that statement! My personal take on it is that since man is sinful, it was impossible for man – even Moses – to know God fully.
When Moses returned to the camp after being with God, scripture tells us that his face was so bright as the glory of God faded from his face that the Israelites asked him to put a veil over his face.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
For over a thousand years, it would be like that. The people were separated from God’s glory by a veil; kept from true intimacy by separation. Fast-forward to after the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah who would pay for the sins of the world. A Jewish rabbi named Sha’ul (Paul) is trying to make sense of it all and through the Holy Spirit makes this great revelation:
12Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
–2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Paul makes a bold claim here. He says that because of Jesus (“such a hope”) we are bold enough to remove the veil (a scandalous thing) and enter into a new kind of intimacy with the Almighty. While the glory of God reflected on the face of Moses faded away over time, the glory of God on the face of Christians only increases in radiance as we are transformed into his likeness!
Face to Face with God
But how is this new intimacy possible? There is one more veil in the Bible to discuss and that is the veil in the temple which separated God’s presence in the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. This veil was four inches thick, and as Josephus writes, it was so sturdy it could not be torn apart by horses tied to it, pulling in opposite directions! The people of God were separated from God’s presence by the veil, and only once per year would the high priest be allowed to even enter therein. But all that changed when Jesus died.
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.
What Jesus did on the cross, by paying for our sins, allows a new intimacy both with God and other people! Now the veil has been taken away. No longer do we worship with veiled faces; our veil has been removed and now when we worship God (who is Spirit) we come face to face with Him.
What an amazing privilege of unique and deep intimacy we have been given to witness and reflect God’s glory with unveiled faces!
Peace to you,