Alright, I’m a Bible geek. I admit it. I had fully intended to focus my faith posts on moral codes and stuff like that, which are relatable on a universal level; instead I find myself being drawn towards sharing the less obvious stuff – the symbolism and significance that I find in the Scriptures.
I will, at some point, talk about applying the Word of God (which is important), but I’m discovering that when it comes to the Bible, it’s difficult for me to write anything of substance without coming across as a bit of a fanatic. Or a geek. Or both. This stuff lights my fire, man!
Today I want to talk about the veil Moses wore and how it relates to the curtain of the temple, both of which were used to protect the people from God’s perceived or very real wrath.
Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark when Harrison Ford and that other lady were chained to the pole and he yelled at her to close her eyes and keep them shut while the Ark of the Covenant was being opened? The guy who wrote that movie sure did his Biblical homework because that ark actually did exist, and it contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments, which Moses got when he met on the mountain with God.
And that ark had to be treated with special care. When the Israelites were carrying it from one village to another, and the ark started to slip off the poles that were holding it, one hapless guy reached out to prevent the ark from falling on the ground and he immediately fell down dead. Just as healing power came out of Jesus’ cloak when someone touched it, retributive power came out of the ark when someone touched it without having first been sanctified.
We don’t get it in this day of grace. We don’t get God as one who is too holy to be approached since we are encouraged to pray to him directly. So it can be hard to understand both what God’s people went through in order to worship him, and why things are different now. Let’s take a look at Moses’ meeting with God on Mount Sinai.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow . . . Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. (Exodus 19:10&12).
God loved his people, and so he warned them – irreverence would get them killed. This might be hard for us to understand today (and also hard to swallow), but it is in keeping with God’s nature. The Israelites, however, completely got it.
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)
And they were even more freaked out when they saw Moses after he came down from the mountain because his face was radiant. God’s glory reflected on his own the same way the sun shines on the moon.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.
This is why Moses wore a veil. The Israelites asked him to put it on because they were afraid they could be put to death just for looking at God’s reflected glory. That’s how much of a distance there was between God and his people.
When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 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, 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. (Exodus 34:29-35)
This brings us to the curtain. While Moses wore the veil because the people were in awe of God’s reflected glory, the curtain was put in place to protect the people from God’s actual glory – his presence in the inner-most sanctuary of the temple.
This is how the curtain was constructed:
“Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place. (Exodus 26:31-35)
You see that? The ark of the covenant was placed behind the curtain, protected from people’s view and from innocent people accidentally bumping in to it.
(In case you were wondering what happened to the ark, it is believed to have been taken by the Babylonians when they sacked Jerusalem in roughly 587 BC. They plundered the temple and all the items in it, and there is only rumor – or uncanonized scripture – to tell us what happened to the ark after that.)
In the New Testament, the writer of the book of Hebrews gives us a little more insight into the practices of the Israelites concerning the Most Holy Place – the inner sanctuary that is separated by the curtain.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:6-7)
So, if you’re still with me, you get the picture right? You get just how important that curtain was – how holy God’s presence was behind it, how impossible it was to have direct access to God whenever someone wanted it.
And this brings me to my point: Jesus’ crucifixion, as told by eye-witnesses (this one in Matthew 27).
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) – jumping to verse 50 – And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Okay, first of all, are you as amazed as I am that tombs broke open and the dead people came out and went into Jerusalem and HUNG OUT WITH PEOPLE? No? Just me? That is beyond cool – it’s freaked out amazing. Remember that this is eye-witnesses (plural) who saw this; it was not just Jesus resurrected, but other people resurrected too.
Okay, now let me draw your attention to the subject we’ve been talking about – the curtain. When Jesus died, the curtain that kept the most holy place separated from the riffraff that is you and me – the place that high priests were only allowed to enter once a year, and that after a sacrifice for their own sins – was torn in two from top to bottom. It was TORN IN TWO. This meant there was no longer a holy place that people were not allowed to touch. There was no longer restricted access.
And we are able to be free and easy in prayer – on good terms with this holy God – because of that.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20)
The curtain was gone, and Moses’ veil with it.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
No veil. No curtain. Just . . . unlimited communion with our God.
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