12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—
13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.
14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.
15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
hope (v.12) = expectation, trust, confidence — faith in the future
blinded (v.14) = hardened, rendered callous
liberty (v.17) = freedom from slavery
are being transformed (v.18) — continuing action
The action of Moses that Paul refers to occurs in Exodus 34:29-35:
Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
It is generally supposed that Moses, having come from the presence of God with the Law, had a countenance so glorious that he covered it with a veil in order to address the children of Israel.
This is not so. It is true that the children of Israel could not “steadfastly” behold Moses’ face, but he did not hide his glory from them.
This incident took place … after the apostasy of the golden calf, as Moses brought down the Ten Commandments for the second time. it is true that Aaron and the children of Israel “were afraid to come nigh” when they saw the glory of Moses’ countenance, but he called them back. …
It was when he had finished speaking with them that he put the veil over his face, that they might not see the glory fade. … The point is that Moses had no intention of hiding the glory of his countenance from the children of Israel, but rather wished them to see it. This is why he called them back when they fled. He put the veil on his face when he had done speaking, only that they might not see the glory disappear.
This explains 2 Corinthians 3:7 and 13, where we read that “the glory of his countenance … was to be done away” (Lit. “disappear”), and that he “put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished” (Again, lit., “which was to disappear“).
The glory of the Lord will never fade away; but the ministration of it, though begun in glory, ended in shame and disgrace, and this is what Moses’ transient glory typified. As he communicated the Law of God to the children of Israel his face shone, but this glory soon passed away and the further ministration of the Law brought judgment and death.
It is interesting to note that the dispensation of the Law began and ended as men with shining countenances addressed the people of Israel.
It began as Moses, with the glory of God upon his face, gave to Israel the divine commandments. It ended as Stephen, his face also aglow with heaven’s glory, charged Israel with breaking these commandments. And the record regarding Stephen is no less significant that that regarding Moses. “And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
And this man, with shining countenance, closed his address with the words: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53).
But the glory departed from Stephen’s face too; not because of any failure from him, but because of their wickedness, for in response to these words they dragged him out and stoned him to death. And so the ministration of the Law had indeed ended in gloom.
But Israel could not—and cannot yet—see it. As the apostle states: Though the veil is off Moses’ face, it is still upon their hearts (v.15). They do not see that the Law can only condemn them.
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:3-4).
But God is not today demanding obedience and prescribing penalties for disobedience. He is rather imparting life, through the Spirit, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” not bondage (v. 17).
The glory of this ministry will never fade. We may speak without reserve, not needing, as Moses did, a veil to hide the passing glory.
The glass here referred to (v.18) is, of course, a mirror. We look into it, not through it. This mirror, in which we behold Christ, is the Word. Nor is this the only passage in which the Word is called a mirror (see James 1:23-24).
In the divine Mirror we may behold ourselves, or we may behold Christ. It is well to use it first to behold ourselves and see the ruin sin has brought. But let us not stop here. Let a man look into a mirror and find a bright light in it and the glory will be reflected in his face. And so it is with the Word. When we see ourselves in it we must necessarily be disappointed, but when we look for Him in the Word and find Him there, His glory casts its reflection upon us!
What need have we then to hide our face? If David could say: “They looked unto Him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed (Psalm 34:5), how much more should this be said of us! … In our study of the Scriptures, we turn from the shame of man to the glory of Christ; as we behold Him and see all we have and are in Him, His glory is reflected in us and we become gradually more like Him, “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” — Stam, pages 67-71.