The Old Covenant Veil
2 Corinthians 3:12, 13 says,
12 Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face that the sons of Israel might not look intently at the end of what was fading away.
As we have said earlier, this is a reference to the story of Moses, who put a veil over his face after coming down off the Mount, because the people were afraid of the glory that they saw in his face. Exodus 34:29, 30 reads,
29 And it came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come to him.
Notice that even Aaron was afraid to approach Moses. So Moses came upon a solution to the problem. Exodus 34:31-34 continues,
31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. 32 And afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the Lord had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. 33 When [read “till,” as the KJV says] Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel, what he had been commanded….
In verse 33, the NASB gives the impression that Moses did not put the veil over his face until after he “had finished speaking with them.” That, of course, would defeat the whole purpose of the veil. Obviously, the KJV is correct is saying, “And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail [veil] on his face.”
Hence, it is clear that when Moses spoke to the people, he was veiled; but when he spoke to God at the Tabernacle, he removed the veil and spoke with God face to face. Moses had a New Covenant relationship with God; the people were limited by the Old Covenant.
The Veiled Message
The word of God is the expression of God’s glory. Paul says that he and others of New Covenant faith used “great boldness in our speech and are not like Moses” (2 Cor. 3:12, 13). Hence, the first interpretation of the veil is that the message of glory was NOT preached to the Israelites with great boldness or clarity. The meaning of the message was partially hidden by the veil. The people were unable to receive the full impact of the message which Moses brought down from the Mount.
Next, Paul shows that the message is clear to those who are of the New Covenant. 2 Cor. 3:14-16 says,
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
The veil is the Old Covenant; the unveiled, face-to-face revelation of fully-revealed glory is the New Covenant. When men have an Old Covenant mindset, they are afraid of the New Covenant and are unable to hear its message or to see its glory.
When Moses came off the mountain in Exodus 24, it was the second time that God had given Israel the law. The first time Moses broke the tablets (Exodus 32:19), because he discovered that the Israelites had been worshiping a golden calf. Hence, God told Moses to return to the Mount, where God would give him a second set of tablets on which were engraved the same law.
This speaks prophetically, telling us that the first covenant was broken, creating the need for a second covenant. There was no glory in Moses’ face the first time he came off the mount, because he came then with the law on stone tablets and relayed the message of the Old Covenant. But when he came the second time, he came with the message of the New Covenant, and the glory was seen in his face.
In each case the law was the same (Exodus 34:1). The difference was the covenant. In the first covenant the people were obligated to be fully obedient in order to obtain the promises of God. They broke their vows almost immediately, making that covenant useless in obtaining blessings of salvation. Hence, they were in need of a second covenant.
The second covenant, also known as the New Covenant, was God’s vow to men. Therefore, God obligated Himself to cause us to receive His promises. Such a covenant cannot fail, for God is able to overcome all resistance by the power of His great love.
Yet Moses had to put a veil over his face, because the people were not yet able to receive such a message of glory. Indeed, even to this day it is difficult for men to comprehend or believe that God would make such a vow to save all of mankind. The Jews remaining in Judaism have needed and demanded that veil to this day.
It is even more difficult for men to believe that God is able to keep His New Covenant vow. Hence, they water down the vow to mean that God has vowed to make the promises available to all mankind, giving man’s will the power and ability to thwart the promises of God. But such a view only turns the New Covenant back into another form of the Old Covenant, thereby ensuring a very high failure rate.
In Paul’s day, it was bad enough that the Jews had rejected Christ and the New Covenant which He had ratified by His blood. Even Christians seemed to have difficulty believing and understanding it. Paul’s letter to the Galatian church shows how many wanted to return to the Old Covenant through physical circumcision. Others considered the earthly Jerusalem (Hagar) to be their spiritual “mother” and the prophetic mother of the Kingdom.
The Old Covenant mindset was still a church problem, even though the believers had accepted Christ. Paul saw the inherent contradiction in those who claimed to be under the New Covenant but continued to base their salvation upon physical circumcision or their own vows.
It is not so different today. Christians everywhere make their vows to God and then claim salvation based upon those vows. They make their decision to follow Jesus and then claim the promises of God based upon their own will. This is Old Covenant Christianity, practiced without realizing it, because so few understand the primary difference between the two covenants.
Instead of seeing their decision as an outworking of God’s vow, they see their decision as the initiator of their salvation. Hence, they say, “I was saved when I gave my life to Christ.” But such a statement is true only if the believer has been able to fulfill his vow and remain perfect from then on. I know of no one who has been able to fulfill their vows to God, regardless of how well intentioned they were. Certainly, I was never able to do so when I tried to be saved by my own will.
Whenever our salvation is based upon the will of man, the man in question is in bondage to fulfill the entire law. No vow is valid when broken. Those who are honest with themselves know that they are unable to keep their vows. Human nature has not changed since the days of Moses. Even with the help of the Holy Spirit since the day of Pentecost, Spirit-filled Christians have had to repent many times for their failure. If their salvation were really based upon their own vows, then they would have to admit that they lost their salvation every time they sinned.
I too have been “saved” countless times during the years when I thought that my salvation rested upon my own vows and good intentions. It was only years later, when I discovered that my salvation rested upon the promise of God and His vow to me that I came fully into a place of rest in the New Covenant. The veil was removed, and I heard Paul’s bold message clearly.
I realized then that as I grew in Christ, I was showing forth evidence of the fulfillment of God’s vow, who works in my life, steadily changing my heart by His Spirit little by little until I am fully conformed to His image. I can take no credit for it, for only He can do such a work in my heart.
What is the Promise of God?
2 Corinthians 3:17, 18 concludes,
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 from the Lord, the Spirit.
The promise of God, given to Abraham in Gen. 12:3, was that “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Acts 3:25, 26 interprets this to mean that Jesus would be sent “to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” Hence, the promise was for God to turn the hearts of “all the families of the earth,” until they follow Jesus and all are restored to Him.
The promise given to Israel under Moses in Deut. 29:12, 13 was “that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God.” In the first covenant, becoming His people depended upon their own vow; but in the second covenant (Deut. 29:1), it depended upon God’s oath alone.
When the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 14, God threatened to destroy them all on the grounds that they had violated their oath in Exodus 19:8—that is, their Old Covenant vow. When Moses objected on the grounds that the neighbors would say that God was unable to fulfill His promises, God said in Num. 14:21,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
The phrase, “as I live,” indicates that God has sworn an oath in the divine court. This means He alone is obligated to make it happen, and if it should fail, God cannot blame anyone else for that failure. He cannot say, “man’s will is too strong for Me to overcome.” He cannot say, “I had good intentions, but after all, I could not overrule man’s free will.” If God could not fulfill His vow, He never should have made such a vow. But He did, having full confidence in His ability to fill the whole earth with His glory.
That glory was seen in Moses’ face. Moses was not the exception but the example for all those who are destined to see God with unveiled faces. This will happen only as the veil is removed from the hearts of men, for only then can we walk in the “liberty” of the children of God. Only a few are called in this present age and in this lifetime to walk with unveiled faces. God is training the few at the present time in order to minister to the many in the age to come.
Let us be among the few and walk in the New Covenant as overcomers, no longer blinded by dependence upon our own vows to receive the promise of God.
The promise is to be given the glory of God and to be transformed into the image of Christ as sons of God.