Visitors to Rome can see Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses. Strangely, Moses is a horned figure! Michelangelo read the Vulgate, a translation of Scripture from Hebrew to Latin by Jerome. He mistranslated the Hebrew word for “radiant face,” rendering it as horns.
Since the Vulgate, we have more accurate translations of the Bible and we know that the effects of God’s presence on Moses didn’t stimulate the growth of horns. Rather, Moses’ face betrayed the luminous brilliance of the glory of God. Having just spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai with God, Moses was physically transformed by his experience.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3, helps us understand the importance of this text from Exodus. He shows us the hope that we have under the New Covenant with Christ as contrasted by the Old Covenant. Moses was a foretaste of what everyone who believes and follows Christ can look forward to. None of us is ever meant to be the same once we come into God’s presence, something we’re invited to do regularly because of the access that Jesus has provided us.
In Moses’ day, he alone was called into intimate contact with God. No other Israelites were invited to a private audience with God. And it was Moses alone who was transfigured by intimacy with God. However, his glory was fading. It diminished with every descending step from the mountain.
Compare this to the glory that we, as believers under the New Covenant, are promised. Through Christ, we can now all come into God’s presence and all be transformed by that glory. The New Cov-enant, whose locus is internal, rather than external, brings a glory that does not fade. And we aren’t forced to veil our faces as Moses was. The picture of a radiant Moses descending Mount Sinai portrays what every believer is to be in our dark world: the light of God’s love and truth in the enveloping darkness.