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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A face that shines

God's otherwise unseen presence, glory were mirrored in the face of Moses

Read Exodus 34:29-35

The Transfiguration window in my church has Moses and Elijah flanking a white-robed Jesus. Elijah is a dead giveaway, with his famous chariot beside him. Moses is harder to identify. He has a horn sprouting out of each side of his head, giving him an Elmer Fudd look — the cartoon character who once donned a two-horned magic helmet to pursue Bugs Bunny.

The horns in stained glass make for a strange, though understandable, representation by the artist. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai after meeting God, his face shone brilliantly. The Hebrew word for "shone" is karan, only one vowel different from the word for "horn" — keren. Hence the interpretive decision by some painters over the centuries to outfit Moses with horns.

Still, it was the face of Moses that tipped off the Israelites to the valuable contents of those large objects wrapped in his arms. These weren't store-bought slabs of fake granite, stenciled with cute aphorisms. These tablets carried divine expectations that bore the full weight of God's glory. Anyone walking around with a face encrusted with flakes of light had either spent far too much time in the sun or, more likely with those tablets in hand, had encountered God in some unmistakable way.


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