Questions From Readers
● Did Jehovah God personally speak with Moses, or was it through an angelic representative?—S. C., U.S.A.
Jehovah communicated with Moses on more than one occasion. When Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law alongside Mount Horeb, he saw a burning thornbush that was not consumed. As reported at Exodus 3:4-6, “when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to inspect, God at once called to him out of the midst of the thornbush and said: ‘Moses! Moses!’ . . . And he went on to say: ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses concealed his face, because he was afraid to look at the true God.” Who was it that was actually speaking to Moses on that occasion? Ex 3 Verse 2 says: “Jehovah’s angel appeared to him in a flame of fire in the midst of a thornbush.” So, it was not Jehovah himself who there appeared to Moses and spoke to him, but it was Jehovah’s angel who, as the representative of God, spoke in His name.
At Jehovah’s direction, Moses went into Egypt to appear before Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of the land. There Jehovah continued to speak to Moses, giving him specific messages to deliver to Pharaoh and advance notice of plagues that were to come on the land. It is reasonable to conclude that during this time Jehovah continued to speak to Moses, not directly, but through an angelic representative, just as He had done in Horeb.
Later, Moses returned to the vicinity where Jehovah had first given him instructions, bringing with him the liberated sons of Israel. There God audibly communicated the Ten Commandments to the entire nation gathered near the base of the mountain. (Ex. 20:1-18, 22; Deut. 9:10) Overcome with fear, the heads of the tribes and the older men of the people begged that Jehovah not speak to them again in this spectacular manner, but that he communicate with them through Moses. So the people withdrew to their tents, and Jehovah gave further judicial decisions to Moses for the nation.—Deut. 5:4, 23-31.
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the older men of Israel were thereafter granted “a vision of the true God” at the inauguration of the Law covenant. (Ex. 24:11) But concerning Moses’ private experience we read: “Jehovah’s glory continued to reside upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud continued to cover it for six days. At length on the seventh day he called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the sight of Jehovah’s glory was like a devouring fire on the mountaintop. Then Moses entered into the midst of the cloud and went on up the mountain. And Moses continued in the mountain forty days and forty nights. And Jehovah proceeded to speak to Moses . . . Now as soon as he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai he proceeded to give Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone written on by God’s finger.” (Ex. 24:16–31:18) Was that Jehovah himself who personally uttered the Ten Commandments to the entire nation at Mount Sinai and who later gave further judicial decisions and the inscribed tablets of the Testimony to Moses? Many persons who read the account might conclude that.
However, when the Jewish Christian disciple Stephen, moved by God’s spirit, spoke before the Jewish Sanhedrin, he explained: “This is the Moses that . . . came to be among the congregation in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him on Mount Sinai and with our forefathers, and he received living sacred pronouncements to give you.” Then Stephen went on to refer to the men before whom he stood as “you who received the Law as transmitted by angels.” (Acts 7:37, 38, 53) In full agreement with this, the apostle Paul called the Mosaic law “the word spoken through angels.” (Heb. 2:2) And when writing to the congregations of Galatia he said: “The Law . . . was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19) So, it is plain that, rather than speaking to the nation personally and again speaking personally to Moses and giving him the two tablets of the Testimony, Jehovah did these things through angelic representatives who were authorized to speak in His name.
Sometime after this, Moses specially requested Jehovah: “Cause me to see, please, your glory.” Jehovah replied: “I myself shall cause all my goodness to pass before your face, and I will declare the name of Jehovah before you; and I will favor the one whom I may favor, and I will show mercy to the one to whom I may show mercy.” And he added: “You are not able to see my face, because no man may see me and yet live.” And Jehovah said further: “Here is a place with me, and you must station yourself upon the rock. And it has to occur that while my glory is passing by I must place you in a hole in the rock, and I must put my palm over you as a screen until I have passed by. After that I must take my palm away, and you will indeed see my back. But my face may not be seen.”—Ex. 33:18-23.
Early in the morning Moses went up into Mount Sinai. “And Jehovah proceeded to come down in the cloud and station himself with him there and declare the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah went passing by before his face and declaring: ‘Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment, bringing punishment for the error of fathers upon sons and upon grandsons, upon the third generation and upon the fourth generation.’ Moses at once hurried to bow low to the earth and prostrate himself.” (Ex. 34:4-8) Was Jehovah himself personally there on Mount Sinai that morning, so that Moses saw the actual “back” of God himself?
Do not forget that Jehovah had told Moses: “No man may see me and yet live.” (Ex. 33:20) And later the apostle John reported as fact: “No man has seen God at any time.” (John 1:18) Interestingly, however, concerning the time when angelic announcement was made to God-fearing shepherds about the birth of Jesus, Luke 2:9 reports: “Suddenly Jehovah’s angel stood by them, and Jehovah’s glory gleamed around them.” Thus it is shown that manifestations of Jehovah’s glory could be made in connection with the angels. This evidently is what took place when Jehovah caused his glory to appear to Moses. However, it was not the full force of Jehovah’s glory, thus resulting in Moses’ death, but was only the afterglow, God’s “back,” as it were. This is consistent with Stephen’s explanation that Moses was “with the angel that spoke to him on Mount Sinai.” After this the divine power wrote the Ten Commandments on the new set of tablets that Moses had brought up.—Ex. 34:28.
At a later time, when reproving Aaron and Miriam for speaking against their brother Moses, Jehovah said to Aaron and Miriam: “Hear my words, please. If there came to be a prophet of yours for Jehovah, it would be in a vision I would make myself known to him. In a dream I would speak to him. Not so my servant Moses! He is being entrusted with all my house. Mouth to mouth I speak to him, thus showing him, and not by riddles; and the appearance [similitude, Le; JP] of Jehovah is what he beholds.” (Num. 12:6-8) That was good reproof for Aaron and Miriam, because they had bragged that Jehovah had spoken by means of them and so they were prophets as much as Moses was.
In view of what has already been learned it might be asked, What was the point that Jehovah was making to Aaron and Miriam when he said that he spoke with Moses “mouth to mouth”? How was his communicating with Moses different from his communicating with other prophets also by means of angels?
Moses was the one whom Jehovah had chosen to be mediator between Himself and the nation of Israel. To him God gave the instructions and the code of laws of the Law covenant for the nation. Jehovah entrusted him ‘with all His house,’ using Moses as His intimate representative in organizing the nation. The later prophets simply continued to build on the foundation that had been laid through Moses. Although God had in the past spoken through angels to faithful men such as Noah and Abraham, and He had audibly conveyed the Ten Commandments to the entire nation by his angel on a single occasion, Jehovah spoke with Moses “mouth to mouth” or “face to face, just as a man would speak to his fellow.” (Ex. 33:9-11) Not merely on one or two occasions, but repeatedly Jehovah spoke to Moses, and Moses, in turn, talked to God, presenting problems for His direction and expressing his own feelings, and Jehovah answered him by his angel. No others of the prophets enjoyed such a continuous two-way conversational communication with God as Moses did in his capacity of mediator or go-between.—Deut. 34:10.
Jehovah, by means of his angel on Mount Horeb, said to Moses: “You are not able to see my face, because no man may see me and yet live.” (Ex. 33:20) So, when Deuteronomy 34:10 speaks of “Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face,” it could never mean that Moses saw Jehovah’s very own face or person. And as the mouth is a part of the face, then when Jehovah said, “Mouth to mouth I speak to him,” it could not mean that Moses saw God’s face or was in direct, immediate contact with God. He merely had personal audience with God, by means of angels, who, as Jesus said in Matthew 18:10, “always [at necessary times] behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
The manner in which Jehovah dealt with Moses was so impressive that it was as if Moses actually had beheld God with his own eyes, instead of merely having a mental vision or a dream in which he heard God speak, which was the usual way in which God communicated with his prophets. Jehovah was never actually seen by Moses, and it was through angels that God spoke to him, but Jehovah’s dealings with Moses were so real that Moses reacted as if he had seen “the One who is invisible.” (Heb. 11:27) And the way in which the description was written down sounded and read as if Moses had seen and heard Jehovah God himself.