The Scriptorium

When God Hides His Face

You don't want to be there. Deuteronomy 31.14-18

Next Stage in God’s Covenant: Deuteronomy 30, 31 (4)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 78.1-4
Give ear, O my people, to my law;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,
And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.

Psalm 78.1-4

(Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
Give ear, O my people, attend to my word,
dark sayings and parables sent from the Lord,
things we have before by our fathers been told,
which we would not dare from our children withhold.

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 31.14-18

1. How did God appear to Moses and Joshua? Why?

2. What did God say was going to happen?

God called Moses and Joshua to assemble before Him in the tabernacle of meeting, so that God could officially inaugurate Joshua into his new role (v. 14). God appeared to them in the same form with which they were familiar from their wanderings in the wilderness (v. 15). Thus, He established a certain continuity between the way He related to Moses and how He will relate to Joshua. So far, so good.

But it’s downhill from there. God explains to His chosen and trusted leaders what the future holds for His people: idolatry, covenant-breaking, abandonment, trouble, and destruction (vv. 16-18). This will happen after both Moses and Joshua have passed from the scene (v. 16); nevertheless, it must have been very discouraging news.

Twice God says that He will turn His face away from His people (vv. 17, 18). God’s face indicates a variety of things relative to the favor of God. His face looking upon His people signals the presence of His Spirit (Ezek. 39.29). It indicates openness to His Word (Ps. 119.135), as well as His friendship (Ex. 33.11) and strength (Ps. 105.4). When God is looking upon His people, they know the blessings of His salvation (Ps. 67.1). The face of God set against someone indicates divine judgment and opposition (Lev. 20.3, 5; Ps. 34.16). For God to turn His face away means that He is angry (Ps. 27.9). He hides His face and leaves us to the troubles of our own making (Ps. 69.17). God’s turning His face away means that He is leaving His people to the consequences of their foolish choices – all of which are bad.

God calls us to seek His face (Ps. 27.8) and all the benefits that implies. But when we prefer idols, neglect of His Law, and disobedience, we have no ground for expecting anything from Him other than the consequences of our own folly.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
God held a formal transition of power from Moses to Joshua. A beautiful setting. Both men, no doubt, got all cleaned up. The LORDappeared in a pillar of cloud. They were waiting to hear from God about their new jobs. Joshua will lead the people into the Promised Land; and Moses will enter his eternal promised land. Frankly, the prospects for Moses far surpassed the mission for Joshua. But for both men, the goal was serving the LORD. Obediently and faithfully. Their worth and value was not based on the outcomes. It was based solely on following the Law and faithfully leading those who were their responsibility. The same is true for us. We have no control over how other people respond to Jesus; but share Him we must. And obey Him absolutely. God didn’t let Joshua off the hook because the people were going to behave badly. He formally inaugurated him into a new job, while relieving Moses of his. And now Moses would receive his reward and some hard-earned rest. Not because the people were righteous, but because he was faithful to his calling. Joshua’s job description looks bleak, but he can still be pleasing to the LORD. So can we: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6.9, 10). Our inauguration, like Joshua’s, has zero promise of success; but it does have plenty of encouragement to do good.


1. Moses and Joshua had specific callings from the Lord. What about you? What has God called you to do?
2. What does it mean to seek the face of God? What should we expect when the face of God is looking favorably upon us?

3. We are responsible before the Lord for no one but ourselves. What does that responsibility entail for you?

Hence are we taught that, as our happiness depends on God's paternal favor, so there is nothing worse for us than to be forsaken by Him, as if He regarded us with no further care; and the lesson we are to learn is, that there is nothing more desirable for us than that He should honor us with His countenance.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 31.17

Let Your face shine on me, O God, for I seek Your face to help me…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 78.5-7
Pray that God will shine His face on you and all believers, for revival, renewal, and awakening in our day.

Psalm 78.5-7
(Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
The glorious deeds of our God in His might,
and all of the works He has done in our sight,
together with all of the words of His Law,
would we on ourselves and our children bestow.

Lord, let all our children arise and declare
the truth of the Lord every day, everywhere,
and set all their hopes in God’s wonderful Word,
and never forget all the works of the Lord.

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here. And check out our current ReVision series on encouragement.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore