2 Corinthians 3:7-9 (NKJV) But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
In the passage above, we face a profound rhetorical question. Let me summarize.
If the ministry of death, engraved on stones was glorious, so that the Children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of His countenance, …, How will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?
This is rhetorical because the answer is in verse nine “For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds in glory”.
For Paul, the answer was obvious, but the question needs to be asked of the Corinthian believers, who had fumbled away the more glorious nature of the ministry of the Spirit of God. When we consider the contents of both letters to the Corinthians believers, we find many unbiblical practices, some of which are listed below.
- Contentions, factions, and divisions
- Spiritual immaturity
- Undealt with sexual immorality
- Problems among husbands and wives
- Gluttons and offenders ruining communion
- Spiritual gifts out of order and in spiritual pride
- False doctrine concerning the resurrection
All the above are contained in I Corinthians. It is enough to say that most of these issues had not been dealt with to the degree they should have been, by the time of the writing of the second letter to the Corinthians. Although these issues of carnality and sin, diminished the glorious nature of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, something else was more foundational as a hindrance.
Before we examine that hindrance, let us examine the ministry of death/condemnation and the glory therein, that we may understand more fully the ministry of the Spirit.
THE MINSTRY OF DEATH/CONDEMNATION
The ministry of death came out of the time and events of the giving of the law of God to Israel, through Moses, who was known as the law giver. Now we know that the law is good and had a manifold and powerful purpose.
- To reveal man’s sin
- To reveal man’s inability to atone for his sin
- To provide a type or foreshadowing, in bloody animal sacrifice, of the Lamb of God (Messiah) who would not cover their sin but remove their sin, through His shed blood.
- To reiterate that the just live by faith
- To glorify God
The ministry of death gave rise to the fear of the Lord, which could lead to faith, should the Israelite walking in obedience to God’s commands, place their trust in the One who was to come to remove their sin. The fear was to be the fear of the Lord, but for most, it produced a fear of death.
Romans illustrates this well, as we understand that by the works of the law shall no one be justified in His sight, and the all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (fallen short of the sinless perfection needed to gain access to His presence; Romans 3:20-23, 6:23).
This fear of death arose from the nearness of God’s presence, as God had called all Israel to meet with Him on the mountain, yet they refused for fear.
Exodus 20:18-21 (NKJV) Now all the people witnessed the thundering, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.
Deuteronomy 5:4-5 (NKJV) The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain.
The fear of coming into God’s presence was because of their sinful and unbelieving hearts. To be in His presence they needed to repent and commit to walking out the covenant He made with them. Because they did not, they feared His presence, which would bring death.
This ministry of death is also seen as the ministry of condemnation, not because God did not want to give them mercy, but because they held onto their sin and died in condemnation in the wilderness. So how was this ministry of death glorious?
It was glorious for what it produced in Moses, which was opposite of the general rank and file. How God’s glorious presence effected Moses, was to be how it effected all Israel.
Remember that the glory of God’s presence did not cause Moses to run, but to fall face down in humility and reverence; in fact, Moses would run to God’s presence in times of trouble.
Being in God’s presence softened Moses to being the meekest man on earth, at the time of the writing of scripture. This means that Moses learned how to exercise self-control, denying his passions and desires for the good of God and his countrymen.
Moses’ physical health was supercharged, that when he was close to death the light of his eye was not dimmed nor his natural strength diminished (Deuteronomy 34:7). This area of his physical appearance is where we see the glory of the ministry of death, in relation to our passage, as the chief example.
2 Corinthians 3:7 (NKJV) But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,
Verses 13-14 further reveals…
2 Corinthians 3:13-15 (NKJV) unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
We understand that when Moses would leave the glorious presence of the Lord, his face and skin would shine so much it would hurt them to look. Perhaps like a bush that is full of the fire of God, but does not burn, Moses would radiate the glory of God from his outward frame. As time would pass from being in the glorious presence of God, the shine would diminish. This is what it means in reference to “which glory was passing away”.
The glory of God was on the outside in the ministry of death, and it affected the outside of the man Moses framed in very positive and powerful ways, but that glory was passing away, for God had His plan to bring His glory into the heart of man. It was the ministry of death that was to catalyze a hunger in Israel for the, the ministry of the Spirit. We see this foreshadowed by the prophets.
Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NKJV) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NKJV) Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God
Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NKJV) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
The problem with Israel and God’s desire for them, is that there was a veil over their heart. Moses’ veil, would allude to this carnality that existed, as a barrier, between Israel and God. I Corinthians reveals the one way that veil can be removed.
2 Corinthians 3:14-16 NKJV But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
What removes the veil over the heart? When a person turns from self will and sin, and turns unto the Lord. This is what opens up the ministry of the Spirit, but this turning unto the Lord must be absolute. What that means is a repenting towards God and placing one’s faith in Christ, exhibited by obedience for the sake of love (John 14:15-23).
Remember, turning to the Lord is not half measure, three quarter measure or quarter measure, it is 100% or nothing. The outcome of that turning is more glorious than even Moses experienced.
The ministry of death, was glorious and would have been so much more so, had Israel trusted God, but it was a glory passing away, because the ministry of the Spirit, which is more glorious was to come; and has come. But what does that mean?
In the ministry of death, God’s glory was unable to reside inside, yet consider the glorious result in Moses. In the ministry of the Spirit, what diminished on the outside of Moses, is to grow in its fullness from the inside out. We will look into this in our next blog.