After Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai with freshly cut tablets to receive God’s law again, he returns literally glowing in the face because, we are told, he had spoken with the Lord (Exodus 34:29-30). We may pause and ask how Moses earlier is said to have spoken with God face to face (Exodus 33:11) even though we are also told that no one may look at God’s face and live.

This language simply expresses intimacy. This is not meant to convey that Moses saw God’s real, glorious, and holy face any more than you would describe strange events by saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” We understand how language works, and Exodus is not trying to tell us that Moses uniquely got to see the “real face of God”. The point is that God is willing to deal intimately with His chosen servant, Moses, to communicate His covenant and purposes to Israel. This is great news for Israel after the golden calf incident, for it demonstrates God’s willingness to pardon even the breaking of the His prohibition against making idols. God is indeed a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:7).