12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible and covers the period from the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
Today’s reading is part of chapters 19 to 24 which include a theophany (an appearance of God), the making of a covenant between YHWH and the Israelites, and the giving of the laws at Sinai. This entire section is described by The Jewish Study Bible as “extraordinarily difficult to follow” because it was transmitted in multiple versions that differed about the nature of the event and what God communicated to the people. The JSB points out that the text combines material from J, E and P but the lack of identifying characteristics makes it difficult to determine which source supplied which details.
Today’s reading comes immediately after an account (vv.1-11) establishing a covenant between YHWH and the people. It recounted Moses’ going up Mount Sinai to receive “tablets of stone with the law and the commandment” written by YHWH (v.12b). The JSB notes that the Hebrew can be also translated as “stone tablets and the teachings and the commandments” — which has been interpreted by some rabbis to mean the entirety of the written Torah and the Oral Torah.
In other places in Exodus, including a verse in this Chapter (24:4), it was Moses who wrote down the words of the LORD, rather than the LORD. The JSB also observes that in other accounts, Moses did not have to go up the mountain (v.1) because he was already there (20.18).
This text refers to the holy mountain as “Sinai” (v.16) – the term used by the Priestly writers who authored portions of the Book of Exodus – rather than “Horeb,” the term used by other sources/writers of the Book of Exodus and the Torah.
While Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, he had a “theophany” – a direct appearance of God (v. 17) and received detailed instructions for worship that are recounted in Chapters 24 to 31 – matters of great importance to priests.
As a sequel to today’s reading, because Moses was away from the Israelites for a long time (in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the number “40” is a euphemism for a “long time” – whether in years or days), the Israelites felt abandoned and built the Golden Calf (Ch. 32). When Moses came down, he smashed the tablets of the Law given to him by God (32:21) and this was a symbol that the covenant with YHWH had been broken by the people.
When Moses went up the mountain again (34:4) and had a face-to-face meeting with God, his face shone so brightly that it had to be covered with a veil when he came down (34:33). These two stories form a precedent for the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
2 Peter 1:16-21
16 We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
In the First Century, it was not uncommon to write something in another person’s name so that the writing would have extra “authority” – particularly when the writer believed he knew what the “authority” (in this case, Peter) would have said. This is called pseudepigraphy.
The Second Letter of Peter was likely written some time between 100 and 150 CE (Peter died much earlier) and it was written in the popular Greek rhetorical style of the age, not a style that would have been customary for a Galilean fisherman. The letter was presented as a “testament” (final advice and warnings) by Peter based on his own experiences. It is not clear if the author of 1 Peter and 2 Peter were the same person.
This short (three chapters) letter emphasized the dangers of false prophets and presented a vision of the world so corrupt that it could be saved only by the Second Coming of the Christ.
In today’s reading, “Peter” rejected the notion that the Second Coming is “myth” (v.16) and claimed he was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration of Jesus where he heard the voice of God declare that Jesus was God’s Son and God’s Beloved (v.17). Referring to someone as “God’s Son” is an echo of Psalm 2:7 where the reference is generally regarded as applying to David.
“Peter” concluded that prophesy comes from God to humans who are moved by the Spirit to speak for God. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary goes on to says that according to 2 Peter, the Transfiguration was itself a prediction of the Parousia (the technical term for the Second Coming).
1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’ genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Having been written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is intended primarily for the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
Portraying Jesus as the Messiah as a “New Moses” would have been seen as a fulfillment of words attributed to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:10 (“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”)
Today’s reading is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, an account that is substantially the same as Mark and Luke. The three apostles (Peter, James, and John) formed an “inner circle” with Jesus and were the three apostles with Jesus in Gethsemane (in Mark and Matthew).
The “six days” (v.1) is an analogue to the six days in which the LORD’s glory settled on Mount Sinai (Ex.24:16) – part of today’s reading. The New Oxford Annotated Bible observes that the mountain in today’s reading is not identified, and may be Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, but the traditional location is Mount Tabor, south of Nazareth.
In the account, Jesus’ face shone (v.2) just as Moses’ face did after his last trip up the mountain (Ex. 34:29). Jesus’ clothes “dazzling white’ (v.2) is the same description of the “Ancient One” in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:9). The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes that the word translated as “transfigured” (v.2) is metamorphoō (“change in form or appearance”) and that a “bright cloud” (v.5) is the way God’s presence (shekinah) is indicated (Ex. 40:35-38). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that because transfiguration was common in stories that were part of classical paganism, Luke avoided the term altogether and did not describe Jesus as transfigured. Instead, Luke 9:29 says “the appearance of his face was changed.”
Jesus’ being with Moses and Elijah showed his (and his teaching’s) continuity with (and fulfillment of) the great lawgiver (Moses) and the prophetic precursor (Elijah) to the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6). The voice (v.5) repeated the words spoken at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan (3:17). Falling to the ground (v.6) was similar to Daniel’s reaction to his visions (Dan. 8:18 and 10:9).
The NJBC states that by labeling the event as a “vision” (v.9), Matthew gave a clue as to the nature of the event: “Thus the story is seen as the externalization of an inner spiritual event – whether pre- or post-Easter, it is impossible to say.”