Bible Study
Study Topic: Masks and Singing—Is one forbidden at Sabbath Services while the other is commanded?

Peter G. Nathan

Covering of face or use of masks:

Scripture references several occasions in which an individual in the presence of the Eternal covered or hid his face. Moses, at the burning bush, hid his face: “Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God” (Exodus 3:6). Likewise, on Mount Sinai, he was hidden in the cleft of the rock with the hand of the Eternal over his face so that he could not see the face of the Eternal (Exodus 33:20–23). Yet it was recorded that Moses was the only person who spoke face to face with the Eternal.

Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle on Mount Sinai. “So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life’” (1 Kings 19:13–14). Ezra, on the other hand, wouldn’t lift up his face. And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6).

Other references exist to God’s servants hiding their faces on the ground, not daring to present their face before the Eternal.

The Bride (the Church) covers her face:

The first reference to a bride’s covering her face with a veil is that of Rebekah coming into contact with her husband to be, Isaac (Genesis 24:65). The Song of Solomon is understood as relating to the Eternal’s love for Israel or the Church. The use of the veil in relation to the woman indicates how a betrothed woman, such as the church, is covered in a veil until the time of the marriage takes place. As such, the church today would be veiled as it awaits the marriage to Jesus Christ.

Paul alluded to the face-to-face experience of Moses in 1 Corinthians 13:12. He noted that presently, we see in a mirror dimly. In other words, it is not a complete 20/20 view; a similar experience that a bride would have behind a veil. The face to face experience is future, after we have been born into the family of God.

The wearing of a veil by a betrothed woman is not to be confused with Paul’s reference to Moses wearing a veil. That was because of the radiance of his face after being in the presence of the Eternal. But Paul’s reference to the veil in relation to unbelieving Israel still leaves the church looking in a mirror (2 Corinthians 3:13–18). Its use indicates how well established the use of veils were in his day. Everyone understood what Paul was conveying.

Is the covering of the face in part or whole in the presence of God unbiblical? There were times when God’s servants felt it appropriate to cover or hide part or all of their face in the presence of the God of Israel. There are no instructions not to cover the face. And the ultimate relationship including the ability to see face to face, for us will be in the Kingdom.

To sing, a command?

It has been suggested by some that the psalmist’s direction to sing is a command because of the use of an imperative form of the verb. Hence, it is argued, not to sing on the Sabbath day at services is a sin. Is that a valid idea? Commands can be given by various means not just the use of an imperative. Only one of the Ten Commandments, number five, uses an imperative in the Hebrew and is notably not expressed in a negative form (Exodus 20:12). Imperatives are not normally used in the negative.

Imperatives when used do not necessarily convey a command to everyone. The principal use of the imperative mood is related to the immediacy of the action. Abraham used an imperative when he told his servant to place his hand under his thigh before he went to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:2). Jacob also used an imperative in instructing his sons that he was to be buried in Canaan (Genesis 49:29).

The use of those imperatives in Genesis does not create a command for others today. Imperatives are largely used for directions and instructions rather than Commandments (Go to Pharaoh; Speak to the people; Hear now the Word; Make me a Tabernacle, etc.). Of the 783 imperatives in the Torah, probably only two (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16) relate to Commandments, the rest to directions and instructions. Many of the commands of God are expressed as infinitive absolutes, as in “Remember the Sabbath Day” (Exodus 20:8), rather than Imperatives. The use of the imperative form in terms of singing is not then a command in the same way as the 10 Commandments or the rest of the commands included in the Torah. An understanding of the use of the imperative mood of “sing” as a means of exhortation rather than commandment is a valid understanding. As such, the exhortation to sing, does not mean that a person sins if they don’t or can’t sing in services.

The use of the imperative to sing is also largely unrelated to time. Some psalms point to a Holy Day, some are related to going up to the Tabernacle or Temple. People didn’t just go to the Temple on a Sabbath or Holy Day—it operated seven days a week. Some of the righteous such as Anna, spent long times in the Temple (Luke 2:36–38). The Apostles went to the Temple at the hour of prayer which coincided with the daily burnt offerings and hence twice per day (Acts 3:1). Hence, the exhortation to sing in the Temple was a daily event not just on the Sabbath. We also find the earth is told to sing (Psalm 65:11–13), and we are encouraged to sing on our bed (Psalm 149:5). Singing is desired, but a time is not mandated.

Hence the Bible does not make the absence of singing aloud in Sabbath services a sin. There are of course plenty of other opportunities to sing aloud on the Sabbath without endangering anyone else.