Have You Seen God?
God told Moses in Exodus 33:20 (NLT), “No one may see me and live.” And yet, there is a short story in Exodus 24 that seemingly contradicts that statement. I have been fascinated by Exodus 24:9-11 for years and it seems that these three verses are very seldom addressed by commentaries on the Book of Exodus. Catch what these verses are saying:
Exodus 24:9–11 (NLT) – “Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. 10 There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!”
Amazing! In this chapter, we have the story of Moses presenting to the Israelites the covenant agreement between God and the people. The covenant spoke of God choosing the children of Israel as His own people and their obligation to follow God’s commands. In verse 1, God commands Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons, and the 70 representatives of the people, to come up Mount Sinai to meet God and to worship Him. The statement is made that out of this group, only Moses will be allowed to come nearer to God. The others were to maintain distance from Holy God.
But then we read that all 74 people “saw the God of Israel.” God is described using anthropomorphic terms – “under His feet.” Note the statement that although “these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them.” The word “gaze” is much more than a passing glance! The story concludes by picturing all these leaders partaking in a covenant meal with God “in His presence!” Can you imagine how that would have been – to sit down in God’s very presence, gazing upon God, and fellowshipping with Him in a meal.
So, what is going on here? Gazing upon God? After all, the Old Testament has several instances where people expressed great fear for having glimpsed at God. Jacob, for example in Genesis 32:30 said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” He named the place of this encounter with God Peniel, which means “face of God.”
Hagar, the slave girl of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, encountered “the angel of the Lord” and exclaimed, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” And there was Isaiah who saw the Lord in the temple and cried out, “I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies (Is. 6:5, NLT).”
How do we reconcile these instances of seeing God with the injunction that the no one can see God and remain alive? The answer is found in what are known theologically as theophanies. A theophany is a physical appearance or personal manifestation of God to a man or woman. These are found from time to time in the Old Testament accounts of God’s dealing with people. There are most likely four or five different types of theophanies in Scripture including: human form, visions, the “Angel of the Lord,” or some form other than human, such as a burning bush. Theophanies were designed to give instruction, to call to action, to affirm God’s presence and care, and to draw people closer to Him.
The covenant meal in Exodus 24 obviously is a physical appearance theophany since the description speaks of God’s feet. This self-revelation of God affirmed to the leaders of Israel the unique relationship they were entering into with God. Other instances of people “seeing” God were also a part of strengthening intimacy with God.
So, what about it? Have you seen God? John’s Gospel tells us in 1:8 (NLT): “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is Himself God, is near the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” And Jesus said this to Philip: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9, NLT)
Spend a few minutes today, “gazing upon God” by contemplating the wonder that the God who created the universe chose to take on flesh and blood and die a cruel death that you might have an intimate relationship with Him. Seeing God is all about knowing Christ Jesus deeper and deeper each day!
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