Question: The Bible says no man shall see God and live. Yet Exodus 24:9-11 speaks of Moses, Aaron and his sons, and seventy elders of Israel seeing God and eating and drinking with Him. How could this be?
Answer: There are two separate scriptures referred to in this question. The first is in Exodus 33:18-23. In verse 18 Moses asked God to show him His glory. In verse 19 God said among other things that He would make all His goodness to pass before him, etc. In verse 20 He said, “…Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” Then in verses 21-23, God explains that there is a place near Him that Moses can stand in and God will cover him with His hand while He passes by and then He will take away His hand and let Moses see His back parts but His face should not be seen. The second scripture is Exodus 24:9-11 which says this: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.”
Please note in this last scripture it does not say that they ate and drank with God as is stated in the question. God just plain does not permit that degree of intimacy and familiarity between Himself and human kind. At least in that time He did not, but in Christ He did. However, the words, “They saw God, and did eat and drink” merely infers that they went on living and engaging in the ordinary pursuits of life which is represented to us by “eating and drinking.”
Now when an apparent contradiction occurs in the Scriptures we must look for a common ground on which to harmonize them; else we would have God as mixed up as we are sometimes in our understanding. In Deuteronomy 4:12, we read “And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.” And this is repeated in verse 15 which says, “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire.” So it seems a safe conclusion that what they saw in Exodus 24:9-11 was a very forceful manifestation of God and not a similitude of any physical form or image.
God has strongly manifested Himself many times among men but always in some sheathed manner in which His naked glory would not be revealed. That is what humankind could not endure. God permitted Moses to see His back parts and I do not know what that was or what it was like. However, He never allowed even Moses to see His face. It occurs to me that if one were to meet God face to face and behold His naked, unsheathed glory, it would be so dazzling and brilliant that he would be consumed by it. In Isaiah 63:9 we read, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them and carried them all the days of old.” In this scripture the personal pronouns “He” and “His” and “The angel of his presence” are all used interchangeably referring to God. In this case His presence was manifested in an angelic being “The angel of His presence.” This is one of His most common ways of manifesting Himself among men throughout the Old Testament scriptures.
In Exodus 13:21 it says, “And the Lord went before them…” Then in Exodus 14:19 it says, “And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel,…” In these two texts it is clear that “God” and the “Angel of God” are interchangeable terms and refer to God Himself. There are other similar texts in the Old Testament.
I will refer to one more there are many. In Exodus 23:20-22 we read, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way,…Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not;…for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak;…” The phrases in this passage such as “My name is in him,” “Obey his voice” and “Do all that ‘I’ speak” certainly indicate that God Himself was manifesting Himself in this angelic being and speaking through him.
In Exodus 34:29-35 it is related that when Moses came down from the Mount Sinai where he had been with God several days and received the tables of the covenant, that the skin of his face shone and Aaron and all the children of Israel feared to come near to him until he put a veil over his face; then they came near to him and he spake to them. In all the references to this incident in the writings of Moses it specifies that there was a thick cloud covering the mountain when God came down upon it. Moses went up unto this mountain and communed with God and came near to Him; but it is certain that he could only get a dim vision of God’s glory through the thickness of that cloud. Yet he absorbed enough of it to cause the skin of his own face to shine. Aaron was one in the company in Exodus 24:9-11 whom it said “Saw God, and did eat and drink.” It would seem certain to me that if Aaron and the others mentioned in this text had actually seen the person of God and held intimate, familiar communion and fellowship with Him as indicated by “eating and drinking”; surely he would not have feared a dim reflection of that glory on Moses when he came down from the mount. Again in Exodus 40:34-38 we read that a cloud hovered over the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord filled it and Moses was not able to enter into the tent because of the glory of the Lord filling it.
In the face of all these scriptural facts, I feel safe to conclude that what Moses, Aaron, and company saw in Exodus 24:9-11, where it said that they saw God, was only a strong, definite manifestation of His presence there. Moses spells out plainly in Deuteronomy 4:12, “…ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude;…” This is a positive statement and is conclusive.
God reflected His full glory in Jesus Christ; He is the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3), in Him all fulness dwelt (Colossians 1:19), in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). However, this was all veiled in human flesh and not the naked, unsheathed glory of God Himself.