Bible Answer

How did the Elders of Israel see God and live?

In Exodus 24:9-10 we're told that the elders of Israel went up the mountain "and they saw the God of Israel". How did they see God and live to tell the story?

Here is the full passage for context:

Ex. 24:9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,
Ex. 24:10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.
Ex. 24:11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Having signed the covenant, Moses and the other men ascend the mountain to meet with God as directed. There they see the God of Israel. The question immediately becomes, what did they see? As with any scripture, we must interpret this passage in light of all scripture. We can’t assume an interpretation for this passage that contradicts other scripture. For example, we read this elsewhere:

1John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.

John declares that no man has even seen God at any time. That must certainly include this time in Exodus 24. Later in Exodus we read:

Ex. 33:20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
Ex. 33:21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock;
Ex. 33:22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.

God Himself declares to Moses that Moses cannot see God’s face and live. If Moses couldn’t see God’s face and live, then certainly Moses never saw God’s face, including in Exodus 24. Finally, we remember that earlier in this chapter the Lord said to Moses that these men were permitted to worship from a distance. But only Moses could approach closely.

Ex. 24:1 Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance.
Ex. 24:2 “Moses alone, however, shall come near to the LORD, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”

So these men saw something of God, but whatever they saw, we know they never saw God in any true sense, at least not His face, and they were never very close.

We get a clue of what they did see in verse 10 when we see a reference to His feet. We can safely assume that when these men found themselves in the presence of the Lord, even from a distance, they had a reaction similar to reports we read elsewhere. They were prostrate on the ground in fear of their lives. And from that vantage point, the only thing they saw was God’s “feet” and the pavement underneath. We can safely assume this was an appearance of the Shechinah glory.