Today we’re going to continue looking at passage in Exodus 24 which I read two or three weeks ago.
When I finished the talk on Exodus 24, I referred to a verse which speaks about how the elders of Israel who went up on the mountain with Moses and how they saw God.
Some people said to me: ‘Well, isn’t there a contradiction? It says they saw the God of Israel but there are also verses in the Bible which say “you cannot see God and live“‘
Has anybody ever thought about that? Sometimes, the sceptics might say: ‘Oh! That shows you the Bible doesn’t make sense. It contradicts itself.’
Well, we don’t believe that the Bible does contradict itself, and I believe that there is an explanation for this. Today, we’re going to try and look into it and see what we can learn on this subject.
Let’s just read the scripture from Exodus 24. It comes after Moses has read the Commandments the Law which God has given to him, to the children of Israel; the children of Israel have said as they hear the word: All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient.
All that Lord has commanded me, I will do and be obedient. Then, Moses seals this with the shedding of blood in order to make this Covenant. The Covenant with Moses which was going to be the basis upon which God was going to deal with Israel in the time between Moses and Jesus the Messiah; it was the beginning of the ‘dispensation’ (we call it) of the Law. And after this we see that Moses in verse 9:
They saw the God of Israel. In the Hebrew, it uses the most basic word for ‘to see‘. It says Israel saw (the word which just means ‘to see‘), so that the implication is that it wasn’t just some sort of impression, it was something which they actually saw.
It also says that, in God’s presence, there, as they saw the God of Israel, they ate and they drank. And again, it uses the basic words in Hebrew for ‘eat‘ and ‘drink‘, the most basic physical actions we can perform as humans.
So, in the presence of God, they ate and they drank, and they saw the God of Israel.
Now, if you go on to chapter 33 of Exodus, in verse 18, we find that there is a passage where Moses asks God to show me your glory. Moses says:
You cannot see me and live no man shall see me and live
In John’s Gospel chapter 1, verse 18, John writes:
So, let’s see if we can work out if there is an answer to this question.
I put to you that there are three answers.
The first one is that the Bible is very clear that there exists a realm where God exists, where God lives, and a realm where we live. God made the realm where we live but God continues to exist in the realm where He lives, we call it heaven.
There’s also a realm where Satan and the demons live. In fact, in Ephesians chapter 6, it speaks about the powers of darkness in the heavenly realms. So, there’s a realm where God lives, the realm where Satan lives, and a realm where we live.
Since the fall, there’s been a barrier between humanity – the human race – and God. God is Holy, we are sinful, and God and sin cannot coexist, therefore there has to be some separation between a Holy God and the sinful world.
However, at times, we see in the Bible that God breaks through into our realm in a special way.
The second point I want to make and which we’ll look at is that, according to the Bible, according to the Christian understanding of the Bible, God, whose name in Hebrew is Elohim (a plural masculine noun) exists as a triunity, a plural unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Son Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew), is the visible person of the Godhead who appears in human form.
The third point refers to the fact that, at special times, especially at the end of one age and the beginning of another age (or a new age of dispensation), each time, God appears on the earth in some visible, special way. And this event which we’re talking about here in Exodus 24, with God appearing to the people in the time of Moses, is the time when He’s beginning the dispensation of the Law which will in turn end with the coming of Jesus.
Jesus is going to appear as God to bring in the dispensation we’re living in now, the dispensation of the church in which we come together God through faith in Jesus the Messiah.
Let’s have a look at those three propositions:
In this life we see that there are times when people do see God while still alive which comes on to the second point.
How do we explain this?
From the point of view of Judaism which as you probably know believes in one God, this actually represents a problem, and some of the scriptures I’m going to read from the Old Testament actually do present a problem to orthodox Jewish belief because the Jewish belief is that God is one, He’s indivisibly one, He cannot be manifested in a human body, He can’t appear on the earth. God is one and God is separate from His creation. Islam has the same position, slightly different to Judaism but not dissimilar view of God being one, indivisible.
Therefore, He can’t reveal Himself to those on earth in a physical visible way.
When you come to Christianity, Christianity believes that God is a triunity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God is a divisible unity. He is one yet He is three in One. I’ve given some talks in the past on this. (here is a short talk on the Trinity)
God reveals Himself in the person of Yeshua, of Jesus the Messiah. He reveals Himself in the person of the Son.
You could say that Jesus, Jesus Christ (Yeshua in Hebrew) is the visible person of the Godhead.
We come back to the verse which I mentioned from John’s Gospel, from chapter 1 which says:
The Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who comes from heaven, has declared to us on earth what God is like. And He is the representation of God, He is the image of God, He is fully God and fully man.
John has already explained to us who the Son is. John chapter 1 verse 1 says:
The One he described here is the Word. He was in the beginning with God, He was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God, therefore He’s been there from the beginning, He’s the One through whom the worlds were made, all things were made through Him. Without Him nothing was made that was made.
By definition, that means that He Himself was not made. Can you see that?
If He’s not made, that means He has always been there. If He’s always been there, if He’s eternal, that means He is equal with God.
Therefore John is saying very clearly that the One who he defines here as the Word, is God. In verse 14 he says:
A mystery which we cannot actually comprehend because our minds are finite, but it’s something which the scriptures reveal to us: that God, who is infinite, became man and dwelt amongst us.
He is the word made flesh, ‘incarnate’, that is the word, the theological word used. It means that Jesus, who is God from eternity, became flesh and God amongst us.
As He took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ, we humans, (speaking specifically here of the apostles who were present with Jesus) saw His glory.
We notice when we come to the New Testament that Jesus’ glory was veiled as He first came. That meant that it wasn’t immediately obvious to people, as He walked around, that He was God.
There was one occasion when His glory was unveiled at the transfiguration, when you see that His face shone like the sun and His clothes became bright white, and disciples saw Jesus in His unveiled form.
You can imagine that had Jesus been walking around Nazareth or Jerusalem like that, it would have been pretty hard to ignore Him. But the Bible says that he came with His glory veiled. Isaiah 53 says concerning the coming of the Messiah:
He laid aside His glory deliberately that He might become man and dwell among us, and that He might indeed be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief and go to the cross in order to redeem us.
So, seeing God involved seeing God through Jesus. It involves receiving Him personally as Saviour.
There are a number of scriptures which tell us that Jesus is equal with God and that those who have seen Jesus have seen God.
John 14 Philip said to Jesus in verse 8:
Jesus makes an incredible statement for Himself. He’s saying that if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father. In other words, if you see Me, you’ve seen God. It’s the only way you can explain that particular verse.
Hebrews chapter 1 says:
So he’s saying here that Jesus is the express image of the glory of God but He’s not just a prophet or just a man, He is God made flesh.
And He’s been seen by humans, He has been seen by the disciples and seen by all the people who heard Him preach, and He was seen even by His enemies.
In 1 John chapter 1 verse 1 to 3, John, writing as a believer and a disciple says:
This is, again, making clear that if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen God. John said: ‘we’ve seen Him, we’ve handled Him, we’ve touched Him; His life has been manifested and we bear witness to the truth that Jesus is the son of God made visible.‘
This is the case in the New Testament. What about in the Old Testament? What about the Hebrew scriptures?
If we believe that the Bible is one, that it’s telling us about one God, there should be some consistency between the revelation of God given in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) and the New Testament.
From the point of view of rabbinic Judaism, they would say there’s not, that New Testament idea of the Son of God doesn’t appear in the Old Testament, that there’s no way that God could appear in any human form.
But when you look into the Hebrew scriptures, you find that there are many ways in which God does appear just like that, in human form. And we’re going to look at some of these and just show how they tells us something about the nature of God.
I’ve said that the first thing we need to know is that in the very first verse in the Bible it says:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The word Elohim is the word for God. It’s a plural word. The word bara ‘create’ is in the singular, so you have a plural noun and a singular verb which tells you something about God: that God is plural.
God says later on in this in Genesis 1
Let us make man in our image. Why not let ME make man in my image, not let US?
Who is He talking to? One explanation, some say, is that He’s talking to the angels, but we’re not made in the image of angels. Others say it’s like ‘the royal We‘, God’s plural majesty, but that doesn’t exist in Hebrew either.
In any case, you can explain it as God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit saying let Us make man in our image, God as a plural unity making man in His image.
If that’s the case, then, this is going to be the continuing revelation through the Bible: that although God is One, He is also three in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And this also explains how God can appear on the earth.
One of the questions which remains, a question in Judaism, is: How can God who is in heaven appear on the earth? You have a number of occasions in the Hebrew scriptures where God does just that.
We’ve already read one of them Genesis 3 where:
Now, this shows a physical presence, someone walking in a garden from whom Adam and Eve tried to hide physically. There must have been some presence of God, some manifestation of God which they were familiar with and which appeared there in Genesis chapter 3.
And right through the Bible, you’ll find that there are times when God appears to the patriarchs and the prophets, and the leaders of Israel.
Genesis 18 verse 1 says:
If you read through that passage in Genesis 18, it tells you how Abraham encountered three men who came to him, and how he recognized they were some kind of supernatural, exalted beings. It says that he then gave them food and they ate it.
The Lord tells Abraham that he’s going to have a child by Sarah, and then it says that the men depart for Sodom.
Though the text doesn’t tell us that two men depart, when we get to chapters 19 verse 1, the text does tell us that two angels, i.e. the men who departed in Genesis 18, arrived in Sodom. So, you have three men: two of them depart and one remains.
The one who remains is spoken of as being the Lord. It uses the Hebrew term Yahweh.
After the angels departed, the Lord then tells Abraham what He is going to do: the coming destruction of Sodom. And after the Lord has heard out Abraham’s plea for mercy for Sodom, the text reads:
So, if you read that passage through, it’s the Lord who appears. You can’t get away from it. The three men who Abraham sees at the beginning of chapter 18 are comprised of 2 angels, who go to Sodom halfway through the chapter, and the Lord, who stays till the end of the chapter after the 2 angels have left.
So not only do we have the Lord appear, but we have the detail that the Lord eats food, that Abraham, or rather Sarah, prepares for these three men. So, He eats food. Again, this is something physical which takes place, something you can only do if you have a body.
Let’s move on to another passage in Genesis 32. You have an encounter which Jacob has as he’s about to cross over into the Promised Land, returning after 20 years of hard labour for Laban the Syrian, with his wives and his flocks. Do you remember the story?
Jacob was alienated from his brother Esau who he had taken Esau’s birth right and his father’s blessing from him, and he was worried that Esau would get revenge and kill him for doing this.
To appease Esau, he sent him gifts and divided his family and flocks into smaller companies in the hope that they might give this might give them more protection if they were attacked.
Then, Jacob is left alone by the brook as he’s about to cross into the land. In verse 24 it says:
To prove that this wasn’t a figment of Jacob’s imagination, the texts tell us that Jacob then walked with a permanent limp.
Now, you can’t get much more physical than an all-night wrestling match.
The person you’re wrestling with obviously must have a body and so we have to ask the question: Who was this mysterious man who he wrestled with?
The next few verses point to the answer:
I’ve seen God face to face in my life was preserved.
The only conclusion you can come to from these verses is that Jacob identified the man he wrestled with as being God.
You put all these three incidents together, you have humans who had contact with a being who appeared in human form whom they identified as God. This Being walked in the garden, ate food, and He wrestled, all of which are very physical activities.
So, who was He?
When you come to the end of Jacob’s life, as he was blessing his sons, Jacob looked back on all the supernatural encounters he’d had in his life and he identified these with the angel who had kept him:
So, he’s equating God with the angel, the angel who has redeemed him. And he’s asking Him to bless Joseph and his grandsons.
The word angel in Hebrew is malak which in Hebrew means ‘messenger’, as angelos the word used in the New Testament in Greek also means ‘messenger’. Somehow, this one who is equated with God is also a messenger from God.
When you go to Exodus 14 you read that the angel of the Lord malak Adonai who go before the Israelites to bring them out into the promised land and to fight against their enemies.
He appears in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.
Concerning this angel the Lord says in chapter 23 verse 21 of Exodus
So you have an angel in whom is God’s name and who won’t pardon your transgressions.
He has power to pardon or not pardon transgressions something which only God can do.
And you have a number of other examples. I won’t give you all of them.
I’ll just refer to one of them in the Book of Judges. The angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife in the form of a man malak Adonai, the same phrase used again for the angel of the Lord. He tells them they would bear a son who’d be a Nazirite who will be dedicated to God.
This son would be called Samson. They asked the name of the angel and he says: Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?
Now, the word wonderful in Hebrew is pele. The word pele is only used in Hebrew of the wonders of God.
When you have the word pele פֶֽלִאי used, it has something to do with with God being marvellous or miraculous.
They then offer a burnt offering to the Lord and the angel of the Lord ascends to heaven in the flame of the altar. And Manoah’s response to this is to say to his wife we should surely die because we’ve seen God. His wife says: ‘Well, if God intended to kill us, why did He give us this promise that we can have the son?‘ (which was logical thinking from the lady). In other words, what they recognize that this angel of the Lord is equal with God so we’ve seen God.
So, this raises the question: Can humans see God? And it appears in the Bible that they can.
Which seems to contradict the verses we’ve already read here God saying to Moses: You cannot see my face for no man shall see me and live.
But the Bible is actually full of occasions when men saw God. People saw God. Some of them saw Him in a dream, some in a vision. For the most part, there’s no such qualification, God appeared to them in such a way that they knew it was He.
Very often, He appeared in human form. He appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to Aaron, Nadab, and to the seventy elders of Israel, to Balaam, to Solomon, to Isaiah, to Daniel, to Amos, to Ezekiel, to the congregation of Israel, and Ezekiel particularly, saw the image of the glory of God in human form in his visions.
Therefore, you have people seeing God.
According to the passage in Exodus 3 where Moses is at the burning bush, God called him from the midst of the bush and said Moses
Moses recognized that he was looking upon God.
It’s interesting. There’s something called the Targum which is a kind of Hebrew (Aramaic) paraphrase of the Bible, and the Targum translates this verse as saying ‘Moses was afraid to look beside the glory of God‘.
This is a way of deflecting from what it really says. The Bible says Moses was afraid to look upon God and that is an issue for Jewish understanding of the Bible, to try and explain it.
From the messianic point of view however, from the Christian point of view, it’s not a problem because if Jesus could appear in human form in His incarnation, He could also appear in some human form or another form in His pre-incarnate state in the Old Testament.
I believe this is what happens in all these images where you see God appearing in some human form in the Old Testament.
As we saw already in the in the Gospel of John it says
If Jesus has declared Him in the New Testament, He has also declared Him in the Old Testament because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and God, in His nature, doesn’t change.
If we look carefully in the scriptures, we can see that there are many, many instances which tell us that God, in the person of Jesus the Messiah, is there in the Hebrew scriptures, in His pre-incarnate form. That is why He could say before Abraham was I am, I am, this ( I am )being the statement of God in His nature.
Jesus is there. He has appeared in the Hebrew scriptures and He is the incarnation of God. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
Those who have seen Him in this form, have not only lived but have also been enlightened by the experience.
The forms in which He has appeared are different: He has come in the pillar of cloud, the pillar of fire leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and through the wilderness. He has come in the glory cloud which filled the tabernacle, but He has also come in the form of a man, appearing to humans.
For the most part, these were momentary appearances of the Lord but, according to the New Testament, He made a longer appearance when He came and dwelt on the earth in the person of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.
You’ve seen in John that He is described as the Word of God through whom God created the heavens and the earth, who was with God and was yet God at the same time.
Therefore, God is a divisible unity who can appear on earth and yet remain in heaven at the same time.
Therefore, both the Old and the New Testament contain this concept of God being a plural unity who can appear on earth to people while they’re alive and not just after their death.
After death, we will all see God the Father in His fullness, either for good: for our entrance into heaven, or for bad: for damnation to hell.