Exodus 24:9–11—How could these people see God when God said in Exodus 33:20, “no man shall see me and live”?
Problem: Exodus 24:9–11 records that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended the mountain of God and “saw the God of Israel.” However, Exodus 19:12–13 says that the people could not even touch the base of the mountain without being put to death. And in Exodus 33:20 God says that no one can see Him and live. How could these people go up the mountain and see God and yet live?
Solution: First, it should be noted that God invited them to see Him. In Exodus 19:12–13 God told Moses to set the boundaries around the mountain so that no one should even touch its base without the punishment of death. However, God specifically invited these people to ascend the mountain in order to consecrate them for the service to which they had been appointed, and to seal the covenant which had been established between God and the nation of Israel.
Second, it is clear from the description and from other passages of Scripture (Ex. 33:19–20; Num. 12:8; John 1:18), that what these people saw was not the essence of God, but rather a visual representation of the glory of God. Even when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18–23), it was only a likeness of God which Moses saw (cf. Num. 12:8 where the Hebrew word temunah—“form,” “likeness”—is used), and not the very essence of God.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.