Exodus 24:9-11

9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Here we see that Moses and others saw God with their own eyes.

But later, Moses was not allowed to see God's face.

Exodus 33:18-23

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

If Moses already saw the face of God, then who's face was he not allowed to see?

Who was covering Moses and preventing him from seeing God?

Were there two people?. Or Maybe three?

5 Answers 5


The use of the word 'face' is different in these two contexts.

In the first use God is said to speak to Moses 'face to face' that is not from some distant position as in a dream, or vision but speaking audibly to him while under some visible form. In other words, God spoke to Moses like a person does who is having a conversation. God spoke out of a burning bush, out of a pillar of cloud, ect. and he spoke as in conversation between friends. That is Moses could ask questions, God would answer, the conversation would continue, ect. Speaking face to face was not the normal mode which God communicated with men, or later prophets.

Regarding the specific 'form' that God presented to the elders representing the people of Israel, it was actually a 'formless' representation of glorious fire wrapped in a cloud that made the place at which it joined the glorious upper heavens to the spot on earth which they stood, a shining clear blue. The blue a reflection of the sky of heaven. The elders saw the same thing that the people in general saw, only closer. The word 'foot' does not mean that there was some secret form, like for example the more Christlike appearance of Ezekiel 1:26 where the 'appearance of a man' was seen. The foot is meant to be understood as not a human foot but as a base. God's glory in heaven landed on earth making a covenant with his people, that was the base. Certainly if they saw a human form they would have make and idol, something which was forbidden as they had not seen any real form:

And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.(Duet 4:11-12)

“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female. (Duet 4:15-16)

The second use of the phase pertains to the manifestation of God's glory. When you look into the face of someone you can see into their eye's, along with the expression on their face, their essential personality or being. If you only saw the back of their head, you might not even know who you were looking at. The idea in Moses not being able to see God's face is that he could not witness the essential glory of God. No man while veiled in sinful flesh can see God's essential unmasked glory and live:

As our bodily eye is dazzled, and its power of vision destroyed, by looking directly at the brightness of the sun, so would our whole nature be destroyed by an unveiled sight of the brilliancy of the glory of God. (Commentary of the Old Testament, Keil & Delitzsch, 1.476)

Therefore although Moses wanted to penetrate deep into the glory of God he had to accept a limitation and only see the back of God. God is using human terms to express a limited reflection of his glory. The glory that must have appeared to him was a deep revelation of the meaning of the very words which were spoken as his 'glory passed by':

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7, NIV)

It seems that part of this deeper revelation of Jehovah, the I AM that I AM, or the eternal powerful one, is by putting love and grace before wrath. However putting love first was not meant to imply that his infinite justice and wrath for sin would ever be compromised, rather his glory is simply more wrapped up in his grace and love than in his other aspects of his back-parts. Moses must have seen God's love in an extraordinary matter. Infact it made his face shine, but as the Law did not really centre in God's grace but was in a large part a revelation of his holiness, justice and wrath for sin, this glory faded and was veiled until the full manifestation of grace was revealed in the face of God's own Son. (2 Cor 3:7)

Did Moses see God face to face, i.e. see his essential glory? No, not while on this earth. However after he died, like every believer he would have immedietly become awakened into the full glory of God under the bright rays of heaven.


It appears from Exodus 24 that they only saw the "footstool" of God as it were and not his face. However, there is a definitive answer to your question. Yes, Moses did see the face of God, some 1500 years later:

[Mat 17:1-3 NKJV] 1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

When Moses saw Jesus face to face on the mount he, as Michael Card so eloquently puts it, "finally saw the face before he'd hidden from."

  • Moses might have already seen Jesus before the transfiguration. (John 8:56) Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. This may apply to Moses as well. And there is no proof that they saw only the "footstool".
    – Mawia
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 7:41
  • Nice. I love the definitive answer! I wouldn't have thought of that,but you're right! Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 15:27
  • @Mawia, you're right that he might have seen him at some earlier time, but at least we know from Matthew that he certainly saw him face to face at some point. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 2:15
  • You don't have to go as far as Matthew to see Moses and God meeting face to face. A few verses earlier in the very same chapter of Exodus in which God tells Moses he (Moses) cannot see his (God's) face, we read: "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11). Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 1:04

We humans are extremely limited in our vision, that is that we can only see that which is material. God is not material, Genesis 1 tells us that all things material were created by God on the first day and Revelation 21:1 tells us that they will pass away. This necessarily dictates that God was and is Spiritual, and eternal; and omnipotent. So did Moses see the face of God, that must be an emphatic no, since God has no face as is pictured here(ie. a material face). We cannot and must not think of God in any material form, first of all if God had a material form he would of necessity be subject to the laws of physics, and we know that as creator the laws of physics are subject to God. What God can do and I would guess probably did in both cases is to give them some sort of apparition, to satisfy their expectation of some material thing. We are given proof that the so called laws of physics are subject to God in the incident of Jesus not only walking on water, but also overcoming those laws to allow Peter to also walk on water. We must expand our concepts to include a realization that what those things which we regard as real (the material realm) is not real but a creation and what is truly real is the Spiritual realm, or if you will the realm in which resides God.

  • How do you interpret this verse "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live"? Is there any indication of God not having any form or face?
    – Mawia
    Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 20:53
  • 1
    These are interesting thoughts, but you have given nothing to back it up. Are there verses or prominent theological works that say these thing? Also, if you organized the text here a bit better then it would be easier to read.
    – user3961
    Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 22:06
  • 1
    On a different note, welcome to the site. Please see the tour and help center pages to learn how to use the site. Also, we have a meta site where we discuss site policies. I recommend you read this and this to see how we try to do things here.
    – user3961
    Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 22:09
  • See my edit for response to comments 1&2
    – BYE
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 23:41

Is it inherently impossible for a person to see God's face? If so, we need look no further, and simply conclude that Moses did not see God's face. According to Genesis 32:30 there is at least one precedent, with Jacob declaring that he had seen God face to face, and had not died because of this:

Genesis 32:30: And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

In some passages, Moses saw the face of God, while in other passages he did not. The differences are believed to be dependent on the source that provided or wrote each passage. Numbers 12:6-8;14:14 and Exodus 33:11 are examples where Moses can see God face to face.

Around 75 per cent of the Book of Numbers is believed to have been written by a source now known to scholars as the Priestly Source. Here we see that Moses could see God face to face:

Numbers 12:6-8: And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

Numbers 14:14: And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.

The following passage from Exodus is attributed to the anonymous source now known as the Elohist. This passage causes some commentators great difficulty because it is so direct in stating that the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to a friend. Various explanations include that it was only a metaphor, although "as a man speaketh to a friend" suggests otherwise:

Exodus 33:11: And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend...

Then we have the Book of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 34:10: And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,

Konrad Schmid says, in Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., page 246, Deuteronomy 34:10 contradicts the former pentateuchal tradition, which in Exodus 33:20 specifically negates this fact.

The Yahwist always makes it clear that no one can see God's face, as we see in Exodus 33:20-23:

Exodus 33:20-23: 20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, Moses could not see his face, nor could Moses see God's face when he spoke out of a column of fire or cloud. These passages bear the stamp of authorship by the Yahwist, the source that provided most of the Book of Exodus.


No he did not. He was not washed in the blood of Jesus yet. Remission is not redemption the law would only being remission. Christ brought redemption, you are born into sin not that you were born a sinner. That is what your crown is sin. That is why you must be born again Moses did not have that option he was only born through water onto the earth Jesus brought a new birth, one of spirit watch give you access to the presence of God. The old man is washed away that is the child of sin. Moses was still in that nature of the sinful man. If sin looked upon God it dies God did not want Moses dead. So he told Moses hang out here behind this rock and when my shadow passes by you'll know. Cause my word is so powerful it will wash the sin right out of you but sense you are sin there will be nothing left of you it will wash you away. That is why you need to be born again so the word will wash the sin out and leave the body to hold the word without dying in the process. Again remembering this sow wisely understanding what you are Mark-4

  • Say -a- what? This seems to actually be an answer to the question, but I can't think off hand what Christian tradition's view this would represent. Please identify who believes this as the majority of Christianity has beliefs about God revealing himself to throughout the Old Testament times (including prefigures of Christ) and that Christ's work of salvation was to cover those who live by faith before him as well as those later.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 17:52

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