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Moses, depending on the translation offered, saw the invisible God.

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he persevered, as though seeing Him who is unseen. Heb 11:27 NASB

These two verses confirm unequivocally that God (being spirit) is invisible to men.

1 Tim 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, the only God, be honor and glory ...

Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all ...

Same Heb 11:27 in KJV

By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. KJV

What is the writer's meaning to say that Moses saw the invisible God?

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"Seeing who is unseen" is not the same as "invisible". "Seeing who is unseen" is a grace of faith, as it developed from the beginning of Heb 11:27 "By Faith", and coherent to Heb 11:1.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV)

"Invisible" is simply "not able to be seen from plain eyes". It is physical. So the better understanding is, God is invisible, but you can see Him with your faith.

In fact, Moses did have a close encounter with God, Exodus 33:18-23 read

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.” (NIV)

In John 20:29, Jesus told Thomas

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV)

So bless are those strong with faith, who see the unseen.

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  1. Hebrews 11:27

This is talking about the time Moses fled from Egypt after accidentally killing the Egyptian (Exodus 2:14-15). This was much before God selected him and his spiritual conversion at the burning bush.

So this verse doesn’t say that Moses literally saw God. But it says that Moses had faith in the God of his fathers and he moved as though he “saw” God in faith.

Now the definition of faith includes “the evidence of things not having been seen” (Hebrews 11:1). And Hebrews 11:24 clearly says, “by faith he left Egypt” seeing the Invisible One. So this clearly proves that Moses didn’t see the invisible God with his naked eyes but he saw with his “inner eyes”, that is, with faith.

  1. Exodus 33:11

This verse does not say that Moses saw God face to face! It says, “And YHWH would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend”. Here ‘face to face’ means “directly”. So the verse does not say Moses saw God directly but that God would speak to Moses directly!

Reason:

If Moses saw God directly in verse 11, then why did he, immediately afterward, pray to God “let me see Your glory”? (verse 18). That doesn’t make sense! If Moses saw God in verse 11, then why did he say ‘let me see You’ in verse 18?

It is then that God lets him see His rear.

  1. However, it is irrefutable that 70 elders of Israel, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu with Moses literally saw the God of Israel!

Exodus 24:9-11

9 And Moses and Aaron went up with Nadab and Abihu, and seventy from the elders of Israel. 10 And they saw the God of Israel. And under His feet was as the work of a pavement of sapphire, and the same as the essence of the heavens for clearness. 11 And He did not stretch out His hand to the nobles of the sons of Israel. And they saw God, and they ate and drank.

This was not a figurative seeing but a literal seeing!

Reasons:

  • The Scripture twice says they “saw” the God of Israel.
  • They saw the pavement of clear and brilliant sapphire under God’s feet.
  • God did not stretch out His hands to kill them because they saw Him.
  • They ate and drank showing that they were not hallucinating!

This is significant considering that people like Abraham, Jacob et al saw God in the physical human form.

  1. John 1:18

No one has seen God at any time. This is talking about God the Father. Why? Because the same verse distinguishes the Father from the Son! The monogeneis (only of the same genus/kind) Son who is in the bosom of the Father only knew the Father.

The secular world never knew about God the Father (John 17:25). The chosen people, the Jews never knew God the Father (John 7:28). It was only when Jesus declared about the Father that everyone came to know about the Father!

So the question remains: who did the 70 elders and others including Moses see on the Mount?

Of course, the Scripture is very clear. They saw Jesus as the YHWH of the Old Testament!

No wonder, in some manuscripts, John 1:18 ISV has this:

No one has ever seen God. The unique [monogeneis = only of the same genus/kind] God, who is close to the Father's side, has revealed him.

The Apostles knew this very well.

For example, Paul says that Moses “thought that being insulted for the sake of the Messiah was of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26 ISV). Moses knew no other God except the God of his fathers. And the author of Hebrews (considered to be Paul) confirms that the God of the fathers is Christ Himself!

Again Paul says that we should not “provoke the Lord to jealousy” (1 Corinthians 10:22). [Verses 16 and 21, when compared will show beyond any doubt that Paul is referring to Jesus as the Lord!].

Wait!

We know about a “jealous God”! Yes, “for I am YHWH your God, a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5).[This is part of the 2nd commandment against other gods and idols]

the context - in both, the Old and New Testaments, the context is the same. Yahweh and Jesus are provoked to jealousy by other gods and idols!!

Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 32:16

With strange gods they moved Him to jealousy; and with idols they provoked Him to anger.

Psalms 78:58

For they enraged Him with their high places; and they provoked Him to jealousy with their molten images.

New Testament:

1 Corinthians 10:20-21

But the things the nations sacrifice, "they sacrifice to demons, and not to God." But I do not want you to become sharers of demons; you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and a cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and a table of demons.

So to Paul, Lord Jesus and Yahweh of the OT are the same Being!

There are more instances like these that clearly show that the Apostles identified Jesus as the very God of the Old Testament. I think two would suffice now.

So there is no contradiction in the Word of God.

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Hebrews probably refers to Exodus 33:11:

Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

It may also have in mind Ex. 33:19-23 and Ex. 34:4-9

Moses said, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live... I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.””

Then, in the next chapter:

So Moses cut two tables of stone like the first; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tables of stone. And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him.

So Exodus indicates that Moses indeed saw God's "back" and also that he saw God "face to face." Against this we have John 1:18 which affirms that no man has ever seen God. How we resolve this seeming contradiction is not the question. But the fact that Exodus clearly shows Moses seeing God (in one case only his back; in another face to face) explains what Hebrews is referring to.

Incidentally, the Bible indicates that there are other exceptions to the rule of not seeing God's face. The call of Isaiah provides the most dramatic example:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”

Here, Isaiah reports seeing God with his own eyes. He is allowed to live through special grace. We may also mention:

  • Genesis 32:30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peni′el, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

  • Abraham is thought be some to have seen God when 'Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”' Gen. 12:7

  • Numbers 14:14. "They have heard that thou, O Lord, art in the midst of this people; for thou, O Lord, art seen face to face..."

It may well be the case that Exodus and other texts do not mean what they apparently say when they indicate that God can been seen. However, the OP asks what Hebrews is speaking about Moses "seeing Him who is unseen." The above verses explain the reference, whether they should be taken literally or not.

Conclusion: Biblical evidence suggests there are exceptions, either literal or figurative, to the rule of God's invisibility. Hebrews probably refers to Moses' encounters with God as described in Exodus, either "face to face" or seeing only God's "back."


Note: I have revised this answer in light of criticisms from several readers. I do not intend here to negate scriptures such as John 1:18, which affirms that "No man has ever seen God..." However this is not what the OP asks about. How we resolve the seeming contradiction between Exodus and the principle of God's invisibility in another question.

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    -1 This answer is utter confusion in light of John 1:18. Apparently, you do not believe John 1:18. If you do, you must be well able to wrest its meaning to allow the contradiction that you have supported in this answer. John 1:18 allows no "exceptions to the rule."
    – Biblasia
    Dec 14, 2022 at 4:34
  • Thx for your contribution. While I find the general logic misplaced, I have not DV’d.
    – Steve
    Dec 14, 2022 at 8:40
  • @Biblasia -- Biblasia, it's not a question of disbelieving John 1:18. The OP asked what Hebrews 11:27 means. I have revised my answer to clarify. The seeming contradiction to John 1:18 is a different question. Dec 14, 2022 at 15:12
  • +1 No you don't sufficiently deal with John 1:18, but this answer is a useful reference in addressing the OP's question and is not deserving of one sided negativity.
    – Austin
    Dec 15, 2022 at 2:34
  • @DanFefferman. Your answer seem contradictory with exodus 33:20, Job. 9:11,John 5:37, 1 Timothy 1:17, 1 John 4:12 and John 1:18. Thus, my downvote. More evidence is needed to support the suggestion that there are exceptions. Dec 15, 2022 at 4:58

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