In Exodus 24:9-11, the Elders see God.

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

Does "did not raise his hand against them" imply that they had seen his face, or his whole form and not just his feet?

Did they perceive him in heaven from underneath, through the vault of the sky, similar Ezekiels vision in 1:22-28:

Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.

Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Or was it as though he was a normal sized person and God was walking around on their level?

Also, is there any indication from the text whether God ate and drank with them?

I know this question has sort of been asked before, but I'm hoping somebody might be able to offer something that might help me picture what is going on.

  • 1
    If Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel. saw God literally, how is it that Moses later wrote that God told him "man shall not see me and live". There is also no indication that God ate and drank with them.? Apr 16, 2023 at 8:06

2 Answers 2


In the first place, other Bible references warn us against taking the expression "saw God" with too much literalness. John tells us that "no man has ever seen God" (John ch1 v18). Moses himself was told later "man shall not see me and live" (Exodus ch33 v20). This is what we should have expected; how can any limited human mind take in the fullness of God to the point of "seeing" him? It would be like trying to pour a gallon into a pint pot. What we get is a "filtered" version, like watching an eclipse through darkened glass.

Yet Moses was also told "I will make all my goodness pass before you" and he was allowed to "see the back" of God (Exodus ch33 v19, v23). He evidently had a visual experience of some kind. So my usual formula is the people in the Old Testament did not see "God" in person, but an image designed to accomodate itself to their understanding and give them a sense of being in the presence of God. In the wilderness, the people were accompanied by a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus ch13 v21), but the images in Ezekiel ch1 and John ch4 are based on the human form, which encourages the sense of being in the presence of a personality. However, the images differ in detail, because they are designed for the human mind receiving them.

This is where the "pavement" comes in. John understands himself to have been raised up to God's throne-room in heaven, and the "sea of glass" in front of the throne (Revelation ch4 v5) must surely be understood as the firmament, seen from above. It fits in with the concept that God lives "among the clouds of heaven". Ezekiel is given the sense that the same throne-room has been brought down to him. The throne is being supported by "the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal" (Ezekiel ch1 v20). So I suggest that the pavement in Exodus is also meant to be understood as what might be called a "portable firmament".

They too might have seen "someone sitting on a throne", but that is not proved by the reference to "raising a hand". This is a fairly standard metaphor about threatening or injuring someone ("My hand shall destroy them", Exodus ch15 v9), based on the way we humans injure each other. It is a way of expressing surprise that they were able to "see God" even in that diluted sense and live through the experience. Similarly Manoah was expecting to die after "seeing the Lord" (Judges ch13 v22)- which, in his case, meant seeing "the angel of the Lord".

Humans eat and drink because our lives are not self-sufficient. We are obliged to take in nourishment from somewhere. So the sight of God "eating and drinking" would have confused the symbolism, which probably explains why there is no mention of it. Paul says we are seated at the Lord's table (1 Corinthians ch10 v21), but he does not say that the Lord shares the meal.

  • Is there a hermeneutical method to say which “see” is non-literal … the one that causes death or the one that doesn’t?
    – Steven
    Apr 16, 2023 at 9:43
  • It’s also interesting that God commands Moses to make sure that the priest does not expose himself on the altar … and the next chapter it’s possible that the elders are looking up at God from underneath.
    – Steven
    Apr 16, 2023 at 9:45
  • 1
    The kind of seeing that causes death could not cause a literal death unless it was happening literally. But John's point is that it doesn't happen at all. Apr 16, 2023 at 9:48
  • Some good points, here. Up-voted +1. 'Pavement' I see as denoting progress by foot. But that depend on it being a proper translation of the Hebrew. If, so then similar to the Son of man's feet as brass burning in a furnace - the concept of a progress of judgment, by One descended in humanity.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 16, 2023 at 10:15

I do not understand why Ex 24:9-11 should be understood in any other way than the pain, simple, obvious meaning of the text:

  • V10: they saw the God of Israel
  • V11: they saw Him [the God of Israel]

Commenting on the phrase, "He laid not a hand on them", Ellicott correctly observes:

He laid not his hand—i.e., He in nowise hurt or injured them. The belief was general that a man could not see God and live (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 32:20; Judges 6:22-23, &c.). In one sense it was true—“No man hath seen the Father.” But the Son could reveal Himself under the Old Dispensation, as under the New, and not even cause terror by His presence.

The Cambridge commentary is similar:

  1. It was the general belief (see on Exodus 33:20) that God could not be ‘seen,’—except in a purely spiritual sense,—with impunity; but upon this occasion Jehovah put not forth his hand (Exodus 9:15, Exodus 22:8) upon Moses or his companions, to harm them.

The Pulpit commentary is also similar: '

He laid not his hand. God did not smite them with death, or pestilence, or even blindness. It was thought to be impossible to see God and live. (See above, Genesis 32:30; Exodus 32:20; Judges 6:22, 23, etc.) Man was unworthy to draw near to God in any way; and to look on him was viewed as a kind of profanity. Yet some times he chose to show himself, in vision or otherwise, to his people, and then, as there could be no guilt on their part, there was no punishment on his. It is generally supposed that, in all such cases, it was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who condescended to show himself.

The Pulpit commentary then goes on to say:

Also they saw God. Rather, "they both saw God, and did eat and drink." The two were simultaneous. As they were engaged in the sacrificial meal, God revealed himself to them.

That is, the pain, simple, and natural reading the text is that the 70 elders saw God while they ate and drank with Him. And they were not harmed.

Similarly, Albert Barnes correctly observes:

He laid not his hand - i. e. He did not strike them. It was believed that a mortal could not survive the sight of God Exodus 33:20; Genesis 32:30; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22 : but these rulers of Israel were permitted to eat and drink, while they were enjoying in an extraordinary degree the sense of the divine presence, and received no harm.

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