SPECIAL TOPIC: CAN HUMANS SEE GOD AND LIVE?

Moses wants to visibly see YHWH. Already he has a unique, intimate relationship (cf. Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10), but he wants more. Apparently Moses

  1. did not think seeing YHWH meant death
  2. did not fully grasp Exod. 20:4
  3. wanted another experience like Exod. 24:10,11, but this time just for him

There is uncertainty about the fear of seeing God, which was thought to cause death because of God's holiness.

  1. some did see God (in the Angel of the Lord) and live
    1. Gen. 16:13 ‒ Hagar, as the Angel of the Lord
    2. Gen. 32:30 ‒ Jacob in a vision
    3. Exod. 24:10-11 ‒ 70 elders and Moses in a theophany
    4. Deut. 5:24 ‒ Israel sees the glory of YHWH as the Angel of the Lord
    5. Jdgs. 6:22-23 ‒ Gideon
    6. Jdgs. 13:21-22 ‒ Samson's parents as the Angel of the Lord
    7. Isa. 6:1,5 (cf. John 12:41) ‒ Isaiah in a vision,
    8. Ezek. 1:26-27 ‒ Ezekiel in a vision of YHWH's chariot/throne
    9. Dan. 7:9-14 ‒ Daniel in a vision as the Ancient of Days
  2. no one has seen God and lived
    1. Exod. 3:6; 19:21; 33:20,23
    2. Lev. 16:2
    3. Num. 4:20
    4. 1 Kgs. 19:13
    5. even angels hid their faces, Isa. 6:2
    6. John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46
    7. 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16
    8. 1 John 4:12,20
  3. no one has heard God and lived
    1. Exod. 20:19
    2. Deut. 4:33; 5:24-26; 18:16
    3. 2 Cor. 12:1-4
  4. believers can see God in Jesus ‒ John 12:45; 14:9
  5. one day believers will see God
    1. Matt. 5:8
    2. 1 Cor. 13:12
    3. Heb. 12:14
    4. Rev. 22:4
    5. note Job 42:5; Ps. 17:15; 42:2

There are three, possibly four, images used to denote a visible aspect to Deity.

  1. "Your glory," Exod. 33:18,22 ‒ BDB 458, cf. Exod. 16:7; see SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (kabod, OT)
  2. "All My goodness," Exod. 33:19 ‒ BDB 375 CONSTRUCT BDB 481
  3. also note "My hand," Exod. 33:22,23; see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN
  4. "My back," Exod. 33:23 ‒ BDB 30, KB 35

This sets the theological stage for the theophany of Exod. 34:5-9, where

  1. #3 above is fulfilled
  2. the revelation of "the name," cf. Exod. 33:19; see
    1. SPECIAL TOPIC: "THE NAME" OF THE Lord
    2. SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT)

YHWH will do two things before Moses to reveal Himself.

  1. All His goodness (i.e., character, both mercy and judgment, cf. Exod. 34:6-7) will pass before Moses.
  2. He will pronounce His covenant name, Yahweh, to Moses (cf. Exod. 3:13-16). To know a deity's name was very important in the ANE.

"I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. . ." This is quoted by Paul in Rom. 9:15 to assert the sovereignty of YHWH. He is free but chooses to act in compassion and mercy (cf. Hos. 11:9). However, remember here it is sinful, idolatrous, rebellious, impatient Israel! There is mystery here, as Romans 9-11 demonstrates, but also always purposeful mercy (see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).

One wonders if "the cleft of the rock" in Exod. 33:22 (BDB 849) is "the" cave of 1 Kgs. 19:9-14. In Isa. 2:19-21. Several parallel terms for a hiding place are used.

  1. caves of the rocks, Exod. 33:19 ‒ BDB 849
  2. holes of the ground, Exod. 33:19 ‒ BDB 320
  3. caverns of the rocks, Exod. 33:21 ‒ BDB 669
  4. clefts of the cliffs, Exod. 33:21 ‒ BDB 703

There is anthropomorphic imagery in Exod. 33:23, "My hand. . .My back." See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN. Remember, God is an eternal spirit (i.e., John 4:24), present through creation and time.

There is a word play on "face" (see note at Exod. 33:15-16; also note stark contrast between Exod. 33:11 and 20) and "form." No one can see God's face (i.e., full personal revelation) but humans can see His glory, majesty, and power. Moses is allowed to see a part of YHWH's glory, but not His "face," as He "passes by" (DB 716, KB 778, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. 1 Kgs. 19:11-13).

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