Before we consider these verses, we need to remind ourselves of the fact that God does NOT have a physical body. We are told in John 4:24 that “God is a spirit.” A “spirit” is not physical in nature and thus we can’t see God, in His essence, with our physical eyes. This is confirmed clearly and emphatically in 1st Timothy 6:16: “Who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” (NKJV).

With that in mind, let’s read Exodus 33:9 &11, “And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door, and the LORD talked with Moses…so the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” It seems obvious that Moses HEARD the Lord speak, but he did NOT SEE Him. What he did see was the “pillar of cloud.” So, what do the words “face to face” mean? To use a familiar expression, it means “up close and personal.” Moses was indeed in the immediate presence of God and he had personal and intimate fellowship with Him, yet he did NOT SEE the Lord in His essential being.

Now let’s read Exodus 33:18-20, “And he (Moses) said, ‘Please, show me Your glory.’ Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious…but He said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” When Moses asked God to show him His glory, I believe he wanted to see God as He really is, in His “essential glory.” God told Him that He would reveal His goodness to him, but that if Moses were to see His face, he would die. Again, God is a spirit and thus the word “face” here does NOT mean a physical face like you and I have. I believe the word FACE refers to “God’s unveiled glory.” We saw in 1st Timothy 6:16 that God dwells “in unapproachable light, whom no has seen or can see.” So, we conclude that Moses was asking for the impossible, for if God were to have shown Moses all His glory, he would have died. As we read on in verses 21-23, we see that God did show Moses PART of His glory: “And the LORD said, ‘Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” Here too God uses language that we can relate to, for He speaks of “My hand…My back…My face.” We believe they speak of various “degrees of glory.” Moses was able to see God’s “back,” but not His “face.” The BACK no doubt refers to “PART of God’s glory,” while the FACE, as we have seen, refers to “ALL of God’s glory.”

Before we close, let’s also read Exodus 34:29-30: “Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai…that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” Moses was REFLECTING GOD’S GLORY and the people were afraid! They were so afraid that Moses veiled his face (see verses 33-35). We saw earlier that “God’s FACE” referred to “God’s unveiled glory” and that no one can see it and live. Here the children of Israel saw only “part of God’s glory” being “reflected from Moses’ face” and fear filled their hearts. This gives us an even greater appreciation for those words, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (233.3) (DO)