Israel Saw God

Exodus 24

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2017

Exodus 24 is a fascinating chapter. It takes place on Mount Sinai.  It is the same place that God gave the Jews the Ten Commandments.  They were in slavery to the Egyptians for four hundred years until God finally redeemed them.  He set them free.  He heard their cries and answered their prayers.  They could not free themselves from slavery, so God redeemed them.  They left slavery without even having to fight a battle.  There was no Civil War like we had in America.

Two million people left Egypt in a hurry. In the wilderness, God PROTECTED them.  They saw a sea split in half and their enemies killed.  He PROVIDED for them.  He gave them manna to eat every day. He LED them with the Pillar of Fire at night and the Pillar of cloud by day.

He also SPOKE to them.  The Jews came to a mountain and camped in front of it and something amazing happened.  God spoke from the top of a mountain and two million people heard him.   He spoke to them at Mount Sinai.

He spoke the Ten Commandments.  God speaks to us all of the time but most of us do not hear an audible voice.  They did and it was not one spiritual person in the nation who heard God speak.  Two million people heard Him.  He spoke in a loud voice.

They not only heard things, they saw other things.  They saw a thick cloud.  The whole mountain was on fire.  Mountain is made of rock but this mountain was on fire and there was lightning and thunder.  Today, we come to Sinai Part II.  This is Sinai 2.0.  The first time was an incredible display of glory and power on Smokey Mountain.  Now, He does it again. God comes down on the same mountain a second time and everyone can see it.

God not only redeemed the Jews, He offered them a covenant.  No other country in the world was given a covenant like this and God gave them a choice.  They accepted the terms.  We see that twice in this chapter.  

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (24:3 NIV)

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” (23:7 NIV)

This chapter gives us a ratification of the covenant that God made with the Jews at Mount Sinai.  It was ratified in a public ceremony, like a wedding ceremony.  Vows were even exchanged.  The terms of the covenant were given to the people. Moses read them and the people accepted the terms.

They not only promised to do EVERYTHING the Lord said but they ALL said it with one voice.  They were sincere.  They meant well.  They had good intentions.  They were enthusiastic.  They sounded like a new believer.  “We love God.  We will do whatever He says.”  The problem is that their follow through was not all that great.

In just a few chapters, these same people were worshiping a golden calf but, before we criticize them, we need to look at ourselves.  Many times we are just like them.  We mean well and are sincere but do not always keep our commitments.

This covenant was not only ratified with a ceremony, the ceremony involved death.  It involved blood.  Blood was sprinkled on the people and blood was sprinkled on the altar (24:6, 8).  The covenant was confirmed with the sprinkling of blood.  It was the formal ratification of a legal agreement.

It was followed by a special meal on this holy mountain (24:11).  In the ancient world, covenants were concluded with a special meal (so Stuart).  This was not just a fellowship meal.  It was a covenant meal. That was the old covenant.

We are not under the old covenant.  We do not bring animals to church today.  We do not have animal sacrifices.  We do not collect blood in bowls and sprinkle it on people.  We are part of the new covenant but the new covenant is also a blood covenant.  We are also under a blood covenant and we too have been sprinkled with blood.

We are part of this covenant because of Jesus’ violent death on the cross.  I Peter 1:2 says that we have been chosen “to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (NIV).

Hebrews 12:24 says that we have come “to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood” (NIV). We celebrate this covenant in a meal called communion or The Lord’s Supper.

Three Amazing Things in This Chapter

Some have called Exodus 24 one of the most important chapters in the Bible and yet it is rarely even studied by Christians today.  It is one of the most incredible chapters in the Bible.  There is nothing like it anywhere in the Bible.  What is so special about this chapter?

1) This chapter contains with a shocking INVITATION.

Seventy-four people get a special invitation by God to go up to Mount Sinai and worship.  We are told who they are in the first verse.  Seventy elders, along with Moses, Aaron and his two sons were given this invitation (24:1).  It was not given to everyone but just to the leaders of the nation.

What was so shocking about this invitation?  Just a few chapters earlier in Exodus, God said that nobody but Moses was allowed to go up this mountain.  The people could not go up.  They were FORBIDDEN to do this.  The leaders could not go up.  In fact, they could even touch the mountain.

If they touched it, they died (19:12-13, 23).  This was the same mountain, the same people and the same God and five chapters later in Exodus.  Only Moses could go up. Now God actually invites some people up the mountain to see Him.  They could not come up without an invitation.

2) This chapter contains an amazing VISION.

The leaders of the nation saw something incredible in this chapter.  Exodus 24:9-11 says, “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.”

We have never had a vision like this. Our entire life, we will never have a vision like this.  Other people in the Bible had a vision of God.  There are about eleven or twelve visions of God in the Bible.  There are more than ten other visions of God in the Bible besides this one.

JACOB saw a ladder from earth to heaven and the Lord stood above it (Genesis 28:12-13). MOSES had three other visions of God besides this one (Exodus 3:1-21; 24:18; 33:23).  The prophet MICAIAH saw the Lord sitting upon His throne (II Chronicles 18:18).  The prophet ISAIAH saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1).

EZEKIEL saw a throne in the form of a sapphire stone and a man sitting on top of it (Ezekiel 1:26).  In fact, he saw this more than once (cf. 10:1).  DANIEL saw the Ancient of Days sitting on a throne and it was on fire (Daniel 7:9).  The One who sat on this throne had white hair (white as wool) and wore white clothes.

STEPHEN, The first Christian martyr, had a vision of God just before he died.  He saw the glory of God and Jesus sitting on his right hand (Acts 7:55).  The Apostle JOHN had a vision of the resurrected Christ shining like the sun.  His eyes were like a flame of fire and a sharp sword came out of his mouth (Revelation 1:12-17).

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

This does raise an important question.  These visions have caused a problem for some people.  Skeptics love passages like this.  These passages seem to contradict other clear passages in Scripture.  John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God.”

Not only has no one seen God, not one has EVER see God.  I Timothy 6:16 says that God “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one HAS seen or CAN see.”  In fact, the Bible teaches that God is INVISIBLE (I Timothy 1:17; Colossians 1:15).  How can you see the invisible?

That brings us to our problem. The NT says that no has seen God and no one can see God but in Exodus 24 we are told that over seventy people did see God on a mountain.  It says plainly that they saw the God of Israel.  Not only did some see God, they all saw Him. In fact, it says it twice in three verses, in case you did not get it the first time.  Does the Bible contradict itself?

The answer is No.  There is a difference between seeing God and seeing a visible manifestation of God.  Everyone in the Bible who saw God saw a theophany.  They saw a visible manifestation of God.  God is a spirit. He does not have a body (apart from the Incarnation) but He often does appear to people in a visible way.

These theophanies not only reveal God; they conceal God.  They do NOT show God in all of His glory.  That would kill people.  It would be like standing right next to the Sun and looking at it.  Even Moses did not see all of God’s glory. We will see that in Exodus 33.

Three Forms of God in Exodus 24


God appeared as fire in this chapter.  Exodus 24:17 says, “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked LIKE A CONSUMING FIRE on top of the mountain.”  The top of the mountain was on fire, which is a little strange.  This mountain was all rock.  It was a granite mountain and it was burning.

When people see God, they often see fire. God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  Moses spoke to God at the Burning Bush but the only thing he saw was fire.

When the Apostle John saw the resurrected Christ, what did he see?  We are told that “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and HIS EYES WERE LIKE BLAZING FIRE” (Revelation 1:17). Ezekiel had a vision of God and he also saw fire.

Ezekiel 1:26-28 says, “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. 27 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. 28 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. When I saw it, I fell facedown.” (NIV)


God also appeared as a cloud.  A thick cloud covered the mountain (24:15-16).  This was not a rain cloud but a glory cloud.  Moses went to the top of the mountain and directly into God’s presence, he went into a cloud (24:18).

Precious Stones

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. (24:9-10 NIV)

Now, this is a little strange.  It says that the seventy elders saw the God of Israel but it does not tell us what God looked like.  All the text says is what is under his feet.  The only thing it describes is the pavement He is standing on.  It describes the floor and the floor is made up of lapis lazuli.

When we think of pavement, we do not think of precious stones, although the Bible says that heaven will be made up of streets of gold (Revelation 21:21). We do not know exactly which precious stone they saw here.

Was it lapis lazuli (NIV) or sapphire (ESV, NASB)?  Both of them are blue stones.  Why is that what they mentioned?  They were worshiping.  They are standing before this bright light and were prostrate on the ground.  They bowed down with their faces to the ground.

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. (Revelation 4:2-3 NIV)  Jasper is also a blue gem.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:10-11 NIV).

3) This chapter contains a unique EXPERIENCE.

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Nobody else in the Bible had an experience like this.  This was unique.  Moses was a type of Christ.  He was a mediator between God and man.  He goes up on the mountain and gets the tablets and laws from God and gives them to the people.  He is a mediator because he can go to the top of the mountain where God is and no one else can.  He had a special relationship with God that no one else had.  We see this in Numbers 12.

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) 4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam.

When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. (Numbers 12:1-8 NIV)

Moses had a special relationship with God that no one else had. Notice what was said about him in Deuteronomy 34.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (34:10-12)

There were three levels of intimacy on this mountain.  The PEOPLE at the bottom of the mountain were at one level.  Two million people at the bottom had all kinds of special privileges.  They were part of the covenant nation and saw God work incredible miracles in the wilderness.  They were witnesses.  They could also see what was going on at the top of the mountain from the bottom but could not come up the mountain.

The LEADERS were able to go up halfway.  They got an incredible vision of God. They saw the God of Israel.  They were able to go up but not all the way up.  Only MOSES was able to go up all the way to the top and come near to God.  It was just like in the tabernacle in which there were three levels of intimacy (people, priest and high priest).

Moses goes to the top of the mountain and goes into a cloud.  This eighty year old man does not just see the cloud; he enters it by himself and stays there for forty days.  Moses said in Deuteronomy 9:9 that when he went into this cloud for forty days and forty nights that he “ate no bread and drank no water.”

That requires a miracle.  You can go forty days without food but you cannot go forty days without water. Of course, if you are in God’s presence, you do not need food to survive.  We will not need food or water in heaven to survive but this raises a bunch of questions.

What happened during those forty days?  What was it like?  What did he see?  Moses does not come down the mountain and write a book about his experience like we would have done.  He had a spiritual experience no one else on the planet had.  He does not go around and boast about it and brag.  He does not feel superior to other people.  He was the meekest man on the earth.

How does this apply today?  Are there levels of intimacy today?  Yes and No.  We do not have the same three levels today.  The priest in the OT had special privileges.  Not anyone could become a priest.  You had to be born into the right family but the NT teaches that we are all priests to God. We are all on an equal footing spiritually.  The pastor is not closer to God because he is the pastor.

We do not have someone like the Pope over us.  We are all on an equal footing but some people are closer to God than others.  Some people are more committed, more devoted and more surrendered than others.  Some Christians are more obedient than others.  Some spend more time in the Word and in prayer than others.

The Bible says if we draw near to God that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  That is a promise.  In fact, the Bible says that “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (II Chronicles 16:9 ESV).

God’s eyes search every city, every state, every country and every church for the kind of people who put all of their trust in Him and who follow him completely.  God is looking for a few good men and a few good women who are on fire for Him.  What is He looking at?  He is looking at our heart.  He is looking for hearts that are completely devoted to Him.

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