Friday, March 20, 2015

Did Moses, Aaron, His Sons and 70 Elders See God? - Anastasios Kioulachoglou

Exodus 24:9-11 – “and they saw the God of Israel…they beheld God”

In Exodus 24:9-11 we are reading the following, about Moses, Aaron and his sons and 70 of the elders of Israel:
“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
It appears that this passage tells us that a group of people, 74 in number, “saw the God of Israel, they beheld God and ate and drink”. The passage does not state anywhere, nor in my opinion indicates that they saw a vision, like it appears that Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6), when he beheld the Lord or Daniel saw when He saw the Ancient of days (Daniel 7:9). Instead what it appears to me that it says is that they went up to the mountain and saw God “real time”. But then the Scripture elsewhere tells us that nobody has seen God. As John tells us in his gospel:
John 1:18
No one has ever seen God, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him”
And 1 John 4:18
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
Furthermore as Paul says speaking about God:
1 Timothy 6:15-16
“he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
In fact as God explained to Moses just a few chapters after the above given passage of Exodus:
Exodus 33:20
“You cannot see My face; for no man shall see me and live”
Nevertheless in Exodus 24 we read that not only Moses but another 73 with him went up to the mountain and, not in a vision, but they saw God real time and beheld the Invisible. I would have put this passage aside, as an enigma, had I not recently read how the Septuagint has this passage. For those of the readers for whom “Septuagint” is an unknown word: the Septuagint is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament done (for the Pentateuch) as early as the 3rd century BC. The Septuagint was used extensively in every place where the Jews of the diaspora where. The majority of the Old Testament quotations that we find in the New, are directly taken from the Septuagint. And though somebody may think that this is perhaps because it agrees with the Mazoretic text (the Mazoretic text is the Hebrew text used as basis for most of today’s translations of the Old Testament; it should be noted though that the first full copy of the Mazoretic text comes only from 1000 AD) and that’s why it was used, this is not so: according to the excellent study of Grand Jones (“Notes on the Septuagint”, 2000, found here: ) 93% of the Old Testament quotations contained in the New Testament agree with the Septuagint. On the other hand when the comparison is with today’s Mazoretic text the agreement is only 68,3%. Other studies such as the one from Protestant theologians Archer and Chirichigno ("Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey", 2005, Wipf & Stock Publ;) have different percentages but again to the same direction i.e. that in quotations where the Septuagint differs materially from the (today’s) Mazoretic text, the New Testament writers preferred the Septuagint more than 2 times more frequently than they preferred the Mazoretic. This I believe shows the importance the Septuagint has. To put it in short, the Septuagint was the Old Testament of the early church. When Paul was going to the synagogues to preach what was read from the Old Testament was from the Septuagint. When Paul said to Timothy “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” , the sacred writings Timothy was reading were from the Septuagint. The early church and the New Testament writers held the Septuagint in very high esteem and the complete loss of that esteem today is to say the least problematic. Anyway, back to our topic: one case where the Septuagint differs materially from the Mazoretic is also Exodus 24:9-11. So while the Mazoretic tells us that the 74 people actually saw the God of Israel and beheld Him, the Septuagint has this as follows:
Exodus 24:9-11 (Septuagint)
“And Moses went up, and Aaron, and Nadab and Abiud, and seventy of the elders of Israel. And they saw the place where the God of Israel stood; and under his feet was as it were a work of sapphire slabs, and as it were the appearance of the firmament of heaven in its purity. And of the chosen ones of Israel there was not even one missing, and they appeared in the place of God, and did eat and drink.”
According to the Septuagint the elders of Israel did not really see the invisible. What they saw was His place, where He was. Now there are two cases: either the Septuagint is right and behind its translation there was a Hebrew text that we don’t possess today and which obviously differs from the Mazoretic or the difference is artificial, meaning that it is a change done by the translator and which did not exist in the Hebrew text he had before his eyes. People have tried to find the answer by looking at the linguistics with arguments running both ways. Leaving aside the linguistic research I believe there is adequate internal evidence from the Scriptures themselves that supports the Septuagint rendering of the passage. And though the above passages from the New Testament do make clearly that nobody has seen God, and therefore the 74 people that day were not really an exception, I believe the strongest argument comes from what we read just a few chapters after Exodus 24, namely in Exodus 33, days after what we read above. There we find Moses having the following conversation with God:
Exodus 33:12-23
“Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ “Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. “For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” And he 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, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” 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.”
My simple question is the following: if Moses (together with Aaron and the remaining 72) had seen God and beheld Him, why on earth he – just days after having supposedly seen God - wanted so much to see Him again, requesting this as somebody that had never actually seen him before? And why God who supposedly showed Himself so openly to the 74 had to handle this request with so much care? To say it differently were you Moses, would you beg God to show you His glory when you had seen Him days before and would God take such precautions to do it, when He actually was seen and beheld openly by not just one but 74 just days before? I don’t think so. That’s why I believe that Moses and the elders did not see really see God that day. What they perhaps saw was what the Septuagint says that they saw i.e. the place where God’s presence was.


This was a short study on Exodus 24:9-11 and we used the Septuagint together with the internal evidence from other scriptures to examine this passage. It demonstrates among others the validity of looking up, in case of questions, other ancient translations that could throw light to a questionable passage. We will not get all the answers to our questions here in this life but those answers we can get, we should get!

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