Exodus 33:20, No man shall see me, and live
But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
//These are God’s words. God tells Moses on Mount Sinai that nobody can see his face. The confusing part of this, however, is that others throughout scripture do seem to see God face-to-face. So what, exactly, is God telling Moses?
Moses is shielded from seeing God’s face, but he is allowed to see God’s “glory,” the light which surrounds God. This becomes evident when the “glory” spreads to Moses, and his face also begins to shine (see the end of chapter 34).
According to Jewish tradition, God’s image hides behind an intense light. God’s glory—his kavod—conceals him and protects those who come face-to-face with God, just as happened with Moses. See, for example, the Gospel of Thomas saying 83:
Jesus says: “The images are visible to a person, but the light within them is hidden in the image. The light of the Father will reveal itself, but his image is hidden by his light.”
As the Gospel of John proclaims, God is Light. Tradition holds that this is the closest we will ever come to seeing God’s true image. Thus today’s verse, Exodus 33:20, tells the truth; perhaps many in scripture see the “face” of God, but they do not actually see the true image of God. The light emanating from God protects them from this.