When Moses and Jacob saw God, did it give them perfect faith (belief in God) and how would seeing God personally affect your faith?
The Old Testament doesn’t specifically say that Moses and Jacob sought God. For instance, when you look at Moses’ experience, he asks God to show him his glory. God answers that Moses cannot see his front, or his face. But he will allow him to see his back.
“And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”” (Exodus 33:19–23, ESV)
God gives Moses an interesting fact about him. No man can look upon God and live. He’s that powerful and amazing. And yet because Moses speaks to God face-to-face as a man speaks with his friend, God allows him to see his back.
Moses probably got the closest to seeing God in his full glory as anyone in the Bible. But the principle of not being able to look upon God and live is still in place. What’s amazing is that when the Lord’s full presence goes before Moses, he declares himself as he wishes us to know him.
“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” (Exodus 34:5–8, ESV)
Part of God’s glory is to know him as he is. He is compassionate and merciful, righteous and forgiving. To know God in his glory is not only to see him but to experience his full personality. Moses regularly experienced God’s presence in the cloud that would come down and fill the tent of meeting.
Even the Israelites didn’t experience God’s presence the same way. The Bible tells us they would go to the tent of meeting to meet with God but God’s presence in the cloud would come down only when Moses entered the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:7-11).
So there’s no doubt Moses had a special relationship with the Lord. But he didn’t see the word completely. Earlier in the book of Genesis, Jacob experienced the Lord’s presence in a dream, and he didn’t even realize it until after (Genesis 28:13-17).
A dream or vision is one way that God connects with some of the Old Testament saints. But Jacob has an even more profound experience later in life. As he is returning to his home area, he is worried about his brother Esau.
The last time they saw each other, Jacob conned his brother out of the birthright and the firstborn son’s blessing. Then he hightailed it out of there before Esau could kill him. So returning home was a dangerous proposition to say the least.
Jacob splits his entire camp into two camps. He sends the first one toward his brother. If Esau captures that part of his camp, at least he still has something left. He is still after all these years trying to be deceptive.
The night before he meets his brother, he meets what he believes to be a man, special as he may be. Jacob believes he is special because he fights with him the whole night for a blessing. Once again, Jacob is still trying to get his own way by his own resources and strength.
But something interesting happens. By the time daybreak comes, Jacob realizes he is wrestling with God, or the angel of the Lord. What he thought was a man was not really a man. As he continues to fight, he realizes he can receive a blessing.
“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” (Genesis 32:24–31, ESV)
The angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament except for a few places may be the representation of God himself. We can make an assumption as Christians that the angel the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. Therefore, drove the Lord is not merely a celestial being known as an angel or messenger. This angel of the Lord is the Lord himself. The angel is divine.
If this is the case, then Jacob wrestles not with a mere angel representing the Lord but the Lord himself. This seems to be the case according to the language Jacob uses. When he names the place where he wrestled with the angel, he says that he has seen God face-to-face.
No one would ever say that an angel is God unless the angel was God. So the angel of the Lord here appears to be God himself. However, it takes a while for Jacob to realize that he is wrestling with God. So for the second time there is not a true one-on-one seeing of God.
There are some other possibilities for those who have seen God, or at least had a very close relationship with him. Adam walked with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). We don’t know what this looked like.
After all, he walks with God in the cool of the day before the Fall of Man. When Genesis 3:8 mentions this, it seems to have been a regular occurrence until Adam and Eve did not show up to walk with God in the Garden of Eden.
So before they decided to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they may have had unfettered access to God’s presence. Since there was no sin to separate humans from God, they could’ve seen God face-to-face and not died.
Another possibility is Enoch who walked with God (Genesis 5:21-24). This is the same language used to describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God before the Fall. But because sin had entered the world, it was probably more like what Moses experienced.
We don’t have enough information from Scripture to explain this relationship Enoch had with God, but we know it was special. Enoch is one of two men in the entire Bible who never experienced death because God took him before death could.
Elijah the prophet also had the same experience, the second man who never died in the Bible. We don’t know exactly his relationship with God either. But he must’ve known God’s presence very strongly because he is able to know his presence as he waits to speak with God on Mount Sinai during his depression (1 Kings 19:11-13).
Even when Elijah goes out to meet with the Lord, he hides his face with his cloak. He seems to indicate a more intimate relationship than we are aware of to this point. But he had a close enough relationship with the Lord that the Lord did not allow him to experience death.
In the New Testament, Jesus is God and is seen by thousands upon thousands of people. And yet they don’t recognize him as the Son of God. Those who are part of his hometown don’t even recognize his prophetic preaching ministry.
All of this to say that most of these people who experienced such an intimate and close relationship with God either did not see him completely in his full glory or did not recognize him for who he was.
When these people saw God it definitely change them. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because he wrestles or fights with God. The change of the name in the Bible signifies the change of character. Jacob does not use deception in his life after this.
So seeing God in his presence and glory changes us. Paul met the living and resurrected Jesus and all of his glory on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). It blinded him for three days and his life was changed forever. He went from being one who martyred people in the church to becoming one of the most influential apostles for the church.
When we need Jesus it changes us. We call it salvation, God’s act of grace upon us. He changes us from sinners to saints. We stopped living a life of sin and live for him instead. We become his representatives on the earth, leaving others to experience the same life-changing power of his Spirit.
One of the greatest blessings we have as Christians is that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit at salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). There is no need to be strangers with the Holy Spirit. We can have an ongoing relationship with him and experience his power in and through us.
It’s hard not to believe in God when you see him and know him so closely. After all, as they say, “Seeing is believing.” So there is a definite change and power people experience when they meet God.