In Exodus 24:9-10 we're told that the elders of Israel went up the mountain "and they saw the God of Israel". How did they see God and live to tell the story?
Here is the full passage for context:
Having signed the covenant, Moses and the other men ascend the mountain to meet with God as directed. There they see the God of Israel. The question immediately becomes, what did they see? As with any scripture, we must interpret this passage in light of all scripture. We can’t assume an interpretation for this passage that contradicts other scripture. For example, we read this elsewhere:
John declares that no man has even seen God at any time. That must certainly include this time in Exodus 24. Later in Exodus we read:
God Himself declares to Moses that Moses cannot see God’s face and live. If Moses couldn’t see God’s face and live, then certainly Moses never saw God’s face, including in Exodus 24. Finally, we remember that earlier in this chapter the Lord said to Moses that these men were permitted to worship from a distance. But only Moses could approach closely.
So these men saw something of God, but whatever they saw, we know they never saw God in any true sense, at least not His face, and they were never very close.
We get a clue of what they did see in verse 10 when we see a reference to His feet. We can safely assume that when these men found themselves in the presence of the Lord, even from a distance, they had a reaction similar to reports we read elsewhere. They were prostrate on the ground in fear of their lives. And from that vantage point, the only thing they saw was God’s “feet” and the pavement underneath. We can safely assume this was an appearance of the Shechinah glory.