What Does God’s Face Look Like?

“Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”—Exodus 33:21–23 (NIV)

“He looks just like you!” I hear this constantly from people whenever my nephew and I are together. His blonde hair, dimpled chin, and color on his cheeks are miniature reflections of mine. It’s amazing how genetics are passed through families! Our faces look similar.

In this passage, we read God’s answer to Moses’ request to see His glory. Moses wanted to know what God looked like. It’s a fair question! I want to know, too! We’ve seen many depictions of what God looks like—like the great and powerful Oz or an old sage like Gandalf. These are mediocre representations, because no one really knows what He looks like. 

Moses desires deeper intimacy with God, and God’s qualified “yes” indicates He wants to be close to Moses, too. God places him in the cleft of a rock, covered by His hand for protection. Then God’s glory passes by. Moses would be unable to stand in His presence, because it’s too much for a mere human. As it is, Moses is only able to see God’s back. Contrary to what you might think at first, this word “back” here isn’t referring to a body part, but instead a location, as in “around back” or “behind.” Think about the wake of a boat. 

Isaiah and John both have similar experiences when they see God’s glory. They are overwhelmed, completely undone, and fall down as if they are dead (Isaiah 6:1; Revelation 1:17). Because no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). It’s like the sun—we can experience its glory on earth, but no one can touch its surface or even approach it. Looking directly at it actually burns your eyes. First Timothy 6:15–16 (NIV) describes God this way “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.”

We can; however, see God’s glory in other ways. The Bible talks about God’s glory being like a cloud (Exodus 16:10), a consuming fire (Exodus 24:17), or a rainbow (Ezekiel 1:28). “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1 NIV)—may the whole earth be filled with his glory (Psalm 72:19 NIV). The Bible also tells us we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), so we reflect His glory! 

Jesus is the fullest representation of God’s glory (John 1:14). He left His throne in heaven to be on the earth with us to show us what God is like. When we learn more about Jesus, we’ll also experience God’s glory.

One day, we’ll experience the fullness of His glory and get to see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). For now, every time you see a sunset painting the clouds, a rainbow shining through the clouds, or a smile explode on your nephew’s face, you’ll see little glimpses of the glory of God!

Pause: Have you ever wondered what God looks like? How have you seen or experienced God’s glory?

Practice: Take note of the wonders of nature today. Pay attention to how you feel during a powerful worship song. Look at the intricate features of a loved one’s face. Thank God for His glory, which is on display all around us!

Pray: Father, You are glorious! Thank You for revealing glimpses of Your glory all around me. Give me eyes to see more of who You are and notice You in every moment. I can’t wait to see the fullness of Your glory one day, but for now, I choose to see You and thank You! Allow me to share the wonders of Your glory with those I encounter today. Amen.

About the Author

Denise Trio

Denise Trio has been on staff with Calvary for almost two years, serving as the Director of Strategic Development. She has 10 years of project management experience, with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Engingeering from Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA and a Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling from Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. When not on campus, Denise is either making her way through her book list at the beach, ordering tacos on any menu that serves them, or running her side business, The Rose Creative, which specializes in creating beautiful and meaningful products for her clients.