The Light of Your Face

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There is a certain tension in the biblical tradition about the face of God. On the one hand, there are very strong statements that no one can see the face of God and, on the other hand, there are several accounts of people doing so. The desire that God would "make His face shine" on His people is expressed in many passages.

Theologically and philosophically, we must remember that all of this language is metaphorical and anthropomorphic. God is pure spirit, and therefore He does not have a human face at all. But it is practically a requirement for us to imagine the face of God in our prayer and adoration, because this is how we know and love persons. God is the Tri-Personal origin of all other persons, angelic and embodied. We might say that God makes a face for Himself in order to speak with us in terms that we can understand. He does this not only in the poetry of the Old Testament but in the reality of the Incarnation of God the Son: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).

We cannot see God face-to-face

Exodus 33:18-23

18 Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!”

19 The LORD answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “LORD,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will.

20 But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.

21 Here, continued the LORD, is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock.

22 When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

23 Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen.

Ex 20:19
“You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.
Dt 4:33
Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?
Jgs 13:21-22
Then Manoah, realizing that it was the angel of the LORD, said to his wife, “We will certainly die, for we have seen God.”
Jn 1:18.
No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.
2 Tim 6:13-16

13 I charge [you] before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession,

14 to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ

15 that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

God shows His face

God does lunch with Abraham

God saves Hagar and Ishmael

Gen 16:13
To the LORD who spoke to her [Hagar] gave a name, saying, "You are God who sees me [el-ro’i]"; she meant, "Have I really seen God and remained alive after he saw me?"
Interesting reversal in this verse: it is God seeing us that kills us rather than our seeing God. To see face-to-face is to be seen as well. In a personal encounter, each is revealed to the other.

Jacob

Gen 28:11-13

11 When he came upon a certain place, he stopped there for the night, since the sun had already set. Taking one of the stones at the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.

12 Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it.

13 And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying: I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.

Gen 32:31
After wrestling with an intruder all night long, Jacob realizes that it was God. He then took the name "Israel," which may be translated, "He fought God" or "God-fighter."
Jacob named the place Peniel [Face of God],* "because I have seen God face to face," he said, "yet my life has been spared."
Hos 12:3-5

3 The LORD has a dispute with Judah, and will punish Jacob for his conduct, and repay him for his deeds.

4 In the womb he supplanted his brother, and in his vigor he contended with a divine being;

5 He contended with an angel and prevailed, he wept and entreated him. At Bethel he met with him, and there he spoke with him.

Moses

Ex 33:11
The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend.
Ex 33:17-23

17 The LORD said to Moses: This request, too, which you have made, I will carry out, because you have found favor with me and you are my intimate friend.

18 Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!”

19 The LORD answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “LORD,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will.

20 But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.

21 Here, continued the LORD, is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock.

22 When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

23 Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen.

Numbers 12:6-8

6 the LORD said: Now listen to my words:
If there are prophets among you,
in visions I reveal myself to them,
in dreams I speak to them;

7 Not so with my servant Moses!
Throughout my house he is worthy of trust:

8 face to face I speak to him,
plainly and not in riddles.
The likeness of the LORD he beholds.

Dt 34:10
Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.
Sir 45:5
He let him hear his voice,
and led him into the cloud,
Where he handed over the commandments,
the law of life and understanding,
That he might teach his precepts to Jacob,
his judgments and decrees to Israel.

Moses and the elders

Exodus 24:9-11

9 Moses then went up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel,

10 and they beheld the God of Israel. Under his feet there appeared to be sapphire tilework, as clear as the sky itself.

11 Yet he did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank.

Gideon

Judges 6:22

22 Gideon, now aware that it had been the Angel of the LORD, said, “Alas, Lord GOD, that I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!”

23 The LORD answered him: You are safe. Do not fear. You shall not die.

Samson's parents

17 Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, that we may honor you when your words come true?”

18 The angel of the LORD answered him: Why do you ask my name? It is wondrous.

19 Then Manoah took a young goat with a grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, who works wonders. While Manoah and his wife were looking on,

20 as the flame rose to the heavens from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground;

21 but the angel of the LORD was seen no more by Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah, realizing that it was the angel of the LORD,

22 said to his wife, “We will certainly die, for we have seen God.”

23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands! Nor would he have let us see all this, or hear what we have heard.”

24 The woman bore a son and named him Samson, and when the boy grew up the LORD blessed him.

25 The spirit of the LORD came upon him for the first time in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Psalms

Ps 11:7
The LORD is just and loves just deeds;
the upright will see his face.
Ps 42:3
My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?

Job

Job 33:26
He shall pray and God will favor him;
he shall see God’s face with rejoicing;
for he restores a person’s righteousness.

Shining Faces

This is not an exhaustive list, just illustrative.

אוֹר Make to shine, enkindle.
Num 6:25 The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
Ps 34:6 Look to him and be radiant, and your faces may not blush for shame.
Ps 31:17 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your mercy.
Ps 67:2 May God be gracious to us and bless us; may his face shine upon us.
Ps 80:4 O God, restore us; light up your face and we shall be saved.
Ps 80:8 O God of hosts, restore us; light up your face and we shall be saved.
Ps 80:20 LORD God of hosts, restore us; light up your face and we shall be saved.
Ps 104:15 [You make] wine to gladden their hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread to sustain the human heart.
Ps 119:135 Let your face shine upon your servant; teach me your statutes.
Ps 4:7 Many say, "May we see better times! LORD, show us the light of your face!"
Dan 9:17 Now, our God, hear the prayer and petition of your servant; and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolate sanctuary.
Ecc 8:1 Who is like the wise person, and who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom illumines the face and transforms a grim countenance.

New Testament

Transfiguration of Jesus

Face of Stephen during martyrdom?

Priestly blessing

Wikipedia, "Priestly Blessing"
May the LORD (YHWH) bless you and guard you -
יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
("Yebhārēkh-khā Adhōnāy weyishmerēkhā ...)
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you -
יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
("Yāʾēr Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā wiḥunnékkā ...)
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace -
יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
("Yissā Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā wiyāsēm lekhā shālōm.")

NAB

Numbers 6:23-25

24 The LORD bless you and keep you!

25 The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!

26 The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Our culture

  • Beaming with pleasure: children on Christmas day, a proud parent watching a child perform well, "the look of love."
  • Happiness makes our faces "light up." "Women aglow."
  • Halos.
  • New age religion: auras. (Just a parallel, not something I affirm.)
  • Beatific vision.
"Smile," Lyrics by Parker and Watson
Sung by Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Michael Buble ...
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.

References


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