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B'resheet/Genesis 33:10 for indeed I have seen your face - like seeing the face of G-d
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The English word 'face' appears twice in this text, both times clearly in the singular, while the Hebrew words and are both plural. As we have commented before, the concept of face in Hebrew is almost always plural, in recognition that most us have several faces that we show to different people on different occasions. The same characteristic is assumed to apply to G-d, so that He has different faces that are shown or revealed to people depending on the relationship and circumstances involved. Ya'akov's words, as he speaks to his brother Esau - who he has not seen in twenty years - therefore attract some attention from the commentators who are exploring what they might mean.
Richard Elliott Friedman offers his own translation of the text, "I've seen your face - like seeing God's face", which takes the words literally: Ya'akov has seen G-d's face. He then comments, "Esau has no idea just how literally this is meant. Jacob had prayed for help because he was afraid of Esau. Then he had the encounter after which he said, 'I've seen G-d face-to-face.' And this, presumably enabled him to face his brother. Esau may take Jacob's words as a great compliment, but actually they convey that, after facing G-d, once is certainly able to face any human."
Targum Onkelos, in its usual move to eliminate anthropomorphism, adopts a different translation - "inasmuch as I have beheld your face as the sight of the face of the great ones" - based upon one of the other, much less used but possible, meanings for the Hebrew word Elohiym. Rabbi Hirsch too follows yet another possible meaning for his translation: "for I have looked at your countenance as looking at the face of a judge", suggesting that Ya'akov is seeing Esau as judging him over his past misconduct and the prospects of reconciling their relationship. Drazin and Wagner comment that Elohiym "could refer to G-d; or be a rhetorical hyperbole for 'great ones' as in 6:2; or be a reference to Jacob's encounter with the stranger in 32:211. The former would make Jacob's statement unacceptably anthropomorphic. The Targum takes the second approach. Ibn Ezra adopts the third interpretation."
Ya'akov's encounter with a mysterious figure in the previous chapter is clearly connected. The figure is represented in the Hebrew text by the word , simply 'man', but clearly possessing supernatural and possibly divine qualities: changing Ya'akov's name to Isra'el, blessing him and dislocating his hip at a touch. Various traditions and commentators have surmised that the figure is an angel - perhaps Esau's guardian angel - Ya'akov's own conscience or a pre-incarnate appearance of Yeshua. The text itself indicates that Ya'akov is under no illusion whom he has spent the night wrestling: "Ya'akov called the name of the place Peniel, saying, 'For I have seen G-d face to face, and yet my life has been delivered'" (B'resheet 32:20, ESV). It is Ya'akov's words here that enable Friedman to be so definite above.
The Scriptures report that seeing G-d is potentially hazardous. G-d refuses Moshe's request to see Him with, "you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live" (Shemot 33:20, ESV), as if man's physical body could not survive seeing Him. When Samson's birth is announced, "Manoah said to his wife, 'We shall surely die, for we have seen God'" (Judges 13:22, ESV), there is a clear expectation of death, while even the prophet Isaiah cries out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the L-RD of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5, ESV), at his vision of the Almighty. Yeshua tells the crowds in Jerusalem, "No one has seen the Father except the one who is from G-d; only He has seen the Father" (John 6:46, NIV). Yet in his vision, Daniel did see G-d: "the Ancient of Days took His seat; His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before Him" (Daniel 7:9-10, ESV).
At the same time, the apostles wrote in unmistakable terms about the time they spent with Yeshua, the level of intimacy and physical contact that they had with Him: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands" (1 John 1:1, ESV). When speaking before the council, Peter and John explained, "We can't help talking about what we have actually seen and heard" (Acts 4:20, CJB). When Yeshua rose from the dead and met with His disciples, he told them to "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39, ESV). What was it that disclosed the identity of the stranger walking with the disciples along the road to Emmaus? "He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him" (Luke 24:30-31, ESV) - a gesture, a tone of voice, a look in the eye; it could have been any of these.
There is substantial evidence that we can see qualities or characteristics in someone's face. This may be an inherited facial gesture - "Your nose wrinkled just like your mother" - or a physical resemblance - "You've got your father's eyes". At other times, we display emotion through our faces: people might catch a glimpse of a smile when we are amused by something in the middle of a serious conversation, or a quick grimace when the hostess suggests brussels sprouts for lunch. Novelists may show the inner side of their characters by writing about "cold, steely grey eyes" or a "soft dimpled chin". Holocaust survivors paint vivid pictures of facial expressions that have been etched in their mind: a "blank gaze of horror" or a "stare of sheer hatred". We can all remember the puzzled frown between someone's eyebrows when they can't understand something or that slight tension around the eyes that betrays the presence of toothache. But what do people see when they look at us today?
As believers in Messiah Yeshua, being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29), we are supposed to look more and more like Him each day. As we grow in Him, we are expected to resemble Him - not, of course, in our physical appearance: dark eyes, beard, black hair, sandals - but in our words, our expressions, the way we behave and the look in our eyes as we show His love to those around us. Rav Sha'ul tells us that G-d "has made His light shine in our hearts, the light of the knowledge of G-d's glory shining in the face of the Messiah Yeshua" (2 Corinthians 4:6, CJB). When people look at us, they should see the light of Messiah shining in us; more directly, the twinkle of joy and humour, the touch of a finger, the whisper of encouragement or comfort, is to be His twinkle, touch or whisper, as He would do it. We should glow in the darkness of this world as His Spirit reaches out to envelop and embrace others.
We all have bad days, when the image of ourselves - let alone the image of Yeshua in us - is not very visible. It is hard to twinkle when your nose has gone red and feels twice its normal size, stuffed up with a heavy cold. A whisper of any kind may be impossible when you have spent the day shouting to make yourself heard over the noise of a factory floor or a building site. Yet even on those occasions when we are not at our best, it is often surprising how clearly G-d speaks or moves through us, either by our invitation or - more amazingly still - despite our circumstances. Perhaps this was what Ya'akov saw in Esau's face as he bowed before him - a smile or a twinkle of G-d for a moment, reassuring him that everything was going to be alright. He recognised something of the figure with whom he had spent the night wrestling and saw the likeness of G-d in Esau's demeanour.
This is how it is to be with us: others look at us - just ordinary humdrum work-a-day people, in the middle of doing the shopping, squeezed in the tube on the way home, looking over the top of a newspaper, pouring a cup of coffee - and hear or see something of G-d in the way we respond to their unasked question or unvoiced need. Whether it's a smile, a slow wink, a word of greeting or commiseration, this is how we manifest the kingdom of G-d among us and move towards the day when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the L-RD as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14, NRSV).
1. - B'resheet chapters 31 and 32 contain one of the Bible's versification anomalies: The English retains the Hebrew 32:1 as its 31:55, thus mismatching the whole of chapter 32 by one verse number. Hebrew 32:21 is English 32:20.
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 4:1-4; 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Application: What do people see when they look at you? Is Yeshua visible through your actions, expressions and words? Perhaps it is time to check in at the heavenly beauty clinic and ask for a consultation with the head stylist to see what a full makeover could do for you.
Comment - 11:56 10Nov13 Karen: His beauty is so overwhelming it's difficult to look around and see the weightier issues. The same promise He made Abram in Gen. 15:1 is the same promise the Holy Spirit gave us in 2 Tim. 4:7-8. He is our treasure.
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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