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B'resheet/Genesis 32:31 "For I have seen G-d face-to-face and my soul has escaped ..."
While the English word for 'face' twice in this verse is singular, the Hebrew word is plural - literally, "faces" - and hardly ever appears in the singular in biblical Hebrew. A face may be viewed from the front, in profile, in silhouette or something in between; similarly, a face may show joy, pain, elation, sorrow, surprise and many other emotions. The Hebrew idiom recognises this and reflects the many faces that human beings can show by using the word in the plural. Judaism traditionally talks of the attributes of G-d: the attribute of mercy, the attribute of justice, and so on; this leads to the idea of G-d also having many faces, depending on which attribute you focus on or see.
The Hebrew scriptures present a mixed report as to whether we can see the face of G-d. Moshe, for example, is told very clearly, "But My face you cannot see, because a human being cannot look at Me and remain alive" (Shemot 33:20, CJB). Isaiah, on the other hand, sawHaShem "sitting on a high lofty throne! The hem of His robe filled the temple" (Isaiah 6:1, CJB), recognised that he was "doomed because I, a man with unclean lips ... have seen with my own eyes the King, Adonai-Tzva'ot!" (v5, CJB), yet survives to tell the tale. Another example of G-d being seen is when Gideon is commissioned: the text clearly has Adonai speaking to Gideon, but only the Angel of the L-rd is seen - "Gid'on said, 'Oh no! My L-rd! Adonai! Because I've seen the angel of Adonai face-to-face!' But Adonai reassured him, 'Shalom to you, don't be afraid, you won't die!'" (Judges 6:22-23, CJB). There is much debate in scholarly circles as to who the Malach Adonai, the Angel of the L-rd, is - who can be seen without causing death, but speaks in the first person singular as G-d to Avraham and others.
The New Covenant scriptures are more definite: "No man has ever seen G-d" (John 1:18a, CJB). Then who have they seen? John goes on, "the only and unique Son, who is identical with G-d and is at the Father's side - He has made Him known" (v18b, CJB). Did John know what he was saying? "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (v14, NASB). This was a real, tangible, physical, visible person, as John later says on his first letter: "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life" (1 John 1:1, NASB); Yeshua in the flesh, G-d made man.
Rav Sha'ul picks up the word-play when he writes, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face" (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB), looking forward to the day when we shall be with G-d for ever. J. Sidlow Baxter comments: "then the One who we now know heart-to-heart, we shall see face-to-face".
Further Study: Jusges 13:2-23; Ezekiel 1:22-28; Daniel 7:9-14
Application: Do you know G-d well enough heart-to-heart that when you see Him face-to-face it won't be a shock? Make good use of the time you have now to work on your relationship with Yeshua so that although He still awes you, He becomes like an old familiar friend.
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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