Thinking Cap # 22 - Face to Face?
Read Genesis 32:30. I find there that Jacob saw "God face to face." Similarly
in Exodus 33:11, we read where the Lord talked to "Moses face to face, as a man
speaketh unto his friend." So far so good. But, then I read a little further on and
just nine verses later we find out that a man cannot see God's face for "Thou canst
not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." Just a slight
contradiction, for we know that Moses and Jacob both lived after they saw God face to
face. But, then just to balance it out we read in John 1:18 that "No man hath seen
God at any time." At least now it's two "for" and two "against."
Trouble is the Bible appears contradictory. How would you respond to your friend who puts
this dilemma to you ?
This "Thinking Cap" seemed to prick the interest of several of you as I
received more input and thoughts on it than any other thinking cap in the past year. To
start with, let's list the four verses in question so that we have them in front of us:
- Gen 32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to
face, and my life is preserved. (KJV)
- Exod 33:11 And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his
- Exod 33:20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and
- John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom
of the Father, he hath declared him.
In my opinion, here is how I would tackle this question.
- 1. What is the essence of God? Jo. 4:24 teaches us that God is a Spirit. In the Greek
text of Jo. 1:18, the verse begins with the word "God" and is referring to God
in His essence as Spirit. John is declaring that no created being has ever seen God in His
essence as Spirit. To do so requires special eyes and a relationship. Jesus had that and
thus has seen God. With that in mind, we must then interpret the verses in the Bible that
would seemingly contradict this principle.
- 2. In Genesis 32, Jacob is wrestling with a "man" who is really the Angel of
the Lord. This was an often used pre-incarnate form of Christ in the Old Testament. Thus
Jacob was "seeing" God in an acceptable fashion.
- 3. Word usage should also be considered:
- a. The word "face" is sometimes used anthropomorphically (ascribing human
characteristics to nonhuman things) of God; the Bible speaks of God as though He had a
"face", but it also speaks of His "wings" (Ps. 36:7). Let your
imagination run with that for a while and conjure up some mental pictures of God. God is
Spirit - we put arms, legs, wings, and eyes on Him to relate to Him in human terms.
- b. In conjunction with that, the word "face" can also be used figuratively or
literally. When Abram fell on his "face" in Ge. 17:3 it is literal. In Ex.
33:11, we have a figurative expression suggesting openness and friendship (see Num. 12:8
and Dt. 34:10 for similar usage). A good rule of thumb to use in these cases comes from a
quote I attribute to M.R. DeHaan heard many years ago, "If the literal sense makes
sense, seek no other sense, lest it result in nonsense."
- 4. Finally, any one who wishes to seriously study and understand the Bible would do well
to be aware of the two most important words in the Bible (with appreciation and thanks to
Bob Alexander): "as" and "like." We read in Hosea 12:10, "I have
also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the
ministry of the prophets." God says He uses "similitudes" in order to
reveal truth. When you see the words "as" and "like" in the Bible,
stop and get serious in your study time. Look for God to show you something by associating
it with something else in the Bible. For example, read Mt. 24:37 and you will realize that
by studying Noah you can understand Biblical truths concerning the rapture and the
tribulation period. Notice again that Ex. 33:11 uses this very important little word
"as." This does show us God's relationship to Moses, but it also tells us that
it is a picture, not a literal (physical) event.
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