If you’ve ever watched a spy thriller or a crime drama, you’ve indubitably run across facial recognition software. It is computer software that sifts through facial features in an attempt to match images with an effective degree of probability. In these thrillers, a CSI might use it to identify a John Doe or a spy might use it to spot a mark in video surveillance or in an attempt to uncover a disguise.
The word “face” in the Bible can have a few meanings; it can mean literally one’s face, or more specifically one’s facial expressions, their countenance. One place that I always think of when I think of the word in the Bible is in Exodus 33, where it says that “God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”(verse 11). Yet later in the chapter when Moses asked God to show him His glory, God says that no man can see His face and live. (Exodus 33:17-23)
This seems contradictory and I have many times pondered what this is about, this passage being as it is one of my favorites. I discovered that verse 11 is talking about how God and Moses would converse in person, as opposed to the other ways God would communicate to people. We can deduce that Moses, while he had a special relationship with God, did not actually see His face. As an aside that I will pick up in future essays, it appears that God defines His glory as being His goodness, mercy and compassion, in addition to His face that He has to protect us from.
As dangerous as it is, men are commanded to seek God’s face numerous occasions (1 Chr 16:11; 2 Chr 7:14; Ps 27:8; 105:4 among others). God’s solution to the problem of death taking anyone who sees His face is to wrap it in light like a garment. Psalm 104:2 says “He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent,” (NIV). We see examples of this in other places in the Scriptures.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed Himself in glory and His face was altered. Matthew tells us it shone like the sun (Matt 17:2). When Jesus appeared to John on the Island of Patmos in Revelation 1, He had a countenance that was like the sun shining in its strength. I’ll expand on the observations on Revelation 1 in later posts, but the point now is that there are many examples of Jesus’ face being veiled in light.
So then, in Moses’ story, when he would go into the Tent of Meeting to meet with God, he would come out with a face that shone and the Israelites were afraid to draw near to Moses. Moses would put on a veil to hide his face and thus veiled tell the people what God had told him in the tent. That brings me to one of my dad’s favorite passages.
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:12-18 (NIV)