Faces to Faces with God

What face do you bring to God? In the Hebrew scriptures, the word for face, panim (H6440), is always plural. “The face identifies the person and reflects the attitudes and sentiments of that person,” and of course there is no single facet to the self. Our faces are “a combination of a number of features” and so are our personalities (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1782).

God is even more complex, multi-faceted, and wonderful than us. He is the God of all our faces, and He offers to show His faces to use if/when we seek Him.

When you said, “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “I will seek your face, Yahweh.” Don’t hide your face from me. Don’t put your servant away in anger. You have been my help. Don’t abandon me, neither forsake me, God of my salvation. (Psalm 27:8-9, WEB)

Our God wants to be known. He wants to let us see Him. Whether or not we can see Him partly depends on us, though, because there are things we can do that prompt Him to hide His face. So how do we get into a “faces to faces” relationship with God, and what does it mean if we do?

Faces of Friendship

In Exodus 33:11, we’re told “Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face” (panim el panim) “as a man speaks to his friend.” Being face to face with God is part of being friends with Him. If you’re wondering how to become a friend of God, Jesus gave us a succinct guide when He said, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Friendship with God requires mutual interests, goals, and morality. We need to commit to following Him if we want to have a relationship with Him.

Behold, Yahweh’s hand is not shortened, that it can’t save; nor his ear dull, that it can’t hear. But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Is. 59:1-2, WEB)

Sin separates us from God. There can’t be face to face relationship where there is disobedience. Thankfully, God graciously allows repentance and restoration of relationship. If you “turn away your faces from all your abominations” you can turn your faces toward Zion and “join yourselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant” (Ezk. 14:6; Jer. 50:5). He’s happy and eager to have us face toward Him instead of away from Him. Read more

Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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How the Lord Meets with Us: Examining Jesus Christ’s Role as Intercessor

After writing last week’s post about coming to the Father through Jesus, I started studying the words “intercessor” and “mediator.” Interestingly, I found that in Hebrew the word used for “intercession” also means to encounter, come between, and meet with. It’s used in a variety of contexts, but I focused on the ones that related to how God interacts with us here on earth.

There are multiple ways that God can interact with humans. Two of those interactions involve rewarding good and punishing evil. We see the word for “intercession” used in both these contexts. This confused me at first, but as I studied it I found something that is very exciting and encouraging about how the two meanings connect.

Meeting With Punishment

The Hebrew word paga (Strong’s H6293) means “to encounter, meet, reach, entreat, make intercession” (BDB definition). Here’s one place it’s used in Exodus, when Moses and Aaron were talking with Pharaoh.

They said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Yahweh, our God, lest he fall on us with pestilence, or with the sword.” (Ex. 5:3, WEB)

“Fall on us” is translated from the word paga. We might paraphrase, “Let us worship God, or He’ll meet us with punishment.” It seems strange to have the same word as “intercession” used for meeting someone with pestilence or sword. Intercession tends to be seen as a more positive thing. If we head over to Isaiah’s writings, though, this starts to make more sense.

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Putting God in a Clay Pot: How Much Does the Lord Understand You?

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t really know what you’re going through? That He doesn’t get how hard it is to be human or that He expects too much of us?

I think this is an easy thought pattern to fall into. My problem is something different (we think). Other people don’t understand, and maybe God doesn’t either. Sure Jesus was human but that was 2,000 years ago. Things have changed.

Truth is, though, things haven’t changed that much. “There is no new thing under the sun” because human nature stays the same (Ecc. 1:9). And even if things have changed so much that being human is fundamentally different than it once was, God has still taken steps to make sure He understands us. Evidently connecting with us is very important to Him, because He’s done some pretty incredible things in order to get inside our perspectives and also to share His mind with us. Firstly, He made us. Secondly, He experienced human life by Jesus living as a human. Finally, He indwells His people today through His spirit.

Made

If you make something you understand it. You know all the ingredients in the cookies, you know the hours put into shaping clay into an urn, you know the measurements and materials required to machine that part. God understands us even better than that, for He created all the materials we’re formed from and then fashioned us in His own image. Read more

The Joy Of The Lord

I think most of us have learned there are multiple words for love in the Greek language. With seven words devoted to this concept, we assume it must be important. But did you know something similar is going on with the word “joy”?

In the New Testament the primary Greek word for joy is chara or its root chario. The Greek parts of the Bible also use agalliao, euphrosure, and (more rarely) skirtao and apolausis. Hebrew has even more words for joy. The primary one is samach and its close relatives simcha and sameach. Other words for joy include chadah, sus, alats, giyl, and alaz. The words for “shout” like ranan and rua also carry a joyful meaning in certain contexts. That adds up to more than a dozen words in the Bible to describe joy!

Clearly, joy is an important concept for Biblical writers and for the cultures they lived in. This type of joy isn’t just a happy feeling, though. It’s a state of being that we can have as a result of being in relationship with God. As a fruit of the spirit, joy is present in all spirit-led Christians. This joy can be bubbly, enthusiastic, and happy (and often is), but it can also be a quiet, enduring outlook that flourishes inside us even when we don’t feel outwardly merry.

Joy Is More Than Happiness

To those in less than pleasant circumstances, commands to rejoice (like Deut. 26:11: 1 Thes 5:16) often feel insensitive. “If you knew what I was going through,” we might say, “you wouldn’t tell me to feel happy.” Nevertheless, joy is something God expects and commands from His people.

It’s a similar situation as what happens with love. God is love, and He commands us to love others even when it doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. Biblical love is also something more than our modern concept of warm feelings toward someone. It’s much deeper. In much the same way, joy goes deeper than feelings of happiness. Read more