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Holman Bible Dictionary
The word “face” has a variety of meanings. It is used literally to refer to the face of man or animals (Genesis 30:40 ), seraphim (Isaiah 6:2 ), and the face of Christ (Matthew 17:2 ). Figuratively, it is used in reference to the face of the earth (Genesis 1:29 ), waters (Genesis 1:2 ), sky (Matthew 16:3 ), and moon (Job 26:9 ). Also, the word “face” is used theologically with regard to the “presence of God” (Genesis 30:17-23 ). Face may be the physical “face” or the surface seen. Being “face to face” (literally, “eye to eye”) is being squared off with each other, front to front, and fully visible (Numbers 14:14 ). The face (eye) of the earth is the visible surface of the earth (Exodus 10:5 , Exodus 10:15 ), and the face of the waters is that surface which is seen (Genesis 1:2 ).
The word “face” may stand for the entire countenance. It is in the face that the emotions are expressed. The face of the sky expresses the weather, stormy and red, or fair (Matthew 16:2-3 ). Bowing one's face (nose or face) expresses reverence or awe (Numbers 22:31; Luke 5:12 ). Bowing one's face (nose) toward the ground also includes the involvement of the entire person (1 Samuel 20:41; Matthew 26:39 ), indicating complete submission. When angry or sad, one's countenance (face) will fall (Genesis 4:5 ). “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance (face)” (Proverbs 15:13 ). To express displeasure or disgust, the face is averted or “hid” (Ezekiel 39:23; Psalm 102:2 ); to “seek his face” is to desire an audience (Psalm 105:4 ). To “set my face against” is to express hostility (Jeremiah 21:10 ), while turning away the face shows rejection (Psalm 132:10 ). To “set their faces to” indicates determination (Jeremiah 42:17; Luke 9:51 ). The wicked man “hardeneth his face”(Proverbs 21:29 ), and “covered his face with his fatness” (Job 15:27 ). When in mourning, the face is covered (2 Samuel 19:4 ).
Because the face reflects the personality and character of person, the word is frequently translated as “person” (Deuteronomy 28:50; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Corinthians 2:10 ), or “presence” (Exodus 10:11 ). Sometimes it is translated merely as the indefinite pronoun “many” (2 Corinthians 1:11 ). Frequently, the word “face” is translated with the phrase “respect persons,” (KJV), or “being partial” (RSV), (Deuteronomy 1:17; Proverbs 24:23; Matthew 22:16; Galatians 2:6 ).
Many idioms and phrases also apply to “the face of God.” His face shines (Psalm 4:6 ), indicating good will and blessing. He sets His face against sinners (Leviticus 17:10 ), and hides His face (Psalm 13:1 ). Frequently, the word “face” is used in a theological sense with regard to the person or presence of God. Sometimes “face” is translated as “presence” (Genesis 4:16; Exodus 33:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ). In the tabernacle, the “shewbread” (KJV) or “Bread of the Presence” (RSV), was a local manifestation of the presence of God. The literal Hebrew reads “bread of the faces.” At other times, other words are substituted although the direct meaning is the “face of God.” Moses asked to see God's “glory” ( Exodus 33:18 ), but God answered that “thou canst not see my face ” (Exodus 33:20 ). The correlation indicates that in seeing God's face, one would experience His actual presence, and thereby be exposed to God's nature and character. Sinful and non-holy beings cannot survive being in God's holy presence without God's grace or merciful intervention (Exodus 33:17-23 ). Thus Moses (Exodus 3:6 ), Elijah (1 Kings 19:13 ), and the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2 ) hide their faces in God's presence. See Glory; Shewbread; Presence; Eye .
Darlene R. Gautsch
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Face'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/f/face.html. 1991.