Friday, January 1, 2010

A Shining Face pt. 5

Another phrase in the Aaronic Benediction is "the Lord lift up His face (countenance) upon you." The Lord lifting up His face or countenance on us is the image of Him lifting up His face or His presence upon us, and in this case, to give us His peace – His shalom.

Typically in Hebrew, to indicate a greater portion of something, a Hebrew word is often doubled for emphasis, e.g. gadol, gadol, which literally means, "big, big," as a way of saying "the biggest." So, in this Aaronic blessing, to reuse the imagery of God's face is to really make a emphatic point that His presence is with us –­ literally "in our face."

The literalness of this translation obscures the force of the Hebrew and fails to convey the imagery related to the court of a king. In biblical idiom, to seek the face is to desire an audience (Ps. 104:4). The king shows favor to his subjects by giving them an audience or access to "the light of his face," whereas his disfavor is expressed by his "hiding" his face from them (Ps. 13:1).

In ancient Egypt, subjects who were called into the audience of the Pharoah were not even to look into his face unless he verbally gave them permission to do so. Even then, the king who was on his throne would look down upon his subjects who were looking up to him, not the other way around. Therefore, we can know for certain that the phrase means something else. From other passages, we learn that the phrase actually means that the king "lifted his face" by the act of raising the features in a smile, the opposite of dropping them in a frown (Lo appil panai ba-khem); literally, "I will not drop my face against you," (Jer. 3:12; cf. Gen. 4:5-6; Job 29:24). This is an expression to say that the sovereign is extending his friendship to you. It is indeed a powerful mental image of our God smiling down upon us.

Happy New Year! And may each of us be blessed with God's shining light in our lives this year.


  1. These are beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, sweetie. I see that the link no longer works. I'm sure glad I saved this article when I did.