Where the Two Meet.
Countenance. We are all familiar with the word; but what exactly does it mean? A dictionary would say: a persons face or facial expression, indicating emotion, mood and even character. Satisfactory I suppose, but what of it’s usage in biblical verse?
In Numbers 6:24-26:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
“The Lord bless and protect you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift His face to you, and give you peace.”
The word “his face,” פָּנָיו/panav, sometimes translated as “countenance,” appears twice in this blessing. Why?
The first instance, in the second line, is connected to the gift of grace found in His presence. The second, in the third line, is the lifting of His face to you, as in a fatherly embrace. Both instances expressing His looking to you in relationship: the first as King, the second as Father.
In some schools of Jewish thought the face is where the body and soul meet – the face, then, is the interface between the physical and spiritual, the timeless within the realm of time.
How so? Face in Hebrew is פָּנִים/panim, is a plural word, not singular. With regard to Moses in Exodus 33:11, the Lord said that He speaks to him, פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים, face to face. Again, plural in both instances, literally “faces to faces.”
When we speak together, we are not only speaking to the physical substance of the person before us, but also the soul of the person – the completeness of who they are. To behold the face is to behold the fullness of the life before you. When we seek His face, it is not only to the idea of face that we are familiar, but to behold the radiance of His loving being (I Jn. 4:16).
Countenance, then, in biblical language is not just facial expression, but a manifestation of the soul in the physical realm.
And when we behold Yeshua, we behold the presence of the Father within the realm of time (Jn. 12:45; 14:9).
Panim, the face, is the meeting place of the two: the physical face, and the face of the soul.
Be well. Shalom.