Michael Boling – Seeking the Face (Paniym) of God

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A recurring concept and for that matter a declaration found throughout Scripture is that of seeking after God and entering His presence. One vital element of what seeking God and entering His presence that I firmly believe many often overlook is what the Hebrew word paniym means and how it relates to what seeking God and being in His presence is all about. Before we do any analysis of paniym, let’s first take a look at various passages in the Old Testament that use this term in relation to seeking God or being in His presence.

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Genesis 17:1)

And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD: (Genesis 19:27)

And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the LORD: for he hath heard your murmurings. (Exodus 16:9)

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. (Psalm 5:8)

He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it. (Psalm 10:11)

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek. (Psalm 27:8)

And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. (Isaiah 8:17)

For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. (Jeremiah 21:10)

Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. (Micah 3:4)

The above passages represent a small sample of how paniym is used in the Old Testament as this word is used over 2100 times. So let’s define exactly what this word means when it comes to seeking the Lord and being in His presence, or for that matter, what it means for God to set His face for or against someone.

Strong’s Concordance defines the semantic range of paniym as being:

face, faces; presence, person; face (of seraphim or cherubim); face (of animals); face, surface (of ground); as adv of loc/temp; before and behind, toward, in front of, forward, formerly, from beforetime, before; in front of, before, to the front of, in the presence of, in the face of, at the face or front of, from the presence of, from before, from before the face of.

For the purposes of this study, we will be focusing on the definitions of face, presence, toward, in front of, in the presence of, in the face of, and from before.

One aspect of paniym that should be noted first is the root word from which it comes from, the Hebrew word panah. This particular word is a verb that literally means to turn toward or from or away. Right away we begin to see that paniym involves the active turning of God or humanity to or from the presence of each other. Ultimately, paniym is the active movement either toward or away from something or someone.

Keri Kent, in her book Deeper Into the Word: Old Testament: Reflections on 100 Words from the Old Testament, notes “In English, a shining face usually is an idiom for someone who is smiling or happy. In Hebrew, his expression means showing favor.”[1] Kent also notes how paniym is used in relation to the Table of Showbread that was in the Temple, commenting “this bread called the Bread of the Presence or in some versions of the Bible, the showbread, is in Hebrew lechem paniym or literally the bread of the face.”[2] Willem VanGemeren states that paniym or to seek the face of the Lord “was an expression of devotion, often attended by sacrifices or acts of loyalty.”[3]

With these definitions in place, we can begin to notice that paniym involves an active motion that is to be focused on God. When the creation is properly focused on God, the result is God’s favor being poured out on creation. Conversely, when the creation rejects God and turns their face and actions away from God, His favor is also turned away from the creation. Let’s look at some examples from the scriptures provided above as to how this process works to include the proper posture for the believer.

1. Creation turning to God with God’s favor bestowed on the creation:

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)

In this passage, the Psalmist declares for the reader where fullness of joy can be found. It is important to notice that complete joy, the shalom that we seek as believers is found only in the paniym or the presence of the Lord. There is no other location whereby true joy can be obtained. It cannot be obtained in the fleeting things of this world for Jesus noted these things will be destroyed by moth and rust. Lasting joy is found only in the presence of God. Derek Kidner aptly notes “The joy and pleasures are presented as wholly satisfying (this is the force of fullness, from the same root as satisfied in 17:15) and endlessly varied, for they are found in both what He is and what He gives – joys of His face (the meaning of presence) and of His right hand.”[4]

Those who earnestly seek the face of God will be rewarded with the only thing of true lasting value, the fullness of joy that comes from seeking God knowing that the reward of seeking God is not just the gift of joy, but rather the pleasure and satisfaction of being in the paniym of God.

2. Creation turning away from God with God turning His paniym away from creation:

Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. (Micah 3:4)

Turning to the Minor Prophets, admittedly a book most of us scan over if we read it at all, we see an example of God hiding His paniym from His people. To have God’s face turned away from you meant that His blessings would cease. This was in accordance with the covenant God made with His people, the system if you will of blessings for obedience and faithfulness as well as cursing with these curses impacting both prosperity and blessing in a physical sense and more importantly, their relationship with God. The prophet Micah in this passage was declaring that since Israel had rejected God, His face would be turned from them. Notice also that even though the people would cry out to God, He would not hear Him for His paniym was turned away. Since their cries were merely due to their suffering resulting from their sinful behavior rather than crying out from a posture of repentance, God turned His paniym from them. As noted by scholar F. F. Bruce notes in regards to Micah 3:4, “Those who persistently have done evil must inevitably face the consequence of irrevocable alienation from God.”[5]

3. Proper posture for the believer:

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek. (Psalm 27:8)

It is important to notice the flow of statements in this passage. It begins with the acknowledgement that God had made a command to His people to “seek His paniym.” Before moving on to the remainder of this passage, let’s first examine why God would make such a command. Is God somehow lonely or somehow needs His creation in order to be complete? The response to that question would be no. This begs the question as to why God created us. While that answer is to a large degree wrapped up in the grand mystery of an eternal God, Scripture does provide some answers. God desires relationship with His creation. It is not due to some lack in God’s character or attributes. This desire is derived from His great love for His creation. We see this played out in passages such as John 15:12 where Jesus declared “This is My commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

Rooted in the command to love one another is the reality that we do so because God loved us. Moreover, notice that in the beginning God communed or tabernacle with Adam and Eve. Sin marred that intimate relationship resulting in the need for redemption through the Messiah. That intimate relationship between the Creator and His creation, specifically those who are His bride, will one day be restored. All along the timeline of history, we see God acting within history to draw His people to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for the purpose relationship, eternal fellowship with God their Creator and the restoration of His creation being in His paniyn, His presence.

Now that we have established where the command to seek His paniym derives from and why it is important, we can then move to the final part of Psalm 27:8. In recognition of God’s command, the Psalmist declares quite simply yet profoundly, “my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” So was it that pounding muscle within his chest that said to the Psalmist, “seek His face”? The Hebrew word used for heart in this passage is leb which literally means the seat of your appetites, the seat of your emotions and passions. So the Psalmist is declaring that everything he is knows the importance of obeying God’s command to seek His face and in acknowledgement of that command, everything within him is focused on being obedient to that command.

Notice also what the Psalmist declares He will seek. Does he state he wants God’s blessings? Does he state he seeks God for something in return? The reason the Psalmist seeks God is simply because God declared the Psalmist was to seek God. It is a very simple command and obedience construct. Furthermore, what the Psalmist seeks is God’s paniym. Why does he seek God’s paniym? Remember back to our discussion of Psalm 16:11. It is in the paniym of God where fullness of joy can be found.

Artur Weiser notes concerning Psalm 27:8, specifically the Psalmist’s response to God’s command, “The poet certainly discerns God’s command in this word of God and is willing to act in obedience to it; but even more distinctly he can perceive the promise it contains, the invitation of the divine love as well as God’s readiness to be gracious to him, as he offers of his own free will to restore the relationship which had been broken through human guilt.”[6]

The seeking of God’s face should be a hallmark of those who are called to be His bride. This perhaps begs the question of how we should seek God’s face. Two important elements are the daily washing of our hearts and minds in the word of God through consistent purposeful Bible study and through a consistent posture of bowing before God in prayer. Seeking God’s face through His word and through prayer will result in a proper relationship with God, a proper perspective towards life, and the movement of the believer from being pĕthiy (foolish, simple, naïve) to being tamiym (mature, complete). It is only by going to that which is tamiym, namely the word of God that is a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path that we also can be a bride that can overcome, endure, and run the race that is set before us.

The question lies before us each and every day. Will we do as the Psalmist did and act in obedience to God’s call for His people to seek His paniym? Is that the desire of your heart or is your treasure found somewhere other than where true shalom and fullness of joy is derived? May we strive as His bride to be a people who constantly seek His paniym. In doing so, we will be acting in obedience to God’s command and we will find ourselves rooted on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake with the result of God’s paniym being turned toward us as we turn our paniym towards Him. May we always have that proper posture in all we do for truly in the paniym of God is where life can be found.

References:

[1] Keri Kent, Deeper Into the Word: Old Testament: Reflections on 100 Words from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Willem VanGemeren. “Commentary on Psalms” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms through Song of Songs. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 247.

[4] Derek Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1973), 103.

[5] F. F. Bruce, New International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 931.

[6] Artur Weiser, The Old Testament Library: The Psalms (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 252.

Jeffrey Tomkins – The Untold Story Behind DNA Similarity

“The DNA of humans is 98% similar to chimpanzees.” Who hasn’t heard that claim before? It’s usually stated as a settled fact and quoted to prove indisputably that we share a common ancestor.

But what does this kind of statement really entail, and how do we really know how similar one creature’s DNA is to another? The answers from my field of research—genetics—might surprise you.

Not So Fast

While DNA sequencing technology has advanced rapidly over the past 30 years, the task of determining the entire DNA sequence of a creature’s genome (all its chromosomes in a cell) and then comparing it to other genomes is anything but settled. We simply are not in the post-genomics era—as some have arrogantly claimed—where we have completely sequenced large genomes end-to-end and fully understand how they work.

Before we can talk about how to compare two organism’s genomes, or their chromosome complements as they are often referred to, we need to cover a little background information.

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John Bunyan – A Caution to Stir Up Watch Against Sin

The first eight lines one did commend to me, the rest I thought good to commend to thee: Reader, in reading be thou rul’d by me, with rhimes nor lines, but truths, affected be. 8 April 1684

I.

Sin will at first, just like a beggar, crave one penny or one half-penny to have; and if you grant its first suit, ‘twill aspire, from pence to pounds, and so will still mount higher to the whole soul: but if it makes its moan, then say, here is not for you, get you gone. For if you give it entrance at the door, it will come in, and may go out no more.

II.

Sin, rather than ‘twill out of action be, will pray to stay, though but a while with thee; one night, one hour, one moment, will it cry, embrace me in thy bosom, else I die:

Time to repent [saith it] I will allow, and help, if to repent thou know’st not how. But if you give it entrance at the door, it will come in, and may go out no more.

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Horatius Bonar – Christ and the World

What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? 2 Cor. 6:14

The friendship of the world is enmity with God. James 4:4

Worldly people seem to be well aware that it is only in this life that they will be able to get vent to their worldliness. They quite count upon death putting an end to it all; and this is one of the main reasons for their dread of death, and their dislike even of the thoughts of it.

They know that there will be no “worldliness” in “the world to come”; that there will be no money-making, nor pleasure-finding, nor feasting, nor reveling; no balls, nor races, nor theaters, in heaven or in hell. Hence their eagerness to taste “life’s glad moments,” to take their fill of mirth, to make the best of this life while it lasts; and hence the origin of their motto, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Such are the out-and-out “lovers of pleasure,” the worshipers of the god of this world, the admirers of vanity, and indulgers of the flesh. They do not profess to be “religious”; but rather take pains to show that they are not so, and boast that they are not hypocrites.

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Danielle Spencer – Faith in the Hallway

The Christian life is full of risk taking. Simply being a Christian has often been cause enough for the executioner. But even where the cost comes short of shedding our blood, our lives–lived faithfully–will at some point beg the question, “What is the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15)? Implicit in this question is a life lived counter to the path of least resistance; that kind of life requires risk and courage–sustained, plodding courage. I’m nearing the middle part of my race to glory, and finding here that the courage needed is not so much about jumping into new adventures, but actively waiting on the Lord for the fruition of risks already begun. Maybe you can relate. You’ve given the money, moved to a different continent, had the kids, or identified as a Christian in academia, like Peter you’ve already left the boat, and now you feel the wet waves pound on your courage as you wonder, “What have I done? Will this work out? Or will I be put to shame?”

Many saints of old have experienced the same, but often as we encounter the narrative portions of Scripture we find the conflict wrapped up in just a few short chapters or verses. It is easy to miss the fact that the person living out the story did not know the outcome. Take the familiar story of Esther for example. Mordecai, trusting God’s promises, knew his people could not be wiped out, but he and Esther did not have a personal promise that they would be the means. When Esther committed herself to intercede for her people with that famous line, ““I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish,” she did not know that 5 chapters later, 75,000 anti-Semitics would be dead instead of her.

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W. Robert Godfrey – Teach Us to Number Our Days

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12)

This verse is often treated as if it were a proverb that means, “Life is short, so live wisely.” But in the context of the whole psalm, it means much more than that, as we will see. It is a key part of a meditation on God and on living as the people of God.

In Hebrew, verse 12 begins with the words “to number our days.” This phrase picks up the theme of time that is so pervasive in this psalm. A reflection on time leads us to see how weak we are and how short our lives are: “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ … You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers… The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (vv. 3, 5–6, 10). Here, Psalm 90 shows its connection to the concerns of Psalm 89 about man’s frailty: “Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” (Ps. 89:47–48). Such realism about our weakness is the necessary foundation of any true wisdom. “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am” (Ps. 39:4).

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Thomas Schreiner – Do Paul and James Disagree on Justification by Faith Alone?

Critics of the slogan “faith alone” often point out that Scripture only speaks once about whether we are justified by faith alone—and that text denies it: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, CSB).

What does James mean in saying we are justified by works?

I won’t defend the truth of justification by faith alone in detail, but it’s clearly taught, for example, in Romans 3:28: “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Or, as Paul teaches in Romans 4:5, “God justifies the ungodly.” Both Abraham and David were justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 4:1–8; Gal. 3:6–9).

Salvation, as Paul elsewhere demonstrates, is “by grace” and “through faith” (Eph. 2:8–9). Works are excluded as the basis of salvation—otherwise people could boast about what they have done. Salvation by grace through faith highlights the amazing and comforting truth that salvation is the Lord’s work, not ours.

But does Paul contradict James?

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A. W. Pink – The Scriptures and Sin

Motives for Studying the Word

There is grave reason to believe that much Bible reading and Bible study of the last few years has been of no spiritual profit to those who engaged in it. Yea, we go further; we greatly fear that in many instances it has proved a curse rather than a blessing. This is strong language, we are well aware, yet no stronger than the case calls for.

Divine gifts may be misused, and Divine mercies abused. That this has been so in the present instance is evident by the fruits produced. Even the natural man may (and often does) take up the study of the Scriptures with the same enthusiasm and pleasure as he might of the sciences. Where this is the case, his store of knowledge is increased, and so also is his pride. Like a chemist engaged in making interesting experiments, the intellectual searcher of the Word is quite elated when he makes some discovery in it; but the joy of the latter is no more spiritual than would be that of the former. So, too, just as the successes of the chemist generally increase his sense of self-importance and cause him to look with disdain upon others more ignorant than himself, such, alas, is often the case with those who have investigated the subjects of Bible numerics, typology, prophecy, etc.

The Word of God may be taken up from various motives. Some read it to satisfy their literary pride. In certain circles it has become both the respectable and popular thing to obtain a general acquaintance with the contents of the Bible, simply because it is regarded as an educational defect to be ignorant thereof. Some read it to satisfy their sense of curiosity, as they might any other book of note.

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Mark Johnston – The ‘More and More’ of Holiness

Holiness has too often been embroiled in confusion and distortion within the Christian community and, sadly, ends up being neglected rather than cultivated within the church. This is especially true in times, like our own, when the gospel becomes more ‘me-focused’ than ‘God-focused’.

Holiness is the great goal of Christ’s saving mission. According to Paul, his purpose in redemption was ‘to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (Tit 2.14). The author of Hebrews urges his readers to ‘pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (He 12.14 [NRSV]. And Jesus himself states it even more bluntly with the words, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 6.48).

Holiness matters. And it matters far more than we are willing to admit. We may be quite happy to engage in argument and debate over the meaning of the concept in Scripture, but make little effort to fight the inward battles involved in the pursuit of holiness in our daily lives.

This struck me recently while reading Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Summing up the main thrust of his letter, he tells them,

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord to do this more and more (1Th 4.1) [NIV – italics added].

He goes on from there to walk them through some of the glaring failures that were literally a blot on the landscape of the church’s witness in that town and surrounding area. Reminding them that ‘it is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ he goes on to catalogue the list of sexual sins (private as well as public) that were clearly a matter of common knowledge in their wider community. He then says, ‘For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’ (4.7).

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