The Hebrew and Greek words for “face” (Heb., pa·nehʹ; Gr., proʹso·pon) are used in varied senses, even as is true of the English word.
The literal face, the front part of the head, is often meant. (Ge 50:1; Mt 6:16, 17; Jas 1:23) Similarly, the front or forepart of anything may be meant. (Ex 26:9; 2Sa 10:9; Eze 2:9, 10, where the Hebrew term for “face” is translated “forefront,” or “front.”) Or the reference may be to the surface (Isa 14:21; Job 38:30; Ac 17:26) or outward appearance of a thing.—Lu 12:56; Jas 1:11.
Attitude or Position. The expressions of one’s countenance are an important index of one’s frame of mind and feelings. Therefore “face” is often used to describe the attitude of God and man under various circumstances or to denote one’s position as viewed by God or others. Some frequent usages are here presented:
‘Seeking the face’ meant to seek audience before another, as before God or before an earthly ruler, imploring favorable attention or help. (Ps 24:6; 27:8, 9; 105:4; Pr 29:26; Ho 5:15) The Hebrews spoke of ‘lifting up another’s face,’ thereby meaning ‘showing consideration for’ such one.—1Sa 25:35; see IMPARTIALITY.
“Face to face” may denote intimate association or communication. Thus, Moses was privileged to have such a close relationship with God and be used so powerfully by God that he is referred to as a prophet “whom Jehovah knew face to face.” (De 34:10-12) While it is said that Moses beheld “the appearance of Jehovah” and that Jehovah spoke to him “mouth to mouth,” yet Moses never saw Jehovah’s face literally. Rather, as the context shows, it was God’s speaking through angelic spokesmen to Moses in open, verbal communication (instead of by visions or dreams) that gave the basis for such expression. (Nu 12:6-8; Ex 33:20; Ac 7:35, 38; Ga 3:19; compare Ge 32:24-30; Ho 12:3, 4.) Moses recalled to Israel that God spoke “face to face” with them, since they heard the loud voice at Sinai, though none of them actually saw Jehovah.—De 5:4; 4:11-15; Heb 12:19.
By contrast, Jesus, in his prehuman existence, had personally been with the Father, and he pointed out that angels, spirit sons of God, also behold “the face” of God, serving in his heavenly courts. (Joh 1:18; 8:57, 58; Mt 18:10; compare Lu 1:19.) So, too, those called to be joint heirs with Christ in the heavens, in due time, see Jehovah God.—1Jo 3:1-3.
Comparing the understanding of God’s purpose had by the early Christian congregation with the fuller understanding to be had upon receiving their heavenly reward, and then coming to comprehend the divine purpose in its entirety as prophecy is fulfilled, the apostle Paul said: “For at present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face.”—1Co 13:12; compare 2Co 3:18; 4:6.
To say or do anything ‘to one’s face’ indicates directness, an open confrontation (De 7:10; Job 21:31) and, in an unfavorable sense, may imply audacity and disrespect. (Job 1:11; Isa 65:3) A related expression is ‘the rebuke of the face.’—Ps 80:16.
To ‘set or direct one’s face’ has the sense of looking toward some goal, purpose, or desire (Ge 31:21; 1Ki 2:15; 2Ki 12:17), and it carries the thought of strong intention and determination. (2Ch 20:3; Da 11:16-19; Lu 9:51-53) Daniel ‘set his face to Jehovah’ in that he earnestly sought Him, looking to him for help. (Da 9:3; compare 2Co 1:11.) Strong determination is often reflected in the countenance by the firm set of the lips and jaw, as well as the steadiness of the gaze. Isaiah ‘set his face like a flint’ in his determination not to let enemy attempts turn him from his assigned ministry. (Isa 50:7) Rebellious Judeans “made their faces harder than a crag” in their obstinacy and refusal to accept correction. (Jer 5:3) On the other hand, Jehovah’s ‘setting his face against’ the violators of his righteous law meant their being rejected and condemned, resulting in calamity or death.—Le 17:10; 20:3-6; Jer 21:10; compare 1Pe 3:12.
To ‘conceal the face’ has a variety of meanings, depending on the circumstance. Jehovah God’s concealing his face often signifies a withdrawal of his favor or his sustaining power. This may be as a consequence of the disobedience of the individual or body of persons involved, such as the nation of Israel. (Job 34:29; Ps 30:5-8; Isa 54:8; 59:2) In some cases it may denote that Jehovah refrains from revealing himself by action or reply, awaiting his own due time. (Ps 13:1-3) David’s request, “Conceal your face from my sins,” petitioned God to pardon or set aside such transgressions.—Ps 51:9; compare Ps 10:11.
The concealing, or covering, of the face by a human or an angel may express humility or reverential fear and respect. (Ex 3:6; 1Ki 19:13; Isa 6:2) It may also be a sign of mourning. (2Sa 19:4) By contrast, Eliphaz falsely intimated that Job’s prosperity had made him arrogant, so that, in effect, he was ‘covering his face with his fattiness.’ (Job 15:27) As in Haman’s case, for another to cover one’s face could represent shamefulness and possibly doom.—Es 7:8; compare Ps 44:15; Jer 51:51.
‘Turning the face away’ may display insulting indifference or contempt. (2Ch 29:6; Jer 2:27; 32:33) God manifests his disdain for those who reject his counsel by showing them “the back, and not the face,” in their day of disaster.—Jer 18:17.
One’s Person or Presence. Since the face is the most distinctive part of a person, identifying him more than any other feature of the body as well as being most expressive of his personality, the word “face” at times was used metonymically for one’s own person or self. See, for example, 2 Samuel 7:9; 17:11; and Acts 3:19, where the expressions “before you” (in the phrase “from before you”), “your own person,” and “person” come from the original Hebrew or Greek words for “your face” or “face.” In other cases the face may refer to the person’s presence, as at Acts 3:13.
“The showbread” of the tabernacle is literally called the bread of the face in Hebrew (Ex 25:30), that is, it was the bread of Jehovah’s presence. This expression emphasized his closeness to the people as represented in the sanctuary.
Other Usages and Terms. The Greek term for “face” (proʹso·pon) at times denotes the “outward appearance” a person presents, by reason of wealth or poverty, high rank or lowly position, and similar things.—Mt 22:16; 2Co 5:12; Ga 2:6.
The Hebrew word ʼaph (nose; nostrils) sometimes refers to the region of the nose and is thus rendered “face,” usually in the context of bowing. (Ge 3:19; 19:1; 48:12) The Hebrew ʽaʹyin (eye) is used in speaking of Jehovah as appearing to his people, figuratively, “face to face.”—Nu 14:14, ftn.