[Heb, pa·nehʹ, plural, pa·nimʹ; Gr., proʹso·pon].
The Hebrew and Greek words for “face” 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. (Gen. 50:1; Matt. 6:16, 17; Jas. 1:23) Similarly, the front or forepart of anything may be meant. (Ex. 26:9; 2 Sam. 10:9; Ezek. 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; Acts 17:26) or outward appearance of a thing.—Luke 12:56; Jas. 1:11.
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 such one’s favorable attention or help. (Ps. 24:6; 27:8, 9; 105:4; Prov. 29:26; Hos. 5:15) The Hebrews spoke of ‘lifting up another’s face,’ thereby meaning to ‘show consideration for’ such one.—1 Sam. 25:35.
‘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.” (Deut. 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 (rather than by visions or dreams) that gave the basis for such expression. (Num. 12:6-8; Ex. 33:20; Gal. 3:19; compare Genesis 32:24-30; Hosea 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.—Deut. 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. (John 1:18; 8:57, 58; Matt. 18:10; compare Luke 1:19.) So, too, those called to be joint heirs with Christ in the heavens, in due time, see Jehovah God.—1 John 3:1-3.
Comparing the understanding of God’s purpose that the early Christian congregation had with the fuller understanding to be had in the latter days, the time of the congregation’s maturity, 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.”—1 Cor. 13:12; compare 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6.
To say or do anything ‘to one’s face’ indicates directness, an open confrontation (Deut. 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 (Gen. 31:21; 1 Ki. 2:15; 2 Ki. 12:17), and carries the thought of strong intention and determination. (2 Chron. 20:3; Dan. 11:16-19; Luke 9:51-53) Daniel ‘set his face to Jehovah’ in that he earnestly sought him, looking to him for help. (Dan. 9:3; compare 2 Corinthians 1:11.) Strong determination is often reflected in the countenance by the firm set of the lips and jaw, and 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 rejection and condemnation, resulting in calamity or death.—Lev. 17:10; 20:3-6; Jer. 21:10; compare 1 Peter 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 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 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; 1 Ki. 19:13; Isa. 6:2) It may also be a sign of mourning. (2 Sam. 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.—Esther 7:8; compare Psalm 44:15; Jeremiah 51:51.
‘Turning the face away’ may display insulting indifference or contempt. (2 Chron. 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 metonymously 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 faces” 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
ʼAph (Heb.), literally, “nose,” “nostrils” (dual), where translated “face,” usually has reference to the literal physical face, and appears often where an individual is bowing, inasmuch as the ancient custom was to bow with the nose touching the ground.—Gen. 19:1; 1 Sam. 20:41; 1 Ki. 1:23.
ʼAʹyin (Heb.), “eye,” is used in the sense of “aspect” or what is viewed by the eye, such as the earth’s “face” or surface (Ex. 10:5, 15; Num. 22:5, 11), or in speaking of Jehovah as appearing to his people, figuratively, “face to face.”—Num. 14:14.