Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Overt Christology in the Old Testament, part 3: the face of Yahweh

Let me show you Jesus, hiding in plain sight…

Continued from part 2, on the angel of Yahweh

We’ve seen that the angel of Yahweh is actually Jesus. The way he is described in the Old Testament clearly reflects the Christology we get from the New Testament, where Jesus is God and is with God (John 1:1).

But the angel makes many other appearances in the Old Testament, and reveals Jesus in a couple of other ways. I’ll look at the first here, and the second next time. To start with, we need to talk about faces.

In Hebrew, the word for “face” is panim (pah-NEEM). But it is more flexible than “face”; so one of the ways it is used is to stand in for the identity of a person. Since we identify people personally by their faces, panim can be used to describe the personal presence of someone. Naturally enough, when used in this way, it is typically translated as presence in our English Bibles.

For example, in Genesis 4:14, 16, Cain complains:

“Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your panim I shall be hidden…” Then Cain went away from the panim of Yahweh and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

The point of the passage is that Cain is speaking to God in person; and he can no longer do this after being exiled. The same idea is behind the name Peniel—“face of God”—in Genesis 32:30: Jacob had a personal, physical encounter with God there. By the same token, the bread of the presence (Exodus 25:30 etc) is actually the bread of the panim, the bread of the face.

Now, obviously the Bible doesn’t exclusively use panim like this. For example, when Psalm 44:3 refers to the light of God’s face, it is probably a metaphor for a smile, rather than speaking of his presence per se. But it does use panim to speak of God’s personal, physical presence quite often; and in Exodus we find one especially instructive example:

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and Yahweh would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus Yahweh used to speak to Moses panim to panim, as a man speaks to his friend…

Moses said to Yahweh, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

14 And Yahweh said, “My panim will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:9-14; cf Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 5:4

This is echoed in Deuteronomy 4:37, which says that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “with his own panim, by his great power”.

We know from Exodus 33 that although God appeared as a man, he did so out of the pillar of cloud and fire which went with Israel out of Egypt:

And Yahweh went before them by day within a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night within a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22; cf Leviticus 16:2b

But here’s where this gets interesting (and returns us to our topic). Look at how the passage continues, describing what happens when Pharaoh pursues Israel:

Then the angel of God, who was going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp; it was a dark cloud and it lit up the night so that one camp did not come near the other the whole night. Exodus 14:19-20

Now, at first glance it looks like there was both an angel and a pillar of cloud/fire going before the camp. But that doesn’t do justice to what we have already seen in Exodus 3:2, where the angel appeared in the fire. Given that no angel has been mentioned in Exodus 12-14 up until this point, it doesn’t make sense to imagine Moses is introducing a new character. Since he has already shown in Exodus 3 that the angel of God appears in fire, and that the angel is conterminous with God (Exodus 3:2, 4), we should therefore understand Exodus 14:19 as saying that because the angel of God moved behind the camp, the pillar of cloud did also. It is taking for granted that the pillar “contains” the angel, or the angel is “producing” the pillar.

Once again, then, we see that the angel is Yahweh. Yet Numbers 20:16 clearly ascribes the deliverance of Israel to an angel sent from Yahweh:

And when we cried to Yahweh, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

This, of course, all follows the typical pattern of “is-and-with” that we find in Christology. But to tie it all together, Isaiah directly connects God’s presence with the angel:

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his panim saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Isaiah 63:9

The reason this is important is that it provides a second line of evidence to solidify what should already have been obvious: that the angel is Yahweh, and the angel is with Yahweh. They are the same, yet distinct. Not only is this shown in the kinds of passages we saw in part 2, but it is explicitly stated in this language of God’s panim; his “face”.

Put succinctly, the Old Testament explicitly claims that the angel of God is Yahweh’s personal, physical presence; the exact thing we also find in the man Jesus.

With all this laid out, we should certainly not be surprised to read Jesus’ half-brother saying:

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. Jude 1:5

But there is still one more thing we can learn from the angel of Yahweh about how Jesus appears in the Old Testament. So that is the next thing to look at.

To be continued…

11 comments

  1. Jeremiah

    I have really enjoyed this series, thanks.

    Just a note, there are not really three related words for face (paney, panim, and panav). Those are all forms of one word -paneh* (a hypothetical form that never occurs).

    Panim is the plural and absolute (not in a construct/genitive relationship) form of paneh*. This is the basic word for “face/presence.” Hebrew seems to have conceptualized the face as a “sum of parts”, hence it always occurs in the plural.

    Paney is the plural construct form. This is the form used whenever panim is in construct with another noun or takes a pronominal suffix. E.G. paney-ka (“face of you” or “your face”)

    Panav is simply a slight (but standard) variation on the vocalization of the construct form. The “v” is the 3rd person pronominal suffix. Whenever a masculine plural form takes a 3MS suffix “v”, the vocalization is Panay-. So instead of the perhaps expected paney-o
    (“o” being another possible vocalization of “v”) you get panay-v or panav depending on who is teaching the pronunciation (The “y” is present regardless, but some pronounce it, some don’t).

    So for English

    Panim = face
    Paney = face of
    Panav = face of him/his face

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Jeremiah, I thought about saying that there is one word with three forms or something, but I try to make my articles as accessible as possible, which means I try to avoid grammar where I can. The main thing I wanted to do was show paneh* in the passages I was citing, without people getting confused as to why there are three different words. So I thought it was probably best just to say they were related (ie, by paneh*). I would take the same approach with, say, the past, present and future conjugation of a verb; I’d just call them related words unless the grammar really became important for understanding them.

    But it’s good to know I have learned readers who can school me on Hebrew grammar :)

  3. Jeremiah

    Gotcha.

    I don’t want to derail this excellent post with a pointless grammatical discussion, so I’ll offer a brief suggestion and then be done. I hope I’m not being too pedantic.

    How about simply going with the base form (in the case of paneh* it would be the plural panim) and substituting that in the other cases, since that is still accurate as to what word is in the Hebrew text (though not accurate to what form) and would make it simplest to follow. Otherwise forms will multiply on end.

    Actually in your article you should have 4 different forms represented, not 3.

    I’m not sure where your transliterations came from or if they are your own, but in Exodus 33:14 it actually reads

    “And Yahweh said, “My panay will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

    So for a non-Hebrew reading audience, instead of talking of panim, paney, panay, panav, (and paneyk, paneyka, paneykem, paneyken, etc), I’d suggest just adopt panim.

    So for example for Isaiah 63:9

    “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his panim saved them . . .”

    Instead of

    “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his panav saved them”

    The latter is awkward anyway (though admittedly probably not to most of your readership) because the 3MS possessive is represented twice, translated into English “his” and still in the Hebrew, attached to panim as the “v.” I read that as “the angel of his his face saved them.”

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Yeah that’s a good point actually. I don’t think one can easily be too pedantic about accurately representing God’s word, and your suggestion is better than what I have done (my Hebrew knowledge is still quite limited so your help is very appreciated).

    I’ll make the suggested changes when I have a moment.

  5. Sandra

    Hi Dominic, the comments you left on another blog led me to your page… Thank you for sharing your testimony and revelation…makes me want to read all your posts now. :) May the Lord guide you and give you grace to speak (write) the truth and spirit of the Bible!

  6. Jeremiah

    Happy to be even a little useful. This series on Christology in the OT has been a perfect example of how one can do careful, worthwhile, and beneficial exegetical/theological study while having limited Hebrew knowledge. I have encouraged many to read it.

  7. Gloria Urban

    While looking for an article from Mike Heiser, I found this one. I am 63 and have been a Christian for a very long time, but I have to say, the past few months in my walk have just been so enlightening that I could cry with the realization of how much time I have spent in “darkness”. When I saw the Divine Council and beginning the search to understand contextual study, I am left speechless. I look forward to the conclusion of this series. I appreciate you writing with the nonscholar in mind (comments from Jeremiah). Thank you.

  8. Drew

    Still would love to read the continuation of this study. This is a perspective that is very rare, but very compelling on OT Christology. It’s been almost a year since this post. Any ideas when the next part will be written?

  9. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Golly, I didn’t realize it had been so long. I’m afraid I have by now a concrete reputation as a notorious non-finisher-of-series, but I do have more content lined up for this soon…

  10. Jeremiah

    Hey Dominic,

    Any chance you have this series collated into a single document with any references you used listed? Or I guess another way of saying that is, any chance you have a paper form or will turn this into a paper?

    I was discussing some related issues with Kevin Vanhoozer for a paper that he is working on and thought of this series and thought it may be helpful for him.

  11. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Jeremiah, I am working on this at the moment. I tried to email you at the address you used to comment here, but I wonder if you don’t check it very often.

    Hit me up at bnonn@bnonn.com

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