God's face

Sermon by Rev. A.A. Leenhouts in The Hague, Netherlands in January 1, 1989.
(Translated for study purpose only)

Text: Exodus 33:12-17.

Dear brothers and sisters, in Exodus 33:14 we read that God asked Moses: "Does my presence have to go with you to give you rest?" And Moses answered: "If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here" (verse 15). Older Bible translations often have: "If Thy face does not go with us, do not lead us up from here". So also says the original text.

I think it is a great loss that the translators of the Bible left out the word "face" in the newer translations. Because the word "face" has a deep meaning in the holy Scriptures. Of course, if the Bible speaks about the face of God it is meant figuratively; but this metaphor, this picture, has a very deep meaning.

Man is created according to God's image and the face of man is the mirror of his soul. I am amazed at how wonderfully God has made man. For the face is the part of our body where the emotions of the soul become visible. The feelings of joy, sorrow, fear, horror, despair and agony - all become visible in the human face. That is not a small thing.
Medical science has come rather far in advanced research to understand the function of the brain. Scientists want to learn how our brains work. All this is very subtle. And if you recognize the fact that abstract conceptions as joy, sorrow, anger, despair and hope - things that exist in the heart of man - can be "read" upon his face so that the inner feelings of man become visible for others, then this is a great wonder. It has to do with the creation of man according to God's image.

To help you understand that this really is a great miracle, I want to give you another example. For an artist working, for example for a waxworks, it should take several months to create a wax figure with a laughing face and thereafter the same person with a serious face. That would take a lot of time. But in our faces this happens under the control of the inside. It happens just in a moment.

The fact that our emotions become visible in our faces is a great miracle - it is the revelation of our inner man. The face of God is the revelation of the innermost part of God. Another function of the face becomes clear when a man meets another person. Then he turns his face towards that person. Everybody knows what happens when two old friends meet each other in the street. Instantly a smile shows up on their faces. This, I believe, also has to do with the fact that we are created in the image of God. In the end, the most important thing for man both in creation and re-creation (that is regeneration) is the meeting between these two faces: The face of God, and the face of man. The first blessing in the old priestly benediction was: "The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you" (Numbers 6:25). Later we will return to this text again. If we will really experience this we will not appear gloomy and sad any more.

Let us now turn to our text. According to this old story something terrible had happened in the camp of Israel. The chosen people, which in such a remarkable way had experienced Almighty God's countenance upon them when they were in slavery in Egypt, under the tyranny of a deified totalitarian state, had now made themselves a god in the image of a calf, a bull calf.

An animal has no face, but a snout. And on the snout of an animal nothing is reflected. And on the snout of the beast of the pit absolutely nothing is reflected. The devil has a snout and no face. That is important to know. The question of our time is: What will shine upon us? The face of God or the snout of the beast? This is a very important question! What face will shine on us?

All the creatures below man do not have this reflection in their faces. An animal does not have inner emotions and has no soul as man does. The animal is not created according to God's image. Perhaps their creation is a kind of prefiguration of the creation of man. God, so to speak, has developed his creation gradually - a kind of evolution, perhaps. But on the sixth day, when He is finished with the creation of man, He draws a limit in time: the Sabbath. And in this framing of time, this "temple of time", one might say, God wants to meet man face to face. This is the purpose of the Sabbath: the divine appointment.

When we have reached the Friday-night of world-history, I am convinced that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, will reveal himself to both Jews and Gentiles and say: "Because the face of God was hidden for you, I have been in the depths of hell. I have given my blood and now the face of God will shine on you". Then the times of refreshing will come.

In Acts 3:19 we read about how Peter calls the Jews to repentance: "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord". The Greek says "from the face of the Lord".

You understand that this will be in sharp contrast to the snout of the beast. First the face of the Lord will shine upon the Gentile world and then the children of God will become aware that He is re-gathering them into a new recognition of the Blood of the Lamb. Thereafter His face will also shine on the Jewish people revealing His fullness. And His own people - the Jews - will be saved and come to their messianic destiny by accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah and King. And so, the times of refreshing will come from His presence of "from the face of the Lord". Than the bad stench of the beast of the pit will disappear everywhere. Persecution, tribulation and resistance against the work of God will cease. The beast shall not be able to oppress God's creation any more. This promise has God given to us. "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth" (Rom. 8:22). But when God's face will shine upon our lives the result is joy and light in all sincere hearts.

The story of Exodus 33 also speaks about the face of God. Moses cannot accept God's proposal to send an angel in front of the people. The purpose of the angel was to lead and defend the people when enemies appeared (verse 2). God said: "You can have an angel. I can give you the land of Canaan, but I myself will not go with you". Then Moses replies: "No Lord. It is not enough to have only a power. The people have just worshipped the power of the bull calf and the end was
consternation. The result was a judgement of God. We will not accept an angelic power only. If your face, if you, the God with the personal face, will not go with us on the road, do not lead us up from here".

Dear brothers and sisters, also you cannot move into new situations if the face of God does not follow with you. This is also crucial for our personal lives. I do not want to leave this earthly life, unless the face of God follows with me. Neither can you leave this life, if you are not sure, that His face will shine on you all the way to the other shore. "He that believeth in Me", Jesus said, "will not see death". I know in my heart that, when I wake up on that Eternal morning I will still be in His presence.

Brothers and sisters, the meeting with God is a central theme in biblical religion. So was the case in the Old Testament times and so it will be until the fullness of the Gentiles and the Jews, until the Millennium. Yes, until the very last day the appointment, the meeting, with God will be the main thing. A great sabbath is coming. The people of God will get rest. And later - one day we will see Him face to face! God is at work. He works in world-history. There are six days of labour. Then the seventh day will come, and we will arrive at the Friday-night of world-history. We are very close to that. God is leading world-history and mankind forward to an appointment, a meeting with Himself. This meeting will be a "pre-meeting", a meeting before the meeting on the great Day of Resurrection, when the Lord will make His light shine on the graves. "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? I will rise him on the last day" (John 6:39; 11:25-26).
Also that day will come. Then the light of the face of God will shine on the earth and on the graves and all God's children shall arise and be lifted up and be satisfied by seeing Him face to face. God is leading us, both in world-history and in our personal lives towards a meeting with Himself. The meeting with Him was, is, and will be in the very centre of the plan of God.

Once God said to Abraham: "I am God Almighty. Walk before Me (the Hebrew text says: "my face") and be blameless. Know that you walk under my observation. I see everything" (Gen. 17:1).
When Jacob, the grandson of Abraham later broke the covenant by stealing the right of the firstborn from Ezau and flew away from the face of God, he gets into a very difficult time. When he later wants to return to the land, he must go through a "Pniel-wrestling" before he can go into the land and meet his brother and say: "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved" (Gen. 32:30). At first he must turn before the face of God. After stealing the right of the firstborn he must again receive peace with God.

Later when the prophet Elijah is on Mount Carmel and the people are lying on their faces before the beast - the rain-God Baal, the centre of a new bull calf cult, a natural power, - not one drop of rain falls any longer on the earth. Only one man, Elijah, proclaims the heavens closed. He says to king Ahab: "As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word" (1 Kings 17:1).

Thereafter a whole process develops and at last the fire from heaven falls on the altar of reconciliation. At first we must be reconciled with God and He will allow His face to shine upon His people. At that moment the people fell on their faces and cried out: "The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God!" (1 Kings 18:39). The people rediscovered the face of God. They also recognized God's favour in the abundant rain that followed. But Elijah, on Mount Carmel, also reminded the people of the story of Jacob at Pniel ("Israel shall be your name", 1 Kings 18:31). Pniel literally means: God's face. During the wrestling at Pniel, God said to Jacob: "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, (which means "deceiver") but Israel (which means "Prince of God").
After a diaspora of 2000 years, the Jews, in our time may think: "We can attack the Arabs, because we have the power and a greater intellectual ability". Some may even be thinking: "The power of the angels is on our side to conquer and destroy them". But eventually, the situation for the Jews in the Middle East will grow worse and they will - figuratively speaking - be hanging on a cross. The state will be their cross. A feeling of being lost, a feeling of being forsaken even by the Almighty, will come over them. At that moment, God in His mercy will make His face shine upon the Jewish people - but they will only be saved by Him, our Lord Jesus Christ. If the Jews continue on the road they have chosen now, the face of God will not go with them. No, instead God will hide His face from them.

The joy we have in our lives is due to the fact that God once has hidden His face from Jesus of Nazareth - when Jesus died for the sins of both Jews and Gentiles. In the darkest moment on the cross when the Father had hidden His face and Jesus cried "Eli, eli lama sabachtani", the Jews mocked and said: "He is calling Elijah". God will be merciful to His chosen people. In the future a "reversed" call will be heard. God really will call upon Elijah. The Spirit of Elijah will fall upon all God's people who remain faithful to the Blood of Christ. The Church of Christ will "provoke the Jew" to jealousy" (Rom. 11:11). God's face will shine on them, but only when they accept the grace of the Messiah, the crucified One. Then they will shout to Him for joy: "Blessed He that comes in the Name of the Lord!"

Dear friends, we have come close to the Friday-night in world history. In front of us we have an wonderful "pre-sabbath".

The old priestly blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6:24-26 is a wonderful text: "The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace" (NIV).

When the Jewish people have once accepted Jesus as their Messiah and have become a people of priests before God (Ex. 19:5), they will reach out their hands over the peoples of the earth and speak this wonderful blessing from God. But we who now believe in Him may already speak this blessing upon each other: "The Lord bless you and keep you". That is the work of the Father. Originally this blessing comes from the patriarchal kingship.

When a son or a servant of a king received a gift or a new office, he bowed down with his face in the dust. We read about Abraham for example: "Abram fell on his face and God talked with him" (Gen. 17:3). When man stands before the face of God he bows his face down to the dust of the earth of which God has made him. Did you have this experience? When God speaks to you, do you put your nose to the floor? Yes, when He speaks we easily bow down. We easily get the same attitude as we had from our beginning: the attitude of adoration, the attitude of a foetus, an unborn child, doubled in the womb of the mother. This is the original attitude of adoration: to be doubled with the head down. Before the face of God man is nothing. Man is dust: "For you are dust and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19).

Although we are nothing but dust, God wants to reach out His hands over us and bless us. Although we are made of the dust of the earth God will make His face shine on us. He has made us and not we ourselves. He has given us a face. Man is like a compendium of all creation. The whole of creation, all the facets of the cosmos are represented in one human being. But if man is standing before the face of God, he bows himself down to the lowest point, to the earth, to the dust of the earth. The same attitude is appropriate as when he was a foetus, before being born. God can then really reach out His hands over him and say: "The Lord bless you and keep you" (verse 24). The One that blesses is greater than the one who receives the blessing.

But man also needs forgiveness of sins: "The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you" (verse 25). That is the work of the Son. We all need forgiveness of sins today. He not only wants to keep us and bless us, but He also wants to forgive our sins and be gracious unto us. We all like to receive the blessings of God: a thick purse, good health, many material things and no trials. But the second blessing says: "The Lord make His face shine on you". Oh, you dark-faced creature, oh you fallen nature - He makes His face shine on you and is gracious to you!

Thereafter the third blessing follows. This is the work of the Spirit. God bows Himself down to man lying before Him in the dust. He makes His face shine on your life and lifts you up: "The Lord lifts up..." and both God and man are standing upright on their feet looking into each other's eyes. "The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace" (verse 26). This peace is harmony with God. This peace passes man's understanding. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" the apostle Paul asked. Answer: Nothing, not even death. His face will shine on us! While God lifts us up and puts us on our feet, He lifts His countenance on us and says: "My child, stand on your feet, I have given you my grace and I give you my peace".

Peace means much more than having no war. Peace is harmony with God and with each other. Often we must forgive one another. Often we talk about each other in a negative sense. Sometimes we even quarrel. But God wants us to come before Him, to seek His face on this day of rest and He wants us to learn how to meet Him and each other. He will give us peace through the Blood of the Lamb. In this way He will give peace to all of us.

Brothers and sisters, if everywhere here in Europe, in England, in Sweden, in Yugoslavia, in the former Soviet Union and so on, a church has been built up that first of all seeks the Kingdom of God, then the moment will come when the Jewish people will get jealous of the peace which we experience as a blessing from God. And they will ask: "From where do you get that peace?"

Dear friends, we are approaching that day. Now there is no time any longer to be wise by yourselves (Rom. 11:25), but we must learn to bow our heads deep down in the dust, before the face of God, so that the hands of the Father can be stretched out over us and He may say: "I bless you and keep you. I give you my grace and make my face shine on you." And all that God is - the fullness of His glory - shines on you from His face and He wonderfully fills the soul of His child with the Holy Spirit. This experience makes the faces of His children radiating. It is altogether a question of reflection. No service or meeting should be held without experiencing this.
So we will receive the light from the face of God and we will fill our hearts with his peace. Oh, a peace from God poured out into our hearts by the Holy Ghost! That is the very best we can pray for! I believe this is also the only power which enables us to meet the beast from the pit in the future. The devil tries to inspire man to war, to torture his fellow-man, and to kill his neighbour. Those who do his works pretty soon reflect the snout of the evil one. The diplomats have their conferences, but they will never find a solution for peace on earth. But the Lord Jesus says You are the light. You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13-14). God will come among His children with resurrection power. Jesus is the image of God. He is the expression of God's glory, God's love and God's faithfulness. He could say: "He who has seen me, has seen the Father". Only a church filled with the Spirit of the Resurrected One can resist the devil, who is a murderer from the beginning.

Brothers and sisters, may the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord make His face shine on you in Christ Jesus as it is written in 2 Cor. 4:6: "For God who said: Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ". "Let light shine out of darkness" - this points to the moment of creation. The One who said "Let there be light!" is the same as the One who with His grace, by the Gospel, shines in our hearts to give us knowledge of His glory.

Brothers and sisters! Let this prayer remain in our hearts: Oh, dear God let your face shine on us, for the sake of the Blood of the Lamb, and please, give us your grace! And if we get down on our knees before His face and we bow down, just like a foetus, God will say: "Come, my child, stand on your feet!" And then He will lift up His countenance upon us and give us peace.

Amen.

In 1948 Rev. A.A. Leenhouts received a prophetical message from the Lord. This message about the unity of the Body of Christ, the responsibility of the Church towards the Jewish people and the future of Israel, he has worked out in some books. Some of these are translated and available in English: "My Vengeance is Merciful" and "The Competition of the Altars".