I Want to See Your Faces
I would like to present a different reading, somewhat unusual, to the the most important command in Scripture. After all, according to a somewhat twisted Jewish tradition, Shavu’ot (Pentecost) is when this command was first given.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, God commands in Exodus 20:3. The linguistic and thematic depth of “before me” in Hebrew, does not translate well into other languages. The Hebrew original speaks of “Faces” – in itself a highly important concept we need to understand. And yes, it’s in the plural. The literal translation would be, “Thou shalt have no other gods over my Faces” – do not cover who I really am with a false or a partial image of Me.
The “Faces” of God are not just a part of Him, they are Someone. And this Someone is gradually told of in the OT, than hidden and finally revealed in the NT. The common terms “presence” or “countenance” do not appear even once in the OT in the sense we so often ascribe to them. David never longed to be in the presence of God and Moses never asked for God’s presence to guide him in the wilderness. It was always God’s Faces that were mentioned and sought, and there are dozens of references to it throughout the OT. We all say and sing of how much we would love to be in His presence, but it would be much more accurate and Biblical to pray, “O, I long to see Your Faces.”
What Do God’s Faces Look Like?
Scripture does not give us enough details, so I have no idea. I do know that whoever dares to draw near to God so much so that they can look straight into His eyes and see His pupils, must also see Israel there (Zec. 2:8; Deut. 32:10). That is one of the criteria to measure the level of intimacy a believer has with God. Of course, that is not the only proof of intimacy and maturity of one’s walk with God, but it is an essential component.
Each of our senses, other than touch, has something to do with our face. Through our face we taste and smell and hear and see. And so much can be learned from someone’s face, just by glancing at it, even before they utter a single word.
God’s Faces have been hidden from us by faulty translations to such an extent, that they have turned into other terms (in most cases it has been translated as “presence”, but there are other terms as well). It’s part of a punishment proclaimed as early as exodus, but I won’t get into it here. I wrote about it in earlier posts.
“You Shall Not Make Any Statue”
In that same commandment God is instructing us to not erect any image or likeness, or more accurately: no picture and no statue. It means of course that we should never worship anything other than Him, but I dare to add another layer to this prohibition: we should not cover or capture just one aspect of God’s multi faces and fixate on it alone. This commandment is an expressive invitation to a living, dynamic, growing relationship with God. “Look at Me, draw near, taste and see how good I Am, lift your eyes up to Me, not just to what my hands can do for you. Look far above and into my eyes.”
Then, as Moses climbs up that mountain again (have you ever counted how many times he did that?), to behold God face to face once more, the nation demanded Aaron to produce a god for them. The result is what we call “the Golden Calf”, but the OT calls it a “mask of a calf” or a “calf mask” (Ex. 32:4). A mask maybe because it was created by fire (it makes sense in Hebrew), but also because it attempts to freeze God into one form and image, an emotionless, thoughtless object.
The Angel of His Faces
So many are the Faces of God. At some, even angels dare not look. The Seraphs in Isaiah 6 cover their eyes when they encounter His holiness, and the Cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant look down and raise their wings in light of His glory. Moses too, who beheld God face to face, was not able to see all the sides and aspects of His character, all of His Faces. Throughout history, only One was able to proclaim amazing statements such as, “He who sees me sees Him who sent me” (Jn. 12:45), or “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (Jn. 6:46; 1:18).
Chapter 63 in Isaiah describes the Savior and Redeemer, and names Him “the Angel of His Faces” (v. 9). He is the One who carried us from before the days of old and has bestowed love and compassion upon us. Yet we have done exactly what God forbade us of doing in Exodus 23:20-23. We rebelled and grieved Him. And as a result He has become our enemy.
Woe to us! He who was supposed to reveal God’s Faces to our nation is hiding from us. His true face has been blurred in so many ways and have become an image and a form, a frozen mask made of wood or plastic, etched into our national consciousness as our worst enemy, instead of the Lover of our souls. How bitter we are towards Him. We have rebelled (in Hebrew, the root is MRR) against Him and are now filled with bitterness (derived from the same root) towards Him.
Pleasant Turning Into Bitter and Vice Versa
I want to use this short and bitter key word to bring us into the story of Naomi, also known as Marah (MRR again – bitter), as for the next two days the book of Ruth will be read, well into the night, in all synagogues worldwide during the coming feast.
For years I have been digging deeper and deeper into the book of Ruth, finding more gems that surprise me time and again. How much depth can be found in four short chapters, written in such a simple and clear language?
Naomi, to me, represents modern Israel. Like Israel, she too went into exile, where she lost all that was dear to her, and now she is returning to her homeland, to Beth Lehem – the House of Bread. When the town’s people see pleasant Naomi (this is the meaning of her name) from afar, and wonder if it is really her, Naomi refuses to be called by that name anymore. By that point, after loosing both her sons who were literally called Sickness and Annihilation, she already learned a lesson or two about the power of first names. So she makes it clear, “Pleasant I am not.”
She adds, “I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:21).
“Call me Marah – the Bitter one. That is the essence of who I am right now, and therefore, that is what from here on my name will also be.”
The Hidden Redeemer
Throughout the entire book, Boaz (who symbolizes the redeemer) knows Naomi is back in town. She also knows he is there. But there is no direct communication between them. When he wants to send her something, he does it through the gentile. When she needs something from him, she also sends Ruth.
Why? I wonder. Naomi could have gone directly to him, and ask him to attend to her affairs. Moreover, she didn’t even need his help. She could have approached the elders at the gate and ask them to speak on her behalf to that other relative. Why didn’t she do that? What is it in Boaz’s character that was hidden from Naomi? What was withholding the process of her redemption from coming to completion?
Only when she saw Ruth going and coming back well and whole with her hands full of sustenance, her bitterness began to soften and dissipate, until she was able to see Boaz for who he truly was.
Why can’t the nation of Israel see the Redeemer for who He really is? Why is it that so many aspects of His character, so many of His Faces, are hidden from us? Why have we frozen His true character and prefer to worship only a partial picture and image of He fully is? Now that we are back in the land, we go through a similar process, just like Naomi did. When we see gentiles drawing near to the Redeemer, speaking to Him, receiving clear answers, gleaning provision in His fields, lay at His feet even in the wee hours of the night and come out healthy and whole, only then does some of our bitterness towards Him begins to dissipate. We dare to tear down the mask that is hiding the true Faces of the Jewish Messiah, and bit by bit start to understand what is hidden behind it.
How shocked I was 36 years ago when I met gentiles who told me they have a relationship with the God of Israel. That they ask, and He answers. Full of cynical suspicion I watched them, and was touched to find it was truly so. My “Ruths” gradually melted the “Marah” inside me and brought me eventually to the arms of the Redeemer.
The Icing On the Cake
I find it quite amusing that the neighboring women were the ones to name Obed. Can you see them, sitting there in the yard, doing their laundry or fishing tiny, barely seen stones from a pile of grains resting on gigantic brass platters, and prattle about the upcoming birth of Ruth’s child?
“What are we to do?” they ask. “You know that this child will be born to Naomi (Ruth 4:17). Boaz will not be the one to name him, but her. And we all know that this is one area she cannot be trusted with.”
“We’ll name him!” another one offers.
And so, contrary to what was accustomed at the time and in that culture, these neighbors were the ones who proclaimed the destiny of the child. He will be Obed – a worshiper, the one who serves God.
As Shavuot starts, I reach out to each of the “Ruths” who read this post. Thank you that you no longer try to turn us into a Ruth and insist that we assimilate; Thank you that you are faithful to your part in this unfolding story, and for not trying to become a Naomi; And thank you for partnering with us. This cooperation is what makes us into one new man that can dwell in the house of the Redeemer, as each side contributes its unique part to His return. It happened in the days of Ruth and Naomi in the physical realm. It is happening now, right before our eyes, in the spiritual realm.