Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Hebrew noun פנים (pānīm, pronounced pa-NEEM), which is technically the plural form of פנה (pāneh)—a form that doesn't appear in the Hebrew Bible, as only the plural form פנים (pānīm) is used—means "face." The semantic use of פנים (pānīm) is broad. It can not only describe the literal face of a person, as in Genesis 17:17, "Then Abraham fell on his face (פניו) and laughed," but the emotions or moods of persons like shame, as in Ezekiel 7:18: "Shame shall be on all faces (פנים)"; determination, as in 2 Kings 12:18: "Hazael set his face (פניו) to go up against Jerusalem"; or joy, as in Proverbs 15:13: "A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance (פנים)."

The noun פנים (pānīm) is not just used of humans, but appears anthropomorphically to describe the divine presence as in Exodus 33:11, "The LORD used to speak to Moses face (פנים) to face (פנים), as one speaks to a friend," and idiomatically like in Psalm 4:6 to convey divine "favor": "Let the light of your face (פניך) shine on us, O LORD." The word פנים (pānīm) also famously appears in Genesis 1:2 to describe the surface of the pre-creation state: "The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face (פני) of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face (פני) of the waters."

An additional common use of פנים (pānīm) comes by attaching the prepositional prefix ל ("L"), meaning "to" or "for," producing לפני (lifnēy, pronounced lif-NAY) which means "before" (literally: "to the face of"). For example, 1 Kings 8:22 states, "Then Solomon stood before (לפני) the altar of the LORD." Another way of rendering the meaning of לפני (lipnê) comes by translating it as "presence," as is seen in Genesis 4:16: "Then Cain went away from the presence (לפני) of the LORD."