The Lord Would Speak to Moses Face to Face

I recently bought a beautiful duo-tone NIV Study Bible. I am not a KJV only advocate. I enjoy reading the Bible in plain modern English. I think most of the writers of the Bible wrote it in the plain modern language of their time and that it was meant to be easily understood. I think the NIV captures that concept well, although at times the translation is a little too interpretative or “loose” for my likes (See, for example, the blatant mistranslation of 1 Peter 4:6 with the addition of the word “now”). Anyway, I digress.

I bought this Bible for personal study. I’ve decided I don’t know the Old Testament as well as I ought and that I need to spend more time reading and studying it. The NIV Study Bible has been a wonderful edition for my study thus far. It contains many useful cross references as well as extensive explanatory notes that are often very insightful. However, one such note really caught me by surprise today. I was reading Exodus 33 when I came across verse 11. The context of this verse is that Moses had a tent that to which he’d go to converse with the Lord (Yahweh). Verse 11 is commenting on this process:

The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

In my view, there is nothing in this verse to indicate that it wasn’t literal or that “face” meant something other than “face,” etc. However, the explanatory note says:

33:11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face. God communicated with him directly–but without visually showing his “face.”

How could the explanatory note be more different from the actual text? The text says “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face” and the explanatory note says he didn’t show his “face.” I think it’s interesting that they put the word face in “quotation marks” as if God couldn’t really have a face, but rather a “face” (*wink* *wink*). Why don’t the commentators just state that they reject the plain meaning of scripture out of preference for their creeds which state that God has not body, parts, or passions?

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11 thoughts on “The Lord Would Speak to Moses Face to Face

  1. Acts 7:30-35 (New International Version)

    30″After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice: 32’I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.'[a] Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

    33″Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.'[b]

    35″This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.

  2. Take your NIV or KJV and read later in the chapter (verse 18-23 )how the LORD allowed Moses to see Him. The LORD told him that he could not look on His face and live. So the LORD as he walked by, covered Moses face with His hand so that all Moses could see was the glory and the back side of God. It’s an amazing and very detailed description of the encounter. Far more descriptive that the figure of speech (a Hebraism) “face to face.” I hope this helps.

  3. Hi Howard. I disagree.

    The very fact that in this instance Moses would have perished had he seen God’s face is evidence that God in fact has a face. If God had no face, there would be no need to shield Moses from it.

  4. You wrote: “Why don’t the commentators just state that they reject the plain meaning of scripture out of preference for their creeds…”

    Along these same lines, I’m interested in knowing whether you think that God is all-good, or if He is at least partly evil?

    It appears that He claims to do evil as well:

    Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

  5. It seems to me that the newer a Bible translation is, the more errors it will contain. The preferred path ought to be back to older translations – maybe learn some German or Greek…

  6. Pops,

    What made you choose German as a language? Surely it would be better to learn Hebrew and Greek ?
    ———–
    James – You made a great point!
    ———–
    What is important is that Moses actually communicated with God directly. The ‘face to face’ part that so many people get hung up on what the terminology basically means, in that they communicated and spoke together orally and audibly as if two people were facing each other. The term ‘face to face’ means no more than that, otherwise the Bible would contradict itself when God Himself tells Moses that he could only look upon his ‘back parts’ otherwise Moses would not live.

    Exodus 33:
    20And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

    21And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

    22And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

    23And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

    Remember that Moses wrote Exodus, so why would he contradict himself. Then will you question the voice of God’s advice to Moses and otherwise suggest that Moses actually DID see the face of God and live?

    This most certainly would be dangerous theology and mean that it is you who is translating to fit your own ideas and manipulate human understanding by not relying on or believing God’s Word.

    You mention the NIV and give an OT example.

    In your studies I would recommend that you take a KJV and a NIV Bible and then examine all the removed texts from the NIV or identify the texts that downplay the deity of Jesus (both inside and outside the Gospels). Some verses don’t identify Him at all, but simply name Jesus as ‘the one’ or use some other generalistic vocabulary. This is not the case in the KJV where all verses are complete and Jesus is constantly correctly identified for us to make our accurate conclusions as to who and what is His nature and identity.

    What could be the reason for the NIV to be prepared in this way … ?

  7. “pops”…The idea that older translations are closer to the original is not true. Modern translations are not built on previous layers of translations. They are built from a bank of ancient Greek manuscripts… the same bank the older ones were built on. The key difference is that this “bank” of information and manuscripts grows as we discover more and more. Therefore, Modern translations have much more information to work with than did their predecessors. They are, in fact, closer to the originals and built upon a stronger base than the ones that came before them. (Note: That is not to say that there are major differences… the differences are minor and the older translations carry the message of the Bible very well.
    As noted by others, the problem above is reconciling a Hebrew idiom (“face to face”) with the idea that no one could see God’s face and live. The answer is that “face to face” is just that, an idiom, ie. a figure of speech. It speaks of their intimacy not the physical arrangement of their meetings.

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