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Seeing is Believing

Chapter 45

Good Monday Morning to this week 45 of 2022

And they saw God …. Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel Exodus 24. 10

A few passages out of of Seeing is Believing. On the Relative Priority of Visual and Verbal Perception of the Divine by George Savran

What the form was which the elders saw, we are not told; but as it had “feet,” it was probably a human form. It may have been hazy, indefinite, “too dazzling bright for mortal eye” to rest upon. But it was a true “vision of God” – and, as Keil says, “a foretaste of the blessedness of the sight of God in eternity.” There was under his feet, as it were, a paved work of a sapphire stone. Pulpit Commentary

In comparing the modes of perception of the divine in the Bible, one finds a clear preference for hearing the word of God. The idea of seeing God in a variety of different manifestations is noticeably present, but is generally seen as less important perception.

However, in a number of cases where seeing and hearing are both present, seeing is presented as the preferable mode. 

Balaam first hears from God twice in night auditions, but seeing the angel of the Lord in a daytime manifestation brings home the message to him in a way that the spoken word did not. In a somewhat different fashion, Job’s ideas about seeing God are contrasted with the attitude of the friends toward direct revelation. This distinction points to the significance of the superiority of seeing God to hearing. Job’s statement here is not intended to describe a vision of God, but rather an appreciation of the perspective of the divine.

And when the Bible does distinguish clearly between visual and verbal perception of the divine, it seeks to indicate something about the nature of the encounter itself. Most biblical texts describe a dynamic tension between seeing and hearing, the two modes combining to complement and complete one another. In narrative texts, for example, Laban’s hearing and seeing YHWH is implored to incline his ear and  open his eyes. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that YHWH has both heard his prayer and seen his tears and will therefore grant him longevity. In poetic texts, seeing and hearing are often parallel, with no preference for one over the other.

When Moses says to YHWH “Show me your Presence,” he is asking for a glimpse of the divine essence in a clear physical sense. YHWH’s response, agreeing to reveal his back but not his front, emphasises this physical aspect, even if the words “face” and “back” are read as metaphors for direct and indirect views of the divine.

YHWH’s emphasis on covering Moses with his “palm” when he passes by gives the clear impression that a physical revelation is expected. But when the revelation actually comes in Exodus 34, what is emphasised is YHWH’s character as reflected in the aspects of divine behaviour described in 34:6-7—merciful, full of compassion, holding out the threat of punishment for a few generations, and the possibility of for-giveness for a thousand. 

Job is both similar and different. He too asks to see God, not so much to know the shape and size of divinity, but to vindicate himself in his claim of innocence. He wants God to appear in court, as it were,to answer Job to his face and to vindicate him once and for all, as he has been contending all along. However, what Job sees in the end is a deity who functions outside the normative rules of morality which the world of wisdom literature has come to accept. YHWH as revealed in the whirlwind speeches turns out to have a much broader conception of the organisation of the cosmos, a deity who is not defined simply by the usual conventions of divine manifestation or by those humannotions of morality and covenant which make the world a comprehen-sible place. This deity is wilder, much less constrained by conventional notions of morality, a god whose canons of behaviour in creation are farfrom anything Job could previously imagine. 

Seeing God in Job 42:5 means not that God is the object of Job’s gaze, but that the divine provides a subjective lens through which to see the world. For Job, seeing God means seeing the world through the eyes of God.

While the fact that seeing precedes hearing in these narratives may besimply a result of narrative sequencing, it creates the impression that the visual element serves as an introduction to the divine word. In certain cases it may well be a reflex of the personification representation of the Deity. Like a human visitor who appears on the scene before he speaks, he is apprehended first by sight.

Wishing you a blessed week of experiencing God in many senses!



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