The Light of God’s Countenance

“God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” —II Corinthians 4:6

DARKNESS IS USED in the Scriptures to symbolize ignorance of, and alienation from God, and all that this implies of sin, suffering, and death. Light on the other hand, symbolizes a knowledge of God and harmony with him—a state in which the Creator delights to bestow his favor and blessing. This, in turn, results in peace, joy, and life.

Because sin entered the world, the human race was cast off from God’s favor, but not forever. David wrote, “His anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by thy favor thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face and I was troubled.”—Ps. 30:5-7

In this passage David uses an additional symbol—the “face” of the Lord. He said that when the Lord hid his face he (David) was “troubled.” Associating these symbols we could say that when the Lord hides his ‘face’ there is ‘darkness’, and when God shows his face there is ‘light’. Where there is ‘darkness’ there is fear and unhappiness—where there is ‘light’ there is assurance and joy. To illustrate this, in a prophecy concerning the casting off of natural Israel, the Lord said, “I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.”—Jer. 18:17

Another familiar illustration is when Moses said to Israel, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” (Num. 6:24-26) In the expression, ‘make his face shine upon thee,’ the ‘face’ and ‘light’ symbolisms are combined. Even today we speak of one’s face ‘beaming’ with joy and approval. A person’s facial expression usually reveals very clearly whether he is pleased or angry.

“Seek Ye My Face”

David wrote, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.” (Ps. 27:8,9) While David is expressing his own desire to be in harmony with his Creator, the great God of Israel, and to enjoy his blessings, he is also expressing the heart sentiments of all who love the Lord.

Our first parents, created in the image of God, must have loved their Creator, and they were blessed with his favor and fellowship. But when they transgressed God’s law he withdrew his favor from them. He showed them his ‘back’ instead of his ‘face’. We read that after they had sinned they “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.”—Gen. 3:8

The fact that our first parents recognized the ‘voice’ of the Lord indicates that this was not the first time they had heard it. It is not important for us to know the manner in which the Creator communicated with this perfect human pair whom he had created in his image. However it was done, Adam and Eve must have greatly rejoiced in the privilege of fellowship with him. Suddenly it was different. Knowing that they had sinned, the ‘voice’ of God struck fear into their hearts. No longer did they enjoy the light of his countenance.

Actually, God did continue to love his human creatures, and he did not intend to permit them to continue living forever in a state of alienation from him. However, justice demanded that the foretold sentence of death be imposed upon them. But a ray of hope was given in the statement that the “seed” of the woman would “bruise” the “serpent’s” head. (Gen. 3:15) This faint ray of light in an otherwise ‘dark’ situation has since—by the unfolding plan of God for the redemption and recovery of the world from sin and death—continued to be made ‘brighter’. Indeed, it has served to illuminate the pathway and cheer the hearts of all in every age who have seen its shining rays and recognized it as emanating from the ‘face’ of the Lord.

In the case of all these, however, there was the necessity of seeking the Lord. On Mars’ Hill Paul spoke of those who “seek the Lord, if haply [perhaps] they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17:27) Man, in his original perfection, was endowed with the desire to know and to worship his Creator. While this quality became relegated to a secondary place in the lives of the vast majority of the fallen race—and with many has been almost completely effaced by sin and selfishness—it has persisted as a potent factor in the hearts of some in every generation.

It has been upon as many of these as the Lord has elected to use in the outworking of his plan that he has caused the light of his countenance to shine. Abel was illuminated sufficiently with this light to enable him to offer a “more excellent sacrifice” than Cain. (Heb. 11:4) It enabled Enoch to “walk with God.” (Gen. 5:24) The light of the Lord’s countenance shining upon Abraham enabled him to look down through the centuries and see the day of Christ, and rejoice in it.—John 8:56

Moses also was blessed by the fact that the Lord beamed upon him with the light of his countenance. Laying hold by faith upon the significance of what he saw, Moses was given strength to turn aside from all the advantages that were offered him in the court of Pharaoh, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”—Heb. 11:25,26

The Messiah Came

All the Ancient Worthies similarly rejoiced in the light of God’s countenance, as by faith they laid hold upon the Messianic promises which were recorded by one after another of the holy prophets. All they had, however, were the promises, which revealed that the time would come when through a ‘seed’, a “Wonderful Counsellor,” an “everlasting Father,” “the Prince of Peace,” that God would again show his face to his whole human creation; that his “anger” would be turned away, and his favor manifested. (Isa. 9:6,7) They continued to believe and to rejoice in these promises, and finally, in due time, Christ, the promised Messiah, did come. Promises now began to be translated into reality.

Simeon, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said concerning the significance of the birth of Jesus, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32) Later Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) “In him was life,” John wrote, “and the life was the light of men.”—John 1:4

When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” he added, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Those who are in the light have life, which is the same thought as that expressed by David when he wrote that in God’s favor is life.—Ps. 30:5

Jesus came not on a mission of his own, but as a representative of his Father. John later wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5) However, we cannot know the Father except through Jesus. It is only through Jesus that we enjoy God’s favor. It is this thought that is expressed in our text: “God … that shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Some have mistakenly thought this to mean that the glory of God was manifested by a radiance on the literal face of the man Jesus, but this is not what Paul meant. Rather, he referred to Jesus’ face in a symbolic manner. Just as the Bible speaks of Jehovah causing his face to shine upon his people, so Paul applied the same symbolism to Jesus, and for the reason that the favor of the Heavenly Father is now manifested through his Son.

So, to paraphrase Paul’s statement, we might put it this way: God has shown his favor to us, having shone into our hearts through the Gospel. But not directly, for the Gospel reveals that his favor now reaches us through Christ, or ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’. It was in anticipation of the provision he would make through Jesus that our Heavenly Father lifted up his countenance upon his faithful people of ancient times. But now that Jesus has come, the Father wants us to realize and appreciate the fact that the light of his countenance is manifested in the ‘face’ of this beloved one, our Redeemer and Advocate.

Seeking God’s Face

In retrospect we can look back to the time when, as Paul stated it, we were seeking after God if perhaps we might feel after him and find him. At that time we were in the “horrible pit,” and “clay” of sin and death. (Ps. 40:1,2) As David wrote, we “waited patiently for the Lord,” and in his own due time he “inclined” unto us and “heard” our cry.

But in that miry clay of sin, God could not lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace in the sense that we would no longer be alienated from him. This “peace with God” we could obtain only through a living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1) But the Lord did encourage us to seek his ‘face’, his favor, through continued study of his Word, and by conforming our lives to its precepts. As we came to understand them, we were responding to the invitation to seek the Lord’s face. In effect we were saying, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.”—Ps. 27:8

As we continued to seek we found. We learned that only by accepting the Master’s invitation to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him could we experience the great joy of walking in the light of God’s countenance. After we counted the cost for a time, we eventually took that step of full consecration to the Lord, and when we did, our hearts were flooded by those radiant beams, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, which were shining from the uplifted light of the countenance of the great Jehovah, our Heavenly Father.—Ps. 4:6; 44:3; 89:15; 90:8

While we are rejoicing in the realization that the Lord has now allowed the light of his countenance to shine upon us, we also are conscious of the fact that he has freely given us all that we need. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Through Christ he has justified us. Who is it that condemns us? Is it our own imperfections? We must remember that they are covered by the blood of Christ. Is it the world? We must not be discouraged. We must spurn the frowns of the world, and rejoice that we are walking in the light of God’s countenance. Is it the Devil? We know that he goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We know that he is ever trying to strike fear into our hearts—which is cruel, for fear has torment, as well as restraint. But we will not fear for we know that God is far more powerful than Satan, and no matter what slanderous attacks he may cause to be made against us, we are God’s beloved children. And Jesus, our elder brother is now at the right-hand of God, ever living to make intercession for us.

How wonderfully reassuring are the words of our Heavenly Father! Since we have sought his face and found it, he wants us to know that we cannot fail, save only by turning willfully aside from the pathway in which the light of his countenance reveals each onward step. Since he gives us the strength to take each step, will we become separated from him? Even though we may have tribulation, and be “killed all the day long,” we know that through him who loves us we can be “more than conquerors.” Indeed, we are persuaded that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:31-39

Sustained by Faith

While still on this side of the veil we can see our Father’s face only by the eye of faith. To walk in the light of his countenance does not imply freedom from trials and difficulties, but strength to bear them. However, the light of divine favor reveals that there is a purpose in our suffering, that by it we are being prepared to live and reign with Christ. The light also reveals that the purpose of Christ’s reign is to make an end of all suffering, and to establish peace and joy throughout the whole earth. The knowledge of this glorious consummation of the divine plan constituted a large measure of the joy that was set before Jesus—the joy that enabled him to endure the cross and to despise the shame that was heaped upon him.—Heb. 12:13

The same is true of us. David wrote, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Ps. 27:13) How wonderful it is to know that the goodness of the Lord is yet to be manifested throughout all the earth, that a true knowledge of his glory is to fill the earth as the waters cover the sea! This means that in God’s due time all mankind will be blessed by the light of his countenance.

It is this thought that was emphasized by the Apostle Peter when he said that “times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord [Greek, “face of Jehovah.”] (Acts 3:19-21) Thank God for this assurance that he is yet to make his face shine upon all the families of the earth! Peter explained that this would be accomplished by sending Jesus Christ, who would usher in “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”

And how wonderful to realize that our Heavenly Father, at the time of Creation, caused the light to shine out of darkness. He has now shined into our hearts and revealed his desire to use us, together with Jesus, in the bringing about of this glorious time of “refreshing” for the people of all nations. Truly, in view of this great joy that is set before us, any suffering with Christ which divine wisdom may deem necessary in order to prepare us for such an exalted role in the divine plan, must be considered as indeed “light afflictions” which are but for a “moment” as compared with that future and “eternal weight of glory.”—II Cor. 4:17

But if this knowledge is to prevent our becoming weary in well doing, we need faith to believe God’s promises—faith which sees the invisible. Jesus would have fainted had he not, by faith, laid hold upon the promises concerning that glorious future day when his Father’s goodness would fill the earth. And we should now look unto Jesus as our example—he who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself—lest we become faint and weary.

Proverbs 10:22 declares, “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” Through the truth and in the face of Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father has filled our hearts and lives with the richness of his blessing, and we have his promise that no sorrow will be commingled with this blessing. There are trials and testings. There is often pain and tears. But if our faith is strong we will count all these experiences as joy, because we will know that they are among the “all things” which are “working together” for our good.—Rom. 8:28

Yes, if our faith is pure, and simple, and strong, we will take the Lord at his word. To the extent that we are able to do this, our lives will be all sunshine, with no earthborn clouds to hide the beaming countenance of our God. Any sorrow of heart we might have, does not come from the Lord, but from the experiences we share in common with the world—sickness, death, loss. As our own faith in his promises and providences increases, these experiences begin to take on their proper perspectives in our lives.

One of the important lessons we need to learn, as we walk in the light of the Lord’s countenance, is patience. But in this also our faith must be strong enough to believe that in God’s due time and way, each experience of our consecrated lives is what we need most to develop us in a Christlike manner. God knows best how and when to supply the strength to overcome in every time of trial. How much we need to wait on the Lord, and to be of good courage. And how precious is the promise to all who have sought the Father’s face, have found it—who are continuing to walk in the light of his countenance: “He shall strengthen thine heart.”—Ps. 27:14

We continually thank our dear Heavenly Father, for this further assurance of his love! By his grace we will wait on him and be of good courage, confident that in his own due time the light shining into our hearts, reflected from the ‘face of Jesus Christ’, will guide us into his presence, to see him face to face!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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