Skip to content
Apr 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 25, 2021



Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as e did before. But the God of my father has been with me. Genesis 31:1-5

Intro: Years ago there was a billboard on PCH in Newport Beach

On it, was printed a giant photo of an Orangutan’s face
– the caption read, “Face it, you belong in the San Diego Zoo”
• someone had climbed up there and with a spray can written between Face it– and–you belong
◦ a girl’s name–so it read, “Face it, Judy, you belong in the San Diego Zoo”
• this is one of the ways we use face as a figure of speech
– other figures include, when we:
• “face the music” — we have to take responsibility for our actions
• take something “at face value” — we accept it as it appears
• “lose face” — we have lost the respect of others, so we then try to “save face”
• do an “about face” — we make a quick 180 degree turn
• we use the word “surface,” – the visible outer layer of a thing
◦ frequently the Bible uses face for a surface:
◦ “the face of the deep,” “face of all the earth,” “the face of the ground”
Hans Wolff tells us “[The face] is always called panim, in the plural, thus reminding us of the manifold different ways in which a man can give his attention,” and that events “are reflected in the features of the face” so that a “partner can be already addressed through the play of expression.”
Rabbi, Abraham Heschel, “A face is a message, a face speaks, often unbeknown to the person.”
• we even look at the “face” of clock so it can speak and “tell” us the time
◦ Heschel adds a lovely and intriguing thought:
“Is it not a strange marvel that among so many hundreds of millions of faces, no two faces are alike? And that not one face remains quite the same for more than one instant?”

By way of reminder, we are surveying the Bible’s messages regarding body parts
– we want to discover in what ways our bodies are spiritual
• they’re not merely a “shell” for the spirit
◦ and certainly not a prison we hope to escape
• we began last week from the top down with the head and hair
◦ this week we move to the face

Face is the hidden word in our English translation

Verse 2, literally reads:
And Jacob saw the face of Laban, and indeed it was not toward him as before
– I know that not everyone agrees with how I read this story
• I see two characters who are both tricksters,
• each trying to get the better deal from the other
◦ Laban wanted to marry off his oldest daughter
◦ and Jacob wanted to use Laban’s resources to build his own nest egg
– Laban had used a classic “bait and switch” scam
• when he was supposed to give Rachel to Jacob for the dowry he worked to earn,
◦ he brought Leah to his tent their wedding night
And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! (Ge. 29:25)
• meanwhile, Jacob used selective breeding to make the best of Laban’s flock his own
– eventually, when Jacob looked at Laban’s face, he saw it all
• he had become a persona non grata

Even before we say a word, our faces speak to others
– facial “expressions” refer to what our faces communicate
For instance:
• frustration, anger, disappointment
So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? (Ge. 4:5-6)
• shame
All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face (Ps. 44:15)
• dejection, despondency, depression
And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen . . . . And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food (1 Ki. 21:4)
Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD (2 Ki. 20:2)
• a person’s rejection of someone
I will set my face against that person (Lev. 17:10)
• sadness
And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart” (Neh. 2:2)
• an emotional change of facial expression
Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad

This isn’t a rabbit trail–I promise
With apologies, I cannot help but add something that came to mind in preparing this talk, but I did not have enough time to address when I delivered it. In the verse from Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes connected his cupbearer’s facial expression to the sadness in his heart. Recently, this connection has been demonstrated through the neuroscience research of Stephen Porges and his team.
Porges had pioneered what he refers to as the Polyvagal Theory. At the risk of oversimplifying his work, he has closely observed the many connections and functions of the vagus nerve (number ten of the twelve cranial nerves). This busy nerve plays a major role in making adjustments in both the central nervous system (the brain and brainstem) and the peripheral nervous system (the body and its skin, muscles, organs, and bones). The vagus nerve activates three different responses to stimuli: the well-known fight or flight response (sympathetic system), the dial-down restful response state (parasympathetic system), and a freeze response that has not received as much attention as the first two systems. The freeze response, which can be triggered by sudden and extreme danger, is typical of reptiles but rare for humans. It occurs when the parasympathetic system drops into such a low state of rest, that the body is unable to move. The possible resulting behavior may be to freeze in one’s tracks, fake death, or faint.
Two of Porges’ findings include the Social Engagement System (the way the brain and body work together to optimize interactions between people) and the Heart-Brain Connection (how what we feel is transmitted from the heart and other organs to the brain and then distributed through the body). It turns out that the vagus nerve provides a direct link from the heart to the muscles that control facial expressions.
Porges explains, “In mammals, the brainstem regulation of some of the vagal pathways became integrated with the regulation of the face. This resulted in features of our physiological state being expressed in our face and voice. The adaptive function of this modification is obvious; as a mammal, we don’t want to engage another mammal if that mammal is in a physiological state of rage. . . . We want to receive the signal that it’s okay to come close. Mammals convey this information through facial expression and through prosodic features of vocalization.” “This linkage between the vagal regulation of the heart and the regulation of the muscles of the face and head enables us to see [indications] of physiological state in faces and hear physiological state in voices.”
For me, the value of this information is a better understanding of how we have been created to be able to connect and interact with others, that what we feel is how we appear, and we are also able to read how others feel. This increased awareness can help guide us to safety, and especially to the refuge that is available in the God who made us.

Another use of face in our present story comes later in this chapter
[Jacob] fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead (Gen. 31:21)
– to set the face is to make a determination to move in specific direction or perform a specific action
• so Jacob left Laban’s unhappy face behind
• he has jumped from the frying pan–but where will he land?

Jacob had unfinished business back home
Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim [two camps].
And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.”
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Genesis 32:1-6

Jacob had fled parent’s home because older brother planned to kill him whenever their dad died
– so that now Esau is coming, and small army is with him, is not good news
• Jacob attempted a strategy to appease his brother
• he sent three generous gifts, but separately and in sequence
◦ it’s easy to see the psychological effect he hoped this would have on his brother

Jumping to verse 20,
For he thought, “I ma appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.”

Now this verse is simply too interesting to not take a close look
– in the Hebrew text, “face” is used four times, but translated into English only once
appease him is literally cover or atone his face
ahead of me is literally the face of me
(the face is the body part that goes first and the direction we’re moving, so it can refer to whatever is before or ahead of us)
see his face – so that in it, he can try to read his expression
accept me is literally lift up my face
– it is clear that the face plays a crucial role in this encounter
• everything Jacob does, turns on this one moment
• and in it he’ll learn his fate, which will happen the moment he sees Esau’s face

We were born with a capacity for facial communication
– even infants can read faces and express themselves through their faces
• researchers have shown this with various tests
Colwyn Trevarthen described research in which “a mother who was in the process of enjoying a protoconversation with a 2-month old [was required] to stop being expressive and to hold her face immobile, with a neutral expression, in front of the baby for a minute. This ‘blank face’ or ‘still face’ procedure provoked an immediate response from the baby. First, the baby became attentive and sometimes made attempts by smiles, vocalizations, or gestures to appeal to or stimulate a response from the mother, then the baby became withdrawn, avoiding the mother’s gaze, with signs of distress and confusion. The baby looked depressed.”
– paying attention to faces is a way to learn wisdom of the body
Pat Ogden, “Core emotions are supported by corresponding physical actions.” “Postures, facial expressions, and gestures outwardly express internal emotional states, communicating these to others.” “Research shows that basic emotions have reliable, distinctive facial expressions across cultures.” “Take a moment to think about the last time something embarrassing happened to you. You may have noticed a tight feeling in your chest or felt a warm rush of blood to your face that told you that you were embarrassed. Such signals are the body’s way of communicating our emotions.”
• among other motions we use facial expressions to set boundaries
Ogden, “Communicating a boundary is first and foremost a nonverbal capacity. Before we have learned to speak as infants, we could communicate our boundaries through vocalizations, facial expressions, and actions of turning away, shaking the head, or pushing away. Only later do we learn to say ‘no’ with words.”
• so much more I’d like to say (I’ll include in my notes)

From Laban’s face, to Esau’s–now fact to face with God
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered Genesis 32:30

In Scripture, God’s face:
– can refer to his presence (Gen. 4:14 and 16)
– is watchful — he says that what his people do is done, “before my face” (Hos. 7:2)
– is hidden (Ps. 13:1) – but the poets pray that he won’t hide his face (Ps. 27:9)
– is to be sought by us (Ps. 27:8)
– shines!

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace
(Nu. 6:24-26)
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
(Ps. 4:6)
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them
(Ps. 44:3)
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun . . . (Mt. 17:1-2)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6)

Conclusion: I’m going to suggest another exercise

Looking in a mirror, make following facial expressions:
– if you’re unsure of what face to make, think of something that makes you feel these emotions
• like for disgust, remember or imagine something that turned your stomach
– if feelings come up, do not judge them
• for instance, if with a guilty expression you feel unhappy or worthless,
do not sink into the feeling, but respond to it with curiosity
• explore why it comes up with that particular facial expression

Jacob’s journey brings us to the heart of our journey
– look into, and read the faces of others – and respond appropriately
– listen to what your face is telling you
• focus your attention on its automatic expressions that normally go unnoticed

We were created to encounter God face to face
That encounter is given to us in the person of Jesus Christ
If we keep looking to him, we will learn what makes him smile

One Comment

Leave a comment
  1. Kenneth Smith / Apr 25 2021

    Thanks for your teachings

Leave a comment