“If no one can see God’s face and live (Ex. 33:20), how did He speak to Moses ‘face to face’ (Ex. 33:11)?”
The phrase “face to face” can be taken literally (2 John 1:12), but it can also be taken in a figurative sense. For instance, God is said to have spoken “face to face” with the people of Israel when He gave them the law (Deut. 5:4), but they didn’t see His face (Deut. 4:12). So we must conclude that the phrase “face to face” there is a figure of speech.
What does it mean? Well, compare how God defines speaking face to face to Moses:
“If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so… With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold” (Num. 12:6-8).
In speaking to Moses, God spoke apparently (clearly), and not in visions and dreams and dark speeches. That’s the figurative meaning of “face to face.”
This understanding is the only answer to our Pentecostal friends who say that tongues will not “cease” (1 Cor. 13:8) until we get to Heaven. They insist that “that which is perfect” (1 Cor. 13:10) is Heaven since that’s when we’ll see the Lord “face to face” (v. 12). What Paul was actually saying is that once the Bible is perfect or complete, the will of God can be understood as clearly as if we were in His presence!
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.