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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Presence of God

The Scriptures often speak of God's presence in human history. The most common Hebrew term for "presence" is panim [פָּנֶה , לִפְנָי , לִפְנֵי], which is also translated "face, " implying a close and personal encounter with the Lord. The Greek word prosopon [πρόσωπον] has the same semantic range. The Greek preposition enopion [ἐνώπιον] also commonly appears; several other Hebrew and Greek words occur only a few times.

God's presence carries a wide range of meaning. It may be something people fear. Adam and Eve's sinfulness drove them to hide from the Lord in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:8). God's holiness cast light on Isaiah's sinfulness (Isa 6:5). Many people who encountered God or his angel feared for their lives (Judges 13:22; Luke 1:11-12; 2:9). Others tried unsuccessfully to escape his presence (Jon 1:3). As God displays his presence through his great power, the whole earth trembles (Judges 5:5; Psalm 68:8). False gods also become powerless before him (Isa 19:1). Fear and trembling are proper responses before the One who controls all creation (Jer 5:22).

God's presence provides comfort in times of trouble or anxiety (Joshua 1:5). The downcast seek him and find encouragement and strength to praise him (Psalm 42:5).

Knowing God is present should keep our behavior respectful and humble, for God hears our every word and holds us accountable (Eccl 5:2, 6). He will not tolerate pride, and will bring our speech under his judgment (Eze 28:9). However, he will exalt those who humble themselves before him (James 4:10).

God also displayed his presence at a place of worship. The Israelites brought their sacrifices to the tabernacle—and later the templeóbecause God chose to establish his name there (Deut 14:23,26). Worshipers thus experienced a special closeness to the Lord in such a place. Inside the place of worship, the bread of the Presence reminded Israel of God's nearness (2 Chron 4:19). When Solomon dedicated the temple, the manifestation of God's glorious presence prevented priests from fulfilling their usual duties (1 Kings 8:10-11). Reverent and proper behavior was important, for disastrous consequences might result if people did not follow God's pattern for worship (Lev 10:1-2).

God's presence also accompanied times of covenant renewal and other solemn occasions. Before Isaac died, he determined to bless his son "in the presence of the Lord" (Gen 27:7). Aaron was confirmed as high priest in God's presence (Num 16:7; 17:9). As the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan, Moses told them they stood in God's presence (Deut 29:15). God would guide them as they undertook the enormous task of conquering the land (Num 32:29,32), and would provide Israel's leaders the strength they needed (Joshua 1:9). The apostle Paul charged Timothy to remain faithful to the Lord, reminding his son in the faith of God's watchful presence as Timothy performed his ministry (1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 4:1).

The Bible describes heaven as a place filled with God's presence. Angels stand in God's presence and act on his authority as he directs them (Luke 1:19). Satan came before the Lord when he sought permission to attack Job (1:6, 12). The heavenly host rejoice before God when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). Christ completed his earthly ministry by entering "heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence" (Heb 9:24). Since heaven is the highest, most exalted place of all, it is fitting that God display his presence there.

God's presence is a place where prayer is heard. David sought the Lord's presence when Israel faced a three-year famine (2 Sam 21:1). God's spokesman called the nation to cry out to the Lord in the face of Jerusalem's destruction (Lam 2:19). Paul constantly interceded for the Thessalonian church, bringing their name before the Father's presence (1 Thess 1:3). Christians may approach the Lord with confidence because of Christ's finished work on our behalf (Heb 4:15-16). Furthermore, God promises to hear and forgive those who come into his presence with humble repentance (2 Chron 7:14).

God's presence is also a place of judgment. The Lord cast his people from his presence (Jer 15:1; 52:3). The Scriptures describe this action as God hiding his face (Isa 59:2; Ezek 39:29). But God's presence for judgment also carries an eschatological dimension. The Lord will one day summon all nations before him; heaven and earth will flee his holy presence (Rev 20:11). Those who see this judgment coming will beg for deliverance, but to no avail (Rev 6:16). The most awful aspect of God's judgment is eternal separation from his presence (2 Thess 1:9).

But God's presence is also a place of blessing. David counted it a joy to experience the Lord's presence (Acts 2:25,28), and Peter described it as the source of blessing for all who place their faith in Christ (Acts 3:19). To experience God's presence is to experience the shining of God's face (Psalm 67:1). Believers always live in God's presence, and he notes all their deeds (Mal 3:16). He has promised to be with us until he comes again (Matt 28:20).

In the age to come, God's presence will be the ultimate blessing, for believers will see him face to face (1 John 3:2). His immediate presence will render a temple unnecessary (Rev 21:22). It is the anticipation of this presence that should motivate Christians to faithful service in this present age (1 Thess 2:19; 2 Peter 3:10-11).

Bryan E. Beyer

See also Ark; Cloud, Cloud of the Lord; Glory; God; Tabernacle; Temple


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Presence of God'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<>. 1897.


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