Your Presence is All I Want


Lately, one of my favorite pastime amusements is “name that Bible verse”. I came up with this game myself: I hear a Bible verse in English and try to quote it in Hebrew from memory. The many amusing discoveries I have made through this game I can share some other time, like guessing what the Bible translator intended or my embarrassment at realizing how much I didn’t understand the original Hebrew. But there is a treasure I discovered: the word “presence” in the context of the presence of God:

“If Your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15 NKJ)

The truth is that the excavation of this treasure actually began in contemplating our translation of the well-known worship song “I Will Exalt” by Amanda Cook which we often sing and are blessed to worship God with in our congregation. In Hebrew, we call the song “Your Presence”. At the words “Your presence” in English, I could easily recall a number of Bible verses from memory, but with those words in modern Hebrew (nochechutcha), I wouldn’t be able to at all.

Of course, if Moses spoke English, he would have said:

“If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15 NKJ)

In Hebrew, however, it is written:

“If Your face does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.”

With the biblical word “panecha” (Your face) in Hebrew you have its English rendering as “presence”. The Hebrew translation of the above-mentioned song did not return to the biblical Hebrew original in relation to the word “presence” but rather translated the word literally, using instead modern Hebrew.

If I’m not mistaken, the definition of “nochechut” (presence) in modern Hebrew is “residing or being in a certain place”. For me, this definition calls to mind being in boring work meetings in which I can’t actually claim being “present” just because I am in the conference room with my co-workers.

However, when we say “face” in spoken Hebrew, in most contexts the definition is “the front part of the human or animal head, from the forehead to the chin”. In said work meetings, more than once my “face” is actually turned toward the cell phone in my hand. So, am I actually present in the meeting?

It follows then that I can suggest that the word “face” adds to the word “presence” the meaning of attention and eyes intently focused.

Take a look at the word “face” in the biblical Hebrew which is translated as “presence” in the following verses:

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob (Psalm 114:7 BSB)

מִלִּפְנֵי אָדוֹן חוּלִי אָרֶץ מִלִּפְנֵי אֱלוֹהַּ יַעֲקֹב (תהילים 114:7)

Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him in song. (Psalms 95:2 BSB)

נְקַדְּמָה פָנָיו בְּתוֹדָה בִּזְמִרוֹת נָרִיעַ לוֹ (תהילים 95:2)

Jonah, however, got up to flee to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)

וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה, מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה (יונה 1:3)

Isn’t that a wonderful meaning of the word “presence”? God’s face, His eyes turned towards us, His focused attention which His face expresses.

The root of the modern Hebrew word for presence “נ.כ.ח” (N.K.H) comes from a word which appears in the Bible, mostly in context to location, as alternatives to the words “face”, “opposite of”, or “in front of”. For example:

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and the LORD examines all his paths. (Provers 5:21 BSB)

כִּי נֹכַח עֵינֵי ה’ דַּרְכֵי אִישׁ וְכָל מַעְגְּלֹתָיו מְפַלֵּס (משלי 5:21)

Let’s remember that the word “presence” in Hebrew is “face”, and therefore the presence of God is His face. To be in the presence of God is to be in the gaze of His face, His illuminating, holy face. When we are in front of His face, we cannot but be aware of the focus of His eyes upon us, and we cannot but look back at Him and worship Him.



0 thoughts on “Your Presence is All I Want

  • Thank you for this thoughtful and interesting reflection, Shlomit.
    There are so many levels of depths and understanding in the Hebrew original texts that many times get more or less lost and/or missunderstood in different translations. Thank you again for this article. God bless you and all Israel.
    Ahava veberakhot miMalmö, Shvedia.
    ‘Am Yisrael chai le’olam va’ed, Amen.

  • Peter Hartgerink says:

    This is beautiful and speaks to me of how close Abba had to come to Adam to breath into his nostrils the breath of life. Truly face-to-face encounter. This is what we were made for. In the new Jerusalem we are told that we will see Yeshua’s face.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Don’t miss another Article