Every now and then when reading the Psalms we come across something like this, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." (Psalm 27:8). This call and quest of the Seers and Prophets to seek Elohim's face, whilst knowing that no man could see God and live seems contradictory. What did it mean to seek Elohim's face? Why all the Face-of-God songs and questing vis-a-vis the steadfast belief that to see Elohim meant death?
Walter Brueggemann in his work on the Psalms provoked me to muse on what the Psalmist meant when he called God worshipers to seek God's face.
The Ancient Near East was a world of foot travel fraught with peril and treachery. And in this snail-paced world Elohim elected to locate his Presence for human interaction on Mount Zion, Jerusalem. This meant that during the times of the Diaspora (when many of the Psalms are written), it was far more convenient and safe to not attempt the journey and to find places to worship him in foreign lands. And yet, the people of God were challenged and summonsed and commanded to come to the Temple and worship.
The Psalmist used this 'seeking' term as cultic language for the the arduous and dangerous pilgrimage from foreign lands to the temple, since the temple was the place on earth that God chose to reveal his Presence (lit. face). There was some tension that coexisted with the idea of Elohim's omni-presence and his locus-presence. The tension of walking along knowing God was present in each footstep that brought you closer to the Holy City, while also accepting that the fullness of God's face would only be experienced upon arrival and ascent into the Temple. Temple, therefore, was the locus of Elohim's face (presence). Although it was believed that he was present even in the grave, his Presence was revealed through portals or windows that had been hallowed--burning bush, Beth-El, Mt Sinai, and Mt Zion. Jerusalem had been hallowed by Abraham's offering of Isaac and by David's sacrifices.
Upon arrival in the Holy City and making the final ascent into the outer courts of the Temple there still was a restriction from the people having access to the Holy of Holies (the longitude -latitude crosshairs where the Eternal accessed time and faced earthlings). This restriction did not keep God's children from traversing through inclement weather and hostile bands of pirates and thieves. The Jewish people were convinced by their experiences and stories that the potency of the Presence brimmed over the 3X3 Ark and overflowed that 10 X 10 Shrine saturating courtyards and hallways with Glory and Presence.
So when the Psalmist said, "Seek God's face," he was calling the people to make the journey to gathering for worship.
To be continued...