This summer I went to three stores before I found Rolling Stone magazine, “The Bomber” issue. The clerk at 7-Eleven said his chain was boycotting because of the cover. A man checking out and sucking on a lollipop turned to me and said, “Did you see the face? They made him look like a movie star.” So I drove five miles north to a Barnes & Noble, made my brown paper bag purchase, and hid it from the kids—because of the face, which looks like a movie star, and is a dead ringer for my 19-year-old daughter’s cutie-pie boyfriend.
It’s no wonder God’s Word warns about faces. One of the first things He says when sending Jeremiah to deliver unpopular messages to Israel is: “Do not be afraid of their faces” (Jeremiah 1:8). Most English translations opt for the less literal and supposedly user-friendly “Do not be afraid of them,” thereby cheating themselves of a more illuminating meaning: It is actually the faces that trip us up.
The danger of faces corrupting judgment must be universal because God mentions it again when dispatching Ezekiel for service: “Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks” (Ezekiel 2:6). Failure to brace for a stare-down or a come-on could make you cave: God sent you to announce fire and brimstone, and you ended up suggesting that perhaps they might initiate a friendly national conversation about sin.
None of us likes to think he shows partiality to a pleasing face. But could one make a case that a pretty face in Philistia was Samson’s undoing? Jacob liked Rachel’s eyes more than Leah’s, but Rachel was a piece of work. King Hezekiah might have swiftly rebuffed a Hallmark get-well card from oily Babylon, but when high-level envoys arrived in person, he opened his whole treasure house for their inspection; there was not a golden urn he didn’t show them (Isaiah 39). Not many years hence they came back with chariots to haul it all away.
In the postexilic Jerusalem rebuilding project, what Israel’s enemies were not able to do with direct terrorism, they did by getting chummy with a few leaders. Well aware that there was nothing like face time for changing a heart, Sanballat and Tobiah tried to schmooze with Governor Nehemiah. He was no easy mark (Nehemiah 6:16), so they got a pen-pal relationship going with more amenable nobles of Judah (6:17-19), which led to morally fatal intermarriages (13:23-24). (Presumably some of those Horonite guys were cute.)
What psychologists call the “Stockholm syndrome” may be more simply explained by intensive face time. People over 60 will recall how magazine heiress Patty Hearst, shortly after being kidnapped by the urban guerilla group Symbionese Liberation Army, ended up happily joining them in knocking off a bank in San Francisco. She got to see their faces daily, and evidently concluded that they were all good guys and just misunderstood.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain talked tough in March of 1938 but came back from an autumn face-to-face meeting at Herr Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat singing a different tune: By the end of his third visit on Sept. 29, Czechoslovakia was as good as betrayed in the Munich Agreement. President Obama keeps returning to Galesburg, Ill., to tweak his speeches on the economy: Though the economy is tanking, supporters get to see his face. If Anthony Weiner survives his bid for mayor of New York, it will be in no small part because America huddled together round the television and were duly reassured by the face of Huma Abedin.
There is something science cannot explain about the effect of the God-ordained configuration of two eyes bestriding a nose and mouth upon a neck, for seducing one man from justice and reducing another to a puddle. The prophet Elisha addressed an Aramean court official name Hazael, “and he fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was embarrassed” (2 Kings 8:11). To this day I’ve not a clue what Jezebel had in mind by choosing, during a coup, to paint her eyes and fix her hair and gaze out from her upstairs window (2 Kings 9:30). If she meant Jehu’s seduction, this time she guessed wrong.