THOUGH A WORD STUDY DOES NOT OF ITSELF SOLVE the problem of understanding how Moses could have seen God's form if He doesn't have a form, it's handy to have some idea of what temunah actually means. It does not refer to the shape of a thing. We have already noted that a study of various passages shows that the Hebrew word to'ar comes closest to our concept of shape (with ma'reh coming next). So right here we can say that when the text tells us that Moses saw God's temunah it is not saying that what Moses saw was the shape of God. Temunah is used only ten times in the entire Old Testament, so its closest equivalent in English is hard to establish:
It is used in the commandment against making “any graven image (pecel), or any likeness (temunah) of anything that is in heaven above…”. Here we get the feel that God is condemning both the carving of exact replicas of created things (pecel) and the manufacture of anything that has a general resemblance (temunah) to anything in the creation for the purpose of representing God.
In Psalm 17:15 the psalmist looks forward to waking out of death “in your [God's] likeness (temunah)”. Since 1 John 3:2 informs us glorified saints will look like the glorified Jesus Christ we can conclude that they won't replicate God's infinite form but will have certain general resemblances to it. We should also note that the concept of "resemblance" may not necessarily refer to the shape or outline of a thing; it could refer to abstract attributes. We do not have enough instances of the use of the word in the Old Testament to determine one way or another if its spectrum of meaning must be restricted to physical appearance or if it could also cover such intangibles as personality or character.
Job says that he dreamed a “spirit” passed by him, causing his hair to stand on end (4:15). Then he says that “I could not discern its appearance (ma'reh). A form (temunah) was before my eyes” (vs. 16). Assuming the word had the same meaning in Job's time as in Moses' time, Job is saying he did not see any specific shape (ma'reh) but only a general visual sensation of some kind, perhaps best rendered by our word “apparition”, though without the connotation of the soul of some dead person, a concept that has no basis in truth. He sensed something was there, but it was totally out of focus. (We should not conclude from this instance that spirits are visible to human eyes in any way at all; it was a dream.)
In Deuteronomy 4:12-18 temunah is used as a rough synonym of figure (semel) and likeness (tabnith). Semel is used five times in the Old Testament, in most cases being translated “idol”. Tabnith is used 17 times. In Exodus 25:9 it is used for the “design” or “blueprint” of the tabernacle, while in Ezekiel 10:8 it is used for the “form” of a man's hand.
Temunah appears to have a broad spectrum of meaning, from visual sensation through general resemblance to close resemblance in some attribute(s) or another, with its centre of gravity around general resemblance.
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