As in Water, Face Answereth to Face
1. This proverb has no verbs (note that answereth is italicized indicating it was added by the translators).
2. The verse literally reads: “As in the water face to face; so the heart of man to man.”
3. A verb needs to be inserted to bring out the sense of the proverb.
4. The verb “answereth” inserted in the KJV seems to capture the meaning the best.
5. Because there is a little bit of ambiguity in the wording of this proverb, the interpretations abound. Consulting the commentaries does not seem to clarify the meaning; if anything, it muddies the waters.
6. I’m going to share with you my conclusions after studying the passage. I can only teach it as I see it.
1. In this proverb the author describes a man looking into the water.
a. Perhaps it would be the still water of a pool or lake.
b. Such water reflects a mirror-like image of the face that peers into the water.
c. When you look into the water, you see your face reflected. It is an accurate picture of what you look like.
d. You might use the image of a mirror to make the same point.
2. Water doesn’t lie—just like mirrors don’t lie.
a. The reflection you see is what you really look like. It is YOU that you see in that water or mirror.
b. You might think that that person you see in the water is not quite as good looking as you are, but you would be wrong.
c. You might think that the person you see reflected in the water is much older than you are—but you would be wrong.
d. The face you see in the water answers to your face. It’s the same face.
e. If you had a question in your mind concerning what you look like, peer into the water and the face you see answers that question! That’s what you look like.
f. There is no photo-shop for the image in the water to make you look better than you really do. It’s not like a photograph that enables the photographer to soften the lighting to make the wrinkles disappear.
g. What you see is what you get. Even if you see a very unflattering reflection, water doesn’t lie.
3. Human nature has a way of forgetting that which is unflattering.
a. Jas. 1:23-24 – James describes a man who sees his reflection not in a pond but in a mirror.
• He notices that it is dirty. It is not a flattering picture that he sees.
• But he walks away and forgets how unflattering it really was. Out of sight out of mind.
b. The image we see reflected in a pond also reflects an accurate though often unflattering image of our face.
• It could be dirty.
• Our hair could be unkempt.
• It may reveal rotten teeth.
• It may reveal wrinkles and gray hair.
• It is human nature for us to easily forget about that unflattering image and walk away and start IMAGINING that we look pretty good.
c. We might make excuses for the image we see:
• The lighting was poor.
• The water was a bit wavy and rippled and distorted the image.
• My eyes aren’t what they used to be.
• It is human nature for us to imagine self to be better than self really is.
• We make excuses for the blemishes and wrinkles.
d. Yet regardless of what we think of self, and regardless of the excuses we devise, face answers to face.
e. Like it or not, the face we saw in the water is an accurate reflection of the face that looked into the water.
19b So the heart of man to man.
1. Now Solomon applies that superficial illustration of a face reflected on the water to something much deeper: the heart of man.
2. The face speaks of our OUTWARD appearance.
a. It is the part that others see. Most of the rest of our body is covered in clothing, but people see our faces.
b. Our face is what we look like—but only on the outside.
c. A face is a pretty superficial outward picture of what a person is.
d. I Sam. 16:7 – Man looks on the outward appearance. It is a relatively superficial picture of what the person is really like.
e. Prov. 11:22 – Sometimes the “face” or the “outward appearance” can be deceiving.
• Here Solomon speaks of a “fair” (beautiful) woman.
• She is beautiful on the outside, but is not so beautiful on the inside. She has no discretion. (No good taste; no discernment; no wisdom.)
• Judging as man does, from the outward appearance, we would say she was beautiful! Gorgeous!
• We see the outward appearance as being all important.
• But from God’s perspective, the outward beauty is like a small gold jewel. It is beautiful, but small.
• The woman is like a pig with one small redeeming value – a gold jewel. But overall, she IS a pig.
• The jewelry, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t really make the pig any more attractive.
• In other words, from God’s perspective, the outward appearance is not all that important.
• God looks at the heart. He digs deeper to see what the person is REALLY like—for looks can be deceiving.
3. The “heart of man” speaks of the INWARD picture of a man.
a. The heart does not give us a superficial image of the person, but very deep and accurate picture of the man.
b. What you are on the inside (heart) is what you really are.
c. If you want to know what kind of face you have, look in a pool of water.
d. If you want to know what kind of a person you are, take a deep look into your heart.
4. The connection to the illustration of the reflection of the face in the water.
a. Water in a still pond or lake will give you an accurate reflection of a person’s face – what they look like on the outside.
b. But a man’s heart will give you an accurate picture of what the person looks like on the inside.
c. As we peer into the water we can see our face – our outer man… a superficial reflection of what the person is.
d. As we peer into our hearts, we can see our inner man: thoughts; motives; intents of the heart; imagination; ambitions; goals; dreams; wishes; desires; lusts; purpose in life.
e. That is a much deeper and far more accurate reflection of what kind of person we are.
f. Looks are deceiving. The heart gives us a more accurate account of who we are.
g. Prov. 23:7 – “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”
5. Unfortunately, like the reflection in the water, the heart does not always give us a flattering view of SELF.
a. God’s Word reflects to us what our hearts are like. It points out the dirt that needs to be dealt with.
b. Jer. 17:9 – It is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked!
c. Matt. 15:19 – “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
d. Of course, when we are filled with the Spirit of God, good fruit arises in our regenerated heart: love, joy, peace, etc.
6. Like the man who saw his face in the mirror (in James 1), and walked away and forgot what he looked like, there is a tendency for us to walk away and forget what our hearts are really like… and to walk away and do nothing about it.
a. We like to imagine that our hearts are not as bad as the reflection in the Word indicates.
b. We like to block out of our minds what we see when we peer into our hearts… when we examine our hearts.
c. It can be painful to acknowledge and accept what we see.
d. And as mirrors don’t lie, the image of self we see when we examine our hearts is true.
e. We still have a fallen heart that never gets better in this life. It is just as vile as ever.
f. But thankfully, we also have a new heart that is able to experience victory moment by moment.
7. We fallen creatures often put on fronts and attempt to project an image of someone we aren’t.
a. But what is going on in the heart is truly what we are. It is an accurate reflection of the person inside – the real you.
b. We can fool others with that front.
c. And sometimes we can even fool ourselves. (Remember, the heart is deceitful above all things!)
d. But we can never fool God.
e. God sees the heart. He knows our heart better than we do.
f. Putting on a good front and pretending is how most men deal with the ugliness inside.
g. But it doesn’t work. It is like putting a gold jewel on a pig… or lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t change the nature of the beast.
8. Prov. 4:23 – Therefore, keep your heart with all diligence!
a. Our hearts tell us what kind of a person we really are.
b. Walking away and trying to forget doesn’t help.
c. Putting up a phony front doesn’t help.
d. Putting a gold jewel on a pig doesn’t help.
e. The only right way to deal with the heart is to admit it… deal with it… confess our sins and forsake them… yield to God and allow His Spirit to work in our heart to produce good fruit.