(November 18, 2016) Dr Jim McClure, respected theologian, continues his series on some scripture words…
In Exodus 33:18 Moses made this request of God: ‘Show me your glory.’ God’s reply was that no human being could see his face and live. He then instructed Moses to stand in the crevice of a rock from which Moses would see his back.
If the pure brilliancy of the glory of God were made visible, it would utterly destroy us. Matthew Henry makes this significant comment, ‘He will have us to know him by the glory of his mercy more than by the glory of his majesty.’
The word ‘glory’ is frequently used by Christians – but what does it really mean? In the Lord’s Prayer is the phrase, ‘yours is the glory’ – but what does that mean? At the birth of Jesus the angelic choir sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest …’ – but what does that mean? While the glory of God will remain hidden from us on this side of eternity, we shall attempt to reveal the meaning of the word as it is used in the Bible.
The Hebrew word (kabod – glory) has an interesting, if not unusual, development ranging from internal organs to a characteristic of God! Let us examine how these apparently dissimilar things are related.
1. Glory is related to the liver!
The root of the Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is related to that for ‘liver.’ This appears to be a strange starting point from which to explain what we consider to be such an exalted word as ‘glory.’ The word liver – kabed in Hebrew – is found fourteen times in the Old Testament mainly in association with animals offered for sacrifice (for example, Exodus 29:13 and 22,) but it is also associated with humans (for example, Proverbs 7:23 and Lamentations 2:11.)
The root of the word means ‘heavy’ and it was associated with the liver as the heaviest of the internal organs. The relationship between ‘heavy’ and ‘glory’ is also seen in a number of Old Testament passages such as Exodus 17:12 ‘But Moses’ hands were heavy (kabed); and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon’ (KJV). And Psalm 38:4 ‘For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as a heavy (kabed) burden they are too heavy for me’ (KJV).
2. Glory developed into the concept of splendour
The root meaning behind ‘kabod’ then developed from the idea of heaviness in a physical sense to wealth in the sense of being ‘heavy with riches.’ Thus in Isaiah 10:3 we read, ‘To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth (kabod)?’ (RSV).
In the KJV the word ‘wealth’ is translated ‘glory.’ So kabod is here being used in reference to actual material assets. But the word continues to develop, moving from the concept of material wealth to the non-material concept of honour and splendour. In Malachi 1:6 God asks, ‘A son honours (kabod) his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour (kabod) due to me?’
The sense of splendour inherent in kabod is seen in Joseph’s encounter with his brothers. Joseph had been promoted to a position in Egypt second only to Pharaoh and now he revealed who he was to his brothers and said to them, ‘You must tell my father of all my splendour (kabod) in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Make haste and bring my father down here’ (Genesis 45:13 RSV).
Glory was then came to be recognised as a characteristic of God, and frequently we find the word associated with God, especially in the phrases ‘the glory of God’ – ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1), and ‘the glory of the Lord’, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you’ (Isaiah 60:1).
3. The glory of God reveals the presence of God
The phrase, ‘the glory of God’ is identified with ‘the presence of God.’ When the tabernacle was set up at Sinai, God’s presence in it was described in this way, ‘Then the cloud covered the Tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle’ (Exodus 40:34).
In the same way, when Solomon’s temple was dedicated we read in 1 Kings 8:11, ‘The priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.’ The cloud is often associated with the glory of God; it possibly served as a ‘protective covering’ so that the pure glory of God was concealed (compare Exodus 33:18.)
The cloud also served as a visible sign of the glorious presence of God. In some way God’s presence is revealed in his glory, and to encounter the glory of God is to encounter God himself. Ezekiel confirmed this when he wrote, ‘And the glory (kabod) of the Lord was standing there, like the glory (kabod) I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown’ (Ezekiel 3:23 NIV).
4. The glory of God is present in his guiding
When the Israelites left Egypt and entered the wilderness, God guided them in that experience by His glory in two ways; first by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). That these were visible signs of God’s glorious presence is confirmed by Moses statement to the people in Exodus 16:7 and 10, ‘“In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord” … they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.’
Apart from the presence of God, the people’s wanderings in the wilderness would have been aimless and their destination unattainable. But God not only gave them direction – He was also gloriously present with them and such knowledge would have been comforting to them.
When we are obedient to God’s guidance, we can be confident that we are living in the glory of his presence.
5. The glory of God is the theme of our lips
In the Psalms David uses the word kabod in a most unusual way. Consider the following psalms in which I have replaced the English word ‘glory’ with kabod:
- 16:9, ‘Therefore my heart is glad, and my kabod rejoices; my body also dwells secure.’
- 30:11-12, ‘You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my kabod may praise thee and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.’
- 57:8, ‘Awake, my kabod! Awake, O harp and lyre!’
- 108:1, ‘My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my kabod!
Some translations use the word ‘glory’ (KJV) in these verses, others use the word ‘soul’ (RSV) and still others use ‘heart’ and ‘tongue’ (NIV). Some commentators argue that what is meant is that the glory is God’s and we are to rejoice in it.
The key to understanding its use in these psalms is found in Acts 2:26 in the sermon Peter gave on the day of Pentecost when he quoted Psalm 16:9 in this way, ‘Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will dwell in hope.’ In Hebrew the word kabod is used, but the Greek Septuagint translation (that was done by Greek speaking Jews between the 3rd century BC and 132 BC) translated the Hebrew word kabod with the Greek word glossa (which means ‘tongue’). In quoting the Greek translation Peter obviously considered that this was the intended meaning of the verse.
In this context glossa is an appropriate synonym for ‘glory’ for the Christian because it is a reminder that God wants us to use our tongues to glorify and praise him, to declare his glorious works, and to ‘declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter2:9).
6. The relationship between glory and suffering
Not only are the Hebrew words for ‘glory’ and ‘suffering’ linked etymologically but they are also interwoven theologically. Both words come from the same Hebrew root word and as we trace their usage through the Bible, we discover a relationship between glory and suffering.
The concept of heaviness in relation to ‘glory,’ as mentioned previously, is often associated in the Old Testament with suffering. For example, in Job 6:2-3 Job laments, ‘If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas …’
And Job 23:2, ‘Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.’
In these passages the words ‘outweigh’ and ‘heavy’ are from the same root word as ‘glory’ but here they are related to the suffering that Job was experiencing.
The idea of anguish related to the bearing of an intolerable burden is seen in 1 Kings 12:10 where the people, hoping that the load Solomon had placed on them would be eased when his son Rehoboam became king, appealed to him for relief. But Rehoboam’s advisors said to him, ‘Tell these people who have said to you, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter” – tell them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist”’ (1 Kings 12:10). Again we find the word ‘heavy’ – (kabed) – being used in association with suffering.
The theme of the relationship between suffering and glory is a frequent one in the Old Testament, and we see it particularly in many of the Psalms. Psalm 22 is a good example of this. So too are the ‘Servant Songs’ in Isaiah. The ‘Servant’ is a Messianic figure whose divine mission was to the world. It is apparent, however, that the office of the ‘Servant’ involves him in suffering. This is particularly clear in Isaiah 53:3-4,
‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.’
But the Servant’s suffering was not as a result of his own sin – it was substitutionary and redemptive:
‘Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’
This was something that the Jews found difficult to accept – that the Messiah would suffer. They believed that the Messiah’s glory would be demonstrated by resplendent power while, in reality, the scriptures teach that the Messiah’s glory would only be established through suffering.
There is a clear identification between the ‘Suffering Servant’ and Jesus whose mission was brought to a glorious conclusion through suffering. On the evening of Resurrection Day, as Jesus walked with the disconsolate couple on the way to Emmaus, He said to them, ‘Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter glory?’ (Luke 24:26).
The writer of Hebrews has commented, ‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. ‘In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.’ (Hebrews 2:9-10) It was God’s plan to save us and to bring us to glory, and the way he chose was through suffering. Shortly before he was crucified, Jesus said, ‘“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. … Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again”’ (John 12:23, 28).
The New Testament writers also revealed that for us too there may be a relationship between suffering and glory. Peter wrote to those who were suffering as Christians, ‘Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ (1 Peter 4:13).
And Paul, in that magnificent verse, Philippians 3:10, wrote, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.’ The phrase, ‘the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings’ makes sense when we see it in terms of glory.
I have more fully expounded this theme because many Christians consider that suffering and glory are contradictory terms whereas, as we have seen, the interaction and relationship between the two is very strong.
7. The glory of God was revealed in Jesus
Though no one can see the full glory of God, yet His magnificent splendour and the glory of his presence was seen in Jesus Christ. ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:3).
The birth of Jesus revealed God’s glory. When Jesus was born, the glory of God shone around the shepherds in the fields (Luke 2:9) and the choir of angels sang about God’s glory (Luke 2:14.)
John wrote concerning Jesus, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory (Greek: δόξα – doxa) the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).
In fact the glory of God was with Jesus even before the incarnation; indeed the eternal glory of the Father and the glory of the pre-existent Christ were the same thing, as Jesus prayed in John 17:5, ‘Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’
Jesus’ life and ministry revealed God’s glory. The first miracle he performed was at the wedding at Cana where he changed the water into wine; we read, ‘He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him’ (John 2:11). It became apparent that the glory of Christ was also the Glory of God.
In Hebrew 2:3 we read, ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.’ Jesus said to the disbelieving Jews, ‘…even though you do not believe me, you should at least believe my deeds, in order that you may know once and for all that the Father is in me and that I am in the Father’ (John 10:38 GNB). The works of Christ were not only a demonstration of the power of God but also of the presence of God – and where God is present so too is his glory. Thus Jesus was able to say to Philip, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension revealed God’s glory. After Judas left the table to betray Jesus and thus begin the final countdown to his crucifixion, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him’ (John 13:32).
The cross, an object of shame and defeat, became a symbol of glory and victory as God demonstrated His abounding love for mankind. The resurrection too revealed his glory. Paul wrote that ‘Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father’ (Romans 6:4). The breaking of the power of the grave revealed the power of the glory of God. God’s glory was also present after Jesus commissioned his church, promised the coming of the Holy Spirit and then ascended to the Father.
We read in Acts 1:9 that ‘a cloud hid him from their sight.’ I suggest that this is the same cloud that was seen in the wilderness, in the tabernacle and in the temple – the cloud which acted as a protective barrier between human eyes and the dazzling glory of God.
8. The glory of God will demonstrate the triumph of God
The hymn, ‘Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son’ reflects the theme of that day when God’s triumph will be clearly seen throughout the earth. God’s plans will be completed and his purposes will be victorious. This was something the prophets understood.
Habakkuk wrote, ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14).
Likewise Isaiah, looking forward to the splendour of the coming reign of God when all His enemies will be defeated and he will be victorious, wrote, ‘And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it’ (Isaiah 40:5).
9. The glory of God is the illumination of heaven
In the book of Revelation the word ‘glory’ (δόξα) is found seventeen times – fifteen times in direct reference to God. The great anthems of heaven will be about the glory of God; for example, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power… Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! … Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!’ (Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:7).
Furthermore, as we live eternally in the nearness of God’s presence, this glory-filled heaven will be illuminated by the resplendent light of God’s glory. ‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp’ (Revelation 21:23). This is the same vision seen by Isaiah who wrote, ‘The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory’ (Isaiah 60:19).
The word here translated ‘glory’ is not kabod but one that means beauty and splendour. The Message translation captures the meaning well: ‘You’ll have no more need of the sun by day nor the brightness of the moon at night. God will be your eternal light, your God will bathe you in splendour.’
The fact is that not everyone will experience that glorious splendour for the scriptures say in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that ‘The god of this age [that is, Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’
Only those who put their trust in Jesus Christ will be among those who will not only discover the grandeur of God’s glory in the future, but who will also, here and now know something about it for, if we live in close fellowship with him, we will ‘reflect the Lord’s glory,’ while we ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, [literally ‘from glory to glory’] which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives. Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage will shortly be available in an electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks (as is Dr Jim’s well-researched Grace Revisited) and is offered free.
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Thank you Dr. McClure, this blessed me so very much!