Most people, especially people of faith, believe in God. However, most people do not know the God in whom they believe. In many cases, people’s knowledge of God is second-handed. These people are like Job, who had heard much about God, but who did not know much about his character and nature. Job said: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear” (Job 42:5).
The reason for this lack of knowledge about God is that most people do not read the Bible and when they do, they generally read the New Testament. Thus, the God of the Old Testament is an unknown being, a God who is known through sermons and through word of mouth. The God of revelation, the God who revealed himself to the people of Israel and the God who revealed himself supremely in the person of Jesus Christ, remains the great unknown.
After many months away from blogging, I have decided to return to posting on a regular basis. One of my goals in the coming weeks and months is to write more about the God of the Old Testament. My desire is to write about this wonderful and amazing God who is revealed in the pages of the Old Testament. Today I begin this series of studies with an important topic, “The Glory of God.”
In the Hebrew Bible, the word kabod is used to speak of the glory of God. The word kabod appears 200 times in the Old Testament. Of these, the word kabod is used 100 times to refer to God. In the Old Testament, the use of the word kabod is complex and it appears in many different contexts. Thus, an exhaustive study of the word kabod is beyond the scope of this post. This study will focus on the kabod of God.
The word kabod carries the idea of that which is heavy and important. Jacob, in his study of the glory of God wrote: “Since anything weighty inspires respect and honour, kabod not only denotes the obvious objective reality but the feeling which is experienced toward what inspires respect. This double meaning is particularly evoked where the glory of God is concerned” (p. 79).
When the word kabod is used in a secular context, that is, when the word is used to refer to individuals, the word means “wealth,” “honor,” “dignity.” For instance, Genesis 31:1 speaks of Jacob’s wealth: “Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s; he has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’” The word for “wealth” in Hebrew is kabod the same word translated elsewhere as “glory.”
When the word kabod is used in a spiritual way, that is, when the word is associated with God, the word carries the idea of honor, respect, and glory. The word “glory” or kabod is related to what God is and to what he does. When the word is used to speak of God’s work, the word kabod is used to describe what God does in creation, in the history of Israel, and in the salvation of his people.
When the people of Israel prayed to God in times of distress, they asked God to deliver them for the sake of his kabod, that is, for the sake of his reputation among the nations: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory [kabod] of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake. Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Psalm 79:9-10).
The Old Testament teaches that God should be honored above all things and persons, thus, the word kabod is used to describe the nature and character of God. The Bible says that God is “the God of glory” (Psalm 29:3) and that God is “the King of glory” (Psalm 24:7). In Jeremiah 2:11, the word kabod stands for God himself. When Jeremiah addressed the rampant idolatry of Judah in the seventh century B.C., Jeremiah said: “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory [kabod] for something that does not profit.” That the word “glory” here is a reference to God can be seen in the Psalmist’s address to God: “But you, O LORD, are . . . my glory” (Psalm 3:3).
One of the most important uses of the word kabod in the Hebrew Bible is in the context of God’s revelation to Israel. The word kabod is also used to describe the visible manifestation of the presence of God. When Moses was interceding with God at the time the people of Israel made the golden calf, Moses asked for a special revelation of God. Moses said to God: “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). When God answered Moses’ request, the revelation of the kabod of Yahweh was in a human form.
In revealing himself to Israel, the glory of God refers to the brightness and the brilliant appearance of God. The glory of God was revealed on Mount Sinai and its appearance in the sight of the people was like a devouring fire: “The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” (Exodus 24:16-17).
The word kabod is also used to describe the presence of God in the tabernacle, in the temple, and in Jerusalem. During the construction of the tabernacle, God promised to reveal himself there: “I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory” (Exodus 29:43). Thus, after the tabernacle was finished, God fulfilled his promise: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).
When religious services began in the tabernacle and Aaron and his sons offered sacrifices to God, the people of Israel stood before the Lord as the sacrifices were offered and the fire of the Lord consumed the offering: “Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:23-24).
When Solomon finished building the temple, the glory of God appeared in order to consecrate the place to His holy name: “And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:10-11).
The temple in Jerusalem was the place where the glory of God was present. The Psalmist said: “O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides” (Psalm 26:8). It was in the temple where people glorified God: “In his temple all say, ‘Glory!’” (Psalm 29:9).
In his study of the glory of God, Walther Eichrodt said that when the word kabod is used of God in the Hebrew Bible, the word designates God’s glory and majesty and it “includes an element of appearance, of that which catches the eye” (p. 30).
This visible manifestation of God among his people created an ideological conflict among the religious leaders of Israel on how to explain the difference between the immanent God, a God who appears in a visible way in many of the early texts of the Old Testament and the transcendent God, a God who is too holy to be seen by humans. In dealing with this visible manifestation of God, Eichrodt wrote:
Because the kabod, in the likeness of a mass of fire veiled in cloud, is here understood as a special form in which God appears for the purpose of revelation, it becomes possible for priestly thought to speak of a real entry of the transcendent God into the realm of the visible without, however, thereby prejudicing his transcendence” (p.32).
This means that it is through the manifestation of his kabod that the transcendent God reveals himself to his people, or as Eichrodt puts it, the manifestation of the kabod serves to affirm “the historical realism of the revelation” (p. 33).
Thus, it is in the revelation of God to his people that the glory of God is manifested. It is in the manifestation of his power, of his wisdom, his holiness, and his goodness that God reveals his glory. When Moses asked God “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), God told Moses: “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Exodus 33:19).
Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the glory of God in creation. It is only when people acknowledge and worship the Creator that they glorify God. The Psalmist said: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).
It is true that the heavens declare the glory of God, but they only declare it to people who acknowledge God, for the glory of God is only displayed when God’s revelation is accepted and understood by people of faith, by people willing to embrace the work of God in creation and to give honor to Him, the only one who truly deserves honor and adoration.
The Bible teaches that the purpose of God’s revelation to his creation is the reestablishment of the relationship between God and humans. But human beings will only find happiness in submission to God’s will for their lives. God is glorified when people submit to God and the glory of all human beings is their absolute submission to the will of God.
In future studies I will focus on the theology of the glory of God in book of Isaiah and in the book of Ezekiel.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967), 29-35.
Edmond Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1958), 79-82.