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The Radical Shift in Meaning of Biblical 'Glory'

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In my book "Talking with God: The Radioactive Ark Of The Testimony," I explore several key biblical terms associated with the ark that have either been mistranslated or not clearly understood over time. One such puzzling word found in several verses of the Old Testament is "glory" (Hebrew kawbode).

The word glory is used 148 times in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and from Deuteronomy to Malachi. In the Old Testament, glory has two entirely unrelated meanings and, thus, describes two completely different ideas.

Traditionally, glory is understood to mean "praise for the Lord." Some examples are:

  • Joshua 7:19: "...give glory to the Lord, God of Israel...."
  • I Chronicles 16:28-29: "give to the Lord glory and strength...give to the Lord the glory of His name."
  • Psalms 62:7: "In God is my salvation and my glory."
  • Jeremiah 13:16: "Give glory to the Lord your God."

Some examples of glory as an adjective include:

  • Nehemiah 9:5: "...blessed is your glorious name...."
  • Isaiah 4:2: "In that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious."

While glory can indeed indicate praise, a close study of its use in the Old Testament reveals an altogether different meaning, one that conveys the original understanding of its form and function.

A Substance

The second meaning of glory is stunningly different from praise for the Lord. As the following examples from Exodus and Leviticus seem to indicate, glory was a substance that was found in the cloud that settled on Mount Sinai and eventually on the tabernacle and the Ark of the Testimony during the Israelites' sojourn in the Wilderness.

  • Exodus 16:7, Moses to the Israelites in the Wilderness: "And in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord."
  • Exoduds 16:10, Moses, when announcing the appearance of manna: "...behold the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud."
  • Exodus 24:15-17, on Mount Sinai: "And the appearance of the glory of the Lord [was] like consuming fire on top of the mountain before the eyes of the Israelites."
  • Exodus 33:18, Moses to the Lord on Mount Sinai: "Let me see your glory." But he was not allowed to: "...as my glory is passing ... I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and My palm will cover you during My passing."
  • Exodus 40:34-35, when the construction of the tabernacle was finished: "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to come into the tent of meeting because the cloud dwelt on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
  • Leviticus 9:4, 6, in connection with the need to first offer certain sacrifices to avoid the danger of the glory in the cloud: "For today the Lord will appear to you. ... This thing you will do [sacrifice], then the glory of the Lord will appear to you."
  • Leviticus 9:23, when Moses and Aaron first went into the newly constructed tent of meeting: "Then they came out and they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people."

Clearly the radical shift of glory's original meaning (a substance) to the way it was defined as praise for the Lord raises several important questions. Why did the meaning shift? What was the purpose of this substance? Why did it seem to be dangerous?

There are clear answers to these questions, and the pieces to this puzzle have been put together in "Talking with God: The Radioactive Ark Of The Testimony." Available at Amazon. Join the ongoing investigation of the Old Testament's puzzling questions at TalkingWithGod.net.

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