The Glory of the Lord – An Image of God?

Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. (Lev 9:23)

     Reflecting on my practice of the spiritual disciplines for my Spiritual Formation class at Earlham School of Religion, I recalled a very special “appearance” of the Divine in the context of worship.  I want to share this encounter as an act of praise and thanksgiving to God, and to develop an “image” of God that is grounded and witnessed in the Biblical text and lived experience.

     A couple years ago, in my reading and study of early Quakerism, I came across the term opportunity. An opportunity, in Quaker parlance, is an unplanned and unscheduled Meeting for Worship not held at the regularly appointed time on First Day in the meeting house.  These opportunities were often held with travelling minister and in the homes of Friends. 

     I recently had an unexpected and extraordinary opportunity in my home at the Lauramoore House.  A young friend and local student dropped out of college on a medical leave of absence. He was suffering from emotional, psychological, and academic troubles after the sudden death of a close friend. After moving back to his hometown, he came to visit friends at school for the weekend.  My young friend was troubled and depressed.  He was grieving on many levels and he bemoaned his current situation and difficulties relating to his friends and family.  He felt unloved and improperly cared for by his parents. 

     The night he visited me, I also had a Quaker friend visiting from out of town.  We were both lying on the couch under covers listening attentively and supportively to my young friend express his pain and sadness.  My Quaker friend offered some counsel and advice.  I listened silently.  Then suddenly and totally unexpectedly the power of the Lord descended upon me!! 

     I was powerfully compelled quite involuntarily out from under my warm and cozy comforter.  My body shot up quite rigidly on the couch.  I leaned in towards my suffering young friend and delivered to him some brief vocal ministry.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember my voice was sure, clear, and firm. 

     I said something like, “if you only knew how perfectly loved you are right now you’d be totally bowled over!!”

     Whatever my exact words, they must have been convincing.  I witnessed my young friend straighten up, his eyes opened wide, and his body fell back on the recliner he sat on.  The room seemed to brighten slightly.  A numinous Presence was now in our midst.  The three of us were powerfully gathered in silent, true and Spirit-filled worship!  Tears ran down my young agnostic friend’s cheeks and my own.  It was glorious!  Not another word was spoken for what felt like a blessed eternity.    

     When the opportunity had passed my young friend solemnly said, “Wayne…I’ll never be the same again.” 

     “I won’t either,” I replied.

     After another period of silence he simply asked, “Was that worship?”

     Looking at my Friend, we affirmed we had never experienced a better example.  All thanks and praise belongs to God for this wonderful blessing of grace and power!  What had we experienced?  Was this what the Bible calls the glory of the Lord?

***

     Is the “glory of the Lord” an image of God?  I turned to scripture to investigate.

Well, God’s glory does appear to the people.  (Lev 9:23; Num 16:19) It is witnessed in a cloud, or at the top of a mountain like a consuming fire. (Exo 16:10; 24:17)  Sometimes God’s glory is a fearful thing. (Luke 2:9)  But a good deal of scriptural evidence reveals that God’s glory is a good and powerful thing.  (Isa 60:1; Ps 138:5) If not, why would Moses say that following the Lord’s commandments would result in the appearance of YHWH’s glory? (Lev 9:6)  It’s hard to image the Hebrew people being instructed to follow God’s law in order to be terrified!  However, God’s glory can stop worship in its tracks. (1 Kings 8:11) God’s glory is evidently a powerful presence that “stands” in the midst, and it can even knock a prophet off their feet. (Ezek 3:23)

     In my investigation of “the glory of the Lord”, I learned that the Hebrew word for glory, Kabhodh (kaw-bode'), occurs 390 times in scripture according to the online Biblical study resourse Biblos.com. (http://topicalbible.org/g/glory.htm)  The meaning of the word Kabhodh is defined at crosswire.org as “properly, weight, but only figuratively in a good sense, splendor or copiousness, glorious, glory, honor”.

     The main idea of Kabhodh seems to be "weightiness". It can be attributed to the distinctive nature of wealth, or the majestic honor of an individual.  However, the most important use of the word is ascribed to Yahweh. Kabhodh conveys a preeminent sign of the embodied self-manifestation of the presence of the Deity.  Glory is a possession or characteristic possessed primarily by Yahweh, and it is also something that Yahweh can give. (Isa 60:7) It is one of the Deity’s chief “characteristics”. (1 Chr 29:11)  It can also be interpreted as power.  Moses asks God, “Show me your glory!”  In this earliest use of Kabhodh, Yahweh’s glory takes a clearly physical form, with hands and a backside. (Exo 33:18-23)  But it’s more complicated than that, for the implication is that Yahweh’s Kabhodh is not seen with physical vision.[1]

     God’s glory is an image of God to be seen through spiritual eyes.  Numinous is a descriptive word available today to portray God’s presence. Like in Moses’ day, the glory of the Lord is a numinous experience.  Then, as now, we can image and experience God personally.  The biblical witness of the glory of God transcends time and culture.  After all, the glory of the Lord appeared even to us! It stopped us powerfully in our tracks.  The glory of God, as a numinous experience, unreservedly confirmed for the three of us worshipfully gathered in my living room that we were in communion with the fascinating mystery of the Wholly Other.

 


[1] Bromiley, Geoffrey William. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1979.

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