The Glory of God
In the classic movie, Back to the Future, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) is sent 30 years back in time, where he meets up with a much younger version of his friend Doc (Christopher Lloyd). During their interactions, Marty repeatedly says, “That’s heavy,” which (rather humorously) leads Doc to wonder about gravitational forces in the future. Doc, of course, missed the point. “Heavy” just meant something was “serious” and “a really big deal.” Marty McFly was using a figure of speech that was common in the 1980’s. It was pretty common 3,500 years ago, too. (Has anyone seen my Delorean?)
The ancient Israelites spoke Hebrew, a language with a much smaller vocabulary than modern English. They made up for this, though, by using their words in a much more fluid and poetic way than we do. A great example of this is the word “glory.”
Glory is a difficult word to define, partly because the Bible uses it in several different, though related, ways. The word glory (Hebrew, kabod) has the basic meaning “heavy” or “weighty.” But the Hebrews also used that word “heavy” in a figurative sense. (Marty McFly would fit right in.) Kabod also meant “honor” or “dignity.” The connection is pretty easy to see. If a person is weighed down with possessions, that’s a symbol of their prestige. And if you give a lot of weight to what someone says, you’re honoring them.
In the Ten Commandments, we’re told, “Honor your father and your mother.” The same root word is used here (in Hebrew), and it means we should give weight to what they say. We should consider them important. There’s a measure of honor and prestige you owe mom and dad, simply because of who they are.
In a similar but MUCH greater way, we’re supposed to recognize the reputation of God and the infinite weight of honor He deserves. When the Bible speaks of God’s glory, it’s often a reference to the magnificent splendor of honor that God deserves and rightly possesses.
We get a clear picture of this when Moses asks to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18). Consider God’s response: “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.” Instead, God passes by Moses and reveals just a portion of His glory. And as He does, God proclaims His own reputation: “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). His glory is seen in the honor He possesses.
But sometimes, the “glory of God” refers to more than just His reputation or the honor He possesses. Sometimes His glory refers to the manifestation of His presence in a real (and terrifying) way. When the Israelites in the wilderness came to Mt. Sinai, the glory of the Lord appeared before them like a consuming fire on the mountain (Exodus 24:17-17). In that sense, glory is a description of both God’s reputation and God Himself. The two cannot be separated, which means that God’s glory is both awe-inspiring and scary.
And this brings us to Jesus, who was Himself the very presence of God with us. In John 1:14 we read these amazing words: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus displayed for us both the presence of God and the perfect fulfillment of His good reputation. The same God that appeared to Moses, abounding in lovingkindness and truth, became a human and displayed the glory of God for all to see! This is the great privilege of those who follow Jesus. And those who experience this glory are forever changed.
In the final moments of his life, one of the early Christians (a man named Stephen) had a vision of God’s glory that we read about in Acts 7:55: “…being full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” In that instant, Stephen was so overwhelmed that he openly marveled at what he saw.
A momentary vision of God’s glory was enough to make Stephen stop and worship, even as an angry mob viciously killed him. In fact, Stephen went so far as to forgive those who were in the very act of hurling large rocks at him. Stephen’s response was amazing, but it only makes sense for one who saw the glory of God. As he understood who God is and felt the full weight of His glory, nothing else was important.
What about you? Have you discovered the glory of God in Christ? Have you been transformed by the realization of the magnificence and power of God? Have you felt the weight of His glory? It is heavy indeed.