God's Glory — its Appearing, Departure and Return

There is a feature of the divine glory that has ever been before the eyes of men, for "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). Yet all men do not discern in the wonders of creation the glory of God, even if "His eternal power and Godhead" (Rom. 1:20) are there to make their unbelief of Him inexcusable. Those who study the stars may speak of the varied glories of the heavenly orbs, and be able to tell of their great discoveries, and yet may never think of Him whose glory is before their eyes, or discern the workmanship of Him who is omnipotent and omniscient, being ignorant of the creator who brought all into existence. Divinely given faith is needed to perceive the hand of God in creation, for says the Scripture, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God" (Heb. 11:3). The babe in the family of God is much better instructed as to the origin of creation than the greatest intellectual who knows not God.

God's Glory in the Tabernacle

Stephen informed the rulers of Israel that "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham" (Acts 7:2), and God called him to be the father of many nations, one of which was to have a special place of favour as His earthly people, and they would have the land into which Abraham had been called "for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:4-8). In due course, Israel were delivered out of Egypt by the mighty power of God, and brought to Himself at mount Sinai. On leaving Egypt the people were led by God, His presence among them being visible "in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night" (Ex. 13:17-22). When Pharaoh pursued the children of Israel, the pillar of cloud was a cloud of darkness to the hosts of Egypt, but it gave light to the hosts of Israel.

When the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, it was against God they were complaining, but God in His grace answered their murmuring with the provision of flesh and manna, but also with the appearing of His glory (Ex. 16:2-10). God did not chide them for murmuring, but appeared in His glory to show His care for them in wondrous grace. It was not until the people had undertaken to keep the law that the glory of God brought terror to the hearts of Israel, when they heard the thunderings and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, and saw the lightnings from the cloud upon the mountain. It was a glory that struck the people with fear and made them tremble (Ex. 19:16).

On the day the tabernacle was reared, "a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Ex. 40:34-35). God was signifying His intention to dwell with men, as His glory dwelt among Israel, but as seen in Moses, man under law was not able to draw nigh to God, to enter into the full blessedness of God's presence with them. The time will yet come when what was indicated that day will have its fulfilment, for it is written, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them … and be their God" (Rev. 21:3). God thus early in Israel's history made known what will mark the eternal day, when the conditions of Revelation 21:4 will abide.

In Leviticus 9, at the time of the consecration of the priests, on the eighth day, which looks forward to the millennium, after Moses and Aaron entered into the tabernacle, and came out to bless the people, "the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people," and fire from the Lord consumed the offerings, "which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces" (Lev. 9:23-24). It was a blessed anticipation of what will happen when Israel are blessed of the Lord, the true King and Priest, set forth in Moses and Aaron, and when they realise that it is through the sacrifice of Christ that they are blessed of God.

Three times over in the Book of Numbers the glory of the Lord appeared in times of crisis; when the people refused the good news concerning the land of promise, and were about to stone Moses, Joshua and Caleb (Num. 14:10); at the time of the rebellion of Korah (Num. 16:19); and when the people chode with Moses because of the lack of water (Num. 20:6). On the first occasion, the rebellion caused Moses and Aaron to fall on their faces before all the assembly, for the people "said one to another. Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Num. 14:4-5). God spoke of disinheriting Israel, but Moses interceded and they were spared, but Jehovah answered, "As I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (verse 21), and this will certainly be fulfilled under the reign of Christ.

As Israel behaved in the wilderness, so did they when they entered the land, the Book of Judges specially showing the awful failure of God's earthly people. Things had reached a very low ebb in the days of Eli, when the lamp of God went out at night, and the sons of Eli were rebellious and corrupt, inviting upon themselves and upon Israel the judgment of the holy God who had been so longsuffering with them. After being defeated by the Philistines, a chastisement from God, the people, the leaders of Israel and the priests were all involved in removing the ark of God from its resting place, and taking it into the battlefield without consulting their God. They looked upon the ark as a sacred charm, which they vainly imagined would enable them to defeat the hosts of the Philistines, but only to find that if God was not in all their thoughts, God would take the occasion to deal with His wayward people, and especially with the wickedness of the priests who had so gravely dishonoured His Name.

When the news of the defeat of Israel, the capture of the ark of God, and the death of Hophni and Phinehas reached Eli, he fell and died. On hearing the tidings, the wife of Phinehas gave birth to a child, and also died, but before she died she called the child Ichabod, saying, "The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken" (1 Sam. 4:17-22). After much long-suffering with the evil of His people, and with the sons of Eli, Jehovah allowed the enemy to take the ark, the symbol of His presence, but as the Philistines were soon to learn, God could safeguard His glory even in the midst of the enemies of His people.

God's Glory in the Temple

There are few mentions of God's glory between the time of its last appearance in the wilderness, as mentioned in Numbers 20, and its filling the temple in 1 Kings 8. Moses had recalled the appearance of the glory of God to Israel at Sinai (Deut. 5:24), Hannah had spoken of "the throne of glory" in her prayer (1 Sam. 2:8), and the wife of Phinehas had spoken of its departure with the capture of the ark by the Philistines. This solemn event of the ark being lost to Israel is again brought before us in Psalm 78, where idolatry is given as the reason for God acting. He "forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men; and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hand" (Ps. 78:58-61). The psalm confirms the discernment of the wife of Phinehas in pronouncing the departure of the glory.

Having forsaken Shiloh on account of the sins of His people, God chose David and then Solomon to sit upon the throne of Israel, and Solomon, acting on the desires divinely implanted in the heart of David, built the temple in Jerusalem for the God of Israel. When the temple had been completed, and the ark of God brought into its resting place, when the priests were come out of the holy place, "the 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 had filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:6-11). God's glory had returned into the midst of His people, but as when Moses pitched the tabernacle, no one could remain where the glory was, for under law there was no approach to God in His glory. Still, it was a day of gladness for Israel, and a memorable day in their history.

If there was pleasure for Israel in having God with them in His house in Jerusalem, there was also delight for the heart of Jehovah, even as it is written, "For the Lord hath chosen Zion: He hath desired it for His habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell: for I have desired it" (Psalm 132:13-14). In Psalm 29, David calls for glory to be given unto the Lord as he reviews His greatness as seen in the mighty thunder storms, then says, "and in His temple doth every one speak of His glory" (verse 9). It is one thing to see the glory of God in His acts in the creation, and another to know His glory as dwelling in the midst of His people.

Alas! the people of God with God's glory in His temple were no different from what they had been when the glory was in the tabernacle. The corruption of the. priests was prominent when the glory departed from the tent at Shiloh, and the corruption of the kings of Israel and Judah played a large part in causing the glory to depart from the house of God in Jerusalem. Solomon, who had built the temple, was the first of the kings to introduce idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-8), bringing upon himself and upon his people the anger of a holy and jealous God.

Because of Solomon's idolatry the kingdom was divided (1 Kings 11:11-13), and on its division, the first king to reign over the ten tribes introduced the worship of the golden calves, repeating the sin of Israel at the foot of Sinai. Jeroboam's successors were no better than he was, for they followed his idolatrous ways, and this brought about the captivity of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23). There were good kings in the line of David, but king Ahaz brought again idolatry among his people, and until the final judgment upon Judah, only the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah relieved the dark picture of wickedness against the God of Israel, who had with long patience waited upon the repentance of His people, which was refused Him. When there was no remedy but judgment, God brought the forces of the king of Babylon against Judah and led His people into captivity.

The departure of God's glory from the temple is solemnly narrated by the prophet Ezekiel, who was "among the captives by the river of Chebar" (Ezek. 1:1). Step by step the glory of God departs slowly from His house, seen in vision by the prophet, manifesting the reluctance of God to leave the midst of His people where He had dwelt. The glory left the holiest of all, and departed to "the threshold of the house" (Ezek. 9:3; Ezek. 10:4), then it departed from the threshold of the house, "and stood over the cherubims … at the door of the east gate of the Lord's house" (Ezek. 10:18-19), and the last sight of the divine glory at the time of its departure is when "the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city" (Ezek. 11:23). How good it was that the prophet in the opening chapter was able to record that "upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness of the appearance of a man," and that in His safekeeping was "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ezek. 1:26-28).

Can we not discern in the symbols given that the glory of God, which had been so gravely dishonoured by Israel, was secure in the Man of God's purpose in heaven? God's glory that is now seen in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), will yet return to fill the house of God on earth, and this the prophet sees in vision in Ezekiel 43:1-5. At the time of which Ezekiel writes, the glory will not only fill the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, but there will be the fulfilment of the Lord's words in Numbers 14:21, "As I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord."

The Glory of the Only-Begotten

If the glory of God departed from the temple when Israel and Judah were led captive, it came to earth again in the Person of the blessed Son of God. In Jesus the divine glory was not seen as Israel saw it at Sinai, nor as filling the tabernacle and the temple when no one could draw near, but it was manifested in the moral excellencies of the Son of God, and in the "glory as of an only begotten with a father" full of grace and truth. The natural man was unable to discern the divine glory, but the disciples of the Lord contemplated it (John 1:14), seeing by faith the divine glory that was hidden to natural eyes in the veil of His Manhood.

The cloud of the divine glory that Ezekiel had last seen, at the time of its departure, standing upon the mountain on the east side of the city, was seen by three of the Lord's disciples on the "holy mount" when Jesus was transfigured before them. There was the out-shining of the glory of the Son of Man in that wondrous spectacle, but there was also the cloud from which the Father's voice was heard, and into which Moses and Elias entered. Moses, when on earth, was not able to enter the tabernacle because of the presence of God's glory, but now, with Elias, he is able to enter into the cloud of glory (Luke 9:28-35). This was a preview of the coming kingdom of the Son of Man, when "He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26).

Alas! the divine glory, seen in its moral excellence in the Son of God, and the divine glory that was present in Him, but which only anointed eyes could see, like the glory of the tabernacle and the glory of the temple, was compelled to depart on account of the evil in God's earthly people, evil that rose to its height in the rejection and crucifixion of Him in whom all glory dwells. The same divine reluctance to leave His people as was manifested when the glory left in the days of Ezekiel, is seen in Jesus, as He says, "how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:34).

If the glory of God departed from the earth when Jesus was slain, it was seen soon after by Stephen when he looked up to heaven and said, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55-56). It was also seen by Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus, and it gave character to his preaching, as is seen in his letter to the Corinthians, especially in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.

Soon the glory will return, as predicted by the Lord in Luke 9:26, glory that will destroy His enemies (2 Thess. 1:7-9), and in which He will be admired in all them that believe. The divine glory will be displayed in the church in the millennial day, and also in the "world without end" (Rev. 21:10-11; Eph. 3:21). What was seen in the tabernacle will have its fulfilment when the tabernacle of God is with men (Rev. 21:3), for His original thought and desire were expressed when His glory filled the tabernacle.
Wm. C. Reid.