Behold his Glory

Behold his Glory

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The glory of God is an extremely important topic in Scripture. After pardoning Israel for the sin involving the golden calf, the LORD declared that the whole earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. (Numbers 14:21)  When the Tabernacle was completed (Exodus 40:34), and when the Ark was brought into Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:11), the glory of the LORD filled those places. Habakkuk prophesied that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14) Jesus asked the Father that His people might be with Him in heaven to behold His glory. (John 17:24) To what does the expression “the glory of God” refer? Before doing the research for this paper, I thought of the glory of God as solely a visible manifestation of splendor in a form such as a cloud, fire, or lightning, intended to inspire fear or awe. That effect was certainly accomplished but I have come to believe that another element was also in view. God desired to manifest certain aspects of His character or attributes as well. As we go through this study we will see something of how those goals were accomplished.

The act of glorifying God, sometimes referred to as giving God glory, is also a very important issue. David prayed that the whole earth would be filled with God’s glory (referring to glory given to Him) in Psalm 72:19. God said He would not share His glory (again meaning glory given to Him) with anyone else. (Isaiah 42:8) Herod was executed for not giving God glory. (Acts 12:23) Paul tells us that in whatever we do we should glorify God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) A few months ago, following an adult Sunday School class in which the topic of the glory of God and the responsibility of glorifying God were briefly discussed, a brother in the class asked me some questions about that subject. Primarily, his questions had to do with whether the responsibility to glorify God is an end in itself or a means to another end. Another way to put it would be: are we called to glorify God for His benefit alone or is the purpose to do so for the benefit of humans or are both purposes in view? Unquestioningly, God deserves to be glorified without having any other goal in view, but my goal is to see if there are other stated or implied goals that God had in mind in calling His people to glorify Him.

As briefly noted above, there are two basic senses in which the concept of the glory of God is used in the Bible. In the first sense it refers to one or more qualities that God possesses and manifests to others. In the second sense it refers to something others give Him. Obviously no one can add anything to God’s essence or attributes. What people can do is draw attention to His attributes or praise and worship Him in light of His attributes. This is often referred to as glorifying God. The purpose of this paper is to restudy the topics of “the glory of God” and “glorifying God” focusing attention especially on the questions addressed above. My plan is to examine what the Bible has to say about these two senses first in the Old Testament and then in the New. The Old Testament section will be divided into three sections. The first section will deal with manifestations of the glory of God in history. The second will deal with prophecies of future manifestations of God’s glory. The third section will deal with passages that speak about the matter of glorifying God.

We will begin by looking at uses of the phrase in the first sense in the Old Testament. As we carefully examine these passages in their contexts we will try to determine the purpose(s) God had in mind in each case. Although I am convinced that God’s glory is manifested in many places throughout Scripture, I will limit my survey to those passages where the glory of God is explicitly mentioned. Rather than looking at all of the pertinent passages in the order in which they appear in Scripture, we will examine them in more of a topical sequence grouping the passages according to the similarities between them and the apparent purposes God had in mind for manifesting His glory in each case.

Historical Manifestations of God’s glory in the OT and what they teach

The glory of God and the provision for the physical needs of His people

We will begin with passages in the Bible that refer to the glory of God being manifested in response to Israel’s need for food and water on their journey from Egypt through the wilderness to Canaan in Exodus and Numbers. Not long after the record of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea, we read (in Exodus 16:1-3) that the nation began to grumble against Moses and Aaron because they lacked food. In response to this verbal attack, having heard God’s promise to meet their need, Moses and Aaron told the people, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. … And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full …. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”” (Exodus 16:6–12, ESV)

The glory of God is referred to twice in this passage. In verse 7, Moses and Aaron told the people that they would see the glory of the LORD in the morning. In verse 8, Moses said they would have “bread to the full” in the morning, and in verse 12, the LORD, Himself, said the same thing. However, in verses 13-16, in the record of the people gathering the manna in the morning we read nothing about a manifestation of the glory of God then. Unless Moses was wrong about their seeing the glory of God in the morning or unless they saw it but it was not recorded, the only conclusion I can come to is that when the nation saw God’s provision in the manna they were seeing a sort of covert manifestation of the glory of God. What they saw was God providing for their material needs. The second mention of the glory of God in this passage is in verse 10, when the LORD “appeared in the cloud” and told Moses what is recorded in verse 12, referred to above. In this case the glory of God appeared overtly to the entire nation as He spoke to Moses. God’s glory was seen overtly in the presence of the cloud (verses 10-12) as He declared the way He would provide food for them and covertly in the morning when He actually provided it. In this and the following instances when the glory of God appeared, I would think that an underlying purpose was to remind Israel of His “awful” majesty and splendor so that they would not treat Him with disrespect.

The stated purpose for God’s provision of the nation’s physical needs was that they might know that He was the LORD their God. As a result of the plagues of the Exodus and what they had seen up to this point the nation knew to some degree that the LORD was their God, but they needed to know that in a greater degree. They knew Him as deliverer, but they needed also to know Him as daily provider. Today it is easy for us to take for granted the supply of our daily needs and not to make the connection between our food and the One who ultimately provides it. Our food comes from the grocery store. They get it from companies that supply them. Those companies get the materials from growers. The growers get the materials from God. Israel needed to recognize that the source of their daily sustenance was the LORD their God. In order to teach them that lesson God allowed the nation to be in need of food and water. He did this to make very evident the fact that He was supplying those needs. He did it to demonstrate that He was the LORD their God. The purpose for the revelation of God’s glory in this case seems to have been to demonstrate His faithfulness shown by His provision of their needs. They were manifestations of God’s glory displaying His faithfulness by providing food for them.  

The next instance of the glory of God appearing in connection with His provision for their needs comes in Numbers 20. After the death of Miriam, there was no water for the congregation and they complained to Moses and Aaron. “Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”” (Numbers 20:6–8, ESV) God’s glory appeared here in the process of telling Moses what to do to provide water for the people. As in the situation where God provided manna and quail, the purpose for the revelation of God’s glory in this case seems to have been to reassure Moses and the entire nation of His faithfulness by the provision of Israel’s needs. Thus, the primary purpose for the manifestation was to benefit Moses and Israel.

The glory of God and the Tabernacle and Temple

The next reference to the glory of God that we will consider comes near the end of Exodus 29. Verses 1-35 of that chapter describe the ceremony by which the priests were to be consecrated for their service. Verses 36-37 describe the manner in which the altar was to be consecrated. Verses 38-42a describe the daily offerings that were to be presented to the LORD. Referring to the sacrifice to be offered on the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting, verses 42-43 read: “It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.” (Exodus 29:42–43, ESV) The place where God would meet with His people in a special way (the Tabernacle and the Temple) would be set apart (sanctified) by the act of God revealing His glory in those places in a special visible way. I believe that there was an initial fulfillment of this promise in Ex.40:34-38. Exodus 40:1-33 records the construction of the Tabernacle and its erection in preparation for its function. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34–35, ESV) Here again, the purpose of the revelation of God’s glory is not stated, but coming where and how it does, I think it is clear that the purpose was to show that God was “taking up His residence” in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, placing His stamp of approval on them and indicating His willingness to manifest His presence there.  There were continuing fulfillments of the same kind in relation to the Temple in 1 Kings 8:11 & 2 Chron. 5:14 & 7:1-3. The purpose God had in mind is not expressly stated, but I think we can reasonably infer the purpose. God is spirit. He had forbidden any physical representation of Himself. How would one construct anything that would represent a spirit anyway? It is impossible to give an accurate representation of God in any physical form. How would the nation know that God had “taken up residence in their midst? They would know it by His glory filling the place in the form of a cloud of smoke, and that is exactly what happened. Here again, the implied purpose of the manifestation of God’s glory was for the benefit of the nation, to assure them that God was “living” in their midst. WE see a New Testament parallel in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We do not see Him, but His fruit is visible. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV)

Further fulfillment of the promise given in Exodus 29:42-43 can be seen in the next appearance of the glory of the LORD. It is a record of Aaron being installed as a priest and the events surrounding that act. How would the people know that Aaron was approved by God to be the High Priest for the nation? How could they be assured that his taking of this office was not simply a matter of Aaron’s and Moses’ deciding that this would be the case? Later, the authority of both of them was questioned, so now when all of the ceremonial system was being inaugurated, how would they know that the authority they had had been given by God rather than taken by men?  After God gave instructions about the kinds of offerings to be presented to the LORD, the whole congregation drew near, and Moses addressed the nation saying, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”” (Leviticus 9:6, ESV) After Aaron fulfilled the command of the LORD by offering the prescribed sacrifices, we read, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:23–24, ESV) As when the Tabernacle was filled with the glory of God to signify God’s approval of it, I believe the appearance of the glory of the LORD here was intended to show that the Lord had approved of Aaron’s being consecrated as High Priest. God’s acceptance of the sacrifices was signified by the fire that came out from the  LORD consuming the burnt offering (and possibly reminding all the people that He was a consuming fire as well). Here again, this manifestation of His glory was for the benefit of Israel, demonstrating His approval, but doing so in a way that would also manifest His holiness and power.

The glory of God and sin

The appearance of God’s glory that we will now consider is found in Num. 14 when the spies had returned from the land and given their report. When the people heard what the 10 spies had to say, that there were giants in the land and that Israel would never be able to defeat the inhabitants, the people wanted to kill Moses and Aaron. “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.” (Numbers 14:10, ESV) In the following verses God further spelled out the punishment He would inflict upon the unbelievers when He told Moses (Numbers 14:28–34, ESV) that everyone twenty years old and above (except for Joshua and Caleb) would die in the wilderness but their children would live to enter the land. Clearly one purpose for this manifestation of God’s glory was to stop the people from stoning Moses and Aaron, but another was to pronounce judgment on rebellious unbelief.

This same attribute was displayed again just two chapters later. Korah, Dathan and Abiram objected to the leadership of the nation being confined to Moses and Aaron. “Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation.” (Numbers 16:19, ESV) After God punished the rebels with death, the congregation blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths and were ready to kill them. “And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces.” (Numbers 16:42–45, ESV) Moses then instructed Aaron to take his censor and make atonement for the people. Still, 14,700 people died besides Korah and his crew. God manifested His glory to protect Moses and Aaron again and also as part of an act of judgment on the rebellious people. He is literally a consuming fire. In both of these instances the purpose for revealing His glory was to deal with sin. He prevented harm from coming to Moses and Aaron and also executed judgment on unbelievers. In these cases as well, God manifested His glory for the effect it had on people. Moses and Aaron were rescued and others were condemned.

The glory of God and the commissioning of His servants

We will now consider the appearance of the glory of God in connection with the commissioning of Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel for the service God called them to fulfill. After Moses had been given the instructions for the design of the Tabernacle in chapters 25-31, we have the record of the sin with the golden calf in chapter 32. Chapter 33 begins with God instructing Moses to begin the trip to the Promised Land with the notation that God Himself would not go with them. In response to Moses’ intercession for the nation, pleading with God to forgive them, God relented and agreed to accompany the nation Himself. At that point, in verse 18, Moses makes an interesting request. “Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”” (Exodus 33:18, ESV) Moses had seen God’s glory already. Why does he make this request again? Perhaps, in light if the immediately preceding verses Moses wants a fresh revelation of God’s character, or perhaps he wants to have a more intimate relationship with Him. Whatever Moses’ specific intention may have been, surely the overall goal was that Moses knew he needed to be equipped for the ministry that God was assigning to him. God’s response sheds light upon the aspects of His character that were revealed in this manifestation of His glory. In direct response to Moses’ request to be shown His glory, God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”” (Exodus 33:18–23, ESV) In 34:5-7, as the LORD passed by He proclaimed some of His attributes, specifically His gracious willingness to forgive sin but also His determination to judge sin. Moses “saw” God’s glory, not with his physical eyes but with the “eyes” of his understanding. God is just (determined to punish sin) but also gracious (willing to forgive sin when there is repentance). The purpose for this appearance is not stated, but the context leads me to believe that its purpose was to prepare Moses for the challenging task that God had assigned to him for Israel would sin repeatedly and need to experience God’s forgiveness. This conclusion receives strong support from an incident mentioned above in Numbers 14, when the nation believed the ten spies’ report stating that they would not be able to conquer the inhabitants of Canaan. When God threatened to wipe out the nation (14:12), Moses used the very words of this text to urge the Lord to relent and not destroy the nation (14:17-18). I believe it also led the way for Moses to plead with God to go with His people and forgive their sin. “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”” (Exodus 34:8–9, ESV) On more than one occasion Moses would need to remember that God was holy and just but also gracious. This revelation of God’s glory was a profound benefit for Moses.

 This manifestation of God’s glory to equip Moses for the work that lay before him has at least two other parallel situations. One concerns Isaiah and the other concerns Ezekiel. We will first examine the record of Isaiah. Although the text of Isaiah does not say that Isaiah saw God’s glory, John tells us that is so. “For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:39–41, ESV) What did Isaiah see when he beheld God’s  glory and what was God’s goal in that revelation (interestingly, in context, John was specifically referring to Jesus, not the Father)? The text reads as follows: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”[We will come back to this last statement later in this paper.] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1–4, ESV)

There were three aspects of Isaiah’s response to this revelation of God’s glory. First, he was aware of his sin as he saw the holiness of God. “And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV) Isaiah saw the utter hopeless peril of his situation. He was as good as dead! Second, God cleansed and forgave him. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”” (Isaiah 6:6–7, ESV) He was no longer a “dead” man. Third, God commissioned him to be His messenger. “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” (Isaiah 6:8–9, ESV)

The form in which Isaiah saw the glory of God was different from what Moses saw. Isaiah saw the glory of God in the form of a mighty king. He was “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” He was surrounded by His “court.” What was God’s goal in revealing His glory to Isaiah in this form? Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four kings. “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1, ESV) He was called in the year that King Uzziah died (Isaiah 1:1) so he had little or no opportunity to minister to him. We know of no connection between Isaiah and Jotham. We do know that Isaiah ministered directly both to King Ahaz (Isaiah 7) and King Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-39). In order for Isaiah to have the courage to tell kings what they should and should not do, he needed to have it firmly fixed in his mind that the God who directed him to do this was the King above all kings. There was no comparison between the majesty and splendor of the King of kings and any earthly monarch. Isaiah could tell Ahaz and Hezekiah that they need not fear other earthly kings because of the promise of the LORD. He could even pronounce God’s judgement on their wrong behavior because the LORD was sovereign over all. Isaiah benefitted greatly from this manifestation of God’s glory by equipping him for his specific ministry.

References to the glory of God in Ezekiel are much more numerous than in any of the other OT books. For that reason we will devote more space to review his contributions to this study. We will begin by examining his description of the glory of God as he saw it. Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God was different from either that of Moses or Isaiah. What he saw was very strange. In verses 4-28 of chapter one, we read a description of what he saw. It included a sort of chariot with four “living creatures,” each one being composed partly of human and animal parts. When they flew they made a very loud noise. The wheels of the chariot had other wheels within them. Above the chariot was an expanse. Above it was a sapphire-like throne on which sat someone that looked like a human except that he was brilliant. We are explicitly told that it involved a vision of the glory of God. “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:28, ESV) In the next verses we have a record of Ezekiel’s call/commission. “And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.” (Ezekiel 2:1–3, ESV) Then a few verses later we read words of comfort and a repetition of the commission. “And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:6–7, ESV)

Why did God reveal His glory in such a strange fashion in the process of calling Ezekiel? Of all of the writing prophets Ezekiel was instructed to do the strangest acts as visual messages to the nation of Israel. He was told to cut a hole in the side of his house and carry through that hole various items. He was told to cut his hair with a sword. He was told to cook food using dung as the fuel. He was told to lie on one side for many days and then on the other side for many days. He was told that God would take his beloved wife from him but he was not to mourn. I believe God prepared Ezekiel for this strange ministry by revealing His glory to him in a very strange way.

The glory of God and the fear of God

The next passage we will consider is Ex. 24:16-17 which comes after Moses had received the stipulations of the covenant in chapters 20-23. Having heard the stipulations of the covenant (24:3), the people agreed to obey all of them. What followed was a ceremony in which the covenant was ratified by the nation (24:4-11). After that ceremony was completed, the LORD invited Moses to come back up the mountain where He would give him the stone tablets on which He had written the commandments for the nation (24:12). Moses and Joshua went up but the elders and Aaron and Hur remained on the plain to deal with any problems that would arise (24:13-14). Moses went up and a cloud covered the mountain (24:15). Then, “The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst 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, ESV) We are not left in doubt about the effect this had on the people, for Moses tells us later exactly what that effect was. Near the end of his life Moses reminded the people of their response to that manifestation of God’s glory. “And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’” (Deuteronomy 5:24–27, ESV) God’s purpose was to impress upon the nation His holiness, but that is not all. In the incident recorded in Exodus 24:16-17, the appearance of the glory was described as “like a devouring fire.” Although it was possible for people to hear the voice of God, those people must never lose sight of His holiness, represented by the glory of God appearing “like a devouring fire.”  God revealed that He was holy as He manifested His glory on Mt. Sinai. This manifestation of His glory was also for the benefit of His people. It was for their protection.

God’s holiness should also inspire fear from Gentile nations. Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy against Sidon. “Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the Lord when I execute judgments in her and manifest my holiness in her; for I will send pestilence into her, and blood into her streets; and the slain shall fall in her midst, by the sword that is against her on every side. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 28:22–23, ESV) This manifestation of God’s glory was designed for their benefit to make the Sidonians know that the LORD is God. It would be a painful lesson but it would teach them truth from which they could profit if they were willing to heed it.

The glory of God and the spiritual vitality to His people

David speaks of the manifestation of God’s glory in the Tabernacle: “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” (Psalm 26:8, ESV) David’s mind is drawn back to those times when his soul has been refreshed as he worshipped the Lord and beheld the powerful manifestation of God’s power and majesty [in the shekinah?]. Another passage reveals a similar sentiment: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” (Psalm 63:1–2, ESV) In this wonderful psalm of praise David recalls times when he has seen the manifestation of God’s glory in the Tabernacle, and he expresses his intense longing to do so again. David knew the truth of a hymn that would not be written for centuries: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Obviously these manifestations of God’s glory powerfully benefited people.

The glory of God and the inspiration of awe in His people

Psalm 113 extolls the greatness of God by saying: “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” (Psalm 113:4, ESV) It is not enough to say that the heavens declare His glory, wonderful as that is, for here we read that His glory is even above them! God seems to have granted David a vision of a day when God’s glory would be recognized. Of that day he wrote: “All the kings of the earth… shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.” (Psalm 138:4-5, ESV)  This is consistent with the fact (noted earlier in this paper) that Isaiah learned of God’s majesty in his encounter with the Lord when he was called. As a part of his call to be a prophet of the Lord, Isaiah received a vision of the LORD sitting upon His throne. In that vision Isaiah saw seraphim above Him calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”” (Isaiah 6:3, ESV) The seraphim were aware of what mere humans did not see. The whole earth was filled with the glory of God. His majestic splendor was (and is) everywhere but people did (and do) not recognize it. A day will come when His majestic splendor will be recognized universally.

The glory of God leaves the Temple (and His people)

Ezekiel’s record of the glory of God, which we saw above, is not limited to its appearance there. He also speaks about the activity of the glory of God. After the record of his original call/commission, Ezekiel was led by the glory of the LORD to the exiles to which he would minister (cf. 3:15). “Then a wind lifted me up and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me as the glory of the Lord rose from its place,” (Ezekiel 3:12, NET) After being told that he was to be a watchman to the house of Israel (3:16-21), Ezekiel was told to go out into the valley where God would speak to him (3:22).  “So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 3:23, ESV) This verse seems to describe what Ezekiel was to do in preparation for receiving the next instructions he would from the LORD telling him what he was to say and do next. The next few chapters describe the abominations that were being committed in the Temple and the judgements that would come because of them. In the midst of the descriptions of those abominations we read this brief statement without commentary: “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.” (Ezekiel 8:4, ESV) I think the reason why this verse is inserted in this location is to emphasize the heinousness of the sins being committed. The abominations described were being committed in the Temple building in the very presence of a manifestation of the glory of God! This prepares us for what comes next. For only a few verses later we read, “Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house.” (Ezekiel 9:3a, ESV)  This verse describes the movement of the glory of the LORD to the threshold of the Temple from which he gave instructions for the execution of the multitudes of people who had been involved in the idolatry and abominations committed in the Temple.  The next mention of the glory of God is in a verse that seems to describe the action of the glory moving from above the cherubim in the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the Temple (house) in preparation for leaving the Temple. Before leaving, His glory fills the Temple so that when He leaves His absence will be even more obvious. It is as though He is saying a powerful “Goodbye.” “And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 10:4, ESV) The next step is for the glory of God to ascend to His chariot. “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.” (Ezekiel 10:18–19, ESV) The final step is for Him to go out of the city. “Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.” (Ezekiel 11:22–23, ESV) It is not until the last section of the book that we encounter the glory of the LORD again. These verses prophesy the return of the glory of God to the Temple. Since they are dealing with eschatology, they will be considered in the next section. These verses which describe the glory of God leaving the Temple were for the benefit of His people. They needed to see the consequences of their sin.

In each one of these historical manifestations of the glory of God we can see that at least one of the purposes was to minister in some way to His people. In no case was His glory manifested just to impress or for the sake of making a display. Even now as we get glimpses of the glory of God being manifested in His word or His works we are blessed, encouraged, inspired and convicted.

Eschatological references to God’s glory prophesied in the OT

The glory of God will return to the Temple

We will now look at prophecies regarding the glory of the LORD that will be fulfilled in the future. The most dramatic prophecy dealing with the glory of God is that recorded by Ezekiel about a vision the Lord gave him describing the return of the glory of God to the Temple a manner resembling the way in which it left. “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.” (Ezekiel 43:2, ESV) “As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (Ezekiel 43:4–5, ESV) “Like several other visions in Ezekiel, this vision (43:1–5) is followed by an interpretation (43:6–12). As the glory of God filled the tabernacle after its construction at the beginning of Israel’s history (Exod 40:34–38), and as it filled the temple following its construction by Solomon (1 Kgs 8:10–11), so Ezekiel was assured in a vision that once again God’s glory will reside with Israel. As the exiles despaired at the departure of God’s glory in Ezekiel’s vision, a departure confirmed by the destruction of the temple, so Israel had once before despaired when the Philistines took the ark and Eli and his sons all died. Eli’s daughter-in-law named her son Ichabod, which meant “no glory” (1 Sam 4:19–22). But as the ark and the glory were restored when the Davidic covenant was revealed to David (2 Sam 6–7) and confirmed in the building of the temple (2 Sam 7:12–13; 1 Kgs 8:10–11), so will the glory of the Lord be restored to the new temple in the messianic age when the Davidic covenant is completely fulfilled.”[1] “Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. And I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 44:4, ESV)

 The glory of God will be universally manifested

In several passages Isaiah prophesies that various people will see the manifestation of God’s glory. “Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.” (Isaiah 24:23, ESV) In a passage apparently addressed to Israel of the future, we read, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1, ESV)  “When the glory of God appears (60:1), the light from the sun and moon will be irrelevant because it will pale in comparison to the glorious everlasting light from God. Thus the physical powers that God ordained to rule over the day and night will lose their role. The white light of the moon will be so weak that the moon will be put to shame. Even the bright burning hot sun’s light will be an embarrassment when compared to the God’s glory.”[2]

In another passage where Isaiah alludes to the enemies of the LORD, he writes regarding them: “So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west  And His glory from the rising of the sun, For He will come like a rushing stream Which the wind of the Lord drives.” (Isaiah 59:19, NASB95) “This divine judgment will cause people all over the world (from the setting of the sun to the rising of the sun) to fear the name and glory of God (59:19). At that time when the Lord brings forth his judgment on the wicked, he will also cause his glory to fill the earth … and bring his salvation to all people. The wicked will fear God’s name because of his wrath, but the righteous will revere God’s name because they will see the glory of the Holy One (6:3; 57:15).”[3]

In Isaiah’s day God’s glory filled the earth (and has done so ever since the creation of the universe), but it is veiled so only a few can see it. One day the veil will be lifted, and all will see His glory. For example, two passages from the Psalms describe a day very different from anything that has ever occurred in human history up to the present time. The author of Psalm 97 saw a day when God’s glory will be seen by all as His power is overtly manifested by clouds and thick darkness (vs. 2), fire and lightning (vss. 3-4), and mountains melting (vs. 5). The results of those manifestations will be:  “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6, ESV) When that day comes, all the peoples, not just one nation, will see God’s glory.  The writer of Psalm 102 described a similar time: “Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the Lord builds up Zion; he appears in his glory.” (Psalm 102:15–16, ESV) In that day the glory of God will be so overwhelming in its majesty that even the kings (those highest on the social scale), all of them, will fear His glory. That has not yet occurred.

In the opening verses of the second major section of Isaiah’s prophecy, as he describes a time when the LORD will come to His people, he prophesied a day when His glory will be visible to all. He wrote: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”” (Isaiah 40:5, ESV) “The announcement that people will see the glory of God does not seem to refer to people seeing the glory of God in some general way; for example, by observing his glorious deeds in history (24:15; 25:3; 41:16; 42:12) or by seeing his glory in nature (Ps 19:1–2). Instead, the good news is that all flesh will actually view with their physical eyes the majestic glory of God himself (40:5; 60:1–3). This announcement seems to require a great theophany appearance that will be universally visible, if all flesh will see it.”[4]

A description of the universal manifestation of the glory of God is also found in Habakkuk. In the middle of a series of five woes pronounced against the Chaldeans for their treatment of Israel, Habakkuk inserts this brief refrain: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV) The knowledge of His glory will not only be present but it will be unignorable. It will be as overwhelming as the waters cover the sea.

The effects of the universal manifestation of God’s glory

What effects will occur when the glory of God is manifested in this way? In several places Isaiah gives us part of the answer to that question. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isaiah 35:1–2, ESV) In verses 3-4 Isaiah exhorts his people to take courage because God is going to come bringing justice. Then, in the remainder of the chapter he describes blessings that will accompany this revelation of God’s glory. They will include the blind being given sight, the deaf being able to hear, the lame being able to leap, the mute being able to sing, and the desert having abundant water.

 “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8, ESV) “The second half of 58:8 appears to allude to what the prophet has already said in 52:12b, where it promises that God will go before and after his people, gathering them up in one place so that he can deliver the children of Israel from Pharaoh’s great army at the Red Sea (Exod 14:19–20). This is a metaphor of his guidance before them and safety, protection, and security behind them…. It appears that both 52:12 and 58:8 refer to God’s eschatological protection of his people. God’s “righteous presence” (ṣedeq) and glory will surround these people.”[5] In other words, when the day comes when God’s people turn to Him in repentance, His glory will protect them from their enemies.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1–2, ESV) “The bright light that is connected to the appearance of God’s glory (58:8; 59:19–20; 60:1) is also a symbol of God’s salvation (9:1–2; 58:8; 59:9; Ps 27:1). The light of the glory of God is called “your (second feminine singular) light” (also in 58:8, 10) because this divine appearance of God is for the benefit of the righteous people of Zion. Isaiah 40:3–5, 10–11 also predicted the coming of the glory of God with power, ruling the earth, and tenderly caring for his sheep. This will be the time when God reigns and restores Jerusalem (cf. 52:7–9).”[6]

Ezekiel adds more information about the effects that will occur in the future. In the midst of an oracle against Gog (Ezekiel 39:1) describing God’s actions in judgment, the Lord says that after Gog’s army is slain, and “For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and it will bring them renown on the day that I show my glory, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 39:12–13, ESV)  “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them.” (Ezekiel 39:21, ESV) The timing of the fulfillment of this prophecy is not clearly spelled out, but the certainty of its fulfillment is not in doubt.

OT Glorify

We will now look at passages in the Old Testament where the second sense of the glory of God is found, that is, references to the responses people are to have to God, giving Him glory or glorifying Him. Obviously no one can add anything to God’s essence or attributes. What people can do is draw attention to His attributes or praise and worship Him in light of His attributes. They can declare His glory or they can ascribe/give, glory to Him. We find an instance of this early in Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land.

The first passage I would like to examine in this section comes early in Israel’s history. It is a brief prophetic statement about the glory of God in Numbers 14:21 that we looked at above in a different connection. It is translated a bit differently in various translations. The ESV and the NIV84 translate verses 21-23 similarly to each other. ESV reads: “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23, ESV) The ESV and NIV84 see the prophecy of the future revelation of the glory of the LORD as a correlative parallel with “as I live” providing two guarantees for the certainty that those who did not trust the LORD would die in the wilderness. NASB, NET and AV translate the verses similarly to each other. The NET Bible reads: “But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23, NET) This translation sees only one guarantee (the life of God) for the future fulfillment of the prophecy and the prophecy is that the earth will be filled with God’s glory. The statement that those who did not trust the LORD would die in the wilderness stands by itself. In either case, whether the earth being filled with the glory of the LORD is part of the guarantee or the thing being guaranteed, the certainty of the fact that all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD is being clearly asserted. God is determined that this will occur.[7]

Perhaps with that prediction in mind, in Psalm 72 Solomon mixes prayers for God to bless the (Messianic?) king with descriptions of what his reign will be like. He ends the Psalm with these words. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!” (Psalm 72:18–19, ESV) I take the last phrase to be a wish/prayer that what God had promised in Numbers 14:21 would be fulfilled.  Was that prayer fulfilled in Isaiah’s day when the seraphim declared, “the whole earth is full of his glory”? No, because the descriptions of the day when that will occur do not fit Isaiah’s day as we will see.

Examples of giving glory to God

By people confessing sin

After Israel conquered Jericho and then was repulsed in their attempt to defeat Ai, Joshua cried out to the LORD asking for the reason for this disaster. “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”” (Joshua 7:6–9, ESV) Joshua is accusing God of bringing the nation into the wilderness to kill them. He then asks how this will affect God’s name or reputation. Joshua is then told that the reason Israel was defeated was that they had sinned. It was then determined by lot that the fault lay with Achan, who was summoned to Joshua. “Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”” (Joshua 7:19, ESV) Joshua was calling Achan to give glory (honor) to God by confessing his sin. Until he did so, God was being blamed for unjust treatment of Israel. When Achan confessed his sin, he was blamed (and punished) for what he did and God was vindicated. God was given glory in that He was shown to be just. What God did was right. This was a great benefit to the people of Israel for they would be more easily able to trust the LORD’s faithfulness. As long as Joshua and the nation did not know why God had not enabled them to conquer Ai, they were in danger of thinking that God was not being faithful to His word. When Achan confessed his sin and the nation understood the reason why they had been defeated, their confidence in God’s faithfulness was restored. Giving God glory in this instance brought about the difference between Joshua and Israel believing in God’s faithfulness or doubting it. The goal was to benefit people.

By nature simply behaving normally

David wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, ESV) Verses 2-6 continue to expound the ways in which the heavens declare His glory. In this case, it looks to me like the first sense (manifestation) blends with the second (response). Their testimony (response) to His glory (manifestation) is continuous (“day to day” and “night to night”) and universally observable (“through all the earth” and “to the end of the world”). Paul makes it very clear in Romans 1 that God designed nature to bear testimony to God’s existence and power. He did so for mankind’s benefit.

Exhortations to glorify God

Israel and all nations are exhorted to glorify God

We will now examine some passages in which there are exhortations to glorify God by declaring His glory or ascribing glory to Him. In each of the next few sections different beings are called upon to do those very things. There are different purposes given in each of these examples. When David successfully reinstalled the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle in Jerusalem after having been in Philistine hands and then in Kiriath-jearim for many years, a great song of praise was sung about the LORD. After reviewing demonstrations of God’s faithfulness and love to His people, this admonition is written apparently to Israel:  “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:24, ESV) The stated reasons are: “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (1 Chronicles 16:25–27, ESV) Psalm 96 repeats the very same sentiments for the same reasons. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:3–8, ESV)

God’s glory ought to be declared “among all nations” for three reasons. First, He deserves it. He alone is God. He is the one who made the heavens! Because the LORD is who He is, the next two verses say that everyone should acknowledge that fact. “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (1 Chronicles 16:28–29, ESV) The second reason why His glory should be declared among the nations is that the gods which the nations worship are worthless. That fact was powerfully demonstrated by what God did to the Philistines when they captured the Ark (1 Samuel 5). Worship or loyalty or obedience to any other god is a total waste of time and effort, not to mention the fact that it dishonors God. If the nations are to come to know the true God, those who know Him must tell them what He is like. His glory must be declared to them. They must ascribe to Him the glory that is due to His great name. The third reason is that the LORD is coming to judge the earth (1 Chronicles 16:33b; Psalm 96:13). Those who have served false gods will be judged. Thus, in this case we can see that the exhortations to declare God’s glory and to ascribe glory to Him (both being other terms for glorifying Him) are for the benefit of people. They need to know Him and be right with Him since judgment is coming. Although the first of these three reasons is tied to God alone, two of these three reasons are directly related to benefitting people.

Jeremiah utters a similar call to the nation of Israel. “Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.” (Jeremiah 13:16, ESV) This verse comes near the beginning of a song in which Jeremiah is pleading with his people to turn back to the Lord lest they end up in exile. “The statement “Give glory to the LORD your God” is an OT idiom for “Confess your sins” (cf. Josh 7:19; John 9:24). To do so would avert the evil about to come on the nation.”[8]  They were exhorted to glorify God in order to avoid judgment.

Heavenly beings are called to glorify God

Psalm 29 echoes the very same phrases which were used above in 1 Chronicles 16 and Psalm 96 referred to above but this time the addressees are different. “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:1–2, ESV) In this case, however, it is not the families of the earth or the nations that are called to glorify Him but rather “heavenly beings.” Not only are humans to glorify God but the angels are to as well. The body of the Psalm extols the mighty power of God over nature. It does so in two ways. First, it does so by naming some of the elements in nature over which He exercises His power. Then, it does so by stating that the instrument by which He exercises His power is simply His voice. He just speaks and the waters (29:3), the mountains (29:6), lightning (29:7), and the wilderness (29:8) all obey His bidding. The conclusion of the Psalm tells us the value of all of this for His people: “The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11, NASB95) The angels are called to glorify the LORD because of His mighty power demonstrated by His deeds. The purpose for all of this is to reassure His people that this almighty God will give strength to His people and bless them with peace.

A prophecy of all the nations glorifying God

Interestingly, David wrote a Psalm in which he was moved to prophesy a day when all the nations will glorify God, thereby fulfilling the desire he had expressed in 1 Chronicles 16.  “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” (Psalm 86:9, ESV) Earlier in that Psalm David had lamented the fact that he was needy and afflicted. As He pleaded with God for help he remembered God’s character (vss. 5, 8, 10) and used that a basis for his prayer for deliverance (vss. 2-4 & 6-7). Part of his recollection of God’s character included the knowledge that the Lord alone was God (vs. 10).  For that reason he knew that in the future all the nations that He has made will one day glorify Him (vs. 9). No purpose for glorifying God is given in the context of this passage. That is not the reason why it is mentioned here. It is mentioned because all of the nations glorifying God will be a characteristic of the time when the Lord reigns supreme, when the world will be as it should be. That awareness of God’s sovereignty strengthened David‘s trust in God for his immediate needs. With that in mind, David asked God to enable him to be obedient. He then promised to glorify God’s name because of His deliverance.  “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:12, ESV) In both of these cases in Psalm 86 the fact that God is glorified is not a means to an end but rather an end in itself. It is a description of a time when the Messiah reigns and when things are as they ought to be. That will be a wonderful time for all of God’s creation.

Prayers that God would glorify Himself and a wish for Him to be glorified

A Psalm that expresses the desire that God would be glorified, this time by Himself, is Psalm 115. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1, ESV) This desire is in preparation for the rest of the Psalm. The Psalmist is not going to ask that he or his people should receive glory. They do not deserve it. The Lord does. Verses 3-8 of this Psalm give reasons why He deserves to be glorified. First, He is completely sovereign (3b). Conversely, the idols worshipped by others are lifeless. Idolatry is utterly foolish. Having demonstrated the inability of idols to do anything, the Psalmist then calls Israel to trust in the LORD (vss. 9-15). He closes with an assertion that he and his fellows will bless the LORD forever (vss. 16-18). The reason for this request, that God would glorify Himself, is simply the fact that God alone deserves this glory because of His character.

Another prayer to that end is the refrain seen twice in Psalm 57:5 & 11. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (ESV) The superscription of this Psalm tells us it was written by David when he fled from Saul in the cave.   Verses 1-4 and 6-10 of this Psalm contain cries for God to deliver David from his enemies interspersed with expressions of trust in God’s faithfulness. Both of these sections conclude with an expression of desire that God’s glory would be over all the earth. It seems to be as though as David thinks of his immediate need for deliverance his mind goes to a future time when such deliverance will no longer be necessary, and he expresses his desire for that day to come. The very same refrain is found in Psalm 108:5 as David prays that the Lord of all the earth would fulfill His covenant promises to him (vss. 6-9). I think the motivation for David’s desire for God’s glory to be over all the earth here is because he knows that when that occurs, David will no longer need to fear his adversaries.

In a similar vein, another Psalm expresses a desire for God’s glory to endure forever. “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (Psalm 104:31, ESV) This wish comes near the end of a Psalm which extolls the LORD for all of His works in nature. In this case the desire for God to be glorified is an end in itself. It is simply right that the One who controls all of the forces of nature and cares for all of the plants and animals should receive the credit that is His due.

The importance of God being glorified

The act of glorifying God was so important that it was a basis on which prayer was offered. “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” (Psalm 79:9, ESV) In verses 1-7, the Psalmist laments the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of her enemies and pleads with God to for deliverance. Next in verse 8, he asks God to forget her former sins.  Then in verse 9, he calls out to the Lord as the “God of our salvation” and asks Him to deliver the nation for the glory of His name. In this case the glory of God itself is the goal. Asaph, whom the superscription names as the author, knows that God’s glorification is important to Him so he uses it as a motivation in his request.

Another indication of just how important it is to God that He receives the glory (the response of praise, adoration, worship, credit) He deserves can be seen from two passages in Isaiah. In Isaiah 48:3-5, the Lord reminded His people that He had prophesied various actions before they came to pass and then He fulfilled what He had promised so that His people would not give credit for those acts to idols but realize that the LORD had caused them. He did this because He knew that His people were obstinate. Then, in verses 6-8 the LORD says He is going to do the same kind of thing again. He is going to prophesy and then bring to pass what He has said would happen. Again the reason for His actions is that He knows how treacherous the nation is. In verses 9-11, the LORD explains that He has restrained His anger so that the nation has been refined but not destroyed. He has done this for His own sake so that His name would not be profaned. He refuses to allow another to have His glory. “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11, ESV) Obviously, God’s glory here is an end, but the remainder of the chapter is composed of God’s plea to His people to repent of their sin and return to Him which I believe is the ultimate goal of the passage.  Notice the following verses. ““Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.” (Isaiah 48:12, ESV) ““Assemble, all of you, and listen!” (Isaiah 48:14, ESV) “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;” (Isaiah 48:18, ESV) When God refuses to give His glory to another in this passage, the ultimate purpose is to call His people to return to Him.  It was for the benefit of His people.

Isaiah 42 provides another indication of the importance of glorifying God. In Isaiah 42: 5-7, the LORD, the Creator of all (vs. 5) prophesies what He is going to do with His Servant (the Messiah). Among other things, He is going to give Him as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations. Furthermore, He will enable Him to open eyes of the blind and set free captives. Then in verse 8, He says: “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8, ESV) In the next verse He says: “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”” (Isaiah 42:9, ESV) The point is that giving this prophecy and fulfilling it will provide the evidence that He is indeed the LORD. Because that is true He will not share the glory/praise with lifeless images. With that in mind, in just 3 verses later, speaking through Isaiah the LORD calls to His people:  “Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.” (Isaiah 42:12, ESV) Here again, the main goal for God’s unwillingness to give His glory to another is His own glory but another purpose is to provide evidence to people that He alone is really God.

It is very important to realize that God’s determination not to share His glory is not only for His own benefit although it is that as well, for He is a jealous God who deserves to be honored alone as Lord. Still, another part of the reason must be the consequences that would flow to Israel of old and to us today if we substitute the worship of anyone or anything else in the place of the Lord. Both Biblical and secular histories are replete with examples of what happens when people give their devotion to people or things other than the Lord. In every case the result is sad to say the least. In the majority of the passages we have examined, however, the ultimate goal God had in mind was the benefit of His people.

[1] Cooper, L. E. (1994). Ezekiel (Vol. 17, p. 374). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Smith, G. V. (2007). Isaiah 1–39. (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.) (p. 425). Nashville: B & H Publishing Group.

[3] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 602). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 96). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 581). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 613). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Some may argue that this passage and the next should be classified as belonging to the category of eschatological prophecies of the manifestation of God’s glory rather than those dealing with His being glorified. I have decided to place this passage here because I think the focus of the contrast is between the disobedience (and consequent lack of giving God glory) of the wilderness generation with the obedience (and consequent glorification) to be rendered to God in the eschaton. I have decided to place the Psalm 72 passage here because of the parallelism between “blessed be his glorious name” and “may the whole earth be filled with his glory.” I take those phrases to be synonymous.

[8] Feinberg, Charles Lee. “Jeremiah” in Frank E. Gabelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 464.