The glory of God is the great theme of the ages. It is the reason creation took place, as the heavens declare God’s glory and mankind was made for His glory. The grand plan of redemption is all to the glory of God. In dispensational theology, the ultimate purpose, the end point, is that all was and is for the glory of God. The salvation of mankind, as great as it is, becomes secondary to the overriding fact of God’s glory.
‘Glory’ is a word which, though often used, many find difficult to define without using the word in the definition. Even though the word is used in hymns, often in prayer, and is found in various forms close to 400 times in scripture, it remains hard to describe. Believers usually have a general idea of the meaning but lack a precise definition.
God is said to be jealous of His glory, ‘My glory will I not give to another’, Isa. 42. 8. God is called the ‘God of glory’, both in Psalm 29 verse 3 and in Acts chapter 7 verse 2. This formula is used with each member of the Trinity. In Ephesians chapter 1 verse 17 it is ‘the Father of glory’; in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 8 and James chapter 2 verse 1 ‘the Lord of glory’; and, in 1 Peter 4 verse 14 ‘the Spirit of glory’. In Psalm 24 verses 7-10, there are four references to the King of glory, looking forward to the coming of Christ.
In the Old Testament glory conveys the thought of splendour, beauty, or, of someone or something being awesome. This is why Joseph could speak of the glory of His power and position, Gen. 45. 13. Psalm 19 verse 1 states, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’; the immensity of it is an awesome and a fitting display of God’s splendour. The children of Israel saw the glory of God in the cloud, Exod. 16. 10, and on the mount, 24. 17. The glory of God was seen filling the tabernacle, 40. 34, 35. Similarly, both Isaiah and Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s glory.
W. E. Vine defines the New Testament use of the word, ‘glory’, as having to do with an opinion or estimation, ‘the honour resulting from a good opinion’. So, when believers give God glory they are expressing their estimation of His worth. God revealing His glory is the expression of what He is like, whether through the revelation of His grandeur, in the Person of Christ, or in the whole work of redemption. Vine states, ‘It is used of the nature and acts of God in self-manifestation, i.e., what He essentially is and does, as exhibited in whatever way He reveals Himself’.
Using the principle of first mention, the word ‘glory’ is found for the first time in Genesis chapter 31 verse 1, describing Jacob’s wealth. Here the King James Version has the word ‘glory’, while the NKJV translates the word as ‘wealth’. This reference in and of itself does not convey much information, but, when looked at in the light of the second mention of ‘glory’, the concept becomes intriguing. Genesis chapter 45 verse 13 speaks of Joseph’s glory in Egypt. Thus, in these first two references there is the father’s glory and the son’s glory. The glory, or wealth, has come to the father by right and the son has received glory by virtue of his character and conduct. The son is seen on the throne exercising dominion over the nations. His command to the brothers is, ‘Tell my father of all my glory … that ye have seen’, v. 13.
Rich are the devotional thoughts that emerge when these ideas are applied to the Father and the Son. Just as in Genesis chapter 31 the glory of this world belongs to the Father, there is the continuing conflict with the children of this world wanting that glory and viewing it as their own. Genesis chapter 45 verses 8-13 pictures the fact that the Son will be given glory and honour and His reign shall be glorious. The suffering Servant who toiled in humility will be the exalted Sovereign, and ‘he shall bear the glory’, Zech. 6. 13. His own brethren will bow to Him and acknowledge His Person and position.
Believers in both Testaments are called to give God glory, that is, to declare our estimation of His Person and work. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ The answer is, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’. To glorify God becomes an integral part of worship, the expressing of the weight of opinion given to who He is, and what He has done. Psalm 96 verses 6 and 7 say that His people are to ‘give to the Lord the glory due his name’ as He is worshipped in ‘the beauty of holiness’.
Since God’s glory is one of the great themes of scripture, it is fitting that we, like Moses, be occupied with it and should cry out with him, ‘Please, show me Your glory’, Exod. 33. 18 NKJV. David expressed a similar thought in Psalm 27 verse 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple’. The question to ask ourselves is: would this be the single greatest desire in my life?
Before Moses made his request he had prayed, ‘Show me now Your way, that I may know You’, Exod. 33. 13 NKJV. Moses has three requests in his conversations with God in this section of the book. In Exodus chapter 32 verse 32 it is a plea for pardon. In chapter 33 verse 14 it is a request for God’s presence to go with them in their travels. The higher and nobler desire is expressed in the verses quoted, 33. 13 and 18, in the prayer that he might know more of God’s Person. All believers know what it is to be pardoned; some believers experience the joy of His presence with them day by day; but relatively few reach the place of occupation with the Person of God as expressed in Moses’ request.
Chapter 33 verses 21-23 describe the particulars of the visible revelation of God’s glory. The eternal and invisible God makes Himself known to His servant. It was while Moses was in the cleft of the rock that he was able to see the visible display of the radiance of God’s Person and presence. Moses would only be able to see the back of God, or the effect of God passing, as no one can see God in His fullness and live.
God’s verbal response to Moses’ request has more to do with His radiance than with His character. God speaks of His attributes and also of His activities man-ward. God starts with a declaration of His goodness, 33. 19. This word is often translated in English by the word ‘lovingkindness’.
In chapter 34, God starts this Theophany by proclaiming His name, v. 5. He next declares His character, vv. 6-7. These are characteristics that make the God of heaven unique and that distinguish Him from the gods invented by man. Note the features, ‘merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and truth’. Synonyms might include words like compassion, grace, mercy, love, patience and faithfulness. God then reveals aspects of His conduct that flow from, and are consistent with, His character. In the Septuagint the beginning of verse 7 reads, ‘And keeping justice and mercy for thousands, taking away iniquity, and unrighteousness, and sins; and he will not clear the guilty’. The character of God is such that He is merciful and willing to forgive but, to be consistent, He must also judge the guilty.
The practical effect of this experience and the revelation of God’s glory are twofold in Moses’ life. ‘So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped’, v. 8. Moses was speechless, but in awe and humility bowed and worshipped. This is the God-ward response to a glimpse of God’s glory.
The man-ward aspect is seen in verses 29-35 in that Moses’ face shone with such brilliance that no one could bear to stand before him. In fact, Moses had to veil his face. Rabbinical tradition says that this was true for the balance of his life. Out of the experience in the cleft of the rock it was obvious to all that Moses had been in the very presence of God, for his face reflected the glory of God.
The New Testament commentary on this scene is found in 2 Corinthians chapter 3 verses 7-18. There was a wonderful display of glory on Sinai at the giving of the law. This was extended to the radiance that shone from the face of Moses. In fact, this display was tied to the whole ‘glorious’ ministry of the law.
Paul explains that the veil covered Moses’ face, because the radiance faded over time. It was a temporary display, but the veil hid that fact from the children of Israel. They did not see that the glory was fading, pointing to the passing of the law and the greater glory associated with the Spirit’s ministry in this age.
The glory the believer sees today comes from viewing the Son of God in the word of God. Our ‘cleft of the rock’ is the time spent in the word. The Spirit of God then takes the thoughts of Christ and applies them to the child of God, which results in transformation into the image of Christ. This is a process that takes place incrementally, from one degree of glory to another. For us the glory of Christ is more than a reflection; rather, it radiates from within, and can then be seen by the world.
Having a focus on God’s glory will affect both our worship of God and our witness to the world. Being aware of the awesomeness of God produces wonder and worship. Awe and wonder are the basis of worship, and though there is no lack of wonders, there is a serious lack of wonder, and, therefore, a declining emphasis on worship.
Our testimony to the world is directly tied to our private devotional life. It is from the time spent in ‘the cleft of the rock’ that individuals are transformed into the image of Christ. His glory is then seen every day in our character, conversation and conduct.