Glory—Kavod

October 4, 2009

by: Charleeda Sprinkle, Assistant Editor

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Though there are other Hebrew words that are translated “glory,” kavod is used most often, 200 times. The root meaning is heaviness, which can refer to physical weight (Exod. 17:12, when Moses’ hands were heavy) as well as something that is grave, serious, or weighty. Drawing on parallels in Scriptures such as Psalm 3:3, “But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head,” author Jeff A. Benner sees the “original concrete meaning” referring to battle armaments, which are heavy.

Perhaps the pictures that come to mind the most when we think of the word “glory” are the Bible’s references to the “glory of the Lord,” a phrase used 35 times in the Old Testament. We remember Moses at the burning bush, the thunder, lightning, and smoke at Mount Sinai, the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night, and the glory that manifested when the Tabernacle and Temple were dedicated. The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that this glory was the “presence” of God but not God Himself, rather “God viewed in spatio-temporal terms as a presence…a revelation of the holy in the midst of the profane” and should be understood figuratively.

It could be seen, but not always. It was seen during the years in the wilderness but disappeared when they entered the Promised Land. Did that mean God’s presence was no longer with Israel? Certainly not. God tells Israel that they were not to defile the Land because He dwelt in it (Num. 35:34). God’s kavod filled the Temple when it was dedicated, but Scripture does not say it was always seen. Yet, just before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple, Ezekiel “saw” God’s kavod leave (Ezek. 11:23).

The Shekinah

This glory is also referred to as shekinah, a term probably coined by post-biblical rabbis. Many believe kavod and shekinah are identical in meaning, so understanding shekinah can give us a better understanding of kavod. Though shekinah, the noun form, is not found in the Bible, the verb form shachan is. Shachan means “to settle, inhabit, or dwell” but it doesn’t mean simply to live in a house, as a man would by himself for a temporary time; it is a continual dwelling in the midst of a people. In his book Zechariah and Jewish Renewal, Fred P. Miller notes that the closest the Bible comes to using shekinah is in Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits [shokeyn]eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place with him who has a contrite and humble spirit…”

If the two words are identical, then kavod is the “dwelling” presence of God. Sometimes it is visibly seen, while other times, it is present but not seen. For Christians, our bodies are now the temples where God dwells within (1 Cor. 6:19). Yet, He wants His kavod to be seen: “Let your light [another aspect of kavod] so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Honor and Respect

Other uses of kavod can refer to wealth (Gen. 31:1, first use of kavod in the Bible), reputation (Gen. 45:13), the quantity of something, or splendor, all of which could be summed up in the word “dignity.” It can also mean honor or respect. When Joshua pleaded with Achan, after he took the forbidden spoils of war at Ai, he said, “I beg you, give glory to the LORD God of Israel…” (Josh. 7:19). Joshua was asking Achan to recognize God’s importance, worth and significance and to honor Him by telling the truth. Kavod, as respect, can refer to man as well as to God: “A gracious woman retains honor [kavod]” (Prov. 11:16a); “…so honor [kavod] is not fitting for a fool” (Prov. 26:1b).

The Jewish world seems to use this meaning of kavod the most in everyday life application. Rabbi Avrohom David explains: “Another part of kavod is to give weight to another person’s opinion…to see that their thoughts have ‘weight,’ even if you don’t agree with his or her thinking.” Rabbi Forsythe explains how kavod applies to marriage: “A husband must give his wife more kavod than he gives to himself, and a wife must set aside her kavod for the kavod of her husband. Kavod is basically one of the main measuring rods for whether the Torah [Gen.–Deut.] defines a marriage to be good or not.” It’s interesting that Christian author James Dobson states that where you find divorce, you find loss of respect.

Another Jewish application of kavod is kavod hamet, showing respect for the dead, which includes the disallowing of autopsies, embalming, and cremation, having a speedy burial, not leaving the body alone before burial, sitting shiva for seven days after the funeral, etc. However, a very important application for all of us is the fifth commandment, which instructs us to “honor” (kavod in verb form) our fathers and mothers.

In the end…We would all like to experience the thrill of seeing the glory of God as Israel did in Bible times, but perhaps it’s more important that we practice showing it to our fellow man, so they can see it.

Photo Credit: Photo: Pieter Marais

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