(This essay is a close adaptation excerpted from the book Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, © David B. Doty, 2011, to be released in January, 2012 by Wipf & Stock Publishers.)
In pursuing knowledge of the infinite, the human mind is severely limited to conceptualizations that necessarily fall short. In seeking knowledge of an infinite God, it is understandably difficult to define God’s glory. There are no less than eighteen words in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament that have been translated as glory or one of its variations (glorious, glorify, gloriousness, etc.). Of those, only kabod (Strong’s 3519) is translated in the New American Standard Bible concerning the glory of God in Exodus 33–34, a good launch point for investigating God’s glory.
Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen” (Exod 33:18–23).
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth; who keeps loving-kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exod 34:6–7).
The focus here is on the character of God as the “residual” (back side) of his passing presence. Character is revealed as it manifests in action. That is how we know, insofar as we can, the heart of another, that is, as they behave. Words proclaimed are only words proclaimed. Without evidence in compliance with the words, we judge the moral content of the actor’s performance to define their character. We cannot judge the heart of another so we judge the fruit.
The entirety of the Bible is revelatory. It is the story of God and His relationship to His creation and especially His people. Joshua commanded Israel to pile twelve stones in the midst of Jordan as a memorial (Josh 4:3–7), a testimony, to God’s goodness so that subsequent generations could know God by the stories of His gracious deeds.
Our faith and works will one day stand the test of God’s consuming fire, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). Our acts reveal the righteousness of our character. The focus of the passages from Exodus above is on God’s character as a reflection of His glory: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness, forgiving, and just.
Previously, God had revealed His name to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Vic Hamilton argues that an exact translation of I AM WHO I AM should be “I am He who is,” that is, He is the God who is present, the One “there with you.”(i) In Creation, God aimed to reveal His glory to humankind that He might make Himself known. Exposure, whether by experience or the testimony of others, is prerequisite to knowing. It was in the passing presence of God before Moses that the glory was revealed. Argued more deeply, the Incarnation was the most(ii) perfect revelation of God’s glory (Heb 1:1–3), His character manifest in Word and deed.
Kabod is derived from a primitive root (kabad—Strong’s 3513) meaning heavy or weightiness, but is used figuratively to speak to both splendor (magnificence) and copiousness (yielding abundance).(iii) This term lends itself to both awe, beholding the majesty of God, and provision, God as the source of our being and supplier of our material needs.
As the Garden narrative demonstrates, God is our provider and sustainer, and the system of our temporal sustenance, the biomechanical workings of the heavens and earth, is good. The Bible also reveals God as loving, and not given to fiat or arbitrariness which would create undue fear in His people due to capriciousness or malevolence.
Kabod witnessed also lends itself to the idea of presence. We take note of those who “change” a room just by entering it. God’s immanence, specifically in the acts of creation, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit present in and equipping the church, has and is impacting the world.
Moses details God’s glory in the Exodus account by cataloguing character traits. This list reveals the outward-working of holy love. It also corresponds closely to the listing of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23) and informs how righteous relationships are lived out. The relevance to guiding marketplace behavior cannot be missed.
Other common descriptions of the Trinitarian God include egalitarian, unified, wise, and creative. These are also relevant to Christians in the marketplace. They will commonly appear in people devoted to Christ and growing in spiritual maturity. By God’s redemptive grace, the way is open to become like Christ as we “are being transformed into the same image [of Christ] from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18). Christians in the marketplace will pursue the increase of His government (rule or dominion, Isa 9:7) in personal and professional ethics, and in social systems and institutions.
i. Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook to the Pentateuch, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 144–145.
ii. I use most here due to the limitations of human capacity to comprehend the glory of God.
iii. Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament – TWOT Lexicon (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980, in BibleWorks for Windows, V. 5.0.034a. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC, 2001), entries 943d, 943e.
3 responses to “On the Glory and Character of God”
Thanks Dave for your words. have you read Randy Pope’s book, “Glory, Grace, and Truth”?
Steve – I have not. Unfortunately, my reading list seems to have taken on a life of its own. I just finished the third book since Christmas, am in the middle of three others, and have seven more waiting patiently beside my favorite reading chair. I will look up “Glory, Grace, and Truth” on Amazon to read the review, though. I still have Amazon credit (but way more books already in my Wish List than credit) but it may go on the list.
Thanks for reading my blog. How does Pope’s book relate to it? What may not obvious with some of my essays are that they are excerpts from my new book so have leanings toward the thesis of the book (hence the marketplace references).
Chat me up.
Steve – I spent a bit of time looking over the Perimeter Church web site and some of Randy’s teaching material. I live only a few miles from the church. Hopefully I will be able to meet him as I am getting increasingly involved with several Christian networks here in North Atlanta. I find his teaching materials to be quite encouraging. Thanks for the heads up.