The Glory of God
I have found that the phrase “the glory of God” is tossed around far too easily. Several years ago, after having used the phrase in a sermon, I was asked by a church attendee, “What is the glory of God?” I stammered about for a moment, gave a quick answer, and then realized that I did not have a great definition for the phrase. His question sent me on a biblical journey to better understand the idea. The following essay was originally published alongside of Exodus 33 in The Mission of God Study Bible. The accompanying video can be viewed at MyStudyBible.com/MOG.
Understanding The Glory of God
The glory of God is often placed before believers as the motivation for our participation in the mission of God. To fully appreciate this, we must explore the theological idea behind God’s glory.
In Exodus 33 we read that Moses took up residence outside the Israelites’ camp in the “tent of meeting.” Here he spoke with God “face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend” (v. 11). In his conversations with the Lord, Moses made a bold request: “Please, let me see Your glory” (v.18). In the following passages we are given several glimpses into the nature of God’s glory.
First, God’s glory is the overpowering beauty of His presence. It says in 34:5, “The Lord came down” to where Moses was hidden in a crevice. God hid Moses from the full measure of His presence because it is too powerful for any person to witness and survive (33:20).
Second, the glory of God is found in the excellent reputation of His name. When God passed by Moses, He proclaimed His name: Yahweh (34:6). In fact, it is the first thing God did upon His arrival to display His glory. Yahweh is God’s revealed name; it is derived from the verb “to be.” Essentially, Yahweh means “I AM.” God’s glory is seen in that He is self-reliant, self-sustaining, and has no limitations. Philosophers refer to God as the “Prime Mover” as He is the force that moves everything else into existence, not needing any force to bring Himself into existence.
Third, the glory of God is seen in His character. As God passed by Moses, He spoke of His character through how He acts. In 34:6-7, God comments on how He loves, keeps the covenant, and punishes sin. The glory of God is not just an ethereal notion but is made tangible by how God acts.
When we embark on the mission of God, it is first of all for God. We are tempted to miss this point and say we preach the gospel primarily for the sake of the lost. But for God the greatest priority is God. In Isaiah 48:9-11, the work of restraining His judgment and refining His people is for His own praise. Earlier in Isaiah, God said, “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols” (42:8). The greatness of God’s character, presence, and reputation are unequalled and the place of priority must not be shared with any other created being.
The people of God are given the honor of reflecting the glory of God to our generation. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-17, the Apostle Paul writes of the time when Moses came off the mountain and hid the glow that was the residual effect of having encountered the glory of God. We, as God’s messengers and missionaries, are to be those who have “unveiled faces” to reflect the glory of God and be continually transformed by it.