In my previous post, I dealt with the name/word “Ichabod” and how it means “the glory has departed” or “there is no glory.” The “glory” in question is God’s glory, but it’s a specific type of God’s glory. The theological term for it is shekinah.
Don’t bother looking for the word shekinah in either the Old Testament’s original Hebrew or the New Testament’s original Greek because it isn’t there. It’s found in the post-Biblical writings of Jewish rabbis. They use the word to refer to God’s dwelling or abiding. Any place that God chooses to grace with His abiding presence showcases His shekinah glory.
It is fascinating to trace God’s shekinah glory throughout the pages of scripture. The first mention of God’s glory abiding within a place is found in the book of Exodus, which tells us that God’s glory was in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night by which God guided the course of the Israelites as they traveled (Exodus 13:21-22; 16:10). Since God Himself was always in the pillar — whether it was a pillar of cloud or a pillar fire — it makes sense that His glory was in there.
The second mention of God’s shekinah glory is also found in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 24:16-17, we read that the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai. Again, this makes perfect sense because God personally came down to the top of the mountain to meet with Moses and impart to Him the law.
Third, once Moses and the Israelites built the Tabernacle per God’s instructions, God’s shekinah glory moved into it and filled it (Exodus 29:42-46; 40:34-35). The Tabernacle was the portable tent-like complex that served as Israel’s first site of centralized national worship. It was where Israel’s priests offered up Israel’s sacrifices to God.
The Tabernacle complex was completely surrounded by a fence of white linen curtains and consisted of three distinct sections: The Outer Court, The Holy Place, and The Most Holy Place (The Holy of Holies). The Outer Court was where the bronze altar stood, the altar upon which Israel’s sacrifices were offered. The Holy Place was exclusively for the priests. The Most Holy Place (The Holy of Holies) was where The Ark of the Covenant was kept. Only the High Priest could enter that section, and even he could only do so once a year on the Day of Atonement.
Fourth, God’s shekinah glory remained in the Tabernacle until the time of the story that served as the text for my previous post. For those who didn’t read the post, that story is the one about how the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines during the days when Eli was serving as Israel’s High Priest and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were serving as priests (1 Samuel chapters 2 through 4). Once the Ark of the Covenant was no longer resting inside the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, God’s shekinah glory left the Tabernacle.
Phinehas’ widow, as she was dying in childbirth, named her newborn son “Ichabod” (“the glory has departed”). That name symbolized the Tabernacle’s loss of God’s shekinah glory. Even when the Philistines soon returned the Ark of the Covenant to Israel (1 Samuel chapters 5 and 6), there is no mention of God’s shekinah glory returning to the Tabernacle and filling it. Perhaps it did, but perhaps it didn’t.
Fifth, the next time God’s shekinah glory is mentioned in scripture came when Solomon built the Temple to replace the Tabernacle as Israel’s site of centralized national worship. As soon as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Temple and placed inside the Holy of Holes, God’s shekinah filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:1-13). At this point, all was right with Israel’s worship, just as it had once been at the Tabernacle. Unfortunately, over the centuries that followed, Israel’s spiritual state again sunk to a low ebb as idolatry and sin came between the nation and God. This set the stage for the next movement of God’s shekinah glory.
Sixth, the prophet Ezekiel, in a vision, watched God’s shekinah glory depart from Solomon’s Temple in a step-by-step route (Ezekiel 10:1-22). Ezekiel first watched as God’s glory lifted up from between two literal cherub angels (Ezekiel 10:4). The symbolism of this lifting up centers around the fact that on each end of the Ark of the Covenant’s lid (which was called The Mercy Seat) were two fashioned cherub angels whose wings were spread out to cover the lid. Between the wings of those two fashioned angels was where God met with Israel (Exodus 25:17-22; 2 Kings 19:15; Isaiah 37:16). Therefore, what Ezekiel saw in his vision symbolized God’s glory lifting up from off the lid of The Ark of the Covenant.
Ezekiel watched as God’s shekinah glory lifted up from between the cherub angels and then paused over the threshold of the Temple for a while, as if God was waiting to see if the people would repent and return to Him (Ezekiel 10:4). Then the shekinah glory departed from the Temple’s threshold and was lifted up, along with the literal cherub angels, out of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10:18-19; 11:22-23). The obvious symbolism is that God’s shekinah glory had now departed from Solomon’s Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This departing took place during the lead up to the Babylonians conquering Jerusalem and destroying the Temple.
After the Babylonian’s destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the people of Israel ultimately built another Temple to replace Solomon’s original (Ezra chapters 1 through 6). Despite the fact that this Second Temple was not nearly as grand or beautiful as Solomon’s had been (Ezra 3:12), God was pleased with it and accepted the worship that took place there. It is significant, however, that the Bible never mentions the shekinah glory of God abiding within or filling that Second Temple. Not coincidentally, the Bible never mentions The Ark of the Covenant being inside that Temple. The whereabouts of the Ark have remained unknown since the Babylonian destruction of the Temple.
Israel’s Second Temple actually stood longer than Solomon’s had and remained unchanged for centuries until the Romans conquered Jerusalem and installed Herod the Great as the ruler of the city and the surrounding territories. Herod was a prolific builder, and he oversaw a major expansion and renovation of the Second Temple in an effort to make it as impressive as Solomon’s had been. This Temple, often referred to as Herod’s Temple, is the one that is spoken of in the New Testament. Again, though, there is never any mention in scripture of God’s shekinah glory abiding within or filling that second Temple either before or after Herod’s renovation work.
Still, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that God didn’t honor that Temple. Jesus actually called that Temple “My Father’s house” (John 2:16) and “My house” (Matthew 21:13). Therefore, the point is not that the Second Temple was illegitimate in the eyes of God. It wasn’t. The point is that the Bible makes no specific reference to either The Ark of the Covenant or the shekinah glory of God ever being inside that Temple.
Seventh, where the shekinah (abiding) presence of God first shows up in New Testament is found in Matthew 1:23. There, the angel Gabriel quotes a Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 in saying of Jesus, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” The verse then points out that Immanuel means “God with us.” You see, as long as Jesus was with us on planet earth, there was no need for the shekinah glory of God in the Jewish Temple. As John 1:14 describes the situation:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (N.K.J.V.)
And now, with all this in mind, we come to the question of where God’s shekinah glory currently abides in this world. Is there such a place? Absolutely!
After Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven, He kept His promise to send God the Holy Spirit to indwell the body of each saved believer (John 14:26-27; Acts 1:4-8; Romans 8:9-11; Ephesians 1:13-14). What this means is that each Christian’s body is now God’s “temple,” the place in which God dwells and abides in this world (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Because of this the Christian should honor God with what he does with his body, puts in his body, or puts on his body. To do anything less is to defile God’s temple. Remember Christian, with every breath you take you are carrying on an ancient tradition of God’s abiding presence. That is an awesome responsibility, and it’s one that you dare not take lightly.