Table of Contents
- 1. What’s the Definition of Shekinah Glory?
- 2. The Importance of Shekinah Glory in the Jewish Targums
- 3. What Does Shekinah Mean?
- 4. Why God Hides His True Glory from Humans
- 5. Shekinah Is Used to Avoid Limiting God’s Omnipresence
- 6. Shekinah Glory in the Old Testament
- 7. Jesus is the Shekinah Glory in the New Testament
- 8. Jesus is Fully God and Fully Human
- 9. Shekinah Glory in the Future
- What’s Your Next Step?
1. What’s the Definition of Shekinah Glory?
What is “Shekinah glory?” The word “shekinah” is not in the Bible. So, why is it so important?
Before we dive into understanding shekinah glory, we need some basic information about God.
a. Understanding God’s Immanence & Transcendence
Have you ever wondered what God looks like or where he lives?
The apostle John wrote, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Because God is Spirit, one of his attributes is that he exists “everywhere at once”—we call this “omnipresence.”
Since God is omnipresent, he is present everywhere within his creation. But he is also distinct from it. This distinction is something we call God’s immanence.
God’s immanence is no small matter, either. It distinguishes the theistic God from pantheism— a doctrine that considers the entire universe to be a manifestation of God. In other words, pantheism asserts that God is everything, including creation itself.
So, God is everywhere—yet distinct from creation. But we also need to understand that in addition to his immanence, God is also above and beyond his creation. This is known as transcendence.
There are three important facts you should know about God’s transcendence:
- Transcendence is vital because, as Creator, God created space-time, matter, and energy
- As such, he is beyond everything
- God’s transcendence means he is beyond everything, but he can still act in his creation (e.g., miracles)
b. God is Infinite
The point of this is that God is infinite. He has no beginning or end.
So ask yourself: “Would it be possible for an infinite God to be entirely confined to one place?”
An overly simplistic analogy would be a sponge in the ocean:
For instance, like God’s Spirit, the ocean water saturates every part of the sponge (immanence)
Yet, the ocean water goes well beyond the limited, finite sponge (transcendence)
Consequently, it would be impossible for the sponge to hold all the ocean’s water
In short, the point of the analogy is that no finite, limited “thing” can contain an infinite God.
But what if an omnipresent God wanted to make his presence known? What would that look like?
Finally, we are ready to discuss shekinah glory.
2. The Importance of Shekinah Glory in the Jewish Targums
Stick with me here. We’re about to have a brief lesson on the Hebrew language. To begin with, the word shekinah (Heb. šeḵinâ) is also spelled “shechinah” and “shekhinah.”
The word comes from a transliteration of the Hebrew word, shākan. It means “the one who dwells” or “that which dwells.”
The term “Shekinah” was first used in rabbinic targums.
Huh? … What’s a targum?
A targum makes comments on the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament). By comparison, have you ever read a commentary of the Bible or another work? That is similar to a targum.
Targums were written in Aramaic (the main language Jesus spoke). And specifically, they were written between the Old Testament and the New Testament by rabbis (Jewish teachers) who offered translations, paraphrases, or interpretations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
3. What Does Shekinah Mean?
In effect, the word shekinah represents a visible manifestation of God’s presence amid his people. In the Old Testament, this manifestation was usually a natural occurrence. For example, God revealed his shekinah glory through a pillar of cloud and fire (Exod. 13:21-22).
4. Why God Hides His True Glory from Humans
As we consider God’s shekinah glory, though, you may have a few questions. Some of the questions that naturally arise are, “Why did God have to hide his glory from humans by appearing as a pillar of cloud and fire?” and, “Why didn’t God just directly show himself to the Israelites?”
Good questions! In fact, Moses asked those same questions. He wanted to see God’s glory, but the Lord replied that humans could not see him and live (Exod. 33:18–20).
Think back to what we learned about God’s immanence and transcendence—and how he is so powerful. That is why humans can’t see God and live. God’s glory is so awesome, holy, unapproachable, and dangerous that we’d die if we saw him.
So, in his dealings with the Israelites, God shielded his consuming fire of divine glory. For example, the veil in the tabernacle protected the priests. And he appeared in the cloud-encased pillar of fire in the wilderness (Exod. 16:10, 24:16, 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chron. 7:2).
5. Shekinah Is Used to Avoid Limiting God’s Omnipresence
“Shekinah” describes the localized presence of an omnipresent God.
But the Targumists knew that an omnipresent God could not be localized to any one place.
And they didn’t want Scripture misinterpreted as limiting an infinite God. For example, when Scripture says God “dwells” in a place, the Targumist rendered the verse, “God causes his ‘shekinah’ to dwell there.”
In this way, the shekinah can be localized to “dwell” among his people in one place, but not the omnipresent God.
For instance, we see this in Genesis 9:27, when we read that “God shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” On the other hand, the Targum of Onkelos reads, “God shall make his Shekinah to dwell in the tents of Shem.”
Remember that no human can see God’s face and live (Exod. 33:20). So, the Targums didn’t want any Scripture misinterpreted as a human seeing God.
In these cases, the Targums only permit the glory of the shekinah of God to be visible to mortal man. For example, Isaiah 6:5 reads, “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” The Targumists translated this verse into, “My eyes have seen the glory of the Shekinah of the King of the world.”
Shekinah also occurs in passages ascribing human characteristics or activities to God. For instance:
- To represent God’s characteristics: It is used to describe his “name” (Deut. 12:5, 11), “face” (Num. 6:25), and “hand” (Ex. 17:16)
- To represent God’s actions: He is said to “depart” (Exod. 33:3, 5), “pass by” (Exod. 34:6), and “walk” (Deut. 23:14)
6. Shekinah Glory in the Old Testament
There are several instances of natural occurrences representing shekinah glory in the Old Testament.
They include in roughly chronological order:
- When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exod. 3:2)
- A pillar of cloud by day and fire by night leading the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod. 13:21–22) that protected them from the Egyptians (Exod. 4:24-25).
- A cloud of devouring fire engulfing Mt. Sinai when Moses met with God (Exod. 24:15-18)
- A pillar of fire and cloud above the most holy place of God’s three sanctuaries:
- Firstly, the portable tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–38)
- Secondly, the first temple built by Solomon (1 Kgs. 8:10–13)
- And thirdly, the future temple in Ezekiel’s vision (date of fulfillment unknown) (Ezek. 43:1–12)
7. Jesus is the Shekinah Glory in the New Testament
God “dwelt among his people” in the portable tabernacle and Solomon’s temple (Exod. 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10–13). The veil in the tabernacle and temple shielded the priest from the shekinah glory of God.
But the New Testament reveals that Jesus is the true Immanuel. He fulfills the tabernacle and temple’s true meaning: “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
God was embodied in Jesus at his incarnation, for he is the true shekinah. This is why John’s words are so significant when he writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14).
The phrase “dwelt among us” can be translated as “pitched his tent [tabernacle] among us.”
This refers to Israel’s portable tabernacle during their wilderness wanderings (Exod. 25:8).
8. Jesus is Fully God and Fully Human
Yet, to understand John’s reference, we must remember that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.
This reality matters because as God, Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, has an eternal pre-existing divine nature. But additionally, at the incarnation, he permanently took on a second nature—a human nature.
For that reason, you might have heard Jesus referred to as the perfect “God-man.” Specifically, Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Additionally, Paul adds, “For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Finally, the author of Hebrews writes that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (1:3)—”radiance,” here, referring to the shekinah glory of God that dwelt in the tabernacle and temple (Exod. 40:34–38; 1 Kings. 8:10).
James (Jesus’ half-brother) refers to Jesus the Lord of glory (James 2:1), affirming Jesus as the divine glory when writing, “our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Glory.” This glory was something Moses beheld in the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–38) was revealed in Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17).
So, what do we make of this? Jesus had the fullness of the shekinah glory in him, but it had to be veiled so he could function in the world of humanity. That is the power of this glory we’re talking about here—it’s the power that Paul, John, James, and so many others witnessed.
But here’s where it connects—where there is a significant difference and an arrow in the Old Testament that points to Christ. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was distinct from the shekinah glory. In the New Testament, though, Jesus is the shekinah glory.
9. Shekinah Glory in the Future
At Jesus’ Second Coming, we will see his full shekinah glory with great power returning in clouds (Mark 13:26).
And when believers go to heaven, we will see the Son and the Father in all their glory. The shekinah will no longer be veiled (1 John 3:2). There is no temple in New Jerusalem, the heavenly city. Because our broken relationship with God is restored (Rev 21:1–3, 22), there is no need for a temple. In the same way, there is no need for a sun because “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).
What’s Your Next Step?
The parallels between Old Testament shekinah glory and Jesus are apparent.
To recap, we have learned that the shekinah glory of God filled the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and temple (Exod. 40:34–38; 1 Kings 8:10–13; Ezek. 43:7). A veil shielded his glory, and only the high priest had access to God once a year on the Day of Atonement. Even the High Priest could only enter after sacrificial blood from animals had been spilled to cover the sins of himself and the people.
But Jesus changed everything! He is fully God and fully human. He is the shekinah glory of God, veiled in humanity. His sinless life meant he had no sins for which to die. As such, he chose to sacrifice himself, shedding his blood for all humanity. He was the sacrificial lamb who took the punishment we all deserved. And because he was fully God and fully man when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain separating the veil in the temple was torn in two (Matt. 27:50-51). The veil separating us from God—metaphorically and physically—was destroyed. In other words, Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf gives us direct access to God if we put our faith in him as our Lord.
- Holman Bible handbook, edited by D. S. Dockery, Holman Bible Publishers, 1992, p. 249.
- Elwell, W. A. and B. J. Beitzel. “Shekinah.” Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988, p. 1943
- Jackson, S. M. The new Schaff-Herzog encyclopedia of religious knowledge: embracing Biblical, historical, doctrinal, and practical theology and Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical biography from the earliest times to the present day, vol. 10, Funk & Wagnalls, 1908–1914, pp. 389–390.
- Marshall, J. T. “Shekinah.” A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (v. 4), edited by J. A. Hastings, et. al., Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911-1912, pp. 487–489.
- Stewart, R. A. “Shekinah.” New Bible dictionary.3rd ed), edited by D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, et. al, InterVarsity Press 1996, pp. 1090–1091
- Wiersbe, W. W. Be counted, Chariot Victor Pub., 199, p 38.
- —. Be delivered, Chariot Victor Pub., 1998, pp. 175-176.
- —. Be equipped, Chariot Victor Pub., 1998, pp. 81-83.