Volume 13, Number 2, July-August 2009

Shekhinah Glory: What Is It?

by Norman Edwards

As a child, this writer had heard the expression “Shekhinah Glory” used to describe the presence of God in the early tabernacle and then later on in the temple. It seemed that “shekhinah” was a word in the Hebrew Old Testament that was probably translated as “presence”, “glory”, “cloud” or “filled” in scriptures like these:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8).

And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses (Ex 33:9).

Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire (Num 9:15).

And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord (1Kngs 8:10-11).

Indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud (2Chr 5:13).

And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house (2Chr 7:2).

In reality, the Hebrew word shekhinah does not appear in any of the above verses—or anywhere else in the Bible. The words for “presence” (paniym), “glory” (kabowd), “cloud” (anan) and “filled” (male’) in these verses are all normal Hebrew words used to refer to both divine things and human things. After reading the Encyclopedia of Judaism and several other Jewish sources, all of them agreed that the word shekhinah (hnykv) is not in the Scripture, but is found in the Talmud, a book of Jewish oral tradition that was written down in the second century A.D, and that it refers to the presence of God in a physical place. They agree that it comes from the Hebrew shakan, which Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines as:

7931 !k;v shakan { shaw-kan’} 

Meaning:  1) to settle down, abide, dwell, tabernacle, reside…

Origin:  a primitive root [apparently akin (by transmission) to 07901 through the idea of lodging]; TWOT - 2387; v

Usage:  AV - dwell 92, abide 8, place 7, remain 5, inhabit 4, rest 3, set 2, continue 1, dwellers 1, dwelling 1, misc 5; 129

As can be seen, shakan is used 129 times and refers to dwelling—the majority of which is human dwelling. The first place shakan is found in the scripture is here:

So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24).

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible states that this passage should be rendered: “And he dwelt between the cherubim at the East of the Garden of Eden and a fierce fire or Shekhinah unfolding itself to preserve the way of the tree of life.” Unfortunately, no reason is given why this translation should be that way. None of the thirty other translations this writer checked agreed.

There are some places where the Hebrew shakan is used along with other words indicating the presence of God. In the verse below, shakan is translated “rested”, but the words for “glory of the Lord” and “cloud” are the words that convey the meaning that the presence of God was there.

Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud (Ex 24:16).

The much more common use of the word shakan would be found in scriptures like this, where it simply refers to the place that someone will dwell:

“May God enlarge Japheth, And may he dwell in the tents of Shem; And may Canaan be his servant” (Gen 9:27)

Christian writers have adopted the concept of shekhinah, apparently from the Talmudic sources. They similarly use it as the “presence of God”, without explaining its origin or definition in Scripture. Nave’s Topical Bible defines it this way:

Shekhinah — The visible sign of God’s presence on the ark of the testimony in the Holy of Holies (Ex 25:22; Le 16:2; 2Sa 6:2; 2Ki 19:14,15; Ps 80:1; Isa 37:16; Ezk 9:3 10:18; Heb 9:5)

None of the above scriptures contain the Hebrew shakan. What they do have in common is they all refer to Cherubim and/or the Mercy Seat.

In short, Shekhinah appears to be a doctrinal word, like “trinity” or “rapture”, that does not appear in the Bible—so people end up arguing a lot when they try to determine its meaning from the Scripture. This writer thinks we would be better in our teaching to use the terms “glory”, “cloud”, “dwelling”, “presence” and their underlying Hebrew and Greek roots that are in the Bible, and avoid building doctrines on words that are not there.        &

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