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The Glory of YHWH

We often see in Scripture "the Glory of YHWH." What is that, exactly?

"The Glory of YHWH" is simply not understood and its importance in Scripture is often overlooked. Some believe that when YHWH "appears" to selected individuals, that the "appearance" is the same as His "glory". Others suggest that whenever YHWH appeared as a cloud during the exodus, the cloud is somehow the same as "His glory".

Yet there are only a few instances in the Bible where YHWH's appearance is specifically cited as "His glory", while there are many more instances where we are told how YHWH "appears" to, or "speaks" to various people with no mention of His glory. Clearly, YHWH's glory is something very special. And it may come as a bit of a surprise, but the first time YHWH's glory appears, it is to all of Isra'el!

Background 

In the Pentateuch (the first 5 Books of the Bible) we learn quite a lot about YHWH.  In fact, the entire Pentateuch is all about YHWH revealing Himself to man, while providing His expectations of mankind so we can be a holy people for Him. (Don’t believe it?  See Leviticus 20:26!).  Interwoven into the story is man’s fall, and YHWH’s repeated (and justified) dissatisfaction with his creation.  It’s really a wonderful story if you haven’t read it.  At the end of the Pentateuch, the story goes on in what are called the “Prophets” and the “Writings”.  Altogether, the Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings are what we know commonly as the "Tanakh" or “Old Testament.” 

After Moshe’s death, at the end of Deuteronomy, under the guidance of Y’hoshua (Joshua), Isra’el enters the promised land and from there we learn of the continued struggles of mankind to understand the simple obligation asked of them – that of obedience to Torah - and of their persistent failure to do so.  (This entire website, The Refiners Fire, is actually devoted to that “simple obligation”!)

What follows the last Book of the Old Testament then is a last-ditch effort by YHWH to get man to literally “see the light.” The continuation of the story is what became the of the Brit Chadasha (“New Testament”) even though there was nothing “new” about it!  This final part of what is decidedly a continuous revelation of YHWH is about how He sent an aspect of Himself to the earth to make it as clear as possible that all He is asking for is simple obedience!  You must be obedient to obtain everlasting life!  (Don’t believe me? Please read John 17:2-3, for these are the Messiah’s own words. John's first letter confirms that "to know Him" is to be obedient to His Torah (1 John 2:3-6).

Unfortunately we’ve even messed that up, too, as nearly 100 percent of all Christianity denies Torah! With nearly 40,000 different denominations of “Christianity” - all claiming “their” denial of the Torah is more “righteous” than those “other” denomination’s denial of Torah - it has become practically impossible for Christians to see the “Tree of Truth” through the clutter of the “Christian forest!”

The result is that few have come to realize that Yeshua did nothing more than try to explain to and illustrate to us His Father’s Torah – “face-to-face” if you will.  In the very brief time He walked the earth, He showed us just how simple it all is!  Yeshua himself, by His own words, not only told us why He came, but how to obtain eternal life.  It’s all there in the New Testament.  The book of John and 1 John are especially good at clearing this up.  And 2 Peter does a good job of telling us how many charlatans there are in the world keeping people from this truth!  It’s amazing how many miss the simple truth of what YHWH taught first by His direct guidance and ultimately with us as a man - through Yeshua, and the sad truth is, that simple message is not just to “believe in Jesus, and love each other.”

But I digress.

Returning to the Pentateuch we find that, after 430 years of persecution (Exodus 12:41) at the hands of the Egyptians, the chosen people of Israel are finally freed from slavery.  Though guided by YHWH (Exodus 12:51), just two months after the entire population – some 2 million people* – headed out into the desert, the people rebelled against Moshe and complained that their current conditions were now worse than when they were slaves in Egypt, and they basically demanded something happen!

* The 2 million is determined thusly:  Exodus 12:37 tells us there were 600,000 men, not counting women and children. Simply assuming an equal number of women accounts for 1.2 million.  Then,   Exodus 12:38 tells us a “mixed crowd” or “mixed multitude” went with Moshe’s people.  This “mixed crowd” were sympathizers, or anyone who simply “adopted” the God of Araham, Isaac, and Jacob as “their God.”  A conservative estimate then of the total numbers, of men and women, plus children and the mixed multitude is reasonably set at 2 million.

It's Gonna be Big, Very Big! 

Well, something BIG did happen in the desert - probably far bigger than the grumbling, complaining people ever expected!  Due to their presence with Moshe, they were uniquely positioned to be the first people on earth to be presented with the privilege of actually seeing the GLORY OF YHWH! More on that later....

The glory of YHWH is nothing to sneeze at!   In all Scripture prior to the exodus at this point in the Bible, (Exodus chapter 16), no one other than the small number of “select” individuals had even gotten to have any kind of intimate relationship with YHWH. I am referring to Adam, Eve, Kayin, Hevel, Noach, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of course, Moshe, Aharon, Miryam and a few others.  Although all of these ancient Biblical figures were often addressed directly by YHWH - (there are many “YHWH said to…” and “YHWH appeared to” verses in Genesis up to the first 6 chapters of Exodus) - nowhere in Scripture up to Exodus 16 do we ever get any indication any of them got to see His Glory!  Let me explain.

Where Scripture says “YHWH appeared”, we are never told exactly what it meant for YHWH to “appear” to someone.  But we can read that in some cases it was in a dream - see for example Genesis 20:6, 31:24, and 1 Kings 3:5.  In other cases it was “an angel of YHWH.” (Genesis 16:9, 22:11, 31:11, Judges 13:3).  And in some cases it simply says “YHWH appeared”, without a modifier  (Genesis 12:7, 26:2, and many others).  In at least one case, He “appeared” as an object – the burning bush of Exodus 3:2.  YHWH Himself says he reveals Himself to His prophets through a “vision” (Numbers 12:6).

But since we know man cannot look upon YHWH and live (Exodus 33:20), we can safely assume that the form of YHWH when Scripture says He “appeared” was not as “His glory.”  From Scripture, when YHWH “appears”, it is in a form which the person understands yet knows it is YHWH, but His “essence” is withheld.  The person experiences only enough for YHWH to accomplish His goal.  After all, it is YHWH determining what the person is seeing (Exodus 33:18-22).  In fact, we do not read of an appearance of YHWH being described as “His glory” until the event mentioned above in Exodus 16 which was 2 months after the exodus began!  And in that event, His glory was shown to everyone who was with Moshe in the desert!  So it seems to be the case that even though YHWH “appears” (in some form of His choice) to individuals over the course of time, just what is visualized in an “appearance” is something entirely different than His “glory.”

So, “seeing the glory of YHWH” is something very special, very unique, reserved for certain occasions – a step “higher”, if you will, than YHWH “appearing” in some form to an individual.  We know, for example, that Moshe was very privileged and he was presented with far more of YHWH’s essence than anyone else:  “With him I speak face to face and clearly, not in riddles; he sees the image of YHWH”  (Numbers 12:8).

So, let’s go to that premier event, that first-ever instance when His glory was revealed.  It’s in Exodus, chapter 16, verse 10.  Take some time now and go read the story, then come back here.  See if you can identify just how grand this experience was.  Exodus 16 is not very long.

Imagine the awe in this event!  After hearing the complaints of the people – nearly 2 million! – Moshe goes and has a talk with YHWH about the situation.  YHWH tells Moshe (verse 4-6) that He, Himself would provide sustenance.  YHWH tells Moshe (verse 4): “I will cause bread to rain down from heaven for you.”  He includes (verse 13) for Moshe to tell the people: “Then you will realize that I [YHWH] am YHWH your God.”   Moshe then returns to the camp**, and he and Aharon tell the people (verse 6) that something special would soon happen!

Moshe tells them tomorrow you will SEE YHWH’s GLORY! (verse 7).  Moshe goes on to explain that YHWH has paid attention to their plight but he also admonishes them for their grumblings toward him and Aharon (verses 7-8).   Please think about this!  No one in history (that we know of) had ever been told that they would SEE YHWH’s GLORY, yet here in the desert, everyone was going to!  As word spread through the people in the camp, imagine the excitement and anticipation....

(** It is true that in Exodus 16:4-6, there is no text to indicate that Moshe had to go anywhere to talk to YHWH.  But in later chapters, Exodus 19:3, and 19:20 for example, we see that it is “normal” for Moshe to go to where YHWH is, not vice versa.  So it is very reasonable to postulate in Exodus 16:4-6, that Moshe did go off, away from the camp of 2 million, to discuss with YHWH the plight of the people.  Then in Exodus 16:6 since Moshe is now talking with Aharon and the people, we can conclude Moshe had returned.)

Shock and Awe 

Next, Moshe gives instructions for Aharon to “gather the people”.  He tells Arahon (verse 9): “Say to them ‘come close, into the presence of YHWH, for He has heard your complaints’”.  The text does not explain just how Aharon went about getting the people to “come close.” (Remember, close to 2 million must be notified, and plans made for this gathering.) Perhaps he simply “spread the word”; perhaps he gathered the leaders and they, in-turn, prepared the people informing them on when and where to assemble.  However it was done, as verse 10 opens, the people are now gathered.

Then it happens!  It sends chills down your spine if you read Exodus 16:10 knowing the tension that has been building up to this point:  “As Aharon spoke to the whole community of the people of Isra'el, they looked toward the desert; and there before them the glory of YHWH appeared in the cloud!” 

This was a monumental  event!  Very few people realize this!  This was not “Ho-hum it’s just YHWH as a cloud again.”  You see, YHWH had been with them in the cloud since the beginning of the departure from Egypt!  It’s true!  We know from Exodus 13:21-22, that YHWH went with them as the cloud and He was there, in the cloud by day, and provided light for them at night as a column of fire.  (We learn later in Exodus how Moshe communicated with YHWH by the privilege of being permitted to approach the cloud.  See Exodus 19).  Only Moshe and Aharon  and Miryam were permitted this honor (see Numbers 12:4-5).  But for now, as we read Exodus 16:4-5, all we know is that YHWH was with them at the beginning of their travels (Exodus 12:42, 12:51), and that He spoke to Moshe from the cloud providing instructions which Moshe then relayed to the people.

(Cloud or not, this is how the communication went.  YHWH spoke to Moshe, Moshe spoke to the people.)  But here, in Exodus 16 verse 10, as they watched, they looked and saw not only the cloud, but YHWH’s glory in the cloud.

Cecil B. DeMille, in his 1956 film “The Ten Commandments” made quite a show of Moshe (played by Charlton Heston) raising his arms, staff in hand, splitting the Red Sea, so the people could cross.  Many of you surely remember the drama of this scene.  But Mr. DeMille missed a golden opportunity! The revelation of YHWH’s glory to all the people was an even greater event!  And it happened approximately one month after the parting of the Red Sea.  In the parting of the Red Sea, Moshe was the center of attention. But in the desert, as the people complained of the lack of food, YHWH was the center of attention! It would have been interesting to see how DeMille would have handled just what the glory of YHWH might have looked like!

However it would have only been the director's imagination, because as with His “appearance”, we are never told just what the glory of YHWH looked like as it appeared in the cloud that day!  We are told in Exodus 33:20 that “no one can look upon His face and live” – so we can be sure His glory, as great as it must be, would not reveal His face.

When the people had received the 10 Commandments at Mt Sinai, and had disappointed YHWH (again), in Exodus 33:18 we find Moshe seeking to “improve” his knowledge of YHWH’s ways so the people would know Moshe has the favor of YHWH, Moshe literally begs YHWH to show him His glory (Exodus 33:18)!  (Remember, by this time His glory has already been revealed to ALL, yet Moshe is asking for more.)  YHWH complies, but does not show Moshe his face.

Now much time passes, and after the tablets of the Testimony were recreated (remember, Moshe broke the original tablets in his rage at the people) and Moshe had spent 40 days on Mt Sinai with YHWH, when he returned from his long stay, we learn that Moshe’s face glowed (See Exodus 34:28-35)!  Moshe clearly got to see more of YHWH than any other man – ever!  Yes indeed, there is something very special about the glory of YHWH above and beyond His appearance to individuals, or to his daily presence among the people as the cloud!

So, let’s summarize what we know from Scripture:

Conclusion 

And finally, after Moshe and Aharon pleaded (once again) on behalf of the people, after they had complained (yet again) in the Tzin desert regarding the lack of water (Numbers 21:5-6), soon after (Deuteronomy 10:6) Aharon died.  From that point on, till Moshe’s death YHWH spoke only to Moshe, and Moshe till his dying breath, tried to relay to Israel the importance of what YHWH was asking of them. [Never again until the time of Shlomo (Solomon), in 1 Kings, many years after the ark of the covenant had been taken, recovered, given a new home in the Temple built by Schlomo, do we read that YHWH's glory appeared to anyone (1 Kings 8:11)].

Here is what Moshe did:

Shortly before Moshe dies he speaks to all of Isra’el in a last-ditch effort to get them to understand. In part, what Moshe says in summed up in Deuteronomy 31:12  “Assemble the people-the men, the women, the little ones and the foreigners you have in your towns -so that they can hear, learn, fear YHWH your God and take care to obey all the words of this Torah; 13 and so that their children, who have not known, can hear and learn to fear YHWH your God, for as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Yarden to possess.” After this, YHWH’s presence is as a column of cloud above the entrance to the tent – but His glory is not to be seen again by the people who received the promise of the Land.

Before he died, Scripture tells us Moshe made the effort to write down all the Torah of YHWH, (Deuteronomy 31:24). Today, we can read and learn of YHWH's glory in that Torah and in the Prophets, of a time when His glory would return to us. We know that Yeshua was that glory (John 17:5). And Yeshua told us (Matthew 16:27), that He would return in His Father's glory - and repay everyone according to his conduct. Guess what standard of measure Yeshua will use? (Hint: It begins with "T".)

And finally, Rav Shaul (Apostle Paul) tells us in Romans 8:18 that "I don't think the sufferings we are going through now are even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us in the future."

The glory of YHWH is a most special thing, as is His Torah! Let no one tell you otherwise!