Like many Hebrew words, glory in Hebrew – kavod, holds more than one meaning. I like to imagine that God designed the ancient language of Hebrew precisely in this way, to give dimension to our understanding of Him and His love for us.
Kavod is a term with both social and moral implications, and stems from the root word for weight. It can mean glory, honor, respect, distinction, and importance.
Glory in Hebrew: Kavod (or Kabod)
In Scripture, we see kavod most often translated into the English word: glory.
Sometimes when we hear the word glory, we might think of the fame won on the battlefield, in a patriotic sense. We might also think of glory in terms of beauty, especially in an artistic or conservative application.
But biblically, kavod indicates worth and value, and results in praise. Glory in Hebrew should be seen as abounding in honor and reverence, almost to a degree that it is terrifying. Exodus 24:17 is a prime example of this “terrifying glory”:
“Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.”
This description of kavod as glory serves as a signal to the human soul the respect God is worthy of. His glory, also referred to as the majesty of God, should activate a response of reverence and praise.
The Glory and Majesty of God
Once we encounter the majesty of God, we can’t help but respond with reverential worship. God’s awesome power and majesty make Him deserving of the highest level of respect, awe, and devotion.
“Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in.” Ps 24:9 NKJV
Unfortunately, left to our own devices, humans are not naturally inclined to show reverence. This is something that God had to teach, or prescribe, in a manner of speaking.
The laws God gave to the people of Israel partly served to demonstrate the need to give Him glory, to show him honor, and live accordingly.
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God’s Kavod in the Bible
Scripture also demonstrates that kavod can be seen or unseen.
God revealed His kavod – His glory – to Moses in the wilderness, in the cloud, the pillar of fire, and on Mount Sinai. He tangibly showed His kavod in providing bread (manna) from Heaven, water from a rock, and many victories in battle.
Just before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple, Ezekiel “saw” God’s kavod leave (Ezek. 11:23). In Exodus 40:34-35, the glory described is also very tangibly felt. It’s implied as an active, inescapable presence:
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
Just as God’s glory filled the Temple when it was dedicated, so it is today, with God’s children. Sometimes God’s presence is visible, but most often it is sensed.
The Weight of Glory
Another interesting facet to glory in Hebrew, kavod, is that it can mean something heavy. It can be both in a positive and a negative sense, used both literally and metaphorically.
For example, in Psalm 3:3, kavod refers to God’s shield, His battle armor. Lo and behold, the root word of kavod is “heavy” and is connected to the meaning of “armament”:
“But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.”
Think about the arms soldiers use in combat and the armor they cover themselves with from head to toe, as they prepare for the battlefield. They need a strong and sure defense to protect them.
But note yet another understanding of the Hebrew word kavod. Exodus 17:12 describes Moses’ hands as feeling heavy, literally:
“But Moses’ hands became heavy (kavod)…”
So once again, kavod can mean literal heaviness, as well as figurative, in the case of God’s presence in the Temple.
Kavod Used in Modern Hebrew
But let’s jump back to the beauty and mystery of the Hebrew language. In modern Hebrew, many words are no longer used in their original (ancient) sense. Such is the case also with the word kavod.
In Israel today, you’d see it used as a title to address judges, the president, or the prime minister of Israel. It is a title meaning, Your Honour or Your Excellency.
These applications make sense because titles of admirations speak to the person’s honor and reputation. Thus, all the more, these titles of respect are appropriate when addressing God.
Another expression in modern Hebrew that involves this word is a phrase: Kol HaKavod! It is generally translated into Congratulations! or Good Job! but literally means “All the Glory!”. It is the Israeli equivalent of common phrases like “well done” or “way to go”.
It’s the simplest way to praise a child for putting away a plate in the sink or praising a friend for picking up a new language course. However, it’s not the same congratulatory expression as “mazel tov”, which is better applied when someone gets married, has a baby, or passes an exam.
You use “kol hakavod!” when recognizing an act of kindness, such as picking up a bag that dropped, or taking flowers to a sick neighbor.
God’s Glory Manifested Through Us
Aside from these lighthearted expressions of praise and “way to go”, how can we as believers share God’s kavod with the world around us?
How do we manifest the glory of God on earth?
Galatians 2:20 and James 2:12 confirm that reverence for God (kavod) is demonstrated by our willingness to die to self, obey His commands, and take sin seriously. The Apostle Paul also shares how believers can be vessels of God’s glory when he writes to the Corinthians:
“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone [the 10 Commandments], came with glory (kavod) so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, already fading away, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:7–8)
John Piper refers to God’s glory as “an attempt to put into words what God is like in his magnificence and purity. It refers to his fullness of all that is good.”
Showing Reverence Daily
So as agents of God’s goodness, what would it look like to display reverence to God in our everyday lives? I can give you one great example. That is, the fifth commandment, to honor (kavod in verb form) our fathers and mothers. I love how The Passion Translation expresses it:
“For the commandment, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ was the first of the Ten Commandments with a promise attached: ‘You will prosper and live a long, full life if you honor your parents.” (Ephesians 6:2-3)
We see here the importance and relevance of honor beginning in and extending from the home. And then, spilling over.
Could it be giving weight – importance – to another person’s opinion, answering gently even when you might disagree? Or as a wife, I can show honor and respect to my husband, even when it’s hard in the moment (or vice versa)?
Imagine what it would look like to the world around us if believers embraced these practical applications of kavod. Especially in situations where common sense – or your flesh – might tell you to act differently.
The power of the Holy Spirit makes expressing kavod possible. God’s manifest presence, the power of the Holy Spirit within us, makes it possible.
Bearing all this in mind, take a moment to acknowledge the honor and reverence that God rightly deserves. Perhaps this new understanding of kavod will touch you the next time you hear Pastor Jack Hayford’s hymn, Majesty:
Majesty, worship His Majesty!
Unto Jesus be all glory, honor and praise.
Majesty, Kingdom authority,
Flows from His throne, unto His own,
His anthem raise!
So exalt, lift up on high the name of Jesus.
Magnify, come glorify, Christ Jesus the King.
Majesty, worship His Majesty,
Jesus who died, now glorified,
King of all kings.
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