Declare His Glory
Evangelism was part of God’s plan even for Israel in the Old Testament. What did it mean that they should “declare his glory”?
This is part 2 in Andy's series on evangelism.
I’m indebted to the Gideons. They’d invited me to speak at their national gathering in Birmingham and had gently suggested I might like to consider speaking on their theme verse from 1 Chronicles 16:24: “Declare his glory among the nations.”
Now to my shame I have to confess that I’d never really engaged with that verse before, but the speaking opportunity forced me to drill down into this unexpected diamond mine. What I discovered was that evangelism had always been part of God’s plan for his people, even during the formation and shaping of the nation of Israel.
This particular verse from Chronicles was a direct quote from words already used in the nation’s hymnbook (Psalm 96:3). It tells us something of what we should be declaring, how we should declare it, and where that is to be made known.
Declare his glory
What was it that God’s people were to declare? The answer is – ‘his glory’. But this is where our problem lies. What on earth does that mean?
It seems to be one of those Bible expressions that we grow up with but can rarely define. It feels like something big and shiny, but as soon as we try to put it into words it begins to feel like nailing jelly to a wall.
For some of us, glory is what we associate with events in the past: when things went well; when there were particular times of triumph and achievement. We call them the glory days: days of lost innocence; days of inexhaustible energy; days of long, hot, uncomplicated summers. And no doubt your mind travels back to such times.
But is this what the Bible writers mean? When we look more closely we discover that they use that word ‘glory’ in one of two ways.
The attributes of God
Firstly, it’s used in the sense of describing what God is like, what theologians call the attributes of God: his beauty and splendour; his holiness and power; his supremacy and rule; his majesty and compassion.
“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” (Psalm 8:1)
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)
The revelation of God
But this word for glory is predominantly used in another way. Not to describe God’s awesome character in general but specifically to refer to his character being revealed physically to sinful people. So when you get references to light and fire and cloud, it is often summarised by the word glory.
“While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (Exodus 16:10)
“...and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud.” (Exodus 24:16)
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34-35)
You’ve maybe heard this referred to as 'the Shekinah glory', a phrase used later by the rabbis to describe the presence of God in the pillar of cloud and fire. You’ll maybe remember how the glory of God appeared to lead the people across the sea and through the wilderness and how, at Sinai, with Israel encamped around the mountain, the glory of God comes in the cloud and fire to speak with Moses in the sight of the people.
This picture of Israel encamped around the glory of God on Sinai portrays God dwelling in the midst of his people. Later, the same glory filled the new temple that Solomon builds. God was in their midst.
So do you get it?
The glory of God is a reference to the amazing miracle that the infinitely glorious, holy, and powerful God comes to dwell with his people in all their sin and failure. Now this really is glorious. This is astounding. And this is the way the word glory is used in 1 Chronicles 16 and Psalm 96.
The glory of God in Jesus
It’s in this sense, rather than the more general definition of glory, that we’re to understand what it is that the Israelites were to declare. And this is where it gets even more exciting.
That word for salvation ("proclaim his salvation" in 1 Chronicles 16:23) gives us a clue as to where God’s saving glory is most clearly seen, where it finds its perfect embodiment. In Hebrew, that word for salvation is ‘Yeshua’. Does that ring any bells? Of course it does: this is where the name Jesus comes from. Jesus – Yeshua – ‘the Lord saves’.
And in John’s summary verse of the birth of Jesus he says this:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
John deliberately likens the coming of Jesus to the Shekinah glory. Just as the glory of God was evident when the tabernacle was erected in the centre of the Israelite camp, so Jesus is the perfect representation of God among sinful people. It is in Jesus that we see the glory of God.
So you see what it was that God’s people were expected to declare: “his glory”, who we can now name as Jesus.
He is the one we’re to declare. He is the one we’re to point to. He is the one who must be the centre of all our energies. He is the one who must fuel our passion.
Next time, part 3: "but how?"