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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Shekinah

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Shekinah or Shechinah, A term applied by the ancient Jews, especially in the Chaldee Targums, to that visible symbol of the divine glory which dwelt in the tabernacle and temple. It is evident from many passages of Scripture that the Most High, whose essence no man hath seen, or can see, was pleased anciently to manifest himself to the eyes of men by an external visible symbol. As to the precise nature of the phenomenon thus exhibited, we can only say, that it appears to have been a concentrated glowing brightness, a preternatural splendor, an effulgent something, which was appropriately expressed by the term 'Glory;' but whether in philosophical strictness it was material or immaterial, it is probably impossible to determine. A luminous object of this description seems intrinsically the most appropriate symbol of that Being of whom, perhaps in allusion to this very mode of manifestation, it is said that 'he is light,' and that 'he dwelleth in light unapproachable, and full of glory.' The presence of such a sensible representation of Jehovah seems to be absolutely necessary in order to harmonize what is frequently said of 'seeing God' with the truth of his nature as an incorporeal and essentially invisible spirit. While we are told in one place that 'no man hath seen God at any time,' we are elsewhere informed that Moses and Aaron, and the seventy elders, 'saw the God of Israel,' when called up to the summit of the Holy Mount. So also Isaiah says of himself (; ) that 'in the year that King Uzziah died he saw the Lord sitting upon His throne,' and that, in consequence, he cried out, 'I am undone; for mine eyes have seen the Lord of hosts.' In these cases it is obvious that the object seen was not God in His essence, but some external visible symbol, which, because it stood for God, is called by His name.

Of all the divine appearances granted in the earlier ages of the world, the most signal and illustrious was undoubtedly that which was vouchsafed in the pillar of cloud that guided the march of the children of Israel through the wilderness on their way to Canaan. There can be little doubt that the columnar cloud was the seat of the shekinah. Within the towering aerial mass, we suppose, was enfolded the inner effulgent brightness, to which the appellation 'Glory of the Lord' more properly belonged, and which was only occasionally disclosed. In several instances in which God would indicate His anger to His people, it is said that they looked to the cloud and beheld the 'Glory of the Lord' (;; ). So when he would inspire a trembling awe of his Majesty at the giving of the Law, it is said, the 'Glory of the Lord appeared as a devouring fire' on the summit of the mount. Nor must the fact be forgotten in this connection, that when Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, offended by strange fire in their offerings, a fatal flash from the cloudy pillar instantaneously extinguished their lives. The evidence would seem then to be conclusive, that this wondrous pillar-cloud was the seat or throne of the shekinah, the visible representative of Jehovah dwelling in the midst of His people.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Shekinah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/s/shekinah.html.

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