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Shechinah

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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[some Shech'inah; also written Shekinah] (in .Chaldee and Neo-Hebrew Shekinah', שְׁכינָה , strictly residence, i.e. of God, his visible presence, from

שָׁכִן , to dwell), a word not found in the Bible, but used by the later Jews, and borrowed by Christians from them, to express the visible majesty of the Divine Presence, especially when resting or dwelling between the cherubim on the mercy seat in the tabernacle and in the Temple of Solomon; but not in Zerubbabels temple, for it was one of the five particulars which the Jews reckon to have been wanting in the second Temple (Castell, Lexic. s.v.; Prideaux, Connect. 1, 138).

1. Rabbinical import. The use of the term is first found in the Targums, where it forms a frequent periphrasis for God, considered as dwelling among the children of Israel, and is thus used, especially by Onkelos, to avoid ascribing corporeity to God himself, as Castell tells us, and may be compared to the analogous periphrasis so frequent in the Targum of Jonathan, "the Word of the Lord." Many Christian writers have thought that this threefold expression for the Deity the Lord, the Word of the Lord, and the Shechinah indicates the knowledge of a trinity of persons in the Godhead, and accordingly, following some Rabbinical writers, identify the Shechinah with the Holy Spirit. Others, however, deny this (Calmet, Dict. of the Bible; Saubert [Joh.], On the Logos, § 19, in Critic. Sacr.; Glass, Philolog. acr. v, 1; 7, etc.). Without stopping to discuss this question, it will not conduce to give an accurate knowledge of the use of the term Shechinah by the Jews themselves if we produce a few of the most striking passages in the Targums where it occurs. In Exodus 25:8, where the Hebrew has "Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell (וְשָׁכִנְתַּי ) among them," Onkelos has "I will make my Shechinah to dwell among them." In 29:45, 46, for the Hebrew "I will dwell among the children of Israel," Onkelos has "I will make my Shechinah to dwell," etc. In Psalms 74:2, for "this Mount Zion wherein thou hast dwelt" the Targum has "wherein thy Shechinah hath dwelt." In the description of the dedication of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 8:12-13) the Targum of Jonathan runs thus: "The Lord is:pleased to make his Shechinah dwell in Jerusalem.

I have built the house of the sanctuary for the house of thy Shechinah forever," where it should be noticed that in 1 Kings 8:13 the Hebrew שָׁכִן is not used, but זְכֻל and יָשִׁב . In 1 Kings 6:13, for the Hebrew "I will dwell among the children of Israel" Jonathan has "I will make my Shechinah dwell," etc. In Isaiah 6:5 he has the combination "the glory of the Shechinah of the King of ages, the Lord of hosts;" and in the next verse he paraphrases "from off the altar" by "from before his Shechinah on the throne, of glory in the lofty heavens that are above the altar" (comp. also Numbers 5:3; Numbers 35:34, Psalms 68:17-18; Psalms 135:21; Isaiah 33:5; Isaiah 57:15; Joel 3:17; Joel 3:21, and numerous other passages). On the other hand, it should be noticed that the Targums never render "the cloud" or "the glory" by Shechinah, but by עֲנָנָא and יְקָרָה, and an that even in such passages as Exodus 24:16-17; Numbers 9:17-18; Numbers 9:22; Numbers 10:12, neither the mention of the cloud nor the constant use of the verb שָׁכִן in the Hebrew provokes any reference to the Shechinah. Hence, as regards the use of the word Shechinah in the Targums it may be defined as a periphrasis for God whenever he is said to dwell on Zion among Israel or between the .cherubims, and so on, in order, as before said, to avoid the slightest approach to materialism. Far most frequently this term is introduced when the verb שָׁכִן occurs in the Hebrew text; but occasionally, as in some of the above-cited instances, where it does not, but where the paraphrast wished to interpose an abstraction corresponding to presence to break the bolder anthropopathy of the Hebrew writer.

Our view of the Targumistic notion of the Shechinah would not be complete if we did not add that, though, as we have seen, the Jews reckoned the Shechinah among the marks of the divine favor which were wanting to the second Temple, they manifestly expected the return of the Shechinah in the days of the Messiah. Thus Haggai 1:8, "Build the house, and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified," saith the Lord is paraphrased by Jonathan "I will cause my Shechinah to dwell in it in glory." Zechariah 2:10, "Lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord" is paraphrased "I will be revealed, and will cause my Shechinah to dwell in the midst of thee;" and 8:3, "I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem," is paraphrased "I will make my Shechinah dwell in the midst of Jerusalem;" and, lastly, in Ezekiel 43:7; Ezekiel 43:9, in the vision of the return of the glory of God to the Temple, Jonathan paraphrases thus: "Son of man, this is the place of the house of the throne of my glory, and this is the place of the house of the dwelling of my Shechinah, where I will make my Shechinah dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever.... Now let them cast away their idols,... and I will make my Shechinah dwell in the midst of them forever" (comp. Isaiah 4:5, where the return of the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night is foretold as to take place in the days of the Messiah).

The rabbins affirm that the Shechinah first resided in the tabernacle prepared by Moses in the wilderness, into which it descended on the day of its cohnsecratio in in the figure of a cloud. It passed thence into the sanctuary of Solomon's Temple on the day of its dedication by this prince, where it continued till the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Chaldmeans, and was not afterwards seen there.

2. Biblical History. As regards the visible manifestation of the Divine Presence dwelling among: the Israelites to which the term Shechinah has attached itself, the idea which the different accounts in Scripture convey is that of a most brilliant and glorious light enveloped in a cloud, and usually concealed by the cloud so that the cloud itself was for the most part alone visible; but on particular occasions the glory (in Heb. כְּבוֹד י, in Chald. יַקִר י ) appeared. Thus, at the Exodus, "the Lord went before" the Israelites "by day in a pillar of cloud... and by night, in a pillar of fire to give them light." Again, we read that this pillar "was a cloud and darkness" to the Egyptians, "but it gave light by night" to the Israelites. But in the morning watch "the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians" i.e. as Philo (quoted by Patrick) explains it, "the fiery appearance of the Deity shone forth from the cloud," and by its amazing brightness confounded them. So, too, in the Pirke Eliezer it is said, "The blessed God appeared in his glory upon the sea, and it fled back," with which Patrick compares Psalms 77:16, "The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid," where the Targum has "They saw thy Shechinah in the midst of the waters." In Exodus 19:9, "the Lord said to Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud," and accordingly in Exodus 19:16 we read that "a thick cloud" rested "upon the mount," and in Exodus 19:18 that "Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire." This is further explained in 24:16, where we read that "the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it (i.e. as Aben-Ezra explains it, the glory) six days." But upon the seventh day, when the Lord called " unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud," there was a breaking forth of the glory through the cloud, for "the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel" (Exodus 19:17).

So, again, when God, as it were, took possession of the Tabernacle at its first completion (40:34,35), "the cloud covered the tent of the congregation (externally), and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (within), and Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation" (rather, of meeting); just as at the dedication of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11) "the cloud filled the house of the Lord so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord." In the tabernacle, however, as in the Temple, this was only a temporary state of things, for throughout the books of Leviticus and Numbers we find Moses constantly entering into the tabernacle. When he did so, the cloud which rested over it externally, dark by day and luminous at night (Numbers 9:15-16), came down and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses inside, "face to face, as a man talketh with his friend" (Exodus 33:7-11). It was on such occasions that Moses "heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubim" (Numbers 7:89), in accordance with Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2. But it does not appear that the glory was habitually seen either by Moses or the people. Occasionally, however, it flashed forth from the cloud which concealed it, as Exodus 16:7; Exodus 16:10; Leviticus 9:6; Leviticus 9:23, when "the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people" according to a previous promise, or as Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19; Numbers 16:42; Numbers 20:6, suddenly to strike terror in the people in their rebellion. The last occasion on which the glory of the Lord appeared was that mentioned in 20:6, when they were in Hadesh in the fortieth year of the Exodus, and murmured for want of water; and the last express mention of the cloud as visibly present over the tabernacle is in Deuteronomy 31:15, just before the death of Moses. The cloud had not been mentioned before since the second year of the Exodus (Numbers 10:11; Numbers 10:34; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 12:10); but as the description in Exodus 9:15-23; Exodus 40:38, relates to the whole time of their wanderings in the wilderness, we may conclude that, at all events, the cloud visibly accompanied them through all the migrations mentioned in Numbers 33 till they reached the plains of Moab and till Moses died. From this time we have no mention whatever in the history either of the cloud, or of the glory, or of the voice from between the cherubim, till the dedication of Solomon's Temple. But since it is certain that the ark was still the special symbol of God's presence and power (Joshua 3:4; Joshua 3:6; 1 Samuel 4; Psalms 68:1 sq.; comp. with Numbers 10:35; Psalms 132:8; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1), and since such passages as 1 Samuel 4:4; 1 Samuel 4:21-22; 2 Samuel 6:2; Psalms 99:7; 2 Kings 19:15, seem to imply the continued manifestation of God's presence in the cloud between the cherubim, and inasmuch as Leviticus 16:2 seemed to promise so much, and as more general expressions, such as Psalms 9:11; Psalms 132:7-8; Psalms 132:13-14; Psalms 76:2; Isaiah 8:18, etc., thus acquire much more point, we may perhaps conclude that the cloud did continue, though with shorter or longer interruptions, to dwell between "the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat" until the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar.

The allusions in the New Test. to the Shechinah are not unfrequent. Thus, iii the account of the nativity, the words "Lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them" (Luke 2:9), followed by the apparition of "the multitude of the heavenly host," recall the appearance of the divine glory on Sinai, when "He shined forth from Paran, and came with ten thousands of saints" (Deuteronomy 33:2; comp. Psalms 68:17; Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2; Ezekiel 43:2). The "God of glory" (Acts 7:2; Acts 7:55), "the cherubim of glory" (Hebrews 9:5), "the glory" (Romans 9:4), and other like passages, are distinct references to the manifestations of the glory in the Old Test. It appeared at the baptism and-transfiguration of Jesus, and is called the excellent glory by Peter (2 Peter 2:10). When we read in John 1:14 that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμϊ v ν ), and we beheld his glory;" or in 2 Corinthians 12:9 "that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (ἐπισκηνώσῃ ἐπ᾿ ἐμέ ); or in Revelation 21:3, "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them" ( σκηνή τοῦ Θεοῦ ... καὶ σκηνώσει μετ᾿ αὐτῶν ), we have not only references to the Shechinah (the Greek σκηνή being itself, perhaps, an echo of the Heb. שָׁכִן, shakan), but are distinctly taught to connect it with the incarnation and future coming of Messiah, as type with antitype. Nor can it be doubted that the constant connection of the second advent with a cloud; or clouds, and attendant angels points in the same direction (Matthew 26:64; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; Revelation 1:7).

It should also be specially noticed that the attendance of angels is usually associated with the Shechinah. These are most frequently called (Ezekiel 10, 11) cherubim; but sometimes, as in Isaiah 6, seraphim (comp. Revelation 4:7-8). In Exodus 14:19 "the angel of God" is spoken of in connection with the cloud, and in Deuteronomy 33:2 the descent upon Sinai is described as being "with ten thousands of saints" (comp. Psalms 68:17; Zechariah 14:5). The predominant association, however, is with the cherubim, of which the golden cherubim on the mercy seat were the representation. This gives forces to the interpretation that has been put upon Genesis 3:24 (Jerus, Targum) as being the earliest notice of the Shechinah, under the symbol of a pointed flame, dwelling between the cherubim, and constituting that local presence of the Lord from which Cain went forth, and before which the worship of Adam and succeeding patriarchs was performed (see Hale, Chronol. 2:94; Smith, Sacr. Annal. 1, 173, 176, 177). Parkhurst went so far as to imagine a tabernacle containing the cherubim and the glory all the time from Adam to Moses (Heb. Lex. p. 623). It is, however, pretty certain that the various appearances to Abraham and that to Moses in the bush were manifestations of the Divine Majesty similar to those later ones to which the term Shechinah is applied (see especially Acts 7:2).

3. From the tenor of these texts it is evident 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 (6:1, 5) 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.

But of all these ancient recorded theophanies 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. A correct view of this subject clothes it at once with a sanctity and grandeur which seldom appear from the naked letter of the narrative. There can be little doubt that the columnar cloud was the seat of the Shechinah. We have already seen that the term shechinizing is applied to the abiding of the cloud on the summit of the mountain (Exodus 24:16). 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" (Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19; Numbers 16:42). 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 Shechinah, the visible representative of Jehovah dwelling in the midst of his people, See Anon. De שכינה (Jen. 1720); Lowman. On the Shechinah; Taylor Letters of Ben-Mordecai; Skinner, Dissertation on the Shechinah (in Works, vol. 2); Watts, Glory of Christ; Upham, On the Logos; Bash, Notes on Exodus; Tenison, On Idolatry; Fleming, Christology; Patrick, Commentary on Exodus; Buxtorf, Hist. Arc. Fed. ch. 11; Wells, The Shechniath (in Help for Understanding the Scripture, p. 4); (Am.) Evang. Review, Jan. 1860. (See CHERUB); (See CLOUD); (See PILLAR).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Shechinah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​s/shechinah.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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