It was the withdrawal of God’s Presence from the midst of Israel that marked the beginning of their long period of sufferings. Isaiah 39:6 announces the judgement on Israel and this announcement forms the threshold of the last great prophecy of the New Testamentary period beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist and concluding where the New Testament ends, with the new heaven and new earth wherein the righteous shall dwell. The consolation Israel takes with them as they begin their long journey of separation from God was spoken of in Isaiah 35:2; “The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed”. In the Hebrew, that expression, “the glory of Jehovah” was understood to mean the glory of the personal presence of Jehovah, as in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
The withdrawal of God’s presence from Israel was not sudden, but gradual, and is spoken of in the prophecies of Ezekiel. Although God’s presence, we are told, fills the universe, yet He has dwelt with no other nation as He dwelt with Israel, His first-born. But that holy presence came to an end.
It began with Ezekiel’s prophecy:
“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Remove the mitre, and take off the crown; this shall be no more the same; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him” (Ezekiel 21:26-27).
Israel was a theocratic state and the removal of governmental power from Judah was a significant step in their estrangement from God. No longer would they be under the government of God but of the gentile nations (which nevertheless would be punished for their “froward” treatment of God’s people). But simultaneously with the removal of governmental authority and power from Israel the prophet saw the departure of the Glory of Jehovah. The true King of Israel was Jehovah and the removal of crown and mitre and the departure of the sceptre from Judah signified God’s withdrawal.
We read in Ezekiel chapters 9, 10 and 11 that God withdrew gradually, and even reluctantly. Firstly, Ezekiel sees the “glory of Jehovah” in its rightful place between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, then he sees it lift up from the cherub and move to the threshold of the House (Ezekiel 9:3), where it evidently remained for a time “and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of Jehovah” (Ezekiel 10:4). Then he sees it move again, this time mounted on the cherubim, the symbols of God’s executive power and authority on the earth, and they stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house and “…the glory of the God of Israel was over them above” (Ezekiel 10:19). Finally, the prophet saw the glory of Jehovah going up from the city to the mountain to the east where it stood for a time before it departed, and Israel was taken into captivity by the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 11:23-24).
The symbolical language of the slow and deliberate withdrawal of the glory of Jehovah from His people, as seen by the prophet Ezekiel was echoed by the true glory of God’s presence, the Lord Jesus, when He cried to His rebellious but beloved people;
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not” (Matthew 23:37).
According to Rabbi Youchanan, in the preface to his Kabalistic commentary on the book of Lamentations, Aychah Rabatha, “For the space of three years and a half, the Shekinah was sitting upon the Mount of Olives thinking peradventure Israel might repent”. But, as we know, they did not repent but grew bolder in their sins and as God Himself complains to His prophet Ezekiel, they literally drove Him from their midst by their wickedness.
Son of man, do you see what they do; even the great abominations that the house of Israel commits here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? (Ezekiel 8:6).
Since those days, therefore, there is one word written across the pages of Israel’s history even to this day; Ichabod – “the glory is departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21).
So off they went to Babylon and, after the seventy years had elapsed, a handful returned and began the reconstruction of the temple, encouraged by the post exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
There is a moral to this story – believers trifle with God’s word and His promises at their peril. God will do what He has said He will do; He expects His people to be faithful to what has been revealed. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). He is faithful to His word, both for blessing and cursing, as we see in the story of His treatment of Israel, His beloved first-born.
He promised that “a partial hardening has become to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles should come” (Romans 11:25). At this time in God’s prophetic purposes, the time of the gentiles has been completed and He now turns His attention back to Israel whose heart was hardened. The circle has been completed; the apostate type and pattern laid down by Israel has been fulfilled in the gentile Church.
As the prophetic era of the end times unfold, Israel’s final tribulation will begin, out of which they will be rescued by Him whom they have pierced and all Israel will be saved. For gentile believers, their salvation is on an individual basis and will depend upon whether they have been grafted in to the root and fatness of the olive tree or followed the path of the rebellious branches and “take as their doctrines the teachings of men” (Matthew 15:9). For, as it is written; “Rightly in unfaithfulness they were broken off but you, in faithfulness, have stood” (Romans 11:20).
The purpose of His calling is “that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10); it was for Israel and it is for the gentile believers. We must partake of His holiness, because we cannot ourselves be holy in any other way. To partake, we must abide in His presence “so that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). There is no other way that it can be done and if we are to be saved, we are to seek “holiness, without which no-one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
The Glory of Jehovah Restored
Returning from the captivity in Babylon, the remnant of Israel began to rebuild the temple and Haggai, the great prophet of the post exilic period, spoke to them saying; “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? and how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, says Jehovah; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, says Jehovah, and work: for I am with you, says Jehovah of hosts, according to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and my Spirit abode among you: fear not. For thus says Jehovah of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations; and the precious things of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, says Jehovah of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says Jehovah of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says Jehovah of hosts; and in this place will I give peace, says Jehovah of hosts” (Haggai 2:3-9).
The glory has departed, as God notes, but nevertheless they are encouraged to continue the work. Recalling His covenant made in Egypt, God promises that this house shall be filled with glory and that “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former”.
At the dedication of Moses’ tabernacle, we read; “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34). This is an example of true consecration; any thing or place or person of which or whom God takes possession can be said to be truly consecrated and holy. Moses built the tabernacle according to the divine instructions but it was not yet consecrated and holy until the symbolical cloud of His presence came and covered it and His glory filled it.
Similarly, when Solomon’s temple was completed, we read once more of the presence of Jehovah consecrating His house; “Then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of Jehovah, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of Jehovah filled the house of God (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). Here too, the presence of Jehovah manifested to consecrate His house in the same way as in the tabernacle of Moses.
But of the second temple, there is no similar reference to God’s holy presence and its work of consecration. According to Jewish historians the second temple lacked five things that were features of the first temple consecrated by God; The ark and its contents were not present; the holy fire that came down and consumed the offering was never present; the Urim and Thummim were not present; there was no spirit of prophecy and there was no Shekinah glory. (In Ezra 2:63 those who could not prove their priestly descent were excluded from the priesthood “till there should stand up a priest with Urim and Thummim.”)
It is recorded in the Jewish chronicles of the period that the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple remained a vacuum throughout the nearly five hundred years of its existence. The people waited for all that time for God to come and take possession of His house and to consecrate it with His holy presence; but to no avail.
Where then, was the glory of which the prophet Haggai spoke at the commencement of the building on the return from Babylon and of which he prophesied that “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former”?
We read of this latter glory in the gospel of Luke. One day a young woman of the House of David brought her first-born child to be presented to the Lord according to the Law, which says; “Sanctify unto me all the first-born, whatsoever opens the womb among the children of Israel” (Exodus 13:2). She offered the sacrifice required of “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). Arriving at the same time was an aged man named Simeon, to whom “it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he should see the Christ of the Lord” (Luke 2:26). When he saw the child Jesus, he took Him up in his arms, praised God and said; “mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
Here then is the glory prophesied of this house by Haggai; the latter glory that was greater than the former. Later on, we see the consecration of God’s house as Jesus, fully entered on His messianic mission, drove out before Him, with a scourge of cords, the money changers and traders from the Temple saying; “Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise” (John 2:16).
Here was the greater glory, the real presence in human form, the One “being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance” (Hebrews 1:3). The expression used frequently in prophecy, “the glory of Jehovah”, always refers to Christ who was the only visible manifestation of God that was available to man. We read in John’s gospel; “and the word became flesh …..and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father….” (John 1:14). Thus Jesus was able to say “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
But Israel, as a nation, would yet have to wait long for the revelation of “the glory of Jehovah” and its prophetic fulfillment to them. They saw in Him no form nor comeliness and when they beheld Him they saw no beauty in Him to desire Him, and so what was foretold by Isaiah came to pass; “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and there was, as it were, the hiding of the face from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3).
At the end, after He had for three and a half years stretched out His arms and called Israel to Himself, without any response, that which was symbolised in the departure of the glory of Jehovah from the temple and finally, from the Mount of Olives in Ezekiel 9, 10 and 11, was fulfilled in a striking manner when Jesus, after shedding tears for Jerusalem, ascended out of sight from exactly the same spot as the glory departed. “And he led them out until they were over against Bethany: and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
Daniel had previously seen a vision of the Son of Man returning to the Ancient of Days to receive “eternal authority and glory” (Daniel 7:13-14) and the “men of Galilee” witnessed the actual event as the Lord of Glory departed the earth, two angels testifying to them that “this same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Ezekiel, who had seen in a vision the departure of the glory of Jehovah, also beheld a vision of its return; “Afterward, He brought me to the gate, even the gate that looks toward the east, and behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east………………………and the glory of Jehovah came into the house by way of the gate whose prospect is towards the east. So the Spirit took me up and brought me in to the inner court and behold, the glory of Jehovah filled the house” (Ezekiel 43:1-5).
The symbolic language of Ezekiel’s vision is significant; it was from the Mount of Olives that they saw Him depart and on the same spot, “upon the Mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem on the east”, His blessed feet “shall stand in that day” (Zechariah 14:4).
But Israel remains a “stiff-necked” people, who have hardened their hearts against what their scriptures so clearly reveal and who must therefore continue to suffer the absence of the glory of their Lord until the day spoken of Isaiah comes, when the glory will once again be revealed to them.
Then, and only then, will Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled; “And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken it” (Isaiah 40:5).