Timothy S. Morton
I have always thought the wording of Romans 3:23 was a little peculiar, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." It was the words "short of the glory of God that intrigued me." Since the verse and context is about sin, sinners, and righteousness it seemed to me that a sinner coming short of the "righteousness of God," "holiness of God," or even the "goodness of God" would be a better fit, but the Holy Spirit chose the word "glory."
Another puzzling verse is Hab 2:14 where it says, "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." The earth is not just filled with the knowledge of the Lord, but the "knowledge of the glory of the Lord." What is this mysterious "glory"? What does it mean or represent?
One doesn't have to study "glory" very long until he realizes the term has several meanings. It can refer to the strength, physical attributes, and characteristics of men (Prov. 19:11, 20:29; Job 29:20; etc.); to boasting and pride (Prov 25:27; 1Co 1:29; etc.); and also praise and honor (Luke 2:14; 17:18; etc.), but in relation to the Lord glory can speak of two separate concepts: a physical manifestation of His divine presence like the cloud over Mt. Sinai (Exo 24:16-18; Lev 9:8; Exe 1:28; etc.), and the self revelation of His character, name, and being. These last two meanings are the ones we need to examine more closely.
After the children of Israel had been in the wilderness for several years, they became accustomed to seeing God's presence in the form of a cloud at the tabernacle. When Moses would walk over to the tabernacle "all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle" (Exo 33:8). Then when Moses entered the tabernacle "the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses...face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." (Exo 33:9-11). The Lord and Moses had a cordial if not intimate relationship. The Lord even told Moses "I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight."
Moses felt so comfortable with the Lord that he boldly asked him, "I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee" (Exo 33:13). Moses wants to know the Lord better and wants Him to show him His "way." (God's "way" is another topic that demands thorough study, but another time). The Lord replies that His presence will continue to go with Israel as they wander but Moses is not satisfied with the response and blurts out, "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory" (Exo 33:18). Moses wants to really KNOW the Lord; he wants to see Him as he is.
Do we realize today, 3,000 years later, that Moses was asking for THE BEST THING THAT ANY CREATURE, IN ANY TIME, AT ANY PLACE, COULD EVER ASK FOR? There is no better request or better knowledge in the universe than to see and know the fullness of the "glory of God." We are beginning to see here what the glory of God is. It speaks of God's essence; His character; His makeup so to speak. Moses was not content just knowing about God or even communing with Him in person; he wants to KNOW and EXPERIENCE God in the fullest measure possible. Centuries later Paul had this same desire for Christ. He yearned to "know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings..." (Phi 3:10). This is a knowledge of God transcends everything.
The Lord's reply to Moses in Exodus 33:19 is no less profound than Moses' request. He says, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee," and He continues, "while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:" Although the words used are simple and easy to comprehend, the depth of these statements is beyond comprehension.
First, the Lord said He would make "ALL" HIS "GOODNESS" pass before Moses. Can we even begin to realize what "all my goodness" entails? If God is anything he is good, and "goodness" here means much more than how we generally use the term today. It is an expression expounding on every one of God's characteristics or attributes. God's graciousness is good (Psalm 145:8), His mercy is good (2 Samuel 24:14), His patience is good (2 Peter 3:9), His kindness is good (Rom. 2:4), His perfection is good (Matthew 5:48), His truthfulness is good (John 1:14), His holiness is good (1 Peter 1:16), His justice is good (Isaiah 30:18), and even His wrath is good (Nahum 1:2). EVERYTHING about God is good and He is going to pass ALL HIS GOODNESS before Moses!
Furthermore, look at Exodus 33:19-23 again and notice that God's goodness is synonymous with God's glory which is synonymous with God Himself! He said "my goodness pass before thee" then says "while my glory passeth by" then says "while I pass by." Now it becomes clearer; God's glory is a manifestation of Himself in all His goodness and splendor.
But there is more. When Moses asked for God's glory the Lord gave him a two-fold answer. He said he would pass His goodness/glory before him but also said He would "proclaim the name of the LORD before thee." Thus the Lord's name is connected to His glory. Unlike today where a name is just a label one has or has given something, to the Lord a name is a reflection of character; an expression of what a person actually is. Like goodness and glory one's name represents the nature of the person himself.
In Exodus 34 the Lord called Moses back up to Mt. Sinai so HE could "proclaim the name of the LORD" to Him. The Lord in His own words is going to reveal to Moses what His name is,
"And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." (Exo 34:5-7)
Imagine the scene: Moses is standing inside a clift of a rock with two blank tablets in his hand (to replace the two he broke previously), the Lord comes passing by the opening and puts his hand over Moses eyes as He walks by because "no man can see His face and live." And as He is passing by He is saying the words of Exo 34:6-7! He proclaims how He is "merciful," "gracious," "longsuffering," and filled with "goodness and truth." He then details how He is already "keeping mercy for thousands" and "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." This is how God describes Himself. This is the "name of the Lord."
From this profound passage of God revealing Himself to Moses we learn what the essence of the glory of God is. It is synonymous with His goodness, His name, and ultimately Himself. So when Paul says all fall "short of the glory of God" in one aspect he is saying every person who has sinned in even the slightest has fallen short of absolute essence and perfect, righteous, holy, merciful, and gracious standard that is God.
In another respect all people fall short of the "glory" that God originally intended for man when He created him. Adam had a great deal of glory placed on him from the moment of his creation. He was created in God's image, he was given dominion over the entire earth and all it contained, he was a son of God, etc. He had much glory, but he lost almost all when he ate of the wrong tree.
People today cannot even come up to the level of glory man originally had, let alone the glory of God Himself.
In Isaiah 42 the Lord said, "I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another..." (Isa 42:8). That is, He won't share His name, goodness, or person with anyone or anything. Then we read in John 17, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5). Not only does this verse prove the deity of Christ since the Father glorified Jesus "with His own self," it also shows that Jesus Christ IS the glory of God. Consider this verse,
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Heb 1:3)
So the glory of God is His essence; his person; His identity, and this glory is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ's glory is His Father's glory thus both have the "glory of God." But what about Christ, does He share His glory? Since believers are actually "in Christ" and part of His "body," do they share in His glory?
Whereunto he called you by our gospel, TO THE OBTAINING OF THE GLORY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. (2Th 2:14)
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared WITH THE GLORY WHICH SHALL BE REVEALED IN US. (Rom 8:18)
And that he might make known the RICHES OF HIS GLORY ON THE VESSELS OF MERCY, WHICH HE HAD AFORE PREPARED UNTO GLORY, (Rom 9:23)
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, THEN SHALL YE ALSO APPEAR WITH HIM IN GLORY. (Col 3:4)
But the God of all grace, WHO HATH CALLED US UNTO HIS ETERNAL GLORY BY CHRIST JESUS.... (1Pe 5:10)
Romans 3:23 says we fall short of God's glory, we can't look on His face, or have knowledge of the essence of His being. Even though he created us "upright" (Ecc 7:29) we have fallen and come short. We are destitute, "without hope and without God" (Eph 2:12). But if one believes on and trusts the Lord Jesus Christ he finds...
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the LIGHT OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST. (2Co 4:6)
...and everything is fixed—ah, more than fixed. With Jesus Christ we get the "light of the KNOWLEDGE of the GLORY OF GOD in the FACE of JESUS CHRIST! The very face that Moses could not gaze upon and live we can gaze upon in faith until the day comes when we can see Him in His glory. All believers share in the glory of Christ because they are IN Christ. And Christ has what His Father has because "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2:9). We are complete in Him! (Col 2:10).
"Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." (2Co 9:15); "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom 5:20).