The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
What is the glory of God? The answer is as infinite as God’s glory itself, so the question can never be answered exhaustively. Some key aspects of God’s glory, however, can be summarized as follows: the glory of God is the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is an the resulting name, or reputation, that he gains from revealing himself as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer, perfect in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth (cf. Exod 34:6-8). God’s glory elicits praise.
God created the world as a place where he would be known, served, praise, and worshiped – a place where his glory would be both manifest and enjoyed. In this respect, God created the world as a cosmic temple. What God set out to accomplish at the beginning is what he will bring to pass at the end of all things (cf. Rev 21:15-22:5). The cosmos is a stunning and fabulous temple, brimming with God’s wisdom and creativity. In a sacred garden spot in his cosmic temple, God placed an image of himself. This image was made not of wood or stone or gold or silver but of flesh and blood. Human beings, like the cosmic temple of the universe, radiate God’s glory. The human body is an engineering masterpiece; childbirth is a miraculous mystery; and the mercy and justice that humans can display as they relate to one another is simultaneously light and heavy, acute and broad, high and deep, reflecting the very glory of the One whose image they bear. The image of the real God is not like the idolatrous manmade images that neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell but is a living being capable of rational thought, relational engagement, and creative development. God endowed his image-bearers with the capacity to use all their powers in the mysterious and elevating worship of the One who made them, sustains them, and created them for himself.
God created the world as a theater of his glory, and in the theater he put an image of himself made to enjoy his glory. Moreover, this image of God was to exercise dominion over the world and bring it into subjection (Gen 1:26-28). Rather than covering the dry lands with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, however, the image-bearer was tempted, sinned, and consequently cast out of the garden of God’s presence (Gen 3:6-7, 23). Even this, however did not take God by surprise. The omniscient Creator knew all that would come to pass in the world he created, and he went forward with the project. We can observe that the sin Adam chose to commit opened up previously impossible prospects. With Adam guilty, God now has an opportunity to display the wonder of his mercy, to demonstrate his power to overcome volitional evil, and to show his love by accomplishing salvation. God set mercy and salvation in motion even as he spoke judgement on the sinners, thereby displaying the unique glory of his ability to save and show kindness, love, and mercy even as he keeps his word and upholds righteousness by doing justice (Gen 3:14-19, especially 3:15).
God did not give up on his original purpose to cover the dry lands with his glory, and there is a clear line from Adam to Abraham (Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-26), and then from Abraham to the nation of Israel (Gen 12:1-3; 26:1-4; 28:1-4; 48:15-16; 49:1-27). The nation was identified as God’s “firstborn son” at the exodus from Egypt (Exod 4:22-23), and God showed his glory over Pharaoh at the exodus (e.g. Exod 9:16; 14:4, 17), planting Israel in the promised land (Exod 15:17) so they could take up the task Adam forsook (cf. Gen 1:28 and Josh 18:1). Even when judging Israel’s sin, God reiterated his purpose: “the glory of Yahweh will fill all the earth” (Num 14:21, author’s translation), In the tabernacle and later the temple, God gave to Israel a preview of the way his glory will one day fill the world, God’s cosmic temple. Once the Davidic king was established over Israel, he was identified as God’s “son” (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7) and invited to ask God for the nations as his heritage (Ps 2:8). If God’s anointed king would heed Deut 17:18-20 and rule on the basis of God’s Torah, he would bring the nations around them into subjection, and they too would be ruled by God’s good law and enjoy his glory (Deut 2:10-12; cf. Ps 67). As Israel’s king reigned with God’s wisdom, all the lands would enjoy the dominion of Yahweh’s vice-regent (cf. Ps 72:8-17). God’s glory would fill the earth (Ps 72:19). But like Adam, the nation and king were tempted, sinned, and cast our from the land of God’s presence.
From the writings of Israel’s prophets, psalmists, and sages, we receive kaleidoscopic snapshots of what God intends to accomplish. God’s name is majestic in all the earth (Ps 8:1), and he makes his praise strong from weak things, like children and infants (Ps 8:2). Yahweh gave dominion over all he made to the son of man (Ps 8:4-8), and the son of man declaring these things in Ps 8 happens to be David, the anointed king of Israel (Ps 8 superscription). The heavens are proclaiming God’s glory (Ps 19:1), and all the nations will glorify his name (Ps 86:9). Jerusalem will be the highest mountain on the earth; from there God’s Torah will go forth (Isa 2:1-4). The whole earth is full of God’s glory (Isa 6:3), and when the promised king from the line of Jesse arises to reign, fully endowed with God’s Spirit (Isa 11:1-2), “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9; cf. Hab 2:14). Justice will be done. The wicked will be crushed (Ps 72:4). Those who trust God will be delivered (Isa 26:3-4). All war will end (e.g., Ps 46:9; Isa 2:4). The curse on the land will be removed (Ps 72:3). The land of Zion will be like Eden, like Yahweh’s garden (Isa 51:3). The enemy between the seed of the woman and the serpent will be gone (Isa 11:8). The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-32). Yahweh’s anointed king will exercise dominion “from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8; Zech 9:10). The serpent’s head will be crushed (Gen 3:15, Ps 74:13-14; Isa 27:1). The wicked will lick the dust like their father the devil (Gen 3:14; Ps 72:9). The nations will be blessed in the seed of Abraham (Gen 12:3; Ps 72:17). And all the earth will be filled with Yahweh’s glory (Ps 72:18-19).
To consummate his purposes (Eph 1:9-10), God sent Jesus the servant who would be exalted and glorified (Isa 52:13; cf. John 12:23). The humility and obedience of Jesus displays God’s glory in what looks to the world like weakness, and this is in keeping with the way God uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:18-31), showing his glory by reversing expectations. God promised to make a great nation of a man with a barren wife (Gen 11:30; 12:1-3). God chose “the fewest of all peoples” to be his own (Deut 7:7). When God decisively answered Satan’s pride and rebellion, he sent his Son as a helpless baby born to a peasant girl in questionable circumstances. Praise ordained from the mouths of children and infants indeed (Ps 8:2). God silenced the dragon’s roar with the infant’s cry (Rev 12:1-12.). Not only did God show his foolishness and weakness to be wiser and stronger than that of men, he achieved victory by what looked like defeat. Christ died on the cross. In the paradox of the ages, the humiliation of Christ won him the name above every name (Phil 2:5-11). At the cross Jesus was glorified and glorified the Father (John 12:23,28; 13:31-32). God’s wrath was poured out, and the full weight of God’s justice was visited on Jesus the Messiah as he died on the cross. Simultaneously, God showed his great love for his people in his willingness to sacrifice his beloved Son, accomplishing the extravagant plan of redemption. At the cross, then, God was glorified for his justice and his mercy (cf. Exod 34:6-7), while Jesus was glorified by his unique ability to satisfy God’s wrath and accomplish the redemption of God’s people. And Paul asserts that God did this to display his righteous and merciful glory as the just justifier of believers (Rom 3:25-26).
God is now saving his people to the praise of his glory and grace (Eph 1:6,12,14). He is displaying his manifold wisdom through the church to the spiritual authorities in heavenly places (Eph 3:10). Paul ascribes glory to God in the church and in Christ forever (Eph 3:20-21). The redemption of God’s people will culminate in the appearance of Christ in glory, dealing out retribution to his enemies and saving those who hope in him (2 Thess 1:5-12).
Across the Scriptures God’s people recognize and respond to God’s own concern for his glory. Moses (Exod 32:12), Joshua (Josh 7:9), David (2 Sam 7:25-26), Solomon (1 Kgs 8:43,60), Asa (2 Chr 14:11), Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20:9), Elijah (1 Kgs 18:36-37), Hezekiah (2 Kgs 19:19), Jeremiah (Jer 14:7,21), the psalmists (Ps 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 109:21), and Daniel (Dan 9:16-19) -they all appeal to God’s concern for his own glory as they pray to him. A host of doxologies in the NT ascribe glory to God and his Messiah (Luke 1:68; Rom 1:25; 9:5; 11:33-36; 16:25-27; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Gal 1:4-5; Eph 1:3; 3:20-21; Phil 4:20; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:15-16; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 13:20-21; 1 Pet 1:3; 4:11; 5:11; 2 Pet 3:18; Jude 24-25; Rev 1:5-6). From the book of Revelation, it appears that God’s redeemed people will sing his praise forever (e.g., Rev 5:9-14; 7:9-12; 15:2-4; 19:1-3).
Does God Seek His Own Glory?
Is it right for God to seek his own glory? What higher end could he seek? If he put something else before himself, would he not be an idolater breaking the first commandment? Is it unloving for God to seek his own glory (cf. 1 Cor 13:5)? On the contrary, if God is the first and best of beings, if humans were made to show forth and enjoy God’s glory, and if loving others entails wanting what is best for them and what will give them most joy, then it would be unloving for God to do anything other than seek his own glory. God is righteous and loving to seek his own glory so that people can celebrate his great name and relish him forever and ever, amen.