God’s presence with the children of Israel during the Exodus was shown by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. There were instances when there must have been a more glorious manifestation of God’s presence in the cloud. The glory of the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai and God’s voice spoke out of the cloud, calling Moses to come up the mountain.
The glory of the Lord appeared on occasions when Moses’ authority was questioned and when the tabernacle was dedicated. The pillar of cloud rested upon the tabernacle from that point on. Many years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple the glory of the Lord descended upon it and the cloud filled the temple. The cloud, or Shekinah, a Hebrew term not found in the Bible but used by rabbis to describe the cloud, remained above the temple until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The Shekinah was one of the five things said to be missing from the second temple. Ezekiel had visions of the glory of the Lord during the Babylonian captivity.
It does not appear that the glory of the Lord, the Shekinah, was seen again until the birth of Jesus. The second chapter of Luke tells of the shepherds on the hillside during that night and then verse says: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” No doubt the angels were also glorious in appearance, but the phrase “the glory of the Lord” refers to a glory much greater than that of the angels.
Could this also explain the star seen by the Magi? I am going beyond anything that can be established by the Bible, but there is really no physical explanation for a star that led the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then to one specific house in Bethlehem.
The manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost could also be considered an appearance of the shekinah, or the glory of the Lord: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2-4).
From this time forward the glory of the Lord has been with God’s new covenant people, the church. It is known today not by outward signs but by the life changing power of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.