Glory!
 
A recent article in Scientific American (January 2012) described a natural phenomenon popularly known as a “glory”: a colorful halo which surrounds the shadow of an object on clouds, whether that of an airplane or a mountain climber. Scientists have debated the cause of this phenomenon for centuries, still not entirely understood.
 
By analogy, without any intention of claiming they are the same, the Bible speaks of “glory” often, usually in relation to God, but on a few occasions in relation to the soul or heart of man, that inner self which is not easily reduced to material or physical reality. I say ‘in relation to’ because it is not clear that “glory” is just another term for soul or heart; instead it is used parallel to each of these, as if (maybe) describing another aspect of man as a creature “made in the image of God.” For usually “glory” is reserved for God, not man. When applied to man, as in “my glory,” it appears to speak to man’s capacity for communion with God, often a musical communion.
 
For background, consider these passages from the book of Psalms:
Psa. 7:6 ...then let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, let him trample my life to the earth, and let him lay my glory ( כְבוֹדִי ) in the dust. [cf. 3:4, 4:3]
[for the parallel use of soul and glory, cf. Gen. 49:6 into their council let not my soul come; with their assembly let not my glory ( כְּבֹדִי ) unite...]
Psa. 16:9 For this reason my heart rejoices and my glory ( כְּבוֹדִי ) exults.
Psa. 30:13/MT So that [my] glory ( כָבוֹד ) may sing to you, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will always give thanks to you.
Psa. 57:9/MT Awake, my glory ( כְבוֹדִי ), awake, lyre and harp, I will awaken the dawn.... Be exulted above heaven, O God, your glory ( כְּבוֹדֶךָ ) is above all the earth. [cf. Psa. 71:23 for a close mention of my soul with the harp and lyre]
 
Psa. 108:2/MT My heart is steadfast, O God, I will sing and make music even [with] my glory ( כְּבוֹדִי )1
 
 
With this background, consider another passage that has been interpreted to mean different things, most often to associate glory with heaven, as a destination. The key verse:
 
Psa. 73:24 You will guide me with your counsel, and afterward [my] glory ( כָּבוֹד ) you will take/receive ( תִּקָחֵנִי , lit., you will take me, cf. Jer. 15:15)
 
I do not know of any other instance in the Bible, if this is one, that glory denotes heaven. Some translations read “you will take me to glory” as if glory could be a destination. Again, where else in the Bible does glory represent a destination? The following verse (v. 25) does indeed mention heaven, so such an interpretation can’t be ruled out entirely.
 
Robert Alter2 has an interesting suggestion to clarify the meaning of the text. With the opening word וְאַחַר translated “and afterward” the next word כָּבוֹד “glory” seems isolated without an obvious way to make sense of the verse. But if it was translated as a preposition such as “and toward”, then the meaning is clearer. In his translation: “...and toward glory You took me.” Unfortunately, even as a preposition, it does not often appear with the meaning “and toward.” The word וְאַחַר (with the vav) usually appears at the beginning of the verse or half-verse, and almost always is sequential, either afterward/then (temporal order) or after/behind (spatial order), not directional. Possible exceptions: Job 31:7 “and after my eyes walked my heart.” Also Job 39:8 “and after every green thing he searches.” I Sam. 11:7 “whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel...”
 
The NET Bible3 suggests that my glory ( כְבוֹדִי ) with emendation would read my liver ( כְבֵדִי ), with the understanding that liver, like kidneys or heart, may stand for the seat of emotions. “Some view the term “[my] glory” here as a metonymy for man’s inner being..., but it is preferable to emend the form to “my liver.” Why is it preferable? The reading of the Masoretic Text makes perfect sense as a poetic (and lofty) description of man’s soul or inner being. The emendation is a greater stretch, even if based on a single Greek version or Hebrew manuscript, than acceptance of the text as is. Also, it appears this usage is unique to the Psalms. All the citations offered follow the same vowel points, i.e., they also read as glory or my glory, not my liver.4
My point is simply that reading my glory with the Masoretic Text is reasonable and therefore preferable to doubtful emendation that produces something we think is more fitting. Who is the better poet here, “David” as represented in the standard text or a modern-day literary critic? Prove me wrong, but don’t give me the fruits of your imagination.5
The key verse, then, may be understood as the author’s acceptance of the finality of death, that after God has guided him through life God will surely take him away, not to heaven, but to death, here expressed as: “you will take my glory.” Even that aspect of man that seeks communion with God, that offers praise, the highest aspect of man, will expire in death. My glory, my highest self, the image of God, remains subject to mortality. We pray that God will not forget us (Psa. 71:8-9), that in taking us God takes us to Himself (Eccl. 12:7) in some life-affirming way (Psa. 16:11), but this is not the afterlife as it is usually understood, and almost certainly not heaven.
 
© 2015-2016, Charles F. Hudson
 
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1. Other usages of the same term: cf. Psa. 62:8 In God is my salvation and my glory... ; Job 19:9 He has stripped me of my glory ( כְּבוֹדִי ) and taken the crown from my head; Job 29:20 My glory ( כְּבוֹדִי ) was fresh, and my bow ever new in my hand; and Gen. 45:13 ...all my glory....
2. Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.
3. NET Bible, 1st edition, downloaded from bible.org, Biblical Studies Press, 1996-2005.
4. In addition, I have a question: Wouldn’t the presence of the vav as a vowel indicator (in the Hebrew of my glory) have preceded the vowel points added? in the Masoretic Text (MT)? I have seen examples of the Dead Sea Scrolls where additional vavs are used in this manner.
5. For the only example of my liver ( כְּבֵדִי ) in the Masoretic text, cf. Lam. 2:11(parallel with eyes and bowels).