What Is The Meaning Of Shekinah?

Every religion struggles with a basic conundrum. How to explain the involvement of a purely spiritual God in the details of a purely physical world? The solution to this enigma in Judaism is that the divine presence of God actually descends into the physical world to dwell among humans. The original Hebrew word for this “divine presence” is the shekinah (שכינה).

 

The pictorial Bible and commentator- presenting the great truths of God's word in the most simple, pleasing, affectionate, and instructive manner (1878) (14577613197).jpg

A depiction of the death of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10), from The Pictorial Bible and Commentator (1878). Notice the shekinah descending on the Ark of the Covenant on the left.

How can an all-perfect, all-powerful, spiritual God enter the flawed, broken, physical world of human beings? In Jewish thought, the solution to this enigma is twofold. In ancient times, the God of Israel descended into the world by entering a sacred space called the Tabernacle (mishkan). Since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the God of Israel has bestowed his “divine presence” (shekinah) without the need for a specific building.

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A 3rd century stone carving of the tabernacle from Capernaum

What do the mishkan (משכן) and the shekinah (שכינה) have in common? They are both manifestations of a perfect spiritual God within an imperfect physical world. They are also both words that derive from the same Hebrew root: SKN (שכנ). This root means “to inhabit”, “to settle down”. The God of Israel desires to dwell among us, as the Bible emphasizes: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God” (Ex. 29:45-46).

Tissot Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle.jpg

Tissot Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle.jpg More details Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)

Do you thirst for the presence of God to dwell in your midst? The study of Biblical Hebrew is one of the most effective ways of achieving this spiritual goal. Enroll today in eTeacher’s online Hebrew course and begin to fill in the gaps in your Scriptural knowledge. Before you know it, you too will feel that you are a true Tabernacle worthy of God’s indwelling.

About the author

Jonathan LipnickJonathan Lipnick believes that a truly comprehensive understanding of Scripture must be capable of penetrating beneath the printed words to reveal the authentic world of the Bible: the landscapes, smells and sounds of ancient Israel. He is the dean of the faculty of Holy Land Studies at Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, and is the author of the course "Exploring the Biblical Land of Israel"

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