SHEKINAH shə kī’ nə (שְׁכִינָה, that which dwells). A non-Biblical term that appeared in the Targums and was used in the Talmud to describe the presence of God in the world and His relationship to Israel.
Origin of the term.
“Shekinah” arose among the Palestinian and Babylonian Jews, being based upon the OT doctrine of the divine presence in the world, which emphasized the immanent presence and activity of God in the world order, and in contradiction to the Alexandrian teaching that God was supramundane and extramundane in His being. “Shekinah” was a useful term to the rabbis in that it afforded a reverent means of bringing the God who was “completely other” into contrast with the material universe, and esp. into a visible or tangible relationship to His people Israel. No doubt the particular emphasis of the word upon “dwelling” grew out of the OT teaching that God chose to dwell among His people and put His name in a special place in the earth (
Many OT ideas fed the growth of the Shekinah concept. The Ark of the covenant was the place of God’s habitation among His people in the early days (
Although the concept of the Shekinah in the Talmud was essentially the same as that developed in the Targums, there was a much wider application of the teaching to the Scriptures. The Mishna, however, which is the oldest part of the Talmud (c. a.d. 135-220), contains only two references to the Shekinah. Most of the references to the term are found in the Haggadah which came later. The presence of God in the world is described as being as pervasive as light (Num. Rabbah 21:16). As the sun in the heavens reaches everywhere with its light, so God is inescapable in His world. The earth is said to shine with the glory of God, and thus to be the face of the Shekinah (Aboth d’Rabbi Nathan II). In the Haggadah the Tabernacle was esp. associated with the Shekinah; in fact, the day of the dedication of the Tabernacle was said to have been the first day of the Shekinah’s abiding in the universe, i.e., the Shekinah at last had found a home (Shabbath 85b). Solomon’s Temple was the successor to the Tabernacle as the Shekinah’s home. At the time of the Exile it was taught by some that the Shekinah went with the captives into Babylon, but others taught that it returned to heaven to which it had come. Although the Shekinah was not to be found in the subsequent to the captivity, it did not mean that it ceased to be active in the world. Both Ishmael ben Elisha and Hoshaiah Rabbah taught that after the return to Jerusalem the Shekinah was in every place.
God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush that was not consumed (
The angel of the Lord was clearly God Himself.
The lighting of the perpetual lamp symbolized the Shekinah, and there was the tradition that from his birth Moses was under the wings of the Shekinah. Since the Shekinah was felt to dwell between the wings of the cherubim over the mercy seat, which was the top of the Ark of the covenant, it may be that the Shekinah was also identified with the cherubim, at least having wings such as they had. The term “face” was also applied to the Shekinah. In fact,
The Midrashim lit. in the later period made the Shekinah almost an independent personality who stood between God and the world in a mediatorial role. Maimonides taught that the Shekinah was a fiery created being who was the agent of divine activity in the world.
John’s gospel is also noteworthy because of parallels to the Shekinah concept. That gospel begins with a passage that is most interesting because it speaks of the “word” having “tabernacled” among men (
The concept of “abiding” was very significant to John. “Abode” was a technical term among the rabbis for the presence of God. Pirqe Aboth read in connection with
Hebrews declared Christ to be the “brightness of God’s glory” (
A. B. Davidson,Prophecy (1912); W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (1948); E. K. Lee, The Religious Thought of St. John (1950); A. Edersheim, History of the Jewish Nation (1954 reprint); E. R. Trattner, Understanding the Talmud (1955); L. W. Schwarz, Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People (1956); E. M. Sidebottom, The Christ of the Fourth Gospel (1961).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
This word is not found in the Bible, but there are allusions to it in