Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The core meaning of the verb כבד (kabed) is to be impressive or to be perceived as impressive, and this either in a good or bad sense. Sometimes the impressing is done by sheer merit of weight (a boulder, Proverbs 27:3, a fat man, 1 Samuel 4:18) but most often by being blatant (the sea bottom abounding with sand, Job 6:3; springs gushing with water; Proverbs 8:24). An important secondary nuance of this verb is that of immobility: something impressive or impressing isn't going to move anywhere.
Our verb may mean to be burdensome (Job 6:3, Judges 1:35), to be 'heavy' or 'immobile' of perception — which means being hard of hearing (Isaiah 59:1), poor of vision (Genesis 48:10), or hard of heart, that is uncooperative or lacking insight (Exodus 9:7) — to be weighty by the measure of society; being a big shot or being esteemed (Job 14:21, frequently of YHWH; Isaiah 66:5).
The famous command to "honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16) uses this verb כבד (kabed), which demonstrates additionally that our verb doesn't simply mean 'to glorify' but rather 'to pay attention to'; to hold folks in either high or low esteem. Someone with the sad misfortune of having bad parents isn't told to glorify them anyway, but all of us are told to heed our parents irrespective of their qualities. Some of life's most valuable lessons can be learned from watching one's parents either succeed or mess up.
Also quite important is the vapid insistence of most translations to 'glorify' the Lord, which may seem noble and pious but which really means nothing at all. The Living God is not like the pagan deities and is not in any way flattered by people howling praises into space (1 Kings 18:26-29) but much rather wants his creatures to calmly pay attention to his words and deeds, and live their lives in the continuous understanding that the world runs on Living Rules that can be learned, understood and greatly benefitted from (1 Kings 18:36-37). (For a closer look at the concept of glory, see our article on the Greek equivalent δοξα, doxa.)
The WHAT of the Lord?
The difficult concept of כבוד יהוה (kabud YHWH), first introduced in Exodus 16:7 and commonly translated with a piously euphemized 'Glory of the Lord', appears to refer to a kind of magnificent manifestation of the Creator, or at least that 'part' of him that can enter the human world and hence be seen and experienced with great joy and reverence. God is spirit (John 4:24) and has no body and thus no parts, so this 'part' is not like any human body-part — just like his hands (Exodus 16:3), arms (Deuteronomy 33:27), feet (Isaiah 66:1) or wings (Psalm 91:4) are not the same as corresponding human parts. In Hebrew, things are named not after how they look but after their behavior of action, and that is why God has hands and such (because he does what we would do with our hands). When God made us in his 'image' (Genesis 1:26), he gave us body parts to do what he does without them. And probably to the chagrin of all the right people, he didn't stop with hands and feet.
It's unfortunate that in our world the miracle of copulation and the associated body parts double as expletives, but in the Bible, the relationship between God and humanity is predominantly described with a marriage metaphor (Isaiah 54:5, Hosea 2:16, Revelation 19:7), with God being the Husband and humanity the Bride (and any invading enemy a rapist; see for instance our article on Goliath, the proverbial heavyweight of the Philistines). Husband and Bride merge via a process that is like physical copulation, and that was what the Tent of Meeting (the tabernacle, later temple) was for. Hence, when the Philistines swiped the Ark of the Covenant, the wife of Phinehas lamented that the כבוד (kabud) of Israel had departed (1 Samuel 4:21-22).
In short: when the Bride is ready to receive the Husband, she gives him importance in such a way that the member of him that is designed to dock with the Bride 'gains weight'. When this member is sufficiently heavy, he can insert it into the Bride's facilities, so that this part of him now becomes part of her. A lot of shaking and trembling ensues as the whole endeavor culminates in an outpour of the Husband's spirit and great joy for both parties.
Biblical time is not the same thing as chronological time, so the actual moment supreme doesn't happen until much later, when the ovum called Jesus is condemned and expelled from society at large and left to decompose in the 'place of waste' (ovulation) and is revived (conception; read our article on Nicodemus for more on this). The world as we know it at present is pregnant with God's offspring (the so-called Body of Christ, a natural phenomenon which has nothing to do with the formal church) which sits within the world until its birth (the so-called 'return' of Christ, which is also a misnomer because Jesus never left — see Matthew 28:20 — and which also will trigger the collapse of the world economy, as foretold by John the Revelator; see Revelation 17-18 and particularly 18:4).
A somewhat similar bodily function occurs when a woman's breasts are 'made heavy/given esteem' because they are filled with milk as she is 'given esteem/pregnancy' (Isaiah 66:11). The similarity of the wording is by no means a coincidence.
Our verb's derivatives are:
- The adjective כבד (kabed), meaning heavy, with pretty much the same scope as the verb. And an additional meaning of this adjective is very numerous (Genesis 50:9, Exodus 12:38) or very rich (Genesis 13:2).
- The identical word, now as masculine noun כבד (kabed), is usually thought to denote the liver, or the 'heavy one' or 'weight-gainer' among the organs. More than half of the fourteen occurrences of this noun are found in Leviticus 3-9, which covers regulations concerning the various offerings. In these regulations this kabed is continuously correlated with two organs called כלית (klyt, in plural), which are thought to denote the kidneys. Here at Abarim Publications, however, we suspect that the כבד (kabed) is really the animal's penis, and the כלית its testicles. The priestly regulations are not specific enough to derive which organs they deal with, but while in agony over 'the destruction of the daughter of my people', the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the כבד (kabed) pouring out over the earth, which is an obvious symbol of spilled seed (Lamentations 2:11, see Genesis 28:9). And as an anecdotal footnote: no European language is as permeated with Yiddish words as is Dutch. The typical Dutch noun kloot (rhymes with boat, not with wood) is of unclear origin, and it means testicle.
- The masculine noun כבד (kobed), meaning heaviness (of a stone - Proverbs 27:3), mass or abundance (of corpses - Nahum 3:3), or vehemence (of war - Isaiah 21:15; of a storm - Isaiah 30:27).
- The adjective כבוד (kabod), meaning glorious or rather simply 'important' or 'impressive' (Ezekiel 23:41, Psalm 45:13).
- The identical word, now as masculine and sometimes feminine noun כבוד (kabod), meaning abundance (Genesis 31:1, Isaiah 10:3), honor (Genesis 45:13, Hosea 9:11), or glory (Numbers 24:11, Jeremiah 48:18).
- The feminine noun כבודה (kebudda), meaning abundance or riches (Judges 18:21 only).
- The feminine noun כבדת (kebedut), meaning heaviness (Exodus 14:25 only).