Ichabod – What Does It Mean

By Geroge Berry

Ichabod (EH’CA’VOD) – strange word for a title. Most of us are familiar with this word only as the first name chosen by Washington Irving for his bumpkin character in the tale of “The Headless Horseman”. It really deserves much more recognition than it gets.  I’d like to discuss it a bit and see if it doesn’t deserve some place in our vocabulary.

My father had a long-time, dear friend named Harold Lyman.  Harold was a full time evangelist. He was invited several times to hold service in my father’s assigned churches. I grew up with a strong admiration for this dedicated man and his confident and caring manner of spreading the gospel. He liked to compare pastors and evangelists thusly – “A minister’s job is to comfort the afflicted; an evangelist’s job is to afflict the comfortable.”

One of the ways that Harold used to afflict the comfortable was to remind them of the ways in which Christians can become shallow and/or miss the real meanings and foundations of the faith. I remember him making a statement in one of his sermons something to the effect of “If that’s all our church means to us then we might as well nail the door closed and hang a sign that says `Ichabod'”.

As a teen-ager, this phrase stuck with me because it was a word I had never heard used in normal conversation or writing. As I got older, I became more aware of the word and its implications and more
and more aware of how often it fit into common church situations.

To begin with, let’s take a look at this word Ichabod. It is an anglicized form of an old Hebrew word. Upon checking secular dictionaries, the first thing one will discover that the shorter and more abridged versions don’t even include it. In a larger, more comprehensive volume, we can find a short definition consisting of an admission of not knowing its exact, original definition and a meaning of “no glory”. The original meaning to those who are aware of the ways of God is “the glory has gone”. A little investigation easily
shows why it is a mystery to those who are apart from knowledge of the Divine and His ways.

“Has gone” denotes that action has taken place. There used to be glory, and now there isn’t. The term originated in reference to the Shekinah (SHE’KEE’NA) which is the manifestation of the glory of God
in the temple at Jerusalem. Shekinah was displayed in several ways throughout scripture – the burning bush, the bright light when the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds, and others.
The Shekinah was only present when the Ark of the Covenant was in its proper place, in the Holy of Holies. Historically, whenever the Ark was not in the temple, the temple was said to be Ichabod. The real
substance and meaning of the temple was missing. The essence (glory) was gone. We could spend hours and years discussing the significance of the Ark of the Covenant, both in history and in coming prophecy,
but our present focus is on conditions when it is absent.

There are many references to the “glory of God” throughout scripture. Connotation and denotation of the references vary somewhat, but the Shekinah is the most awesome and powerful of all such manifestations. It is the direct reminder of God’s power and interaction with His people.

The word “glory” is one that is often misunderstood. How many know the literal meaning of the word? I have asked several people in the last few days, and none of them had a grasp of its significance.  Most all of us are aware of the meaning which includes praise, honor and fame, but did you know that a more complete definition includes the words splendor, magnificence and radiance. Read any passage
regarding the glory of God with these words in mind. How has the significance changed? Surprising isn’t it?

So, why was this term Ichabod applied in a modern day sermon about modern day Christianity. The glory of God, in our Age of Grace, is manifest by the lives of those truly serving Him. These dedicated
lives truly complement all of creation and form the visible manifestation of God’s splendor, magnificence and radiance.

So many times we are apt to let the dedication slip. Church becomes a social club instead of an earthly means of worship and spiritual edification. Christian works which are born as evidence of faith become mere acts for the notice of others or for a salve to the conscience. The bodies are there, going through endless motions, becoming empty shells. The glory has gone. The persons, and the organization which they comprise ARE Ichabod.

I have purposely omitted the myriad of scriptural references that could accompany this discussion with the hope that we will all scour our textbook and discover the important (and thrilling) aspects of God’s glory, as it is in the Covenant, as it applies to the Age of Grace, and as it will be for believers for evermore.

In older days, a common way to refer to a person’s physical death was to say “Gone to glory.” It is a little sad that such reference has fallen into disuse. It provides a positive view of what happens to a Christian when that transition time arrives. Not only will we go to glory, but, when the Age is completed, we will be an integral and everlasting part of that glory. The term Ichabod will become as extinct as the evil which created its necessity.

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)

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