In the Bible "exaltation" most often refers to the lofty position of God and of Jesus Christ, but sometimes the term is applied to human beings, especially to Israel and her king. The most common Hebrew terms for "lift up, exalt" are rum [Wr], nasa [a'f"n] and gabah [H;b"G], while hupsoo [uJyovw] is the Greek equivalent.
The Exaltation of God and His Name. In the Old Testament the Lord alone is the One who deserves to be exalted ( Isaiah 2:11 Isaiah 2:17 ). His power is beyond that of all others ( Job 36:22 ) and he is exalted over all the nations and above the heavens ( Psalm 46:10 ; 57:5 ; 113:4 ). Sometimes God's exaltation is demonstrated by his mighty Acts on behalf of his people. When the Lord overthrew Pharaoh's chariots and soldiers in the Red Sea, his right hand "was majestic with power" ( Exodus 15:1 Exodus 15:6 ). No king or god could stand before the God of Israel ( Exod 15:11 ). On such triumphal occasions the Lord's right hand is said to be lifted high ( Psalm 118:16 ; Isa 26:11 ) as he takes action against the enemy ( Isa 33:10 ). God's powerful help leads people to praise him and to exalt his name, for he alone deserves the glory ( Psalm 148:13 ; Isa 24:15 ; 25:1 ). Since the Lord is King, the psalmist calls on humankind to exalt him and worship at the sanctuary ( Psalms 99:5 Psalms 99:9 ).
The Exaltation of God's People. In his sovereign rule, God has seen fit to bless and to elevate those he has chosen. Abraham and Isaac enjoyed God's spiritual and material blessing ( Gen 24:35 ; 26:13 ), and the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River served to "exalt" Joshua as a leader close to the stature of Moses ( Joshua 3:7 ). Those who are righteous are lifted up and given honor ( Psalm 75:10 ; 112:9 ); God takes special delight in raising up the poor and humble ( 1 Sam 2:7-8 ). Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted ( Matt 23:12 ; Luke 14:11 ).
Throughout the Old Testament the people of Israel in particular were exalted by God. As early as the time of Balaam, when Israel was about to conquer Canaan, God announced that their kingdom would be exalted ( Num 24:7 ). This prediction was fulfilled during the reign of David, when Israel's king was "the most exalted of the kings of the earth" ( Psalm 89:27 ). David acknowledged that the Lord "had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel" ( 2 Sam 5:12 ). David knew that his rise to the throne was part of God's redemptive program for Israel launched when the Abrahamic covenant was established ( Gen 12:1-3 ). After the death of David, the Lord highly exalted Solomon and gave him unparalleled splendor as the head of a powerful empire ( 1 Chron 29:25 ). According to Proverbs 14:34 "righteousness exalts a nation"; the days of David and Solomon were characterized by just and wise decisions that contributed to the peace and prosperity of their realms.
Sinful Human Exaltation. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, hoping to become "like God" ( Gen 3:5 ). Often the proud and arrogant behavior of human beings constitutes an attempt to usurp God's position in direct rebellion against his word. Israel was cautioned not to be proud, but unfortunately the nation's rebellion against God brought his harsh judgment ( Deut 8:14 ). The arrogance of Israel's leaders and of other nations is directly contrasted to the splendor of God's majesty "when he rises to shake the earth" ( Isaiah 2:19 Isaiah 2:21 ). The psalmist warns the arrogant not to utter threats against heaven, or God will judge them ( Psalm 75:5-7 ).
In the Old Testament the best illustrations of arrogance come from the lives of Gentile rulers. Sennacherib of Assyria threatened Hezekiah and the God of Judah ( 2 Kings 19:22 ), but God humiliated Sennacherib by destroying most of his army. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon did conquer Jerusalem and was overcome with pride, but after God struck him down with insanity, Nebuchadnezzar praised and exalted the King of heaven ( Daniel 4:30 Daniel 4:37 ). In the second century b.c. Antiochus IV Epiphanes arrogantly tried to stamp out Jewish worship, foreshadowing a future ruler who would exalt and magnify himself against the Lord ( Dan 8:23-25 ; 11:36-37 ). This man of lawlessness will exalt himself to the point of claiming to be God, and then he will be destroyed ( 2 Thess 2:3-4 ).
The Exaltation of Christ. As the God-man, Jesus Christ entered the world to redeem humankind from their sinful condition. Through his death and resurrection Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Father. Both Isaiah 52:13 and the Gospel of John ( 3:14 ; 8:28 ; John 12:32 John 12:34 ) speak of Christ's death in the double sense of being "lifted up" and being "highly exalted." By humbling himself and submitting to death by being "lifted" onto a Roman cross, Christ paid for the sin of humankind, and in so doing was exalted by the Father to the highest place and given "the name that is above every name" ( Php 2:8-9 ). It was through the resurrection from the dead that Christ's death was demonstrated in a powerful way ( Rom 1:4 ). By the resurrection Christ's human nature entered the glorious state of the unending life, and the risen Lord swallowed up death in victory ( 1 Cor 15:54 ).
Having finished his work on earth, Jesus was taken back to heaven and seated at the right hand of God. David had spoken of the Messiah's sitting at the Lord's right hand ( Psalm 110:1 ). This most exalted and honored position confirmed Christ's glory and authority as the supreme ruler ( Eph 1:20-21 ). Christ's exaltation and lordship are evident in the titles "Prince" and "Savior, " which are ascribed to him in his heavenly session ( Acts 5:31 ). The "prince" or "author" of our salvation was made "perfect through suffering" and then "sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" ( Heb 2:10 ; 12:2 ). The son of David was now a king far above any earthly ruler.
At his second coming the King of kings and Lord of lords will return to earth to defeat the nations and to rule them with an iron scepter ( Rev 19:15-16 ). Christ's sovereign authority will be displayed; every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord ( Php 2:10-11 ).
Herbert M. Wolf
Bibliography. G. Bertram, TDNT, 8:602-12; W. A. Grudem, EDT, 1053-54; R. Nicole, ZPEB, 2:421-22.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Exaltation'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".