– Find it (Exodus 25:31-40)
– pay attention to the shape of tabernacle worship so that we can better see the fullness of what has come and is coming soon.
– what is a calyx? Not a botanist, but to the best of my knowledge, it is the part of a flower that holds up the petals.
You shall make a lamp stand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lamp stand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals shall be of one piece with it; and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lamp stand out of one side of it; and three branches of the lamp stand out of the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch; and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the other branch – so for the six branches going out of the lamp stand. On the lamp stand itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. There shall be a calyx of one piece with it under the first pair of branches, a calyx of one piece with it under the next pair of branches, and a calyx of one piece with it under the last pair of branches – so for the six branches that go out of the lamp stand. Their calyxes and their petals shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold. You shall make the seven lamps for it; and the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its snuffers and trays shall be of pure gold. It, and all these utensils, shall be made from a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them according to the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I don’t know about you, but I am not a craftsman. So while the instructions God gives Moses here in Exodus 25 are very specific and detailed, I have trouble visualizing what the lamp stand looked like. So I want to show you a picture of a recreation of the lamp stand.
The Hebrew word for lamp stand is menorah, or menorah. So the lamp stand described by God to be made for the tabernacle was a menorah. There is one central lamp stand and six branches going out in pairs, one on top of the other, for a total of seven. It is decorated like almond blossoms. It would have been an oil lamp because candles were not invented until much later, so that was the only kind of lamp there was.
This lamp stand was inside the tent of the tabernacle, inside the Holy Place with the altar of incense and the table of the Showbread, or the Bread of the Presence. Seven lamps on one lamp stand giving light to the Holy Place, to the house of God.
But why? Why would God want his people to make such a lamp? Of the few pieces of furniture God instructs them to build for his house, why would God have them make a lamp stand?
The answer is this: without the light, we are in darkness. On a surface level, the lamp in the tabernacle was necessary because there were no windows in the tabernacle. Apart from this lamp the Holy Place would have been pitch dark. They needed light to see what they were doing, so they needed a lamp. But why this lamp, designed this way, with these very specific instructions? There must be more going on here than just any old lamp.
Without the light, we are in darkness. This is true not just of that room in the tent, but of life in the world. Without the light, we are in darkness. Because of sin, the default is darkness.
Left to our devices, left to go our own way, we humans destroy and hurt one another. I know it is popular with Osteen and Oprah to assume that all people are basically good, that we will naturally do the right thing, but the evidence – biblical and experiential says otherwise. The smiling, modern gurus are wrong. It was not part of God’s good creation, but since our first parents rebelled against God, that sinful rebellion has wormed its way into the very hearts of every human being, so that none of us is born without it.
People are taken and trafficked. Houses sell for half a million while others sleep in the snow. Teens go hungry and homeless. Pregnant young women are coerced by their boyfriends to get abortions. Women sell their bodies, men raise their fists, children run their mouths or run away. Couples snip, snap, and split leaving homes and families broken in their wake. Some take while others starve. Some drive by to grab a $6 latte for a treat while others sit and beg. And that’s just in Brantford.
Because of sin, the default is darkness. Without the light, we are in darkness.
Left to our own devices, left to go our own way, we humans will not seek God, will not do righteousness before him. We can certainly look out into the world, into our city, into our neighborhoods and see how sin grips communities and institutions so that without the light, the default is darkness. Yet, we do not need even to look that far. What would you do if you could absolutely get away with something – no one would ever know, you’d never get caught, they’d never find out. What would you do if, like Bilbo Baggins you could just slip on a magic ring and disappear. I’m guessing none of you thought about shoveling someone else’s driveway or cooking someone dinner. If we could get away with it, because of sin our default is going to be darkness. Psalm 53 says, “God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one” (v.2-3).
Without the light, we are in darkness. God tells Moses to build a lamp stand for his house, because the world is a dark place unless the light shines. And it is not just somewhere out there either. The lamp stand was placed in the house of God, in the Holy Place. Without the lamp stand, with out the light, even the house of God, even the church is a dark place. We in the church are not immune from the effects and desires of sin. If the light does not shine in the church, then it too becomes just as dark as anywhere else in the world.
In a world after the Fall, touched and tainted by sin, the default is darkness. Yet, God has sent the light in the darkness and the darkness will not over come it. It is in the darkness of the Holy Place, in the darkness of the world and even the church, that God calls for a lamp stand to be placed, for the light to shine. If the problem of darkness is far bigger than just what is going on in the Holy Place, then the lamp stand God places there must speak to something far bigger than itself. The lamp stand and the light it gives is a sign of the light of the world God shines into the darkness.
Before we see what this light is that God has sent to shine in the darkness, let’s look a moment at the lamp stand itself. God did not give these specific directions by accident. They tell us something about the character of the light that God sends in the darkness. So before we see what the light of the lamp stand points to, let’s look briefly at three aspects of the lamp stand itself.
First, the lamp stand is precious. God doesn’t tell Moses to go get a $15 lamp from Walmart. Four times we are told the the lamp is to be made of pure gold. Almost everything else in the tabernacle is made of wood and covered with gold or bronze, but the menorah, the lamp stand, is made of a solid piece of gold. A lot of it too. Verse 39 says It, and all these utensils, shall be made from a talent of pure gold. A talent translated to roughly 75 pounds of purest gold. Imagine the cost, the investment needed to make this lamp stand. I did some calculations and at current rates, that would mean almost our entire yearly budget here at the church just on the gold for the lamp stand, let alone the cost of hiring a skilled craftsmen to make it. This lamp stand was incredibly precious. So whatever the lamp stand signifies, symbolizes or points ahead to, we see from the way that the original lamp stand was made that it will be precious. The light that God gives is to be incredibly precious to us and worthy of our investment.
Second, the lamp stand is unified. Six times in these nine verses, we are told that the lamp stand is to be all of one piece. Even though it had six branches, though could not be removed. It was all or nothing, you could not take pieces off the lamp stand, or pick and choose how you were going to put it together. It was all of one piece. It was unified. So whatever the lamp stand signifiies, symbolizes, or points ahead to, we see from the way that the original lamp stand was made that it will be unified. We will not be able to pull it apart into various pieces or pick and choose the parts we like. It will be one – all or nothing.
Lastly, the lamp stand is complete. There are seven lamps on the lamp stand. Seven, in the Bible, is the number of completeness. It is the number for when something is full or finished, there is nothing more to add. This comes originally from the seven days of creation, where God finished his work, there was nothing more to add, and he rested on the seventh day. So for a lamp stand to have seven lamps is a reference to creation where God said, ‘let there be light,’ but also to the fullness of creation on the seventh day. The lamp stand is complete. The light is full. There is nothing missing and nothing that can or should be added to it. The lamp stand is complete with its seven lamps. So whatever the lamp stand signifies, symbolizes, or points ahead to, we see from the way that the original lamp stand was made that it will be complete. The light God gives will be missing nothing and need nothing added to it.
With those in place – that the light will be precious, unified, and complete – what is the light that God gives? What light does the lamp stand point to?
First, I think it points to the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel in the wilderness. During the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, God was present with them and led them by a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night. When the pillar moved, the people broke camp and moved. When it stayed still, the remained where they were. The pillars of fire and smoke symbolized God’s abiding and guiding presence with his people. They were the means by which God was with his people and led his people. So when we come to the tabernacle and enter into the Holy Place, there is a pillar of fire and of smoke. The altar of incense would have had smoke arising from it whenever incense was offered, and the lamp stand would have had a blazing fire in the darkness. This would have been the most immediate connection for the people of Israel. When they finally entered the promised land, God no longer led them by a pillar of fire and smoke, but in the tabernacle of God, the fire was still there. God was still with them. His abiding and guiding presence was still with his people. Without that, without the light, there were in darkness.
Without the abiding and guiding presence of God, we are in darkness. This is not just a matter for the world, but for the church. Just like if the tabernacle tent, the very house of God, did not have the lamp stand it would have been full of darkness and the priests would not have been able to see where they were or what they were doing, if the church does not come into the light of God’s abiding and guiding presence, we will wander in darkness. We cannot do church without God. I know that for many of you this might seem like such an obvious statement that I don’t even need to say it, but we must know: We cannot be the church without God. We cannot worship without God. We cannot do mission without God. All our service or good deeds or busy activity is less than worthless without God.
We must say this because there are churches that think they can still be churches, still do churchy things without God. They are worse than foolish. But we must also say this because even God-fearing, Bible-Believing Christians can be tempted to continue to try doing things for God but without God. We can easily believe in his existence, but ignore his presence and power and find ourselves walking in darkness. We can believe He exists, but walk our own way. But if we consistently draw near to God, if we stay when he say stay and move when he says move, then we will walk in the light.
Like the lamp stand the presence of God is precious, far more valuable than any silver or gold. Like the lamp stand, the light of God’s presence is unified. There is only one God. We cannot pull him apart and pick and choose the parts we like and shed the parts we do not. God does not have parts. He is who he is. All or nothing. Like the lamp stand, the light of God’s presence is complete. There is nothing missing or needing to be added. We need the presence of God in a world whose default is darkness. We need a God who is with us and guides us. In the lamp stand, we have a symbol of God’s promise to do that for his people.
The light on the lamp stand would have first reminded the people of Israel of the pillar of fire that symbolized God’s presence as he guided them in the wilderness. The light that shines in the darkness is the very abiding and guiding presence of God. Without the light, we are in the darkness. But God has set his light on the lamp stand – his very abiding and guiding presence – so that it gives light to all in the house.
The second place the light of the lamp stand points us is Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The psalm explicitly connects the light of God’s word to the light of the lamp stand. God’s word is the light in the darkness. It is through the Word of God – the Bible – that God speaks to us. There is a reason that we read Scripture every time we gather as God’s people in worship. It is not just for advice or interesting facts, but because God speaks. This is why we pray for the Spirit to open our eyes and ears before we hear the word and right before I speak it, I say, ‘listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.’ I say that because I believe it. I believe it because this is how Scripture testifies about itself, how the Spirit confirms it in my heart, and how our Lord Jesus Christ treated the Scriptures. It is the very Word of God. Light of the lamp stand shining in the darkness of the Holy Place points to the light of God’s Word shining and illuminating the church. The church lives and moves only in the light of God’s Word. Like the lamp stand, the Word of God is precious beyond belief. Read the whole of Psalm 119 and hear how it speaks of the beauty, sweetness, and goodness of God’s word. Like the lamp stand, the Bible is unified. It is of one piece. We cannot take it apart and pick and choose the places we like and put away the stuff we do not. We are tempted left, right, and center to do this with the Bible, but unity of the lamp stand reminds us of the unity of God’s word. It is of one piece. Like the lamp stand, the Word of God is complete. There is nothing missing nor anything that needs to be added. It is perfect and complete.
Without the light of the Word of God, we are in darkness. But God has placed his Word as a light on the lamp stand to give light to all in the house of God, to all in the church. We, the church, only see by the light of the Word of God. In this light, we are able to see everything else.
Third, the light of the lamp stand points to Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The opening of the Gospel of John says this, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Later, Jesus says about himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. The light we need in the darkness of this world, in the darkness of our sin is the light of Jesus Christ. He is the light that lights up the church, but also the light of the world. Jesus, too, like the lamp stand, is precious, unified, and complete. All that we need for salvation and life is found in him. Nothing more, nothing else. No one else. Left to our own devices, we will wander in darkness. We hurt and destroy one another. We will selfishly and willfully turn away from God, wanting to be our own masters, our own lords. But God has not left us on our own. He has promised his abiding and guiding presence with his people, like the pillar of fire in the wilderness. He has given us his precious, unified, and complete Word, by which he speaks to us, which we are to drink in to know who we are and where we are to go. But God has not left us on our own, because the Father sent the Son in the Spirit, the Son came as the man Jesus Christ as THE light in the darkness, the light that will shine and the darkness can never over come.
He is the one the lamp stand was pointing to – the light of God, God himself. He is the Word of God in flesh and God himself dwelling among us, the pillar of holy fire.
In a world that, because of sin, the default is darkness, God has placed his light on the lamp stand. Without the light, we are in darkness. In Christ, the light of the world has come and that light shines.
But that is not the end. Apart from Christ, the church is darkness. Apart from the Word of God, the church is darkness. Apart from the abiding and guiding presence of God, the church is darkness – just like the world. But if we are in Christ, if we are rooted in the whole word of God, and filled with the presence of God the Holy Spirit, then we too have been set on the lamp stand. If you have been with us at Bethel for more than a week, you have probably been guessing all along where this was going at the end. It’s Matthew 5:14-16:
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The world and the church are dark places unless the light shines. God has given us his presence, given us his word, and given us Jesus Christ, the light of the world for us. And he has set us on the lamp stand, so that the light would shine. The Church holds forth the Word of God, which radiates Christ. You are not the hope of the world, but you are called to hold forth Christ, who is. You are not the savior of the world, but you are called to hold forth Christ, who is.
In the lampstand, God not only speaks to us truth about his presence, about his Word, and about his Son, but also truth about the mission of his church, his bride. God has placed you on the lamp stand, so carry the light of Christ, and let the light shine in this dark world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.