“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel. (Exodus 27:20-21)
The relevance of this passage emerged with startling clarity during my time with the Lord, so much so that I’ve ‘postponed’ the devotion intended for this morning to share this one. I believe, when the Lord reveals a truth, it should be immediately shared. I confess that previous teaching on this has proved erroneous. I had been taught that this light was part of the Menorah, the seven-branched candlestick, which research has shown is incorrect. This lamp is a separate article with its own significance, and the lighting of the perpetual lamp, as it is known, and the placing of the scrolls of the Law in the Ark are the principal ceremonies in the dedication of a synagogue even today.
From the Jewish perspective, my research indicates that the Rabbis interpret the perpetual lamp as the symbol of God’s presence in Israel, as representing the spiritual light which went forth from the sanctuary, or as the symbol of God’s Law, which Israel is to keep alive in the world. According to Biblical conception, the light is a figure of happiness and prosperity, even of life itself. It consists of a glass vessel containing a wick burning in olive-oil, which is held in an ornamental metal receptacle suspended from the ceiling in front of the Holy Ark, or Aron ha-Ḳodesh.
Keeping this brief explanation in mind – as well as the many references to light and lamps in New Testament, we begin to understand it’s critical relevance to us as believers. We are, in essence, the ‘new temple.’ We have become a living ‘tabernacle,’ the dwelling place of God on earth because His presence is within us. The perpetual light, therefore, has tremendous significance. It forms a basis for Christ’s teaching on being the light of the world. The parallel is simple and clear.
Remember that, as His temple, we contain the Law within us as well. Jesus did not come to replace the law, but to fulfill it – in other words, part of the grace contained in salvation is to impart the ability, to empower us, to be able to live according to the law. It is through us that both His holy Law and light of salvation is revealed to the nations. While many preach a gospel that excludes law and judgement, this is incorrect. Salvation would have absolutely no relevance if the law and judgement did not exist as an absolute reality.
Our light – the manifestation of God’s presence, His law in us, and the grace of salvation – is to shine perpetually as a light to the world. It is through being lights in a world of darkness that the truth and message of the Gospel and of God is revealed.
Note that the people were to be commanded to bring pure olive oil. This is very important. First, the people were to bring it. Olive oil is used many times in the Bible, for example, the anointing of kings, and has particular significance. The Hebrew word for ‘olive tree’ is es shemen, which literally means ‘tree of oil.’ It is from a primitive root meaning ‘to shine.’ It means ‘richness, anointing, fat, fruitful, oil, ointment, olive.’ It is related to the word shemesh, ‘to be brilliant,’ and which also is the Hebrew word for the ‘sun.’ Another Hebrew word for ‘olive’ is zayith, meaning ‘an olive,’ as ‘yielding illuminating oil.’ Its related to the word ziv, meaning ‘to be prominent’ or ‘brightness.’
As always, nothing God does or commands is without enormous meaning and significance. All of the things mentioned in the defining of olive oil in fact define what the life of the believer is meant to contain, represent and manifest in the world. Again, we are to bring the pure olive oil, pressed and not heated – heat destroys the aroma and delicate flavour. Only the best is worthy of our God, and pressed implies a sense of being crushed, or squeezed. Not a comfortable analogy, but it represents the truth that being committed to God means being humbled and surrendered, that our lives will not be comfortable, that living for God involves trial, difficulty and even attack. These are the things that press out the pure olive oil we are to bring to God as our offering.
The priest alone is to tend the lamp. This, I believe, has two-fold meaning. First and foremost, Christ, as our eternal High Priest will tend the lamp day and night. It is He, through His working of His Holy Spirit within us, that will keep the lamp burning. The second meaning is our part, because we are intended as a ‘royal priesthood’ to have as much care for our perpetual lamp as He does. Remember that God will never force us into anything. We tend the lamp by making sure the oil is pure at all times – that we are constantly in the Word, pray constantly in the Spirit, are constantly connected to the source of light Himself. We are the vessel, our surrender and how we live is the oil, but Christ Himself is the flame. It is His Holy Spirit that burns within us, if we will allow Him to tend it as He wills.
The grace of God is such that He not only commands but empowers. We are not expected to be perpetual lamps in our own strength, but we are expected to both yield ourselves as holy vessels and partake in the process. Is the oil – our sacrifice – we bring to the Lord pure, or is it tainted or diluted by the things of self and the world. Pure oil comes only from pure lives and a pure heart. It is a daily, constant tending, a watchfulness, if you will, that we allow nothing to contaminate our holy offering. Our worship is contained in this, not the outward actions we usually associate with worship but the deep, sincere, and humble inner worship that yields our will and our lives for His perpetual light to shine through.
Thank You, Lord, for Your Word, and for the grace and power that brings obedience. Help us to surrender ourselves completely as Your vessel, that Your light will burn in us always, pure and holy, a perpetual light to the nations in a dark and sinful world.