On our trip back from Washington State, we stopped to explore the Lewis and Clark caverns in Montana. After descending into the mountain, our guide asked us to turn off anything that might produce light. Then she turned off the lights in the cavern, with only a lantern being lit. It was considerably darker, but manageable. Then she blew out the lantern and we were in the midst of a palpable darkness. It was only for a moment and then she turned the lights back on. But what if they didn’t come back on? What if our phones and cameras all decided to not produce light? I’m not sure we could have found our way back without injury or death. There were holes and low hanging rocks in that cavern. There was also a pretty good trail with hand rails and steps and things. So, we probably could have made it, but I’m glad we didn’t have to attempt it. Light is kind of important. You might even say that it is life preserving. We need light and not just for seeing. We need light to grow; to thrive. Light and growth kind of go together. O, and by the way, light and service dance together as well.
In Exodus 25:31-40 we are told of the Lampstand; the Menorah. This is the third symbol of the Presence of Yahweh: the Ark or chest symbolized the mercy found in Yahweh’s Presence; with the Table the people were shown that the Presence sustains them; and with the Menorah they received a symbol of light and life. The Menorah was to be made with pure gold representing the holiness of God. The other two symbols would have been too heavy if they were made of solid gold. So, they were made with acacia wood and overlaid with gold. The weight of the lampstand along with its utensils would have been about 66 to 70 pounds. The gold was to be hammered, not poured into a mold. The symbol of a tree is clearly evident here with buds and blossoms of an almond tree on the branches and the main shaft of the stand. There were six branches, three on each side of the shaft or trunk. On the top of each branch and the trunk were places for seven lamps. The lamps were to be placed and constructed so that the light would shine mostly to the front of the lampstand; toward where the Table of the Presence was located.
As with the Chest and the Table the symbol here is mostly about the Presence of Yahweh. But each symbol offers a different insight to Yahweh’s Presence. The most obvious symbol here is that of light. The question arises; “Are we to see a reflection of the burning bush or maybe the consuming fire on top of Mount Sinai here?” The easy answer is “Yes”. God is a fire. He is a light; a light disrupting the darkness; a light allowing service at the Table; a light giving life. Light is an important symbol in the Bible. Only the light can dispel the darkness (another important symbol in the Bible). With the thickness of the curtains in the tabernacle, without this light, it would have been impossible to accomplish anything in the Holy Place. According to 27:20 of Exodus the lamp was to burn continually fueled by pure olive oil. Yahweh is always present; forever dispelling the darkness. Even when no one is there to need the light; to serve in the Holy Place, his light is burning. Now, that is a good symbol. But it is not the only symbol here.
Why is the Menorah fashioned like a tree? Some have seen here a look back to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9; 3:22). Maybe, but why an almond tree? And wasn’t the Tree of Life lost to us in the Fall? God is a God of redemption. He is always trying to bring us back from the brink of our destruction to his life. He is the life-giver. Do we need any other symbol than a budding/blossoming tree? Every Spring, we can witness in every healthy growing tree the springing forth of life and hope. And isn’t that our God? Can we thrive and serve without his life in us? So, in the specific instructions – instructions that God warns them to follow again and again – of the tabernacle he offers light and life within his Presence.
There are many around us who are stumbling around in dark caverns, bumping their heads and dying. Jesus came and became the light and life of Yahweh shining in the darkness. And everyone who has come to believe in Jesus has been made a temple of the Presence of God. That means what was a symbol to the Israelites, is now the reality that is inside of you. The light and life of God is budding and blossoming in you! The Holy Presence has pitched his tent and is tabernacling within you. We cannot serve or grow without his life and light in us. Grow and light it up so others can come up out of the darkness. Peace, Walter