Grasping God's Purpose: "Hiding in the Shadows" – Exodus 37:17-24

I thank God for all my senses, but chief among them, in my opinion, is the sight of my eyes. I love viewing rich colors in carefully constructed images of either photography or graphic art. I recognize the depth that a shadow brings to a picture – but I confess that I don’t like shadows in real life. Shadows play tricks on your mind. Darkness is not warm and inviting. Recently staying in center city Philadelphia, I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder as I walked at night in the streets from the parking garage to my hotel. Soon after I got back in Florida, I found myself up in an attic making repairs for someone, I found myself highly sensitive to every sound up in the dark crawl space, as I was worried that critters might jump out at me and bite me. I should never have watched the movie “Ben” as a youth – it has given me the “willies” about rats attacking me ever since! Needless to say, I didn’t see any man-eating rats, but still I find the darkness and shadows unnerving.

My daughter was taking out trash two nights ago, and she stepped on a snake in the back yard, that took off slithering into the bushes – darkness is unsettling! You know, you can walk down any dark street, right here in our little town, and your senses will tingle if you hear noise coming from behind bushes or rustling in trees above. If only you could see clearly! Shadows can be frightening, and darkness is never desired because it HIDES THINGS. Light is comforting because it EXPOSES THE HIDDEN. It helps us identify the familiar face of a coming friend, and strikes a warning posture in us when the oncoming person is unfamiliar and a possible threat. Our lesson today is about the light exposure involved in God’s worship center, and why God planned to have a lamp in the room. It isn’t a lighting seminar – but a look at what God intended us to LEARN about Him from His instructions through Moses.

Key Principle: God instructed a carefully prepared ornate lampstand in the Holy Place to bring light to the ministry of worship and to expose anything that would harm the sanctity and dignity of the work.  

Let’s drop in on the description of the Holy Place, already in progress in Exodus 37:17: “Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18 There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; 19 three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20 In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; 21 and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. 22 Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. 23 He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24 He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold.

As we open our reading of the text of the Word, once again we are back in the Tabernacle, “sweating to the oldies” with Moses. It has been a hot journey through a long, hot summer. The one difference we have with the text is rain – something the children of Israel would have paid to see! Moses was more familiar with the drought afflicting Kansas than any torrential rains raising Lake Jackson. Even with the differences, the study of the trip is deeply rewarding. Why? Because the tabernacle has been a study in prudently constructed symbols – parts and pieces of the only complete worship center ever designed by God for placement on earth. Every part of His choice has been cataloged in the Word, and we have the option of looking quite closely at each piece He instructed, and unfolding the meaning of the piece by looking at the record.

  • The precinct of the Tabernacle was closed – because proper worship must be set aside from the everyday walk in life. It affects everything, but it is distinct and planned.
  • The position of the Tabernacle was in the center of the camp – because the place of God in our midst is not a peripheral issue.
  • The prominent impression of the Tabernacle was that it was a killing place. Just inside the outer court of the Tabernacle was the killing place for the sacrificial animals and beside it the altar of sacrifice – because we don’t get anywhere near approaching God’s holy presence without addressing our sinfulness first.
  • The restricted buildings of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies were closed off from the courtyard, a separate and distinct building within the linen fenced court – because priests alone were to interface between God and man. God’s transcendence is not a new concept to us. Even now, we access God in Heavenly places by our Great High Priest’s word.
  • Outside the curtain that marked entry to the building of the Holy Place stood a Laver made of the melted mirrors taken from Egypt – a washing place for the priests who handled animals, blood and ash pans. Even a priest needs a daily cleansing experience to be ready to serve God well – and we as priests have that in the confession of our sin to our Savior. Our 1 John 1:9 need for daily confession does not negate the priesthood of the believer today.
  • Inside the Holy Place there is a table near the north wall that has twelve loaves of bread – reminding of God’s provision of manna through the wilderness and the priests daily need of Him.
  • Near a curtain that divided the Holy Place and Holy of Holies was a small golden altar of incense – because God loved to smell the prayers of men and women in the wafting of the distinct odor given at the hour of prayer.
  • Deep within the Tabernacle was a golden ark – a box to carry the Word of God as given to Moses, and some of the implements of the journey – because the people of God are nothing without the promises of God.

Finally, lighting the entire room of the Holy Place was an ornate seven branched candelabra called the Menorah – because light revealed what darkness concealed. God’s desire was a clean, ordered and appropriate sacred area. That is where our text focuses our attention today – on the light source inside the Holy Place. The lampstand offered light to help the priests do their job – because they could SEE what they were doing – blending the spices for the incense altar in the offering of the prayers of the people or placing the bread and frankincense in remembrance on the table – all that had to be done within the fifteen foot by thirty foot otherwise completely dark enclosure.

The area was sacred, so they couldn’t simply throw open the front curtain for extra light. The area was to be dignified, clean and ordered. Much of what the priests did was keep it that way. In an area so small, that sounds easier to pull off then it really was – as anyone who has been tent camping for a long time in the desert can attest. Dust is a daily reality of life in the desert. You can feel it on your skin, and taste it in your sandwich. In fact, living in Jerusalem on the edge of the desert, you give up on dusting the first week – it is ever present. Add to that, there are other problems unique to desert camping that make the whole experience less than sanitary and challenging to keep dignified and sacred space set apart.

When people think of the Bible characters like Moses, they forget the smell of the Israelite camp, the constant problem of scorpions, mice, rats and desert foxes trying to get into the foodstuffs. Roaches are the same the world around – disgusting and pervasive.

The flannel graph version of the Bible leaves us with the impression that the people smelled of perfume, and the lands were idyllic and vermin free. I assure you having lived there that this is a grievous error. Moses contended with critters and bugs, and so did the priests of the Tabernacle – apart from some Divine intervention to keep the place clean, which is wholly unmentioned in the text. In fact, there were only four things that could keep the Holy place free of blemishes: the direct intervention of God, the natural barrier made by the building, the priests in daily and diligent service of God, and the light that made dirt and bugs vulnerable to the priests’ traps. Light has everything to do with keeping the sacred clean and useful to God.

Go back to the description of the six features of the lamp were given in the text:

The Value of lamp in worship – Pure Gold (17).

Gold was precious, and the lampstand was made of precious materials because its purpose was critically important. The light uncovered the hidden, exposed the truth, and made the work of the priests possible. The lamp brought light to the worship in the Holy Place for the priests, since God required none in the Holy of Holies – it was for the men. Think for a moment about how the term “light” is used in the Bible. It was, in the very beginning, used to “separate” things. In the Genesis 1:3 account of God’s creation, the Bible records: “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”

The term separated is from the Hebrew verb “baw-dal’” a term for dividing or partitioning. The purpose of God’s demarcation of light and darkness was to divide the time. This was prior to the making of the sun, and it was to highlight the difference between good and evil. How do I know? Note that the light was called GOOD. The darkness was simply its opposite. Brightness is associated with God, and darkness with His enemy. It does not mean that all dark places are evil – since there was no light source inside the Holy of Holies because God had no need of it to see everything. It does mean that light was supposed to be a help to US to see what could not otherwise be detected.

Remember, when Jesus said in the Gospel of John “I am the Light of the World” (John 5:12), the context was a lie that was being perpetrated in His midst. He wouldn’t stand for it. He is the light, and that light shines in every hidden corner – and exposes every blemish.

We live in a day when believers in the west often have more Bibles in their homes than people. The problem isn’t that we don’t have a lamp to see the blemishes, vermin and dirt in our lives – we do. The problem may be that we don’t turn on the lamp – don’t open the pages of God’s powerful Word to allow the light to touch the shadowed areas of our heart. The problem may be that we shield the light from making its way into corners reserved for self carefully protected inside us. The problem may be that we get haphazard in the use of the light, using it in a way that doesn’t identify and illuminate our real problem areas.

When I was a boy, my father generally asked my older brother to come and help him work on the car. I didn’t feel slighted. In fact, I really didn’t WANT to go outside in the cold and dark, and hold the light for my dad while he was under the car or inside the hood, working on a broken part. It wasn’t that interesting, and it certainly wasn’t that comfortable. On occasion, the lot fell on me to help out. I found what dad was doing to be very interesting… for about one minute. Then my mind wandered. That wasn’t a problem, but the fact that the light wandered with my mind was a problem. Periodically, dad would simply say the word: “SON!” I would drop back to attention and aim the light back on my dad’s hands at work. Light undirected doesn’t help the work. Ask any lighthouse manager. It must be focused on the real problem areas. So must the Word of God be. We can’t simply quote verses about salvation in the midst of the inner turmoil created by lust’s grab at our hearts. The Word is a SWORD, and with all such weapons we must learn to aim before we use it well.

Though once bathed in Bible, our little portion of the world is increasingly hostile to it. Some of the hostility is open – but much of it is thinly veiled. Take, for instance, the CNN headline that read: “Pregnant teen dies after abortion ban delays her chemo treatment for leukemia”. The story went on to reveal:

The 16-year-old’s plight attracted worldwide attention after she had to wait for chemotherapy because of an abortion ban in the Dominican Republic. Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally started receiving treatment. She died Friday, a hospital official said.”

Did you carefully note the position of the moral statements in the writing?  Once again a writer trotted out the emotional and exceptional to defeat the norm. Obviously, the entire blame fell on the abortion laws. They must be bad – they let a girl die! Some of what they said was very true. I think it was terrible that a youth lost her life. What a terrible loss. Yet, there were questions no one was asking that would have shed significant light on the situation. Why was a sixteen year old young woman pregnant? Why was that assumed to be a proper condition for her? Did she know thirteen weeks before, when she conceived that she had leukemia? Would the chemotherapy two weeks earlier have guaranteed her more time? Did that very law they were impugning preserve many lives in recent days?

The point is this: when we select one feature of Biblical morality (do not kill) but drop all the other tenets of it (like sexual purity outside of marriage)– we are simply making up right and wrong and depending on emotions to fill in the gaps of logic. Emotions are wholly unreliable for that esteemed purpose. We live in days that need the light turned on. The darkness of society is now darkening the minds of even believers – and it is time to fill in the picture with TRUTH. If we walk only by every other command of God – we will cause terrible troubles and reap horrid consequences. If we want to “freedom” to blow off the Word of God – then we get the awful consequences of doing so. Even the illness itself was caused by sin, generations ago, all the way back to a garden. I do not here attempt to judge the young woman. My comment is about the content of the writer’s report that is reprehensible and morally bankrupt. We are being duped in poorly constructed and thinly veiled arguments. My concern is the number of young believers that are surrendering ground to such nonsense.

The Work to construct the lamp– Hammered and fashioned (17b):

The description of this carefully fashioned lamp indicated that it was also to be a symbol. The light was brought in because of hard work on the part of a gifted leader of God. Bezalel, in conjunction with Moses, the team of workers, and the supply of the congregation – was able to create the stand in obedience to God.

It is critical that God’s people understand the need for the light of truth, but equally important that they recognize the WORK involved in getting to the truth. It takes serious examination to get to the heart of God’s view of things. We must deliberately learn to study God’s Word in a consistent way. The haphazard “this is what I feel about the passage in the Bible” type of study must simply DIE. If our lampstand of truth is God’s Word – we must carefully fashion our work with it so that we can confidently see the foot path God has laid out for us. The Word will expose lies.  Careful and consistent study of it will cut apart the motivations and intents of the heart. Just as Hebrews 4:12 reminds:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The Shape of the lamp – it was made to resemble an ALMOND tree (17b-19).

The branches were to be shaped as the flowering almond branch – something that God repeated several times in the original design of Exodus 25 and 37. The name of the almond is “shaqed” in Hebrew. It comes from the word “shaqad”, the word for “to watch over, to keep watch or lie awake.” In the Bible, the almond is like our “ground hog”. It is the first to appear in the early Spring – in February usually. It blossomed, but took half a year to produce its fruit – six months of hard labor. Jeremiah 31:37 speaks of the coming New Covenant to the Jewish people, and says that as God “watched over them to break them down” so He will one day “watch over them to build and plant”. The One who watches His people is recalled in the play on words with the Almond. The light not only helped the priests see, it reminded them WHO ELSE WAS WATCHING OVER THEM.

Part of the objective of the Word of God in our lives is to remind us that God is the “shaqad” over us. We are called to meditate on it “day and night” – not only because it will offer us correction and direction – but because it will remind us of God’s protection over us. It is what allows believers to sleep well in the midst of the political, moral and ethical storms that sweep our land. We rest peacefully, for God is keeping watch. His eyes are ever upon His purposes, and I am here to play a role in the story He wants to tell. My part may not be the one I would have selected for me – but it is the part for which I was created. It is the part I will sing about in eternity. Knowing that, I am peaceful about the world. God is in control. That may not help me have an easier time of it – I simply don’t know. Many an Apostle died for the Gospel, but none would complain inside Heaven’s gate. God IS watching over you… and the lamp’s glow is just a reminder.

The Number on the lamp – Seven (18, 20-21).

There were to be three branches on either side of a center branch – making seven in all. From the account of Creation with the completion in seven days, to the 54 times the word seven shows up in the closing book of the Bible – Revelation – the number seven has been synonymous with completion. The number occurs 700 times in the Bible, and often in the sense of completion. The word translated “finished” in Koine Greek (teléo) generally means to bring to a close or to fulfill. Take, for example, Revelation 15:1 which reveals the reason for seven angels with seven plagues: “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; because in them is filled up (teléo) the wrath of God.” In other words, the lamp brought seven lights, or COMPLETE light to the place of worship. You can’t hide in God’s presence – He knows what you aren’t saying. He sees inside. The last place to try to hide sin is in the presence of a Holy and all seeing God.

Don’t hide. Don’t run. Don’t shrink away. Draw near. Confess to Him what you both already know. Ask Him for intense strength to break the grip of sin and guilt. Ask Him to remove a hook from your heart if you don’t have the strength to do it. You will find that He isn’t lighting up sin in you to bring condemnation – but to bring you comfort in the return to Him. He will not call wrong –“right”. He will not excuse rebellion. Humble before Him and be blessed anew by Him!

The Unity of the lamp – one piece (22).

The lampstand could easily have been assembled in parts. It didn’t need to me one piece, apart from the fact that God specifically commanded that it be made that way. Have you ever wondered WHY? We can’t know for sure, but we DO know that God told Bezalel to follow the pattern given, and that was from the Tabernacle of Heaven.

It was many times harder to make the whole frame as a single piece. Though gold is malleable, it is also heavy and not terribly sturdy. This piece would have been the most difficult to construct of all for that reason alone. I don’t want to go too far afield with the analogy, but stop and think about the unity involved in the TRUTH of God’s Word – the lamp to our feet and light to our path.

One Bible teacher wrote it this way:

The various Bible writers lived at different times, some separated by hundreds of years. In many cases they were complete strangers to one another. Some were businessmen or traders, others were shepherds, fishermen, soldiers, physicians, preachers, kings—human beings from all walks of life. They served under different governments, and lived within contrasting cultures and systems of philosophy. But here is the wonder of it all: When the 66 books of the Bible with their 1,189 chapters made up of 31,173 verses are brought together, we find perfect harmony in the message they convey. As the great scholar F. F. Bruce noted: “The Bible is not simply an anthology; there is a unity which binds the whole together.”

Suppose a man should knock at your door and, when invited in, place an oddly shaped piece of marble on your living room floor, then leave without a word. Other visitors follow in succession until about 40 individuals have each deposited their numbered marble piece into place. When the last one has gone, you see with surprise that a beautiful statue stands before you. Then you learn that most of the “sculptors” had never met each other, coming, as they did, from South America, China, Russia, Africa, and other parts of the world. What would you have to conclude? That someone had planned the statue and had sent to each man accurate specifications for his particular piece of marble. The Bible as a whole communicates one coherent message—just like a perfect marble statue. One mind planned it all, the mind of God. Scripture’s remarkable unity gives evidence that it is not simply human literature but indeed the Word of God. Human beings wrote down the thoughts and words, but they were “God-breathed,” inspired by God Himself.” (excerpted from “Exploring the Word” website).

The Weight of the lamp – approaching one talent (24).

The ancient Egyptian talent of the Pharaohs weighed sixty pounds, and most of it was used to make the lampstand – with a small amount partitioned for other utensils. The size of the lamp, but estimation of the Jerusalem Institute when we were building the replica in the Judean Desert was about five feet tall with a large base equal to a third of the height. We were looking for a way to hold it together without the weight of one branch drooping to downward. It was difficult for the Kohathites camped south of the Tabernalce to carry from one place to another when the camp moved. It had no handles, and was somewhat fragile because of its build.

If you haven’t caught the imagery yet, the light was the agency of the truth exposed to those who would serve God. It was intended to be both precious and heavy. It was not intended to be easy to carry in life. God’s chief desire is NOT our COMFORT, but our CONSECRATION. We are made to be ready to serve God, and that can only work if we are CAREFUL to keep His Word doing its work in us – cleaning us and checking us.

Can I make the point anew that this is not an EASY task? The presentation of the Bible as a simple “Plan of Salvation” is well below the point of the Book. Most of the Bible is NOT about FINDING GOD – it is about FOLLOWING GOD. Why do I meet so many believers that know the FINDING GOD sections, but are only barely familiar with the FOLLOWING GOD sections? Let me offer this plea:

  • In the Law, we learn of what moves the Father’s heart. We learn what He cares about, and what bugs Him in His people. We learn about the patterns of His judicial thinking, and why a relationship with Him is not as simple as “doing the best we can”. He wants our allegiance, our careful obedience to a vast array of areas of life’s choices. He wants to be part of the everyday.
  • In the Prophets, we hear the warnings of a God that must bring pain to His people if they refuse to walk with Him. He pays careful attention to all the things His people are doing. When the cousins in the Northern Kingdom fell to the world, the warnings became even sharper and more pronounced. When sin was not abandoned, the fall of the people in the Southern Kingdom gave rise to a new kind of prophecy – the cautions of living out of place with God’s intention, in an exile brought on by stubbornness.
  • In the writings we hear of God’s wisdom – His intended standards for how things were supposed to work. The norm is established and the life of praise is rooted in song and anthem. Our ability to lift up worship and praise is enhanced, while our inner pains are eased.
  • In the Gospels we read the example of God in human skin – a Perfect answer to man’s sin problem and a Perfect specimen of One that pleases His Father in Heaven.
  • In the Book of Acts we see that Risen One acting through His chosen servants, beginning the process of exposing the dark world to the light of the truth.
  • In the Epistles we read the instructions based on sample problems, and examine the principles of how to solve the issues the people of God will face as the message is transported around the world to all cultures and peoples.
  • In Revelation we read of the end of God’s program. His careful plan is played out to the defeat of His enemies and the Perfection of His Forever Kingdom.

Every part of God’s Word is relevant. The notion that only SOME of it is FOR US, flies directly in the face of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Paul wrote that God’s Word is from God’s breath, powerful to change God’s people, and planned out to fully prepare God’s work force. Much of it is detail, and all of it takes careful study. Timothy was urged not to slack off in his study but “to show himself a workman that need not be ashamed.” (2 Tim. 2:15). It was intended to TAKE WORK.

If we think that we can simply slide by on sermons prepared by others, listen to a few jingles from Christian radio, and occasionally crack open our Bible and really develop the ability to filter the truth from the nonsense said in God’s name – we are kidding ourselves. We are enveloping laziness in a cloak of spirituality that is bound to fail. Let me say it plainly: Your understanding of God’s Word is the foundation of your ability to serve and please Him. If you had no ability to read and learn – God would make a way. Since you do – God’s way is in the Book.

  • Don’t look for victory without practice.
  • Don’t expect power without plugging in to the outlet.
  • Don’t put off til tomorrow what might be vital information for today.

God’s Word is POWERFUL, but a sword still sheathed scares no enemy.

1. The Word brought the message of salvation when I was lost: “…from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15).

2. The Word nursed me through the tender years of infancy in Christ: “…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…” (1 Peter 2:2).

3. The Word bulks me up to stand as a man of God and give me a home to build on: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

4. The Word can give me power over the enemy when he assaults me: “…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

5. The Word comforts me with assurance when life wears out my confidence: “…These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13).

6. The Word can keep me from sin: “…Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11).

7. The Word can keep me from the wrong conclusions: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

The Bible offers commands to obey, promises to believe, sins to avoid, examples to follow and warning to heed. Can the movie I watched last night do that for me? Can the novel I have plunged into do that for me? Can more time with my favorite sport offer that to me?

God instructed a carefully prepared ornate lamp stand in the Holy Place to bring light and to expose anything that would harm the sanctity and dignity of His work among His people.