Continuous Light
April 29, 2020

Exodus 25-30:10 is a single speech of Yahweh (cf. 25:1; 30:11), the "First Day" section of the Seven-Day tabernacle description. The most obvious structuring principle of the first speech is spatial. In general, the speech begins in the Most Holy Place, moves out, then moves back in.

1. Contribution from sons of Israel, 25:1-9

2. Ark of the covenant (Most Holy Place), 25:10-22

3. Furnishings of Holy Place, 25:23-40 (table, lampstand)

4. Structure of tent, 26:1-37 (tabernacle, boards and bars, screen and veil)

5. Bronze altar (court), 27:1-8

6. Structure of court, 27:9-19 (curtains, pillars, hooks, bases)

7. Oil for lampstand, 27:20-21 (moving back into Holy Place)

8. Priests, 28:1-29:46 (garments and ordination)

9. Incense altar in Holy Place, 30:1-10

Most of chapter 27 describes the court, but 27:20-21 is a turning point. These verses describe a movement from outside in: The sons of Israel are commanded to bring a contribution of beaten olive oil. And these verses elaborate on the purpose of the oil: It's for the lamp, which is in the tent of meeting, outside the veil before the ark.

These verses transition from the tabernacle to the priests, designating Aaron and his sons as the servants who keep the lampstand in order day by day. In fact, Exodus 27:21 is the first time the phrase "Aaron and his sons" appears in the Bible, and the first hint of what the priests' duties will be. After this point, it becomes a common way to designate the priestly clan. The priests are introduced first of all as the caretakers of the lampstand.

The linkage of priest, oil, and lampstand isn't simply functional. Notably, the sons of Israel bring oil for the lampstand (27:20). At the beginning of chapter 28, Yahweh commands Moses to separate Aaron and his sons from the sons of Israel to serve as priests in the tabernacle (28:1). Both oil and priests come from Israel into the holy place. Both are necessary for the light on the lamp to burn continuously. Priests are themselves luminaries, providing light for Israel.

Yahweh specifies that the oil must be pure and come from "crushed olives" (Exodus 27:20). Presumably, the Israelites don't need a lesson in olive oil production. The reference to "crushed" has a symbolic import. Olives can turn into a source of light only if they are first broken, as grapes produce fine wine by being trampled. An allegory of human affliction, for we are olives and grapes, who only shine with glory when we share the cross.

The word for "light" is ma'or, "luminary," the same word used for the heavenly lights of the creation account (Genesis 1:14-16). The word hints at the creation symbolism of the tabernacle, a hint reinforced by the "evening and morning" of verse 21 and by the fact that ma'or is used seven times in Exodus (25:6; 27:20; 35:8, 14 [2x], 28; 39:37).

But the tabernacle isn't exactly "creation space." It's more "new creation space." The luminary of the lamp burns continuously (tamiyd), as the bread of the presence is before Yahweh continuously (Exodus 25:30), and as Israel is continually memorialized before Yahweh by the gems on the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:29-30).

In the first creation, no light shone continually. The sun ruled the day, and the moon the night. But in the tabernacle a seven-branched lampstand provides continuous illumination, anticipating the day when the sun and moon will yield to the light of God and the Lamb (Revelation 21:23). The tabernacle gives a taste of eternal day.

When does that continuous day begin? We might think it begins at the last day, the day of judgment. But in Revelation, Jesus is already the priest among the lampstands of the seven-fold church of Asia. He tends the lamps, replenishes them with the oil of the Spirit, so the lamps provide continuous light. In Him, each of the "sons of Israel" is a priest who brings the beaten oil into the sanctuary, because the Spirit flows like living water out of each.

The church is the new tabernacle, the city where God and the Lamb shine, so the church can be a bright city on a hill, eliminating the shroud of darkness spread across the nations.

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