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Keep the Lamps Burning before the Lord

Moses Commands a Lasting Ordinance

In addition to an exciting narrative of escape from Egypt followed by the people’s struggles, the book of Exodus also contains specific instructions to God’s chosen people. It’s difficult for most of us today to connect with some of this teaching.

Such is the case with today’s passage. Let’s consider, however, the instruction to keep the lamps burning.

Moses instructs the Israelites to use oil made from pressed olives to light the lamps in the tent of meeting (which later applies to the temple). They’re to keep the lamps burning before God. This is a lasting ordinance.

Yet many centuries later—about 175 years before Jesus came to earth—the temple is destroyed and desecrated. The Maccabees revolt and take back the temple to restore right worship. Part of this means that they relight the lamp as prescribed by Moses.

Tradition says that the Maccabees could only find enough oil for the lamp to last one day, but it miraculously burned for eight. This is the basis for Hanukkah and the story behind it.

We can confirm some of this in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59. But this passage does not mention the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, merely that the celebration lasts that long.

This occurs on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, which is the beginning of Hanukkah today.

A familiar symbol of Hanukkah is a menorah, a lampstand of nine candles, with the middle candle being taller than the other eight, which represent the eight days of the celebration.

Most of today’s Hanukkah practices don’t stem directly from the Old Testament text but result from traditions that developed over time. Yet the command to keep the lamps burning does have its basis in Scripture as commanded by Moses several millennia ago.

Regardless of our faith practices today, may we figuratively hold onto the instruction to keep the lamps burning in a spiritual sense, keeping our fire—our zeal—for the Lord burning from within.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 26-28 and today’s post is on Exodus 27:20-21.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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