LAMP: ner. Masculine noun. (Strong’s 5216).
Sounds like: nehr/neer
I work in a library and I love it! But the one downfall is the lighting. It’s an older building with mostly overhead fluorescent lights, which I find glaring to the eyes. My own office space gave me headaches, but I couldn’t turn the lights off because they were on a grid. If I turned off the lights I’d be spreading darkness over a large section of the library’s first floor.
Fortunately, in August of this year, I moved into a new office space where I could turn off the overhead light and bring in a lamp. It has made a world of difference! Working by the glow of lamp light is so much more peaceful, warm, calming. That is what a good lamp does… it contains the light, warms it and emits a peaceful glow.
Presently we are in the middle of Chanukkah, a celebration of light which reflects the joy of being in God’s presence. So the Hebrew word for lamp (ner) seems like a fitting word for this week.
The Continually Burning Lamp
Lamp light has a very important role to play in Scripture. It is a metaphor, and a beautiful one I might add, that points to the presence of God in our lives. The first mention of a lamp occurred in the Book of Exodus. YHWH told Moses to build Him a sanctuary:
“Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”
Within this sanctuary space YHWH told Moses to build a lampstand which would hold seven lamps (Exodus 25:37); the light from those lamps were to never be extinguished:
Leviticus 24:1-4 (see also Exodus 27:20-21)
Then YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the sons of Israel that they bring to you clear oil from beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp [ner] burn continually. Outside the veil of testimony in the tent of meeting, Aaron shall keep it in order from evening to morning before YHWH continually; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations. He shall keep the lamps [ha-neroht] in order on the pure gold lampstand before YHWH continually.”
This sanctuary, (first a tabernacle, then a temple), was to be the House of YHWH on earth. His presence was represented by the light and so it was imperative that the light shone continually.
It was a massive offence to have the lamps from the light-stand snuffed out. It symbolically indicated that YHWH wasn’t there and His presence could no longer be felt in the sanctuary. By snuffing out the light of God they walked in darkness.
King Hezekiah of Judah was one of the God’s great kings. He brought his people back to worshipping YHWH. Hezekiah pointed out how they had drifted away from their Creator:
2 Chronicles 29:5-11
Then he [king Hezekiah] said to them, “Listen to me, O Levites. Consecrate yourselves now, and consecrate the house of YHWH, the God of your fathers, and carry the uncleanness out from the holy place. For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done evil in the sight of YHWH our God, and have forsaken Him and turned their faces away from the dwelling place of YHWH, and have turned their backs. They have also shut the doors of the porch and put out the lamps [ha-neroht], and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.
Therefore the wrath of YHWH was against Judah and Jerusalem, and He has made them an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with YHWH God of Israel, that His burning anger may turn away from us. My sons, do not be negligent now, for YHWH has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.”
The people had snuffed out the light and turned their backs on God, but king Hezekiah yearned for his kingdom to be right with God again. With Hezekiah’s good guidance they returned to YHWH and lit the lamps; His presence among them was restored.
However, by the time Hezekiah’s great great grandson (the prophet Zephaniah) was roaming the planet, the Hebrew people had already returned to their pagan ways. YHWH called them stagnant in spirit:
“It will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps [et Yerushalim ba-neroht], and I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, ‘YHWH will not do good or evil!’”
Many years later the Syrian/Greek king, Antiochus IV, massacred many Jews, prohibited the Jewish religion, took over the Temple and erected an altar to Zeus. They snuffed out the lights on the Temple lampstand and even sacrificed pigs (an unclean animal in Jewish tradition) within the Temple grounds.
When the Jews defeated Antiochus IV and regained the Temple, they tried to light the lamp again, but they did not have enough oil. Miraculously the small amount of oil that they did have lasted for eight days. By lighting the lamp, they were reclaiming God presence amongst them… and God reinforced His presence by miraculously providing the oil for the light to shine.
This miracle is what Chanukkah is all about… and it is why my family and I, in remembrance, will be lighting a fourth candle tonight in our home.
YHWH: The Lamp
God’s people symbolically saw YHWH as the Lamp shining brightly in the darkness of this world. David, in his Song of Deliverance, spoke of YHWH as his Lamp:
2 Samuel 22:29-32 (see also Psalm 18)
“For You are my lamp, O YHWH [Ki attah neri, YHWH]; and YHWH illumines my darkness. For by You I can run upon a troop; by my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is blameless; the word of YHWH is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, besides YHWH? And who is a rock, besides our God?”
David certainly experienced many dark times in his life: war, his struggle with lust, and his son’s rebellion put him in a state of darkness. But out of his struggles we have received some of the most beautiful and agonizing poetry that was ever written. David found strength in YHWH’s presence, even in the depths of his darkness, because God’s lamp lit the path for him so he would not stumble.
Job, who also suffered terrible loss and hardship, ached for the days when YHWH’s light had enveloped him. Living in darkness and being unable to see God’s path, was painful for Job. He remembered what it was like to live bathed in God’s light, and this new life of sorrow and darkness was debilitating:
“Oh that I were as in months gone by, as in the days when God watched over me; when His lamp [neroh] shone over my head, and by His light I walked through darkness.”
Job’s sorrow was so painful that he wished he had never been born
“‘Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb.’
Would He not let my few days alone? Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer before I go—and I shall not return— to the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order, and which shines as the darkness.”
There seemed to be very little light in Job’s world. He was shrouded in darkness and shadow and saw no way of return.
Job’s three friends were no help to him in finding light. But a fourth friend, Elihu, had a message for Job about hope. He recognized that a human, even in darkness, could see the power of God’s redemptive hand and say, ‘He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit, and my life shall see the light.’ (Job 33:28).
Elihu wanted Job to recognize that his soul was not lost to death, and so he said to him:
“Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life.”
There was hope, but Job had to seek God out. And so Job had a fantastic, heart-to-heart, conversation with God; he found the light, the spark of God’s presence, and YHWH blessed him:
Job 42:10, 16-17
YHWH restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and YHWH increased all that Job had twofold… After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. And Job died, an old man and full of days.
Your Word is a Lamp
Lamp light also metaphorically represented knowledge, learning, and teaching. Knowledge illuminates, and the teachings of YHWH (through His word, His precepts, and His laws) illuminates our lives. To follow God’s commandment was to have a light shining in the darkness.
Your word is a lamp to my feet [ner l-rag’li] and a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances.
Solomon wrote to his son about the importance of commandments and teaching, and how they corresponded with lamps and light:
[Solomon:] My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck.
When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. For the commandment is a lamp [ner] and the teaching is light.
Not only does knowledge bring clarity to our lives, but it also helps us shine in this rather dark world.
Lamp of the Wicked
When we carry the lamp of God ahead of us, we are enlightened; we can see the clear pathway back to His presence. The goodness of God shone like a light in a lamp, but when the lamp bearer turned away from YHWH, their lamp expired. God’s light, by their actions, would no longer be with them:
The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp [w-ner] of the wicked goes out.
He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp [neroh] will go out in time of darkness.
Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked; for there will be no future for the evil man; the lamp of the wicked [ner r’shaim] will be put out.
In the days of Jeremiah, humans had sunk so low that YHWH had to turn His face away from them… and with Him went the light of their lamps:
[Jeremiah to the people:] “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, these twenty-three years the word of YHWH has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. And YHWH has sent to you all His servants the prophets again and again, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way and from the evil of your deeds, and dwell on the land which YHWH has given to you and your forefathers forever and ever; and do not go after other gods to serve them and to worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the work of your hands, and I will do you no harm.’
“Yet you have not listened to Me,” declares YHWH, “in order that you might provoke Me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.”
And so by the harm of their own hands, YHWH turned His face away and Babylon was free to attack Judah and destroy Jerusalem. With this horror about to approach them, YHWH acknowledged that any joy they had would be gone, and His light would no longer shine in their presence:
Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp [w-owr ner]. This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’”
Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians and the light in the Temple would go dark. In fact, the Babylonians completely destroyed the Temple and razed it to the ground. YHWH turned His face away as the Jewish people were dragged out of Israel and taken as captives to Babylon.
But YHWH had a plan. After seventy years they would come back to Israel and rebuild the Temple… and they would re-light the lamp.
John, in recording his Revelation, drew on the words of Jeremiah (above) to highlight Babylon’s great fall at the end of days:
Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.”
What was done to Jerusalem, so many years earlier, would be done to Babylon in kind. Even the tiniest spark of light in Babylon would be gone.
But during the siege of Jerusalem, in 597, and the subsequent exile, the light of God seemed far from His people. Although their exile from Jerusalem would eventually end, it was their exile out of the Garden of Eden that was still in effect. That was the grand Exile in this epic story of humanity… a separation from God (the worst exile there is). But all along YHWH had a plan to bring people back to His Presence in the Garden. He would send an Anointed Saviour to end the exile and to return them to the light.
A Lamp for David
As we have seen, lamp-light was symbolic of God’s presence. So when God promised David that he would always have a lamp before him, He was effectively saying to David that His presence was there, always, for His people.
There’s a story in the Tanakh about a cloak. The prophet Ahijah came across Jeroboam, a valiant warrior and high ranking official in Solomon’s court. Ahijah was wearing a new coat, and while it was still on him he tore it into 12 pieces. He gave Jeroboam 10 pieces of the cloak:
1 Kings 11:31-36
He said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes (but he will have one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel), because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did.
Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of My servant David whom I chose, who observed My commandments and My statutes; but I will take the kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you, even ten tribes. But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may have a lamp [nir] always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen for Myself to put My name.’”
Jeroboam would become king over the ten Northern tribes, but YHWH would keep a descendant of David in Jerusalem. The presence of YHWH, like a lamp, would always have a place in Jerusalem so that David and his descendants could always be in the presence of their Creator. This promise was held firm by God, even when David’s descendants were dripping in iniquity:
1 Kings 15:1-5
Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. He walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to YHWH his God, like the heart of his father David.
But for David’s sake YHWH his God gave him a lamp [nir] in Jerusalem, to raise up his son after him and to establish Jerusalem; because David did what was right in the sight of YHWH, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.
Later on, Judah benefitted merely because of the king of Judah’s genealogical connection to David:
2 Kings 8:18-19 (see also 2 Chronicles 21:7)
He [Jehoram, king of Judah] walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab became his wife; and he did evil in the sight of YHWH. However, YHWH was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David His servant, since He had promised him to give a lamp [nir] to him through his sons always.
YHWH promised that the lamp of YHWH would always be there to guide his descendants (regardless of whether they followed it or not). He also promised that through David’s throne God would send an Anointed One who would carry the lamp of YHWH:
YHWH has sworn to David a truth from which He will not turn back: “Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. If your sons will keep My covenant and My testimony which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever.”
For YHWH has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread. Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy. There I will cause the horn of David to spring forth; I have prepared a lamp [ner] for Mine anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown shall shine.”
Yeshua: the Lamp and the Light
Yeshua (Jesus), from the line of David, saw Himself as God’s Lamp but He acknowledged that He had a fore-runner in His cousin John the Baptizer:
“You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He [John] was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.
But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.”
Before Yeshua, John was the lamp shining and burning, but now Yeshua was the Light to illuminate the nations.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
Yeshua was the lamp of God, bringing God’s Kingdom to the people. He was the presence of God walking amongst humans, just as the lamp symbolized YHWH’s presence in the Temple.
Yeshua used lamps many times in His teachings. There was His parable of the 10 virgins. The ten women were waiting for a wedding. Five thought ahead and brought enough oil to kept their lamps lit; the other five neglected to bring enough oil. When the bridegroom was late the foolish virgins feared they would miss the party and so they said to the five wise virgins:
“‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’
And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’”
What was Yeshua’s message in this parable? Have you lamps lit… be ready for YHWH at any time. He knows who is preparing for His return. YHWH sees all who seek Him out, and those who do not will find themselves on the wrong side of the closed door.
If we carry with us the light of YHWH and we tend to it, and care for it, then we will shine like the stars:
Then the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever.
If we shine like the stars there’s no holding back that kind of power. Yeshua wanted us to shine and not hide our light:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Yeshua also explained that the eye is the lamp of the body, which highlighted the great battle between light and darkness, good and evil:
Matthew 6:22-23 (see also Luke 11:33-36)
“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
That was the symbolic epic battle: good was light and life, evil was darkness and death. Lamp-light brought life out of darkness.
The Lamp at the End of the Story
The symbolism of the seven lamps and lampstand of the Temple (which we first read about in Exodus 25) reoccurred throughout the Bible. Zechariah had a vision where he saw the gold lampstand with seven lamps on it (Zechariah 4), and John’s Revelation reflected a very similar image:
Revelation 1: 12-18
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
John saw Yeshua in his vision, standing at the centre, surrounded by lampstands. In His hand He held stars, His feet glowed, and His face shone like the sun. He was the light surrounded by lamps and He was the essence of YHWH’s presence. Yeshua, as the Light, had conquered the curse of death and darkness. With this victory, the New Heaven and New Earth (Isaiah 65:17-18) became viable for everyone.
John ended the recording of his vision with YHWH’s new Garden of Eden, where His people could come and see Him, face to face:
Revelation 22:1-5 (see also Revelation 21:22-27)
[John:] Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
This was how the great epic story of humanity was to come to an end. They would reign forever and ever, amen! The whole world would live in the light. We would come back to YHWH’s presence, see His face, and live in the light of God’s love.
But until then we wait. The story hasn’t come to its conclusion yet. Like the wise virgins we are to tend our lamps by seeking God, studying his commandments, living a YHWH-centered life, sharing with those in need and offering a hand of help in a dark and desperate land. We are living in the story of humanity, shining like little lamps in dark places… awaiting the return of Yeshua, the bright morning star:
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
There was nothing brighter than a star, and Yeshua was so bright that you could see Him in the morning daylight.
Peter was there when Yeshua walked on the earth. They were the closest of friends. After Yeshua’s death, resurrection, and His return to the presence of YHWH, Peter was left share the Good News of God’s plan and he shone the Light of God on all who would listen:
1 Peter 1:16-19
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honour and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
Carry these prophetic words close to you because they are the lamp of hope in a dark place. This world does kind of feel dark lately. A COVID Chanukkah or a COVID Christmas doesn’t seem to have the glow of joy that it usually does. But we should remain hopeful because the Morning Star is coming back to bring us home. Let your lamp-light shine as you wait for Him!
Next week: amazed