Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.
And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off . . . In about ten minutes she reached it and found it was a lamp-post. — C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Anyone caught under the spell of Lewis’s fiction knows that the lamppost marks the beginning of the magical kingdom of Narnia, where it was “always winter and never Christmas” until Aslan saved his kingdom from the curse of the White Witch. In profound Christian allegory, Lewis invested his motif of the lamp with some of the great meaning previously developed in biblical literature.
The household lamp of ancient domestic life was a clay dish full of olive oil with a flax wick; we see one in Elisha’s bedroom and another kept lit by the godly homemaker of Proverbs (2 Kings 4:9-11; Prov. 31:18). Alternatively the lamp might be a torch fueled by oil—but never a candle feeding on itself to provide light, for “oil” in Bible parlance denotes the Holy Spirit, as in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-12). In fact, most scriptural references to the lamp pertain to its religious or symbolic use and are associated with the presence of God, worship and guidance, the life of the soul, witness or prophetic proclamation, and illumination by the written Word.
The lampstand, with seven flames signifying God’s holy perfection, appears almost a hundred times in Exodus alone. Its light perpetually shone in the Tabernacle and subsequent Temple; the hammered gold menorah with its stems, leaves, and blossoms resembled the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden (Exod. 25:31-37; Lev. 24:1-4). The lamp connotes God’s presence not only in the Sanctuary (1 Sam. 3:3) but also within the hearts of His people:
For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness . . . For it is you who light my lamp. (2 Sam. 22:29; Ps. 18:28 ESV)
Even during the reign of wicked rulers, God remembered His covenant and, unwilling to destroy the lineage of the coming Savior, He kept the lamp of David’s line burning (2 Chron. 21:7; Ps. 132:17). A lamp shows what’s in the darkness, and so the Lord searches our “innermost parts” (Prov. 20:27; Ps. 139:11-13; Ps. 139:23-24). Haughty eyes and proud heart are the lamp of the wicked, but blessing shines above those walking in the light of God’s ways (Prov. 21:4; Job 21:17; Job 29:1-6).
God’s commandments, too, are pictured as a lamp (Prov. 6:23). The Psalmist, ridiculed for his faith, strengthened himself by meditating on the Scriptures, and so delighted in them that he wrote a 176-verse acrostic poem to celebrate God’s body of teaching able to direct one’s life:
How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord . . . I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word . . . Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps. 119: 1,101,105 ESV)
God used the image through the Prophets to warn Israel of her coming captivity, when she would be left “lampless” and far from home; soon thereafter Jerusalem fell to Babylon and the Temple was ransacked of holy vessels, including lampstand (Jer. 25:10; Jer. 52:18-19). It was at that time God searched Jerusalem with lamps and punished her stagnancy of spirit (Zeph. 1:12). When the golden vessels of Nebuchadnezzar’s pillage were desecrated, God judged the sacrilege through supernatural handwriting on the wall, read in the light of the royal lampstand: “Your kingdom will end” (Dan. 5:1-31). Zechariah’s apocalyptic vision pertaining to Israel’s future included seven small lamps fed continually with oil from two olive trees portraying two Spirit-filled leaders, signifying Israel would become the light of all the world (Zech. 4:11-14). The last of the OT prophets, John the Baptist was a burning lamp of testimony shining until Jesus—the True Light—came in the glory of the Father (John 5:33-35).
Jesus indicated the type of person entering the Messianic Kingdom would—like a lamp on a stand rather than one hidden beneath a basket—shine forth the light of God’s glory (Matt. 5:14-16). The eye is the lamp of the body; Christ’s followers see through the perspective of God’s viewpoint so that light permeates their whole person, in contrast to the darkened understanding of the spiritually blind (Matt. 6:22; Luke 11:34). We are to keep our lamps of spiritual readiness lit as we await His return (Luke 12:35-37). For we have an enlightening teacher in the written Word, a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star—the Eternal Light, Jesus—rises in our hearts to shine greater understanding, dispelling the darkness forever (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 22:16).
Exiled to Patmos, John the Apostle envisioned Jesus standing in the midst of seven lampstands, representing seven historic churches (now in Muslim territory) that once cast His light onto the world but whose testimony He snuffed out when they no longer shone forth the truth of the Gospel; Jesus is present in churches where His truth holds fast (Rev. 1:9-13; Rev. 2:1-5). Alluding to Zechariah’s vision of lamps fed directly by olive trees, John wrote about the two witnesses in the end times who, full of the Spirit of God, will testify during the reign of the Antichrist regarding the Second Coming (Rev. 11:3-6). Someday all false religion and evil will be extinguished like a cold lamp (Rev. 18:20-24). In eternity, seven lamps of the Holy Spirit will burn before God’s throne, where the Lamb of God will illuminate the New Jerusalem forever (Rev. 4:5; Rev. 5:6; Rev. 21:23).
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These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.