Updated: Jul 2
The Tabernacle of Moses or Mosaic Tabernacle is divided into three sections. The specific pattern and layout of the three sections are important for our study because it illustrates God’s prescribed pattern, path, or way for a flawed human being to approach a holy God.
Preparing "The Way" to Approach a Holy God
As the early morning sun rises above the horizon, the priest approaches the laver, the priest ceremonially cleanses himself by pouring water on each hand and foot three times. The natural light of the sun shines on the waters of the laver. The image of the priest reflects in the water of the bowl as he cleanses himself. Reminded he is made in the image of God; the priest ensures his heart is pure and his mind is free from the things of the outer world. At the gate, the offeror is met by a priest dressed in white linen. His korban is inspected to ensure the animal, or the grain is proper and without blemish. The English word "sacrifice" does not convey the Hebrew word korban. Korban is better translated as an offering because the basic meaning is “to draw close to.” James 4:8-9 illustrates God’s response to our desire to draw closer to the first level of holiness.
In the Outer Court, we prepare “The Way” to approach God.
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners;
and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (KJV) Come close to God and he will come close to you. Realise that you have sinned
and get your hands clean again. Realise you have been disloyal
and get your hearts made true once more. (JB Phillips)
The Holy Place: Learning "The Truth" from a Holy God
Once the priest and the offeror are prepared to proceed to the second section or court of the Tabernacle a change happens. The offeror is prohibited from entering into the second level of holiness within the Holy Place. Only the designated priests may enter. The priest represents the desires of the offeror and the devotion of the 12 tribes surrounding the portable house of worship.
The Menorah - The Single Source of Light
The second section of the Tabernacle is known as the Holy Place. Unlike the natural illumination of the outer courtyard, the Holy Place is illuminated by a single source of light – the light provided by the seven-olive oil-burning lamps of the Menorah. The Menorah is found on the south side of the Holy Place. The Menorah burned throughout the night and in the morning (Exodus 27:21; 30:7-8), it was cleaned, and replenished with fresh oil, and the wicks were trimmed or replaced.
Why was it important for the Menorah to burn properly? The trimming of wicks and replenishing of oil for the Menorah was coordinated with the daily evening and morning prayers offered up on behalf of the people. The work of the priest had to be illuminated throughout his time inside the Holy Place. Darkness could not prevail in the house of God.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:105 JPS 1917
Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes; and I will keep it at every step.
Give me understanding, that I keep Thy law and observe it with my whole heart.
Make me to tread in the path of Thy commandments.
Psalm 119:33-35 JPS 1917
The Menorah - The Source of the Oil
And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Command the children of Israel,
that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light,
to cause the lamp to burn continually' . . .
Aaron shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord continually.
Leviticus 24:1-3 JPS 1917
Pictured to the right is the newest teaching prop created for The Tabernacle Man. It was hand forged in India by old-world artisans who still pour molten metal into sand molds.
It stands 5' 3" tall and weighs approximately 108 pounds. The removable tops allow for oil-burning wicks.
The Menorah - The Source of the Wicks
The source of the wicks may seem insignificant, but remember, everything inside the white linen fence that surrounded the Tabernacle was considered holy. Every stake, rope, pole, column, wall, covering, garment, offering, piece of furniture, replenishing oil, and priest was consecrated to the service of God. Likewise, the wicks of the Menorah were holy. So where did the wicks come from?
In the Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 5.1.30-58 the source of the wicks. At one time, a priest named Ben Beivali acted as the Temple Officer in charge of supplying the wicks for the Menorah during the Second Temple period. Ben Beivai's job was to collect the "shreds" (paki'ah) from the worn-out linen robes, breeches, and sashes worn by the priests serving in the Temple. Once something was enlisted in the service of God it remained holy, even the ashes from the altar of burnt sacrifice (Number 4:13). Ben Beivai's job entailed braiding the shreds of the old garments into wicks for the Menorah. He was good at his job. He could calibrate the wicks to match the length of the night for which it was braided.
The Purpose of the Light
A thought to keep in mind. Inside the Holy Place of the Mishkan, who needed light? Who needed to see what they were doing while attending to the showbread, incense, and oil? Not God. His servants needed light while going about "their way" each day. Their path needed illumination. The natural light from the outer court had no place inside the Holy Place.
Application Modern Servants
About now, my Christian friends are saying, "Hey Terry! Are you ignoring the fact that Jesus said, I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). It is true. Yes, the Beloved disciple John recorded those words in his gospel. However, as is my fashion, I want to look at the duties associated with the Menorah through a different set of lenses. Please stick with me for a moment longer.
Beating olives to make oil, making wicks, and maintaining the Menorah may not seem like prestigious jobs. Each of these tasks requires skill and dedication. The olives were beaten and prepared according to strict specifications to ensure the oil for the illumination of the Holy Place was free from contaminants. The length and thickness of every braided wick had to be calculated to match the length of time between morning and evening and evening and morning.
Any ole oil will not do! Contaminated oil will not provide sufficient light in the Holy Place. If it is polluted it may burn for a while, but it will not endure the night. Contaminated, watered-down, adulterated illumination hinders God's servants. Be wise. Discern the source of your spiritual illumination. Just because it attracts others does not mean it is holy. Sound teaching from the Bible keeps us in "The Way." Yesterday's oil was for yesterday. New vision and understanding only come through the illumination of fresh oil.
Don't let your oil run dry. Renew your spirit regularly through prayer, Bible study, and times of worship. Pierce the darkness with the illumination provided by God's spirit. When we study the Bible, pray, or worship, we may be convicted of our shortcomings. Do not beat yourself up. Determine to do better. Ask the Lord for help.
For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light,
and reproofs of the instructed are the Way of Life.
Proverbs 6:23 JPS 1917
You may be assigned to perform the thankless duties of your synagogue or church. The routine maintenance of our houses of prayer requires the dedication of trusted servants. You may have been elected by the board or maybe just didn't know how to say "No" when asked by the leadership to, "Just do this for a little while." Soon it became your lifelong job. Continue to do it with a cheerful heart! Your service may seem mundane, but it is holy work for the Lord. As you walk or drive to your house of worship ask the Lord to give you a servant's heart.
In the Inner Court or Holy Place, We Learn
of a Holy God Through Service.
The Menorah Symbolizes the Illumination of the Spirit.
"He Guides Me."
In preparation for this blog, I was reminded of a man who faithfully served God, his family, and his synagogue for decades. I reached out to his daughter Terri for permission to share his story.
Howard was a quiet man who served his congregation faithfully for decades. By trade, he was an engraver. Attention to detail was mandatory. Howard would spend countless hours honing his craft. Howard would engrave the brass plates that were used to emboss the embellishments on High School graduation announcements. The school crests and the graduation years he produced were flawless. He enjoyed his work. But his work for the Lord at Temple Beth-El was his real specialty.
Howard served his synagogue faithfully for decades. Lights were his specialty. The tall ceilings in the sanctuary required a lift to reach the light bulbs. Howard had a sixth sense when it came to the illumination of the sanctuary. He just seemed to know whenever a light was going to go dim or burn out. Without fanfare, Howard would move the chairs and create a path in the sanctuary to the dead light. It would be replaced before most would notice it was out.
Before any Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, Howard would check the illumination in the sanctuary. Dimer switches and bulbs had to be in perfect working condition to eliminate any unnecessary distractions for the already nervous young man or lady leading the service and reading from the Torah scroll. If Howard noticed a light out before the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, he would change it. Howard had a unique custom. If a light went out before the special service, he would change the bulb and then save it. He considered it a sign of "good luck" for the teenager's special day. Later he would present the burned-out bulb to the young man or lady as a token of the service.
Pictured below is the architectural rendering of the synagogue Howard maintained for many years.
Lord, may we find joy in serving you and your house
even if the task is routine and mundane.
May Howard's memory be a blessing. Amen.