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The prepared text of this morning’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below.   I have noted a couple things that I added while speaking in brackets.  The sermon audio is available at this link.  It is shorter than normal because the passage concerning the lampstand in the tabernacle is shorter than many in Numbers.  You can pretty well outline these passages in Numbers because they begin the same way: the Lord speaks to Moses.  If you have heard the previous sermons on Numbers but haven’t read my commentary on the book, the commentary begins with the post at this link.  Next Sunday we will read the next two parts (Numbers 8:5-26), although the sermon will focus on the first and longer one.

In that super long chapter of Numbers 7, the twelve tribes of Israel had brought thoughtful housewarming gifts in order to help the Levites to move God’s tent and so that the tabernacle will function the way that God intended when they stopped to rest. But then we see this brief but important note about staging in Numbers 8:1-4—our passage this morning. Staging is an important part of selling houses today. People have a hard time envisioning their things in an empty room. To help them see what they can do with the space, you add furniture. Furniture, like the design of the house itself, is a balance of form and function. When you put a table into your house, for example, it is helpful if the table looks nice but it also needs to be a size that is useful. So when you are looking at a staged house with a beautiful dining room table or a kitchen table you might think about whether the table is big enough for your family. The tabernacle already had furniture. In the outer sanctuary there was a table. The table had certain dimensions – it had a particular form, it was exactly the right size – but it also had a function. It functioned as a place for the twelve loaves of showbread. These twelve loaves represented the daily offerings of the twelve tribes. These twelve loaves of showbread were staged in this sanctuary on this table. In this sanctuary there also was a lampstand. Lighting too is an important part of staging. The Hebrew word here for this lampstand is menorah. This lampstand served the function of giving light, but its form was also important. The menorah was meant to be a tree of life with a trunk and seven branches [really six, three on each side and the shoot in the middle] and buds or flowers [Exodus 25:33-34 mentions making cups like almond blossoms—it is a tree]. It is fitting then that immediately after the twelve tribes have brought their offerings and the tabernacle is functioning the way that it intended that the Lord told Moses to tell Aaron this important note on staging. It is a note about lighting. Notice that the menorah was to shine in a particular direction:

Numbers 8:1-4 

  1. Aaron was told to stage the menorah to shine forward onto the showbread of the twelve tribes just as God’s face was shining the light of His blessing upon the twelve tribes.

    1. The Hebrew here overlaps with the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:25a. You remember the phrase, “YHWH make His face to shine upon you.” Well here the menorah was to give light or shine upon what was in front of it. The Hebrew verb is the same in both – to give light or to shine upon is the same Hebrew verb. Moreover, the word face and front are the same in Hebrew. Thus the menorah, which doesn’t technically have a face, still was to shine upon what was in front of it. The menorah was to shine forward. The menorah, as a new tree of life, represented the author and giver of life. This is also the reason for the note about its craftsmanship – the menorah was pure gold. It represented the Lord. Moreover, this was not to be confused with idolatry – this menorah was made according to the pattern that YHWH had shown to Moses. Idolatry is anytime we worship according to some other pattern than that which God has revealed to us is how He wants to be worshiped. No, this menorah of pure gold made according to the pattern God revealed—a pattern that made it a a new tree of life—represented the author and giver of life, the Lord. So for the menorah to be shining upon the twelve loaves of showbread was to say that the Lord’s face was shining upon the twelve loaves of showbread. And as we have said that the twelve loaves of showbread represented the offerings of the twelve tribes, so for the menorah to be shining upon the twelve loaves of showbread is for the Lord’s face to be shining upon the twelve tribes and their offerings.

    2. Indeed, the Lord was making His face to shine upon Israel and being gracious to them (Num 6:25a-b). He was looking upon them with favor. He was accepting their offerings. This little staging detail that the seven lamps were to give light in front of the menorah was a picture of the blessing that Aaron pronounced upon the people of Israel. When you stage a house, you want the lampstand to shine upon something that is favored; so too the menorah lit up something favored by God. It lit up the showbread representing the offerings of the twelve tribes. It represented God’s favor upon the tribes of Israel. He is gracious to whom He is gracious and He chose to be gracious to Israel. [Example of Cain and Abel] (So the menorah in the tabernacle, all of which points forward to Jesus Christ, was to shine upon the twelve loaves of showbread just as God’s face shined upon Israel for God was gracious to them and accepted their offerings. Now we have seen from the Gospel of John, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). For this and many other reasons we understand that the tabernacle pointed forward to Jesus Christ.)

  2. The menorah in the tabernacle showing God’s face-to-face relationship with Israel and favor toward Israel points forward to Jesus who is the light of the world shining the light of God’s blessing to the ends of the earth.

    1. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Or again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The sending of Jesus Christ into the world shows the favor of God toward all kinds of people—not only the Jewish people. The angel told the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). God shined the light of His favor in the world through Jesus. The menorah showed that God shined the light of His favor upon the tribes of Israel, but the incarnation of Christ showed that God shined the light of His favor upon all nations. God said through the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). The menorah, a kind of tree of life with lamps, pointed forward to Jesus as the light of life. We all know, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And as Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). (For here is the thing: the church of Jesus Christ will reflect His light.)

    2. Jesus said, “You [plural] are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). It is not an accident that the seven churches in Revelation are symbolized as lampstands. Some of them were very flawed churches but they were all lampstands designed to shine the light of God into the world. We are a menorah for the world. We are to shine that light forward into the darkness of this world and onto the lost so that they may see the way to the tree of life and live. God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). Thus as we share His word we are lampstands for others to see the way. And as Jesus explained what He meant by not putting a lamp under a basket but on a stand, He said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” God’s blessing shines upon the world through us—through our words of good news and our good deeds that lead people to glorify God. God has shined His lampstand of life upon you so that you may be a lampstand of life to the world. May He be glorified! Amen.

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