Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 42, Psalms 84-86

Read Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 42, Psalms 84-86.

This devotional is about Psalm 84.

In this song, the Psalmist described the joy he felt when he thought about coming to the Lord’s tabernacle to worship. Remember that in the Old Testament. the tabernacle and then the temple were the places where God’s presence was promised to be. God is spirit and everywhere present in the fullness of his being, but in order to unite Israel spiritually and keep her worship from being polluted by pagan gods and ideas, God designated a central altar and sanctuary to be the place of worship. He promised to make that tent (the Tabernacle) and later that house (the Temple) his “dwelling place” on earth.

As the Psalmist thought about approaching the tabernacle to worship, he spoke of “how lovely” that place was (v. 1). We’ve read already this year about the careful planning and high quality materials that went into building God’s tabernacle. In a few months, we’ll read about Solomon’s elaborate, ornate preparations for the temple. Both of these places of worship were truly magnificent structures, the best humanity at that time could give to the one and only God.

But the Psalmist was not drawn to that place because of its appearance. According to verse 2, it was the opportunity to be with God that sparked his desire to go there: “…my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The opportunity to give to God, to sing to him in worship, and to hear from his word made this songwriter sing with excitement.

Notice verse 3: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” These words make me wonder; as the Psalmist walked toward the tabernacle or even within its courts, maybe, he looked up in the trees and saw birds that had made their nests there. “What blessed birds” he may have thought, “to make your home in the sanctified place of the Lord! You fall asleep at night and rise each morning in God’s presence. Your days are filled with the smells of burnt offerings and incense offerings, with the sounds of singing and the public reading of scripture. What could be better than to live in such a place if you love God and desire to worship him.” Accordingly verse 4 goes on to say, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” And, later in verse 10, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” For a believer, there is no better place to be than where the Lord is.

These days, we have the promise of God that he is with us always, that he hears our prayers and is exalted in our worship anywhere we offer them to him.

Still, though, the Bible says that there is a special presence of the Lord within his church when she gathers. First Timothy 3:15 says, “…God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Note that the church is not the building where we meet, it is the people who have joined together to be the local expression of the body of Christ. The Lord’s presence is with us as we gather to worship, whether in Ypsilanti, Michigan or…, I don’t know… say, Dayton Ohio or Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Given this truth, don’t you want to be there when we gather for worship on Sunday?

I thank the Lord for the time we’ll have as we come and worship. Be there and join with us to experience the joy of God’s people and be blessed by him. God’s favor falls on us like the light of the son when we worship him and live obediently to his word (vv. 11-12), so come and receive it with the rest of your family in Christ.

Exodus 27, Ecclesiastes 3, Proverbs 8:1-21

Read Exodus 27, Ecclesiastes 3, and Proverbs 8:1-21 today.

This devotional is about Exodus 27.

From Exodus 25 through 30, God spelled out for his people how to create the tabernacle and all the things that belonged in it. Chapter 25:31-40 described the lampstand that they were to build. Here in 27:20-21 the Lord told them how to make the oil that would be burned in that lamp.

The lampstand itself had seven lamps–one in the center and six branches–three on each side (25:32, 37). Remember that–seven lamps on one lampstand.

This lampstand was placed “outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law” (v. 21a). That means it was in the holy place, just outside the Most Holy Place (or holy of holies, as it is sometimes called). God’s command was that these seven lamps were to be burning at all times; that’s what “from evening till morning” (v. 21c) means. The only time these lamps would ever go out was if the people (and, therefore, the tabernacle) were moving to a new place. When the tabernacle was set up and in use, the lamps were supposed to burn night and day.

The people of Israel had their own lamps which they used in their tents at night. When it was time to sleep, the lamps God’s people used at home were extinguished because they were not needed and might prevent them from sleeping. God never sleeps, so the ever-burning lamps were a testimony to God’s wakeful watchfulness over his people. Because God was always awake and on duty, his people could pray to him anytime–night or day.

Notice also that the oil for these lamps was to be brought by the people. Verse 20 says, “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.” It was the duty of the non-priests to bring a constant fresh supply of this olive oil so that the lamps would never go out.

Also note that the responsibility to provide oil for the lamps passed from one generation to another. The last sentence of verse 21 says, “This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.”

Finally, note that a particular kind of olive oil was needed to fuel these lamps: “clear oil of pressed olives” (v. 20a). Commentators say that this kind of oil would burn with very little smoke. There was a purity to this kind of preparation that was fitting as a symbol of God and his presence.

So, what do we have here? Let’s review:

  • The priests were to make a lamp with seven spots on top where the fire light would appear.
  • This lampstand was placed outside the curtain where the Most Holy Place was. It was the closest thing to the Ark of the Covenant (beside the curtain that separated the Holy and Most Holy Places).
  • The seven lamps were never supposed to go out because they symbolized God’s presence and attention night and day.
  • The oil for this lamp was to be:
    • Pure olive oil to burn without smoke.
    • Provided by the people, not the priests
    • Continually provided by the people for every generation.

What does any of this have to do with us Christians? 

  • At the very least, it serves as a visual reminder to us of God’s constant presence. He is always awake, always alert, always watching over us and ready to hear our prayers.
  • The command for the people to provide the oil from one generation to another reminds us that we all contribute to God’s ministry. If we stop contributing to God’s work, the light of his presence may go out in the world.

But consider one more possible application of this passage: In Revelation 1:12, John saw “seven golden lampstands” and in verse 20 of Revelation 1 he was told that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Admittedly, the tabernacle/temple only had one lampstand with seven lamps emanating from it so there are some differences. But because there were seven lamps on the lampstand in Exodus 27, God may have chosen these seven churches and used the symbol of the lamp to call up this image from the tabernacle/temple.

In Revelation 2 in God’s message to the church at Ephesus was that unless they repent, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2:5). That was a promise that the church would cease to exist. The light of the gospel would go out in Ephesus and there would be no indication of his vigilant presence there. That happened; the church in Ephesus no longer exists because Ephesus no longer exists. The region where Ephesus was located is modern day Turkey–a Muslim-dominated nation.

If the lamps in Revelation 1-2 are to remind us of Exodus 27, then the fact that the people were to supply the oil so that the light never went out is significant. The light of God’s truth and God’s presence is only one generation from being extinguished. Unless God’s people continue to cultivate purity and contribute to his work, the light can go out and God will remove the lamp. Note that the elders of the church are part of the people of the church. Elders/pastors are not priests because Jesus is the one and only priest.

And what was it that the church in Ephesus needed to repent of? Lovelessness. Revelation 2:4-5 says, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

When we stop loving God and loving each other, we are no longer supplying the gospel with the fuel for its light. When there is no love in God’s church, the light goes out and God removes the lamp completely.

By God’s grace, then, let us love him and love each other. Cultivate a heart for God and serve him and his people in love. Without this love, the light of God’s presence in our church will go out.