The title ‘Before the Lamp of God Goes Out’ sounds a little strange but its meaning will become clear. This article is a message not only for disciples of the Lord Jesus but also to any non-believer who might read it. It is an important and urgent message, but before you get to the kernel of it, you will need to peel the husk a little.
This article is a bit longer than my normal posts, so for those who prefer to listen rather than read, just a reminder that there will be a TruthTalks post in podcast & audio format on this subject next week.
The other day someone phoned me to ask about 1 Samuel 3:3, which uses the words ‘the lamp of God had not yet gone out.’ I explained what that phrase probably means, but before I elaborate let me first put it into the context of the fuller passage:
‘The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”’ (1 Samuel 3:1-5)
The Tabernacle at Shiloh
Samuel’s mother Hannah had accompanied her husband to Shiloh every year to offer sacrifices to God at the Tabernacle. She was barren and prayed earnestly that Yahweh would grant her a child. One year she prayed in great anguish and told The Lord that if he granted her a son then she would dedicate his life to serve in the Tabernacle. Hannah soon fell pregnant and when her son was born, she named him Samuel, which sounds like the Hebrew for ‘heard of God’. Once she had weaned the baby, she took him up to Shiloh and presented him to the priest and when he had grown into a healthy boy, he served as Eli’s assistant.
The Lamp of God
Some commentators teach that the priests kept the lamp of God in the Tabernacle burning 24/7. However, this would make a nonsense of the words ‘the lamp of God had not yet gone out.’ In the original divine instructions concerning this (Exodus 27:20-21), it is clear enough that the lamps were to be kept alight from evening until the next morning through the hours of darkness. There must have been sufficient light entering that part of the Tabernacle during the day for the priests to conduct their duties, so there is a deeper meaning here. The Tabernacle contained several significant furnishings, one of which was a seven-armed golden lampstand called the Menorah. The meaning of this Hebrew word is ‘bearer of light’ and it translators sometimes referred to it as the Lamp of God. Over the centuries, both Jews and Christians have debated its symbolic meaning. To the Jew, it stands for the Light of God’s truth and glory through them as a covenant people. They refer back to the prophet’s words in Isaiah 60:1-3 and 42:6 where Almighty God proclaimed that Israel would be a light to the Gentile nations. Some, more mystical Jewish scholars also believe that the Menorah is a representation of the primordial Tree of Life. Christian theologians accept the Jewish interpretations to a point but go on to show that the light of truth and glory came into the world through the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus certainly believed this for he declared boldly, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). I want to comment on this and other things Jesus said about himself, but first I need to elaborate a little more on the 1 Samuel 3:1-5 text.
The Word of the Lord
Moses had died about 300 years before Samuel heard the voice of God and the first of the great prophets, Elijah only came on the scene 190 years or so after that. Between Moses and Elijah, a period of approximately 450 years, the word of the Lord was indeed rare. Then from the time of Elijah onwards, many prophets brought the words of God to the people of Israel, but there was divine silence once again between the last of them and the birth of Jesus of Nazareth 400 years later. In its opening verses, the book of Hebrews describes how that silence was broken: ‘In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’ (Hebrews 1:1-3).
The Living Word
In a general sense, the bible constitutes the Word of God, but more specifically, that ascription belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. John 1:1-5, 10-14 express this glorious truth this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’.
This Lamp of God, this Light of the World, this Jesus of Nazareth had much to say both about his mission and people’s responses to him and I want to highlight a few of his pronouncements.
The Light of the World
John 8:12 records Jesus as saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He did not say that he had just come to bring light or to teach about the light; he said that he was the light. He went on to claim that those who followed him as his disciples would ‘have’ the light of life and would never walk in darkness. Mark 5:14 confirms this where it records Jesus as saying, “you are the light of the world.”
Just as the priests of old tended to the lamp of God in the tabernacle, so we are to keep it alight in the world. However, to be light-bearers in this dark world, we need to be one with the source of light, Jesus Christ. And for this to happen we need first to be ‘born again’ of his Spirit. This is why he told Nicodemus, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God (and he) cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5).
Something else that Jesus said to his disciples was, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35-36). This applied to his very first followers, but it also applies to us today. Jesus has continued to be present in the world in and through his church. Spiritually unregenerate men and women have access to him. Additionally, whether they acknowledge it or not, it is his light that illuminates their world. But what if the time was soon coming when his church, his Spirit, his presence was no longer in the world? What if, in this sense, the Lamp of God went out?
This eventuality is a biblical certainty and the rapture of believers in the end-time is something most professing Christians believe. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 24:31 and Paul wrote about it in 1 Thessalonians 4:5-18 and other places. So it is not a matter of if but of when. When the Lamp of God goes out in the world there will be nothing to dispel the darkness and no way for those remaining in the world to find the light!
Jesus also said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5). So here is the kernel of what I have to say:
The world is a very dark place and is growing exponentially darker. I know that our parents and grandparents observed the darkness of their time and believed that the end of all things must be near, yet the world went on as it was. However, this current COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in an accelerating series of events that seem to be leading inexorably to a dark conclusion… and we haven’t even seen the worst yet. I am not just talking of health, economics, politics, and war; I speak also of moral, ethical, and spiritual catastrophe. The ‘night is coming’ yet we, who know Jesus, still have the ‘light of life’!
Light Dispels Darkness
In broad terms, the typical secular person tries to drive back the darkness with social, political, and economic reform. The socialist perceives darkness as a product of nationalistic oppression and seeks to eradicate it. The academic sees the darkness as a product of ignorance and tries to remedy this with education. The religious person tries to displace it with rite, ritual, and dogma, an equally stygian form of darkness. Not one of these recognises the darkness for what it is and not one has the counter to it. Spiritual darkness is the absence of spiritual light and Jesus Christ is the only one who can dispel it by his presence.
So, what can we do at this time when the clock of destiny lies at 10 seconds to midnight? The answer must surely be that those who are children of the light need to proclaim the light in every way possible. Those who know Jesus need to introduce others to him as a matter of urgent priority. Will this prevent the end of which Jesus and the biblical prophets and teaches spoke? No. It may push the peak of the curve a little along the timeline, much like a Coronavirus lockdown.
Not All are Evangelists
I am not saying that we should all evangelise and do nothing else. Part of being light-bearers is to shed light in word and deed. Ephesians 5:8-9 does not end with the words, ‘for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord’, but continues, ‘live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)’. Providing for the hungry, homeless, distressed and lonely are all ways of shining the light. However, these good deeds are as palliative as pain medications for a terminally ill patient. The only ‘cure’ for spiritual darkness is radical soul-surgery – death to the old and rebirth of the spirit. And this comes only through a regenerative encounter with Jesus Christ.
I am also not suggesting that we should all abandon our abilities and influence to become evangelists. God calls only some to be Evangelists, but we are all called to be witnesses and we all have abilities and influence. We influence our family, business, our social media network, and so on. We also have abilities that can be both the means and arena for witnessing.
The Need for Revival
I, and many others, have been praying for and writing about Revival for several years and we should continue to ask God to send a Holy Spirit, Jesus-centred revival upon our nations. When God sends revival upon his church then Christians come alive, start to witness with passion, and through them, many people come to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Some call this inspired outreach ‘preaching the Gospel’, and others call it ‘evangelising’, but I call it witnessing to the reality of who Jesus is and how to be born again of his Spirit.
The Kernel in the Husk
However, there is just so much more I want to write but I have probably already taxed the patience of most people with a long article like this. But (and there is always a “but” isn’t there) I need to conclude by transcribing what I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to write before dawn one morning recently. I will try to keep it as close as I can to how I jotted it down.
We are not going to help those living in darkness by threat, coercion, or religious argument, but by shining light. When light is present then darkness ceases to exist so when light advances then darkness retreats. There is but one true light. It is not science, politics, or religion; it is Jesus Christ. And all those born again of the Spirit are light-bearers.
It is a great responsibility and entrustment to be light-bearers, but it is what God expects us to be. Those who know Jesus are children of the light and he is the light. The light of Jesus does not consist of what he taught or modelled, for these are the emanations of his light. He, in himself, is the light, the source of the radiance that proceeds from him.
The light we shine into the darkness is the light of the Spirit of Christ within us that points like a neon arrow to the person of Jesus himself. To shine the light we reveal Jesus by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. To be light in the darkness we do not need to be able to answer all questions or provide solutions to every problem posed; we just need to know Jesus, be filled with the Spirit, and live out our destinies as children of the light.
However, the problem is that most people will not understand or receive this truth. When Jesus came into the world 2,000 years ago, he shone in the darkness but the darkness neither understood nor received him. When we speak today of being the light, people still will not understand. It sounds ridiculous to them and annoys them. Most people want to be given a material way through their darkness and cannot conceive of someone, even Jesus, being the light or others being his light-bearers. It strikes them as pathetically impractical, super-spiritual or even a little daft.
Yet, it is our calling and privilege to present the truth in whatever way we can. When Jesus walked this earth most rejected him and what he said, yet ‘to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’. For every one hundred who hear and reject, there will be perhaps 30 who hear and believe.
There is a bright gem glowing in the heart of the 1 Samuel 3 passage with which I started this article. The place where Eli trained Samuel to tend the Lamp of God was called ‘Shiloh’. This word has its origin in the great messianic prophecy of Genesis 49:10. It points like an illuminated sign to none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
So, to my fellow children of light, I repeat the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn’ (Isaiah 60:1-3).
To those who do not yet know Jesus as Messiah and Light of Life I plead with all urgency, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14).