Numbers 8:1 “Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.’”
What is the purpose of a lamp? Obviously, it’s to give light so we can see in a place that would otherwise be dark to us. It’s something we need in order to see. This is unlike God, about Whom the Bible says “even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:12).”
The verse above from Numbers 8 tells us about one particular light, the seven-lamped candelabra that gave light to the tabernacle. It was the only light provided there as there were no windows or other openings of any kind. These lamps were a “shadow” or “type” of the light of the glory of God. But why seven lamps? Why not just one? Maybe it was just an issue of providing enough light – like we sometimes need a 100-watt bulb because a 40-watt won’t do. But more likely it is deeper than this, as is every type and shadow of the Old Testament.
Often, when we see the number seven in the Bible, it speaks of perfection or completeness. For example, in Revelation the Bible speaks of the “seven golden vials full of the wrath of God” to make clear to us the full extent of the wrath God will one day pour out on the wicked (Revelation 15:7). Then there are “the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4:5),” which point to the perfection of God’s Spirit, and “the seven churches (Revelation 1:20),” which represent all churches throughout history as well as all churches present at any one time in history. Then there is the account of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness in Luke 4. There He tells us that if anyone “sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” With these words He isn’t setting a limit, e.g., if he sins against you the eighth time, then you don’t need to forgive him because he’s gone over the line. No, He means we should always forgive, for in the parallel account in Matthew 18 He says “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,” or as some versions put it “seventy times seven.”
So, what about the seven lamps? What might they represent? Might I suggest that they point to the perfection of the light of God, for “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).” As I reflected on this truth, I thought about the many ways the Bible tells us that God helps us to see with His perfect light. First, there is the natural light that God gave us by the means of the sun (the greater light to rule the day) and the moon (the lesser light to rule the night) (Genesis 1:16), for without this light all of creation would have sat in total darkness. Second, there is the great light of the glory of God that shined upon Moses when God gave him His Law on Mount Sinai. Like blinding light that can hurt our eyes, the people hid their faces from Moses when he came down from the mount because of the afterglow of that light which reflected from his face. Perhaps this speaks to the effect of the Law, which exposes the sin of our own hearts, which definitely hurts, and of which we would be in the dark if God hadn’t revealed it to us. Then there is the light of the Word of God in all its fullness. It guides our steps through life as nothing else can, for it is “a lamp to (our) feet and a light to (our) path (Psalm 119:105).” A fourth “light” is, of course Jesus, Who told us “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).” Then there is the gospel message itself, i.e., “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4),” for it’s the only message that goes beyond the fearful light of the Law of God which exposes our sin, and tells us how to be freed from that sin as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross, which paid the price for it. A sixth light is the truth that when a person is saved, God fills him or her with His glorious light, and they in turn become the means by which others hear the message of the gospel. It is in this sense that Jesus has told us that now, “You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).” And then there is the light of the Holy Spirit, which infuses all the other lights with His wonderful presence. He is the One who appeared at His coming at Pentecost like “tongues as of fire” that rested on each believer in Acts 2. It is the Holy Spirit that is represented by the oil that filled and fueled the seven lamps of the tabernacle. It is the Holy Spirit that was given to Jesus “without measure (John 3:34)” to empower Him for all the wonderful works that He did. The Holy Spirit was there when the whole world sat in darkness in the beginning of creation “hovering over the face of the waters” as God moved to bring light into the world (Genesis 1:2-4). And it is the Holy Spirit that fills the believer to empower him or her to be that light of the world of which Jesus spoke.
Yes, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all – and if any of us will ever understand anything about those things that matter most of all, it will only be possible as a result of the wonderful perfection of the light of the glory of God. It is as God the Son said to us with these words: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”