1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. 3 Outside the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, Aaron shall arrange it from evening to morning before the Lord regularly. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. 4 He shall arrange the lamps on the lampstand of pure gold before the Lord regularly.
5 “You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. 6 And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. 7 And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. 8 Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. 9 And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.” – Leviticus 24:1-9 ESV
At first glance, the content of chapter 24 seems to be misplaced. It seems to have no logical relationship with the chapters that precede and follow it. After outlining the various annual feasts and holy days the Israelites were to celebrate, God appears to abruptly shift His focus and begins discussing the oil and bread used in the Tabernacle. But there is nothing in the text that suggests these instructions were given in direct or unbroken sequence with the ones concerning the annual festivals. Chapter 24 opens with the statement, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” (Leviticus 24:1 ESV).
This same phrase was used in verses 1, 9, 23, 26, and 33 of chapter 23. They each serve as breaks in the narrative where God changes the emphasis from one point to another. Sometimes the changes are subtle, while at other times they are more abrupt. And chapter 23 ends with the statement: “Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:44 ESV). This verse provides a closing to God’s instructions regarding the annual feasts.
Now, in chapter 24, God speaks to Moses once again, but concerning a different but not wholly unrelated matter. Every one of the annual feasts that God decreed involved the use of the Tabernacle. And while these holy convocations were to take place on an annual basis, the Tabernacle was to be in service throughout the entire calendar year. There is a sense in which God wanted His people to properly revere these once-a-year sacred assemblies, but not forget the daily care and maintenance of His dwelling place. It would be easy for the Israelites to give these holy days (holidays) greater significance because they were festive occasions when the entire community gathered together at the Tabernacle. But God suggests that the day-to-day operations of the Tabernacle were not to take a backseat to these higher-visibility events.
While the Passover and the various feasts of Firstfruits, Weeks, Trumpets, and Booths were important, they did not take precedence over the daily care and maintenance of God’s house. The Day of Atonement may have been the most important annual event on Israel’s calendar, but it was not to overshadow the peoples’ obligation to literally “keep the lights burning” in the sanctuary of God. When God had given Moses the instructions for building the Tabernacle, He had included the following command concerning the oil for the Golden Lampstand.
“Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. The lampstand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the Lord’s presence all night. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel, and it must be observed from generation to generation.” – Exodus 27:20-21 NLT
Aaron and his sons were responsible for keeping the light of the lampstand burning 24 hours a day throughout the entire calendar year. This elaborate piece of furniture, fashioned in the form of a tree, was intended to bring light into the inner recesses of God’s house. The author of Hebrews provides us with details concerning the exact placement of the lampstand.
There were two rooms in that Tabernacle. In the first room were a lampstand, a table, and sacred loaves of bread on the table. This room was called the Holy Place. Then there was a curtain, and behind the curtain was the second room called the Most Holy Place. In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. – Hebrews 9:2-4 NLT
This lampstand was the sole source of light within the Holy Place and made it possible for the priests to fulfill their duties within the Tabernacle. Each morning, the seven bowls of the lampstand were to be filled with fresh oil and the wicks were to be trimmed so that their flames would burn brightly and perpetually. This ritual was to be repeated each evening so that the lamp continued to give off light throughout the night.
But none of this was possible if the people failed to obey God’s command. In order for the light to burn continually, the people were required to bring “pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp” (Leviticus 24:1 ESV). This perpetual light was a symbol of God’s glorious presence. In its location just outside the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, the lampstand provided light in the darkness. It illuminated the veil that led into the place where God’s glory dwelled above the mercy seat. In that place, God’s Shekinah glory was always present in the Holy of Holies but was off limits to all but the high priest, and even he was restricted from entering that sacred space except on the Day of Atonement.
But the light outside the veil was to be kept burning at all times. It was to be a representation and a reminder of God’s glorious presence within the Holy of Holies. He was there, not just on the Day of Atonement, but throughout the entire calendar year. His glory never diminished. The light of His presence never faded. And the priests were responsible for maintaining the light of the lampstand as a perpetual reminder that God was still among them. Yahweh had promised to dwell with the people of Israel but He had also placed on them the requirement to obey His commands. And while bringing in fresh olive oil each day was a relatively simple and inexpensive task to fulfill, it was essential that the Israelites never fail to follow through on their commitment. If they did, the lights would go out. That simple act of disobedience would have dramatic consequences. The priests would have no oil to light the lamps and, as a result, the lamps on the lampstand would go out, leaving Aaron and his sons in the dark and incapable of doing their jobs. Worse yet, that simple act of disobedience would result in God’s glory departing the Holy of Holies. His presence was tied to their obedience.
And the same thing was true of the 12 loaves of bread that were to be placed on the golden table within the Holy Place every seventh day. These loaves of freshly baked bread, sometimes referred to as the bread of the presence, were to be placed on the Table of Showbread every Sabbath day. Representing the 12 tribes of Israel, these loaves were placed on the golden table in the Holy Place, where they were illuminated by the light from the Golden Lampstand. For six days, they sat just outside the veil that separated them from God’s glorious presence. Symbolically, they represented God’s people, basking in the light of His glory and grace. And each Sabbath, the old loaves would be replaced with freshly baked new loaves, symbolizing the transformative power of God’s presence among His people. The Sabbath was a day of rest and renewal when the people made Yahweh their highest priority. It was a day set apart for Him, and during which no work was done. During the other six days of the week, the people would work and labor, and by the seventh day they would need a time of refreshing from God.
These loaves were also intended to be a gift given to God in gratitude for His gracious provision of all their needs. The 12 tribes of Israel existed because of God’s grace, and they continued to exist for the very same reason. He had set them apart for His use. They belonged to Him and were to live their lives in keeping with His will. Every seventh day, the people of God were to provide the flour that was used to bake the bread that sat before the presence of God. It was to be a perpetual sign of their ownership by God and their willingness to place themselves at His disposal to do with as He wished.
Another point that should not be missed is that the oil and the bread were essential for the priests to do their jobs. These verses stress the integral nature of the priesthood. They were vital to the everyday well-being of the nation. They had been set apart by God and tasked with caring for the Tabernacle but also with overseeing the spiritual health of His people. Yet, they could not do their job if the people failed to obey God’s commands. The provision of oil and bread was the sole responsibility of the people. Everyone had to do their part. The oil provided light so that the priests could do their job. And the bread eventually became nourishment for the priests so they could have the strength to serve God’s people (Leviticus 24:9).
This entire operation was finely tuned and intricately ordained by God to be self-sustaining and mutually beneficial. Every facet of His divine plan was vital and required obedience on the part of all those involved. The priests and the people were obligated to perform their respective responsibilities on time and in keeping with God’s will. Even the smallest details of God’s plan had to be obeyed if the nation wanted to continue to enjoy His presence, power, and provision. What good would the feast days be if the people allowed the lights to go out in the Holy Place? Why would God be obligated to provide atonement and access into His presence if the people were unwilling to provide the bread of the presence?
Everything mattered to God. No feast was greater than any other. No command was more important than any other. The will of God was righteous and worthy of their obedience, from the daily provision of oil to the yearly celebrations of the feasts.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.