August 3, 2005
“An Everlasting Covenant”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter 24, as we continue to work our way through this great book. We are on track, by the way, Lord willing, to finish Leviticus at the end of this month on Wednesday nights. By the 31st we should come to the final chapter of this book, in Leviticus 27, and then we will launch forth into the third book of the Psalms.
We've had a little rhythm going for the last few years where we would do a book of the Psalms, and then a book from the first five books of the Bible (from the Pentateuch, from the Torah), and then we’d do another book of the Psalms, then we’d do another book from the Pentateuch, and then we’d do another book of the Psalms, and another book from the Pentateuch, and so we're continuing in that vein and enjoying our time in the Book of Leviticus. I certainly am. I've learned a lot.
I must say that, having gotten this far through Leviticus, I wish that I had preached through Leviticus before I preached through Hebrews. I think I would have done a better job of Hebrews if I had worked through Leviticus first. It's so enriching as to our appreciation of what the author of Hebrews is saying that Jesus accomplished for us. To know Leviticus simply makes your delight in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament all the more full and great.
Now tonight we're going to look at just nine verses, the first nine verses of Leviticus 24. They pertain to the lamp, and to the bread: the oil for the lampstands, and the bread for the showbread table which were to be kept in the sanctuary — narthex to the Holy of Holies — during all times, as a token, a sign of the access to God and the provision of God to His people.
Let me outline the passage for you tonight in three parts.
First of all, we see the word of command in verse 1: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses….” We've seen so many of the chapters and portions of the Book of Leviticus open in this way, and it would be very easy for us, wouldn't it, to just pass right over those words as cast-off words, as words of no significance; but they have great significance, because it's reminding that everything here that is being commanded is not being commanded by Moses. It's not something that the priests have invented. Everything that is to be done by the people of God here is the result of God's direct command to the people. This isn't the idea of a priestly caste; this isn't even Moses’ idea. It's God's idea communicated by Moses to both the priests and the people, and there's a practical significance in that for us, and we’ll look at that. That's the first thing I want us to see tonight.
Then, if you look at verses 2-4, you’ll see the commands pertaining to the children of Israel bringing olive oil in order to keep the lamps burning in that narthex to the Holy of Holies. Inside the tabernacle, there are to be lamps burning continually, regularly. There's always to be light in that tent which would otherwise, as you would imagine, be quite dark. It had layers and layers of material, and the light couldn't have gotten through, and so it would have been quite dark in there. So there were to be lamps burning at all times, and the people of God are exhorted in verses 2-4 to bring olive oil to make sure that the holy place was illuminated. And again, we're going to see tonight that that had both a practical and a symbolic significance, both in the Old Testament and fulfilled to an even greater extent in the New.
And then finally, if you look at verses 5-9, here we see the command about the people of God bringing the bread of presence to be placed in the presence of the Lord. And again there is a practical and a symbolic significance of that command. So those are the three parts of the passage we're going to read and study tonight: Verse 1, where the command is given from the Lord; verses 2-4, where the command is given to bring olive oil for the lamps — pure olive oil to light the lamps of the house of the Lord; and then, finally, in verses 5-9, the command to bring the showbread, the bread of presence.
Now, before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your word, and Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way. And we also know that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, so enlighten us by Your word and feed us by Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they bring to you clear oil from beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually. Outside the veil of testimony in the test of meeting, Aaron shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord continually; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations. He shall keep the lamps in order on the pure gold lampstand before the Lord continually.
“Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. And you shall set them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the Lord. Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the Lord's offerings by fire, his portion forever.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. We are to keep God's word.
Now, there are three things to learn from this extraordinarily rich passage tonight, and the first one is this: That we are to keep God's word. You’ll notice the command of Leviticus 24:1: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel….’”, and so it is emphasized that the command which is going to be spoken both in verses 2-4 and in 5-9 comes to Moses from the Lord. All of this command, both aspects of the command, the totality of the command is spoken by the Lord. It is delivered to Moses, who then delivers it to the priests and to the people. And so the emphasis here is on the people of God keeping a word which God Himself has given to them.
And I simply want to say that for those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, those of us who are Christians, those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, we, too, are to respond in obedience to every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. We are to revere His Scriptures. We are to respond to the Bible, recognizing it as our final rule for faith and practice, the authority that teaches us what to believe and how to live, about all things pertaining to God and to the life of faith. We’re to obey the word of the Lord. We’re to keep God's word. It's the same message that's being driven home by the repetition of that phrase, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses….” The idea is to remind the people of God again that these words are not simply Moses’ words, they’re not simply the priests’ words, they are God's words and therefore they are to be obeyed.
It's quite interesting that that statement is deployed here in a place where a rather regular or common duty is being spoken about. You know, these duties of making sure that there was oil for the lamps and bread for the table could have easily been overlooked in the midst of all the extraordinary commands that we have seen given from Leviticus 1 to Leviticus 23. There are some unique and extraordinary commands given to the people of God in those passages, and this particular command to make sure that daily there is always olive oil in the house for the burning of the lamps, and that weekly there is always bread on the table of the Lord — those things could very easily have been overlooked. And yet, here again we see God Himself commanding the people of God to do so.
By the way, I want to suggest to you that there's an application for us in that regard, and that is that we ourselves must not fail to remember our own regular common duties to the Lord. Not those things which are flashy and draw attention to us, but those basic, regular, common duties that God calls upon us to do. They are commands of the Lord, and we're to do them as unto the Lord, with care and with joy. And there's the first thing that we see here: keep God's word.
II. Keep the fire burning.
The second thing you’ll see in verses 2-4: “Keep the fire burning” is the command, or the intention of the command in verses 2-4. Keep the word of the Lord, keep God's word (in verse 1); Keep the fire burning (in verses 2-4).
The people of God are commanded to bring pure olive oil for the lampstands in the holy place. Now these lamps were to continually burn, we're told in verses 2-4, and the priests had the job of making sure they were in good order, making sure that they continually burned.
Now, the command, as I've already said, had both a practical and a spiritual significance. The practical significance is simply this: having light in that particular annex to the Holy of Holies inside the tent of meeting enabled the officiating priest to carry out his duties. Without light, he couldn't have done it. Now, of course, his duties in carrying out the various rituals were part of — what? the access of the people of God to God. And so, having a light enabled him to do the rituals which are required for the people of God in having access to God, and so the light functioned in order to aid the people of God in having access to Him. There's the practical significance.
But symbolically, you can very easily see the spiritual significance of this light. This light represented that which showed the way into the presence of, or gave access to, the living God. And the obedience of God's people to this command to bring that pure olive oil insured that the holy place was illuminated, which practically enabled the priests to do the rituals which ritually or ceremonially brought the people of God into God's presence, and of course which symbolically or spiritually pointed to the great blessing and goal of communion with God.
Now, as glorious as that picture is, it can't measure up to what is done with it in the New Testament. Think of it. Old Simeon has been waiting all his life to hold, to behold, the Messiah. And the day comes, and he holds the Messiah in his arms, and you remember what he says about Him: that He has been given as a light to the Gentiles. He's the one that shows the way of access into the presence of God to the Gentiles.
Think of the old Apostle John, the disciple that Jesus loved…the beloved disciple writing in his prologue about the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn with me to John, chapter one. And remember what he says. He says of the Word, that (in verse 4 of John 1)
“In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
And notice again how he goes on to say in verse 9, “There [in Jesus — not in John the Baptist, but in Jesus]… There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” And so John is emphasizing that Jesus Himself shows the way of access into the presence of the living God, but that's not all.
Turn forward to John 8, because there Jesus Himself says that He (verse 12, John 8) is the light of the world: “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” And so Jesus Himself says, ‘I am the light. Not only do I show the way of access into the presence of God, I am the way of access into the presence of God.’
And then, of course, if you’ll turn back to Matthew 5, in turn Jesus would say to His disciples — what? that (Matthew 5:14) “You are the light of the world,” and — what? “Let your (verse 16) light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Because He is the light of the world who ushers us into the presence of God, He turns to His disciples and He says, ‘Now, you be a light, too. You be a light, too, and you show in your own lives the power of God at work, and what God has done for you.’ And so there's the glorious New Testament fulfillment of the symbolism of the light in the tabernacle, that Jesus Himself is the light of the world. He not only shows the way, but is the way to God. And here, all the way back into the establishment of the ceremonial code, there is a picture, there is a type, there is a foreshadowing of that glorious truth, even in the heart of the ritual of the tabernacle.
III. Keep the table set and out.
And there's one last thing I want you to see. You’ll see it in verses 5-9 of Leviticus 24. If we're to keep God's word, if we're to keep the fire burning, we're also to keep the table set and ready. We’re to keep the table set and ready. Here the people of God are commanded to take fine flour and bake twelve cakes, and to set them in two rows and to replace them every week. They’re there before the Lord and they’re fresh. And the obedience of God's people to this command ensured that the bread of presence was always present before the Lord, and again that has practical and symbolic significance.
The practical significance of course is that that bread was part of the provision for Aaron and his sons, and they were to eat of it in a holy place. And their eating of it in a holy place was designed at least in part to remind the people of God of the communion which they have with God by following the provisions of God's ceremonial law.
But the very presence of the bread in the tent of meeting was also designed to remind the people of God that God had provided them their daily bread, that God had made provision for their every need. And so the practical and the spiritual significance of this presence bread, this bread of presence in the tent of meeting, was first to remind us that God has provided our every need, and the people of God were to remember at all times that there was bread in the presence of the Lord, and the remembering of the bread in the presence of the Lord was then to remind them that everything that they had had been provided to them by the Lord: that their bread–and think of them especially in the wilderness when they were still eating of the manna–that manna had been provided by the hand of God to them for their feeding. He had supplied all their needs, and so it pointed to God's kind and fatherly and wise provision.
But even more blessed, their remembrance that that bread…you remember, there were twelve loaves, signifying the whole of the people of God, all the twelve tribes of Israel…which itself was a spiritual number, because if you wanted to get technical, there were twelve and a half tribes, or thirteen tribes, however you wanted to number them. But twelve was the picture of the fullness of God's people, of the fullness of Israel, and they could remember that there were twelve loaves in there, again symbolizing as the priests partook of those loaves that the offerings of God's people had been counted holy in His sight, and that all of God's people were able to commune with Him.
It's a beautiful symbol: God's table set and ready and spread; God's provision for His people; God's communion with His people.
And of course, there's a New Testament parallel, isn't there? You remember the feeding of the 5,000 as it's recorded in John 6? You remember there were made available to Jesus five loaves. From this He fed 5,000, and when it was all said and done how many baskets were brought to Him? Twelve baskets.
Now again there's a practical and a spiritual significance to that. He had twelve disciples, and it indicated that God had not only provided for the 5,000 to eat, but He was going to provide for Jesus’ disciples to eat. But of course, deeper and more significantly, it reminds us that the whole fullness of God's people are provided for by the Lord, and it's precisely in that passage, in John 6:35 and in John 6:51 that Jesus will say — what? “I am the bread of life.” ‘If you want to know the providence and the provision of God, if you want to know communion with God, then you must trust in Me. You must eat of My flesh,’ Jesus will say, ‘because I'm the bread of life. In other words, you must put your trust in Me alone. You must have faith in Me alone, because I'm the only thing that can give you spiritual sustenance to the saving of your souls.’ It's a beautiful picture that we have here in Leviticus 24 – the Lord spreading His table and having it ready for communion with His people.
My wife's uncle…one of her uncles–her mother is one of nine siblings…they were from Hartsville, South Carolina. Actually, they were from out in the country from Hartsville, South Carolina. Now, Hartsville is probably about the size of Columbia, Mississippi. We’re not talking about a bustling metropolis; we're talking about a small town. But they live out from Hartsville, and many of her uncles fought in the European theater in the Second World War.
One of them in particular was called up early and saw action in Normandy and other places in France and into Germany. And finally, as his unit was brought back to the United States, you can imagine the long travel in the military convoy across Europe by convoy and train and various other means, and then the long ship ride, first from Europe to Britain, and then from Britain to a port in the northeastern United States, and then after signing his papers he made his way on a train from somewhere in New England all the way down to Columbia, South Carolina, and then he caught a bus from Columbia, South Carolina, to Florence, South Carolina, and then he caught another bus from Florence, South Carolina, to Hartsville, South Carolina, and then he got a guy to give him a…he hitchhiked, and got a ride out into the country from Hartsville.
And he’d decided…he did not send word ahead that he was coming home. He wanted to try and surprise them. And so his ride dropped him off in the country and he started walking the rest of the way. Well, as he got to the edge of their property–big house out in the middle of the country–Bud, his golden retriever, knew he was home, and started barking and barking and barking. And as he came out of the woods and up into the big yard, the lights were on; and Bud was on the porch, and the whole family came outside; and the table was set and spread, and the lights were on in the house waiting for Charlie to come home.
The lights were on, the table was spread, and they were waiting. And that is exactly what the symbolism of Leviticus 24:1-9 is. The lights are on, the table is spread. The Lord wants you to slide your knees up under His table and commune with Him, because He has sent His Son, the light of the world, so that in Him you may have life and have it abundantly and commune with Him forever.
Do you remember what David said at the end of Psalm 23? That the Lord had spread a table for him in the presence of his enemies. Well, you know everyone who remembered the history of Israel could relate to that, because this table in the tabernacle, spread with bread, was spread in the midst of a camp that moved in the wilderness in the midst of the enemies of the people of God, indicating that God's provision was always there for them. The lights were on; the table was spread. Come home, and eat.
Now, every time you come into the presence of the Lord to worship Him, that invitation is there for you, and especially when we come to the Lord's Table. The lights are on; the table is spread by Christ for you. Drink of Him, and eat.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the blessed truth of Your word: the inviting, the welcoming, the assuring, the comforting truth of Your word. We pray, O God, that we would by faith take hold of Christ, that we would believe in Him; that we would not spurn Him, that we would embrace Him as the light of the world; that You would open our eyes that we might not, by our blindness, miss the glorious Light who is the life of men. Grant that we would trust Him; grant that we would believe Him; grant that we would have faith in Him, and so commune with Him even in this dark world, to the delight of our souls and for Your everlasting glory. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.