The menorah lampstand,  light in the holy place

A menorah is a seven branched lampstand or candle-stick modelled, with varying degrees of liberality, on the one that stood in the Jerusalem temple.

The original instruction to construct such a stand is found in Exodus, where Moses commanded that one be made for the tabernacle, a portable shrine that served Israel during their wilderness wandering -

31“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. Of hammered work shall the lampstand be made, even its base, its shaft, its cups, its buds, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it.  32There shall be six branches going out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of its one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of its other side;  33three cups made like almond blossoms in one branch, a bud and a flower; and three cups made like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bud and a flower, so for the six branches going out of the lampstand;  34and in the lampstand four cups made like almond blossoms, its buds and its flowers;  35and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of the lampstand.  36Their buds and their branches shall be of one piece with it, all of it one beaten work of pure gold.  37You shall make its lamps seven, and they shall light its lamps to give light to the space in front of it.  38Its snuffers and its snuff dishes shall be of pure gold.  39It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these accessories.

(Exod 25:31-39 WEB)

This lamp stood on the southern side of the holy place and provided light by which the priest could carry out his duties (Exod 26:35).

A lot has been written about the significance of the tabernacle, but there is a distinct pattern in its layout and content that deserves more attention. The pattern will be familiar to software engineers who have ever tried to understand recursive procedures. For others it may be familiar from traditional Russian dolls, where each doll contains a smaller representation of itself. The pattern suggests that the Tabernacle was a model of the cosmos, based on a theological understanding that the cosmos was an imperfect expression of heaven. This meant that the heaven section of the Tabernacle's model had to be structured in the same way as the whole Tabernacle. In turn, its heaven section incorporated the structure again (as illustrated in Fig 1).

Fig. 1 Nested models of the universe

Heaven


Subordinate domain

Heaven


Subordinate domain

Heaven


Subordinate domain

By accessing the model of the cosmos (in the form of the tabernacle) the priesthood undertook a physical analog of their spiritual activities, gaining access through successively holier heavens, the tabernacle again contained an image of itself (in the form of the holy of holies) through which a priest could access to a still holier third heaven, in which resided the glory of God.

The following diagrams may help you understand this concept, as it is simple once understood, but initially difficult to grasp.


The cosmos
Represented by the courtyard

The 1st Heaven
Represented by the Tabernacle

2nd Heaven
Represented by the Ark of the Covenant

The 3rd Heaven
Represented by the Mercy Seat, wherein appears God's glory.

  • God, the Bread of Life, His people's provider and security
  • God, the Living Word, His people's law-giver and judge
  • God, the Spirit of Wisdom, a lamp for His people's feet

The lid of the Ark represents the barrier between the 3rd heaven and the 2nd. Below it were:
  • The pot of Manna (divinely provided 'bread');
  • The words of God on the tablets of the law, convicting humanity of their transgressions (i.e. sins);
  • Aaron's almond rod that sprung to life and blossomed
The curtain of the Holy of Holies represents the barrier between the 2nd heaven and the 1st. Outside it were:
  • 12 loaves of show-bread, which only the priests can eat
  • Incense altar facilitating the relationship between mankind and God
  • The Menhorah (the almond blossom embellished lampstand)
The curtain at the doors of the tabernacle represents the firmament between the 1st heaven and the earth. Outside it were
  • The 12 tribes of Israel, whose gifts provide for the tribe of Levi
  • The brazen altar upon which sin was atoned for, facilitating the relationship between mankind and God
  • Tribe of Levi, who, under Aaron's rod (i.e. his authority), administer the altar

Within the Tabernacle's model of heaven it was natural to use lamps as the heavenly representation of the earthbound priestly caste, for they represented the light of the world (cf. John 5:35, Matt 5:14, 2 Pet 1:9). Moreover, thanks to the promise that Abraham’s descendants would be like the stars (Gen 15:5, cf. Daniel 12:3), it was natural for the seven greater lights in the sky to become a metaphor for these heavenly lamps. The show-bread represented God’s provision for the twelve constellations of lesser stars that were the tribes of Israel. So, as the priests moved amongst these twelve, they naturally equate to the twelve constellations of the zodiac amongst which the planets move. The 1st century Jewish philosopher Philo, in speaking of the menorah, illustrates how these associations were understood within Judaism:

102 The candlestick was placed on the southern side of the tabernacle, since by it the maker intimates, in a figurative manner, the motions of the stars which give light; for the sun, and the moon, and the rest of the stars” . . . “103 and in all the seven there were seven candles and seven lights, being symbols of those seven stars which are called planets by those men who are versed in natural philosophy; for the sun, like the candlestick, being placed in the middle of the other six, in the fourth rank, gives light to the three planets which are above him, and to those of equal number which are below him”

(Moses II 102-3, Yonge)

Similarly the first-century historian Josephus tells us, concerning the lamp-stand and the showbread that accompanied it in the holy place, “now, the seven lamps signified the seven planets; for so many there were springing out of the candlestick. Now, the twelve loaves that were upon the table signified the circle of the zodiac and the year” (Wars. 5.217, Whiston).

The Revelation of John seems to share the understanding that there were seven significant stars, represented by seven golden lampstands.

‘To the angel of the assembly in Ephesus write: “He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, he who walks among the seven golden lampstands says these things”’

(Rev 2:1, WEB)

As Revelation has already declared that that the one who holds the seven stars is Jesus (Rev 1:16) and that there are seven spirits before the throne of God (Rev 1:3), this lends itself to the conclusion that the seven lamps symbolise the seven spirits.