(For those readers who wanted the King James version of the featured scripture here, I didn’t include it because this installment is already quite long. But you can easily go to www.crosswalk.com and find the King James version online, as well as other versions. Look for “Bible Study Tools” on the top right of their banner.)
As I studied all the entries for “lamp” in my concordance for the purpose of writing this book, a truth slowly emerged. When the words “lamp” and “light” are used in the Bible, they are almost always used in the same phrase. At first, it seemed redundant, but then it became clear that a lamp is just a lamp without God’s light. God must light our lamp, and furthermore, we must have oil so that His flame will take.
Consider the parable that Jesus told about the five foolish virgins, and the five wise virgins. All ten virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom at what was apparently an evening wedding. However, the foolish virgins took no extra oil with them (much like my husband and me on the hiking trip), but the wise virgins took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Unfortunately the bridegroom was delayed, and the virgins fell asleep with their lamps lit.
At midnight, a shout rang out that the bridegroom had finally arrived and it was time to come and meet him. All the virgins got up, and the wise virgins began to add oil to their lamps, while the foolish virgins looked with dismay at their sputtering lamps. They asked the wise virgins to share their oil, but they said, “No, there is simply not enough for our lamps and yours. You need to go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”
The foolish virgins were foolish indeed. Although it was midnight, they went away to try to make a purchase. They probably had to pound on the doors of the shopkeepers’ homes to wake them up so that they would sell them the oil they could have bought during regular business hours. Meanwhile, the wise virgins went in with the bridegroom to the wedding feast and the door was shut behind them.
Later, probably much later, the foolish virgins returned to the wedding, but the door was shut tight. They called, “Lord, lord, open up for us,” but he answered and said, “I don’t know you.” (Matthew 25:1-12)
Doesn’t that seem like a strange response? What had that to do with them forgetting the oil for their lamps? Shouldn’t he have said, “You’ve shown up late, and we’ve already eaten dinner,” or, “It’s already pretty crowded here, sorry…”? Why did he say, “I don’t know you”?
I believe the clue is found in another portion of scripture. Back in Exodus, when God instructed the builders of the Tabernacle to fashion and light an oil lamp that would burn continually, He expected the Levitical priests to maintain a certain regimen:
“And you shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.
“In the tent of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the LORD; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 27:20-21)
That lamp required Aaron’s attention at least twice a day. He had to ensure that it had oil in it, so that the flame would never go out. Why did God require this? God was perfectly capable of keeping the lamp burning, just as He kept the pillar of smoke and pillar of fire burning without outside help for years as the Israelites tramped through the wilderness.
God wanted relationship. Each time Aaron and his sons attended to the lamp, they were reminded of God’s continual love and faithfulness, but also that they had to do their part, too, to keep the fire burning. In fact, I believe we are all given lamps, just like the wise and the foolish virgins. But if we don’t provide the oil by spending time with our great God and loving Him with our whole hearts, God will have nothing to light. Like the foolish virgins, we may come to Him when we most need His light, but if we haven’t provided the oil of relationship, He will simply look at us and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know you, so I can’t light your lamp. There’s nothing to keep it burning.”
While I believe that we can begin oiling the relationship with our God right now, right this moment, we cannot expect Him to light our darkness immediately. God doesn’t want just any kind of oil. He wants “clear oil,” just as He required from Aaron. The word “clear” is translated from the Hebrew word “Zak,” which means, “transparent, clear, pure, innocent.” God wants the oil of our lamps to be transparent—don’t you love that? He wants us to be transparent before Him, hiding nothing. He wants our oil to be pure, so we must go to Him with pure hearts. He wants our oil to be innocent, and while we may not be innocent, we can ask forgiveness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, and we will be forgiven and made innocent through His cleansing blood.
The reason why I believe that we all have lamps, is because in the Bible it states that even the wicked have lamps, but unfortunately, they have no light.
The light of the righteous rejoices,
But the lamp of the wicked goes out. (Proverbs 13:9)
Wickedness will snuff our lamps faster than a candle in a hurricane. While we all have our own personal definition of “wickedness,” God’s bar is exceedingly high. Consider the following:
He who curses his father or his mother,
His lamp will go out in time of darkness. (Proverbs 20:20)
This is what God considers wickedness. And do you understand the implication here? Your lamp may be burning just fine right now, when the sun is shining metaphorically upon your life, but if you’ve cursed your parents and not asked forgiveness, there will come a time when you desperately need God’s help, instruction or prosperity, and God will leave you in the dark. No negotiations, no debate. This, of course, coincides with the fifth commandment:
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12)
God wants us to be righteous, and to strive toward that end. It’s all right if we fall short—He knows that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He sees our hearts, and when He finds a heart that wants to please Him, He rewards righteousness. He doesn’t reward righteousness for righteousness’ sake. He rewards us for wanting to please Him because we love Him.
“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”(2 Chronicles 16:9)
That’s it in a nutshell. Those whose hearts are completely His have been providing the oil of relationship, so He lights their lamps and strongly supports them. In the Hebrew Interlinear Bible, the direct translation says, “to shew himself strong in the behalf of them.”[i] He shows Himself strong in their behalf. This is even better than strongly supporting us, because God is the strong one. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Is your heart completely His? If so, you have nothing to fear. At this very moment, God is fighting for you, leading you and prospering you. God’s lamp is shining over you. Close your eyes, smile, and bask in its glow.
(The beginning of Chapter 3 will be featured in the next installment.)
[i] Hebrew Interlinear Bible, http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/2ch16.pdf, copyright 2008, Scripture4All Foundation