Scripture Imagery: 96. The Lamp and Shewbread

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The whole diapason of the Levitical harmony closes in a double chord of promise, which is expressed by the perpetual renewal of the Lamp and Shewbread.1 The light of the testimony is to be always maintained through the darkest and longest nights, and the shewbread to be forever supported on the holy table, covered with fragrant incense in the divine presence,—the whole twelve loaves:2 “everyone of them in Zion appeareth before God.” Thus whatever comes, we have this gracious assurance, “The Light Thy love has kindled Shall never be put out.” —this assurance that the Lord is continually looking on His people in their brightest and most favorable aspects, and regarding them as a shining light by the power of the Holy Ghost, and as the nourishment of life resting on Christ (the table of wood and gold), surrounded by the border” with its “golden crown” and covered with the frankincense,—"complete in Him.”
I pray you take notice of this. For to whomsoever else the light of the testimony has been extinguished, it has never been extinguished for God, and never will be. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen.”
This assurance is proved to be greatly needed, for the first thing we read of is that one of the Israelites does what lies in his individual power by contention and blasphemy to upset the whole organization. The evil is so grave that by divine command the people put him to death. There is usually a Thersites,3 —or spirit of Thersites—to be found at hand in every enterprise, to discredit it by his conduct, to discourage and disparage his comrades, and blaspheme his leaders. Sometimes he will assume a charitable tone; but you will find all his charity is directed to the enemy, and all his hatred to his brethren. You fancy what a fine candid and liberal nature this is, when you hear him speaking of the Trojans: but when he speaks of his fellow Greeks, of the great leaders especially, the heroic Agamemnon and Odysseus who are giving up their homes and lives to the cause which he is supposed to advocate, then you find what foul misrepresentation and vituperation can co-exist with unctuous but spurious liberality.
It is always difficult to understand why Thersites does not go over to the Trojans, if he likes them so much better than his companions. He often does go finally; and ah, what a relief it is! But his wretched work lives after him unhappily. What crops of doubts and contentions spring up from the seeds which he has sown! So that, when we contemplate them, we can at last get to understand how it was that one of the most gracious men who ever lived said with grief, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you!” As to arguing with Thersites and endeavoring to persuade, one may as well argue with a sewer and persuade a pestilence. That much-experienced, much-afflicted man Odysseus, the crafty, strong, and valiant Odysseus, used very short arguments with him: “Except detraction, what hast thou bestowed?” he demanded of the slanderer, as he smote him down to the dust with rough and ruthless blows.
Though perhaps after all David chose the more excellent way when he said to Abishai, “Let him alone, let him curse.”
On the whole, Rabshakeh is preferable to Thersites; Rabshakeh was coarse and abusive, but he was an open enemy and kept outside the wall. But let us be assured of this, that neither Shimei, Thersites, nor Rabshakeh, have breath enough, albeit they speak great swelling words, to blow out the light that God's love has kindled. It shall continue to burn—though perhaps feebly—through all the dark long night, till the dawn shall appear and the bright and morning star shall arise. We oscillate between optimism and pessimism. Truth is neither the one nor the other. It is neither true that “whatever is is right” nor that “whatever is is wrong.” There is much that exists that is right, and much that is wrong; and bright above all, “White-handed Hope, the hovering angel, girt with golden wings.”
The Comprachicos used to cut the facial nerves of children, so that the poor little creatures were disfigured by a perpetual laughter or a perpetual weeping. It was all ghastly and unnatural, but not more so than the ancient laughing and weeping philosophers, or modern optimism and pessimism. The Herr Professor has looked so long through the microscope that he has become myopic, he cannot see White-handed Hope hovering above, nor the ring of light round nature's last eclipse, though he can see the myriads of microbes better than we others. For him the bottom of Pandora's box is eaten away by them. He thinks the ancients were mistaken when they saw hope there—and I think so too.
It is a strange statement of scripture that experience leads to hope. If we listen to the man of the world, we hear that experience leads to caution, to distrust and hopeless cynicism: and yet truly experience leads distinctly to hope. One who for the first time saw the sun go down behind the ocean would despair of ever seeing it again; but we, who have seen it thus descend many times before, are emboldened by our experience to hope that in a few hours it will rise again at the other side of the universe to “flatter the mountain tops with sovereign dye.” He who for the first time beheld the melancholy autumn deepening into winter, would surely think all things were sinking into chaos and old night; but experience leads us to an assured expectation of the resurrection of all things in the coming springtide.
And though many beautiful qualities are seen even in the darkness of despair, yet few great achievements are accomplished without hope; and those who have the most completely conquered the world, whether physically or spiritually, have been those who were distinguished by this faculty. “If you thus give everything away,” said Perdiccas to Alexander, “what will you have for yourself?” To which the world-conqueror replied, “Hope “: and a greater man than he, the founder of an infinitely greater dynasty, wrote to his fellow-disciples—a handful of common workpeople who were trying to convert the world whilst being persecuted by all the powers of earth,—wrote to them about “rejoicing in hope.”
1. Lev. 24
2. In the sight of God all His people. however scattered, are eternally present. Elijah builds His altar with twelve stones, even when the tribes were split up.
3. Thersites only clamors in the throng, Loquacious, loud, and turbulent of tongue (Homer's Iliad.)