The Torah reading for this Shabbat is from the book of Numbers 8:1 – 12:16. The name of this portion is a bit difficult for English speakers to pronounce, Beha’alotecha, “when you arrange the lamps”. From the prophets we will be reading from Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, and from the New Testament we will be reading 1 Corinthians 10:6-13.
The lampstand in the Temple is today also the symbol of the State of Israel. However, for us as disciples of Yeshua who believe the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation, it is the lampstand that was first made in the wilderness of Sinai, and placed in the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle.
In our reading this week we find a full description of the menorah (the candelabra). The book of Revelation starts with a description of the seven churches of Asia Minor as the seven branches of the menorah. The question is why are each of these seven churches of Asia Minor, problematic churches, each with some very-serious problem, described as a menorah of seven branches?
The secret to understanding this picture of John’s revelation is found in our reading from Numbers:
“Now this workmanship of the lampstand was hammered gold; from its shaft to its flowers, it was hammered work. According to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.” – Numbers 8:4 [NKJV]
You have a piece of gold that is hammered into the shape of seven candles. There is a center shaft with three branches on each side of the shaft. These branches are of different sizes, but they are all connected at the central shaft. The middle shaft that holds the branches has the central candle.
The significance of this menorah (candelabra) in the book of Revelation is the following: each one of the seven churches in Asia Minor is different, and the problems are serious. Yes, they are all seven a part of the same menorah, they are all made from the same gold, and they are hammered into shape. The criticism of the revelation of John directed toward these churches is very serious, but they are nonetheless all still a part of the body of the Messiah. Here are some of the problems of these seven churches in Asia Minor:
- “You have left your first love…”
- “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
- “You have those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”
- “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
- “You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
- “You are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
There are some very serious sins and big problems and yet they are still a part of the same menorah, they are still candles that have light and give light in the dark pagan atmosphere of the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire. They are not cut off from the body of Christ, yes some are threatened that if they don’t change, their light will be put out, but in this condition they are still a part of the menorah they are still a part of the body of Christ.
This is a very important message from the menorah of seven candles that is used here by the book of Revelation which speaks of these congregations as being a part of the same gold and the same united menorah of seven light-giving candles. There are so many divisions and even enmity between different denominations on much lesser problems than the seven churches of Asia Minor.
The unity of the body of Christ is not compromised in these seven churches they are still a part of the same menorah, and they are still a part of the body of the Christ, made of the same gold and connected to the central shaft that holds all the seven candles together.
The menorah of the Tabernacle built from the gold that the men and women of Israel contributed for the building of this Tabernacle and later the same menorah was in the Temple in Jerusalem that Solomon built in Jerusalem. It is a symbol of unity and a symbol of the light-giving collective of seven churches that were full of problems that are very serious and that threaten to put out their light, but are yet not expelled or cut off from the menorah, still a part of the same unity of seven churches.
Let us learn, dear brothers and sisters, to deal with issues and to even discuss and argue and disagree on some things that are not central to our faith, and not sufficient to declare someone of some group as not being our brother or sister in the Lord. The menorah is until this very day, the symbol of the State of Israel, and signifies the unity of the Jewish nation. We have all kinds of Jews in Israel and throughout the world.
We have Sephardic Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews, and Ethiopian Jews, and Asian Jews, and South American Jews, and Jews from the Arab countries that reflect a significant amount of Arab culture and lifestyle… this is why the menorah is still the symbol of theState of Israel and of the unity and unification of the Jews from the world who have returned to the land that God gave to Abraham and to His seed forever.
(See Genesis 13:15 and another 20 examples of the same promise in the five books of Moses.)
I think that some of the sins of these seven churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century A.D. (C.E.), are still very much in existence in the church today. When I say in the church, I don’t mean one denomination or another, but the whole spectrum of the Christian churches. I am not going to list those sins again, but I believe that intelligent brothers and sisters can extrapolate from the list above taken from Revelation chapters 2 and 3 which is sufficient for them to connect the dots.
The only one that I will help you with is the sin of the church of Ephesus who has left her first love. I propose to you that the first love of the Church was the love of Israel and was exhibited in their loving relationship with the Jewish community. My opinion is based on God’s first love – Israel is God’s first fruit, as He has stated in Jeremiah chapter 2.
The readings from Zechariah chapter 2 and from 1 Corinthians chapter 10 also have to do with the Lord’s relationship and expectations for Israel and for the Jewish nation:
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely, I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me.’” – Zechariah 2:8-10 [NKJV]
The connection with 1 Corinthians 10 is also there:
“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 [NKJV]
As you can see the one point that Paul was making in these texts is that “all” were there in the wilderness and all passed through the sea… That part of Paul’s teaching is again put in the context of the wilderness of Sinai that period in which Israel was going through the 40 years of the wilderness experience and was being formed into a nation.
Unity of the body of Christ is, in my opinion, not decided on issues of the theological interpretation of some minor issue, like what words the preacher said when you were baptized, or if you take communion with matzah bread or regular bread… Unity is an issue central to the survival not of one denomination or another, but to the survival of Christianity as a biblical faith and obedient expression of the body of Christ in the world. The divisions, and the enmity that is created by these divisions, is supposedly a systemic weakening of the whole mission and effectiveness of the place of the Good News in our world mission.
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.