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~ Oil Lamps Versus Floodlights ~

Poor exegesis, or faulty extraction of meaning from Scripture, can be just that, poor but harmless. But some poor ones can be dangerous to one's faith and understanding of God's ways. For example, I heard a preacher elucidate an entire theology around Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path." In the days the psalms were written, oil lamps were the modern, state of the art lighting technology. Unlike candles, one could carry them in all kinds of weather, in the wind and rain, and they would stay lit much longer than candles or torches. They were also clean, since one didn't have to be concerned with hot melted wax falling on the hands or clothing. Even children could use them with relative safety.

Of course, they could only illuminate a few feet in front and behind a walker on a path. Worse, the proximity of the light to the eyes would prevent one from seeing in the dark distance for possible danger. Those of us who love campfires know how the forest around us are completely black. It is much easier to sneak upon a person by a campfire than one sitting in the shadows of the night.

The preacher's lesson was that God only lights the path immediately in front of us, enough to see our steps just ahead, and that means we must trust God for the future path we can't yet see and keep walking in faith. Sounds good.

While oil lamps are cozy and romantic, they are no longer the state of the technology today. If the psalmist had a choice between an oil lamp and a battery powered 200 watt flood light, or even just a simple flashlight, I am most certain he would use one of the latter. The preacher's exegesis would go the way of using candles to read our Bibles after sundown.

Although not true today, in ancient times the sun was the brightest light known. So we recall metaphors using it, such as, "For the Lord is a sun and shield" (Psalm 84:11a) and "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (Malachi 4:2).

Colossians 1:12 is particularly striking to me: "Let us give thanks to the Father for having made you worthy to share the lot of the saints in light." Be assured this is not a reference to dim light illuminating only a meter beyond our feet.

When I'm on a serious journey, such as exploring a cave, I don't use candles or torches or even the old carbide lamps. I mount on my helmet the most powerful light I can get. Christ described the spiritual path of following Him as perilous. As such, we cannot proceed without His light, the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Nothing exceeds that light in power, distance and the ability to expose all that likes to make home in the shadows and darkness of cover.

Upon the night arrival of the temple guard to arrest Jesus, He remarked to them, "Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour -- when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53). He also told us, "You are the light of the world" and to stop doing stupid things like covering the light or putting it under a bed for safekeeping.

Human tears tend to blur our vision of the spiritual, like that of Mary who mistook Jesus on His resurrection for the gardener. Christ weeps for us today. But His tears are fuel for His light offered for our use. Let us be grateful for His tears, never letting them splash on and around us in vain. Those tears fuel us with life and light. With those tears, we can see as He sees, a gift not to be overlooked but embraced and used.

"Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun" (Psalm 37:6).

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
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Spiritual Resource Services  © May 27, 2005

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