Like a Lamp

Fall 2023
David Zimmermann

Sometimes the world around you changes so much that even your language has to change to keep up with it.  A couple months ago, a loud crash brought me rushing into our living room to investigate.  In some interaction that I missed, involving a dog and a toy, a large glass table lamp had plunged to the floor with devastating consequence.  My poor dog was more startled than I was, although he may or may not have been involved in the crime scene personally.  The lamp was irretrievably compromised.


I remember debating in my mind as we cleaned up the remains, what the lamp was for anyway.  Maybe that was just my inner defensiveness trying to excuse a living dog over an inanimate lamp, but I held court in my mind anyway.  The lamp didn’t really put out that much light after all, and the dog is hours of pleasure every day of its rambunctious life.  The lamp was pretty, I’m sure it wasn’t expensive or ancient, but it did at least appear to be antique to an inexperienced eye like mine.


Being a light lover, I told myself that the ceiling lights were much brighter, more effective and more convenient, and that the lamp was mostly just a decoration that put out a few extra lumens if you happened to be sitting right next to it.  As it turns out though, that’s a great example of what I mean by the world changing until language has to change too.  If a lamp has become just an expensive decoration that puts out some mood lighting, you don’t even realize how much electricity has changed your understanding of a lamp.  A lamp used to be a lot more crucial than that.


For most of human history light switches, light sockets, outlets and even lightbulbs of any kind were completely unknown.  Somewhere between 1802 and 1879 the first electric lightbulbs were developed and tested in a handful of private laboratories.  It would be even more recently, that they became commonplace in our homes.  We’re talking about a modern convenience of common usage that hasn’t even hit its second century yet!


Although light bulbs may be fairly recent, light itself is not.  What did people do for the thousands of years before electric lighting was available?  One fairly truthful answer that might make you laugh is, they went to bed when it got dark, and got up when it got light.  Although that might cover a lot of the facts, it doesn’t quite cover everything.  Sometimes, dark or not, something cannot wait for daylight to get resolved.  In those cases, our ancestors resorted to three basic technologies.  Campfires are fairly stable.  They provide heat and light, but they tend to lack portability.  So, unless your project is mobile, or you don’t mind building a large fire right next to it, the campfire won’t help you much.


Since most of our tasks occur some distance away from potential campfires, the ancients employed either a torch or a lamp.  Neither had anything to do with electricity, and both involved portable fire.  The torch typically provided more fire, and more light, but it also brought greater danger and more heat.  Over time, lamps became the technology of choice for those nighttime projects that simply could not wait for morning.  Eventually, lamps would involve solid wax, but at first, they involved a liquid fuel like oil and an absorbent wick like a piece of cloth or cotton.  A small flame, slowly consuming the fuel, would provide the light.  Our closest modern device is probably a candle or a kerosene lantern.


These days, we might resort to a flashlight or a cellphone app, but for most of human history, a lamp, that produced about one candle power was the tool of choice.  If I offered to trade you my hand-held candle for your fine LED emergency flashlight, you would probably laugh it off as an obvious joke.  Such a lamp as mine provides an improvement over absolute darkness, but you can’t see very far, or very much, with it, unless you are planning to set your project on fire.  Now that you have the context, you should think about the text.


Psalm 119:105, states, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.  God’s Word is like a lamp.  Not like my antique electric table lamp, but like a small, portable oil lamp, the preferred technology of millions for millennia.  In Scripture, the concept of light is used as an analogy for truth and righteousness.  By contrast, darkness is used as an analogy for lies and wickedness.  How then, is God’s Word, the Bible, like a lamp for my path?


The first thing to remember is that it is portable.  I don’t just mean that you can carry a copy, although that is great.  That was something that most folks in human history couldn’t do, up to the years following the invention of the printing press.  Certainly, they could not at the time that this psalm was composed.  Instead of that, what I mean is that the Word of God can be carried in the human mind.  Jesus’ temptation by Satan in Matthew 4, demonstrates this very idea.  Jesus didn’t have a copy of the Torah in His robe pocket, and most likely He never owned a copy of it at all during His ministry years.  With no hesitation, he quoted Deuteronomy from memory three times, when confronted by the devil.  The truth was portable, in His mind.


Maybe the more important feature is that the lamp provided limited, but sufficient, light for someone walking an unfamiliar path on a dark night.  While it is true that a lamp doesn’t provide thousands of lumens worth of light, or a beam that can shine for two hundred yards, it will give you a good idea of where not to put your next footstep, if you are paying attention to its light.  God’s Word is designed to give you sufficient light, sufficient truth and a sufficient picture of righteousness to guide your daily decisions forward safely, in a way that pleases God.


These days, it isn’t too difficult to see that our decisions are being made in a world dark with lies and wickedness.  The way forward isn’t always easy to see, or easy to face.  Most of the time, darkness feels oppressive when we have some kind of trouble that we’re facing.  We often wish that we had more information before we have to make our decisions.  If life is like a walk in the dark, most of us wish we had a set of stadium lights to view the road ahead of us.  Before we make the next choice, we want to be able to not only see what’s true and right, but also what the next months, years and even decades hold for us.


God’s Word is like a lamp to your life path, if you are paying attention to it.  You won’t be able to read it once and then stroll forward boldly for the rest of your days, but if you are continually consulting its light, your steps will be consistently guided by truth and righteousness.  It’s portable, if you read it enough.  After some years of reading, it will almost seem like the light of God’s Word shines out of your own eyes onto the path before you.  It won’t always show you what’s coming next year, but it will consistently show you where your feet stand, and where the next step should go.  You see, God’s Word is like a lamp, it’s like the light of your life.

Like Honey
Summer 2023
By David Zimmermann


Do you like honey?  Although it’s sometimes overlooked, this natural sweetener gets high reviews among nutritionists when compared with other options.  It can be substituted for processed cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup in most recipes, and it famously accompanies corn bread or hot buttered biscuits in many American households.  I grew up blessed to have a dear friend that was an apiarist, a beekeeper.  Being the generous man that he was, our household was never short of honey or the other related products that he sold for a living.  We had light honey, dark honey, honey in the comb, spun honey, honey butter and even flavored honeys doctored with cinnamon or fruit flavors.  Christmastime was extra special because we would often receive a gift of a large jar of the finest light honey made from Blue Vetch flowers.  It was almost as clear as water, and the flavor is really better than you could imagine unless you have had it yourself.


I didn’t realize that I had become a bit of a honey snob until about a decade later.  After a fruitless search of the grocery stores in Portland, where I was living, I took my search for Blue Vetch honey online.  It seemed ridiculous to pay over $20 for a single bear full of Blue Vetch honey, but I was pretty desperate to get my fix, so I ponied up the money and watched the mail for my precious package.  The day finally came, and I tore open the cardboard box surrounding my high-dollar honey bear.  You can imagine my horror and frustration to find a very ordinary bear full of nothing other than regular old clover honey, that you can buy in any store coast to coast, but with a small white sticker that said “Vetch” slapped over the top of the word “Clover” on the label underneath!  They took me for a sucker who had never seen Blue Vetch honey, much less tasted any myself.  I’d been hornswoggled.  There was nothing left to do, but to eat the loss.  It was still pretty good, although it wasn’t at all what it claimed to be.  I got punked, but even clover honey is still delicious on cornbread.


I hope I’m making you hungry, some of you may even be browsing through your pantry as you read hoping that your honey bear hasn’t set up into crystalized form before your toast pops up.  If so, never fear, a little time in a pot of hot tap water should set things right, you will just need some patience.  Don’t give in to the sacrilege of microwaving your honey, I’ll let the internet explain why.  While you wait, why not take a look at the longest chapter in the Bible.  Psalm 119:103 is near the middle of the book.  There you will see an interesting comparison between what you are reading and what you will soon be eating.  “How sweet are Your words to my taste!  Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  The entire psalm is focused on the endless benefits of God’s Word to God’s people, but this little verse highlights the deliciousness of receiving the very thoughts of God, and the comparison is honey, but better.


How could anything possibly taste better than honey?  Well, as I, and a few other very rarified honey connoisseurs could tell you, there’s honey and then there’s honey.  There are definitely varieties, grades and shades, of quality to consider here.  The psalm writer is pointing out that as amazing as honey can be, and that’s pretty amazing, receiving the thoughts of God is far sweeter to the soul than honey to the mouth.  That sweet lingering flavor of honey that seems to pierce the palate with sticky goodness, is similar, but not quite as good as that lingering joy, peace and encouragement that comes from God’s thoughts saturating your mind and stabilizing your soul.  Are you familiar with the flavor?  Do you prefer the honey of God’s Word over the other processed sweeteners or chemical mood lifters that your society has to offer?


Hopefully, I have not only succeeded in motivating you to dig your honey bear out of the back of your pantry, or to make cornbread tonight, but to dig your Bible out from under a stack of papers or off of a shelf of novels and read it.  Just like honey that’s still in the jar doesn’t taste very sweet, your Bible that’s still on the shelf doesn’t refresh your soul either.  Somehow the sweetness must get inside of us, to have its impact.  What do you expect when you open your mouth for a mouthful of cornbread with honey?  What do you expect when you open your Bible and read God’s thoughts?  The very God who designed you has something to say to you.  It’s sweeter than honey.  Its flavor will linger in your mind and adjust the direction of your thoughts and attitudes.  Over time it will reshape the flavor of your entire life.  Don’t just eat the cornbread … be the cornbread!  Now, what could be sweeter than that?