Exodus 27:20 says that "the lamp [/menorah is] to burn always" but in the next verse it says that "Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning". Moreover, 1 Sam 3:3 says "ere the lamp of God went out..." The NRSV footnote to this verse states, "The lamp in the temple burned at night. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, hence it was just before dawn" (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 405). So, was the lampstand to burn "continually" and "always", that is 24/7, or just throughout the night?

  • Given that the word 'order' is to be here interpreted as 'arrange' rather than 'command', this could affect the interpretation. There is evidence for example that the priest 'arranged' it in the morning(Exodus 30:7), which is to say, refilled its oil cups.
    – user21676
    Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 22:07
  • How do you conclude that Ex 30:7 refers to refilling its oil cups? Ex 30:7 states that Aaron should "dress" (KJV) the lamps every morning. In Hebrew the word for "dress" is "yatab" which does not mean to "refill". Or am I missing something? Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 4:23
  • What would you have it then otherwise mean?
    – user21676
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 4:27
  • According to the blue letter Bible the definition for "dress"/"yatab" (Hebrew) is: to be (causative) make well, literally (sound, beautiful) or figuratively (happy, successful, right):—be accepted, amend, use aright, benefit, be (make) better, seem best, make cheerful, be comely, be content, diligent(-ly), dress, earnestly, find favour, give, be glad, do (be, make) good(-ness), be (make) merry, please ( well), shew more (kindness), skilfully, × very small, surely, make sweet, thoroughly, tire, trim, very, be (can, deal, entreat, go, have) well (said, seen). Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 4:28
  • 1
    And 'trim' means what? In the KJV Matthew 25:7 seems to have something to do with oil.
    – user21676
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 4:35

2 Answers 2


In order to keep the lights burning required two functions: a supply of oil and a wick. Both had to be replaced regularly. Replacing the wick was sometimes called "trimming" the lamp.

It is not completely clear from Ex 27:20 and others that the light of the menorah was to be uninterrupted. If we understand 1 Sam 3:3 literally, then the Menorah was probably only burnt during the night. (However, many understand this verse figuratively referring to God's revelation.)

It is claimed that Josephus says the lamps were most burned during the night. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/27-20.htm

In any case, for something to be described as "continual", or, "always" in the sanctuary, did not require that something be completely uninterrupted; daily events were described as "continual". For example, the regular morning and evening sacrifice at the temple/sanctuary was described as "continual", see Num 4:16, 28:3, 24, 29:11, Neh 10:33, Ezra 3:5, Eze 46:15. The Kings allowance was also described as "continual" despite only being a daily delivery, 2 Kings 25:30, Jer 52:34.


No. The "lamp" needed to be extinguished, cleaned, and refilled with oil every morning or afternoon. (See Exo. 30:7-8; Lev. 24:3-4).

No fossil fuel-burning flame can burn eternally. Even the eternal flame on Pres. Kennedy's grave needs to be routinely maintained and refueled.

  • Welcome to the site, Pat. Pithy answers have their place here, and you give a neat answer. However, a little bit of detail is usually helpful. For instance, if you could quote what those four verses say, that would explain your point as expressed in that biblical source. Then, if you could give a link to some proof of the claim about Kennedy's grave, that would give the reference needed to show it is factual. You may get up-votes if you provide back-up information.
    – Anne
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 15:22

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