Lighting for houses was provided by the oil lamp. Originally this consisted of an open earthenware saucer containing olive oil. Part of the saucer was “pinched” in manufacture, so as to provide a place for a flaxen wick. Such lamps obviously had problems arising from spillage, and closed containers were therefore developed with two holes-one for wick and one to put oil in.

When the oil began to run low, the flax would smoulder and the lamp would need to be refilled from a container (Matt 25:8).

Later, larger glazed and decorated lamps were made with handles and with multiple wicks to provide additional light. The higher the lamp, the better the light. Lamps were therefore put on a projection from the wall, hung from the ceiling, or placed on a simple lampstand (a thick tree branch pushed into the earthen floor).

If nothing else was available, the lamp was put on an upturned measure of even on the floor.


Light in the dark peasant home was a necessity. To sleep without a light was a sign of utter poverty. The light indicated to all outside that there were sleepers present. For anyone to be put outside into the darkness was therefore a disaster (Job 18:6). For God to light one’s lamp was a supreme blessing (Psa 18:28). Therefore when Isaiah says that the Messiah will not put out a lamp if the flax is smoking, but will trim the wick and replenish the oil, it is a comforting picture of God’s care for wayward followers. – Isaiah 42:3

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