Firstly, what was the "menorah"?
In Exodus 25:31-40 there are instructions given for making the menorah for the tabernacle.
1. Why is it made of "beaten work" when there is also a command to not lift up a tool to form stones which go into the altar of burnt offering?
2. Is it all about the materials, or is there another meaning involved?
Exodus 25:18 commands that two cherubim be made of beaten work at the two ends of the mercy seat on the ark.
Would you please explain to me why this is not a violation of the previous command in Exodus 20:4?
Exodus 20:4 states,
"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."
UK Apologetics Reply:
To cover your final question first, Exodus 20:4 is about the avoidance of idolatrously worshipping images or statues as representations of heavenly things. However, anything constructed by the Lord's command and instruction was a very different matter.
What was the "menorah"?
This was a beautiful seven-branched candelabrum/candlestick used in the Temple. In the later temple built at Jerusalam, this was to be lit in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned out every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups. The illustration you see is based on the instructions for construction of the menorah found in Exodus 25:31-40.
The menorah was/is a symbol of the nation of Israel and its mission to be "a light unto the nations." (Isaiah 42:6). Light is not a violent force and Israel was to accomplish its mission by setting an example, not by using force. This idea is highlighted in the vision in Zechariah 4:1-6. Zechariah sees a menorah, and God explains: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit." Synagogues to this day often have some representation of the menorah, sometimes these are only six-branched rather than seven, so as to avoid exactly copying something of heavenly design. Today we can know that the church which Jesus founded - spiritual Israel - is a fuller reflection of the meaning of the menorah (Revelation 1:12-3:22).
What is "beaten gold" which had to be used?
We can no longer be entirely sure what this term meant, but it probably does not mean "beaten" in the way we might now think. In Numbers 8:4, the meaning is now generally thought to refer to "turned" or rounded work in gold. The Greek Old Testament, however, renders the word "solid gold;" the RSV states, "beaten work of gold." In 1 Kings 10:16, 17, the term most probably means "mixed" gold, as the word ought to be rendered, rather than pure gold. Others render the expression in these places "thin plates of gold." So there is some ambiguity here. For sure, the command was that noisy metal work was not to be carried out in the immediate area in which things were finally put into place.
The meaning? Christians are now God's temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). We too are constructed from high quality materials, but that development of character and spiritual construction work takes place in this world - right now! Even now God sees us as His temple but the fullest manifestation of that - in all the glory - will only be seen in the age to come - not in this world. So we too are being constructed as a temple in the 'proving ground' of this present age, away from our final 'siting place.'
Robin A. Brace. April 27th, 2012.