The table and the showbread (Ex. 25:23-30, Lev 24:5-9)
At about 3 feet by 1.5 feet and 2 feet 3 inches high this table was similar in size to a largish coffee table. Having this table in your home, however, could cause difficulties with your insurance company as it was made from acacia wood overlaid with gold. It stood on the right side of the Holy Place across from the lampstand. Every Sabbath twelve new loaves were placed on the table and the week-old loaves were taken off the table, and eaten by the priests in the Holy Place, or Sanctuary. According to Jewish tradition the loaves were as warm and fresh as when they were put on the table a week earlier.
We have a pretty good idea of the appearance of the table as it, or rather a later version from the temple, is pictured in the sculpture on Titus’ Arch. Shittim, probably acacia, from which the table was constructed was apparently plentiful in the wilderness and was a very hardwearing wood. It is generally seen as a picture of Christ’s perfect Humanity. Acacia may have been the sapling in mind in Isa 53:2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground That Christ is truly Man is clear from His adoption of the title the Son of Man" and from Paul’s inspired description as the Man Christ Jesus in 1 Tim. 2:5. It is also a subject that we looked at in Chapters 1 and 2 and again in Ch 4: 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.
Shittim-wood is virtually rot proof and, in the Septuagint, (the first Greek translation of the Old Testament) it is always translated "incorruptible wood." Wood rots because of its exposure to wet conditions and fungal spores. This reminds me of the affect of sin on us. Jesus was in the same environment as us and, as 4:15 goes on He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Therefore disease and death had no claim upon Him. How different He is to us, and yet what a great example of what God can do in us when the mighty power of His beloved Son flows through us.
The wood of the table was overlaid with gold. The wood gave form to the table, but its appearance was all gold with no visible wood. The gold reminds me of Christ’s deity. In His life on earth this was hidden by His humanity, but here we see the resurrected and glorified Christ pictured. In the wood and the gold together we have foreshadowed the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh – 1Ti 3:16. Here we see, in symbol the union of the two natures in the God-man, a lesson which is vitally important, as God has shown us by repeating the pattern throughout the tabernacle, thousands of years before His Son’s birth in Bethlehem.
You might have expected to find some delicacies on such a beautiful table, but instead on it were placed 12 simple loaves of bread. I find it hard to say what the spiritual significance of the bread is, for it reminds me of different things!
That there were 12 loaves clearly points to the whole of Israel or God’s people. All the loaves were equally important, being made with the same quantities of ingredients. Their exact size and shape probably varied, depending on how they were formed and cooked. They were not mass produced like modern bread. This signified that the smallest tribe and the largest, the weakest and the strongest, the most insignificant and the most honoured all had an equal status before the Lord. So too with us today. When we come to God we all come as His children, with the same status, rights and needs. He does not have favourites. We are all sinners, saved by grace and we all need His forgiveness and blessing. We are all His children and He loves and values us equally, even if some of us have a funny shape!
The loaves rested on the table. This reminds me that Christ carries His people. We rely on His strength and power. Round the edge of the table was a raised, golden lip a few inches high, to make sure that the loaves didn’t fall off. This reminds me of my secure position in Christ.
Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Frankincense was put on the loaves. This reminds me that Christians are to God the fragrance of Christ 2Cor 2:15. Our attractiveness is not in or of ourselves, it comes from Christ’s beauty and holiness poured out upon us by His Spirit. Wonderfully the fragrance of Christ is sufficient to make all of the loaves smell wonderful, even if they had been baked in a fire of dung and still carried its smell – as was sometimes the case! (See Ezek 4:12-15)
The table and loaves were in the Holy Place, illuminated by the light from the lampstand and also perfumed by the incense burned on the alter. So too Christ carries us in the Holy Place where the light of the Word and prayer, both ours and His, and there He prepares us to serve God.
Showbread was also called “bread of the presence” because it was to be always in the Lord’s presence. The table and the bread were a picture of God’s willingness to fellowship and communion with man. It was like an invitation to share a meal as an extension of friendship. Eating together often is an act of fellowship. God was willing for man to enter into His presence to fellowship with Him. Rev 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. And remember that was written to a Church! Is Christ inside or outside of our Church? There can be no fellowship with Him outside.
The purpose of the bread was to rest in God’s presence, but then to be eaten by the priests. So too God wants to have fellowship with us, but not to sit there forever, feeling pleased with ourselves. Instead He wants us to be consumed in His service. Jn 2:15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple… 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up." Are we willing to be eaten up in God’s service?
On the other hand we read that the bread was made from fine flour. No yeast is mentioned, whereas in the two wave loaves (Lev. 23: 17) it is expressly specified. This reminds me of Christ. He described Himself as the grain of wheat that fell into the ground and died. (Jn 12:24) The fine flour and lack of yeast remind me of His sinless perfection. Yet to make the bread you have to grind the wheat and then knead and bake it to form the loaves, these remind me of the judgement that fell on Christ upon Calvary when He took upon Himself the punishment for my sin.
There are even clearer reasons to think of the bread as a type of Jesus. Did He not say: "35 I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. … 48 "I am the bread of life. 49 "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." Jn 6
Jesus wants fellowship with His people and came down from the glory of heaven to Bethlehem, Nazareth and, eventually, Calvary that we might be saved and have everlasting life. It also reminds me of the Lord’s supper where we are commanded to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of Him.
1Co 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. … 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
If, however, the bread is a type of Christ, you would expect there to be one loaf rather than twelve. Following this thought, however, I think the intention is to show that Christ is sufficient to sustain all His people. In the OT only the priests could eat the Showbread, but Christians are all priests and Christ will feed us all.
The priests brought new bread every Sabbath day and then they ate the old bread, which according to the Jewish tradition was still fresh. When we come to Church we should come together to have fellowship with Christ, to worship Him and to learn of Him. As we do this He feeds us and empowers us for the week ahead.
The Lord’s Supper, like the Passover before it, is a memorial feast. So too was the showbread a memorial – Lev 24:7 you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD.. It seems that the priests ate the bread, but the frankincense was burned as a sweet offering to the Lord. This reminds me of the sweet fragrance of Christ to God. (Taking the bread as a picture of the saints, however, it reminds me of the prayers of saints, Acts 10:4, Rev 8:4).
So which is the correct application? The bread at the Lord’s table clearly represents the Lord’s body and how He gave Himself for us. But Paul also tells us that, in a sense, it also represents the Church.
1Co 10:17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
Perhaps the, the answer is not either or, but both. The table clearly represents Christ, but the bread represents both Christ and His people. Christ is one with His people and His people are one with Him.
May we enjoy that union in practice, enjoying fellowship with Him in God’s presence. May He sustain and keep us, day by day. May our worship, prayers and service be a sweet savour to Him.