“You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. 25 And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth[d] wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. 26 And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 27 Close to the frame the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry the table. 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. 29 And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly. (Exodus 25:23-30)
Last week we looked at the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat that was to be built on top of it, which was to be in the Holy of Holies. Today we move to the next section of the tabernacle, just outside the holy of holies to what is called the Holy Place (in the sanctuary). In this section, Moses is given instructions for building a table – a most ordinary piece of furniture, yet no ordinary dinner table. Like the Ark, it was also to be made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold all around it. The dimensions show us that it is the same basic shape as the ark, just a bit smaller. Like the Ark, the Table also was to have rings for poles with which to carry the table when the tabernacle needed to be transported. It was a ceremonially holy table. Upon the table they were to set the holy plates and dishes for incense, as well as bowls and flagons, which is like a pitcher, which would be for incense, drink offerings, and also the bread of the presence, or as some translations put it as you may be familiar with it, showbread. A most literal translation would be the bread of the face. Bread of the presence is a good translation signifying it is before the face of God, before the presence of God in this holy place in the sanctuary.
The emphasis on the four corners in the construction of the ark of the covenant and this table of the Lord, show us that this is a microcosm of the world. Throughout the Bible we see that the earth is symbolically spoken of as having four corners to where the gospel goes out in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Israel was the priestly nation. The center of the world was the tabernacle and then the temple where God dwelled and where the priests acted on behalf of all who come to offer sacrifice and worship the True God, to where all the nations were to flow. But now in New Testament times, the gospel goes out to all the world, to the four corners of it, as it were.
Purpose of the Bread, Lev. 24:5-9
So as we consider this table and the bread of the presence, it would be helpful for us to look at another passage which speaks more to the purpose of the bread on the table. If you would like, turn to Leviticus 24.
“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah[b] shall be in each loaf. 6 And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold[c] before the Lord. 7 And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. 8 Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. 9 And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Lev. 24:5-9)
So the first thing to note is that the bread of the presence was to be a memorial food offering to the LORD. Now most of the time when we think of memorial offerings in the Bible we think of them being memorials for the people to remember what God has done for them, and that is true, and we’ll talk about that in a moment. But with this particular memorial portion of the bread of the presence, there is another side to it. You see, this bread of the presence was not set out in the outer courts before the people for all of them to see and partake of. Of course they would know the structure of the Tabernacle and that the bread of the presence was on the table in the holy place, but it wasn’t set out for them – it wasn’t common bread. It was holy bread to be set before the LORD.
As we read in this Leviticus passage, there were twelve loaves of bread set out in two piles, which would signify the twelve tribes of Israel. And they were set before the LORD on the Table, as if they were there as a memorial to the LORD of the people to whom He has made covenant with. Furthermore, as we read, there was to be pure frankincense on each pile of bread. And we know that the incense that was used in the tabernacle and temple was a pleasing aroma to the LORD. The incense rose up to God, as it were, most often signifying the prayers of His people rising to Him. So the incense on the bread shows us that the bread rises up to God so to speak, as a memorial offering to Him. Now this is not because God forgets and needs to be reminded of His covenant. God forgets nothing. He knows and ordains all things. But it is set before the LORD, and continually so, which symbolically shows that God remembers His covenant, and He never forgets it. His covenant with his people, and their prayers, are always before His face.
Then, on the other side of things, the priests would be the ones who would go in and regularly set the bread out on the table with incense and THEY would be reminded, both of the covenant, and they would be reminded that God remembers them and His covenant with them.
Think of all the different things that the priests would be reminded of. They would be reminded of the bread they ate with God on the mountain when they went up with Moses and the 70 elders and ate and drank in the presence of the LORD, beholding God. They would be reminded of their daily bread that the Lord provided in the daily manna from heaven. They would be reminded that God provides for them and their daily needs, and that they have fellowship with God, as He has prepared a table for them – a sign of fellowship. The furniture and the bread would be elements not to worship, but to point their faith to God and teach them to trust in Him to provide and be with them and remember them.
This is a lesson that our Lord teaches to us as well, as Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We are so often forgetful, are we not? It is so easy for us to get caught up in the cares of life – what we will eat or drink, or what we will wear. We face constant things that we are tempted to be anxious about every day – inflating prices and inflating dollars with increasing needs it seems. How will we provide for these things we need and these costs we have coming up, and how will we accomplish these tasks that need to be done? Many of these are truly important things and that is why we are so tempted to be anxious about them. But Jesus reminds us that we are not to worry for these things, for our Father in Heaven knows all that we need. Instead of worrying we are to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” Each day we are given the temptation to worry, and each day it is an opportunity to remember the Lord and trust in Him, for He remembers His people and cares for each one.
So as you wake up tomorrow morning with a new week of challenges and tasks and a plateful of things to worry about, remember that the Lord has set daily bread before you so to speak, in the form of the Lord’s Prayer, to remind you to offer your prayer as incense to God. Since God wants us to pray this daily, He wants to hear it from us daily. So let your requests for daily bread be offered up as incense to the Lord in prayer.
Offering to God
So the bread of the presence was to be a memorial food offering to God. But also, remember from Exodus 25, that the containers were for drink offerings to God as well. So while these things are offerings to God, it is not as if God needed the bread or the drink. For God did not consume them. The idea of an offering is that it is something given, offered up to God, from what man has to give from what God has provided him with. It takes the work of our hands to take the fruit of the vine and turn it into wine. It takes the work of our hands to take grain and turn it into bread. So these were to be food and drink offerings to the Lord, showing the covenant faithfulness of the people to faithfully prepare these offerings. Yet, while they were for the Lord, He didn’t need them or consume them. So who did? Did anybody?
For the Priests to Eat
Leviticus 24:9, “And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the LORD’s food offerings, a perpetual due.” So this was a food offering to the LORD, yet it was to be eaten by the Levitical priests. Part of this was practical provision for the priesthood, as they would be busy with the service of the tabernacle. It was a way in which their needs were provided for them.
It is interesting to note that there are records and stories of Pagan temples in the ancient world that set bread and drink for the “gods” to eat. There are stories of pagan priests sneaking in and eating the bread and food set out to “prove” the power and presence of their God. In one apocryphal book there is even a story of these pagan priests creating a secret underground door into the temple which they would secretly enter and eat the food, desperate to show the power and presence of their “god.”
So we find that the God of Israel is quite different. The food and drink here is not for God to consume, for He needs no food or drink. He needs nothing, unlike false gods which do nothing but demand and drain everything from its worshippers. Instead, the God of Israel needs nothing and provides everything for His people. The bread here is actually for the priests.
But the text seems to indicate that this was not a daily meal for the priests, but a Sabbath meal, as they were to enter every Sabbath and arrange fresh bread before the Lord. This of course seems very typological of the Lord’s Supper, and would be another possible argument for the weekly partaking of communion at the Lord’s Table.
There is another story in the Bible about the bread of the presence being eaten, which you may recall from 1 Samuel 21. This is where David is fleeing from Saul with some of his men, and he goes to the priest in the city and asks for food, for they are hungry. The priest tells him there is no common bread but only the holy bread of the presence, which he ends up giving David to eat since his men had been holy and abstained from women. What makes this brief story as well known as it is, is because Jesus refers to it in Matthew 12, where the Pharisees condemn the disciples of Jesus for picking the heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. So Jesus says this,
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:3-8)
There is a lot there that could be said that would take us in different directions, but suffice it to say for our purposes today, that this puts the exclamation point on the fact that God does not need the bread, but His giving of it to the priests is a symbol that God does not need the works of our hands, but our neighbor does, as Luther would say. It shows us that God provides for His people. He gives of Himself to the hungry. David did something that was not lawful and yet was guiltless, for it did not violate the purpose and spirit of the law, for the bread was not for God to consume but for His holy servants.
As we consider this story of David eating the bread of the presence, I can’t help but wonder if this incident is what David has in mind in Psalm 23 when he says, “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” For Saul’s men were after David, and there God feeds Him from His Holy Table. A Table in the presence of his enemies. Or think of Jesus Himself, at the last supper with His disciples, but also with Judas, whom Satan entered. So the Church, may be surrounded, just like as the Tabernacle moved throughout the wilderness they were surrounded by enemies, yet we eat. God is with us.
Meal as Fellowship, Communion (Presence)
There is another note to make about the eating of the bread of presence. It was not only a memorial offering meal, but it was a memorial meal in God’s presence. It’s literally the bread of the face. It was set before the LORD, to be eaten in a holy place. So again this reminds them of the meal they ate on Sinai in the presence of God, which shows that they have peace with God and fellowship with God. The idea of eating a meal at a table with someone is to have fellowship with someone. For Israel this showed them that so long as they were faithful to carry out the service of the tabernacle, they had continual fellowship with God.
The continual setting of the bread on the table and regular partaking of it shows our perpetual communion with God once atonement is made. If we are at one with God, we can eat with Him at His table.
In the New Covenant there is no class or order of priests, or holy bread and holy table, for we are all made priests to God in the New covenant and so partake of one bread, which is Christ. As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:16-18.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[d] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
So now we all partake of the bread, which ultimately, by faith, is Christ who is the true bread of the presence. He is the presence of God with us. He is the bread of life. He is the true manna from heaven, as He says in John 6. Ultimately the bread of the Presence points to Jesus Christ. As the 12 loaves placed on the table represented the people to God to remember His covenant, this is Jesus, who is the Bread of Heaven, who represents us before God. And God looks upon the Son who has given Himself as offering to God for His people and so remembers His eternal Covenant. The aroma of Christ, the drink offering, the food offering, is ever before the Lord. And he will not forget His covenant. He will not forget His people, as we are brought before His presence in Christ. The only thing He does not remember, is our sins, which are no more in Jesus Christ, who made atonement for them, making us at one with God, so that we may eat with Him at His Table.
So it is that Jesus has prepared a table for us, of which He Himself is the substance. So when we come to communion, we are not merely eating bread. But by faith we are partaking of Christ. So think about this when you come to the table today, and every Lord’s Day. Are you meditating upon the true bread, Jesus Christ? Are you thinking upon His body which was given for you? Are you thanking Him for the forgiveness of sins which He procured for you? Are you trusting Him to be sufficient for you? To satisfy your hunger? To give you life?
Like the ark of the covenant, the table also was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure Gold, reminding us of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. The Word made flesh who dwelt among us. The only one who could give His body for the forgiveness of our sins and bring us into the Holy Place with God, justifying sinners before a Holy God. The beauty and holiness of all the ornamentation of the Table and its utensils shows us that we as sinners are not fit to sit and eat in the presence of God. So God sent the Bread of Heaven, to give Himself for us, to make us Holy that we might eat at the table He has prepared for us.
Practically, this reminds us that we are to confess our sins to God before we come to the table. It’s a fellowship meal, so we are to be in fellowship with God. And the forgiveness of sins is freely given and received in Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us. So as we say every week, confess your sins. For we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Have you exasperated your kids this week and haven’t confessed it? Confess it to them. Children, have you disobeyed your parents this week and haven’t confessed it? Confess it to them. Have you sinned against your spouse this week and haven’t confessed it? Confess it to your spouse. Maybe a brother or sister here? Confess it to them. Then come to the Table and eat.
Then as you go home this week, think about the meals you eat around your table. All throughout the Bible God has taken this very ordinary piece of our everyday lives – the meal table – and He has taught us that it is a sign of fellowship. The meals we eat with our families and one another in our homes should reflect this on a normal every day level. As you sin against one another throughout the day, you should be sure that you reconcile, and fellowship is restored by the time you sit down for your next meal. I’m sure we’ve all eaten a meal with our spouse or family where things were not right. You know how miserable that is. It is quiet. It’s tense. There is a lack of fellowship at the place in our homes that is supposed to be all about fellowship.
Men, take the lead in making sure that the table in your home is a place of family fellowship. As you sit down to pray for your meal, you may first need to confess your sin if you have wronged someone that day. As you model that, you can facilitate that with your children and your spouse. May our homes look like Chrisitan homes when we sit down at the dinner table. May there be fellowship, thankfulness to God, prayer, even scripture reading together there. The power of the table has been attacked in our day. So many families in our modern world have a table that is never used for meals. Meals at home are rarer than ever. Meals in front of the TV are more common than ever. And so there is less gratitude, less prayer, less thankfulness, and less fellowship in the home.
Wives and mothers, your role in preparing the dinner table is one of the most important jobs in the world. So much is taught to our children by what does or doesn’t happen at the table. So let’s go home and think about these things, and put practices like this into place, and be recommitted to fervency and intention in these things this week. Our tables are the place upon which God has set our daily bread. And so let our tables be a reminder of the table the Lord has prepared for us. That he has given us Himself to be our daily bread, our sustenance, and our life. May we be happy and satisfied in Him, and so enjoy our fellowship with Him and with one another