Bible Studies - Sanctuary

13. Table Of Shewbread

The table of shewbread was placed on the north side of the first apartment of the sanctuary (Ex. 26:35). The table was two cubits long, a cubit and a half in width, and a cubit and a half in height - the same height as the grate in the brazen altar, and the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:23; 27:4, 5; 25:10). This indicates to us that God's justice at the altar, His continual supplying of our needs, and His mercy are all equally important to God, and should be to us as well.

The table was made of shittim wood covered with gold (Ex. 25:23, 24). It had a shelf about a hand span below the top (Ex. 37:11-16). Both the top of the table and the shelf had a crown around them. These crowns represent the royalty of Christ being of the tribe of David (Matt. 1:1-16). Wood represents Christ’s humanity and gold His perfect life. As the wood was completely covered with gold, so no human defects of character were revealed in His life.

The table of shewbread had four rings on the four feet (Ex. 37:13). Through these rings was placed two staves of shittim wood covered with gold, so that the table could be moved (Ex. 37:14, 15).

There were also dishes, spoons, covers, and bowls all made of gold that were associated with the table of shewbread (Ex. 25:29). The American Standard Version translates the word covers as flagons 'wherewith to pour out.' (Ex 25:29 ASV) Although there is nothing in these Scriptures saying that wine was kept on the table, it is obvious that the flagons used to pour out were for this purpose. There was a drink offering of wine commanded in connection with the daily sacrifice which was to be poured out in the holy place (Num. 28:7). Although we are not told directly where in the holy place the drink offering was to be poured out, we are told where it could not be poured out - that is on the altar on incense (Ex. 30:9).

Upon the table of shewbread were twelve cakes or loaves of unleavened bread, one loaf for each of the twelve tribes. These were placed in two rows or piles with frankincense placed on top of them (Lev. 24:5-8). "On the top of each row there was a golden dish with frankincense, which was burned before the Lord, as a memorial, at the end of the week, when the old loaves were removed and replaced by new ones . . ." Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible re Ex. 25:30. Frankincense was considered a valuable spice and was one of the gifts the Magi gave to baby Jesus (Matt. 2:1, 2, 11). It was burnt with many offerings and was one of the ingredients of the incense burnt in the Sanctuary.

Each loaf was made from two tenths deals or ephah of fine flour. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia this is about 3.6 quarts (4 litres approx.). As these cakes were unleavened and they were to be eaten by the priests a week old, they would have to be very large, flat cakes similar to tortillas etc., not loaves as we commonly think of bread today. "Shew-bread . . . literally, bread of faces; so called, either because they were placed before the presence or face of God in the sanctuary, or because they were made square, as the Jews will have it." Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible re Ex. 25:20. In Numbers 4:7 the shewbread is called "the continual bread" and the NIV translates shewbread as "the bread of the Presence". The shewbread represents Jesus Christ the "living bread which came down from heaven" and the "bread of life." (Matt. 6:51; John 6:35.)

The Hebrew word for 'cake' in Lev. 24:5 is 'challah' which means pierced, punctured, wounded or perforated cake (See John 19:37; Isa. 53:4,5). Like our communion bread today, these cakes were made of fine flour, oil, water, and salt.

The flour was ground finely to remove all coarseness which represents Christ who was made perfect through suffering. Ellen White tells us, "All coarseness and roughness must be put away from us. Courtesy, refinement, Christian politeness, must be cherished. Guard against being abrupt and blunt." Christian Service, page 226.

The oil in the bread is represents the Holy Spirit, which must be taken into our lives to aid in the refining, character building work that all Christians need.

The salt removes and prevents corruption. It is also a symbol of wisdom: "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Col. 4:6. "The salt of the covenant" was never to be omitted from the meat-offering (Lev. 2:13), thus reminding God’s people of His protecting care and promise to save, and that only the righteousness of Christ could make the service acceptable to God. Christ admonished his disciples to "have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another" and that they were to be "the salt of the earth:" (Mark 9:50; Matt. 5:13).

The water not only helps to bind all the ingredients together, but represents the Holy Spirit or living water that Christ spoke of (John 7:38, 39). "The refreshing water, welling up in a parched and barren land, causing the desert place to blossom, and flowing out to give life to the perishing, is an emblem of the divine grace which Christ alone can bestow, and which is as the living water, purifying, refreshing, and invigorating the soul. He in whom Christ is abiding has within him a never-failing fountain of grace and strength. Jesus cheers the life and brightens the path of all who truly seek Him. His love, received into the heart, will spring up in good works unto eternal life. And not only does it bless the soul in which it springs, but the living stream will flow out in words and deeds of righteousness, to refresh the thirsting around him." Patriarchs and Prophets by Ellen White, p. 412.

Although it was not lawful to bake common bread upon the Sabbath the Lord instructed the Levites to bake the showbread every Sabbath (Ex. 16:22, 23; 1 Chronicles 9:32). Then while it was still hot they were to "set it in order" or take away the old bread and replace it with the new, also replacing the frankincense on top. (Lev. 24:5-8; 1 Sam. 21:6.) The priests were then to eat the showbread in the holy place (Lev. 24:9.) This explains why Ahimelech the priest had no common bread on the Sabbath to give to David, as the priests were accustomed to eat the "hallowed bread" on that day (1 Sam. 21:2-4).

Unless we eat, digest, and assimilate the bread of life, we can have no life in us any more than we can live a physical life if we neglect physical food (John 6:53). We may last for a while without physical food, but sooner or later we will die. The same is true with spiritual food. We need to study not just a glance or flippant read, but a thoughtful, meditated study of the Bible regularly to sustain our spiritual life and growth. We must have it "hot," warm from heaven if we are to receive its life giving power into our souls. Jesus said to His disciples, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) His word is the true bread, of which we are to eat.

The study of the Word of God should be a daily experience for all Christian, but an even greater blessing is received when we study it on the Sabbath day as the priests ate the shewbread on Sabbath. When we lay aside our worldly cares and business taking time to study letting it seep deep into our heart then God can speak to our souls better than at any other time.

On page 124 of her book entitled The Path to the Throne of God, Sarah Peck says:-

"The Scriptures a Safeguard. If the Bible is truly to be our 'safeguard' through times of trouble, we must dig deep into its rich mine of truth, comparing scripture with scripture. In these closing hours of probation, we need to study more earnestly than ever before. Satan knows that the Bible, studied with heart and mind and soul, will be our 'safeguard' during the perils of these last days; therefore it is his 'constant study to keep the minds of men occupied with those things which will prevent them from obtaining the knowledge of God.' V Test 740; See also GC 593. But if we improve our opportunities to gain a knowledge of the Bible, God will not leave us to the buffetings of the enemy. To those who hunger and thirst after righteousness the promise is that they shall be filled. Matt. 5:6. This promise, 'set in the framework of faith' and 'placed in memory's halls,' will never fail. V Test 630. The channel of communication will be unobstructed. 'Deep, earnest study of the Word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will give fresh manna, and the same Spirit will make its use effectual.' VI Test 163, Then let us not depend on others to do our thinking for us, but let us sink the shaft deep into the treasures of His Word. "If our opportunities for education have been limited, how encouraging are these words: 'The understanding of Bible truth depends not so much on the power of intellect brought to the search, as on the singleness of purpose, the earnest longing after righteousness.' GC 599. 'If he (the Christian) would have his powers and capabilities daily improved, he must study; he must eat and digest the Word . . . The soul that is nourished by the bread of life will have every faculty vitalized by the Spirit of God.' VI Test 153. If in this spirit we daily feed upon the Word, Jesus will multiply it as He did the five loaves, so that not only shall we ourselves be filled, but through our efforts the multitudes also will eat and be filled. Mark 6:35-44; John 6:9-13."

"Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given. When Nathanael came to Jesus, the Saviour exclaimed, 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!' Nathanael said, 'Whence knowest Thou me?' Jesus answered, 'Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.' John 1:47, 48. And Jesus will see us also in the secret places of prayer if we will seek Him for light that we may know what is truth. Angels from the world of light will be with those who in humility of heart seek for divine guidance." Steps to Christ by E. G. White, page 91 par. 1.

© S. D. Goeldner

© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2011. Last updated August, 2020.

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