The Table of Showbread

23 “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 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 ESV

God gave Moses clear instructions regarding the building of the Tabernacle and the construction of each piece of furniture contained within it, and the author of the book of Hebrews states that they were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). God told Moses, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The letter to the Hebrews goes on to state that, in heaven, there is a “greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)” (Hebrews 9:11 ESV). So, all of the details surrounding the Tabernacle that God gave to Moses were meant to mirror or reflect a heavenly reality. God was giving Moses and the people of Israel a veiled glimpse into the glory of the heavenly realm. The Tabernacle would not be a massive or highly impressive structure. Its grandeur would not be found in its size but in the message it conveyed. It was designed to be the dwelling place of God, and every element of its design and layout was meant to point to God’s glory, holiness, and majesty.

Just outside the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant would be located, God designed an outer room called the Holy Place. In this small area, God instructed Moses to place three items: The Table of Showbread, the Golden Lampstand, and the Altar of Incense. The first of these items, the Table of Showbread, was a small coffee-table-sized piece of furniture upon which was to be placed the Bread of the Presence.

In the book of Leviticus, Moses recorded the details concerning the bread that was to be placed on this table.

“You must bake twelve flat loaves of bread from choice flour, using four quarts of flour for each loaf.  Place the bread before the Lord on the pure gold table, and arrange the loaves in two stacks, with six loaves in each stack. Put some pure frankincense near each stack to serve as a representative offering, a special gift presented to the Lord. Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the Lord as a gift from the Israelites; it is an ongoing expression of the eternal covenant. – Leviticus 24:5-8 NLT

This bread was to be prepared each week and replenished every Sabbath day, as a memorial food offering to the Lord. It was meant to symbolize the Israelite’s belief in God’s literal presence within the Tabernacle and was presented as both a meal and an offering. But since Yahweh has no need for food, the bread would become the property of the high priest.

“The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the Lord.” – Leviticus 24:9 NLT

But the loaves of bread, like the table upon which there were placed, were to be considered holy and set apart to God. They were to be treated as sacred and had to be consumed in a holy place. And the table itself, while simple in its construction, was also to be considered holy and sacred. Its sole purpose was to hold “the bread of the Presence” (1 Kings 7:48 ESV). In a sense, the table served as a kind of TV tray, upon which the holy bread was placed before the presence of God. Just outside the Holy of Holies, on the other side of the veil, the priests would place the freshly baked bread on the table each Sabbath morning. Then they would return the following week and repeat the process. The sacred bread from the week before would become theirs to consume. What had been dedicated to God would become a source of sustenance for their own lives. And what a picture this paints of God’s grace and mercy. He took what had been dedicated to Him and shared it with others. The holy bread did not go to waste but was used to sustain the lives of the priests, who would serve as the mediators of God’s covenant promises.

It is not difficult to see the connection between the Bread of the Presence and Jesus, the “bread of life” (John 6:35). As the Son of God, Jesus shared in His Father’s attribute of holiness. He was fully righteous and completely sinless, and He lived to serve His Father.

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:38-40 NLT

Dedicated to God, Jesus was also destined to die. The “bread of life” was meant to be consumed by sinful humanity so that they might experience the gift of eternal life.

“Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” – John 6:48-51 NLT

In the design of the Tabernacle, God made provision for the needs of His people. He planned for the construction of a special table that would hold the Bread of the Presence. Just as He had supplied the manna in the wilderness, God would provide sacred bread for His priests. This sanctified and set apart bread would become a source of sustenance for them as they ministered to the spiritual needs of their people. The psalmist reminds us of God’s gracious provision and His unwavering commitment to keeping His promises.

He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever. – Psalm 111:5 ESV

Years later, long after the people of Israel had occupied the land of Canaan and the Tabernacle was located in Shiloh, the Bread of the Presence would become a powerful lesson in the life of David, Israel’s future king. Finding himself running for his life because of the jealousy of King Saul, David fled to the town of Nob, where he sought the aid of Ahimelech the priest.

David went to the town of Nob to see Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he saw him. “Why are you alone?” he asked. “Why is no one with you?”

“The king has sent me on a private matter,” David said. “He told me not to tell anyone why I am here. I have told my men where to meet me later. Now, what is there to eat? Give me five loaves of bread or anything else you have.”

“We don’t have any regular bread,” the priest replied. “But there is the holy bread…” – 1 Samuel 21:1-4 NLT

According to the passage, the bread Ahimelech spoke of was the Bread of the Presence.

Since there was no other food available, the priest gave him the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle. It had just been replaced that day with fresh bread. – 1 Samuel 21:6 NLT

David, who had been anointed to be the next king of Israel, was running for his life. He and his men were being pursued by King Saul’s guards and their lives were on the line. So, Ahimelech took that which had been dedicated to God and set apart solely for the priests, and shared it with God’s anointed one. And, in doing so, David’s life was spared.

Jesus would later refer to this scene when discussing the Sabbath with a contingent of Pharisees.

“Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests can eat. He also gave some to his companions.” And Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:3-5 NLT

It’s interesting to note that David did not actually enter the Tabernacle and remove the bread from the Holy Place. But Jesus is emphasizing the gravity of what David did in consuming the Bread of the Presence. According to the Mosaic Law, David violated God’s command concerning the sacredness of the Bread of the Presence. Since David was not a pries, he was not permitted to consume the bread. And, in doing so, it was just as if he had entered the Holy Place and removed the bread from the table itself. Yet, rather than condemn David, Jesus excuses his actions.

As the Lord’s anointed king, David was free to eat the ceremonial bread. His life was key to the future of Israel. He had been appointed by God to serve as the next king of the nation. And Jesus, the bread of life, was free to take liberties with the Sabbath laws in order to complete the task assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father.

God had ordained that the bread be placed on the table in the Holy Place and, centuries later, when His anointed one was in need of sustenance, the bread was there to keep him and his companions alive. In the same way, God ordained that His Son would come to earth and become the bread of life. He would be set apart for a holy task and completely dedicated to doing the will of His Father. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). And His death made possible eternal life for all those who would place their faith in Him.

“Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:58 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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