Why did God instruct the building of the tabernacle? This article looks at the bread of Presence in the tabernacle as it is explained in Exodus 25:23-30 and Leviticus 24:5-9. The author explains that the bread was for God, from God, and represented fellowship with God.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2008. 3 pages.

The Bread of God Read: Exodus 25:23-30 and Leviticus 24:5-9

Elnathan the priest had bad news for his Sabbath school class. The children had been enjoying the visual aids he had been using recently to teach them. They had stood beside the brass altar and then the brass bath as Elnathan explained the Messiah-centered meaning of these pieces of furniture. Today the children were looking forward to seeing what was in the Holy Place, the tented room in the middle of the Tab­ernacle. But, as he reached the curtained entrance, Elnathan turned around and said, “I’m sorry, dear children, but only the priests can go into the Holy Place. I can tell you what is in it, but I can’t take you inside.” Disappointment spread across every face. But Elnathan knew from previous classes that this disappointment could be turned to his advantage. If there was one way to arouse children’s curiosity about something, it was to tell them they could not see it! So, as the children tried to squint between the curtains, Elnathan began to describe what was on the other side.

“My dear children,” Elnathan began, “Although the out­side of the tent looks very plain, the inside is very different. On the roof and walls hang blue, purple, and scarlet cur­tains covered with beautifully embroidered, golden cherubim. There is no sound in this sacred place; silence reigns. A large, golden lamp casts its yellow light on a golden altar and a golden table. The table is 3 feet long, 18 inches broad, and 2 feet 3 inches high. Around the edge are two handbreadth-high golden rims — they look like crowns and stop things from falling off the table. And what is on the table, children? Does anyone know?”

Just at that point, a group of priests arrived. Twelve of them were each carrying a large loaf of unleavened bread. Others carried bowls of wine.

One of the older children shot up his hand and asked, “Mr. Elnathan, do these loaves go on the table?” “That’s right, Benjamin,” Elnathan smiled. “On the table are twelve large loaves of unleavened bread, set out in two rows. Every Sab­bath the priests put fresh bread on the table. But what does all this mean, beloved children?” The children’s eyes widened as the priests passed through the curtain and into the Holy Place with their bread and bowls. They peered in, trying to catch a glimpse of this mysterious place. Elnathan had timed the lesson perfectly. He now had the children captivated with rapt attention. “My dear pupils, let me tell you about the ‘Four Fs.’”

For God🔗

“First of all, this bread is for God. It is an offering from our nation to God (Lev. 24:8). Although this is only a small part of our crops and produce, we offer it as a sample of all we have, and so acknowledge that all we have is for God. Why twelve loaves? Well, they represent everyone in the twelve tribes. So, when the priests put the twelve loaves on the golden table and sprinkle them with the sweet ascending fragrance of frankin­cense (Lev. 24:7), we are acknowledging that we are all for God. We exist for Him and live to Him.

“Now, as you know, this bread has a special name. It is called ‘Shewbread,’ which means ‘the bread of presence.’ And, just as the shewbread is continually on show in His presence, so our twelve tribes are reminded that we too and we all are continually before Him (Lev. 24:8). This theme of remembering is underlined by the frankincense, which is on the bread for ‘a memorial’ (Lev. 24:7). Its sweet fragrance rises up to heaven and reminds us that we are constantly in the presence of God (Lev. 25:4-9).

“Some of you look a bit worried about that. Maybe you should be! However, if you are living a life for God, the ‘bread of presence’ should bring you much comfort. Remember what is around the table? A protective crown of gold rims the table and makes sure that nothing falls off. My dear believing chil­dren, no man shall be able to pluck you out of the Lord’s hand. His presence is your protection.

“And, remember, the Tabernacle and its furniture ulti­mately pictures the Messiah. He will be the Bread of Presence. When He comes, He will live with God and for God perfectly. I sometimes wonder if the fine flour we use to bake this bread tells us something about the Messiah. We sift it eleven times to make sure it is free from grit and imperfec­tion. Could that tell us something about the Savior? And what about the bread being baked in a hot oven — does that contain any lessons? I don’t have all the answers, children. A day will come when these things will become more clear. May our gracious God hasten the day!”

From God🔗

“But we must hurry on. Your parents will soon be here to pick you up. The second ‘F’ is from God. People in the nations beside us regularly bring produce to supply their kings’ tables. This is their way of acknowledging that their piece of land and its resulting produce is the king’s gift to them, as is the security and peace of the land.

“So, by offering the shewbread to God, we are acknowledging that all our bread is from our heavenly King. We are returning to God what He had given us. We are saying that all our support and sustenance is from Him. The twelve loaves always in God’s presence signify that all twelve tribes are always dependent on Him.

“But, there is a spiritual lesson here, too, my little ones. Just as God provides for Israel’s physical needs, so He provides for the believer’s spiritual needs. And God’s ultimate provi­sion for His people’s spiritual nourishment is the Messiah who will be ‘of and from God.’ Let us look in faith towards the bread of God which will come down from heaven, and give life to the world.”

Fellowship with God🔗

“Thirdly, the shewbread represents fellowship with God. As you know, our family tables are places of fellowship, places where our families gather to talk and share. But here we have a golden table, a symbol of royal fellowship. And it’s fitting, isn’t it, that in God’s royal palace and dwelling place there should be a royal table?

“Some of you are wondering why the priests are taking so long in there, aren’t you? Do you know what is keeping them? They are eating the old shewbread before replacing it with the new bread. This again underlines the link between fellowship and the shewbread. I love it when my name is on the roster to change the shewbread. My most memorable times of spiritual fellowship have been in the Holy Place, eating the sacred bread of presence, drinking the wine from the bowls, and discussing the meaning of the bread, the wine, and the table with some of the older priests. I can’t wait until it’s my turn again!

“Are some of you thinking that it’s a bit unfair that only the priests are allowed this privilege? Well, you’ll be glad to know that the older priests believe that when the Messiah comes, all of God’s people will be priests, and they will all eat of the bread of God. What a table of love and fellowship that will be!”

Future with God🔗

“Finally, the shewbread speaks of the future with God. God’s gracious supply of physical and spiritual nourishment on earth encourages the believer to look forward to heaven, when he will eat and drink at Messiah’s table in His heavenly Temple. Is this not what we sing of in the Psalms, ‘In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’?

“I see your parents at the door of the Tabernacle. But, before you run off, take down the following words and memorize them for next week.

How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light (Ps. 36:7-9).

“And ... there is a bonus prize for anyone who can tell me how many pieces of Tabernacle furniture are hinted at in these verses.

“Let us conclude with prayer: Our heavenly Provider, we thank Thee for all Thy provision for our physical and spiritual needs. We thank Thee for the shewbread which reminds us of the source of all our bread on earth, and which makes us long for the bread of God to come down from heaven. Please give us deeper and wider and longer fellowship with Thee on earth. And increase our desires for eternal fellowship with Thee in heaven. Look on the face of Thine Anointed and hear our prayers. Amen.”

Study Questions:🔗

  1. How can we show that we are “for God”?
  2. Does God’s presence scare you or support you? What does that tell you about your spiritual state?
  3. What did the shewbread teach Jesus about His person and work as He read His Bible?
  4. What light does the New Testament cast on the meaning of the shewbread? Can you think of specific verses?
  5. The shewbread helped Israel remember that all they had was from God. What helps can we use to remind us more of this?
  6. Do you desire and enjoy fellowship with God? Can you think of ways in which you can increase that desire and enjoyment?
  7. Heaven is often portrayed as a feast around a table. Search for the verses which describe heaven in this way and meditate on what this teaches us about the nature of heaven.
  8. Can you think of Psalms which refer to the table of shewbread?

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