The Table of Showbread
“You shall make a table of acacia wood… . And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.”- Exodus 25:23–30
Continuing our look at the furniture of the tabernacle, we will now look at what is commonly called the table of showbread. This table, along with the lampstand, was to be set up outside the Holy of Holies in the Holy Place of the tabernacle where the light from the lamps could illumine the table (Ex. 26:35).
Like the lampstand, this table was also made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold (25:23–24), for an object that would be located so close to the direct presence of God in the Holy of Holies had to be made of materials worthy of the King of creation. A rim of gold was placed around the edge of the table, probably to keep things from rolling off of it onto the ground, and poles were attached so the table could be carried without touching it directly (vv. 25–28). This protected the priests, for sinners cannot be too careful about touching what the Lord sanctifies or sets apart (2 Sam. 6:5–7).
God also instructed Moses to create vessels and utensils that would be placed on the table — plates and dishes for the bread and incense and pitchers and bowls for liquid offerings (Ex. 25:29). This is significant because a table with such things was present in all ancient Near Eastern homes. In having such a table in the tabernacle, the Lord was demonstrating that the people were to regard the tabernacle as His house.
The bread of the Presence was put on this table regularly (v. 30) — twelve loaves laid out in two piles of six loaves each (Lev. 24:5–9), probably to signify God’s generous provision of food and other necessities for the twelve tribes of Israel. This bread was like a food offering, which ancient pagans gave for their gods to dine upon. Yet Israel was not a pagan nation, so the one, true creator God, having no need to eat to sustain Himself, gave it back to “Aaron and his sons” who ate it in His holy presence (v. 9).
Dining with someone in the ancient Near East was a sign of fellowship and peace, so the priests’ eating of the bread of the Presence in God’s house signified the Lord was at peace with His people. Yet this was a limited peace under the old covenant because only the priests, not every Israelite, enjoyed the privilege of dining with the Creator. Under the new covenant, however, Christ has effected an eternal peace between the Father and His people, so we may dine in His presence, especially when we partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at His table (John 6:53–58).
It can be easy to take God’s provision of food for granted, but we must always remember that we are sustained only on account of His gracious work to meet every one of our needs. He gives us what we need according to His standards, and we must never forget this both in times of plenty and in times of want. Let us do what we can to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness to God for His supply and encourage others to do the same.
Passages for Further Study
1 Kings 17:8–16