Tabernacle Studies: The Table of Shewbread

Edited by Eugene Higgins

Ex 25:25-30; Lev 24:5-9

A) General specifications:

1. Its size – 2 cubits long x 1 cubit wide x l cubit high.

2. Its materials – acacia wood overlaid with gold.

3. Its vessels – dishes, spoons, bowls, and cups.

4. Its use – to display the shewbread before the Lord.

B) Typical significance:

The word for “table” in the Hebrew is “shulchan” (Young’s Concordance) which comes from a root meaning to send, to stretch out, to extend – thus indicating an object with a capacity for the food placed upon it. Three things come to mind when we think of a table:

The Provision which is put upon the table – by Grace.

The Participation (sharing) with others – fellowship in partaking.

The Satisfaction which is the result of the sharing and fellowship.

This is beautifully illustrated in 2 Samuel 9 where King David “shares” with Mephibosheth all the bounties of the royal table. This is the place of fellowship and communion. The truth of the table is taught in 1 Corinthians 10:16-22 and the fellowships which are inconsistent with it are mentioned in 2 Corinthians 6:14.

1. Its construction

a) The materials from which the table was constructed bring before us Christ’s perfect Humanity and absolute Deity combined in one blessed Person. The gold over the wood glorified the wood. We have in the table a type of the ministry of a resurrected and glorified Christ.

b) The most significant dimension is probably the height – 1 cubits, which is the same as the ark. This would suggest that the bread of communion is on the same level as the propitiation or mercy seat. The basis of our fellowship is the BLOOD on the mercy seat but the substance of our fellowship is the BREAD on the table. The question in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” might well be suggested by the other two dimensions of the table – 2 = communion and witness; 1 = unity or agreement.

c) The ornamentation of the table with two crowns and a border had a very practical purpose as well as a beautifying effect. The crowned border on the top was for the purpose of protecting, or guarding, or securing what was placed upon it. The bread was not removed during the march (Num 4:7) – it was always before the Lord. Therefore, the raised border was necessary to keep the cakes in place. The crown speaks of Christ glorified now at the right hand of God (Heb 2:9). It is a living, glorified Savior who maintains His own – supporting, succoring, sympathizing, and saving. The border of an handbreadth round about points to the believers’ double security – in Christ’s hand and in the Father’s hand (John 10:28-29; 14:19; 2 Tim 1:12; 1 Peter 1:5).

d) The table was provided with golden rings and staves made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Thus equipped, the table could be carried on the march through the desert. This detail speaks of Christ Who is the provision which God has made for His people in the wilderness (Heb 4:14-16; Matt 28:20).

2. Its function

to set or display twelve cakes before the Lord. These twelve cakes represent the twelve tribes of Israel under divine control. Arranged in two rows, they suggest true witness. There is equal representation implied here because the cakes were all of the same ingredients, size, and weight. Thus, the smallest tribe as well as the largest is before the Lord, the weakest as well as the strongest, the most insignificant as well as the most honored – all have an equal place before the Lord. So too with every believer, for we are all “accepted in the beloved One” (Eph 1:6) and are all “made to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6; Col 1:21-22). Also, representation implies a representative, so we see in the ingredients a beautiful type of the Lord Jesus Who is the believer’s Representative (Heb 6:19-20; 7:23-25; 8:1). Note the following points about the bread:

a) It was made of “fine flour.” There were no lumps or unevenness. This speaks of our Lord’s moral perfections – the consistency and uniformity of His character.

b) Pure frankincense was added. The perfect life of the Lord Jesus was a sweet-smelling savor and fragrance to the Father.

c) It was baked into cakes. After bruising and pounding, the fine flour was exposed to the heat of the oven. The fire worked upon it. This suggests the pathway of Christ as He passed through trials, sorrows, and temptations during His sojourn down here. They are called pierced cakes in Leviticus 24:5.

d) It was renewed every Sabbath. The bread which had been before the Lord seven days was taken off the table and became food for the priestly family. This speaks of Christ Who delights and satisfies the heart of the Father and His beloved people as well.

3. Its location

The table of shewbread was positioned on the north side of the Tabernacle within the Holy Place. It was one of three pieces of furniture within that compartment where nothing but gold was seen by the eye of the priest – a scene displaying the glory of God. Only the sons of Aaron, the priestly family, were permitted to enter this sacred place and behold the splendor of the gold as it was illuminated by the light of the golden lampstand. Today, only those who are born again into the family of God, and are thereby constituted a “holy priesthood,” can enter into the presence of God to worship in spirit and in truth.

4. Its vessels

All were made of gold.

a) The dishes were probably used by the priests for their eating of the bread.

b) The spoons were used in connection with the frankincense.

c) The bowls and cups were possibly used in connection with the drink offerings. These were always offered with the meal offerings and were poured out in the Holy Place (Num 28:7).

5. Its restrictions

Leviticus 22. Those who were not permitted to eat the shewbread from the table were:

a) The defiled priest. v 4.

b) The stranger or outsider. This means one who is not a priest.

c) The sojourner or visitor.

d) The hired servant who worked for wages.

The last three above, who are mentioned in Leviticus 22:10, may have been visiting in the priest’s home but were not members of his family. Birth was the criterion. Even the deformed priests mentioned in chapter 21, who were not permitted to serve in the Tabernacle, were permitted to eat the bread of their God.