Surprising Stories of the Tabernacle: The Table of Fellowship

Did you know that bread is referred to almost 400 times in Scripture? Of the 300 occurrences in the Old Testament, the first comes in Genesis chapter 3 following the Fall: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (v19).1  Since that time the necessity of bread for life has been a daily concern for mankind.

Of the roughly 100 uses in the New Testament, the first reference to bread stands in stark contrast to the Fall in Genesis. When the Lord rebukes the devil, He says, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mat 4:4). Yet, the Lord Himself instructs us to look to God for our daily sustaining portion, as “Give us this day our daily bread” is a primary matter for prayer (6:11). And, lest we should think that providing blessing for so many so frequently is too much for the Lord, we consider the question of the disciples in the face of a multitude: “Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” (15:33). We see the gracious response of the Lord in supplying for the 5,000 men of Israel and again for the 4,000 men who represent the world.

Yet, bread means much more than just sustenance; it has come to represent fellowship and communion with the Lord. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who made this undeniably clear in the upper room, as we read, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body” (26:26). Yet, while the Lord elevated and highlighted this concept, it is evident from the surprising story associated with the Table of Shewbread in the Old Testament that the truth of fellowship has always been on display.

In 1 Samuel 21, David discovered that there was no place for him at Saul’s table or in Saul’s kingdom. Saul had no desire to share either bread or glory with David. Rather, Saul was determined to see him die. As a man of likely just 20 years of age, David embarked on a decade of exile during which he would learn to trust in the Lord for his provision and protection each day.

Given David’s devotion to the Lord, it is no surprise that he chose to flee to Nob, the location of Ahimelech the priest and the tabernacle. David arrived fatigued and famished after at least three days on the run. The priest Ahimelech, though fearful, was able to provide David with two surprising solutions for his need of sustenance and security. “So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away” (1Sa 21:6). Protection was provided as well, as the sword of Goliath was offered and David responded, “There is none like that; give it me” (v9). I, as a young believer, was shocked by this surprising story and was sure that David had greatly overstepped the bounds of reverence. Indeed, were we to judge the account based solely on the results of Doeg’s slaughter of the priests and David’s peril before Achish, we would feel justified in our assessment. Yet, it is the Lord Himself who references David’s act in the Gospels with a strongly worded response: “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Mat 12:7).

From the wide view, we can appreciate what this bread of the tabernacle meant to David, as it symbolized the provision and presence of the Lord with him, even as he began the life of a fugitive. David would encounter the goodness of the Lord again and again during his decade of wilderness experience. Truly, David beautifully expressed the fellowship he enjoyed with the Lord in these moments: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,” and, “The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him” (Psa 23:5; 22:26).

Do enemies and opposition and adversity in any way lessen the supremacy and solemnity of enjoying fellowship at the Lord’s table? In his seminal work The Treasury of David, C.H. Spurgeon states, “The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. If we were without enemies we might fear that we were not the friends of God, for the friendship of the world is enmity to God.” Doeg the Edomite was an adversary who took advantage of the opportunity to heap sorrow on David at one of his lowest moments. With guilt and anguish David confessed to Abiathar, “I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father’s house” (1Sa 22:22). But David was not alone; Solomon felt the animosity of Hadad the Edomite, Job endured the bloviating of Eliphaz the Edomite, and even the Lord Jesus fled the vicious pursuit of Herod the Edomite.

Dear believer, as you take the bread of fellowship at the Lord’s table, perhaps you feel the Edomitish scorn and disdain our world has towards the Lord. But do not lose heart. Remember the rhetorical question from the apostle Paul that brings us to the central truth: “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1Co 10:16). That simple loaf of bread and the promise of His presence are enough to sustain and keep us until the rightful King is on the throne. For David and for us, the truth of a table prepared in the presence of enemies is evidence of future fellowship and blessing: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (Psa 23:6).

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.