The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Table of the Bread of Presence
In the introductory article of this series, we took a look at the value and importance of examining this Old Testament structure of the wilderness tabernacle as it pertains to our New Testament life. It was discussed how Jesus is central to every detail and lesson that we will learn from it.
In the next part, "The Temple of Creation", it was discovered that the wilderness tabernacle reveals to us a larger spiritual temple concept that has been the blueprint of worship from eternity. From a creation perspective, the material world/universe exhibit began in Genesis chapter one. Adam was the first vice regent king and the high priest over the territory of Eden on earth in fellowship and under the Lordship of God the creator of all.
In part three, "The Relational Component", It was examined how the tabernacle was designed to also demonstrate the relational purposes and components of God's plan for uniting with us using male and female forms as illustrative tools. The tabernacle was about God dwelling with his people.
The fourth part of this series, "It Begins With a Gift", began with the very first instructions for the construction of the "Wilderness Tabernacle" and it all started with giving.
In part five, "The Metals and Their Meaning", we learned that giving is not random. God asks specifically for certain items and lying resident within the symbols of each is a rich lesson concerning God's lavish provision. The three requested metals of gold, silver, and copper and their symbolic meanings of God's redemption through judgment were discussed.
The sixth portion of this series, "The Three Colors of Thread and the White Linen", concerned textiles of the Tabernacle.
. . . blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen.
— Exodus 25:4
Much like the metals, the colors and fabric had much to say as it concerned the details of salvation and richly displayed the Son of God (blue) who became the Son of Man (scarlet), which in combination made Him the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (purple) over all of heaven and earth.
In the seventh part of this series, "The Covering Materials", we studied the four layers that covered the Tabernacle. These consisted of the linen, goat hair, ram's skins dyed red and porpoise skins. Each layer had something to say about how Christ covered our sin as well as gave us a few glimpses and connections with the creation narrative.
Part eight, "Wood, Oil, Spices, and Onyx Stone", concluded the section of this study concerning the construction materials that would be needed to build the Tabernacle. The list is ended with the reason for God's request.
And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.
— Exodus 25:8
God provided the first sanctuary of Eden. Now He invites mankind to show Him that they want a relationship with Him too.
The final four listed items that God asked the children of Israel to contribute to this meeting place between God and His people were the Shittim wood, oil, spices and onyx/chalcedony stone, all of which pointed to the sweet-smelling sacrifice of Jesus Christ who through His suffering, death, and shedding of His blood made it possible for us to dwell with God. The Onyx/chalcedony stone, last on the list, spoke of Christ's overcoming becoming ours.
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
— Revelation 3:21
Part nine "The Ark of the Covenant", of this series studied the three spaces and furnishings of the Tabernacle, along with their order and significance in relation to Christ's fulfillment in God's salvation plan beginning with the Ark of the Covenant. It all begins with God
This tenth study concerning the Table of the Bread of Presence illustrates the New Testament Table of Communion at which both acceptance and affliction were elements.
The Holy Place and Its Furniture
The Table of the Bread of Presence was located in the Holy Place, which was the middle section of the three parts of the Tabernacle. This space contained three pieces of furniture. This table is the first of three mentioned items in this section of the structure. (See the diagram above)
- The Table of Bread
- The Menorah
- and the Altar of Incense
These are listed in order of assembly, placement, and visitation by the priesthood. This will be significant later.
The Hebrew Word for Table
The Hebrew word for table is "shulchan" שֻׁלְחָן and is most often mentioned in reference to a king's table in the Old Testament. This might help us make the association of Jesus the King of Kings inviting us to His table.
The Exodus Tabernacle instructions that begin in chapter twenty-five contains the very first mention of the word "table" in Scripture.
This connection of a kings Table, as it relates to Jesus, is made in the book of Luke when Jesus is discussing, through parables, the protocols of His kingdom.
When one of those who reclined at the table with him heard these things (the kingdom protocol of humility), he said to him, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God"
— Luke 14:15
God Sent Forth His Son
"Shulchan" שֻׁלְחָן is rooted in a Hebrew word meaning to "send forth" (shalach שָׁלַח). The only difference between the words "table" and "send" is the letter "nun" at the end of the word.
Pictographically speaking, the "nun" is represented by a seed from which life is produced illustrating the concept of perpetual and or eternal life. Bread is made from the crushed seeds of grain. and considered the staff of life.
Therefore, the table could be seen as the place where the one whom God sent, Jesus the King of Kings, through whom He shares and gives His eternal life with those who have responded to His invitation.
The following is a quote from Jesus related to this just shortly after the people attempted to force Him into being an earthly king.
Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king
— John 6:15
He redirects the conversation to His heavenly table and Lordship.
. . . I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them . . . This is the will of him who sent me...that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life...
— John 6:32-37
Disciples Sent Forth With the Gospel
It is from this table of communion that Christ sends forth those who are His to go into the world and invite those who would come into fellowship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all of heaven and earth.
The great commission is given in Mark at a table.
He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table...
— Mark 16:15
The commission is explained in greater detail in Matthews account given on a mountain.
Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:18-20
They did, indeed, go forth and cast the seed of the Gospel everywhere. (See also the parable of the soils)
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them...
— Mark 14:20
Wood and Gold: Christ's Humanity and Diety
The Table was one of three furnishings that was made of acacia wood and overlayed with Gold. The following are these in the order in which they are listed in Scripture.
- The Ark of the Covenant (God meets and speaks to us)
- The Table of the Bread of Presence (Communion and the partaking of Christ and suffering)
- The Altar of Incense (We speak to God in prayer)
Notice that the center of communication with God is at the communion table with Christ.
The two elements of wood and gold, as was studied earlier, speak of the uniting of both Christ's humanity displayed in the wood and His deity illustrated by the gold.
These illustrate that in Christ the marriage of heaven and earth is restored as it was in the beginning and thereby communion and connection between God and man are restored also.
The Table of the Bread of Presence is the second mentioned furnishing in the Tabernacle as a whole, after the Ark of the Covenant. In a sense, they are related.
The Ark was noted as the place where God would meet with them and the Table of bread which included a cup of wine relates to a type of communion table.
Kevin J. Conner in his book "The Tabernacle of Moses" writes how this applies to God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ
"When man falls communion with God is broken. Here in Exodus, we are given a picture of fallen man redeemed by the grace of God. We see God's grace coming to fallen man to re-establish the severed lines of communion. God provides the Table for His Priests in His Sanctuary. All of this tells forth the truth that God has prepared a Table in Christ for His redeemed people."
Bread and wine were elements first presented in association with a type of priesthood in Genesis chapter fourteen after Abraham defeated the kings who had taken his nephew Lot captive.
Then Melchizedek (king of righteousness) king of Salem (Peace) brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of "God Most High. And he blessed him and said:
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
— Genesis 14:18-20
Like Melchizedek Jesus is both King and Priest.
Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
— Hebrews 9:11
Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king.
— John 18:37
This may very well be reflected in the two crowns that are instructed to be made on this table. Both King and Priest in the Bible were noted to wear crowns. (See Exodus 29:6)
Kevin J. Connor once again notes:
"man crowned Him with thorns (a product of sin and the curse) but God crowned Him with glory and honor"
The human and divine are met together in the crowns. This is notable too in that the same three furnishings with wood and gold also had a crown.
The Bread of Acceptance
The bread on the table was known in its original language as "the bread of the presence". In terms of communion, this takes us back to an event in the Garden in Eden with the sin of Adam causing him to hide from God's presence.
And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
— Genesis 3:8
It is after this scene that Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden sanctuary and separated from God's presence.
This table represents God bringing us once again into fellowship with Him, as in, accepted and made fit by Christ to be in His Presence.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
— Ephesians 1:3-6
There were twelve portions of bread on the Tabernacle table representing the twelve tribes of Israel presented before the Lord by the attending priest in this place.
An interesting parallel in relation to the New Testament fulfillment finds us at the communion table with twelve disciples partaking of the holy meal in the presence of God in Christ. The High Priest is now among them, no longer just representing them in this ritual observance but they are now sincerely in His presence.
"We are loved and blessed, and "accepted in the beloved." The entire company of the saints are complete in Him. They are continually before the Father's face, presented and covered over with the fragrant frankincense of His peerless Name and perfect work, and it is their birthright to sing, with heart and soul and voice"
— Henry Soltau
The Bread of Affliction
We are not told if the bread for the table was leavened or unleavened. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, says it was unleavened. But, we can assume that it was pierced according to the details revealed in Leviticus chapter twenty-four concerning what type and how to place the bread on the table.
And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes (challah - חַלָּה) thereof. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD.
— Leviticus 24:5,6
The Hebrew word for "cakes" used in the above verse is "challah" - חַלָּה and is rooted in a word meaning "pierced through". It is frequently used in passages describing fatal wounds.
Piercing the bread was part of the process of preparing it, as it still is to this day. This is done to prevent it from puffing up.
Paul makes the connection of leavened unpierced bread, and the church puffing up with the leaven of sin and pride.
you are puffed up and have not rather mourned, that he that has done this deed might be taken away from among you...
...Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us:
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
— I Corinthians 5:6-8
The leavened bread seen above is both pierced and striped. All of which speak of the sufferings of Christ.
Yet He was pierced (chalal - חָלַל) for our transgressions, was crushed for our iniquities. The chastisement of our well peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.
— Isaiah 53:5
"Challah" in the Leviticus passage and "Chalal" in the Isaiah passage are both rooted in the same word meaning "to pierce".
As it refers to the Passover this bread was also called "the bread of affliction".
you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to put His name. You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction
— Exodus 16:2-3
This is matched with the communion table with Jesus and His disciples.
When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.Then He said to them, “With fervent desire, I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
— Luke 22:14-15
Paul in His letter to the Corinthians furthers this explanation.
the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you
—I Corinthians 11:23-24
The reciprocal aspect of the communion meal as it concerns us is fleeing from idolatry and serving Christ alone. This is also discussed in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
— I Corinthians 10:14-18
The Old Testament doesn't say much about the wine in reference to this table other than the mention of the cups and pitchers for pouring it.
You are also to make its plates and cups, as well as its pitchers and bowls for pouring drink offerings. Make them out of pure gold. Put the Bread of the Presence on the table before me at all times.
— Exodus 25:29-30
The drink offering symbolized Christ's blood poured out for us.
In the same way, he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you
— Luke 22:20
This, like the bread, referenced His suffering and life given on behalf of us.
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.
— John 19:34
It's About a Covenant
Most Bible accounts of eating centered around the forming of covenants which were the foundations of relationships. In the Ancient Near East, a meal was considered a sacred occasion.
The Sinai Covenant account gives us a great example of this.
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”...So they saw God, and they ate and drank
— Exodus 24:1-11
The very first mention of eating occurs in the second chapter of Genesis and with the previous note in mind we could also connect this scene in terms of a covenant.
And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food...And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it shall surely die.”
— Genesis 2:9-16
The table at which one dined was apparently of deep significance and was not only sacred but also spiritual. It was obviously inclusive of the decision of loyalties.
Immediately following the meal options and instructions, the discussion of a suitable relatable helper and partner is made.
Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh
— Genesis 2:22
The very first thing they do after this union is they select a table to dine at, and they chose to partake of the tree with evil resident within it. They communed with the serpent who deceptively invited them to dinner.
Paul discusses this connection of food and fellowship, in terms of spiritual loyalties with the Corinthian church.
All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ...Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry...You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.
— I Corinthians 10
Frankincense: Remembering the Covenant
The Bread of the Presence was topped with frankincense.
And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the Lord.
— Leviticus 24:7
Frankincense in the Bible is associated with memory in three Leviticus verses. All three of which involved the grain offering from which bread is made. It is also noted in the second description that the grain was beaten.
He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
— Leviticus 2:2
Then the priest shall burn the memorial portion: part of its beaten grain and part of its oil, with all the frankincense, as an offering made by fire to the Lord.
— Leviticus 2:16
‘This is the law of the grain offering: The sons of Aaron shall offer it on the altar before the Lord. He shall take from it his handful of the fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil, and all the frankincense which is on the grain offering, and shall burn it on the altar for a sweet aroma, as a memorial to the Lord.
— Leviticus 6:14-15
The memorial is connected to remembering Christ's sufferings.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
— Luke 22:18-20
The power of smell in connection with memory as was discussed in a previous part of this series concerning incense. In relation to this table, we see its connection to the communion table in Christ's command to remember His body and blood.
“Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
— I Corinthians 11:24
The Measurements of the Table
Henry Soltau gives the mathematical interpretation of this furnishing in his book "The Tabernacle, the Priesthood, and the Offerings"
"The Table was one cubit wide (unity), two cubits long (fellowship, union with Christ) and one and one-half (or 3 - 1/2) cubits high (suggestive of the Trinity). Tables naturally remind us of fellowship, especially of the Lord's table. True fellowship, however, depends on unity, and all fellowship with Christ inevitably involves the Trinity. As the priests had fellowship together with their high priest at this table, so also do Christians have fellowship together with the High Priest Jesus Christ"
We will conclude with an observation from Soltau that also applies to our Christian journey. He notices that there were no chairs in the tabernacle. It was a place of work and service. The Passover was the same. They ate with shoes on their feet, their loins girded staff in hand, and ready to move at a moment's notice.
"We too are to worship on our feet, ready to heed the call...In the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, a beautiful antitype of the table of shewbread, we gather in the fellowship of believers to feed upon Christ and to wait for the order to move on."
Paul confirms this connection.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace
— Ephesians 6
The next listed furnishing in the Tabernacle is the Menorah. This object was the only source of light in the Holy Place.
Credits and Sources
"The Tabernacle: God's Portrait of Christ by J. Vernon McGee. Published by Van Kampen Press in Wheaton Illinois.
"The Tabernacle of Moses" by Kevin J. Connor. Published by City Christian Publishing in Portland Oregon. Copyright 1976
"The Tabernacle" by M.R. Dehaan, M.D. Published by Zondervan Publishing House. Copyright 1995
"Portraits of Christ in the Tabernacle" by Theodore H. Epp. Published by The Good News Broadcasting Association. Copyright 1976
"Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle by Ervin N. Hershberger. Published by Vision Publishers. Copyright 2007
"Spiritual Application of the Tabernacle" by Witness Lee. Published by Living Streams Ministries. Copyright 1987
"Temple Treasures" by Steven Fuson. Published by Bridge-Logos. Copyright 2010
"The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah by David Levy. Published by The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry Inc. Copyright 1993
The Tabernacle: Its Priests and Its Services by Willia Brown. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright 1996. Originally published in 1899 by Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, Edinburgh, and London.
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