by David E. West, England
The question could be asked, ‘Why should we study the Tabernacle?’ One answer might well be because at least fifty chapters in the Word of God (thirteen in Exodus, eighteen in Leviticus, thirteen in Numbers, two in Deuteronomy and four in the Epistle to the Hebrews) tell us of the construction, the ritual, the priesthood, the transportation of the Tabernacle and the meaning of it all. Also, many other places in Scripture speak in figurative language concerning the Tabernacle.
Is it any wonder that each and every detail about the Tabernacle has a spiritual significance? Everything, in one way or another, was pointing to Christ. The more we become familiar with the Tabernacle, the more we become familiar with the Person of Christ and all that He means to us. What a great reason to become better acquainted with the Scriptures concerning the Tabernacle!
The Tabernacle was far more than Israel’s place of worship in the wilderness and subsequently in the land. The Epistle to the Hebrews, where frequent reference is made to the Tabernacle, reveals its importance to ourselves in this Church age, for it was a “shadow of heavenly things” 8.5, “a figure for the time then present” 9.9; then there is reference to “the patterns of things in the heavens” 9.23, and “the figures of the true” 9.24.
Our immediate consideration is of “the table of shewbread” Num.4.7, referred to as “a table” Ex.25.23, “the pure table” Lev.24.6, and, significantly, as “the table, and the shewbread” Heb.9.2, suggesting that “the table” and “the shewbread” are distinct and that their spiritual meanings should be considered separately.
It should be noted that the subject is introduced by the words, “Thou shalt also make a table of shittim wood” Ex.25.23, which suggests a close link with what has gone before. In the previous verse, in connection with “the mercy seat above upon the ark”, we read, “there will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee” Ex.25.22. God has graciously ‘hung the key’ over the entrance and told us that the table has to do with communion.
- “And thou shalt set the table without the vail, and the candlestick over against the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south: and thou shalt put the table on the north side” Ex.26.35.
- “And he put the table in the tent of the congregation, upon the side of the tabernacle northward, without the vail” Ex.40.22.
In Exodus chapter 25 the Holy Spirit conducts us into the holy place, wherein stood three pieces of furniture: the table, the candlestick (or lampstand) and the golden altar of incense. We shall see that the order in which these items are brought before us in the narrative is most suggestive. In the holy place, nothing but gold met the eye of the one who had entered; it was a scene displaying Divine glory.
- “Thou shalt also make a table of shittim wood” Ex.25.23.
- “And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold” Ex.25.24.
- “And he made the table of shittim wood” Ex.37.10.
- “And he overlaid it with pure gold” Ex.37.11.
This is the first mention in Scripture of a table; a table is expressive of fellowship. The Hebrew word rendered “table” points to a table spread out, by implication, a meal table. It was made of the same material as the ark of the covenant: acacia (or shittim) wood, overlaid with pure gold. Both typified the union of Deity and humanity in the Person of Christ. Also, in its material, it differed nothing from the altar of incense, being made of the same wood and also overlaid with pure gold.
The shittim wood refers to humanity in a general way, but it has a special significance when speaking of the Lord Jesus personally. The following Scriptures involve the idea of shittim wood: “And the Word was made [‘became’] flesh and dwelt [‘tabernacled’] among us” Jn.1.14; “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” Rom.8.3; “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made [born] of a woman, made [born] under the law” Gal.4.4; “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” 1Tim.3.16; “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same” Heb.2.14.
Pure gold speaks of Christ’s Deity. By “Deity” we mean the very nature, essence and being of God. The following selected Scriptures involve the idea of the pure gold: “‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ which being interpreted is, God with us” Matt.1.23; “the Word was God” Jn.1.1; “whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” Rom.9.5; “looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” Titus 2.13, R.V.; “we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” 1Jn.5.20. In Him Deity and humanity are inextricably combined; the shittim wood and the pure gold could never be separated. We must not seek to divide between His manhood and His Deity. It would be erroneous to suggest that Christ did certain things as God and other things as man. He is wholly man and wholly God and, at the same time, one glorious Person.
The order should be noted: it is shittim wood overlaid with pure gold; the fact that the shittim wood is not seen indicates that here it is not Christ on earth that is in view. When He was here, it was ‘shittim wood’ that was predominantly seen, but now it is Christ in heaven with the Father. However, the ‘shittim wood’ is still there. He has taken His risen manhood back to heaven and to the throne of God: “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” Col.2.9. The shittim wood is the witness to us that the Man Who died on the cross is now in the presence of God.
- “Thou shalt also make a table of shittim wood: two cubits shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof” Ex.25.23.
- “And he made the table of shittim wood: two cubits was the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof” Ex.37.10.
The measurements of the holy vessels and of the Tabernacle and its courts are all doubtless significant and interesting subjects of enquiry as to their typical importance. The table of shewbread was the same height as the ark of the covenant (upon which the mercy seat rested) but shorter in length and breadth. Since the brazen altar was three cubits high and the grating was in the middle of it, that grating on which the sacrifice was laid was also at the same height of one and a half cubits. These three items at the same height indicate that the sacrifice on the altar is equal to the claims of the throne and has provided the basis for fellowship between God and man at the table of shewbread. In other words, the believer’s communion with God is commensurate with the fulness of the place won through the sacrificial death of Christ.
The length of the table was two cubits; one of the significations of the number two is that of fellowship or communion, for example, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3.3; another is testimony or witness: “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” Deut.19.15. In breadth, the table was one cubit; the cardinal number one speaks of unity; there can be no fellowship whilst there is discord.
- “And thou shalt … make thereto a crown of gold round about” Ex.25.24.
- “And thou shalt make unto it a border of an hand breadth round about, and thou shalt make a golden crown to the border thereof round about” Ex.25.25.
- “And he … made thereunto a crown of gold round about” Ex.37.11.
- “Also he made thereunto a border of an handbreadth round about; and made a crown of gold for the border thereof round about” Ex.37.12.
Thus the table had two crowns: the table itself was crowned, Ex.25.24, and its border was crowned, Ex.25.25. The golden crown around the shewbread kept it in its place and prevented it being dislodged as the table was borne on the Levites’ shoulders through the wilderness. The crown or moulding of gold around the top of the table was likewise surrounded with a border or ledge about six inches wide (“an hand breadth”); to this border also a golden crown was evidently attached. This latter probably served to keep the cups, etc. from being displaced during transit.
The Rings and Staves
“And thou shalt make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings in the four corners that are on the four feet thereof. Over against the border shall the rings be for places of the staves to bear the table. And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be borne with them” Ex.25.26-28.
“And he cast for it four rings of gold, and put the rings upon the four corners that were in the four feet thereof. Over against the border were the rings, the places for the staves to bear the table. And he made the staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold, to bear the table” Ex.37.13-15.
Four rings of gold were fastened to the legs of the table “over against” the border; staves were made of shittim wood and overlaid with gold. We are clearly told the purpose for which the rings and staves were made, namely, that the table might be borne with them when the Tabernacle was in transit in the wilderness journey. Indeed, the staves indicate the wilderness character of the table; there were no staves in Solomon’s Temple since the pilgrim character of God’s people was then over. The particular detail in the type speaks of the provision that God has made for His people in Christ as they pass through the world. That provision is feeding upon Christ in communion with God.
The rings may well remind us of the promises of the eternal God; the staves the support of the Son of God, in Whom are combined Deity and humanity.
The Dishes, the Spoons, the Covers and the Bowls
- “And thou shalt make the dishes thereof, and spoons thereof, and covers thereof, and bowls thereof, to cover withal: of pure gold shalt thou make them” Ex.25.29.
- “And he made the vessels which were upon the table, his dishes, and his spoons, and his bowls, and his covers to cover withal, of pure gold” Ex.37.16.
The dishes, spoons, covers and bowls (or cups), all made of pure gold, typically signify that God’s sacred things must be spiritually appropriated and enjoyed. The dishes would be used when the shewbread was removed from the table and eaten by the priestly family. The spoons would be used for spreading the frankincense on the bread. The purpose of “his covers”, made of pure gold, is not immediately made clear. However, the word translated “covers” means ‘to be round, in the form of a jug’ and therefore they would be associated with the drink offering, which will be referred to in the following paragraph.
The “bowls thereof, to cover withal” should better be rendered, ‘the cups to pour out withal’. These cups were used in connection with the “drink offerings” which were “poured unto the Lord”, “in the holy place” Num.28.7. The drink offerings expressed thanksgiving; the fact that the cups used in connection with the drink offerings were placed on the table tells us that communion is the basis of thanksgiving.
“When the camp [set] forward” Num.4.5, these smaller vessels were carried with the shewbread upon the table, over which was spread “a cloth of blue” Num.4.7.
“And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof; two tenth deals shall be in one cake. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the Lord. And thou shalt put frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the Lord. Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire by a perpetual statute” Lev.24.5-9.
Having considered the table, we now turn our attention to the shewbread: “And thou shalt take fine flour”; the loaves were made of fine flour (there being no grit or unevenness), foreshadowing the moral perfections of the Lord Jesus in His holy manhood as He “tabernacled” among men. Every grace and characteristic was perfect, none finer than another. In Him was the blending of every grace and true quality in all their fulness and perfection; thus, if He was “full of grace” He was also “full of … truth”.
The loaves are here spoken of as “cakes”; this name of the shewbread is also used of the meal offering, Lev.2.4; on the occasion of the consecration of the priests, Ex.29.2; Lev.8.26; in the offerings of the Nazarite, Num.6.15; and in the offering of the firstfruits of the land, Num.15.20. The word means ‘pierced cakes’, the piercing probably being carried out to ensure that the cakes were baked in a shorter period of time. This bread, pierced and baked, points to the Lord Jesus as having been exposed to the fires of God’s holy wrath, when on the cross He was made sin for His people. The fire was not to arrest the activity of leaven, for in sacrifices that speak of Christ there was none.
There were twelve loaves, Lev.24.5; the number has specially to do with Israel (and suggests the different tribes being here represented before God); that people whose names were graven upon the breastplate of judgment, Ex.39.14, and also upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, Ex.39.6. Thus we see them upon the heart and on the shoulders and, as here, presented to God on the table. That which is symbolised here is the Lord Jesus identifying Himself with the covenant people of God. We are told: “two tenth deals [or two omers] shall be in one cake” Lev.24.5; the “tenth” speaks of responsibility fully met, whilst the “two tenth deals” tell of adequate testimony to this fact. There was in one loaf double the amount that was in the manna laid up in a pot before the Lord, Ex.16.33; do the one omer of manna and the two omers in each loaf indicate the difference between “pilgrims” and “priests”? There may be a link with the risen Lord in light of the fact that we are told that in connection with the feast of firstfruits, “the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil” Lev.23.13. The cakes were of the same quality, size and weight; the smallest tribe was thus represented equally with the largest. In spreading them out in two rows of six on the table, Lev.24.6, each one would be seen equally as much as another. Our acceptance in Christ and our representation by Him admit of no degrees. All of God’s people have an equal standing before Him and an equal nearness to Him.
The loaves were placed “upon the pure table before the Lord” Lev.24.6. We have already established that the table speaks of communion; it shows God’s presentation of Christ to us; it points to the Person of Christ as the maintainer of fellowship between God and His people. The shewbread on the table typifies the exalted Man in heaven. Shewbread is literally ‘bread of faces’; ‘faces’ being used as a figure of speech for ‘presence’, pointing to the Divine presence in which the bread stood; indeed, it is sometimes referred to as ‘presence bread’. Christ Jesus is the true ‘presence bread’; on Him the eye of God ever looks with delight and infinite complacency.
Then there is reference to the frankincense: “And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row” Lev.24.7. There was frankincense on each of the loaves as they lay in two rows and its fragrance rose before the face of God. For six days the holy place was filled with that fragrance before the loaves were eaten by the priests. The frankincense was for God; it was emblematic of the active graces of Christ. In worship, we present to God the Divine assessment of His Son: how fragrant Christ is to God! There is even now in heaven a perpetual fragrance from the Person of Christ.
The verse in Leviticus chapter 24 continues, “that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the Lord” v.7. Pure frankincense was placed upon the loaves for a memorial. The word translated “memorial” is used seven times in the Old Testament; on each occasion it refers to “meal”, except in Leviticus chapter 24, where it describes the frankincense. Although it is not specifically stated, it would appear that this frankincense was burned upon the altar, for it was “an offering made by fire unto the Lord”; while the priests were eating the old bread, the frankincense was burned. However, the loaves were also for a memorial; they speak of what is a continual memorial Godward, before the face of God. This is true of Christ; He is before God an everlasting memorial.
The passage continues, “Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant” v.8. The loaves were removed and eaten every sabbath day and were replaced by twelve fresh loaves, so that the table was never empty. We should be thankful that, as a priestly people, our food is assured. Never was the table unsupplied; the loaves were “before the Lord continually”. Note the words “he shall set it in order”; elsewhere we read, “And he [Moses] set the bread in order upon it before the Lord” Ex.40.23. The order is emphasised; any order which is pleasing to God must be a spiritual order. Paul would exhort in relation to the gatherings of the local assembly: “Let all things be done decently and in order” 1Cor.14.40.
Sadly, there is no spiritual order for God’s pleasure in Israel at the present time, but there will be in a coming day. Paul, when testifying before King Agrippa says, “… unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” Acts 26.7. It seems that the apostle was able to look up to a glorified Christ upon the throne of God and, in anticipation, read the pledge of Israel’s preservation, restoration and future unity. There is reference in Lev.24.8 to “an everlasting covenant” (the only occurrence of the phrase in the Book of Leviticus). Here the everlasting covenant is associated with the presence of the Lord; it is linked with the continual replacement of the shewbread each sabbath and the eating of the old bread by the priests.
This section in Leviticus chapter 24 concludes with the words, “And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire by a perpetual statute” v.9. This bread which had been before the face of God was now to be eaten and enjoyed by Aaron and his sons, the priestly family. The ‘presence bread’ became the food of the priests; each priest was called to be partaker with his God: this is communion. There was worship at the altar and fellowship at the table; at the altar, the priest was a giver; at the table he was both a giver and a receiver.
We, as believers in the Church age, have been constituted “a holy priesthood” 1Pet.2.5. The loaves as food for the priests represent the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We feed upon that which has first of all satisfied the heart of God. He Who is “the bread of God” Jn.6.33, is our bread also. He is “the living bread” Jn.6.51, upon which the soul feeds. There is a dispensational thought in respect to the nation of Israel: eating of the loaves on the sabbath day prophetically hints at restored Israel’s appropriation of Christ in the great dispensational sabbath, the Millennial age.
Note the words, “and they shall eat it in the holy place” Lev.24.9; however, a more accurate rendering is “and they shall eat it in a holy place” R.V., J.N.D., that is, in the precincts of the Tabernacle; we might well say that the things of God can only be appreciated and enjoyed in a holy atmosphere. We can only feed upon Christ as we are in communion with God. Sadly, today holy things are becoming increasingly cheapened. The reason for eating it in a holy place is then given: “for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire by a perpetual statute”; this may well refer to the burning of the frankincense upon the altar, as mentioned in an earlier paragraph.
“And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: and they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof” Num.4.7,8.
The coverings of the table of shewbread were three in number: first, a cloth of blue draped the table, its bread and its utensils; second, over this was spread a cloth of scarlet; third, on the outside of all was a covering of badgers’ skins: this was used only when Israel was on the march. The table, accompanying Israel in their journeyings, with its threefold covering, points to the varied perfections manifested by Christ as He passed through this wilderness scene. The cloth of blue, the heavenly colour, points to Christ as the bread from heaven; six times over in John chapter 6, vv.32 (twice), 33,50,51,58, did the Lord Jesus thus present Himself. It is most significant that this first covering was seen only by the eyes of the priestly family.
Then there was a cloth of scarlet. According to its Scriptural usage, “scarlet” is the emblem of earthly glory. The colour was so called because it was obtained from a worm, in fact, it was named after it, the same Hebrew word being variously translated “scarlet” or “worm” as the context requires. The glory of man is that of a perishing worm! However, we call to mind the words written prophetically of Christ, “But I am a worm, and no man” Ps.22.6. The Lord Jesus, in becoming a “worm”, by His cross brought forth the true glory. This second covering was also only seen by the priests.
The external covering, that of badgers’ skins, met the eyes of all as the table was borne through the wilderness. This outer covering was provided to protect the table and its inner coverings from the defiling dust and atmosphere of the wilderness; this external covering was not attractive to the human eye. It points to the unattractiveness to men’s eyes of the servant form which the Saviour took: “and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” Isa.53.2. At the same time, Christ’s personal holiness repelled all the unholy influences of this defiling world.
We can hardly consider “the table of shewbread” without making reference to 1Samuel chapter 21, when David, fleeing from Saul, “came … to Nob to Ahimelech the priest” v.1, making request for bread. We read on, “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” v.6. David ate of the shewbread when he, as the anointed king, was in rejection, this incident pointing forward to the time when God’s King (“Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion” Ps.2.6) is in rejection and all that pertains to the Tabernacle, as well as the Temple, is in abeyance.
It is of interest to note that the Lord Jesus justified the action of David when the Pharisees came to Him accusing His disciples of breaking the sabbath when they plucked the ears of corn as they went through the cornfields on the sabbath day: “And He said unto them, ‘Have ye never read what David did, when he had need and was a hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?’” Mk.2.25,26. He then reminds the Pharisees that “the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” Mk.2.28.
It is one thing to understand the teaching and to appreciate the spiritual significance of the table of shewbread, but the important thing is for ourselves as individual believers to live in the good of this.
- We share Thy joy in Him who sitteth there;
- Our hearts delight in Thy delight in Him.
- (W.B. Dick)
- We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
- And long to feast upon Thee still.
- (Bernard of Clairvaux)
Are we able to sing these words from the heart?