The Table Of Shewbread

(Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9)

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” (Ps. 23:5).

The Materials

The materials of the table were shittim-wood overlaid with gold. The wood suggests the incorruptible humanity of our Lord; the gold is typical of His deity. Shittim, or acacia wood, was the wood of the wilderness; this tree grew extensively in the mountains of Sinai, overhanging the Red Sea. There are a number of kinds of this tree. Some of them have medicinal value and others are good as stimulants. The kind from which the boards of the tabernacle were made, and which is also in the table and other vessels of the sanctuary, yielded the well known gum-arabic of commerce. In the spring, the tree was covered with yellow blossoms that had a very pleasant perfume. The Arabs sometimes use the gum of the shittim tree as food; they also say the gum allays thirst. One kind of acacia or shittim tree is said to be peculiarly sensitive to outside influences when its leaves are on its branches. The wood of the shittim tree was hard and very strong; it was the most incorruptible wood known. The fact that the shittah (shittim) tree is mentioned with the cedar, the myrtle and the oil tree, in Isaiah 41:19, as trees to be planted in the wilderness in the coming day of Israel’s glory, shews it to be one of the beautiful and useful trees.

All these characteristics make the shittim tree, and its wood, a striking type of our Lord Jesus, The world was a wilderness to Him. He was fresh and green when all around was dry and withered. The fragrance of His lovely life was refreshing to God and to men (Luke 2:52). There was healing from His hands as He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). His words were the strength of His disciples (John 6:68). Like the shittim wood, there was a strength in Him that was not found in any other (Ps. 89:19; Heb. 12:2). Our Lord was the food of His people, and quenched their thirst (John 6:35). With all this ability to bear strain without breaking, like the shittim wood, our Lord was most sensitive to all the reproaches and insults that were heaped upon Him (Heb. 4:15). He felt all, but like charity, or love, He bore all things and never failed (1 Cor. 13:7).

The gold of the table, as elsewhere, speaks of the absolute deity of our Lord. Gold never rusts nor tarnishes; it maintains its lustre when iron, the strongest of metals, would corrode and break down. Every other man but Christ has been a disappointment. Moses sinned when he spake unadvisably with his lips; Elijah failed when he ran away from Jezebel; Abraham could not wait for Isaac and got Ishmael; David and Solomon and all the kings failed in one way or another. Christ exhibited everywhere and in every circumstance the pure refined gold of the glory of God, for He was Himself the Son of God.

It is remarkable to observe the union of the gold and the shittim wood in many of the recorded incidents of our Lord’s life. See Him worn and weary from ceaseless toil with His head on a pillow, asleep in the boat on the sea of Galilee, when the storm was raging; He was the Man Christ Jesus. See Him then when the fearful disciples awaken Him with their words, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” He arose and rebuked the winds with His words, “Peace be still!” and there was a great calm; He was the Mighty God. 4-gain see Him weep with the bereaved at Bethany at the grave of Lazarus, and then hear Him cry with a loud voice, “Lazarus come forth!” and “he that was dead came forth bound hand and foot with grave clothes”; He was a tender man to weep, He was “the resurrection and the life” to call the dead from the grave. So at Calvary where He died; He was forsaken, spit upon, scorned and crucified, and yet He was the Mighty One to bear the accumulated sins of His people. There was the shittim wood everywhere, but it was covered with the precious gold.

The Measurements

The ratio of the measurements of the table are two, three and four. The height of the table is the same as that of the ark of the covenant and of the mercy seat. The numbers suggest fellowship in the number two: “How can two walk together except they be agreed?”; and Trinity in manifestation in the number three; and the revelation of Christ in the number four.

The height of the table being on a level with the mercy-seat suggests among other things, that fellowship is on the same level as atonement. Had the table been lower than the mercy seat, there would have been the suggestion that fellowship could have been enjoyed by sinners without redemption. Had the table been higher than the mercy seat, it would have suggested that the precious sprinkled blood was not sufficient to bring the prodigal sinner into fellowship with God and with His people. The height being exactly the same, the inference is, that when the sinner reaches the mercy seat, he is on the very level where he can enjoy communion with God.

The Shewbread

There were twelve loaves of bread on the table, and this bread is called “shewbread.” The name “shewbread” is used because those twelve loaves stood there before the Lord for seven days before they became the food of the priests. They were made of fine flour unleavened, and with frankincense upon them (Lev. 24:5-7). These loaves being the food of the priests, speak of Christ who is “the Bread of God” come down from heaven (John 6:33). There being twelve always arranged before God, they speak also of God’s people. The number of the tribes of Israel was twelve and there was one loaf for each of the tribes. All the loaves were together on the top of the table and held together by the golden crown that none could slip off or be separated from his fellow; so the truth of the unity of the people of God is plainly intended.

This precious truth was witnessed to as long as the number of loaves was not diminished on the table. There came a sad day in the history of Israel when the twelve tribes became divided; ten followed Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and only two tribes stayed with the house of David and recognized Rehoboam as their rightful sovereign (1 Kings 12:1-33). Only Judah and Benjamin remained to the king at Jerusalem. Ten tribes associated with Jereboam and his false worship in Dan and in Bethel. When there were only two tribes gathering together where the Lord had chosen to place His name, did God change the number of the loaves on the table from twelve to two? No, He did not. The twelve loaves were still set in order on the table of shewbread, for the nation was still one before Him. The people did not always recognize this. There was war between the two kingdoms and either would gladly have exterminated the other; God only recognized Jerusalem as His place of worship, but He did not cast away the tribes that were disobedient to His arrangement, although they reaped the sad results of their folly and sin. Elijah, in a day of great apostasy and idolatry, when he thought that he alone was left as a testimony against Baal worship, constructed the altar of the Lord of twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob” (1 Kings 18:30-32). The people of God had revolted against Him, but they were still His people and Elijah recognized their unity when he made his altar of twelve stones.

Those twelve loaves of bread before the Lord told the story of the twelve tribes all preserved before God. The frankincense on the loaves told of the sweet savour of Christ upon His people, making them accepted in His acceptance. Every Sabbath, when Israel rested, new loaves fresh from the oven were placed on the table, so that what God had gazed upon for a complete week might become the food of the priests. Thus the bread was called the continual shewbread (2 Chron. 2:4). Of the offerings, the burnt-offering is called “the continual burnt offering” because it burnt continually to tell of the abiding excellency of the Person and work of Christ on behalf of His people. The shewbread is called “the continual shewbread” because it was continually before the Lord to show how the people were forever accepted of Him.

The Crown Of Gold

This crown of gold round about the top of the table was a kind of battlement. This ledge of crowns of gold seemed to say, none of the loaves can fall off the table; this ledge made of crowns makes every one safe. That which secured the loaves is called a crown. It was a crown of gold. When God tells us of our Great High Priest in heaven for us, He does not say robed with glory and honor, but “crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). The priest in Israel had garments of “glory and beauty,” but our Priest is “crowned with glory and honour.” This is because our Lord is in heaven. This is the crown that secures us before God; it is the crown of glory and honor upon the head of our Lord Jesus Christ. His high priestly crown secures all the people of God forever (Heb. 7:25).

In verse 25 of Exodus 25, there is mention of a border of a hand breadth to the table, with a crown of gold to this border. The table, thus had two crowns of gold: one above the border, and the other below it; or if the border was not perpendicular, one crown inside the border, and the other outside it. One crown was for the table, and the other was for the border. This word “border” has the meaning of “margin for protection.” It is translated “close place” in 2 Samuel 22:46. This word suggests separation for fortification or for protection of that which is precious. The crown of gold was on this border as well as being on the table itself. It would seem to suggest that the separation connected with this table was just as precious as the preservation of the loaves themselves.

It would be good in this connection to read the whole of the tenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The great subject there is separation from idolatry. “Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (1 Cor. 10:21). This border of separation must be between the table of the Lord and the worship of the Gentiles. Read also the verses in 2 Corinthians 6 preceding this one, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17-18).

This border is measured by God’s hand; it is called “a handbreadth.” It is not a cold mechanical measurement; the gracious hand of God has appointed this space between His table and all that might defile it. (Compare 2 John 10-11).

In Psalm 23 David said, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” (v. 5). This was a table the Lord prepared for him. In John chapter 12, there is a table our Lord’s friends prepared for Him. Lazarus sat with Him at this table (John 12:2). Both these thoughts are true of the table of our Lord; it is a table He prepares for us, and it is at the same time a table we prepare for Him. What a privilege to be “Lazaruses,” raised from the dead to sit with Him at His own table! May we ever remember the crown of gold that has secured our eternal blessing, and also the border of separation with its crown of gold between us and all that is contrary to Him in this world.