Gleanings In Exodus
38. The Table
Having described the contents of the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle, the Holy Spirit now conducts us into the Holy-place. In the former the high priest ministered on the annual day of atonement, in the latter the Levites served daily. In this second chamber stood three pieces of furniture: the table, the candlestick, and the altar of incense. The order in which these are brought before us in the sacred narrative is most suggestive, and the very reverse of what would have occurred to us. We had surely put the golden altar of incense first, then the seven-branched candlestick, and last, the table. But God’s thoughts and ways are ever the opposite of ours. When we see what the table stood for, perhaps we shall the better appreciate the Divine arrangement.
As it was in the innermost shrine, so it is in the holy place—nought but gold met the eye of him who had entered: it was therefore a scene displaying the Divine glory. Silence reigned in the sacred apartment. No prayers were offered, no songs of praise were sung. The voice of man was still, but the voice of the golden vessels therein mutely, yet eloquently, spoke of Christ; for the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines "in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). None but the priestly family ever penetrated this sacred precinct, telling us that only those who, by wondrous grace, are "an holy priesthood," those who by sovereign mercy are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), can enter into the spiritual significance of its symbolic contents. Coming now to the Table, let us consider: —
1. Its Meaning.
In seeking to ascertain the spiritual purport of the Table the first thing which arrests our attention in the Divine description of it is the word "also" in Exodus 25:23—found only once more in connection with the holy vessels and furnishings of the Tabernacle, see 30:15. The "also" at the beginning of our present passage suggests a close link of connection with what has gone before. In the preceding verse we read, "And there will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the Mercy-seat," and then following right after this, "Thou shalt also make a Table." Thus God has graciously hung the key right over the entrance, and told us that the Table has to do with communion. This is in full accord with other scriptures where the "table" is mentioned.
A lovely picture of that blessedness of which the "table" speaks is found in 2 Samuel 9. There we find David asking "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?" (v. 1). A beautiful illustration is this of the wondrous grace of God, showing kindness to those who belong to the house of His enemies, and that for the sake of His Beloved One. There was one, even Mephibosheth, lame on his feet; him David "sent and fetched" unto himself. And then to show that he was fully reconciled to this descendant of his arch-enemy, David said, "Mephibosheth shall eat bread always at my table" (v. 10); showing that he had been brought into the place of most intimate fellowship.
In 1 Corinthians 10 we are also taught that the "table" is inseparably connected with communion: "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with demons. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of demons" (vv. 20, 21). The "Lord’s table" is the symbol of fellowship with Christ, in separation from all that owns not His authority and denies His claims and rights.
Returning now to the "also" with which our passage opens and noting its relation to the immediate context, we learn that the blood-sprinkled Mercy-seat speaks of Christ as the basis of our fellowship with God, while the Table points to Christ as the substance of that fellowship. What we have here is the person of Christ as the Food of God and the One in whom He has communion with His people. The Table sets forth Jehovah’s feast of love for His saints and for Himself in fellowship with them. This will be still more evident when we ponder the Contents of the Table, meanwhile let us turn to: —
2. Its Composition.
Like the Ark, the table was made of shittim wood (v. 23), overlaid with pure gold. Both typified the union of Deity and humanity in the person of Christ. It is indeed striking to observe, and important to note, the several points of oneness between the ark and the table. They were both of the same height—the only pieces of furniture that were so. They were both ornamented with a crown of gold. They were both provided with rings and staves. They both had something placed upon them: the one, the Mercy-seat; the other, the twelve cakes of bread. These points of likeness emphasize the truth that it is the person of the God-man which is the basis of all communion with God.
"The natural suggestion of a "table" is a place for food, and the food upon it. ‘Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies’ (Ps. 23:5). We will find this thought of food linked with our Lord’s person in the sixth chapter of John: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world’ (John 6:32, 33). The One who ‘came down from heaven’ reminds us of the deity of our Lord; this is the gold.
"‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’ (John 6:51, 52). Evidently our Lord here is speaking of His death. But His death presupposes His incarnation. He must become man that He may die. We have in this way the twofold truth of our Lord’s deity and His humanity linked together, and put before us in this chapter, where He is presented as the Bread of life. We have thus the gold and the acacia wood which form the table" (Mr. S. Ridout). Let us turn next to: —
3. Its Dimensions.
"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). Thus the Table was the same height as the Ark, though it fell short of its length and breadth. This intimates that though our communion with God rises to the level of our apprehension of the two natures in the person of His beloved Son, yet there is a breadth or fullness of perfection in Him which we fail to realize and enjoy. The length of the Table was two cubits, which supplies an additional hint to the meaning of this piece of furniture, for one of the significations of two is that of communion—"How can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). In breadth the Table was one cubit, which speaks of unity, for there can be no fellowship where there is discord.
4. Its Contents.
"And thou shalt set upon the table shew-bread before Me alway" (v. 30). This shewbread consisted of twelve loaves or cakes, made of fine flour; baked, and placed in two rows upon the Table, on which was sprinkled pure frankincense for a memorial. Here they remained before the Lord for seven days, when they were removed and eaten by Aaron and his sons, in the holy place—see Leviticus 24:5-9.
There is much difference of opinion as to the precise typical purport of these twelve loaves. One class of commentators see in them a figure of the twelve tribes of Israel presented before the Lord, but these offer no satisfactory interpretation of this bread being eaten afterwards by the priestly family. Others see in the loaves a foreshadowing of Christ as the Food of God and His children. but they are far from clear as to why there should be twelve loaves and why these were placed in two rows of six. Personally we believe there is a measure of truth in each view, but great care needs to be taken in seeking accurate expression.
It is clear that the thoughts suggested by the Table and by the bread placed upon it are intimately related, for later on we find the Table taking its name from the loaves thereon: in Numbers 4:7 it is called the "Table of Shew-bread." But though they are closely connected Hebrews 9:2 teaches us they have a distinctive significance and are to be considered separately. A close parallel to this is found in 1 Corinthians 10:21 and 11:20: in the former we read of "the Lord’s table" (v. 21), in the latter of "the Lord’s supper" (v. 20): the one speaking of the character of our fellowship, the other of what forms the substance of our fellowship. This, we believe, supplies the key to the distinction in our type: the Table pointing to the person of Christ as the Sustainer of fellowship between God and His saints, the bread directing our thoughts to Christ as the substance of it.
The bread on the Table points first, as does everything in the Tabernacle, to Christ Himself. The name by which it is called clearly indicates this—"shew-bread" is, literally, "bread of faces," faces being put by a figure for presence—pointing to the Divine presence in which the bread stood: "shewbread before Me alway." The fact that the bread was before the face of God always, told of its acceptableness to Him, and foreshadowed the person of Christ as the One in whom the Father has ever found His delight. In Leviticus 24:5 the bread on the Table is described as "twelve cakes," and Young’s Concordance gives as the meaning of challoth "perforated" cakes. How solemnly significant! This bread which spoke of Christ had been pierced! The fine flour in the form of cakes, which had therefore been 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.
But why twelve pierced cakes? Clearly this number has specially to do with Israel and suggests the different tribes being here represented before God. But representation implies a representative, and it is at this point that so many have missed the lesson. That which is here so blessedly symbolized is the Lord Jesus identifying Himself with God’s covenant people. There is a striking passage in the New Testament which brings out—under this figure of bread—the identification of the Lord with His people and they with Him. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we brake, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16, 17).
The twelve loaves then speak of Christ in immediate connection with His people. "The marvelous fact that Jehovah condescends to receive into fellowship with himself the people of His choice, is mirrored on every feature of the Tabernacle ritual. They were always before Him on the priestly mitre, breastplate, and shoulder-stones, and on the shewbread table. And surely this Old Testament symbolism finds its prophetic complement in New Testament fact, for by its revelation believers are said to be presented faultless in the presence of His glory, unreproveable and unrebukable in His sight—Colossians 1:22" (Mr. G. Needham).
The cakes were all of the same quality, size and weight, showing that the smallest tribe was represented equally with the greatest. In spreading them out in two rows, instead of piling them up in a heap, each one would be seen equally as much as another. Our acceptance in Christ and our representation by Him admits of no degrees. All of God’s covenant people have an equal standing before Him, and an equal nearness to Him.
The cakes were made of "fine flour" (Lev. 25:5) in which was no grit or unevenness, foreshadowing the moral perfections of the Word as He tabernacled among men. "Pure frankincense" was placed upon them, emblematic of the active graces of Christ, and assuring us that those who are in Christ are ever before God according to the value and fragrance of His blessed Son. Every Sabbath these cakes were renewed, so that they were "before the Lord continually" (Lev. 24:8); never was the Table un-supplied. "The loaves being placed on the Table every Sabbath day may accord with the fact that it was when the spiritual sabbath, the rest for our souls, obtained by Christ’s atonement, was gained, that He took His place in the presence of God for us" (Mr. C. H. Bright). Each cake contained two "tenth deals" or omers of flour (Lev. 24:5). This is indeed precious. A double portion is the thought suggested (contrast Exodus 16:16, 36), foreshadowing the truth that Christ is the Food or delight of both God and His people. In Leviticus 21:21 it is expressly called "The bread of his (the priest’s) God.
"And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons; and they shall eat it in the holy place" (Lev. 25:9). This bread which had been before Jehovah seven days, was now enjoyed by the priestly family. It speaks of Christ as the One who delights both the heart of the Father and His beloved people. "Eating" indicates identification and communion with what we feed upon: compare again 1 Corinthians 10: 16, 17. The twelve cakes on the Table speak of Christ identified with His covenant people—not simply Israel after the flesh, for note "everlasting covenant" in Leviticus 24:8; the cakes eaten by the priestly family, His people identifying themselves (by faith’s appropriation) with Christ! But this eating must be in "the holy place": we can only really feed upon Christ as we are in communion with God. The eating of the twelve cakes on "the Sabbath day" prophetically hints at the literal Israel’s appropriation of Christ in the great dispensational Sabbath, the millennium.
5. Its Ornamentation.
"And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and make thereto a crown of gold round about. 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" (vv. 24, 25). The "crown" speaks of Christ glorified—"a crown of glory" (1 Pet. 5:4)—now at the right hand of God for us, "crowned with glory and honor" (Heb. 2:9). The crowned border on the top of the Table was for the purpose of protection, guarding whatever was placed upon it. The bread was not removed from the Table even when Israel was on the march (Num. 4:7), and the raised border would hold the cakes in place, preventing them from slipping off. This tells of the absolute security of that people with whom the incarnate Son has identified Himself.
First, the Table itself was encircled with "a crown of gold" (v. 24). "It is ‘the glory of His grace’ (Eph. 1:6) that is suggested by the loaves of bread held in their place by the crown. It is a glorified Christ who maintains His own, according to all that He is" (S. Ridout). Beautifully is this brought out here in the measurement that is given "a border of an handbreadth round about," which is the more striking because all the other dimensions in the Tabernacle are cubits or half cubits. How blessedly does this border of the handbreadth round about point to that which guarantees the eternal preservation of all Christ’s redeemed: "Neither shall any pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28)!
Everything here about the ornamentation speaks of the security of the cakes and of those whom they typified. The Hebrew word "border" means "enclosing," and in 2 Samuel 22:46 it is rendered "close places." Again, observe that this border of an hand-breadth was, in turn, protected by "a golden crown" (v. 25). This announces that the very glory of God is concerned in the preservation of His people: His honor is at stake:—"He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake" (Ps. 23:3). How often Moses fell back upon this: see Exodus 32:11-13; Numbers 14:13-19, etc.!
The same thought is emphasized and reiterated by the second "crown," for the "border" had one as well as the Table—vv. 24, 25. "Again we are confronted with the precious grace that each believer, all believers, are secured by God. The highest revealed blessings are theirs, and these cannot be alienated, nor the believer removed from the position given him. Christ, the Table, maintains him before God; Christ, the border, secures him there. The border too has a crown as well as the Table. There is a certain glory attaching to our maintenance, and further a glory attaching to our security. If a believer could be lost, if anything could impair his security, if the border could be damaged, the crown must share it, and the very glory of Christ be sullied. Impossible! ‘Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10:28)" (Foreshadowments by E. C. Pressland).
There is one other detail which perhaps fails under this present division of our subject. In verse 29 we read, "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" (v. 29). The "dishes" would no doubt be used when the bread was removed from the Table and eaten by the priestly family. The "spoons" and the "cover" would be employed in connection with the frankincense. The "bowls thereof to cover withal" should be rendered "the cups to pour out withal"—see margin of Authorized Version. These "cups" were used in connection with the "drink offerings" which were poured out before 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 upon the Table, tells us that communion is the basis of thanksgiving!
6. Its Rings and Staves.
These are described in Exodus 25:26-28 and tell of provision made for journeying. "The children of Israel were pilgrims in the wilderness and hence the Tabernacle and all its furniture were made for them in this character, and accompanied them in all their wanderings" (Mr. E. Dennett). Thus the particular detail in the type now before us speaks of the provision which God has made for His people in Christ while they pass through this world. That provision is feeding upon Christ Himself in communion with God. Wherever Jehovah led the Hebrews, His Table accompanied them! So wherever the Christian’s lot may be cast, even though it be for years in jail like Bunyan, there is ever a precious Christ to feed upon and commune with!
7. Its Coverings.
These are described in Numbers 4:7, 8. They were three in number. First a cloth of blue draped the Table, its bread and its utensils; over this was spread a cloth of scarlet, and on the outside of all was cast a covering of badger’s skins. These were only used while Israel was on the march. The Table standing in the holy place speaks of Christ now on high as God’s bread and ours. The Table accompanying Israel in their journeyings, with its threefold covering, reminds us of the varied perfections manifested by Christ as He passed through this wilderness scene, the contemplation of which is an essential part of our food.
First, came the cloth of blue, which points to Christ as the Bread from Heaven. Seven times over in John 6 did our Lord thus announce Himself. If Christ be not recognized and enjoyed as wholly above and beyond all that this earth can yield, there will be no true devotion nor any scriptural testimony to Him. But let Him be known as the heavenly portion of the soul and these are secured. It is most significant to note that this first covering was seen only by the eyes of the priestly family.
Second, came the cloth of scarlet. According to its scriptural usage "scarlet" is the emblem of earthly glory, as may be seen by a reference to its various occurrences. This color was so called because it was obtained from a worm, in fact was named after it, the same Hebrew word being variously translated "scarlet" or "worm" as the connection requires. There is something most appropriate in this, for truly the glory of man is that of a perishing worm. How then are these two thoughts, so dissimilar, to be combined, in connection with Christ? Does not Psalm 22:6—the cross-Psalm—tell us? There we find the Savior saying "I am a worm (same word as "scarlet") and no man." Thus the "scarlet" reminds us of the glory of the cross (Gal. 6:14). The Lord Jesus, by becoming a "worm," by His cross brought forth the true glory. Another glory shall be manifested by Him (Col. 3:3) when He returns to the earth. This second covering also was seen only by the priests!
Third, the external covering was one of badgers’ skins, and met the eyes of all as the Table was borne through the wilderness. This typified our Lord’s humiliation. This covering was provided to protect the Table and its inner coverings from the defiling dust and atmosphere of the wilderness. We are thus reminded not only of the unattractiveness to men’s eyes of the servant-form which our Savior took, but also of His personal holiness, repelling all the unholy influences of this defiling world. No speck or stain ever fouled the Holy One of God—He touched the leper without being polluted; nothing of earth could in anywise tarnish His ineffable glory.
It is thus that the Spirit of God would have the saints contemplate Him who is their appointed Food: as the One who is heavenly in His nature and character, as the One who came down to this earth and glorified Himself and the Father by His obedience unto death, and as the One who through His holy vigilance repelled all evil and kept Himself from the path of the Destroyer. Thus contemplated our meditation of Him will be "sweet."