April 13, 2022

Finding Christ in the Table of Showbread


Within the Tabernacle main structure was the beautiful table of showbread. Every Sabbath the priests would partake of the twelve loaves on this table, representing a communal meal with God. The bread was to be placed before the presence of the Lord and can be a reminder of our own need to partake of the true Bread of Life, even Jesus Christ.

The table of showbread was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Four golden rings were attached to the legs where wooden poles overlaid with gold could be inserted used for transporting. The table also had a golden crown molding and what appeared to be some sort of ledge that kept the objects on the table from sliding off as it was transported (see Exodus 25:25). Two stacks of six loaves, for a total of twelve, were placed on the table, likely representing the twelve tribes of Israel. This bread was called the showbread, bread of the face, or the bread of the presence because it was placed before where the presence of God would dwell. Surprisingly, each loaf was made from approximately 5-6 pounds of finely ground flour (see Leviticus 24:5), about the amount of a standard bag of flour! This would mean that the total weight of all the twelve loaves of bread would be around 60-75 pounds. The table also had a pitcher of wine that was used for the drink offering (Exodus 37:16). 

Before we study the meaning of the table of showbread, it will be helpful to first understand the importance of bread in the Bible. Anciently, bread was a highly significant part of every meal. Because bread was one of the cheaper items that could feed a family, large quantities of bread would be used. For this reason, bread was often called the bread of life, or the daily bread (see Matthew 6:11), because it literally sustained life. The task of making bread lay mostly with women, who would spend many hours each day grinding and sifting the wheat, then making it into small flatbread, and then cooking it over a fire. In addition, to being life-sustaining, the breaking and eating of bread could symbolize becoming at peace with your enemy. Inviting someone into your home to share a meal signified that you trusted them and also that you would protect them while they were under your roof. It was a sign of fellowship and unity. Bread also represented God’s provision to the people.

With this in mind, let’s now return to the meaning of the table of showbread. Though only the priests could enter the Tabernacle proper to partake of the showbread each Sabbath, because the priests represented all of Israel, it was as if all the twelve tribes were partaking of the bread. Included on the table were also two bowls of frankincense that would be burned on the altar of incense each Sabbath, as a “memorial” or “offering made by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 24:7). In essence, the Lord partook of His portion of the bread, symbolized by the burning of the frankincense, thus sharing a meal with the priests. After eating the bread, the showbread would be replaced by new loaves of bread which would stay on the table till the next Sabbath, meaning the bread would be week-old bread!

Though the scriptures do not directly relate the partaking of the showbread with the sacrament or communion, the symbols are too strong not to mention. Each Sabbath Christians around the world partake of broken bread and wine or water, to represent and remember the flesh and blood of Christ. Just as anciently, the priests are the ones who break and bless the bread, but today all followers of the Lord, not just the priests, are able to participate in the meal. Similar to ancient times, the partaking of the broken bread—a symbol of the broken flesh of Christ—symbolizes that we can become at peace with God through the sacrifice of the Savior. During His mortal ministry, Jesus taught “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). As we enter our sacred places of worship each Sabbath, just like the priests entering the Tabernacle each Sabbath, we become at one with God, or at peace with Him, through the breaking of bread. Through this symbolic meal, we are nourished and strengthened, the bread literally becoming a part of us giving us life. So too the atonement of the Savior carries us from day to day, allowing us ultimately to have eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Another fascinating connection is that each loaf of showbread was to be made of two-tenths of an epha of flour–about two quarts or two liters (see Leviticus 24:5). This was the same amount of manna the children of Israel were to collect in preparation for the Sabbath day (see Exodus 16:22). This showbread would thus connect the collected Sabbath manna, with this symbolic meal. During the mortal ministry of Jesus, after he miraculously fed the multitude, the next day the people listening to Jesus asked for manna from heaven. In response, the Savior taught, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever:” (John 6:51). Just as ancient Israel had to daily gather manna, we must daily feast upon the Word so that we can be nourished and strengthened. As we prepare for the Sabbath, we too should collect a double portion of this “living bread” so that we might be able to come into the presence of the Lord and feast with Him!

It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means the “house of bread.” Just as the showbread was finely ground and placed in the fire to cook, so too our Savior was ground down under the weight of our sins and sorrows and placed in the fiery furnace of affliction for our sakes. Truly it is through His suffering that we receive the true bread of life. Bread that if we will partake of, we will have eternal life!

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, Elder Ryan Sampson, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle.

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