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The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Table of Bread

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Tamara is a Bible student who loves mining the treasures in God's Word and sharing its teachings and applications with others.


God's Desire to Be With His People

On Mount Sinai, Moses received more than just the Ten Commandments. Also included were the detailed instructions for building a meeting place for God and His people. The Tabernacle was a temple of worship that involved specific protocols and procedures. These protocols purposely provided a possible means for God's people to dwell with Him per God's request.

Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

— Exodus 25:8

From the fall of Genesis until the Tabernacle construction, the Bible records people occasionally walking and talking with God but not dwelling with Him. As we shall see, within the framework of this Old Testament sanctuary, God draws His people closer to Himself through an intricate sacrificial system. Today, this arrangement can speak volumes about the specifics of such a great salvation and indescribable gift.

. . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation . . . ?

— Hebrews 2:3

Every detail that Christ accomplished to restore our relationship with God can be discovered in the particulars of the wilderness tabernacle.

This study will examine how the Table of the Bread of Presence, as it is called in the Old Testament, 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. The Holy Place was the middle section of the three parts of the Tabernacle, as is noted in the above diagram.

This particular space contained three pieces of furniture. The table is the first of the three mentioned items.

  1. The Table of Bread
  2. The Menorah
  3. and the Altar of Incense

Each item is listed in order of assembly, placement, and visitation by the priesthood.

Bread and wine on the Table of the Bread of Presence representing communion with Christ

Bread and wine on the Table of the Bread of Presence representing communion with Christ

The Hebrew Word Table and Its Connection With Being Sent

The Exodus Tabernacle instructions contain the first mention of the word "table" in Scripture. This first mention will set the table for the rest of its Scriptural uses.

The Hebrew word for table is shulchan שֻׁלְחָן and is most often mentioned in reference to a king's table in the Old Testament. From a New Testament perspective, this thought might help us make the association of Jesus, the King of Kings inviting us to His table.

This connection of a king's table of bread, as it relates to Jesus, is made in the book of Luke when Jesus discusses the protocols of His kingdom through parables.

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

Moreover, "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 Hebrew letter nun at the end of the word "table."

Pictographically speaking, the "nun" נָ is represented by a seed from which life is produced, illustrating the concept of perpetual or eternal life. Bread is made from crushed grain seeds and was considered the staff of life in the ancient world.

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From a New Testament perspective, the table is where we commune and partake of the one God sent, Jesus, the King of Kings. Through Jesus, He shares His eternal life with those who have responded to His invitation.

. . . when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son . . .

— Galatians 4:4

The following is a quote from Jesus related to Him being understood as a King by the people. In this particular scene, the people attempt 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

The Parable of the Sower casting the seed of God's Word into the hearts of humanity

The Parable of the Sower casting the seed of God's Word into the hearts of humanity

Sending the Seed of the Gospel

From the table of communion, Christ sends forth those who are His. He commissions them to go into the world and extend Christ's invitation to those who would come and fellowship with the King.

The "great commission" written in Mark occurred 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's account, given on a mountain in contrast to Luke's given on a plain.

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 send 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 represents mortal humanity. Gold represents God and His attributes.

Wood represents mortal humanity. Gold represents God and His attributes.

Wood and Gold: Humanity and Diety

The Table was one of three furnishings in the holy spaces made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. The following mentions are listed in the order in which they appear 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 His 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 speak of the uniting of Christ's humanity symbolically displayed in the wood and His deity depicted by the gold.

These illustrate that, in Christ, the marriage of heaven and earth is restored as it was in the beginning. Therefore, communion and connection between God and man are also restored.

Fallen humanity redeemed by grace at the communion table

Fallen humanity redeemed by grace at the communion table

More on the Table's Connection With Communion

The Table of the Bread of Presence is the second mentioned furnishing in the Tabernacle as a whole. The Ark of the Covenant gets the most mentions, and in a sense, they are related.

The Ark was where God would meet with His people through the attending High Priest. The Table of bread, which included a cup of wine, as previously discussed, relates to a type of communion table where Christ met with His followers.

In his book The Tabernacle of Moses, Kevin J. Conner 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."2

Christ is High Priest and King of Kings

Christ is High Priest and King of Kings

Priest and King Represented by Two Crowns on the Table

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

The two crowns may represent this table's "king and priest" connection. Both king and priest in the Bible wore crowns. (See Exodus 29:6)

Kevin J. Connor also relates the kingship of Christ with the crown of thorns.

"man crowned Him with thorns (a product of sin and the curse) but God crowned Him with glory and honor"2

The human and divine are met together in the crowns. The same three furnishings with wood and gold all had a crown.

The sufferings of Christ represented by the bread and wine at the Table of Commnunion.

The sufferings of Christ represented by the bread and wine at the Table of Commnunion.

The Table of Acceptance

In its original language, the bread on the table literally translates as "the bread of the presence." In terms of communion, this takes us back to an event in the Garden of Eden with Adam's sin 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 among the trees of the garden.

— Genesis 3:8

After this scene, Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden sanctuary and separated from God's presence.

This table represents God bringing us into fellowship with Him—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.

An interesting parallel concerning 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 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"1

— Henry Soltau

Unleavened bread pierced and striped, depicting the wounds of Christ's body and His sufferings for our sins.

Unleavened bread pierced and striped, depicting the wounds of Christ's body and His sufferings for our sins.

The Bread of Affliction

It is not clear if the bread for the table was leavened or unleavened. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, says it was unleavened. Either way, we can assume that it was pierced according to the details revealed in Leviticus chapter twenty-four concerning what type of bread and how to place it 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. Piercing is necessary to prevent the bread from puffing up.

Paul uses this metaphor of leavened unpierced bread to describe the church puffed 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 in the above photo 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 both are 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

The theme of suffering 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

As it concerns us, the reciprocal aspect of the communion meal is fleeing from idolatry and serving Christ alone. Paul discusses this in his 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

Wine at the Table of the Bread of the Presence

Wine at the Table of the Bread of the Presence

The Wine

The Old Testament doesn't say much about the wine in reference to this table other than mentioning the cups and pitchers used 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 New Testament completes this picture by showing that the drink offering symbolizes 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

The cup, like the bread, referenced His suffering in the form of His shed blood 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

The Sinai covenant was secured with a meal.

The Sinai covenant was secured with a meal.

The Covenant Table

Most Biblical accounts of eating centered around forming 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 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 dines is apparently of profound significance and is considered not only sacred but also spiritual. It includes the theme of loyalty.

Paul discusses this connection of food and fellowship regarding 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

Immediately following the meal options and instructions given in Genesis chapter two, the discussion of a suitable relatable helper and partner is presented. This conversation centered around the covenant union of marriage, the most sacred covenant between humans.

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 (covenanted) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

— Genesis 2:22

The first human couple's first activity was selecting a dining table. They chose poorly by partaking of the tree with evil resident within it. They communed with the serpent, who deceptively invited them to dinner.

Frankincense Resin

Frankincense Resin

Frankincense: Remembering Covenant

The Bread of the Presence was sprinkled 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. Three Leviticus verses include the mention of frankincense, which is to serve as a memorial. All three mentions involved the grain offering, which is related to bread. In the second description, the grain was beaten.

  1. 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
  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
  3. ‘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

Scientifically speaking, our sense of smell is strongly linked with memory. We see this table's 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. He explains the unity and fellowship aspect of this table.

"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."1

Concluding Observation

We will conclude with an observation from Soltau that also applies to our Christian journey. He notices that there are 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 and their loins girded staff in hand, 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."1

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

Credits and Sources

1The Tabernacle The Priesthood and the Offerings by Henry W. Soltau Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids Michigan. Copyright 1994

"The Tabernacle: God's Portrait of Christ by J. Vernon McGee. Published by Van Kampen Press in Wheaton Illinois.

2"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.

© 2018 Tamarajo


Tamarajo (author) on December 02, 2018:

Hi Bill,

Glad you got things up and running.

I appreciate you stopping by and glad the gleanings were useful.

God bless


William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on December 02, 2018:

Another season of the computer not working - imagine that! But it's up and running again. More good stuff, Tammy. As always, your deep digging results in a very detailed article full of facts and application. Thank you.

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