By J. Vernon McGee
As suggested in the last chapter, the Holy Place speaks of worship. There were three articles of furniture in the Holy Place: the table of shewbread, the golden lampstand, and the altar of incense. All three set forth some item that pertains to worship and must of necessity enter into it. Let us first consider the table of shewbread.
The blueprint for the table of shewbread is given in Exodus 25:
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. 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. 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. 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. And thou shalt set upon the table shewbread before me alway. (Exodus 25:23-30)
The table of shewbread suggests many things. It speaks of sustenance, provision, and supply. These are several suggestions that we make in order to pass rapidly over them.
First, it is a table of salvation. Christ gave a parable in which a king gave a marriage supper for his son. The invited guests refused to come. This provoked the king to deal with the rejecters, and having done so, he extended the invitation to include those in the highways and byways. These were bidden to come and to eat. Thus, an invitation has gone out today to the world to come and partake of the salvation as it is in Christ.
Secondly, it is a table of providence. God, as Creator, provides all food for man and beast today. Mankind eats at God's table in the physical realm. Yet, how few recognize it and give Him thanks for His bounty!
Thirdly, it is a table of the Lord. This suggests the Lord's Table established by Christ at the Last Supper. It is a long table for believers that extends from the Upper Room to the upper air.
More specifically, the table of shewbread is a prefigurement of Christ as the sustainer of spiritual life for the believer. It was two cubits long, one cubit wide, and one and one half cubits high. It was made of shittim wood overlaid with gold. The incorruptible shittim wood speaks of His humanity. As the wood was a product of the earth but not subject to the action of it in a chemical way, thus our Lord had a body made of earth, conceived in the womb of the virgin. The gold speaks of His deity. The gold is not produced by the earth but is separate from it, and because of that it has an inherent value. So Christ was not of the earth in His deity, but very God of very God. He came from the glory. This figure of the gold and the wood will be further amplified when the ark is under consideration.
On the table were placed twelve loaves of bread, six in a row. The table and the bread were considered as one. The same terminology is used for both, and when the bread is mentioned the table is included and vice versa. Paul used this manner of speech in instructing the church in Corinth on coming together to eat the table of the Lord. This metonymy is common in Scripture.
The bread was changed each Sabbath Day, and the bread which was removed was eaten with wine by the priestly family in the Holy Place. This table does not prefigure Christ in the same way that the manna does. There is a sharp distinction here that must be made, although it is probably not a difference. Both speak of Christ but not in exactly the same connection; however, Christ is the bread in both. The manna speaks of Christ as the life giver. This is His own interpretation of the manna:
Then Jesus said unto them, 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....I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:32, 33, 35)
The shewbread speaks of Christ as the life sustainer. Eternal life is a gift and is the manna that came down from heaven. He that receives the manna receives eternal life. However, eternal life requires a special food to sustain it in growth and strength, and the shewbread sets forth Christ as the food for those who have partaken of the manna of life. This is seen in another bit of language that Christ used. The shewbread was made of grain -- ground, unleavened, made into bread and baked: "And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake" (Leviticus 24:5). The analogy of this to Christ is found in John 12:24-33. Christ is the corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24)
He was ground in the mill of suffering:
Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. (John 12:27)
He was brought into the fire of suffering and judgment:
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:31, 32)
He came forth from the tomb in newness of life, for His soul did not see corruption (see Psalm 16:10). Now, He lives a resurrected life. He is the shewbread now for believers to feed on to sustain eternal life in growth. The Christian is to feed on the living Christ. The believer is to appropriate Christ as He is today, living at God's right hand. He says, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). There is an ancient proverb that contains the thought that a thing grows by what it feeds on. Thus, a Christian is to feed on Christ. Again He said: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Christ does not wish to take anything away from the Christian, but rather to give something; that something is Himself. If He does remove something from the life, it is that He might add something more wonderful. The daily food of the Christian is Christ, and only by appropriating Him will there be growth in the life. Those who do come to Him will find full satisfaction, for He also says, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger" (John 6:35).
The liberal theologian continually directs his hearers to the life of Christ before the cross. The life of Jesus, as it is habitually designated, is given as a pattern for the man living today. The mere contemplation of the earthly life of Jesus will furnish food for the soul, according to those of this school. We say it reverently, but we say it nevertheless: Whoever contemplates merely the earthly life of Jesus as a source of food and strength, will starve to death. Certainly, the earthly life of Christ was wonderful and worthy of emulation, but where is the power for the Christian to follow in His footsteps? It is the life of Christ after the cross that is the source of power and the mainspring for living. His resurrection life is the table for believers. Here is where he is to go for food, and those feeding upon Him grow in grace. It is therefore not imitation of the earthly life of Christ, but it is impartation of the heavenly life of Christ that builds up the believer spiritually. Paul declared, "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20), and again, "For to me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).
The table was the center of union and communion for the priestly family. They were instructed to abide in the Holy Place and eat it at the table (see Leviticus 24:9). The real unity of the priestly family was about the table; the real unity of believers is about Christ.
It is well to understand and to appreciate denominational differences. The differences today among denominations are principally psychological rather than theological. People with a certain frame of mind and peculiar bent of thinking get together. Differences among believers have been aggravated by personalities. However, believers, and by this designation we mean true believers, of all denominations and groups are one in Christ. All true believers can meet in fellowship and worship about the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
Therefore, these movements abroad in the land to bring together in the spirit of religious fraternity the Jew, Roman Catholic, and the Protestant do not, and in the nature of their differentiating characteristics cannot, make for true unity. They are futile attempts to effect a ground for fellowship which is impossible apart from Christ. In such a meeting it has been impossible to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ without giving offense to some of the delegates or members of the assemblage. Such gatherings are called together, therefore, on the basis of "universal brotherhood," which is calculated to offend none of the parties involved. The Lord of glory is not mentioned; Jesus of Nazareth perhaps receives a passing reference.
Certainly, true believers ought to come together. A lover of the Lord's work must decry the "rent asunder" condition of the church, but there is no scriptural or permanent place to meet apart from Christ. It would be wonderful indeed if Roman Catholic, Jew, and Protestant could meet together about the table, which is the Lord. This would of necessity be where the middle wall of partition was broken down and all were made one in Christ, and the meeting would be about His blessed Person where He would receive all the praise and glory. In the light of the coming together of all branches of the apostate church in antagonism to Christ, the Christian does well to be wary of any man-made attempt to federate professing believers on the basis of mere goodwill. That which is apart from Him is satanic and can obtain inherently no goodwill. The Christian should pray, however, for the union of all believers that they might be made one in outward manifestation as well as unified in spirit.
There were twelve loaves placed on the table, one for each of the twelve tribes. Little Benjamin had the same kind of loaf as did big Judea. Outcast Reuben had the same as priestly Levi. Each stood on the same ground of relationship and shared alike in the participation of heavenly food. Man is equalized when Christ is exalted. It lifts and ennobles man when he exalts Christ rather than man:
For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:17)
One final feature of the table will occupy our attention in closing. In chapter 22 of Leviticus, instructions were given that forbade the stranger, sojourner, defiled, servant, lame, blind, or blemished from eating at the table. The meaning of this is evident. Worship is the privilege of believers, it must be foreign to all others. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as public worship. No one can worship until brought nigh by the blood of Christ and made whole. No stranger could eat; only sons can worship God today, for "ye must be born again" (John 3:7). No servant could eat; works do not make an approach to God. Again it is sonship that brings one into the place of worship. To be acceptable, the worshiper must come by the brazen altar, which is the cross of Christ. No blind, lame, or defiled could eat. Sin keeps many believers from enjoying participation in the things of the Lord. Even the believer must come by the laver for cleansing. The believer must confess his sins, that he may be restored. But those who have come to the cross as sinners, and who have confessed all known sin are privileged, yea, urged to worship Him. "Oh, Come! Let us adore Him."