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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

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"Bread of the faces" or "presence" of God (Exodus 25:30). "Bread of ordering" (1 Chronicles 9:32). "The continual bread" (Numbers 4:7). "Hallowed bread" (1 Samuel 21:4-6; Matthew 12:4; Hebrews 9:2 "the shewbread," Greek "bread of setting forth".) The table was of acacia or "shittim wood," two cubits long, one broad, one and a half high, overlaid with pure gold, with a golden crown to the border round about, to hinder any bread falling off (but see below); Exodus 25:23-30. The border was to be "of a handbreadth"; so in the sculpture on Titus' Arch the slave's hand that holds the table is just the breadth of the border. "The pure table" (Leviticus 24:6), both because of its unalloyed gold and because of the "pure offering" on it (Malachi 1:11). The table stood in the holy place on the N. side (Exodus 26:35). The 12 cakes of unleavened bread, arranged in two piles, with a golden cup of frankincense on each (Josephus Ant. 3:10, section 7), were renewed every sabbath, and the stale loaves given to the priests.

They represented the 12 tribes before Jehovah perpetually, (see Revelation 21:12) in token that He was always graciously accepting His people and their good works, for whom atonement had been made by the victims on the altar outside. They were the national meat offering (Leviticus 24:5-9). Each cake contained two tenths of an ephah, about six pounds and a quarter, of fine flour. The frankincense as a memorial was probably cast upon the altar fire as "an offering made by fire unto the Lord," when the bread was removed from the table on the Sabbath. Ahimelech stretched the law in giving the stale loaves to David's men, as free from ceremonial defilement (1 Samuel 21:4-6; Matthew 12:4), for they should have been eaten by the priests, in the holy place (Leviticus 24:5-9). Bahr thinks the loaves symbolized the Holy One in His sanctuary as the Bread of life to His people (John 6:35; John 6:47-51; Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).

But the loaves were taken from Israel, not presented by God to them; and one loaf would suit his view rather than twelve (1 Corinthians 10:17). Still, on their presenting themselves before Him in the bread symbol, He feeds them represented by their priests. As they are a bread offering to Him, so He gives Himself as the bread to feed them. In 2 Chronicles 4:8; 2 Chronicles 4:19, ten tables are mentioned "whereon the shewbread was set," i.e., Solomon made a number of tables, and one great golden one on which they set the loaves. In the parallel passage, 1 Kings 7:48, "the table of gold" alone is mentioned, as in 2 Chronicles 29:18. "Ten" is the number also of the candlesticks. The tables were probably made of cedarwood overlaid with gold (see Josephus Ant. 8:3, section 7). As it is omitted in the list of articles restored from Babylon (Ezra 1:9-11), it was doubtless remade by Zerubbabel. Antiochus Epiphanes carried away the table of the second temple (2 Maccabees 1:22). Anew one was made at the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabees 4:49).

Afterward Ptolemy Philadelphus presented a splendid table (Josephus Ant. 12:2, section 8-9). In the Arch of Titus, the sculptor in defiance of perspective exhibits the two ends. Speaker's Commentary (Exodus 25:23-30) for "crown of gold" translated "moulding of gold"; for "border," "a framing" which reached from leg to leg, to make the table firm, as well as to adorn it with a second moulding of gold; two fragments of such a framing appear half way clown the legs in the Titus' Arch sculpture. "Over against the framing" the rings were "upon the four extremities (KJV "corners") that were at the four (clawlike) feet," answering to each corner of it. The staves were never taken out of the golden rings by which the ark was to be borne; so translated Numbers 4:5-6, "put the staves thereof in order," not "put in," they would need merely adjustment after motion (Exodus 25:14-15).

The "dishes" or bowls were probably the measures for the meal used in the loaves. For "spoons" translated "cups" filled with frankincense, represented on Titus' Arch. For "covers" and "bowls" and "to cover withal" translated "flagons and chalices, to pour out withal." These were for the drink offering which accompanied every meat offering, for the shewbread was a true meat offering. In Numbers 4:7 the Hebrew means "the shew table" or "table of the faces" or presence, namely, of God manifested. Similar is the phrase "the Angel of His presence" (Isaiah 63:9; Exodus 33:14-15; Exodus 23:20; Deuteronomy 4:37, "in His sight".) The "face" stands for the Person. "The bread of the face" on the table in the sanctuary symbolizes that man is admitted to God's holy table and presence, seeing and being nourished by God in the person of Christ, the Bread of life.

The priests, Israel's representatives, alone ate this sacramental pledge in the Old Testament. The whole church as "priests unto God" offer themselves before God and are fed at the Lord's table with the sacramental symbol of Christ's body, our true food (Psalms 23:5; Luke 22:30; 1 Corinthians 11:26). The continued renewal every Sabbath testified to the design of that holy day to renew men afresh to self dedication as in God's immediate presence; as Israel by the candlestick appeared as a people of enlightenment, and by the incense altar as a people of prayer. The frankincense always on the shewbread, and consumed when the bread was to be eaten, symbolized that prayer must ever accompany self dedication, and that the fame of love must kindle prayer when we are about to hold communion with and to be nourished by Him.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Shewbread'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​fbd/​s/shewbread.html. 1949.
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