Master Sermon List
The Table and Shew-Bread
Typical of Christ and His Church
by John Gill
"Every sabbath, he shall set it in order before the Lord, continually; being taken from the children of Israel, by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be Aaron's and his sons', and they shall eat it in the holy place for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, for a perpetual statute." Leviticus 24:8, 9
Every sabbath he shall set it. This refers to the shew-bread, which was to be always, continually before the Lord, according to Exodus 25:30. And thou shalt set upon the table shew-bread before me always. This was made of fine flour, as in the context, verse 5. And this fine flour was made into unleavened cakes; and these cakes were in number twelve. And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof; two tenth deals shall be in one cake. (Leviticus 24:5)
These twelve cakes answer to the twelve tribes of Israel. And being set upon the table continually was in commemoration of the bread the twelve tribes of Israel were fed with in the wilderness. These were set upon a table called, in verse the 6th, a pure table: called so, because it was overlaid with pure gold; because upon it was set the pure shew-bread; bread made of fine flour, and used in the pure service of God. Of the form, matter, and decorations of this table, you read at large in the 25th chapter of the book of Exodus.
This table was set in the holy place, on the North side of it, over against the veil that divided between that and the holy of holies; and so was before the ark, the symbol of the Divine presence. And these twelve cakes were set in two rows, six in a row; and frankincense was put upon these rows, denoting the acceptableness of them to the Lord. And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row; that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the Lord. (Leviticus 24:7) This was done, as our text says, every sabbath, Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord. These cakes were first placed there on the sabbath day; and there they continued the whole week following.
The next sabbath day they were removed from off the table, and twelve more new ones put in their room. As fast as the priests took off the old loaves, there was another course of priests that placed upon it new hot loaves; so that the table was never empty; therefore it is said, they were before the Lord continually. Hence this bread is called continual bread: (Numbers 4:7) and this shew-bread was the portion of the priests.
The twelve cakes of the old bread, when taken off the shew-bread table, were divided between the courses of the priests, that carried in, and brought out; and they were not to be carried to their own houses, or families; only Aaron and his sons were to eat of it, and that only in the holy place, the court of the tabernacle: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord, made by fire, by a perpetual statute. (Leviticus 24:9) Hence our Lord observes, in answer to the rebuke the Jews gave his disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath-day, "Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shew-bread; which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?" (Matthew 7:3, 4)
Now the mystery, and the gospel of all this, I shall endeavour to point out; or to shew, what was meant and typified by
I. The Table, and
II. The bread set upon the Table.
I. The mystery or the gospel of the Table, upon which this bread was set every sabbath, and there continued all the week, until a fresh set of loaves were placed in their room. This table was a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of communion with him, in the administration of the word and ordinances. It was typical of the person of Christ, in both his natures: for there are two natures in him, human and divine. This is the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. (1 Tim. 3:16) He is Immanuel, God with Us: God in our nature. he is the Word that was made flesh, and dwelt among us. (1 John 1:14) Yet, though two natures are in him, he is but one person; one Son of God: One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him; (1 Cor. 8:6) one Mediator between God and man, the God-man Christ Jesus.
The human nature of Christ, may be signified by the wood, of which this table was made; and his divine nature, by the gold it was overlaid with: for this shew-bread table was made of shittim-wood, and that overlaid with fine gold. The wood may denote the human nature of Christ; that wood being excellent and incorruptible. Excellent. It has its rank among the most excellent trees in those parts; with the cedar, the myrtle, the fir, and the pine trees. (Isa. 41:19) Christ is excellent as the cedars; (Song 5:15) and more excellent than they. He is the chiefest among ten thousands, the choicest of them; chosen out from among the people. As to his human nature, he was separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, superior to angels and men. Higher than they, than any creature whatsoever, even as to his human nature; being set at the right hand of God, angels, and authorities, and powers, being made subject unto him. (1 Pet. 3:22)
This wood is said to be incorruptible; and a fit emblem therefore of the human nature of Christ. In which, as there was no moral corruption, for he knew no sin, neither was guile found in him, in his nature, lips, or life; so there was no physical, or natural corruption in him, not in his body. No, not when dead. For though he was brought to the dust of death, and laid in the grave, yet he laid not there so long as to see corruption. He was raised from thence before any thing of that kind could appear in him. And now, though he was dead, he is alive, and lives for evermore, and has the keys of hell and of death.
His divine nature may he signified by the gold, with which this table was overlaid. For that may not only denote (as some have thought) the excellency of his human nature, as being ornamented with the gifts and graces of the Spirit; but rather his divine nature, which is elsewhere called his head; and which is said to he, as the most fine gold. He, being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with him; being possessed of all divine perfections. The whole fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in him; and therefore, he is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person.
And this shew-bread table was not only typical of Christ, as to the matter of it; being made of such excellent, incorruptible wood, and that overlaid with pure gold; but also with respect to the decorations of it. It had a crown of gold round about, and it had a border of gold also about it, as we read in Exod. 25:23 and the following verses. It had a crown of gold upon it; which may be expressive of that honour and glory which is due to Christ, and is given unto him as the King of kings, and Lord of lords. It is said, prophetically, of him, Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head. (Ps. 21:3)
That is, God his Father, has set a crown of pure gold upon his head: which is not to be understood in a literal sense, but figuratively, of that honour and glory conferred upon him as Mediator; being now crowned with glory and honour, and having a name given unto him, above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. And not only has us Divine Father bestowed upon him this honour and glory, as Mediator, that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father, but the church and people of God (sometimes in a figurative sense called his mother) set a crown upon his head, cast their crowns at his feet, and give him all the honour and glory of their redemption and salvation. Hence it is said, Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon, with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him, in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart: (Song 3:11) which refers to what I am now speaking of.
The border of gold, with the crown upon it, about this table of shew-bread, is also significant of what may be observed in Christ. For as this phrase, when applied to the church of Christ, as it is in the same mystical song I have referred to, where it is said, We will make thee borders of gold, with studs of silver, may denote the graces of the Spirit of God, bestowed upon his people, which is as ornamental to them, as borders of gold and studs of silver; so this, being applied to Christ; may denote that fulness of grace that there is in him. He is full of grace and truth. He hath received the Spirit, and the gifts and graces thereof, without measure.
Grace is poured into his lips: and he is anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. And now, upon all accounts, view him in what light you will, whether in his divine nature, as a divine person, God over all, blessed for ever; or in his mediatorial capacity, as head of the church, and whose head is as fine gold; and, in the fulness of the graces of the Spirit of God, he is possessed of, he will appear exceeding excellent and precious, the chiefest among ten thousand. To them that believe he is precious, and altogether lovely, there is none in heaven or on earth like unto him, or to be desired with him. Thus this table was typical of the person of Christ.
It may also be considered, as typical of communion with him. A table among men is an emblem of communion and fellowship. Here men sit, eat, drink, and converse together and this shew-bread table is an emblem of the saints' communion with Christ, in the present state more especially. There is the table of the Lord; to which his people are now admitted; where he sits down with them, and they with him, to have fellowship with him in the ministration of the word and ordinances, of which he is the sum and substance. He, the King of Saints, sits at his table; and whilst he is sitting there his church's spikenard (or the graces of his Spirit in his people) sends forth the sweet smell thereof. This table Christ himself is the provider of; it is he that hath furnished it.
Wisdom hath furnished her table: that is, Christ hath done it; and here he sits and encourages his guests to eat of the provisions he has made, saying, "Eat, O friends, drink; yea, drink abundantly, O my beloved." He comes in to them, sits down with them, and eats with them, and they with him; and herein is fellowship; such fellowship, as gives the greatest joy, pleasure and satisfaction to the believer, that he can possibly have in this world.
On which he may, and does exultingly say, Truly, our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. What more honourable than this, to sit with Christ, the King of kings, at his table? Haman made his boast; it gave him a sensual carnal pleasure, elated his mind, and filled him with pride and vanity, that he was invited by Queen Esther to a banquet, where only he and the king were to be. It was an act of kindness in David, and an honour done to Mephibosheth, that he was to eat at his table all the days of his life. O! what an honour is it to the people of God, these poor Mephibosheths, to he admitted to sit with Christ at his table!
This is an instance of amazing condescension in Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, whose throne is the heavens, and the earth is his footstool: that he should look upon those that are of an humble and contrite spirit; dwell with them, and admit them to enjoy the most intimate communion and fellowship with him. Nothing in the world more desirable than this, to a truly gracious soul. No wonder the church should express her fervent desire, in such language as this, that she sought him with her whole heart; and that the desire of her soul was to his name, and to the remembrance of him. (Isa. 26:8)
No wonder that saints, who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, and know what communion with the blessed Redeemer means, should pant after him, as the hart pants after the water brooks: that this should be the one thing uppermost in their souls, to see the beauty of the Lord, while they are enquiring in his temple. Nothing is so delightful as this, to sit under the shadow of the blessed Redeemer, where his fruit drops on every side; they take it up by faith, feed upon it, and it is sweet unto their taste. This is what makes the tabernacles of the Lord amiable to them; and a day in his courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. Yea, it is this that makes every child of God say, I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Now it is to this communion that the Lord's people are called by grace, in effectual vocation. They are called by him to come from Lebanon, from all their carnal and sinful pleasures and companions, to go along with him. They are exhorted to forsake their own people, and their father's house, and all the sensual enjoyments thereof; to he with Christ, their Lord, their Head, and King; and to partake of spiritual enjoyments, which are abundantly preferable to any thing they leave behind. Ye were called (says the apostle) unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:5) And a greater privilege cannot be enjoyed on this side heaven. And this greatly lies in feeding upon Christ by faith; in eating of his flesh, and drinking of his blood; which is the provision set before us in his word and ordinances. Thus this table may he an emblem of that communion and fellowship which the saints have with Christ in the present state.
It is true, indeed, that the same figure of a table is sometimes made use of to represent that communion and fellowship which the saints will have with Christ in heaven. Hence he says, I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom. (Luke 22:29, 30) Here you see the figure is used to express that fellowship and communion that the saints will have with Christ in another world; when in any shall come from the East, and from the West, from the North, and from the South, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as at a table, regaling themselves with the fruits set before them in the kingdom of heaven: where, the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them with the rich discoveries of himself and his love, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water, by which they shall be sweetly and fully refreshed, and that for ever; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
But the shew-bread table being placed not in the holy of holies, the figure of the heavenly state; but in the holy place, the figure of the church here on earth; it may rather point out that communion and fellowship the saints are admitted to in the present state; and the enjoyments they have in the ministration of the word and administration of the ordinances. These are sometimes in Scripture signified by a feast. The ministration of the everlasting gospel, our Lord represents in this light; he says, a certain king made a marriage-feast for his son, and sent his servants to invite persons thereunto, saying, all things are ready: (Matt. 22:4) which has regard, I conceive, to the gospel dispensation, the ministration of the word, and the invitation of souls to attend thereto; inasmuch as the gospel proclaims, that all is done, and all is ready, my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come to the marriage.
Christ is offered up, peace and reconciliation made, pardon obtained, and. righteousness wrought out; so that it may well he said, come, for all things are ready. The ordinances of the gospel are signified also by a feast, particularly that of the supper; which may with great propriety be called a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined. And this is represented by a table; it is called the Lord's table. Ye cannot be (says the apostle) partakers of the Lord's table, and the table of devils; (1 Cor. 10:21) that is, there is the greatest inconsistency in the world, that ye should partake of the Lord's table, and at the same time be partakers with the worshippers of idols, or join in fellowship with them in any of their idolatrous practices.
Now Christ is the sum and substance of the word and ordinances. We preach not ourselves (saith the apostle), but Christ Jesus the Lord. (2 Cor. 4:5) From which it appears, Christ, in his person, offices, and grace, is the sum and substance of a gospel ministry: so he is likewise of gospel ordinances. In the ordinance of Baptism, his sufferings, his burial, and his resurrection from the dead, are in a lively manner represented. (Rom. 6:4) And, in the ordinance of the supper, Christ is evidently set forth before us, as crucified and slain.
Now in these, the ministration of the word, and administration of gospel ordinances, Christ is pleased to afford his gracious presence, and grant his people fellowship with himself. Where two or three are gathered together in his name, he has promised to be in the midst of them, to bless them. And where his ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are administered, he has promised to be with his people to the end of the world.
It is through these windows of gospel ordinances, that Christ grants his people looks of love. It is through these lattices that Christ shews himself in the glory of his person, and in the riches of his grace. When his church enquires where he causes his flocks to rest at noon? His answer is, Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherd's tents; (Song 1:8) that is, go where my pastures, my shepherds are; where my ministers are employed in feeding my flock; in ministering my word, and administering my ordinances. It is here Christ grants his presence, and holds fellowship with his people. And thus this table may he an emblem of Christ, and of communion with him in the word and ordinances.
Before I dismiss this head, give me leave to observe unto you, that there were rings upon the shew-bread table, and staves to he put in these rings, which were for the removing and carrying it from place to place, and which was done by the Levites, when it was necessary; as while they were in the wilderness, and before the tabernacle had a fixed place for it. For wherever the tabernacle was carried, the ark and the table were also. Now let it be observed, that where a church of Christ is, there Christ himself is, there his Spirit is, and there are the word and ordinances; which are to remain until his second coming.
For they are not like the ordinances of the former dispensation, which were shaken and removed; these remain, and continue, and will do so. Hence that promise, Isaiah 59:21, "My Spirit, that is upon thee; and my words, which I have put in thy mouth (speaking of the church, and with regard to her spiritual seed) shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." But sometimes a church state is removed: the candlestick is removed out of its place.
When this is done, the word and ordinances are taken away, and indeed it is by the taking away of these, that a church state is removed. The kingdom of God is taken from one people, and carried to another; as from the land of Judea into the Gentile world; and from the eastern part of the world to the more northern. As for the seven Asiatic churches, where are they now? The word, the ordinances, and gospel are all gone from them; and of this the removal of the shew-bread table was a figure. As that was done by the priests and Levites; so this, by the ministers of the gospel, who bear the name (that is, the gospel) of Christ, and carry it from place to place, as he in his providence directs them.
II. Place, to give you some account of the gospel, and the mystery pf the shew-bread set upon his table.
This may be considered as typical of the church of God, who are called bread: We being many, are one bread, and one body. (1 Cor. 10:17) They are all one bread; and they may be fitly signified by the shew-bread: by these twelve cakes of unleavened bread, set continually upon the table every sabbath day. As they were made of fine flour, and into unleavened cakes, so they may denote those that are upright in heart and conversation. Israelites indeed, who have the truth of grace in them; who are such as keep the feast, not with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. These twelve cakes, had reference to the twelve tribes of Israel: so these may signify the whole of the spiritual Israel of God, whether consisting of Jews or Gentiles; even that General Assembly and Church of the First-Born, whose names are written in heaven.
In the original text it is the bread of faces; because this bread was always before the face or faces of God, before all the Three Divine Persons in the Trinity; before God the Father, Son, and Spirit: before Jehovah, before the divine Shechinah, which dwelt between the Cherubims, over the mercy-seat of the ark, a symbol of the divine presence. It was continually before the Lord, as our text expresses it: and this may denote, the people of God's constant and continual presentation of themselves before the Lord in acts of public and religious worship. This was the practice of the saints before the law was given: as in the times of Job there were seasons when the sons of God, true professors of religion, met and presented themselves before the Lord. (Job 1:6)
Under the legal dispensation it was enjoined that all the males of Israel, three times in the year, should appear before the Lord: namely, at the feast of the passover, at the feast of pentecost, and at the feast of tabernacles. And under the gospel dispensation, we that profess the name of Christ, are under the greatest obligation so to do: therefore the apostle beseeches the Romans, to whom he wrote, by the mercies, by the blessings of the everlasting covenant, by those all-spiritual blessings with which they are blessed in Christ Jesus: if they had any regard to them, any sense of them upon their souls; if these could have any weight with them, he begs that they would present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God; which was but their reasonable service.
But it may still have a higher sense than this; it may have respect unto these persons, being always under the eye and care of God. Not only are the eyes of his providence upon them, which run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of those whose hearts are upright towards him, to see that no hurt comes to them, that they stand in need of nothing, and to protect, preserve, and defend them; but his eyes of love, grace and mercy, are always upon them, He never withdraws his eyes from them. They are set continually upon the righteous: they are engraven upon the palms of his bands; and their walls are continually before him. He watches over them night and day, lest any hurt them.
Again, This shew-bread, and the twelve loaves thereof, were placed upon the table, where they stood firm and safe. This may denote, the standing and security of the saints and people of God, upon our Lord Jesus Christ, that sure foundation God has laid in Sion: that foundation of the apostles and prophets. Here they have a sure and safe standing, as on a rock, the Rock of ages against which the powers of hell and earth can never prevail. And as about this shew-bread table (as before observed) there was a border of gold, to keep every thing put upon it from falling off, this may still further point out unto us, the safety of the people of God; who are set upon the shew-bread table, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no danger of their falling off from thence: here is a border of gold all round them: the power of Christ around them, to keep them from falling. Yea, God himself is round about them, as the mountains are round about Jerusalem. They are in the hands of Christ, who is able to keep them from falling; and out of whose hands none can pluck them. They are safe, then, being placed upon this shew-bread table.
And then you may further observe, this shew-bread was placed upon the table every sabbath-day: there was a constant succession; the table was never empty. There were two sets of priests always employed; one took off the old loaves, the other put on the new ones, as fast as the old ones were taken off. This may denote the constancy of true believers that have the interest of Christ at heart, in assembling continually before the Lord. Not forsaking the assembling of themselves together; but, like the primitive Christians continuing steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine, and in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Or rather, it may denote, the constant succession of the children and people of God in the world. As in the natural world, and the inhabitants thereof, there is a constant succession; one generation goes, and another comes, as the wise man says; so it is in the spiritual world, and the churches of Christ. Here is one set of believers going out of the world, and another coming in their room; so that Christ has always a seed; and that promise is made good: His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. (Ps. 89:36) But to proceed,
This shew-bread, set upon the table, may also he emblematical of Christ himself; and that as he is the spiritual food of his people, He is the true bread; so he says, My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. (John 6:32) He is speaking there of the manna in the wilderness; which was not the true, but only typical bread. Christ is the true bread, in distinction from that. So the meat-offering, which, on a similar occasion, I gave you some account of, was only typical bread. Christ is the true bread; the truth of those types. His flesh is meat indeed; these were only the shadows. This shew-bread, made of fine flour, may fitly signify Christ the finest of wheat, the corn of heaven, the bread that comes from thence; by which his people are fed while in the wilderness. And there being twelve of these loaves upon the table, may denote the fulness and sufficiency of Christ. Here is bread enough, and to spare. Here is enough for the people of God in all ages.
This bread is exceeding strengthening; those that have once tasted of it, say, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And as this bread was continual bread, was always upon the table; so it may denote, the permanency of Christ. He is always the same: the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. And as this was set upon the table by the priests, and only by them; and none eat of this bread but the priests only, Aaron and his sons, (who may be significant of the ministers of the word, or of Christians in common under the gospel dispensation;) if we understand it of the ministers of the word, it points out, that they set before the people the shew-bread; even the wholesome and salutary words of our Lord Jesus Christ; and feed the people with knowledge and understanding. But if we understand it, (as I rather do) as expressive of the people of God in common, who under the gospel dispensation are all made kings and priests to God, it denotes, that these, and these only, eat of this spiritual food. None but they do it; none but they can do it.
Or, this shew-bread, set upon the table may be an emblem of the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ: who is the Angel of God's presence, or face, (as it may be rendered), who continually appears in the presence of God for his people; and so may he fitly signified by the twelve cakes, representing the twelve tribes of Israel; or the whole election of grace, the spiritual Israel of God. As the high priest bore, upon his breast-plate, the names of all the people of Israel; so our High Priest bears, upon his breast-plate, or represents all the spiritual Israel of God, in the heaven of heavens; where he ever lives to make intercession for them.
He is there as their representative; and they are set down in heavenly places in him. And these loaves being always upon the table, may denote, the continual intercession of Christ: he ever lives to make intercession for us. And these being set in rows upon the table, and frankincense put on each row, may denote, the, acceptableness of his intercession; for he was, and is always acceptable to his Father. His sacrifice is of a sweet smelling savour to him, upon which is founded his intercession. And the prayers of the saints, which he presents to his divine Father, are acceptable through him; as perfumed with his much incense, and therefore called odours. (Rev. 5:8) Thus we have seen the mystery of these shadows, the shew-bread table, and the loaves set thereon; as they may be expressive of Christ and of his Church.
I close with a word or two, Let it be our great concern to enjoy communion with Christ. Seek that in every ordinance and opportunity, in hearing the word, and in attending upon ordinances. Let this be the main, the principal thing you do. Do not content yourselves with a bare hearing the word, and attendance upon ordinances, without communion with your Lord. Let that be the great concern of your souls; and if you are blessed with that, you are blessed with the highest favour that can he enjoyed on earth. For, as has been observed, what more honourable than to sit at his table who is the King of kings? What more desirable, what more delightful than this? And it is worth your while to attend time after time, one sabbath after another, one ordinance after another; that you may enjoy this blessing, fellowship with your Lord.
Then in the next place, we see the antitype of the shew-bread is food for faith. Feed upon him as he is set before you in. the word and ordinances: don't content yourselves with the bare external attendance thereon; but let it he your concern by faith to feed upon Christ, to lay hold on him, embrace him, and that for yourselves, as he is here represented. And bless his holy name for his word, and for his ordinances. Bless his name that you have a place and a name in his house, better than that of sons and daughters. And let not your place be empty at the Lord's table: remember the case of Thomas, who was absent when Christ met his disciples. I say, remember his case, and what he lost; and into what a sad frame of soul he was cast, by reason thereof; out of which nothing could have recovered him, but the powerful and efficacious grace of God.