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The Pattern and Layout of the Tabernacle of Moses part 3, Showbread "You Sustain Me" Exodus 37:10-16

Updated: Nov 16, 2022


12 Loaves of bread representing the 12 tribes


Exodus 37:10-16 JPS 1917 - Description of the Table

And he made the table of acacia wood: two cubits was the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And he overlaid it with pure gold, and made thereto a crown of gold round about. And he made unto it a border of a hand-breath round about, and made a golden crown to the border thereof round about. And he cast for it four rings of gold, and put the rings in the four corners that were on the four feet thereof. Close by the border were the rings, the holders for the staves to bear the table. And he made the staves of acacia-wood, and overlaid them with gold, to bear the table. And he made the vessels which were upon the table, the dishes therefor, and the pans thereof, and the bowls thereof, and the jars thereof, wherewith to pour out, of pure gold.


Leviticus 24:5-9 JPS 1917 - Description of the Bread

And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two-tenths parts of an ephah shall be in one cake. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six in a row, upon the pure table before the Lord. And thou shalt put pure frankincense with each row, that it may be to the bread for a memorial part, even an offering made by fire unto the Lord. Every sabbath day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually; it is from the children of Israel, an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons; and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, a perpetual due.

Importance of Bread in Biblical Times

Today, if you want bread you go to the grocery and pull a loaf of bread off the shelf. Even if we have a bread maker or knead our own dough at home, a major part of the bread-making process is already completed for us. In this case, we go to the same grocery and purchase a five-pound sack of finely ground flour and then proceed with preparing our dough and baking our daily bread. Making bread in biblical times was a labor-intensive endeavor.


1.) First plow the earth with animal-drawn implements that are hard to use

2.) Then they sow the seed by hand.

3.) Anxiously wait and pray for rain, without which there will be no crops come spring.

4.) Then the hard task of reaping it and sorting out stones and sticks

5.) Grain must then be extracted from the husk by threshing.

6.) Then it is winnowed - tossed into the air with a pitchfork so the chaff, is blown away, leaving only the heavier kernels tossed into the air with a pitchfork so the chaff, is blown away, leaving only the heavier kernels

7.) Grind the kernels into flour.

8.) Sift the flour to separate out any foreign matter,

9.) Mixed with water and kneaded into dough.


Only then can the baking of bread occur!


The Shape and Size of the Showbread

Though not explicitly stated in the book of Exodus, these "cakes" or loaves of bread were most likely unleavened bread. The flour used to make the12 weekly loaves of bread came from the general offerings from each of the 12 tribes. There are four views from the Talmud (Tractate Menachot 94b) regarding the shape of the bread during the Second Temple period. For a detailed description go to Chabad.org and search for the title: "The Showbread: The How and Why of the Temple Bread Offering." In my photos, I've depicted the bread as round loaves. It is possible that the loaves were much larger than what I have illustrated. Leviticus 24:5 states each loaf of bread was made from "two-tenths parts of an ephah" (2.7 liters; 1-gallon dry flour).


The Hebrew for the English translation "showbread" or "shewbread" (KJV) is lechem hapanim, which is literally translated as "face bread." My personal opinion is "hapanim" or "face" is an indicator that the bread was facing the presence of the Lord or the Shekinah inside the Holy of Holies which contained the Ark of the Covenant. Therefore, the bread of face or presence. In 2 Chronicles 2:4 showbread is referred to as "consecrated bread." Numbers 4:7 refers to showbread as being holy or "hallowed bread." An alternative opinion from the Talmud (Mishnah, Tractate Menachot 11:4) is "hapanim" refers to the many sides or faces of each loaf of bread.


What did these 12 loaves represent?

Why was each tribe represented with one loaf of bread? The Bible states each loaf was a "memorial portion" set aside as a gift for God. Was God hungry? No, God did not need the bread of the people. Then what was the bread a "memorial" to? What was the bread remembering or representing? Each loaf of bread was an acknowledgment and expression of thankfulness for God's provisions. The bread acknowledged the Lord's provision of daily bread which "sustained the life of the people."


"The Lord Sustains Me."


Who Ate the Bread?

If the Lord was not hungry and the bread expressed the thankfulness of the members of each tribe, what happened to the bread? Who ate the bread? Leviticus 24:9 indicates during tabernacle times Aaron and his sons ate the bread.


And it shall be for Aaron and his sons; and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, a perpetual due.


The bread was eaten by the priests serving in the tabernacle after the frankincense from the table of showbread was burned on the golden altar of incense. The priests were instructed to eat the bread in a sacred or holy area that had been set apart for the Lord's purposes. What had been offered with thanksgiving before the presence of the Lord was now returned to sustain the priests serving in the tabernacle.


Numbers 4:7 states the table of showbread was never left without some loaves lying on it. On each sabbath, the priests would exchange the former bread for the new loaves. This is symbolic of the people's continued and unbroken dependence upon the Lord to sustain the people in the desert. Even when the tabernacle was dismantled and moved to a new location the table always had a supply of the "continual bread" on it. Presenting this bread was a culmination representing the day-to-day struggle of the people to feed themselves. Remember, they could not run down to the store and pick a loaf off the shelf.

The continual placement of this "face bread" expressed the people's humble expression of thankfulness for the Lord's work behind the scenes.


* Presenting us with seed that reproduces itself for the next harvest

* Permitting us to have the strength to plant, plow and harvest us to have the strength to plant, plow and harvest

* Producing the rain and the sun to nurture and grow the wheat

* Protecting the stalks from the hazards of everyday life.

* Providing the knowledge to grind, sift, refine the grain and turn the dough into nutritious bread

* Providing favor on our behalf time and time again!


As the table was prepared, the incense burned, and the showbread replaced each Sabbath, His presence was experienced. The Lord dwelt in the midst of the people, and they expressed their thankfulness on a weekly basis. In good times and not-so-good times. The bread of presence reaffirmed the everlasting covenant between God and his people.


Showbread Today?

Today, we may not have the equivalent of showbread to present to the Lord as a sign of our thankfulness as his people. Deuteronomy 8:15-18 recalls, when the people were thirsty, he provided water where there was no water and fed the people with manna while they were in the wilderness. Verses 17-18 verse remind us to be humble and acknowledge the Lord's work behind the scenes. We too must remember it is not solely through our "power" or the "might of our hand" that brings us wealth. "For it is He that giveth thee the power to get wealth, that he may establish His covenant." The Lord sustains us through the night and renews us each morning with new life, the ability to breathe, and with the health of a beating heart.


Recently, I was a guest at a morning service of a local synagogue. During the prayers, my mind wandered to a footnote on page 975 in The Stone Edition of the Chumash published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd. The footnote commented on Deuteronomy 6:10-15. I offer it for your reflection.

Not Succumbing to Prosperity

"Moses speaks again of the contrast between the slavery of Egypt and the great prosperity awaiting Israel in its Land. People can deal with such a sudden change in status in two ways. They can feel indebted to the One Who plucked them from suffering to splendor and utilize their newfound good to intensify their gratitude and loyalty to Him. Or they can let success convince them that they owe no allegiance to anything but their own hard work and intelligence. Prosperity is at least as great a test to faith as poverty."


Proverbs 3:6 JPS 1917

"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths."




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