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Then the outgoing 'course' handed over to the incoming the keys of the sanctuary, the holy vessels, and all else of which they had had charge. Next the heads of the 'houses' or families of the incoming 'course' determined by lot which of the families were to serve on each special day of their week of ministry, and also who were to discharge the various priestly functions on the Sabbath.
The first of these functions, immediately on the commencement of the Sabbath, was the renewal of the 'shewbread.' It had been prepared by the incoming course before the Sabbath itself, and-- we might almost say, invariably--in one of the chambers of the Temple, though, in theory, it was held lawful to prepare it also at Bethphage. For, although it was a principle that 'there is no Sabbath in the sanctuary,' yet no work was allowed which might have been done on any other day. Even circumcision, which, like the Temple services, according to the Rabbis, superseded the Sabbath, was deferred by some to the close of the festive day. Hence, also, if Friday, on the afternoon of which the shewbread was ordinarily prepared, fell on a feast day that required Sabbatical rest, the shewbread was prepared on the Thursday afternoon. * The Rabbis are at pains to explain the particular care with which it was made and baked, so that in appearance and color the lower should be exactly the same as the upper part of it.
* This must have been the case on the Thursday of Christ's betrayal.
But this subject is too important to be thus briefly treated. Our term 'shewbread' is a translation of that used by Luther (Schaubrod), which, in turn, may have been taken from the Vulgate (panes praepositionis). The Scriptural name is 'Bread of the Face' (Exo 25:30; 35:13; 39:36); that is, 'of the presence of God,' just as the similar expression, 'Angel of the Face' (Isa 63:9) means the 'Angel of His Presence.' From its constant presence and disposition in the sanctuary, it is also called 'perpetual bread' (Num 4:7) and 'bread of laying out' (set in order), which latter most nearly corresponds to the term used in the New Testament (Matt 12:4; Luke 6:4; Heb 9:2). The placing and weekly renewal of the 'Bread of the Presence' was evidently among the principal Temple services (2 Chron 13:10,11). The 'table of shewbread' stood along the northern, or most sacred side of the Holy Place, being ranged lengthways of the Temple, as all its furniture was, except the Ark of the Covenant, which stood broadways.
The Table on the Arch of Titus
* The table on the Arch of Titus seems only one cubit high. We know that it was placed by the victor in the Temple of Peace; was carried about the middle of the fifth century to Africa, by the Vandals under Genseric, and that Belisarius brought it back in 520 to Constantinople, whence it was sent to Jerusalem.
It was made of pure gold, the feet being turned out and shaped to represent those of animals, and the legs connected, about the middle, by a golden plate, which was surrounded by a 'crown,' or wreath, while another wreath ran round the top of the table. Thus far its form was the same as that made at the first for the tabernacle (Exo 25:23, etc.), which was of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold. The 'table' originally provided for the second Temple had been taken away by Antiochus Epiphanes (about 170 BC); but another was supplied by the Maccabees. Josephus tells a story (Anti. xii. 2, 8) about the gift of yet another and most splendid one by Ptolemy Philadelphus. But as its description does not tally with the delineations on the Arch of Titus, we infer that at the time of Christ the 'table' of the Maccabees stood in the Holy Place.
Considerable doubt exists as to the precise meaning of the terms used in Scripture to describe the golden vessels connected with the 'table of shewbread' (Exo 25:29). The 'dishes' are generally regarded as those on which the 'shewbread' was either carried or placed, the 'spoons' as destined for the incense, and the 'covers,' or rather 'flagons,' and the 'bowls' for the wine of the drink-offering. On the Arch of Titus there are also two urns. But all this does not prove, in the silence of Scripture, and against the unanimous testimony of tradition, that either flagons, or bowls, or urns were placed on the table of shewbread, nor that drink-offerings were ever brought into the 'Holy Place.' On the other hand, the Rabbis regard the Hebrew terms, rendered 'covers' and 'bowls,' as referring to hollow golden tubes which were placed between the shewbread so as to allow the air to circulate between them; three of these tubes being always put under each, except the highest, under which there were only two, while the lowest rested on the table itself, or, rather, on a golden dish upon it. Thus they calculate that there were, in all, twenty-eight of these tubes to support the twelve loaves. The 'tubes' were drawn out each Friday, and again inserted between the new shewbread each Sunday, since the task of removing and reinserting them was not among those labors which made 'void the Sabbath.' Golden dishes, in which the shewbread was carried, and golden lateral plates, further to protect it on the stand, are also mentioned by the Rabbis.
The Shewbread Itself
The 'shewbread' was made of the finest wheaten flour, that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were twelve of these cakes, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, ranged in two piles, each of six cakes. Each cake was made of two omers of wheat (the omer = about five pints). Between the two rows, not upon them (as according to the Rabbis) (Menach. xi. 5), two bowls with pure incense were placed, and, according to Egyptian tradition (LXX Lev 24:7; Philo ii. 151), also salt. The cakes were anointed in the middle with oil, in the form of a cross. As described by Jewish tradition, they were each five handbreadths broad and ten handbreadths long, but turned up at either end, two handbreadths on each side, to resemble in outline the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, as each cake, after being 'turned up,' reached six handbreadths and was placed lengthwise on the breadth of the table, it would exactly cover it (the one cubit of the table being reckoned at six handbreadths); while, as the two rows of six cakes stood broadwise against each other (2 x 5 handbreadths), it would leave between them two handbreadths vacant on the length of the table (2 cubits = 12 handbreadths), on which the two bowls with the incense were placed. *
* We have been thus particular on account of the inaccuracies in so many articles on this subject. It ought to be stated that another Mishnic authority than that we have followed seems to have calculated the cubit at ten handbreadths, and accordingly gives different measurements for the 'shewbread'; but the result is substantially the same.
The preparation of the shewbread seems to have been hereditarily preserved as a secret family tradition in 'the house of Garmu,' a family of the Kohathites (1 Chron 9:32; Mish. Shekal. v. 1). The fresh cakes of shewbread were deposited in a golden dish on the marble table in the porch of the sanctuary, where they remained till the Sabbath actually commenced.
The Mode of Changing
The mode of changing the shewbread may be given in the words of the Mishnah (Men. xi. 7): 'Four priests enter (the Holy Place), two carrying, each, one of the piles (of six shewbread), the other two the two dishes (of incense). Four priests had preceded them-- two to take off the two (old) piles of shewbread, and two the two (old) dishes of incense. Those who brought in (the bread and incense) stood at the north side (of the table), facing southwards; they who took away at the south side, facing north: these lifted off, and those replaced; the hands of these being right over against the hands of those (so as to lift off and put on exactly at the same moment), as it is written: "Thou shalt set upon the table bread of the Presence before Me alway."' The shewbread which had been taken off was then deposited on the golden table in the porch of the sanctuary, the incense burnt on that heap on the altar of burnt- offering from which the coals were taken for the altar of incense, after which the shewbread was distributed among the outgoing and the incoming course of priests. *
The incoming priests stood at the north side, the outgoing at the south side, and each course gave to the high-priest half of their portion. The shewbread was eaten during the Sabbath, and in the Temple itself, but only by such priests as were in a state of Levitical purity.
The Symbolism of the Shewbread
The importance of the service which has just been described depended, of course, on its meaning. Ancient symbolism, both Jewish and Christian, regarded 'the bread of the Presence' as an emblem of the Messiah. This view is substantially, though not literally, correct. Jehovah, who dwelt in the Most Holy Place between the Cherubim, was the God manifest and worshipped in the Holy Place. There the mediatorial ministry, in the name of, and representing Israel, 'laid before' Him the bread of the Presence, kindled the seven-lamped candlestick, and burnt incense on the golden altar. The 'bread' 'laid before Him' in the northern or most sacred part of the Holy Place was that of His Presence, and meant that the Covenant-people owned 'His Presence' as their bread and their life; the candlestick, that He was their Light-giver and Light; while between the table of shewbread and the candlestick burned the incense on the golden altar, to show that life and light are joined together, and come to us in fellowship with God and prayer. For a similar reason, pure incense was placed between the shewbread--for, the life which is in His Presence is one of praise; while the incense was burned before the shewbread was eaten by the priests, to indicate God's acceptance and ratification of Israel's dependence upon Him, as also to betoken praise to God while living upon His Presence. That this 'Presence' meant the special manifestation of God, as afterwards fully vouchsafed in Christ, 'the Angel of His Presence,' it is scarcely necessary to explain at length in this place.
The Courses on the Sabbath
But although the service of the incoming 'course' of priests had begun with the renewal of the 'shewbread,' that of the outgoing had not yet completely ceased. In point of fact, the outgoing 'course' of priests offered the morning sacrifice on the Sabbath, and the incoming the evening sacrifice, both spending the Sabbath in the sanctuary. The inspection of the Temple before the Sabbath morning service differed from that on ordinary days, inasmuch as the Temple itself was lit up, to obviate the necessity of the priests carrying torches on the holy day. The altar of burnt-offering was cleansed before the usual hour; but the morning service commenced later, so as to give an opportunity of attending to as many as possible. All appeared in their festive garments, and each carried in his hand some contribution for religious purposes. It was no doubt from this that the practice was derived of 'laying by in store upon the first day of the week,' which St. Paul recommended to the Corinthians (1 Cor 16:1,2). Similarly, the apostolic practice of partaking the Lord's Supper every Lord's-day may have been in imitation of the priests eating the shewbread every Sabbath. The Sabbath service was in every respect the same as on other days, except that at the close of the ordinary morning sacrifice the additional offering of two lambs, with its appropriate meat- and drink-offerings, was brought (Num 28:9,10). When the drink-offering of the ordinary morning sacrifice was poured out, the Levites sang Psalm 92 in three sections, the priests drawing, at the close of each, three blasts from their trumpets, and the people worshipping. At the close of the additional Sabbath sacrifice, when its drink-offering was brought, the Levites sang the 'Song of Moses' in Deuteronomy 32. This 'hymn' was divided into six portions, for as many Sabbaths (v 1-6; 7-12; 13-18; 19-28; 29-39; 40-end). Each portion was sung in three sections with threefold blasts of the priests' trumpets, the people worshipping at each pause. If a Sabbath and a 'new moon' fell on the same day, the Sabbath hymn was sung in preference to that for the new moon; if a feast day fell on the Sabbath, the Sabbath sacrifice was offered before that prescribed for the day. At the evening sacrifice on the Sabbath the song of Moses in Exodus 15 was sung.