The wafers in the picture represent unleavened bread. Pure, holy and without stain or blemish. Like the Lamb of God. His body broken for us. This, as well as the cup of wine, hearkens back to the night of Passover when those sheltered in the homes which lintels had been splashed with blood were preserved from death. Those in union with Christ by faith are sheltered by His blood from the wrath and death to come upon the world at the end of the age. This celebration was shared with Christ’s disciples in the upper room the night He was betrayed.
In the Tabernacle and the Temple, there was a gilded table covered with a blue cloth upon which twelve “cakes” of unleavened bread were placed. It was a relatively small table roughly about two feet high, thirty two inches wide and sixteen inches deep.15 The cakes were called
Showbread”16, “Bread of the Presence”17 “Continual Bread”18 or “Consecrated Bread”19. These thick, square unleavened twelve cakes (possibly cubic in shape) were made of fine wheat flour, olive oil and probably wine and placed on the table in two rows of six cakes. At the top of each row was a dish of frankincense.20 Each cake was made from a quart and a half of flour and was not a crisp wafer, but a thick, soft cake, estimated at about four inches on a side as well as in height.21
Fresh hot bread replaced the week-old bread each and every Sabbath as a memorial to the Lord, and the bread removed was given to the serving priests for personal consumption.22Like the Menorah, there is great significance and symbolism to this bread. It like all else is to remind God’s people of who God is and what He has done for them.
First, the cakes, twelve in number, represent the twelve tribes of Israel (the entire “congregation” or people of God).23 Called the “Bread of the Presence”, it represents that the twelve tribes are before the face of the Lord, and he before their faces.24 He looks upon them as they look upon Him. It implies worship of the true God by His true congregation.25 The arrangement of the loaves in rows of six each was in accordance with the shape of the table, just like the division of the names of the twelve tribes upon the two precious stones on Aaron’s shoulder dress.26
Second, the cakes were made without leavening. This symbolizes the unblemished and pure
nature of God and the people He touches. In other words, holiness. God’s people are a holy
people. Holiness means things or persons set apart for God alone.
Third, the cakes were a perpetual reminder or memorial. This symbolizes God’s unbreakable
promises to Israel in terms of His multifaceted provision for His people. God, His promises and His provision are unshakeable, imperishable and invulnerable. (See “Fourth”)
Fourth, the cakes recall the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, and thus symbolize salvation and eternal life. As a perpetual memorial, this is made evident. The entire Passover event and celebration is represented by the memorials in the Holy Place in the Tabernacle/Temple.27
Fifth, there is a link to the “Heavenly Manna” God provided perpetually to Israel in the
wilderness. Deuteronomy 8:3-4 says, 3: “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you
with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you
understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. 4: Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell
these forty years.” In Psalm 78:24 we read, “He rained down manna upon them to eat And gave them food from heaven.”
Sixth, there is an allusion to the Old Covenant in the showbread, which gives way to the New. It lasts a Sabbath and has to be replaced. Again, the Book of Hebrews, chapter nine alludes to this. Numbers 18:19 speaks of all the offerings made to the Lord are part of the everlasting covenant God has made with His people. And in Leviticus 24:8 we read of the showbread, “Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before the LORD continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel.”
In the New Testament, Jesus freely applies this bread to Himself and His sacrifice. John, chapter six, gives the full analogy of Jesus and the manna in His debate with the Jews and His disciples. “I Am the Bread of Life” Jesus claimed in John 6:35, 48, and 51. At the Passover with His disciples and in Paul’s understanding, the bread of the Passover (as well as the Manna) is now Jesus’ “body broken for you”. With the cup, it is the New Covenant in His blood.
Yet His body is His church in the world. It is called upon to also be broken before God, and even broken for the sake of those He loves.
15 Exodus 37:10-16
16 I Chronicles 9:32
17 Exodus 25:30
18 Numbers 4:7
19 I Samuel 21:6
2 0Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 24:5-9
21 When one considers the small size of the table and that it also held other utensils; and that the cakes were each made from a considerable amount of flour, many conclude that the cakes were either cubicle or else stacked on top of each other or they couldn’t have fit on the table as flat cakes. Cubicle cakes do fit with the idea of “faces”.
22 Leviticus 24:9
23 This is not “Israel” by lineage of flesh, but “Israel” by lineage of faith and promise whether “fleshly” descendants or not. Many “Gentile” faithful were included in “Israel”. Some of these are listed in Hebrews eleven.
24 The Hebrew word translated “presence” is the word “faces” (plural).
25 This is an important point. Not all Israel were of faith which is the key to being an heir of Abraham. God’s true “Israel” is always those who have placed full trust and confidence in God and His word. Paul elaborates on this in both Galatians and in Romans 9-11.
26 Exodus 28:10
27 See: Deuteronomy 16:1-4 ff. (especially 3) One can notice the connection.