Sabbath In The Temple
The very first of the functions completed on the Sabbath was the renewal of the ‘shewbread’. It had been prepared by the incoming ‘course’ of Priests before the Sabbath itself and had probably been prepared in one of the chambers of the Temple. It was also lawful to prepare it at Bethpage. They held fast the principle that there was no Sabbath in the sanctuary itself, but no work was allowed that might be done on another day. Though circumcision was supposed to be allowed, it was deferred by some to the close of the festive day.
If the Friday that the shewbread was prepared fell on a feast day that required Sabbatical rest, then the bread was prepared on Thursday afternoon. The Rabbis took real 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.
The Scriptural name is ‘Bread of the Face’; that is, ‘of the presence of God’. From its constant presence and disposition in the sanctuary, it was also called ‘perpetual bread’ and ‘bread of laying out’. The latter terms most nearly corresponds to the term used in the New Testament. The placing and weekly renewal of the Bread was evidently among the principal Temple services. The ‘table of shewbread’ stood along the northern, or most sacred side of the Holy Place and stood lengthways of the Temple.
The Table on The Arch of Titus
The Table was 3 feet long, 18 inches broad, and a little over 2 feet high. It was made of shittim wood overlaid with pure gold, with the feet 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. Then another wreath ran around the top of the table. This table was made by the same blueprint as the first ‘table’ in the tabernacle had been made. It had been taken away by Antiochur Epiphanes about 170 B. C., but another table had been supplied by the Maccabees. Josephus also tells about the gift of another one that was very splendid that was provided by Ptolemy Philadelphus. It is thought, though, that the ‘table’ of the Maccabees is the one that stood in the Holy Place at the time of Christ.
The Vessels of the Table
It is not really known exactly what the utensils looked like that were made for the ‘table’. In their writings, though, the Rabbis mentioned hollow golden tubes which were placed between the shewbread so as to allow the air to circulate between them. There were three of the tubes put under each piece, except the highest, under which there were only two. The lowest loaves rested on the table itself. They calculate that there were 28 tubes in all to support the 12 loaves. They were drawn out each Friday, and again inserted between the new shewbread loaves each Sunday. The task of removing and inserting the tubes was not considered a labor that made ‘void the Sabbath’. There were also golden dishes in which it was carried, and golden lateral plates, that further protected it on the stand. All the above are mentioned by the Rabbis in antiquities.
The Shewbread Itself
It was made of the finest wheat flour that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were 12 of these cakes, one for each tribe of Israel, that were arranged in two piles of six.
Each cake was made of two omers of wheat (10 pints). Between the two rows, two bowls of pure incense were placed along with salt. The cakes were anointed in the middle with oil in the form of a cross. According to Jewish tradition, they were each 5 handbreadths broad and 10 handbreadths long, but turned up 2 handbreadths at either end to resemble in outline the Ark of the Covenant. Thus each cake after being ‘turned up’, reached 6 handbreadths and was placed lengthwise on the breadth of the table, exactly covering it. There was just enough room for the other articles to go on the table after the bread was placed there.
The preparation of the ‘shewbread’ seems to have been preserved as a secret family tradition in ‘the house of Garmu’, who was a family of the Kohathites. 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
This is given in the words of the Mishnah: ‘Four priests enter the Holy Place, two carrying, each, one of the piles of six shrewbread, 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 to take off 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 and distributed among the outgoing and incoming 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. It was eaten during the Sabbath, and in the Temple itself, but only priests that were in a state of Levitical purity could partake of it. The incense that was taken out was also burnt on the same heap on the altar of burnt-offering that the coals were taken for the altar of incense.
The Symbolism of the Shewbread
The bread that was laid out before God 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 meant 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 give praise to God while living upon His Presence. This ‘Presence’ meant the special manifestation of God.
The Courses on the Sabbath
Though 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. They actually offered the morning sacrifice on the Sabbath, and the incoming priests offered the evening sacrifice. This way both ‘courses’ spent the Sabbath in the Sanctuary.
The inspection of the Temple before the Sabbath morning service differed from that on ordinary days, because the Temple was already lit up. The altar of burnt-offering was cleansed before the usual hour; but the morning service commenced later so that as many as possible could attend.
All the people appeared in their festive garments, and each one carried in his hand some contribution for religious purposes. It was probably from this practice that Paul recommended to the Corinthians that they should ‘lay by in store upon the first day of the week’. Also, the 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 there was an additional offering of two lambs with their appropriate meat- and drink-offerings. When the drink-offering of the ordinary morning sacrifice was poured out, the Levites sang Psalm 92 in three sections with there being three blasts from the trumpets between each section. At the close of the Sabbath sacrifice after the drink-offering, the Levites sang the ‘Song of Moses’ in Deuteronomy 32. It was divided into six portions (verses 1-6; 7-12; 13-18; 19-28; 29-39; 40-end). Each portion was sung in three sections with three-fold trumpet blasts and 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.