Displaying the invisible

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col 1:15)

You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord's food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Lev 24:5-9)

I have been thinking some more on how God is made manifest - the invisible made visible, and how like Christ, the church bears the image of the invisible.

I have found a powerful example in the Old Testament with the showbread. Under the Old Covenant God's presence was hidden behind the veil, yet in front of the veil were golden objects that represented the hidden glory of God. The altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table where the showbread was placed. Each of these is worthy of a study in its own right. The prayers of the people, the prophetic witness of the people and the presence among God's people, but it is this last one I want to examine today. For the showbread was also called the "bread of the Presence." It was there to show - make visible - the invisible presence of God.

Since we know that it is in Christ that we find the perfect image of the invisible, it should not surprise us to find elements of him and his covenant meal - the bread of life - the table of the Lord.

But here's where the symbolism gets interesting... there's not one loaf on the table but twelve. Twelve tribes, twelve apostles - twelve is the number of God's chosen people. So are we looking at a representation of Christ or the Church? The language in Leviticus mixes it around a bit too, for we are told of the bread that is is both from the people (v8) and from the Lord (v9).

We see that the showbread, the bread of the Presence, is the people representing Christ, making the invisible presence visible.

Some other details of the showbread then take on a relevance for how we as the people of God make his presence known.

The bread was covered in frankincense - it was a fragrant offering from the people to the Lord. It represents the people offering themselves to God, laying their lives on the altar - engaging in true spiritual worship.

The bread was arranged in two piles of six. The significance of this symbolism would not have escaped the notice of the people in their journey through the wilderness - for it was their marching order! When the people camped they were arranged in four groups of three, one to each point of the compass, with the presence of God in the middle. But when they were on the move the formation changed; two groups of six with the presence of God in between - six tribes in front and six tribes behind.

So the showbread doesn't represent a holy huddle of the people of God, camped round the presence keeping it to themselves. But the church on the move, going out, following the mandate to go, taking the visible display of the presence with them.

As we go we go with a message, so the two piles of bread that can be seen represent the two angelic cherubs behind the veil that cannot be seen, and in between... is the Presence!


Matthew Ling said...

I like it Chris - thanks

Anonymous said...

The symbolic structure is compelling! Glory to God for how he reveals himself. It is almost as if these were supposed to be lesson blueprints, so that people would come into the tabernacle and see this, and gain some understanding themselves, without being told in words. I have heard of Kolmogorov complexity, and the idea that some things are easier to explain as a set of actions so you can produce the answer yourself. Perhaps that is partly why the Law of Moses is so prescriptive. But as you have shown today, it seems that with the truth revealed in Jesus we have a shortcut to unlocking that complexity!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris. I like this truth.

I think also, the presence of God is very hard to explain. But you gave it a lot of thought. As a Christian, my testimony as a deep motivator to winning others for Christ, has been to explain God's presence in my life, for me personally. What I mean by "God's presence in my life"
is ceaseless prayer, fearing the truth, incorporating visions and dreams into everyday life, moreover, things regular people don't experience.

Let the grace of God fall upon you!