Holiness Bible Study, Lesson 5.

The Altar of Showbread

“You shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long and one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a gold border around it.” 

Exodus 25:23-24

Also inside the Holy Place was the Table of Showbread. It was a table made out of acacia wood and covered in gold. It was 3 feet long, 1.5 feet wide, and 2.25 feet tall. There were four rings attached, along with carrying poles and the utensils used for holding the bread. The poles were acacia wood overlaid with gold, while the utensils were made from solid gold. 

The purpose of the table was to hold the showbread, also called the bread of presence. The bread was to be made out of fine flour and baked into cakes each Sabbath. The amount used would come out to twelve loaves of bread, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. These loaves would be arranged in two rows, six loaves per row. Two small bowls of pure frankincense were laid on the table near the showbread. 

In those days, covenants were often sealed with a meal. The showbread fulfilled that role by commemorating the covenant between God and the people of Israel. The covenant terms were upheld by each party: Israel would obey God and keep His commandments, and God would protect them and bring them into the land as He promised. This is why Yeshua was so eager to eat the Passover seder meal with His disciples, because He was going to ratify the covenant. He would now be the mediator, and He would be the sacrifice, and His own blood would be poured out (Luke 22:15-20). Our family is also based on a covenant, and when we come to the table to eat, God is there, and it’s like a renewing of that covenant every time we get together. Our table becomes the table of the Lord, and it is to be holy with thought, word, and deed. Ephesians 5:19 tells us, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and make melody with your heart to the Lord.” In the daily prayer of the shema, it says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” The covenantal relationship is most binding in the eating of a meal. And do not forget the importance of a fellowship meal that takes place with the family of God. 

The priests would take this showbread and eat it in the Holy Place. We as priests also eat in the Holy Place when we call on the Lord to bless our food. 

Bread is representative of life, since it has always been a main food staple. Having the showbread in the Holy Place was a symbol of God’s blessing over the food of the people. As long as they continued to serve Him, the people could trust God to take care of their physical needs. 

Now, the miracle of the showbread is that this bread was eaten by all the priests who were on duty that week, about 150 men, and yet even though there were so many men that ate of the twelve loaves, they ate and were satisfied. Sound familiar? Not only that, but the bread which was baked the week before was still hot and fresh as though it had just been baked. Yeshua said,

I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst… Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died… This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever, and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh. (John 6:35, 49, 51)

What was Yeshua saying? He was not saying to actually eat His flesh; that was totally against Torah. But what He was saying was that He was the Bread of Life. He was comparing Himself to the manna that came down from heaven. Yeshua is the Word made flesh, and we are to eat of that Word. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 55:1-2: 

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.

Let’s stop at the table of the Lord and eat from His Word and delight in His ways as we walk in the light of His Word. He is our portion and our cup. Let us feast at His table and drink from the well of salvation (Psalm 16:5). Let our cup overflow (Psalm 23:5) and may God give us a double portion (Isaiah 61:7). This is the abundant life!

We have looked at the Menorah and the Table of Showbread, also known as the Table of the Bread of Presence. When confronted with the task of feeding the five thousand, Yeshua tells His disciples that they should feed the people. Yeshua tells Peter, “If you love Me, feed My sheep” (John 21:15). So we see that as priests we must be light in the darkness and lead the people to Yeshua, and we are to feed the sheep, not only with actual bread, but with the Bread of Life. So we want to continue on our path of worship.

The Altar of Incense

“You shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. Its length shall be a cubit, and its width a cubit; it shall be a square, and its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and you shall make a gold molding all around for it… And you shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you.” 

Exodus 30:1-3, 6

As we leave the Table of Showbread, after we have feasted at God’s table, and our hearts are well-satisfied, and we have drunk from the wells of salvation, cleansed and walking in the Light: now we can approach the Altar of Incense. The altar of incense was also in the Holy Place. As we have seen with the altar in the outer courtyard, it was made of acacia wood. Unlike the outer altar, the incense altar was overlaid with gold. It was 1.5 feet both long and wide (a square) and 3 feet tall. It had four horns at the four corners of its top face. On this altar, only incense was to be offered up. Incense was to be offered in the morning and the evening.

We see that the process surrounding the altar of incense is most holy. Only a particular mixture of spices, specifically instructed by God, could be offered up. This mixture could not be used for any other purpose than this offering: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy’” (Exodus 30:34-35). So that the people would not be tempted to make their own mixture for personal use, the spices and proportions used were kept secret, known only to one family. They took this responsibility very seriously, and as a result, we do not know the exact mixture today. 

Not only is the mixture sacred, but the altar is to be used for no other purpose: “You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a drink offering on it” (Exodus 30:9). 

Unfortunately, we see that this command was not heeded by Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu: 

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

This is a tragic reminder that God is holy and He cannot accept anything contrary to what He has commanded. The actions of Nadab and Abihu were done carelessly and irreverently, which is possibly why a similar punishment is not issued upon Aaron’s other two sons when they (presumably) mistakenly burn up a sacrifice which they were supposed to eat.

The priest would take fiery coals from the Bronze Altar, the altar upon which the sacrifices were burned. They would take the fiery coals from the Tamid Sacrifices (the Morning and Afternoon sacrifices, which were the two continual sacrifices that burned on the altar), and then they would light the incense which was a special blend, according to God’s specification, upon the Incense Altar. Like all things with the tabernacle, it had to be done exactly as God had spoken. God’s ways must be kept; and remember, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is no new way with God. His tabernacle has not changed. 

We see that incense was one of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Yeshua. At the end of the Sabbath during the Havdalah Service, the spice jar is passed around, and as you smell the sweet aroma, it is a reminder to us believers of the sweet fragrance of Yeshua. Because there is no temple, the making of the anointing oil and the incense according to God’s specifications is forbidden. So if we can no longer anoint with the specific blend God requires and we can no longer offer up incense, then like the sacrifices, does everything come to a stop? No, because God’s tabernacle in Heaven still operates. We saw what replaced the sacrifices, and now we will look at what replaced the offering of the incense: prayer. 

Liturgical Prayer

Liturgical prayers come from the Siddur (prayer book) and were, and still are, the common prayers of the day. Yeshua and His disciples said these prayers, and even the early believers did up to about the 5th Century. Though we see in the Catholic Church that these types of prayers are still common, those are not the prayers that Yeshua said. We want to start with the Morning and Evening prayers (the evening prayers are said in the late afternoon). The Morning Prayer is called Shacharis and the Afternoon Prayer is called Minchah. We find in Genesis 19 that Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he stood before the Lord. So we see Abraham starting the tradition of the Morning Prayer, the Shacharis, by going to the same spot early in the morning. The Afternoon Prayer, the Minchah, was traditionally started by Jacob. Genesis 24 tells us that Jacob went out to meditate in the field toward evening before sunset. We see in 1 Kings 18 that Elijah waited until right before the time of the evening sacrifice before he built the altar on Mt. Carmel; so when the time came for the evening sacrifice, he placed the offering upon the altar, and God so miraculously consumed the water and the sacrifice and the altar. We see Daniel praying the Afternoon Prayers on top of his roof (Daniel 6:10, 9:21). And most importantly, we see Yeshua placed upon the cross at the time of the morning sacrifice/morning prayer (Mark 15:25), and He died at the time of the afternoon sacrifice, the time of the afternoon prayer (Matthew 27:46-50). If we look at the lives of the Apostles and believers, we see them also continuing this tradition of meeting in the Temple for Evening Prayer (Acts 3:1). So let’s take a closer look at these two prayers that replaced the Tamid sacrifices, the continual burnt offering. 

Morning Prayer

The Morning Prayer starts with: 

How godly are Your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel. O Lord, through Your abounding faithful love I come into Your house, and reverently I worship You in Your holy sanctuary. I love being in Your house, the place where Your glory resides. Here I bow down to worship You, my Lord and my Maker. Accept my prayer, O Lord, and answer with Your great mercy and with Your saving truth. How lovely are Your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! I long, yes, I pine for the courts of the Lord; my heart joyfully sings to the living God. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will pursue, That I may live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the Lord and to enter His sanctuary. Teach me Your ways, O Lord, and lead me in the right path. With You is the fountain of life, in Your light do we see light. 

We see here that the prayer is going through those steps of worship: entering the gates with thanksgiving and praise, stopping at the fountain of life, the Laver, and entering into the Holy Place and seeing God’s light, His truth. The prayer continues with the daily Scripture, which is the light. Upon hearing God’s Word, the Shema is said, which is a declaration that there is only one God and we will serve Him with all of our hearts and life and strength, and we will teach our children to do the same. After this, Kaddish is said; this is a declaration of God’s glory and holiness. And finally, the Amidah is said, which are the Eighteen Benedictions. (See handout “The Weekday Morning Service”)

The Afternoon Prayer

The afternoon prayer starts with Kaddish, blessing God’s Name, and then the Shema. On Mondays and Thursdays, part of the weekly Torah portion is read. Again the Eighteen Benedictions are recited, but then we pray for God’s protection as we lay down for the night. We end our prayer with Psalm 134 and Psalm 121, followed by the Aaronic Benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” We sing a song after the Morning and Afternoon prayer. We do not know how much of the Morning and Afternoon prayer, as said today, was said in the time of Yeshua, but we do know that parts of the Eighteen Benedictions go as far back as King David. (See handout “The Weekday Evening Service”)

Then there are the prayers said during the different feasts and Sabbaths; of course, there are liturgical prayers from Scripture like the Psalms, and we can not forget Yeshua’s prayer, which is a shortened form of the Amidah, The Eighteen Benedictions, which we call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). But what about the prayers we say from the heart? 

Praying From the Heart

Praying from the heart is exactly that—from our hearts. Everything we say in prayer should be from the heart, whether it is traditional prayer or any other type of prayer. In fact, everything we do pertaining to God should be done wholeheartedly. God said that when we seek Him with all of our hearts, we will find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:12-14). We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We are to pray with faith and never doubting (James 1:6), trusting God to hear us and answer us (John 5:15). The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 1:6). 

Everything we say and do we are to do in the Name of the Lord Yeshua (Colossians 3:17), because it is our prayer, our priestly service before God. Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-8,  “I admonish and urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be offered on behalf of all men. For kings and all who are in positions of authority….”  

He goes on: 

For such praying is good and right and pleasing to God, who wishes all men to be saved and increasingly to perceive and recognize and discern and know precisely and correctly the divine truth: that there is only one God and only one Mediator between God and men, the man Yeshua the Messiah… Therefore I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

We, as the Priesthood, have an obligation to pray for one another (Ephesians 6:18) and for those who are perishing (1 John 5:16), that all may be saved. We must pray for the Body of Yeshua, for when one suffers, we all suffer; and don’t forget that there are believers all over the world today who are suffering for the name of Yeshua. We must pray for our government not with hate and anger, but that we, as a nation, will live under the Divine Laws of the One True God (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

All of our prayers are to be accompanied by thanksgiving 

(1 Thessalonians 5:18, Philippians 4:6, Psalm 100:4, 1 Timothy 4:4-5). Why? Because all of the burnt offerings were to be followed by a Thanksgiving Offering. When we receive God’s forgiveness, it should cause us to be thankful. Yeshua told a story in Luke 7:41-43 about two men who had debts which they owed the moneylender—one a large debt, the other a smaller debt. When they were unable to repay, he forgave them both. He asked His disciples which one will be more thankful, and they said the one with the larger debt; and so we should be thankful that Yeshua took our sins upon Himself, and when we repent of our sins, we are then forgiven. Remember, to light the Incense Altar, they took the coals from the morning and evening burnt offerings, the continual offerings, which should make us think of the time that Yeshua hung on the cross. 

Prayer and worship are so closely related to the tabernacle that it is hard to believe that as Christians we negate the laws that surround it. What we forget is that the heavenly Temple is still in operation, and the earthly one with all of its laws and regulations was taken from the heavenly Temple. God is a God of detail; He is not only concerned about detail regarding His Temple, but He is concerned about every detail of our lives. God is also Just and Righteous, and we see this in the fact that our prayers can be hindered because of our heart’s condition. 

Hindered Prayer

Now, if our prayers are associated with the Incense Altar, which is connected to the burnt offerings, then we see that if we have sin in our lives, our prayers can be hindered. For example, if a husband is not living in a right relationship with his wife, this could hinder his prayers (1 Peter 3:7). Yeshua tells us that if someone has a grievance against us we are to leave our offering at the altar and go make things right (Matthew 5:23). 

What altar was Yeshua talking about? Well, you may say the altar at the Temple, but would that then apply to us? If not, then the concept of forgiveness would not apply to us either. Or maybe it was for those believers at the time; but then, if Yeshua is our example, should we disregard the things He says? Or maybe the process of worship is the same yesterday, today and forever. One day the Temple will return, but for now, the heavenly Temple still is in operation, and before we can come to God with our sacrifice of praise or even our monetary offerings, we must first make things right between us and our neighbor. If we harbor bitterness or unforgiveness, our prayers will be hindered (Matthew 6:15, 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, Ephesians 4:26-27). 

We must first humble ourselves and see the need to repent, and stop at the altar, and lay that sin down. It is as though we are stopping at the cross of Calvary, for the altar and the cross are one and the same. Then we can go to the Laver and be washed by the blood of Yeshua; in so doing we are walking in the light of God’s Word; in other words, our lives must line up with God’s Word. Then we can have fellowship with Him, feasting at His table. From there, we can stop at the Incense Altar and bring our requests and prayers before God. This is a process that we must go through. There is only one path of worship, and this is it. Yes, Yeshua died for our sins, but we must still examine our hearts and go through the process. 1 Corinthians 11:28-31 tells us that a man should examine himself before communion. But it goes on to say, “But if we judge ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.” God is a holy God, and so we are to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), and when it comes to entering into God’s presence, we must be without sin, and if we deceive ourselves, that will only hinder our prayers. 

Trusting God

When we have done all that we can do, then the Bible tells us in Ephesians 6:13 to stand believing. Waiting on God is the essence to all prayer. Matthew 7:7 tells us to ask and keep on asking, and then you shall receive. It is in waiting on God that we grow in perseverance and in character (James 1:4). It is in this waiting and trusting God that the fragrance, the aroma of our prayers, becomes more pleasing to God (Psalm 141:2). The true worship of God is found in relying on our Father to be exactly that—our Father—knowing that He will never leave us or fail us. Now, does this mean that we will receive everything that we ask for? No. But this does mean that God will give us what we need and what will be good for us (James 1:17). Only a loving Father can do this. So when we lift up holy hands and praise the One True God, let us always remember that it is through Yeshua our Messiah that we are able to come and offer up our prayers and requests to God our Father. He made the way for us to be forgiven. 

Next we are going to look at the veil, which was torn on our behalf so that we can now come into the Holy of Holies. 

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