Before the Face of God

When I was little I heard my mother say on occasion, “Why, that guy thinks he’s God’s gift to women.” You know the type, don’t you? They strut around women acting as if their mere presence is enough to cause women everywhere to swoon and drop to their knees thanking God for such a wonderful specimen of pure manliness. I’ve met a few people who seem to think they are God’s gift to God; as if God is sustained by their goodness and their superior spirituality; as if God should thank himself for such a wonderful specimen of pure righteousness. I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I think this may be a sure way to miss the Presence of Yahweh altogether.

In Exodus 25:23-30, Yahweh gives the Israelites instructions concerning the Table which holds the Bread of the Presence. This table is called “The Table of the Presence” in Numbers 4:7; “The Pure Table” in Leviticus 24:6; “The Table of the Row-arrangement” in 2 Chronicles 29:18; and “The golden Table upon which is the Bread of the Presence” in 1 Kings 7:48. Just like the chest in the previous section, it was to be made out of acacia wood. Again, this wood is light, strong and durable. It was also to overlaid with gold with a decorative border around it and a rim around the top. It was roughly three feet long by 1 foot 6 inches wide by 2 feet by 3 inches high. Again, ancient measurements were not standardized. It was also to be considered holy, being carried by a pole inserted through two rings on either side. The pole was also overlaid with gold. This table was not to be touched while moving it. So, one of the symbols connected with this table was holiness.

Four utensils were to be made of pure gold and kept on the table. The first was dishes or platters, probably for the bread. The second was pans or any hollow vessel which most likely held the pure frankincense (see Leviticus 24:7), an accompaniment offering to the Bread. The third utensil was a pitcher or jar holing the wine for the drink-offering. The fourth was a sacrificial bowl into which the drink-offering was poured. The symbol here is of ministry and sacrifice. The priests were to minister at this table and the bread, frankincense and wine were about offerings.

Then they are told to place the Bread of the Face on the table before Yahweh’s face at all times. Face is often translated presence and that makes sense because if you are before someone’s face you are in their presence. In Leviticus 24:5-6 the Israelites are instructed to place two rows of six loaves on the table. The frankincense was either place beside the bread or, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, placed on top of the loaves. Every Sabbath, twelve new loaves were set on the table and the weak old bread was eaten by the priest. On this table there was always twelve loaves of bread. And the big discussion here is what does this mean; what is the symbol? Maybe it is a constant reminder that the twelve tribes do not sustain God; God sustains them. It is when they stood before the face of Yahweh, that all of their needs were provided for. Some scholars see here an early allusion to the Israelites providing sustenance for God. It is true that other ancient societies had a concept of a god who needed people to provide him or her food. But the Israelites never thought of Yahweh this way. It was Yahweh who provided for them; his sovereignty was strongly in place within their theology. The twelve loaves of bread before the face of God provide food for the priests who in turn minister at the Table, offering grain and drink offerings to the Holy God. But there was no confusion about who sustained who.

It is also true that when things seemed all out of kilter that the Israelites did traipse after other gods. They sometimes hedged their bets by worshiping Baal alongside Yahweh. But they did not view themselves as providing for Yahweh. It is Yahweh who provides. We are not God’s gift of spiritual superiority to himself. Yahweh is the shepherd who makes sure we lie down in green pastures; who leads us beside quiet waters; who protects us as we traverse the valley of deep darkness; who prepares a table for us before our enemies. It is still God who provides all that we need. And it is when we humble ourselves before the face of God that he exalts us. When we beat our chest and cry out, “Lord redeem my soul, I’m a sinner” we go home justified. When we think God is lucky to have us, we miss the glory of his providence. Faith is trusting in the presence and power of God while standing before his face. Faith it up my friends and allow God to exalt you. Peace, Walter.