Light from the Sidra


Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23

The Bible is a very symbolic book. That is not to say the Hebrew Scriptures are mythological or on a level with the Babylonian and Egyptian holy writings. The Tanakh is a historically accurate collection of documents that record God’s dealing with Israel and the nations. But within the historical record are symbols evidently intended to teach Israel about their God.

The tabernacle and the garments of the High Priest readily come to mind as examples of such symbolism. The instructions for the building of God’s sanctuary and the preparation of the High Priests’ “garments of glory” are very precise, no doubt because the tabernacle and the priesthood were intended to be divine object lessons for God’s people.

Leviticus 24 contains the instructions for the preparation for “the bread of the presence”. Twelve unleavened loaves of bread were placed in two rows on the golden table in the tabernacle outside the veil, behind which God himself dwelt. The twelve loaves obviously symbolised the twelve tribes of Israel, but it is significant that there is no mention of leaven in the bread. In the Bible, leaven, or yeast, is a potent symbol of sin. When leaven, or yeast, is combined with dough, it begins to break down, spread and corrupt, causing the dough to rise. In the bread of the presence, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people, there was to be nothing that signified sin. The bread of the presence therefore pictures an ideal Israel, a holy people totally obedient to their God. In other words, the bread represents Israel in the light of the high calling for which God had chosen them.

When Balaam looked on the camp of Israel with the eye of prophecy, he could say that God had “not beheld iniquity in Jacob”, neither had he seen “perversity in Israel” (Numbers 23:21). Was there no iniquity in Israel during the wilderness years? Of course. But Balaam saw Israel in the light of God's eternal purpose.

There were other symbols for the twelve tribes of Israel. The two onyx stones with six of the names of the tribes of Israel on each of them, which were placed upon the shoulders of the ephod of the High Priest, and the four rows of three precious stones which were on his breastplate - twelve in total - symbolised the twelve tribes of Israel. The High Priest symbolically represented the people of Israel when he stood before the Lord in the holy of holies. When Aaron entered the holy of holies on Yom Kippur, he symbolically bore the nation on his shoulders in order to intercede for them and atone for their sins.

His entry into the holy of holies was once a year, but the bread of the presence reminded the twelve tribes that they were continually before the presence of the Lord. Because of this these twelve loaves are sometimes called the “continual bread” (Lechem haTamid – “the bread which is always there”). They also signify that God sees the twelve tribes of Israel as an indivisible unit, a truth reinforced by Elijah when he built an altar of twelve stones “according to the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob”. At that time the nation was divided into the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, but the prophet Elijah saw them as God saw them, one indivisible body.

The New Testament confirms the truth of Israel’s unity and looks forward to the day when the truth symbolised by the unleavened bread of the tabernacle will become a reality: the nation of Israel will be saved fully and completely. The Jewish Apostle Paul, writing to Gentile Christians in Rome, expressed it this way:

Has God cast away his people [Israel]? Certainly not! ... at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace… Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were hardened ... have [the Jewish people] stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! ... For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob ... For this is my covenant unto them, when I take away their sins ... For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (letter to the Romans, chapter 11).

God’s eternal purpose for the nation of Israel is revealed in those loaves of bread that were continually in his presence in the tabernacle. His plan has always been that Israel should stand in his presence without sin. There is only one way Israel can be purged of sin. Israel’s great high priest the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, went into the presence of God bearing his people on his heart after shedding his blood as the final and complete atonement. It is to him that Israel must look for salvation in order that they might attain the high calling of God. What thousands of years of attempting to keep the law has failed to do for Israel, Jesus can do. And it is to him that the authors of both the Tanakh and the New Testament look.

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