Category Archives: Plants in The Tabernacle

Wheat in the Presence Bread

Wheat GrainsSuggested readings Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 2; Leviticus 24:5 – 9.

Fine wheat flour was used to make the loaves of bread that was placed on the Table of Presence in the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting. In the Bible, the loaves are called the bread of the Presence, the Presence bread, or the Showbread. (Exodus 25:30). There was one loaf for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The loaves represented a perpetual bread offering to God.The Presence-bread was set out in two piles of six loaves (Exodus 24: 5 – 9). Each pile was set on a solid gold plate used exclusively on the Table of the Presence. Every Sabbath a new set of 12 loaves was set out before the Lord as an everlasting covenant. The loaves that were removed from the Table belonged to Aaron and his sons who were directed to eat them in a holy place. Most likely the holy eating place was the courtyard outside the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 6:16). On the Table beside the stacks of Presence-bread, pure incense was set out. The incense was burned to represent the bread, an offering made to the Lord by fire. No part of the Presence-bread itself was ever burned.

In Old Testament times most wheat was milled into flour to make bread. Milling was a mechanical process of separating the wheat endosperm from the bran and germ. Then the wheat endosperm (starch) was ground into flour. The bread of the Presence was made with “fine flour” (Leviticus 24:5; NIV Study Bible note Exodus 2:1) which means no wheat bran or germ remained in the flour and the flour was thoroughly ground.

In most early societies, men planted and harvested wheat while women milled and baked the resulting flour into bread; however, the Kohathites (the second of Levi’ sons) were charged with baking the Presence-bread. When the Bible described the Presence-bread, it was not identified as made without yeast (unleavened). Yet, more than likely it was unleavened because all grain offerings baked in the oven and presented in the Tabernacle were required to be made without yeast (Leviticus 2:4, 11).

There are three possible sources for the wheat used to make the fine flour for the Presence-bread. First, possibly the flour came with the Israelites out of Egypt. Yet if flour was available, why did the Israelites grumble against Moses and Aaron in the Desert of Sin, complaining that they had no food (Exodus 16: 1-16)? It was in the Desert of Sin, about 2 ½ months after the Israelites left Egypt, where God began to feed the Israelites with manna. God provided manna which could be baked into a type of bread the entire 40 years the children of Israel wandered in the Sinai Peninsula.

A second source of the fine wheat flour used to make the Presence-bread could have been wild wheat. When the Tabernacle was built, the Israelites were camped at Mt. Sinai, now known as Mt. Safsafa at Wadi Raha. Mt. Safsafa is part of St. Katherine’s Municipality, South Sinai, Egypt. This area is high altitude desert (5,200 feet) and winter nights can drop to below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The St. Katherine’s area is the only place in Egypt where snow falls on a regular basis. The mountain snow melts slowly, releasing water at a steady pace, replenishing underground catchment areas. When rain falls, water flows rapidly down the barren Sinai Mountains and drenches the valleys, gullies, and wadi at the base of the mountains. Residents of St. Katherine’s Municipality reported that in older times there was at least one rainfall every 40 days and valleys were greener than present. Wild wheat and even domesticated wheat could have possibly grown in the area of Mt. Sinai. In the Mid-East wheat is planted in the fall (about November) and harvested the spring (April) . Perhaps the Israelites found wild wheat or planted winter wheat around the base of Mt. Sinai where they camped for 11 months. This wheat would not have been sufficient to feed the approximate two million Israelites, but it may have been ample to make fine flour for the Presence-bread. Further, the Israelites could have found wild wheat in various places during their 40 year journey over the Sinai Peninsula. An argument against finding wild wheat on the Sinai Peninsula is in Numbers 20:5 where the Children of Israel complained to Moses that the Peninsula has “no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.” By this time the Israelites had wandered around  the Sinai Peninsula almost 40 years and they were very aware of its plant life.

A third possible source of fine wheat flour could have been from traders. As early as the 16th century B.C. the Sinai Peninsula was an important cross-road for traders. In the 16th century B.C., the Pharaohs built the way of Shur across the Sinai to Beersheba and into Jerusalem. Other trade routes crossed near the center of the Sinai, connecting Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. It is possible that fine wheat grain or flour from the Nile Delta was transported along trade routes. Egypt was known to export grain (Genesis 24:3 – 5). Certainly, the Israelites had sufficient gold and silver to purchase raw grain and/or fine flour from traders (Exodus 36: 3-7).

The Wheat Plant

Research shows that cereal gatherings could have occurred as early as 17,000 B.C. in the near east. The earliest wild wheats were einkorn (Triticum boeoticum) and emmer (T. dicoccidoides) which grew in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. Archeology records documented that wheat was domesticated prior to 7000 B.C. and grown for harvest in the Fertile Crescent and in the Nile delta region (northern Egypt). In the Bible wheat is first mentioned as harvested by Jacob in Palestine (Genesis 30: 14). Wheat is an annual crop that grows best in temperate climates. Wheat grows in about 100 days in a frost-free growing season. To obtain a good wheat crop, from 15 – 20 inches of precipitation are necessary. In areas of no more than 10 – 15 inches of precipitation, wheat is often planted every 2 years. The land is kept free of vegetation on the alternate year so moisture can accumulate in the soil. Wheat kernels consist of three parts. The outer covering (about 12%) is called bran. The center (endosperm, 85%) is composed of starch, the portion present in white flour. The inner part of the kernel (2 – 3%), called the germ (embryo) expands, or germinates, into the new wheat plant.

Symbolism: Living, Life

Wheat has been valuable to man from time immemorial and it was valuable to God who commanded that the Israelites make the Presence-bread from it. I am intrigued that God told the Israelites to bake bread weekly out of wheat, a grain that was not in large supply on the dry Sinai Peninsula. Why didn’t God allow them bake manna for the Presence-bread? Manna was plentiful and God provided a steady supply of it. Instead God required the Israelites to make an offering from wheat, a grain they had to seek during their 40 years of travels.

Just like it could have been difficulty for the Israelites to find sufficient wheat to mill fine flour for the Presence-Bread, it is sometimes difficult to walking out a Christian life. As a child in Sunday School I learned that Christ said to come to him; his burdens are easy and yoke light. At times I feel like there is a big wooden oxen yoke on my shoulders that is weighing me down. I feel like I am seeking a way to His presence that I cannot fine. I’ve come to realize that on days that I feel bone weary and weighed down, I need to go back to Matthew 11 and read exactly what Christ was telling the crowd. Matthew 11: 28 – 30 reads “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If I want a light burden today — here in this world — I must come to Christ and learn from His life. When I study the life of Christ, I see a man who seemed to be without ego. Christ didn’t have to have His own way all of the time. He lived in the presence of his Father and did God’s will, even dying because it was God’s will. Christ described himself as gentle and humble. Gentle and humble isn’t an easy way to live. It seems counter-intuitive to many women my age who worked hard to achieve in a world geared to men. But, I’m not willing to say that Christ’s directions on how to live are wrong. And, I am reminded of St. Paul’s words, “I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1 – 2).

Reflection. I think I understand it now: To have a light, unburden life, I need to be gentle and meek as Christ was. A life such as this does not conform to the world. It is a living sacrifice – a sweet perfume – offered daily to Christ. In this new paradigm, my life becomes an offering to God much as the fine wheat Presence-bread was an offering and sacrifice to God.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright January 25, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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Overview of the Tabernacle

Historical records suggest that the Israelites fled Egypt and crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai Peninsula in 1446 B.C.  (Old Testament Chronology, NIV Study Bible, 2002). After crossing the Red Sea, they traveled down the western side of the Sinai Peninsula arriving at the base of  Mount Sinai  three  3 months after leaving Egypt (Exodus:19:1). Some places in the Bible refer to Mountain Sinai as Mount Horeb translated as “the desolate place.” The south central Sinai Peninsula is an arid mountainous region. Bible scholars cannot specify with 100% accuracy which mountain peak Moses meant when he wrote about Israel’s experiences at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). While camped at Mount Sinai the Israelites constructed the Tabernacle (Exodus 19:29 – 4040:38). God required that the Tabernacle be set up on the first day of the year (Exodus 40:1); approximately 8 – 9 months after the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai (MacDonald, 1995). Given these time frames, the Tabernacle would have been constructed in the latter half of 1446 B.C. and consecrated in 1445 B.C.

The word “Tabernacle” has several meanings. First and foremost the Tabernacle was the tent or sanctuary where God dwelt among His people (Exodus 29: 42-46). It was the place where God met and spoke with the Israelites, thus the Tabernacle was frequently identified as the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 29:42; Exodus 40:1, 26, 34). Surrounding the Tent of Meeting was a courtyard which measured 150 feet long by 75 feet wide with 7.5 feet high sides (MacDonald, 1995). Israelites entered the courtyard through a 30 foot wide gate that was always positioned facing east. At times Biblical writers used the word “Tabernacle” to encompass both the Tent of Meeting and courtyard with its structures. Click on the link at the top of the entry to see a diagram of the Tent of Meeting and surrounding courtyard

The Altar of Burnt Offering was the first structure seen when entering the Tabernacle courtyard. The Altar was square, each side measured 7.5 feet and it was 4.5 feet high (MacDonald, 1995); the basic structure was acacia wood boards. The Altar of Burnt Offering was sometimes called the Bronze Altar because the acacia wood boards were covered with bronze (Exodus 38: 7). At each corner post was an upward projection referred to as the “horns” of the altar. The horns were overlaid with bronze. The purpose of the Alter of Burnt Offering was to offer sacrifices to God. Animal sacrifice could be tied to the horns. Some of the animal blood was put on the horns before the remainder was poured into the base of the Altar. The metal bronze speaks of judgment. The horns had symbolic meaning to the Israelites in two ways. First, they symbolized the atoning power of the altar. Second, in the time of Israel’s kings, the horns of the Altar were symbols of refuge (I Kings 1:50; 2: 28).

Moving front to back in the Tabernacle courtyard, the second structure was the Laver ( Basin for Washing) (Exodus 30:17-21). The Laver was located in front of the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The Bible describes the Laver as a basin and stand for washing, but does not give its dimensions (size or form). The Laver was made from bronze mirrors contributed by Israelite women (Exodus 38:8). When the Laver was constructed, mirrored glass was not available. Highly polished brass was used to see reflections. The bronze basin was filled with water. The priests (Aaron and his sons) were required to wash their hands and feet before entering the Tent of Meeting and presenting offerings to God (Exodus 30:17 – 21). The penalty for not washing before entering the Tent of Meeting was death. In the entire Tabernacle complex, the Laver is the only structure not associated with plants.

The Tent of Meeting was located behind the Bronze Laver; the Tent was15 feet wide and 45 feet long (MacDonald, 1995). The Tent of Meeting was divided into two rooms. The first room was called the Holy of Holies. Located behind the first, the second room was designated as the Most Holy of Holies. The two rooms were separated by a curtain. The Holy of Holies contained the Alter of Incense, the Table of the Presence (Table of Showbread), and the gold Lampstand. The Most Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant (Ark of Testimony). When the Tabernacle was consecrated, the Ark contained the two stone tablets (Tablets of Testimony) on which were written the 10 Commandments given by God to Moses. Later, an urn containing manna and Aaron’s staff were added.

Although God gave Moses the direction for building the Tabernacle complex, He identified two men to head the work (Exodus 31: 1 – 11; Exodus 35: 30 – 36:1) Bezalel of the tribe of Judah was given the ability, skill and knowledge in all kinds of crafts and to make needed designs. Oholiab of the tribe of Dan was identified to help Bezalel. Both men were given ability to teach the craftsmen and skilled persons who participated in the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishing.

God directed Moses to tell the Israelites to being offerings for the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25: 1 – 7). The types of offerings were gold, silver, bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yearn and fine linen; goat hair, ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the priest’s ephod and breast piece. The Israelites response to Moses’ call for offerings to build the Tabernacle was overwhelming. Exodus 31:4 -7 records that all the skilled craftsmen who were doing the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses: “the people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Moses gave an order that no man or women was to make anything else for the sanctuary. The Israelites were restrained from bringing more offerings because there was already more than enough materials to complete Tabernacle construction.

When it was built, the Tabernacle had both literal and symbolic meanings for the children of Israel. The Tabernacle presaged (foretold and foreshadowed) Christ; many items used in its construction pointed toward Christ. The Israelites carried the Tabernacle and met with God in the Tent of Meeting on their pilgrimage toward the promise land. Christians are also on a pilgrimage; our destination is Heaven. As we travel, we carry Christ within us and have the opportunity to meet with Him in prayer.

Under the heading “Tabernacle” are six different topics describing plants (wood, flax, almonds, wheat, etc.) associated with construction of the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle courtyard and the priest’s clothes. Also included are descriptions of plants used in making  annointing/consecrating oils and incense. The topics covered in http://www.Godasagardener do not attempt to cover all the Tabernacles symbolism; however, symbols associated with plants are discussed in detail. The Believer’s Bible Commentary (1995) (see Bibliography and links) and the NIV Study Bible notes provide additional information on symbolism of the Tabernacle.

I hope you enjoy reading about Plants in the Tabernacle and that you will provide insightful comments to promote dialogue as Tabernacle topics are added to the blog.

Copyright January 1, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.