The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark and the table of bread listed in this passage (25:10-40) were constructed with shittim wood (from the Hebrew, shittah), which is the wood of acacia tree that grows in desert regions. The Egyptians referred to this tree as the “tree of life.” The Septuagint calls it “incorruptible wood,” as the wood can strengthen with age. Once constructed, the furniture was covered with pure gold. The Ark of the Covenant, called in Hebrew Aron Habrit, was a box that held a gold pot containing some manna, the rod of Aaron, and the tablets of the Law written on stone (see Heb. 9:4). The lid on the Ark was called the mercy seat, or kapporeth in Hebrew, and was a thick plate of gold with two cherubim, constructed of one sheet of gold, sitting on top of this lid (see v. 17-22). The Ark was the lone piece of sacred furniture in the Holy of Holies in both the tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. Once a year, the high priest sprinkled blood on the east end of the mercy seat and God communicated with the high priest from between the wings of the cherubim (see v. 22).
The Jewish commentator Rashi explains that the Ark consisted of three boxes. The primary box was made of acacia wood. The second box was larger than the first and made of gold; the primary box was placed inside it. The third box was also gold, but smaller than the other two, and it was placed inside the wooden box. Thus, the main box was covered with gold from the inside out (Source: The Chumash, Stone Edition, Shemos/Exodus, page 477). A gold rim encircled the top of the Ark. The Ark was carried by four priests who placed its wooden staves on their shoulders. The four priests carrying the Ark may be an earthly picture of a heavenly reality, as Ezekiel saw four cherubim bearing the throne of God upon their shoulders (see Ezek. 1).
The Table of Showbread
The English word showbread in Hebrew is lechem (bread) and panim (face), called the “Bread of Face” or “Bread of Presence.” This table held two columns, stacked with six loaves of bread on each column. The bread contained two omers of flour and was mixed with frankincense (see Lev. 24:5-7). The bread, baked each Friday, remained on the table for one week and was replaced on the Sabbath. The priests were permitted to eat the replaced bread, but only in the holy place. The table of showbread was positioned at the northern wall of the temple, inside the holy place, directly across from the golden menorah. The twelve loaves are representative of the Word of God, as the Word is compared to bread (see Matt. 4:4; 6:11; 7:9; John 6:31-51). The New Testament contains twelve major doctrines that are parallel with the twelve loaves:
Salvation (Acts 4:12)
Justification (Rom. 5:1)
Water baptism (Matt. 28:19)
Sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3)
Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11)
Laying on of hands (Heb. 6:2)
Second Coming of Christ (Acts 1:11)
The resurrection of the dead (Heb. 6:2)
Judgment of the righteous at the Bema (Rom. 14:10)
Judgment of the unrighteous at the white throne (Rev. 20:11-15)
Eternal life for the righteous (John 3:15)
Eternal punishment for the unrighteous (Rev. 20:14)
The Golden Lampstand (Candlestick)
The seven-branched golden menorah provided light for the holy place at the tabernacle and the temple. According to Jewish history, it weighed about a hundred pounds. The temple menorah had seven branches that stayed lit by a supply of olive oil. The base was a three-legged tripod and the top contained cups, knops, lilies, and flowers, totaling sixty-six ornaments. Each lamp held about “six eggs” of measured oil, enough for one day. It was believed to hold a log (approximately half a pint) of oil. According to the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, the menorah was roughly six feet tall. The greatest controversy surrounding the menorah exists over the basic structure, shape, and direction of the branches. Some suggest they were curved or rounded at the bottom, and others believe they rose diagonally out of the middle of the main shaft.
Each day the menorah had to be cleaned. Each cup was refilled with oil, and gold tweezers were used to remove the old wicks and relight the new wicks for the light. According to Josephus, the seven branches represented the seven original planets.
The mystical Jewish interpretations for the menorah are endless. The lamp served as the light for the holy place but symbolized the divine illumination of the human intellect. The golden seven-branched light was made from one talent of gold (see Exod. 25: 39), which was 3,000 shekels or approximately 2,400 ounces. If the price of gold were to be $1000 per ounce, this menorah would be valued at $2.4 million.
To read about the significance of tabernacle furniture, see the articles “The Sacred Furniture Is a Picture of the Messiah” and “Cross Imagery Hidden in the Old Testament” in Exodus in Depth.