The bread of the Presence (also called the showbread or shewbread in some translations) was special bread always present on a table in the tabernacle (and later in the temple). Leviticus 24:5–7 describes this bread:
“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord.”
This bread of the Presence was 1) made of fine flour, 2) baked in 12 loaves, 3) arranged in two piles of six loaves each on a table of pure gold, 4) covered with frankincense, and 5) served as a memorial food offering to the Lord. The bread could only be eaten by Aaron and his sons in a holy place and was set out every Sabbath day (Leviticus 24:8–9).
The bread of the Presence is first mentioned in Exodus 25:30. God instructed for it to be placed on the golden table in the tabernacle. The bread is also listed in the contributions for the tabernacle in Exodus 35:13 and noted as part of the completed tabernacle in Exodus 39:36. In Numbers 4 the Kohathites, who were sons of Levi, were given responsibility for the care of the table of showbread.
First Chronicles 9:32 says, “Also some of their kinsmen of the Kohathites had charge of the showbread, to prepare it every Sabbath.” This bread was likely prepared on each Friday and placed in the tabernacle on each Sabbath in two piles of six. It would be replenished each week, allowing the priests to eat fresh bread in the holy place.
At one point in David’s life, when he was on the run from Saul, he asked the priest Ahimelech for food. The priest gave David the bread of the Presence, since it was the only bread available (1 Samuel 21:1–6). David was not a priest, so it was technically unlawful for him to eat the showbread. Jesus later refers to this event, using it as proof that the Law was designed for man’s benefit, and that Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1–8; Mark 2:25–27; Luke 6:3–5).
The Old Testament showbread placed on the table in the tabernacle provides a wonderful picture of Jesus, the Bread of Life. Jesus is holy before God, He provides true sustenance, and He is always present. “Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry’” (John 6:35).
One other New Testament reference, Hebrews 9:1–2, mentions the table of showbread as one of the items in the first section of the tabernacle. Also included in that place was the lampstand. Verse 15 notes, “Therefore [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” The context explains that the important aspects of the Jewish law were no longer necessary since Christ has become high priest once and for all.