In Leviticus 24:1-9, we have repeated commands from Exodus. First, regarding the menorah and oil for it, we find these commands in Exodus 27:20-21, and the showbread in Exodus 25:30. It does cause one to question, why is this mentioned here?
First, lets try to understand what these things are even about. The menorah was formed from one piece of gold, and weighed nearly 100 pounds. It had seven branches (modern day menorahs have nine), was decorated with nine flower blooms, eleven fruits, and twenty-two cups. The Talmud says that it was 18 tefachim tall (which comes out to about 5 feet 3 inches, or 1.6 meters). In 1 Samuel 3:3, it is called the “lamp of God”.
Exodus 25:36 tells us that it was hammered out of a single piece of gold. There were seven “lamps”, which were specifically the piece at the top that held the fire. Then, there were seven “branches”, which were the stems that went back to the middle. The branches, unlike in modern depictions, were most likely straight, like the branches of a tree, just like the Torah was referred to as a tree of life.
When the oil was replaced, and the wicks trimmed, it was found that the westernmost lamp was still burning (miraculously, because it was the first to be lit, but the last to burn out). Each morning it was found with flame, though the others had already burned out. In the Talmud (Yoma 39a), it is declared that about forty years before the destruction of the second temple, this flame no longer burned in the mornings. Remember from the Day of Atonement that the tradition goes (from this same passage in the Talmud, actually) that the crimson thread no longer turned white after about 30 A.D. What happened around 30 A.D? Was this not the death and resurrection of Jesus?
The menorah was decorated with seven lamps and branches, eleven fruits, nine flower blooms, and twenty-two cups. Why these numbers? The menorah is the light of the Torah. There are seven words in the first verse of Genesis, eleven words in the first verse of Exodus, nine words in the first verse of Leviticus, and twenty-two words in the first verse of Deuteronomy. You might ask, “Where is Numbers?” The menorah stood 18 tefachim high, the lamps on top being 1 handbreadth. So, because the lamps have already been counted, we see the seventeen words in Numbers 1:1 are represented by the remaining seventeen handbreadths in height.
The menorah was not seen from the outside of the Tabernacle. It was inside, within the holy chamber, where sunlight could not enter. The menorah was the light to the Holy Place, the Most Holy Place being pitch dark because of the thick curtain to even block the light of the menorah.
Turn to Revelation 1. We find before the “one like a son of man” are seven golden lamp stands (verse 12). We see in verse 20 an interpretation of the “stars” and “lamp stands”. The stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. The lamp stands are the seven churches. What is John seeing? He is seeing the heavenly menorah. The lamps on top are stars, and the branches are these lamp stands. Look at Revelation 3:1, “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” Here we see the seven spirits being paralleled with the seven stars. Almost all commentators recognize the seven spirits (sometimes wrongly translated as sevenfold spirit) as the Holy Spirit. So, whoever these “angels” of the churches are, they are somehow coupled with the Holy Spirit Himself.
Turn to Revelation 4. Here we see the heavenly Tabernacle. God sits upon the throne, and before the throne, in verse 5, are these seven lamps that are blazing. This is the menorah. Then, we read, “These are the seven spirits of God”. Somehow, the seven lamps, which are the seven churches, are the seven spirits. Turn to Revelation 5. We find in verse 6 that the Lamb (Jesus) has “seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Now, horns in the prophetic text always represent some sort of leadership or kingdom. These seven horns are the seven angels – the leaders of the seven churches – while the seven eyes are the churches themselves.
So, what was at one time used only to light the inward sanctuary is now sent out through the earth as the “eyes of the Lord”. Notice the tie that this has with Zechariah 3:9 and 4:10. In Zechariah 3, God shows the prophet Joshua the high priest being given clean robes and promotion in the Kingdom of God. You come to verse 8, and the words read that Joshua and his associates are “men symbolic of things to come.” See verse 9: “See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord Almighty, and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.” In the next chapter, we read about these two olive branches (symbolic of the two witnesses in Revelation 11), and they stand before the golden lamp stand! When we read the description of the lamp stand, we realize that this is the menorah. There are seven channels, being the branches, and seven lights, being the lamps. In verse 10, we read, “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.”
This is important, because you can’t read Zechariah 3-4 without reading Zechariah 2 first. In Zechariah 2, the words are, “whoever touches you (Jerusalem) touches the apple of my eye.” That Hebrew word there literally means pupil of my eye. Jerusalem is the pupil of God’s eye… Then, when we get to 3:9, we read of this white stone (Jesus) that has seven eyes upon it. Then, the same seven eyes are mentioned in 4:10 in regard to the seven branches and lights of the menorah. The three are inseparable.
What about the showbread? What is the significance of it? Notice that just as the menorah had seven branches, the showbread before the Lord is supposed to be twelve loaves. Seven churches, twelve tribes of Israel. The showbread was placed on the north side of the Temple, opposite the menorah, in front of the Holy of Holies. The Hebrew for the showbread is lechem hapanim, or “bread of the face”. It would be metaphorically, “bread of the presence (of God)”. It is also called “the continual bread” (Numbers 4:7) and “bread of the row” (1 Chronicles 9:32).
What significance does this bread have? It is interesting that there really is so little written about it. For example, while we have much that we can tie the menorah to (as seen above), we don’t have any significant imagery of the showbread. At best we can somehow tie these loaves to the ‘twelves’ in Revelation 21. There are the twelve gates of the Holy City, each one with a name of a tribe of Israel, and the twelve foundations of the gates, each one with the name of an apostle. But this doesn’t really give a direct link, and it doesn’t actually satisfy me.
So, what it seems like we need to examine is what the Tabernacle itself is. We see in Exodus 19-24 that God comes down upon Sinai in amazing and awesome manifestation. We see fire, we see lightning, we see smoke, there is thunder and horns blowing, there is earth shaking, and all of this is representing literal things in heaven. When we then look at the Tabernacle, it seems to be a traveling Sinai. For example, the altar at the base of the mountain is now moved to just outside of the Tabernacle. The rock from which the water came is found represented in the washing basin. The smoke and fire is found represented in the altar of incense. The menorah represents the lightning that was flashing. Thus, the showbread must represent the manna.
In regard to the manna, this was the “bread of heaven”. We eat the bread of heaven in order to commune with God (see John 6 for reference). Jesus called Himself the “bread of life” which came down from heaven. If you partake in eating of this bread, then you shall have life in you. The manna is more than just a strange substance that caused the Israelites to ask, “What is it?” It is a sign of the provision of God, but also of His fellowship with His people. Now, the fact that there are twelve loaves of showbread is obvious. This represents the twelve tribes of Israel. However, the question is asked, “Why would God have the showbread represent Israel and manna at the same time?”
Once again, think about who Israel is. The people are the dwelling place of God. It is through Israel that all the nations would come unto God (see Exodus 19:6, Deuteronomy 4:6, Isaiah 2:3, 14:1, 66:18-21, Ezekiel 5:5, 37:26-28, and Zechariah 8:13 for starters). So, the showbread represents the manna, the fact that there are twelve should hint to us that Israel is like this showbread. Israel is the manna to the Gentiles. Israel is the bread of heaven that imparts life unto the nations. Of course, we see the fulfillment directly in Christ Jesus, the representative of Israel, but we also see time and time again that God desires to perform that same calling through Israel.
Just like the menorah is found as symbolically Jesus, but we see the extension out to the Church, here we see the showbread representing Jesus, but extending out to also representing Israel’s calling and purpose to the nations. Let us get back to that original question, “Why is this mentioned here?” Why in Leviticus 24 do we have a break to give us information already recorded in Exodus? We just finished up wit the seven feasts of the Lord in Leviticus 23. We saw how the six annual feasts represent the two comings of Christ, an eschatological paradigm. The Feast of Tabernacles pretty well represents the new Heaven and New Earth, when God shall “tabernacle” will all creation. After the feasts, we read of these two symbols that are supposed to be in the presence of the Lord forever.
It is almost as if God is given a look into the heavenly Tabernacle, because He wants to show the seven churches (menorah) and the twelve tribes of Israel (showbread) are dwelling in His presence forever. All of history has ended, and we are now in the next age, and yet both Israel and the Church remain before God. Their eternal destiny to be His people will remain forever. You cannot ever remove one of the lamp stands, nor any one loaf, from its place.