The Divine Banquet
By Horatius Bonar, 1867
"He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy." Lev. 21:22
It is not easy to say whether the words, "bread of his God," refer generally to the sacrifices and offerings, or specially to the "show-bread." We take them as pointing to the latter; as, indeed, in any interpretation of the expression, the show-bread must be included, if not mainly intended.
It was called the "show-bread;" or, more properly, "the bread of the presence;" the bread that stood on the King's table, and in the King's presence; the bread which was therefore intimately connected with him who is called "the Angel of the Presence" (Isaiah 62:9); the bread which was associated with him whose "presence" went with Israel wherever they went (Ex. 33:14).
The name of itself marked it as something different from the manna. That was "angels' food" (Psalm 78:25); it was the bread of heaven (Psalm 105:40); but this was "presence-bread," the King's own loaf; "royal dainties;" taken each Sabbath morning from the King's table, and given to the "royal priesthood" who ministered to the Mighty King. Yet was it made of common wheat, the fruit of the curse-laden soil; ground in the mill; mixed with water; kneaded by the hands of a man; baked by fire—and this not altar-fire—but common fire from man's hearth—like other bread. And though, in after times, all this was done by the Levites or Kohathites, yet at first it is enjoined on Moses himself, as the representative of the great King, whose bread it was. Such was the typical bread; the "bread of the presence;" bread setting forth something truer, and more substantial, more spiritual, more royal, more divine; the "true bread;" the bread of God; that "flesh which is meat indeed." For the food of the Church, in each age, has been the same; "they did all eat the same spiritual meat" (1 Cor. 10:3); and thus all along faith realized "the communion of the body of Christ" (1 Cor. 10:16), and even before he came, led Israel to see, that, "though many, they are one bread and one body, being all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17).
Let us examine this true "presence-bread," set before God's kings and priests as their true and eternal food.
I. It is provided by God.As in carrying out his purpose in the old creation, he provided every fruit-bearing tree for man; so, in accomplishing the new creation, he has supplied the "food convenient." He gave the tree of life for the paradise of the first Adam; and he has not forgotten it in that of the second. He has made the provision for his house; and he has also blessed it. For the sustaining the life which he imparts, he provides the food required. Therefore was the "presence-bread" of old called "the bread of our God," because both itself, and that which it symbolized, were provided by God himself. To clothe the lilies and to feed the ravens, was to give us the pledge of fullest blessing for the souls of those who were more precious by far than lilies or ravens; and to place the twelve weekly loaves on the sanctuary table for the representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel, was to give to his whole Church, in all coming ages, the thousand times repeated assurance, that he would provide for each member of that vast but scattered company, the true bread, even the flesh of Him who was given for the life of the world.
II. It is prepared by God himself.Moses, as representing God, prepared the twelve loaves; and God himself has prepared the better bread, the flesh of the Son of Man. "A body have you prepared me." As it was not mere fruit, the simple growth of the soil, that was to be laid on the sanctuary table as God's bread—but loaves carefully prepared of certain materials, so was it in the case of him whose "flesh is meat indeed." Very careful was the preparation of this bread of God. It was committed to "the Holy Spirit," and it was accomplished by "the power of the highest" (Luke 1:35). Various were the earthly processes through which it had to pass, before it could be laid on God's table and become proper food for God's royal priesthood; and, in the growth of the wheat in Israel's fields for Israel's show-bread—its cutting down, its grinding, its kneading, its firing—in all these we have a symbol of the processes, by means of which the bread of God was prepared for us.
In the history of the birth, the life, the sorrows, the hardships, the blood-shedding, the death of the incarnate Son of God—we have a description of the way in which the "show-bread" or "presence-bread" of the Church was prepared, according to God's own method, for our everlasting food. A fragment of our common humanity, separated from the mass by God's own hand, is united to Godhead in the person of the Eternal Son. This God-man, very man and very God, is subjected to poverty and need, to hunger and thirst, to weariness and sleeplessness, to pain and sorrow, to the persecution of man and the fire of God's anger—until being "made perfect through suffering," he becomes "the bread of God." Israel's show-bread was not eaten raw, nor unkneaded, nor unbaked, nor unfired; so, neither could our bread be fit for our use until it had passed through similar processes of preparation. Ah! how little we realize the truth, that a Christ not made perfect through sufferings, would have been no Christ to us; and that every grief he bore, every change he passed through—was fitting him to be more fully and more truly the "bread of life" for us.
III. It is given to us by God.God causes it to be provided for us; no, he prepares it himself; and then having thus provided and prepared it, he gives it. "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son" (John 3:16); "the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51); "this is my body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19). "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32). There is no buying on our part, or selling on his; it is all a gift from first to last; the gift of divine love, the donation of royal munificence; the liberality of him who, as he would not have us bought with anything but blood divine, or clothed with anything but heavenly clothing, so would he not have us fed on anything but "the finest of the wheat." Yes, "this is the record that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." He who has the Son has life; and he who believes the Father's testimony has the Son. "All things are ready, come you to the feast." "Eat, O friends; drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved." And to the sinner it says, "Why will you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which satisfies not? hearken unto me, and you shall eat that which is good, and your soul shall delight itself in fatness" (Isaiah 55:2). "This is the true bread, of which if a man eats, he shall live forever."
IV. Who they are who feast on it.Perhaps the answer to such a question will be—God's priesthood, his church. Nor would this be incorrect; yet it would be defective. No doubt this heavenly bread is for them, just as the tree of life was for Adam, or the temple show-bread was for the sons of Aaron. But it is so specially called "the bread of our God;" and the table on which it is set is so specially God's own table; and the place where it is to be eaten is so manifestly the royal banquet-hall of heaven—that we come to the conclusion that God himself is partaker of this feast as well as we. The King, sitting at his own table, in his own festal chamber, not only feeds his guests—but himself partakes of that which is set before them. Of wine it is said (no doubt in reference to the drink-offering), "it cheers God and man" (Judges 9:13); as if God himself were refreshed by those offerings by which the souls of his people were refreshed. In reference to the meat-offering and the drink-offering, it is said that they are "of a sweet savor unto the Lord" (Num. 28:8), showing us that the thing in which his people delighted was the same with which he himself was satisfied. It was not the mere wine, nor the bread, nor the lamb, nor the frankincense, which was thus so acceptable to God, and in which his soul delighted; it was that which these all symbolized and embodied; that which in the fullness of time was to be unfolded in its manifold excellence—the unsearchable riches of Christ, the fullness of him "in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell."
It was for himself, then, no less than for us, that the Father was preparing this divine feast; it is for himself, as truly as for us, that he has furnished this table, and set on it that divine bread which is to be his meal, and ours as his priesthood, throughout that eternal Sabbath in which we are both to rest and feast with him. The sacrifice is over—but the feast remains, for it is eternal; standing perpetually upon God's table, and not needing, like Israel's perishable show-bread, to be removed and renewed—but abiding the same forever; not consumed, though ever fed upon by numbers without number—but, like the five Bethsaida loaves, leaving more behind at the end than it had at the beginning!
Israel's various sacrifices and offerings of all kinds were the various dishes set upon the great temple-table; each of them full of meaning; each of them containing that which would satisfy and comfort; every one of them setting forth some part of the glorious fullness of the God-man, as the true food of souls; and all of them together representing that complete and blessed feast of "fat things" partaken of by God and by his redeemed, in some measure now—but hereafter to be more fully enjoyed at the great marriage-supper in the New Jerusalem, when that shall be fulfilled, so long realized but in parts and fragments, "I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20).
Thus God in preparing Christ, in making him what he is, in filling him with the divine fullness—was not only providing bread for us to all eternity—but for himself; for with nothing less than this could he be satisfied. There is that in Christ which affords infinite and unutterable satisfaction to the Father; and if, over the creation of heaven and earth, he could rejoice, pronouncing it very good, and feasting on the wondrous workmanship of his own hands—how much more will he delight in him who is infinitely more glorious, more excellent, more perfect than all heaven and earth together; how much more truly and satisfyingly will he feast on Jesus—who is the infinity of all excellence, the vast treasure-house of all we can desire, the perfection of all perfection, the beauty of all beauty, the glory of all glory.
Israel's bread was called "show-bread" or "presence-bread," because set before the presence of Jehovah, and eaten in his holy place. So is it with Christ. He is specially the bread of the Presence, the bread set before the King, and eaten in his palace. As it is said of the feast in Ezekiel's temple, "The prince, he shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord" (Ezek. 44:3); and so do we sit down at a communion-table to eat the true presence-bread before the Lord—the Lord himself—in whose presence we sit, feasting along with us.
Israel's show-bread was for the priesthood; no others were to eat it. So the bread of God is for God's true priesthood, his church. It is not for angels, at least in the way that it is for the redeemed. Angels' food was, indeed, once given to man; but man's food is not to be given to angels. It is something of which only redeemed men can partake, and in partaking of which, they are associated with God.
Israel's show-bread was specially for the Sabbath feast of the priesthood. So, as we have seen, is Christ the food, not only of our Sabbaths here—but of the eternal Sabbath in reserve for us, when we shall enter into the temple of our God, to go out no more.
Israel's show-bread is called the "continual" bread. Though the symbolic loaves were of necessity changed every week, yet there were always loaves on the table, and always loaves for the priest's repasts, so that the bread seemed always to be in the process of being eaten, and yet never diminished nor consumed. Our better show-bread is "continual;" it is "everlasting;" and as the bush burned with fire, yet was never consumed, so the bread is always being eaten, yet never wasted. It is everlasting bread.
This, then, is the "true bread;" the "bread of God, the bread of life;" that which God calls "the bread of their God;" "My bread" (Num. 28:2); the eternal food of the soul; that on which we feed, and on which God feeds; that, in feeding on which, we have communion with God, and God with us, both sitting at the one table and partaking of the one bread. As it is at the cross of Christ that we first meet with God in peace, so it is round the eternal table where the great show-bread is placed that we meet continually, and carry on the communion begun at the cross, "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? so that we, though one body and one bread, are all partakers of that one bread." We have thus found a common center, a true and congenial meeting pace. We feed on that which God calls his bread; and with that bread we are satisfied, even as he is satisfied; well-pleased with that with which he is well-pleased. We sit down at the same table, and partake of the same food. The Lamb slain, the broken body of the eternal Son of God—is at once the center of our fellowship, the substance of our meal, and the fountain of our joy!