David and the Showbread – 1 Samuel 21

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”  But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Matthew 12:1-4 NKJV

The table of showbread, or the bread of God’s Presence, was an integral part of God’s Holy Place in the tabernacle.  The tabernacle design was given to Moses by God Himself and had heavenly symbolism and significance.

The bread was unleavened and of a special recipe that allowed it to last all week without getting stale or moldy. Twelve loaves of the bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel were stacked in two piles and placed upon a gold covered table by the priests. Only the priests were allowed into the Holy Place, which also held the always-glowing seven-headed oil lampstand, and the always-burning altar of incense, a reminder of the prayers that are ever-present with God.

After being before the Lord for one week, the old showbread was replaced by new bread, and the old was given to the priests as food. The special unleavened recipe allowed the bread to remain perfectly edible for the priests and their families after its week of spiritual service.

The 12 loaves of showbread represented God’s ongoing care and provision for His chosen people, the twelve tribes of Israel. A curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments and supported the Mercy Seat, where God met with the High Priest once each year.

It was into this tabernacle setting that David arrived while on the run from King Saul.  Saul was intent on killing David due to his jealousy over the throne.  Saul was consumed by a demonic madness that obsessed him with the mission of tracking down and killing David.

Desperately in need of supplies for himself and a small group of supporters, David fled to God’s tabernacle at Nob.  He asked the head priest, Ahimelech, to give him food and a sword.  Besides the sword of Goliath, which had been stored there, the only other thing Ahimelech had available to give David was last week’s supply of showbread.

So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away. 1 Samuel 21:6 NKJV

Speaking later to the Pharisees, Jesus did not condemn David for taking the showbread to eat when he was on the run from Saul. David had been anointed by God to rule on Israel’s throne, and it was fully in line with God’s will and purpose to keep David alive. In fact, God’s plan is to keep David’s throne through eternity, and one day Jesus will reign upon it as our King of Kings.

Just as the Sabbath rules were made for man’s benefit and rest, so the tabernacle with its lamps, altars and showbread were made for man so that he could experience God’s presence, and fully lean upon Him for complete forgiveness, eternal salvation, healing, and ongoing blessings.  God is always looking at the intent of our hearts and wants us to seek Him rather than the approval of man.


Each aspect of God’s tabernacle points to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the source of our forgiveness and atonement through His sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, the Light of the World and the Bread of Life. May the Holy Spirit raise up the incense of prayer and praise in our hearts today as we live for Him.

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