We read of the Shewbread in Leviticus 24:5-9:

“And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before Yahweh. And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be upon the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto Yahweh. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the Yahweh continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the Yahweh made by fire by a perpetual statute”.

The twelve cakes undoubtedly represented the twelve tribes of Israel. They were made of fine flour. The Hebrew for “fine flour” means to strip, flour as chipped off. To produce fine flour it had to be sieved whereby it was stripped of all its impurities. It would represent Israel who had come out of Egypt and had been stripped of all the impurities of Egypt.

The Shewbread was to be set in two rows on the table of Shewbread and pure frankincense was put on each row. It was there “for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto Yahweh”. Frankincense was associated with the Meal offering when we read that Aaron should take an handful of flour and oil and all the frankincense and burn it upon the altar “for a sweet savour even the memorial of it, unto Yahweh” (Lev. 6:15).

It is noteworthy that the Shewbread had been baked in an oven by fire and therefore the whole process of its manufacture with the frankincense was regarded as an offering made by fire unto Yahweh. It was to be eaten in the holy place for, “it is most holy unto him of the offerings of Yahweh made by fire by a perpetual statute” (Lev. 24:9).

The Shewbread was on the table of Shewbread in the holy place in the presence of Yahweh. Hence the meaning the bread of faces. It should have reminded Israel that they stood in the face of Yahweh and that their lives should have been sacrificial and should have risen unto him as a sweet smelling savour. But they forgot this and turned away their faces from him. This is vividly described in Hosea 7. Hosea particularly addressed his words to Israel, the ten tribes described as Ephraim, which name occurs 37 times in his book.

Although they had turned their faces from him, Yahweh would have healed them. Both Hosea and Amos were there to turn them again. The prophet Amos gave warning to both Judah and Israel in chapters 2-9 in which he prophesied against king Jeroboam 11, but he sent one of his false prophets of Bethel, Amaziah, who told Amos to flee away and to “prophecy not again any more at Bethel”(Amos 7:10-17). So when the ten tribes were taken into captivity, we read in 11 Kings 17:13:

“Yet Yahweh testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent unto you by my servants the prophets. Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe inYahweh their God”.

Truly Yahweh would have healed them, but they would not.

The “iniquity of Ephraim” originated from the division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon, when the ten tribes separated from the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Jeroboam made two golden calves and set up one in Bethel and the other in Dan and moreover made a house of high places and made priests of the lowest of the people which were not of the tribe of Levi. So we read in 1 Kings 12:30:

“And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan”.

In the prophecy of Hosea, the name Ephraim stands for the ten tribes, hence the word “the iniquity of Ephraim”. The “wickedness of Samaria” goes back to the time of Ahab. Ahab’s father Omri, who “walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin”, bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer and named it Samaria after the name of Shemer. Ahab, his son, reigned in Samaria and we read of Ahab in 1 Kings 16:31-33:

“And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal the king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke Yahweh Elohim of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him”.

This was “the wickedness of Samaria”.

They had forgotten the significance of the Shewbread, that what they did was in the face of Yahweh. Hence the words of Hosea 7:2:

“And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face”. They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies”.

Note; “They make the king glad”, but not Yahweh. Hence the words of verse 4:

“They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened”.

The margin renders the words “the raiser will cease from waking” which agrees with the words of verse 6, “their baker sleepeth all night”. If we apply the baker to the rulers of Israel, they were asleep. They were not wakeful and vigilant, watching over their own spiritual welfare and the spiritual welfare of the nation. The words of 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 come to mind:

“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation”.

How important that we are wakeful and vigilant about our own spiritual welfare and that of the ecclesia.

It is worth giving thought to how the Shewbread was made. Alfred Edersheim describes it in his book “The Temple”:

“The “shewbread” was made of the finest wheaten flour, that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were twelve of these cakes, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, ranged into two piles, each of six cakes. . . .The preparation of the shewbread seems to have been hereditarily preserved as a secret family tradition in the “house of Garmu”, a family of the Kohathites” (p. 125).

He also makes another interesting comment on page 123:

“The Rabbis are at pains to explain the particular care with which it was made and baked, so that in appearance and colour the lower should be exactly the same as the upper part of it” (“The Temple” by Alfred Edersheim. Introduction by John J.Bimson, ISBN 1-85985-132-0).

I have not fully quoted these extracts because they include the tradition of the Rabbis, which may not be scripturally relevant. But they do show the great care that was taken in their preparation. As they took great care in the preparation of the shewbread so the leaders of Israel should have taken great care in the preparation of the hearts of the people so that they remembered at all times that they were in the presence of Yahweh. But this was not so as we see from Hosea 7:6:

For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire”.

The word ready means to approach or bring near. Instead of approaching Yahweh they were drawing near to their own hearts, which is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). The RSV renders this verse:

“For like an oven their hearts burn with intrigue; all night their anger smoulders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire”.

Two quotations from James seem apposite- James 4:7-8:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded”,

And 3:5-6:

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell”.

If they had known the significance of the shewbread they would have drawn nigh to God and instead of drawing near to their hearts they would have purified their hearts. Because they failed to do this they were like a blazing oven, as we see from verse 7:

“They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me”.

Hence the words of Hosea 4:6:

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children”.

From the time of Jeroboam 11, to whom Hosea wrote, there were no more direct heirs to the throne. After Jeroboam there was anarchy in the ten tribes in which one man after another conspired to take the throne (see 11 Kings 15: 10,14, 25, 30). Thereby they devoured their judges and all their kings were fallen, Hoshea being the last king to fall. Why? There was “none among them that calleth unto me”.

It is significant what is said of Ephraim in verse 8:

“Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to Yahweh their God, nor seek for him for all this.”

The word testify means to eye, to heed, to pay attention, which seems to convey that the knew that they were in the face of God, but brazenly followed their own way and would not return to Yahweh. Their conduct is explained in verse11:

“Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria”.

They were a “cake not turned”, half baked. They were double minded as in the above words in James. One side was respectable, the other side in the world. We recall how particular the Rabbis were to bake the shewbread evenly on each face, no doubt, prompted by the words in Hosea 7:8. This may have been so, but it was important that this was reflected in the lives of the children of Israel. But their friendship with the world led to their destruction.

The prophet Hosea’s name means deliverer or saviour. It is the root of Joshua, therefore he was a type of Christ. It is significant that the name of the last king of the ten tribes was also Hosea, but instead of being the deliverer or saviour of Israel, he was asleep and let them burn as an oven as we read earlier. He served the king of Assyria rather than Yahweh and moreover even betrayed the king of Assyria and turned to So, king of Egypt. Because of this we read in 11 Kings 17:18:

“Therefore Yahweh was angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only”.

The exhortation that comes out of this, is the importance of conducting our lives with the thought in mind that we are in the presence or face of our heavenly Father. As the frankincense was on the shewbread for a memorial before Yahweh may our lives arise, “as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour” (Eph. 5:1-2). The word shewbread is used in the New Testament (Heb. 9:2 etc..), but I would like us to see where it is rendered in another form. One example is where it is used of Barnabas in Acts 11:23:

“Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord”.

The word purpose is the same word that is rendered shewbread elsewhere. It means: What one sets before his mind, proposes to himself, purpose, deliberate resolution.

The same word is used of the Apostle Paul in 11 Timothy 3:10:

“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience”.

The Apostle Paul and Barnabas conducted their lives with purposefulness, aware that they were in the presence of the Almighty. Hence his words in 11 Timothy 4:1-9:

“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ … Preach the word … But watch thou in all things … make full proof of thy ministry … unto all them that love his appearing”.

May we live our lives brethren and sisters as in the presence of our heavenly Father that we may receive that crown of life at the appearing of the Master.

Carlo Barberesi