XII. The Holy Place and the Table of Shewbread
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
Table of Shewbread
the celestial degree of the mind, which is represented by the holy of holies, is present in potency with everyone from birth. By means of it everyone has direct contact with spiritual things. Before this degree has been opened, however, it produces no conscious spiritual sensation. By means of regeneration alone can it be opened, and so far as this takes place, man enters into the joys of the celestial heavens, which it is the inmost purpose of the Lord to impart.1
All men are created for heaven, and indeed for the celestial heaven, because the Lord wills to draw all men to Himself and to bless them with the fullest possible measure of happiness. Human happiness consists in conjunction with the Lord, and the more interiorly the mind is opened and formed, the closer can this conjunction be. All conscious life arises from sensation. The sensation of material things is delightful, but this delight is superficial, transient, and temporary. The direct sensation of spiritual things is far deeper and more satisfying. So far as one enjoys this internal sensation he is spiritually alive. All in the heavens enjoy spiritual life, but with thosewho are in the lower heavens it is relatively obscure, vague, and imperfect.
Because conscious life is sensation, the more perfect sensation can be, the greater the enjoyment of life. This may be illustrated universally in nature where the higher animals, because they have a more complex organism, are able to distinguish many more particulars of sensation, and therefore to enjoy a higher form of life. The same is true of men. Primitive peoples now living who are ignorant of science and devoid of education, are incapable of enjoying many things that come to the consciousness of those who are cultured. As it is with natural life, so also it is with spiritual life. Delight increases with the discriminating sensation of particulars. We are told in this connection that the things perceived, understood and enjoyed by the celestial angels are immeasurably greater in number and in distinctness than are those perceived by the spiritual angels.2 It is inconceivable that the Lord from His Divine Providence should not will that all men should enter into this higher, and more perfect happiness. But until the celestial degree of the mind is opened by regeneration this inmost perception does not come distinctly to our consciousness. We feel it vaguely as something within, and deeper than our conscious life. The celestial mind is in us like the holy of holies. It is an inmost sanctuary and abiding place of God with us, deeply buried, heavily veiled, surrounded by protecting walls and curtains which we are unable to penetrate. It is shrouded in what appears to us as darkness, though as the celestial mind is opened that darkness is found to be the very light of life. Such coverings are provided in the mercy of the Lord because of our hereditary evils, which would lead us to pervert and profane these holy things, to our eternal destruction. It is provided, therefore, that these things should exist within us, as it were, unrealized, and yet subtly influencing our will and our thought, imparting to us an internal dictate as to the reality of God and of eternal life. This dictate produces a strong urge to come into the possession of these eternal things. Only in the degree that we can be led, under the prompting of that urge, to shun evils as sins can light begin to shine out of the darkness. It is as if a light were kindled behind the veil, which, like a gauze, as it were, disappears, to reveal things that lie beyond. So long as the light is outside of the veil it constitutes an impenetrable wall, but when the light is within, the veil becomes transparent.
So long as the light is without, we live on the lower plane of the mind called the spiritual degree which is represented in the construction of the tabernacle by the holy place outside of the veil. Those who continue in this spiritual life in the world come after death into the spiritual heaven. The holy place, unlike the holy of holies, was not cubical in shape but oblong, or rather it was a parallelepipedon. In width and height it measured 10 cubits, as did the sanctuary, but its length was 20 cubits. This difference in shape is significant. The cube represents a perfect conjunction of truth and good, because width represents truth and length good, while the height represents the degrees of these. Where the length is greater than the width, there is the representation of good without truth, here called the good of ignorance. The spiritual man possesses intelligence, represented by 10 cubits in width, and this in every possible degree, represented by the 10 cubits in height; but he cannot enter into wisdom, represented by the length, unless he acknowledges his own ignorance, and permits himself to be led by the Lord. So far as he does this he approaches the state of the celestial.3
It is to be noted that in the holy of holies there was but one article of furniture, the ark, in which the tables of stone were kept, and over which was the mercy seat with its cherubim of gold. The reason for this is that with the celestial angels the will or love, and the understanding or wisdom, are perfectly united and go forth spontaneously into vise; thus they are conjoined into a one. Will and understanding were represented by the two tables of stone, which were two and yet one, as the Lord indicated when He spoke of the two great commandments of the Law, the one being to love the Lord above all things, and the other to love the neighbor as one's self, which two make a perfect one. This same faculty of will and understanding was represented by the two cherubim, which, however, were placed facing one another, and were joined together by the gold mercy seat, toward which they looked. The ark therefore represented the perfect conjunction of love to the Lord, and charity toward the neighbor in a life of use; that is, a complete unity of will, thought, and act.
In the holy place, however, we find three separate pieces of furniture. This, because in the spiritual degree of the mind the faculties of love and wisdom are distinctly separate. The will or love is represented by the table of shewbread which was placed midway between the two veils and against the northern wall. The understanding is represented by the lampstand which was set opposite the table against the southern wall. And the life resulting from the conjunction of these two, which is the internal worship of the Lord, is represented by the altar of incense which was placed just outside the veil, and midway between the northern and the southern walls.
Here, as with the holy of holies, the sacred account begins with the description of the furniture from which the room derives its spiritual signification. For this reason we find the table of shewbread, the lampstand and the altar of incense described before any account is given of how the holy place was built. From a consideration of the table of shewbread, its construction and its use, we may derive a living idea of that in the human mind to which it corresponds.
The table is said to be 2 cubits in length, 1 cubit in breadth, and l1/2 cubits in height. Like the ark, it was made of cedar wood covered with gold. The top was a plain board of cedar, supported at the four corners by legs of the same material. These legs were strengthened by a skirt or "closure" (as it is called in the Writings), consisting of a board 41/2 inches or a palm's breadth in width, fastened under the top at its outer edge and probably mortised into the legs. Such a board was placed on each of the four sides, binding the whole firmly together. Around the top of the table, and extending a distance of a palm's breadth above it, was a "crown" of gold, fastened at its lower edge to the "closure"; while another "crown" was attached to the lower edge of the closure as an encircling band of gold. At the four corners of the table, between the two crowns, were orbs of gold through which staves were passed, by which the table might be carried. Unlike the staves of the ark these were to be removed when the table was in use, and replaced only when the tabernacle was to be dismantled in preparation for a journey. The staves ran along the length of the table. The dishes, spoons, bowls and covers to be used on the table were to be made of gold.4 The design and the specific use of these vessels is nowhere described in detail, but it is clear that they were intended to contain the flour, the oil, and the finished cakes of sanctified bread. In one passage,5 it is said that frankincense was to be placed on the bread after it was baked, and this incense also may have been kept in one of the vessels on the table. The bread to be placed on this table was called the "bread of faces" because it was to be continually before the Lord.6 It was holy bread, to be eaten only by the priests, as a sacramental act of communion with Jehovah.7
The table derived its signification from the bread which was upon it, and thus from the use to which it was put. The bread of faces represents in the highest sense the Lord as he is present in this internal degree of the mind.8 It is the Lord as the "Bread of Life," providing food for the spirit, imparting life and joy, blessing and peace, to all who receive Him there. The life here enjoyed is the same as that which is represented by the ark behind the veil, except that it is more obscure because it is accommodated to a lower degree of reception. It is, as it were, as much of that life as can pass through the veil and be consciously received by one in whom the inmost degree of the mind has not yet been opened. Here the Word of the Lord is understood as to its internal sense, and although its deepest implications are not perceived, it provides a criterion of rational judgment. It enables man to recognize the fallacies that arise from physical sensation, and distinguish them from truths.
Because, even in his fallen state man retains some remnant of celestial perception, he can recognize truth instinctively when it is presented to view. Because of this men perceive what are called "axioms," that is, things that cannot be proved but which nevertheless are known to be true from an intuitive conviction. To such an insight may be traced that "common sense" to which, in the last analysis, all opinions are submitted for judgment, as if to a final court of appeal. Whatever is contrary to common sense is judged to be insane. Yet it is possible for man to lose touch with this basic criterion of right and wrong. Every one perceives as true that which is in accord with his love. In the light of an evil love man's mental vision is distorted. He perceives what is false as if it were true, and what is true as if it were false. Such a one is spiritually insane. Only a good love can produce a sound mind. Good loves come from the Lord, and are inspired by the Word. They are secretly insinuated into the mind of every one during infancy and childhood, and as man turns to the Word in adult age, seeking Divine guidance, they are recalled and exercise a profound influence over his life. They are gifts from the Lord, but they can be consciously received only if one prays for them from the heart. They are what is meant in the Lord's prayer by "our daily bread," and what is represented in the tabernacle by the "bread of faces."
With men at this day who are in a spiritual state, the perception of spiritual truth is very general as compared with that which was enjoyed by those who lived in most ancient times. Nevertheless, it is sufficient to sustain his spiritual life. It gives assurance that his faith is genuine, and thus a sense of firm ground on which to stand. It inspires a feeling of internal peace and courage, of trust and confidence without which there could be no victory in temptation.
The Lord provides that man may sense heavenly things as real, as substantial, as eminently good and desirable, although his perception of them is dulled as by an intervening veil. The love that animates this spiritual degree of the mind is not so directly love to the Lord as it is charity toward the neighbor. It is a love that causes man to forget himself in performing a use to others without any thought of personal reward, but from a desire to obey the Lord's will. Such is the quality of that spiritual degree of the mind which is represented by the holy place in general, and by the table of shewbread in particular.
That this table was 2 cubits in length represents the self-forgetting desire of imparting good to others. That it was 1 cubit in width represents a longing for the truth that teaches how good may be done. At the same time it represents an acknowledgment of one's ignorance and incompetence, which induces a state of humility. That the table was 11/2 cubits in height represents the desire that the use one performs may be genuine, permanent and serviceable to the spirit as well as to the body. This is the essential characteristic of spiritual charity. That the table was made of cedar wood represents man's acknowledgment that his ability to love the neighbor is not his own but is given to him and constantly preserved in him by the merciful operation of the Lord. That the table was covered with gold represents that this love of the neighbor is surrounded and hallowed by a heavenly delight, an inward joy and gladness with which no external reward can be compared. This is the delight of the spiritual heaven. The "closure," which was also of cedar wood covered with gold, represents the conjunction of this love of use with the Divine truth of the Word. The two crowns represent a guard, or a protecting Divine sphere of holiness, that sets bounds lest man should approach this altar, and eat of its bread from some selfish or worldly motive which would lead to profanation. Only in the garments of their office and after ceremonial purification could the priests enter this holy place to eat the bread of faces before the Lord. The orbs of gold represented conjunction, or the marriage of love with its corresponding truth. By means of truth, love is brought into act, even as by means of the staves, when passed through the orbs, the table was carried. The staves represent the power of Divine truth from the Word when it is applied to life, and thus to use.
Such a love is not native with man. It can be formed in him, and gradually perfected only as the life of religion is cherished as an ideal and held sacred within the heart. It is that which is called in the Writings the "new will" which man receives from the Lord so far as he regenerates. From this will all spiritual faith is derived. How it produces a new understanding will be considered in connection with the representation of the lampstand. Here however, it should be explained that understanding, even if it be spiritual, is not an immediate touch with reality. It is an idea, an opinion, or a conclusion derived from experience, both spiritual and natural. It is formed from sense perception on the one hand, and a perception of the soul on the other. Physical sensation comes from man's material environment, and spiritual perception comes by way of his spiritual environment. Both of those arise outside the mind and thus outside the man himself. But that which one understands he appropriates to himself. It becomes his very own, and taken in its entirety it becomes the real world in which man lives. Everything that he has thus confirmed he regards as real. Yet it may not be real at all. Only if the love from which man thinks is good, can his ideas conform to what is really true. The love that inspires the understanding of truth is represented by the shewbread. In the spiritual degree of the mind the love of truth reigns, rather than the love of good which is characteristic of the celestial degree. From this is derived the only kind of perception that is possible to men at this day, and for this reason, religion must be based on intellectual understanding rather than upon intuitive perception as was the case in most ancient times. Nevertheless, even now there must be a remnant of that perception, without which understanding would have no assured foundation, and this is what is meant by "our daily bread."