Barry Newman's Blog

April 14, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part III)

The “table” in the Old Testament

The word “shulchan” (table) occurs about 66 times in the Old Testament. At heart it is a reference to an elevated structure of some sort.  More than half of the time it relates to “the table of the presence” in the tabernacle, the temple or some vision of the temple. About 25 times it is used to refer to a table or tables in other settings.  It is almost always used in some sense in association with food at least in that a table or tables is to be used, is being used or was used for food.

“The table of the presence” or the equivalent was for the placement of bread and other articles.  The bread was to be eaten by Aaron and his descendants and was almost certainly an indication of such priests sharing, as it were, a meal with God. Some incense, set alongside of the bread, was to represent the bread and was to be thought of as an offering to the Lord by fire.  See Leviticus 24: 5 – 9 for details.

Setting the references to “the table of the presence” aside, some examples are: “Let’s make a small room … and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp.” (2 Kings 4: 10) [Here there is no clear indication that the table was to be used for food], “Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger.” (1 Samuel 20: 34) [This may or may not have been a reference to the meal rather than simply to the object on which the food had been placed.], “Two kings will sit at the same table and lie to each other.” (Daniel 11: 27), “You (Mephibosheth) will always eat at my (David’s) table.” (2 Samuel 9: 7), “Your sons will be olive shoots around your table.” (Psalm 128: 3), “All the tables (of the priests and prophets of Ephraim) are covered with vomit. (Isaiah 28: 8), “When the Queen of Sheba saw … the food on his (King Solomon’s) table …” (2 Chronicles 9: 3, 4), “You who filled a table for Fortune and filled bowls of mixed wine for Destiny …” (Isaiah 65: 11), “They spoke against God saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert?’” (Psalm 78: 14), “She (wisdom) has also set her table.” (Proverbs 9: 2), “They set the tables, they spread the rugs.” (Isaiah 21: 5), and the well known reference, “You (Lord) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23: 5).

Most times, the reference is primarily to the object, the table or the tables. Though not every table that is mentioned is used for food, generally the table is a table for the placement of food and sometimes the fundamental reference is to what is on the table – the food, the meal itself.  Indeed sometimes it is not clear if it is a meal or the table on which the meal has been set or indeed simply a meal even where no physical table is involved. Preparing or setting a table certainly has the meal in mind. Note also that sometimes the table is spoken of as someone’s table in particular – King David’s table, King Solomon’s table.  Here the fundamental reference would appear to be the setting, whether it involved the same table or tables or not, at which they and any of their guests traditionally came to eat.

Perhaps one should note that “the Lord’s table” is referred to in Malachi 1: 7 and 12 and “my table” (God’s) in Ezekiel 44: 16.  In each case it is a reference to the “table of the presence”.  Ezekiel 41: 22 also refers to a wooden altar identified as “the table that is before the Lord”. Additionally, Ezekiel 39: 20 records God speaking of a type of eschatological table of judgement as “my table”.

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