This weekend Canada celebrates Thanksgiving. We celebrate with a feast: turkey, stuffing, squash, cranberries, PEI potatoes, and gravy… lots of gravy! But no Thanksgiving feast is complete without the bread.. yummy, just out of the oven, bread.
Bread plays a big part in the Bible. It was recognized immediately as a necessary ingredient to life. Bread and nourishment were interchangeable, and sometimes translators have taken the word “lechem” and translated it as food, not bread. Bread and food were interchangeable… bread was food; food was bread.
The first mention of bread in the Bible does not make it sound very appealing:
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread [lechem], until you return to the ground, because from it you were taken.
For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
When Adam disobeyed YHWH by eating from the forbidden tree, he set up his own fate: You will work, you will eat, you will die. Adam’s decision resulted in a meager existence. Bread just got you to the next day, and there appeared to be very little hope.
But throughout the Tanakh, bread became more and more inviting and comforting. At the second mention of bread, the priest-king Melchizedek (whose name means my king is righteous) offered Abram bread and wine:
And Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread [lechem] and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High, who has handed over your enemies to you.”
Abraham didn’t sweat for this bread; it was a gift. Bread served to you was a blessing, and the high regard placed on gifted bread was echoed in the Temple:
Leviticus 24:5-9 (see Exodus 25:30)
“Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. And you shall set them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before YHWH. You shall put pure frankincense on each row so that it may be a memorial portion for the bread [la-lechem], an offering by fire to YHWH. Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before YHWH continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from YHWH’s offerings by fire, his portion forever.”
The bread and frankincense were an offering to YHWH because bread was synonymous with life and fragrance of frankincense was testimony of holy worship. It all belonged to YHWH.
People relied on bread, and lack of bread threw people into despair. In times of great hunger, famine, and starvation, bread was the simple food that they craved:
- The great world famine (during the years that Joseph spent in Egypt) was lessened by the storehouses of grain and bread which Joseph monitored (Genesis 41:53-57).
- During their wander in the wilderness after their time in Egypt, the Hebrew people craved bread and God provided manna (Exodus 16:2-5).
- David and his warrior companions were so hungry they had to eat the Temple bread (1 Samuel 21:3-6).
- The widow of Zarephath had just enough flour and oil to make a final bit of bread to eat before starvation took her and her son (1 Kings 17:7-16). (Spoiler alert: God rescued them and they didn’t die).
- Jerusalem would experience food shortage during the invasion of Babylon, when their bread would be devoured by the enemies:
“They will devour your harvest and your food [bread: w-lach’meka]; they will devour your sons and your daughters; they will devour your flocks and your herds; they will devour your vines and your fig trees; they will demolish your fortified cities, in which you trust, with the sword.
“Yet even in those days,” declares YHWH, “I will not make a complete destruction of you.”
And it shall come about when they say, ‘Why has YHWH our God done all these things to us?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Just as you have abandoned Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you will serve strangers in a land that is not yours.’”
Jump ahead approximately 500 years and a little baby was born in barn in Bethlehem, a town known as the House (Bet) of Bread (Lechem). As an infant He was visited by foreign kings and presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Even in HIs early years we are given glimpses into His divinity. Bread and frankincense should remind us of the Temple and the bread filled table that stood before the Holy of holies. This little boy was special.
Yeshua (Jesus) first little steps stumbled onto a scene very different from the one Jeremiah experienced. No longer were the Babylonians a threat, now Jerusalem was deeply enveloped in Greek culture, and was living under Roman occupation. Jewish faith, however, continued to flourish under Temple law which was upheld by the Sadducees, Pharisees, lawyers and scribes. By this time, bread had become a well-worn metaphor for life.
Yeshua grew up as a young Jewish man, fully versed in the Torah, the prophets, and the writings. Before He began His three year intense ministry, He faced the Adversary (ha-Satan) in the desert, where bread became the first test:
Matthew 4:1-4 (see also Luke 4:3-4)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. And after He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread [Greek: arto] alone, but on every word that comes out of the Mouth of God.’”
Baked bread wasn’t the only life-giver; God’s Word was what we should be eating up.
Yeshua highlighted the metaphor of bread with His disciples. Twice He multiplied bread at a time of need (feeding of the 5000 and feeding of the 4000), providing sustenance and life to those around Him.
After discussing the topic of manna (the bread from heaven, given by God to the people wandering in the desert for 40 years), Yeshua pronounced Himself the Bread of Life:
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.”
Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; the one who comes to Me will not be hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty.”
It was Yeshua who gave “life to the world.” He was the Word (John 1:1-5), and He was the Bread, and He was the bringer of True Life.
At His final meal Yeshua ceremonially served bread and wine, reflecting overtones of Melchizedek, the High Priest and King who served bread and wine to Abraham. It was the at the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread that Yeshua instinctively served his followers this Passover meal:
While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.”
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine again, until that day when I drink it, new, in the kingdom of God.”
Yeshua was both King and High Priest. He lead the Passover dinner and He served the bread and the wine, but He was unlike any human king or high priest that came before Him, because He was also the sacrificial Lamb. He was the offering for the table which would reverse death into life.
Yeshua/YHWH was a representative of the Bread of the Presence, housed in the Temple and sprinkled with frankincense, available only for the priests to experience. But Yeshua’s death opened the Temple up for everyone. At His death the curtain tore in the Temple (Matthew 27:50-51), symbolically announcing that everyone could come into YHWH’s Presence.
No longer was bread part of Adam’s (human’s) meager existence: work, eat, die. Bread wasn’t a substance that merely sustained you as you marched towards death… with Yeshua, bread had become truly life-giving. Until you take your last breath, eat your bread, but devour the Word of God. Open your Bible and eat it up (Ezekiel 3:1-3). It is our nourishment, until we are in the Presence of YHWH… and then we will truly feast!
For more on the Hebrew word for BREAD, click below:
Next week: FIRE
2 thoughts on “Lechem: Revisiting BREAD”
Great overview! You miss an important aspect though you touch on it without explaining…Bread and wine were covenant emblems always! Bread the flesh, wine the blood by which sharing two parties enter into a sacred relationship stronger than any other. Also, the Passover Yeshua performed taught us things about the Passover, not a new institution.
Thanks, Randy. Those are important points to consider!