Setting Tables

Setting Tables July 7, 2014

The first table setting in the Bible is the table of showbread in the tabernacle, set with twelve loaves of bread (Exodus 40:4, 22-23). 

That tabernacle table sets the stage for subsequent table settings. When Israel questions whether Yahweh can set a table in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19), they are asking about sustenance but also about sacrifice. And Yahweh answers, because it’s precisely in the wilderness sanctuary that Yahweh first sets a table. This is the table of wisdom (Psalm 9:2), and the table arrayed in the presence of enemies in Psalm 23:5 – not merely a festive table but a sanctuary table. 

Idolatrous worship also involves table settings. Isaiah accuses Judah of setting tables for Fortune and filling cups for Destiny (65:11). Ezekiel portrays Israel and Judah as high-end whores who lounge on couches eating and drinking from an arrayed table (23:41).

Table settings in Scripture are almost always liturgical, and perhaps we should conclude that even the “secular” table setting has a liturgical character.

Two other resonances attach to table setting. First, the word for “set” is sometimes translated as “array” in describing military formations. This lends some additional nuance to Psalm 23: Surrounded by enemies arrayed for battle, Yahweh arrays a table. The table is Yahweh’s response to the attacks of David’s enemies.

Second, the word for “array” also describes the priest’s arrangement of wood on the altar. The priest “sets” the wood on the fire on the altar, and then places the Lord’s portions on top of that. Altar service is table setting.

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