Ezekiel 41:22 There was a wooden altar three cubits high and two cubits square; its corners, its base and its sides were of wood. The man said to me, “This is the table that is before the LORD.”
In a vision God gave to Ezekiel during the Babylonian Exile the prophet saw a large, solid Temple representing the LORD’s presence among his people. (I have tried to picture what he saw in my mind as I read through the chapter, but it is a bit like trying to follow a country local’s road directions – what is obvious and simple to them – “4th left after the 2nd marshalling yard just past the 3rd creek crossing” – never matches what we actually encounter. Nevertheless, there are some excellent attempts to reproduce the structure under ‘Ezekiel’s Temple Vision’ on the internet).
Everything about the Temple was magnificent, giving the impression of permanence. And there in the middle was a wooden altar – “the table that is before the LORD”. As in most similar occurrences in the OT, the word ‘before’ translates the Hebrew expression “towards the face of”. An amazing thing about our God is that he is not just present among us, but he invites US into HIS presence, to meet him face-to-face. His infinite holiness should preclude this possibility because of our utter sinfulness; and yet he so invites us!
The LORD had instructed Moses: “Put the bread of the Presence [face] on this table to be before me [towards my face] at all times.” (Exodus 25:30). Amazing love; amazing grace! I love the song by Robert Stamps that contains the words, “Elders, martyrs, all are falling down; prophets, patriarchs are gathering ’round; what angels longed to see now man has found, God and man at table are sat down.”
Such a privilege is possible because the ‘table’ is also an ‘altar’, an altar that points to the One who took all our sin upon himself and died in our place. “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that he should send his only Son to make a wretch his treasure. How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns his face away, as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.” (Stuart Townend). The Father who ‘turned his face AWAY’ from Jesus bearing our sin is the Father who turns his face TOWARDS US! It is in this light that we see the significance of other Bible verses like: “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.” (2 Samuel 9:13), and “You prepare a table before me [towards my face] in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:6).
I hope your ‘cup overflows’ as well, as you reflect on what all this means in your daily life NOW … … and for life beyond the grave! I recently heard a preacher, expounding John 14:6, suggest, “Jesus doesn’t promise us ‘life after death’, he promises us ‘life NOW that is NOT terminated by death’!