The twelve loaves of the bread of the presence symbolized the twelve tribes. The priests baked twelve fresh loaves every Sabbath and placed them before the LORD. The priests removed the old bread and ate it on the Sabbath. In this sense, the bread symbolized a shared meal between the priests (representing all twelve tribes) and the LORD, a memorial of the covenant meal that the priests and the heads of the twelve tribes participated in on Mount Sinai.The ritual of fresh challah bread on our Sabbath tables reminds us of this aspect of the Temple service.
In the days of Yeshua and the apostles, the priesthood had grown so large the twelve loaves were not sufficient to feed the whole course of priests on duty on any given Sabbath. Each priest received only a small morsel of the loaves. When God’s favor rested on the nation, a miracle happened and the morsel fully satiated the priest, even though he had eaten scarcely more than a crumb. When all the priests had eaten from the twelve loaves and been satiated, they found that they still had leftovers. The Talmud says, “Every priest who received a piece of the bread the size of an olive would eat it and be satisfied, and some would eat it and have leftovers.”
The rabbis associated the twelve loaves of the bread of the presence with the prosperity of the nation. Ramban explains that God blessed the nation with prosperity through the bread of presence. Ever since creating the universe, the LORD does not introduce something ex nihilo, instead when He wishes to bring about any kind of increase, He causes it to flow from something that already exists. For example, the prophet Elisha performed a miracle of multiplication when he caused a single jug of oil to fill numerous, larger jugs. Ramban says that the LORD used the table of the presence to perform a similar multiplication miracle on behalf of the nation’s prosperity. As long as the priests placed the bread on the table, prosperity flowed to the entire nation.
Our Master’s miraculous feeding the multitudes with the five loaves alludes to the bread of the presence. The first time, He broke five loaves and fed thousands, and the disciples gathered leftovers. The second time, He broke seven loaves and fed thousands. Again the disciples gathered leftovers. In total, He broke twelve loaves. The miracle indicates that the Messiah will usher in a golden age of spiritual and material prosperity—the kingdom of heaven.