Most mornings, as a part of my daily routine, I enjoy a couple pieces of toast. I usually wait until I have taken the kids to school, and when I come back home, where there is no noise or distractions, I eat. The invention of the toaster is one I truly appreciate in my life. With that said, even though toasters make bread better, it can still become a very boring part of a meal. It’s quick and easy, though. I simply reach into the plastic bag and pull out 2 nearly identical slices without thinking about it very much.
If you are like me, you think of a bag of individual slices when you hear the word “bread”. In our culture, we know that a farmer grows wheat, grinds it up, and someone waves a magic wand and “POOF”…bread appears (I am pretty certain that is how it is made, but don’t fact-check me on it). We can reach into this same bag, take out a uniform slice each time, and have an identical experience again and again. To us, “bread” in very individualistic. We eat to satisfy our needs in the moment.
The fact is, in ancient times, this would not have been the experience of anyone eating bread. Sure, it was not completely uncommon for a shepherd to have a pouch with individual servings, but for the most part, bread was a community experience. Allow me to explain.
A person who did the cooking, would gather the ingredients needed (flour, oil, perhaps some spices, etc), and would knead the dough and would make sure to make multiple loaves (if they had the means) in one sitting. This way, the family would have plenty to last them for several meals, and even accommodate potential unexpected visitors. The head of the table, during the meal, would break the bread and distribute the pieces for people to enjoy as they wish. This distribution would symbolize, not only provision, but sacrifice and unity. If I am the head of the household or gathering, and I invite you to share my bread, I have found you worthy to partake of it. Someone in my family put their heart and soul into the bread, and pressed it to the right shape, and carefully monitored the stove to make sure it was baked to perfection. You see, in scripture especially, bread was not only about nutrients, but about sharing life.
There is even more to it, though. Look at two nations, or tribes who have been at odds. When reconciliation would occur between the two parties, a feast would occur and bread would be broken and distributed. It would be recognized that one of the parties did work to make the meal happen. Also, consider the fact that every family, tribe, nation, and region would have there own “take” on taste and texture. Spice combinations (or lack thereof) would vary, and every tasteful note that one would experience would identify the origin.
In the Bible, bread is used as a symbol to remind people of unity, provision, reconciliation, and so much more. Bread, to us, seems like a silly theme, but to ancient hearers of the word it was serious and profound. The example of the showbread in the Tabernacle not only symbolized the grace receivers (12 tribes of Israel), but there was also the implication of community that needed to be developed among them for their survival and ability to flourish. Bread, for them, was about obedience.
So, the next time, you sit down and eat, look at your dinner roll, or garlic toast with deep gratitude. God is trying to each us something.