Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
49. The Breastplate
In our last article we pointed out how that the garments of Aaron which were for "glory and for beauty" are seven in number. Six of these, the ephod, girdle, robe, embroidered-coat, mitre, and golden-crown, were then briefly considered. Now, we are to meditate upon the remaining one, namely, the Breastplate. This was the chief and most costly of the high priest’s vestments, the other garments being as it were a foundation and background for it, this central one pointing to the very heart of Christ Himself. Its importance is at once denoted by being mentioned first in Exodus 28:4. A description of it is furnished in 28:15-30. Let us ponder:
1. Its Workmanship.
This is described at length in vv. 15, 16, 21, 28, to which we would ask the reader to turn. From these verses it will be seen that the Breastplate itself was made of fine twined linen of cunning work (v. 15). From the remainder of 5:15 we gather that it was richly embroidered with the three colors there mentioned. It was foursquare in shape, and thus corresponded with both the brazen and incense altars. Its dimensions were "a handbreadth;" that is, from the tip of the little finger to the end of the outstretched thumb, a distance of about ten and a half inches, or half a cubit. It was "doubled" so as to give it strength and firmness, in order that it might sustain the weight of the precious stones.
"Two rings of gold were placed inwards, at the bottom of the breastplate: and two gold rings were attached to the ephod, just above the curious belt (girdle): so that the breastplate was bound to the ephod by a lace of blue, coupling these rings. Two wreathen chains of gold were fastened to the ouches, in which the onyx stones were set; and were also fastened, at their other two ends, to two rings at the top of the breastplate. Thus, the ephod, onyx stones, and breastplate were all linked together in one. It may here be observed that the translation ‘at the ends’ (28:14, 22) should, according to Gesenius, be rendered ‘twisted work,’ like the twisting of a rope, and the passage will then read thus: ‘Two chains of pure gold twisted, wreathen work, shalt thou make them’" (G. Soltau).
2. Its Significance.
There are at least five things which serve as guides to help us ascertain the distinctive typical meaning of this part of the high priest’s dress. First, its name: it is called the "breastplate of judgment" (v. 15). Second, the twelve gems ‘set in it, on which were engraved the names of Israel’s twelve tribes (vv. 17-21). Third, its inseparability from the ephod: "that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod" (v. 28). Fourth, the place where the breastplate was worn: it was upon the high priest’s "heart" (v. 20). Fifth, the mysterious "Urim and Thummin" which were placed in it (v. 30). As these will be considered separately, in detail, below, we shall now only generalize.
The purpose or design of the breastplate was to furnish a support to the precious stones which were set in it, as well as to provide a background from which their brilliant beauty might be displayed. Thus there is little or no difficulty in perceiving that which is central in this blessed type. On the jewels were inscribed the names of Israel’s twelve tribes. Therefore, what we have foreshadowed here is Christ, as our great High Priest, bearing on His heart, sustaining, and presenting before God, His blood-bought people. There is a slight distinction to be drawn from what we have here and that which is set forth in Exodus 28:9-12. There, too, we have the names of Israel’s tribes borne by their high priest before God. But there they are seen resting upon his "shoulders," whereas here (v. 29) they rest upon his heart. In the one it is the strength or power of Christ engaged on behalf of His helpless people; in the other, it is His affections exercised for them.
It will therefore be seen that it is, primarily, the perfect and lasting security of believers which is set forth in our present type. Both the power and the love of Christ are for them, guaranteeing their eternal preservation: "And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually" (v. 29). Their position or standing before God was neither affected nor altered by their changing circumstances, infirmities or sins. Whenever Aaron went into the holy place, there on his heart were the names of all God’s people. Emphasizing this truth of security, note carefully how that their names were not simply written upon (so that their erasure was possible) the precious stones, but "engraved" (v. 21)!
Still emphasizing the same thought, notice also how that each jewel was secured to the breastplate by a golden setting: "they shall be set in gold in their inclosings" (v. 20). Thus it was impossible for them to slip out of their places, or for any one of them to be lost! Mark, too, the provision made for firmly fixing in place the breastplate itself. This is brought before us in w. 21-28. It was fastened by "chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold" (v. 22), and these were passed through "two rings of gold on the ends of the breastplate." Thus the people of God (as represented by their names) were chained to the high priest!
"The chains were wreathen and twisted like a rope, for both words are used; wreathen, interwoven. The same word is used in Judges 15:13, 14; 16:11, 12; Psalm 12:3; Hosea 1:4—cords of love. ‘Twisted work’ is Gesenius’ translation of the Hebrew word, which our version gives, ‘at the ends’ (vv. 14, 22). Thus he would translate ‘and two chains of pure gold. wreathen shalt thou make them, twisted work.’ The object in adding the word ‘twisted’ to ‘wreathen’ appears to imply a combination of skill and strength, and that the breastplate might be indissoluably connected with the shoulder-stones. Every movement of the high priest’s shoulder would affect the breastplate: and every beat of his heart which agitated the breastplate would be conveyed, by means of the wreathen chains, to the covering of the shoulders.
"There is a beautiful significance in this, reminding us how the mighty power of the arm of the Lord is intimately linked on with the tenderness of His heart of love. No action of His strength is disconnected from His counsels of mercy and grace towards His saints. He makes all things work together for good to them that love Him. His arm and His heart are combined in sustaining them in their high calling. He is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. They shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of the Shepherd’s hand: and who shall separate them from His love?" (G. Soltau). How the double "span" or handbreadth in 28:16 confirms this!
3. Its Jewels.
These were twelve in number, one for each tribe, set in four rows of three each. They are enumerated in vv. 17-20. With respect to the identity of these precious stones but little is known. There have been many labored attempts made by learned men to discover the real names of the gems; but, with the exception of four or five, most Biblical students acknowledge the subject to be involved in obscurity. But though we are unable to recognize these stones under their modern names, yet many blessed thoughts are suggested by them.
First, the fact the Jehovah selected gems to represent His people indicates how precious they are in His sight. How dear they were, is seen in the fact that He gave up His own beloved Son to die for them. Second, their excellency was prefigured. And how accurate the type! The believer’s excellency or righteousness is not one of his own, but is imputed. So it is with precious stones. "Whatever beauty each has, the light alone brings it out; in the darkness it has none" (C. H. Bright). Thus it is with the saints: it is only as God sees them in Him who is the "true Light" that they are acceptable unto Him. Third, the perfect knowledge of the Lord regarding each disciple is intimated by the individualizing of the tribes by name. "The Lord knoweth them that are His." "He calleth His own sheep by name." Such is the omniscience of our High Priest that all our wants are known to Him. Fourth, the durability of these stones symbolizes the fact that the salvation purchased for sinners is an "eternal" one (Heb. 5:9).
Concerning each stone it has been well said, "Much, very much, of its beauty depends upon its cutting. Cut skillfully, so as to refract the rays of light from many sides, it sparkles with a beauty quite unknown to its natural condition. Thus, too, with believers; undoubtedly each one has some inherent characteristic difference, but only as the Divine hand in much patience and skill cuts and polishes the stone to catch and discover the colors of the Divine light which illuminates it doth it appear beautiful. Its beauty is not its own, but it has been endowed with capacity to appreciate and reflect the beauty of Him who is light and love; and it is to reflect the beauties of the perfect One that we have been chosen—‘that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:7). So when that day of manifestation of the glory of His grace comes, ‘the nations shall walk in her light,’" Revelation 21:24 (C. H. Bright).
Twelve stones were set in it, all precious stones, but no two of them were alike. They were altogether different in form, hew, character, and also in beauty and value (according to man’s estimation); but all of them were gems in the sight of God, one as much as another. They were each set in gold, and they rested equally upon the heart of Aaron, when he ministered before the Lord. Doubtless, these precious stones were gathered in lands far sundered. Some from the depths of the ocean it might be, and some from the dark mine. But whatever their variety, or the circumstances of their history, or the distance from which they were quarried, they were united upon the high priest’s heart: diamond, jasper, and emerald were borne there equally and together for a memorial before the Lord.
What comfort, yea, what joy the realization of this brings to the Christian. Let not the ruby (sardius) proudly think itself superior to the carbuncle; let not the jasper repine because it is not the diamond Let us not compare ourselves with others. Each believer is accepted in the Beloved Each believer is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Each is complete in Him Is it not enough thou art in the Breastplate, set in gold and borne upon His heart!
In conclusion, let us call attention to something which is exceedingly suggestive and significant concerning them as a whole. These jewels which adorned the Breastplate of the high priest of Israel also pointed backward to sinless Eden, and forward to the sinless New Jerusalem. The first precious stone mentioned in Scripture is the "onyx" (Gen. 2:12), and this was the gem which bore on each of Aaron’s shoulders the "memorial" on which the names of God’s people were graven (28:9-12), and to which the Breastplate was united (v. 25). While in Revelation 21:19-20 we learn that the foundations of the Heavenly City will be garnished with twelve precious stones. Thus the "onyx" stones on the high priest’s shoulders look back to Genesis 2:10, which contained a hidden promise of the re-admission of God’s people into the sinless state; while the Breastplate itself looked forward to Revelation 21, where the fulfillment of that promise is seen!
4. Its Connections.
The Breastplate was inseparably linked to the ephod. The latter was made for the former, and not the former for the latter. It was never to be separated from it: "that the Breastplate be not loosed from the ephod" (v. 28). The ephod was peculiarly and essentially the high priestly garment. "The names of God’s people as borne upon the heart of the priest, shining out in all the sparkling lustre and beauty of the stones on which they are engraven. This symbolizes the fact that believers are before God in all the acceptance of Christ. When God looks upon the great High Priest, He beholds His people upon His heart, as well as upon His shoulders, adorned with all the beauty of the One on whom His eye ever rests with perfect delight. Or, looking at it from another aspect, it might be said that Christ presented His people to God, in the exercise of His priesthood, as Himself. He thus establishes in His intercession His own claims upon God on their behalf. And with what joy does He so present them before God! For they are those for whom He has died, and whom He has cleansed with His own most precious blood, those whom He has made the objects of His own love, and whom finally He will bring to be forever with Him; and He pleads for them before God according to all the strength of these ties" (Ed. Dennett).
Thus the truth set forth by the Breastplate is inseparably united to the priestly ministry of Christ. "It is fastened to the ephod by chains of gold, by all that Christ is therefore as Divine. It is also an eternal connection as typified by the rings—the ring being without an end, and hence, an emblem of eternity. As Priest, Christ can never fail us. If He has once undertaken our cause, He will never lay it down. Surely this truth will strengthen our hearts in times of trial or weakness. We may be despondent, but if we look up we may rejoice in the thought that our place upon the heart and shoulders of Christ can never be lost" (Ed. Dennett).
"He preserves us, as that which He has on His heart, to God, He cannot be before Him without doing so, and whatever claim the desire and wish of Christ’s heart has to draw out the favor of God, operates in drawing out that favor to us. The light and favor of the sanctuary—God as dwelling there—cannot shine out on him without shining on us, and that as an object presented by Him for it" (Mr. J. N. Darby).
5. Its Name.
It is called "the breastplate of judgment" (v. 15). This term occurs for the first time in Genesis 18:19, where God says to Abraham, concerning his sons, "They shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment." Its next occurrence is in Exodus 21:1, where "judgments" signify the decrees or fiats of God—cf. Psalm 19:9. That which is here set forth is that the saints are represented by their High Priest according to God’s mind concerning them. Expressing almost the same aspect of truth is that blessed word, "I know the thoughts that I think’ toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil. to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11).
Closely connected with its name is what is said in verse 29: "And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually." A remarkable word is this: A "memorial" is a reminder, for calling to remembrance. But does our Father in heaven need such? To inform His omniscience, no; but to delight His heart and satisfy His love, yes. And this, too, for the strengthening of our faith, that His people might know they have that in heaven for the staying of their hearts.
6. Its Position.
The Breastplate was placed over Aaron’s heart. It is striking to observe that three times over we have these words "upon his heart" (vv. 29, 30, 30). As we have seen, the Breastplate was suspended from the shoulders by golden chains connected with the onyx stones, and from golden rings in the lower corners it was fastened to the girdle of the ephod by a lace of blue. Thus it was firmly secured over the heart of Israel’s high priest. God’s people were thus doubly represented: first, upon his shoulders, the place of strength; and then, upon his heart, the seat of affection. Lovely type was this of our Redeemer in His present heavenly ministry, exercising His power to uphold His poor people; and His deep, tender, unchangeable love embracing them, binding them close to His heart, and presenting them to the Father in the glory and preciousness of the splendor with which He is invested.
"This is precious, and oftentimes we need to refresh ourselves by ‘considering’ thus ‘the Apostle and High Priest of our confession’ (Heb. 3:1). There are times when we forget that we have One on high whom, in grace, cares for and watches over those who are treading the path of faith He once trod on earth. And there are times when, though we remember this, we limit either His love or His power. Precious, then, is it to be thus reminded that according to what He can do, His love makes us willing to do; and according to what His affection is, He hath strength to carry out what it dictates" (C. H. Bright).
It is beautiful to note in the Song of Solomon how the Bride says to her Beloved, "Set me as a seal upon Thine heart, as a seal upon Thine arm" (8:6): let my name be graven deep in Thine heart, where love is strong as death, which many waters cannot quench, which the floods of the Almighty have not drowned. And let my name be also graven in the seat of Thy power, that I may be upheld from sin and folly, that I may not be like the adulterer and adulteress who seek the friendship of the world. If such a prayer suited the desires of an earthy people, how much more may this petition express the devotion and the longings of Christ’s heavenly people!
7. Its Lace.
"And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod" (v. 28). What beautiful completeness this gives to our type! "Blue" is the heavenly color, and "as long as His heavenly priesthood continues, so long is it inseparably connected with bearing us on the breastplate. Not that He will ever cease to love us, but when His church is with Him it will no longer need this care which the trials of the way call out. And surely to be with one who loves us is better than simply to be remembered by him, however faithful that remembrance may be. Christ is made a priest forever after the order of Melehizedek. His priesthood has for the present an intercessory character, as typified in Aaron; but the time will come when—God’s judgment upon the nations being executed—He will come forth as the Priest of the Most High God, not to intercede, but to reward (Gen. 14:18). At this time His royal priesthood will be in exercise, and ours too. ‘King of righteousness’ He will first be proved to be; then ‘King of peace,’ Hebrews 7:2" (C. H. Bright).
May God be pleased to bless this little meditation to many of His people, and use it to make Christ more precious to them.