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The Breastplate of the high priest

‘And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgement upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place for a memorial before the Lord continually.

Exodus Chapter 28 Verse 29

Of all the types of Christ in the Old Testament none was more glorious than the Jewish high priest. His representative dress was said to be ‘for glory and for beauty.’  It was made according to the design given by God to Moses. Certain men were endued with special gifts and skill to design and make up the same, following in every detail the pattern given to Moses by God.

‘And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.’ That Christ is portrayed by the high priest is clear from the text, ‘Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgement upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.’ This has special reference to Christ’s intercession, on the basis of which all covenant blessings are bestowed upon His people, ‘seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.’

Let us consider:

1. The spiritual significance of the high priest’s garments.

2. The breastplate of judgement.

1. The spiritual significance of the high priest’s garments

In the ephod, breastplate, and girdle were different colours, ‘blue, purple, gold, scarlet, and fine twisted linen.’ The breastplate covered the priest’s bosom from the neck to the girdle, and was fastened with gold chains upon his breast over his heart. How clearly this shows forth the glorious garments of our Saviour’s righteousness. The costly materials, the various colours, the skill and labour expended on them called ‘cunning work’, all go to reveal the different aspects of it.

‘Blue’ stands for purity – and represents the holiness of the Saviour’s character. When He was conceived in the womb of the virgin He was declared to be ‘that holy thing.’ In order to be man’s substitute He must be perfectly holy, i.e. perfectly conformed to God’s Law in heart and life. And He must be more than man, having another nature giving Him such power over the human nature that he could either submit to or resist death.

For the obedience the Law required was ‘obedience unto death.’ Throughout His humiliation here on earth He was to be ‘tempted in all things like as we are yet without sin.’ This was necessary in order to meet and satisfy the Law’s demands, i.e. ‘continue in all things written in the book of the Law to do them.’ The Law’s demands must be met by One who, not only had not sinned, but who could not sin.

Christ rendered complete obedience to the Law, and obedience implied total submission to its every precept as well as complete satisfaction to Justice for the breaches of the Law.

Referring again to the colours in the breastplate we see that while blue stands for purity it also represents the vastness of the Saviour’s mercy and compassion, signifying that the offer and promises of the everlasting Gospel should be as wide as the all-embracing firmament. And is this not realised in the experience of all who are enlightened by the Spirit?

As far as east is distant from

The west, so far hath he

From us removed, in his love

All our iniquity.

Psalm 103 Verse 12

East and west never meet. Neither will those who are in Christ ever meet with their sins. Their sin and its punishment met on Him, when ‘He bore their sins in His own body on the tree.’

The costliness of the garments of the high priest represents the priceless salvation wrought by Christ. Who can estimate the value of the robe which believers wear? Who can fathom the depth of humiliation to which Christ descended in being ‘obedient unto death?’ For this ‘He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ For this ‘He poured out his soul unto death’ and ‘was numbered with the transgressors.’ For this also ‘He made His grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death.’ And this is the cost of the robe that clothes the Bride, the Church of God.

It was designed by infinite wisdom. Christ’s sufferings from the manger to the grave were the warp and the woof of this costly garment. The loom in which it was woven was eternal wrath. The measuring yard was the Law. ‘Cursed is every one who will not continue in all things written in the book of the Law to do them.’

Its curses were the needles which wrought the rich embroidery work of which we have mention in the forty-fifth Psalm, ‘Upon thy right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.’ The gold of Ophir was the best gold. Melted down and wrought into the finest thread, it was woven into the fabric used for making beautiful garments for the queens and daughters of the kings of the East.

Here gold represents the sufferings of Christ, the merits of His atoning work. Thus, in the Book of Revelation Christ counsels sinners, ‘Buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed.’ This was the best robe of the Prodigal and of many a prodigal since.

Have you put on this robe, the righteousness of Christ? It is so vast that it can cover all your sins. God is all seeing. ‘From thine eye whither shall I flee?’ Yet this righteousness is everywhere before the illimitable vastness of His view, because it is the righteousness of God, wrought by God in our nature. This is the soul’s hiding place. ‘And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land’ – ‘The man Christ Jesus.’

This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, ‘That I might be found in Him, without mine own righteousness which is of the Law.’ Is this your desire? Or are you still trusting in your righteousness, your own obedience to the Law?

Remember that it is written, ‘By the works of the Law’, that is man’s own obedience, ‘there shall no flesh be justified.’ God’s people are said to have ‘no confidence in the flesh.’ ‘We are the circumcision who worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.’

To have confidence in the flesh is to believe that we will and can enter heaven by our own natural goodness and good works. In Parliament when a majority carry a vote of ‘no confidence’ against the ruling government it means that the government no longer enjoys the confidence of the country and must give place to another, freely elected by the people.

So when a sinner is taught by the Holy Spirit, he forsakes his own fancied merits and flees to the Saviour to shield him from God’s wrath. Believing in Christ He is accepted in His merits: ‘In thy righteousness shall they be exalted.’

2. The Breastplate of Judgement

This was the most conspicuous of the ornaments gracing the garments of the Jewish high priest. It was curiously wrought with gold and purple, and fastened to the ephod with chains of gold. Twelve precious stones fixed in gold on the breastplate represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Aaron was to bear their names ‘for a memorial before the Lord continually.’ Herein, Aaron typifies the great high priest of His people – Christ.

While the people of Israel were not permitted to enter the holy place, yet the high priest entered for them, ‘not without blood.’ But even here believers enter into the presence of God ‘whither the forerunner for them is entered’, ‘not by the blood of bulls and of goats, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for them.’

The breastplate represents the mighty heart of the Son of God turned towards men in love everlasting. In heaven He is represented as interceding for sinners. There He appears on their behalf in all His mediatorial glory. As one puts it – ‘When He appears as our advocate He puts on His purple robes.’

These are the robes of our High Priest. In the Book of Revelation He appears as ‘the Lamb that had been slain.’ This is the answer to the enquiry of the prophet of old – ‘Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?’

On the ingeniously wrought fabric of gold, blue, purple, scarlet and fine-twined linen were inserted the twelve precious stones in gold sockets. Now precious stones are not made by men, they are found. Those on the high priest’s breastplate were gathered from mines and caves of the earth, some from rivers, some from the depths of the sea.

Some were found in Egypt, in Ethiopia, in Persia and in other parts of the world. Each stone had its place. No two stones were alike. Some appeared to be all light, others reflected little light. Some were a mass of splendour. Some were the colour of the sky with little of the colour of the earth. Some stones seemed to be all fire while others were almost black. All these stones represent different types of believers.

And great as are the distinctions between them we must not consider any of these types separate or apart from the others. As each stone on the high priest’s breastplate has its place and its use, so with believers. Brought together in groups they edify each other and are partakers of each other’s joys.

The darkest stone on the breastplate derived light from the others without becoming like the others. Small stones have their use in a wall as have the corner stones. The union between Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and His people who are members of His mystical body is described by various figures. It is compared to a building of which each believer is a living stone, selected, polished and fitted into its own proper place, the whole structure resting on Christ as the foundation.

They differ in form, character and object, having their distinctive functions, their different roles to play in connection with Christ’s cause in the world. As ’co-workers with Christ’ each has his own adaptation for his own particular work. It takes all types to make up the Church. Some are very holy as the precious stone that appeared all light. Such were Robert Murray McCheyne, David Brainerd, Henry Martyn and many to this day. They are very like Christ and very near to Him and like Caleb ‘follow the Lord fully.’

Some are like the carbuncle. Put in the light it appears as if it were all fire. Such were the Reformers, John Knox, Martin Luther, Andrew Melville and many others who are full of zeal for God’s glory. Some, like the stone which had the colour of the sea, are always in the depths. God’s ‘waves and billows go over them’, ‘deep calling unto deep.’ Trials, like Job’s messengers, assail them daily. Others, like the stone which had more of the colour of the sky than of the earth, are bright Christians but the world has a certain hold upon them.

Some again are like the stone that had more of the colour of the earth than of the sky. These are too much under the world’s influence, they allow worldly concerns to come between them and their spiritual duties. Like Martha they are ‘careful and troubled about many things’ but they neglect ‘the one thing needful.’ Others are like the jasper, almost black. One needs to place it between one and the sun to discover that its darkness is relieved only by concentric stripes of light.

One is never sure what they are, yet something keeps one from rejecting them altogether. Their conversation is seldom punctuated by any reference to higher things. Yet at times something in their bearing and conversation makes one feel that they may have been misjudged all the time.

All the stones in the breastplate were set in gold and fastened with gold chains, symbolic of the Saviour’s love. The brightest had no more gold than the darkest and was not any nearer to the heart of the high priest. So all believers are on Christ’s heart. The strongest in faith is not nearer than he who is weakest.

‘They are all one in Christ Jesus.’ They are the spiritual Israel, ‘a people near unto Him.’ They are near to Him in nature – nearer to Him on earth than the angels are in Heaven. ‘Verily, he took not on Him the nature of angels.’ He paid the same price for them all – His precious blood. The same love is fixed on them all: it is a never-dying love.

And as, literally, the precious stones are found in different countries, so it is with those who are to be forever in Christ’s crown. ‘He gathered them out of the lands, from north, south, east and west.’ He finds them ‘in a desert land, a waste howling wilderness.’ These are God’s pearls.

It is related of pearl divers that they have to descend to great depths, and scour the sea bottom for the oysters that contain the pearls. Some of them are said to have been so crushed and broken by the pressure of the sea that, on coming to the surface and delivering their treasure, they lay themselves down on the sand and our out their life’s blood.

That was the price they had to pay to make others rich. And oh! To what depths did Christ descend to gather His pearls, top pluck them from the depths of the ocean of God’s wrath. All of them were drowned in debt, bound in chains, murderers, malefactors, all servants of Satan, all willing to serve him.

All of them – the darkest as well as the brightest and among them many, who, like their Master, are ‘despised and rejected of man,’ and who feel lonely and friendless – find all their comfort in knowing that there is One who is always near them and who cares for them.

With another of old they can say, ‘Doubtless Thou art our father though Abraham be ignorant of us and Israel acknowledge us not; Thou, o Lord are our Father, our Redeemer; thy name is everlasting’ (Isaiah 63:16).

Of them all He says, ‘They shall be mine saith the Lord of Hosts in that day when I make up my jewels’ (Malachi 3:17).

He saw them doomed and helpless and He set His face like a flint and ‘He spread forth His hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim.’ And in bringing them from the depths of the ocean of wrath ‘He poured out His soul unto death.’ This was the price He paid to purchase their liberty. ‘If the Son make you free ye shall be free indeed.’ And this is the liberty the Gospel offers.