The Breastpiece of Decision

Exodus 28:15-30

Every child of God faces decisions. Rarely do we get through an entire day without being confronted with many different choices—most of them minor, some major. Is there any guarantee that we can consistently do the right thing?

Not many people get interested in the subject of divine guidance until they face a decision of supreme importance. By then it may be too late.

Coming out of Egyptian bondage, the Israelites followed the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night for guidance. The High Priest got definite answers from God in a tangible way as we’ll discover from Exodus today.

Exodus 28:15-21—

Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions—the work of a skilled craftsman. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. It is to be square—a span long and a span wide—and folded double. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. In the first row there shall be a ruby, a topaz and a beryl; in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald; in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.

THE BREASTPIECE is an ornament covering the breast of the high priest, made of doubled, embroidered cloth with the four colors that foreshadow Jesus Christ in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.. There were four rows of precious stones, three in each row. On each stone was engraved the name of one of the twelve tribes. It was in size about ten inches square—square like the BRONZE ALTAR.

BREASTPIECE comes from the Hebrew word Nvx (choshen), which probably means TO CONTAIN or SPARKLE. One lexicon says it means ORNAMENT. The Septuagint (the Greek OT) translates it with the word that means ORACLE.

The best way to describe THE BREASTPIECE is to call it a VEST—a very beautiful one—that went over—THE EPHOD—it covered the High Priest’s heart. We might also describe it as the sacred POUCH or POCKET of the High Priest designed to hold the Urim and the Thummim. This pouch was over the heart.

The HEART, according the Scriptures, is the center of the spiritual life—not merely of the willing, desiring, thinking life, but of the emotional life, as the seat of the feelings and affections. Hence, to bear upon the heart does not merely mean to bear in mind, but denotes that personal intertwining with life of another by virtue of which the High Priest expresses the deepest sympathy with those for whom he interceded.

These twelve stones are also found in the Book of Revelation where we are told that they form the foundation of the New Jerusalem. Each stone was a different color and together they formed a flashing beautiful display.

The Hebrew text says THE BREASTPIECE is for making tpvm (mishpat), which is JUDGMENTS or DECISIONS. The High Priest wore it upon his breast when he went to ask counsel of the LORD, to give judgment in any particular case, when he sat as judge to teach the law, and to determine controversies. The High Priest could not give sentence in judgment without it over his breast.

The Breastpiece was to put him in mind that he should do justice and judgment in the execution of his office, and that he should have at heart the judgment of the people of Israel; and in difficult cases should ask it of God, and faithfully declare it to them.

The twelve precious stones on it were an emblem of the people of God, borne upon the heart of Christ our great High Priest. Just as the precious stones were set in gold, so are we IN CHRIST and placed there by God Himself.

PRECIOUS STONES remind us of the value God sets on each individual made in His image and particularly the children of Israel.

The High Priest had the names of the tribes, both on his shoulders and on his breast, which reminds us of the POWER and the LOVE with which Christ pleads for those that are His. He not only bears us on His shoulders with almighty strength, but He carries us in His heart with tender affection. What comfort this is for every believer! With power and the love, our Lord Jesus intercedes for us!

How near should Christ’s name lie to our hearts, since He is pleased to lay our names so near His?

If looked at in the two onyx-stones on the shoulders, there was no difference between the children of Israel. They were alike children of the same father, and each was presented in the same glory and beauty. No order of precedence was adopted; no conduct evinced by any, altered the arrangement. Reuben proved unstable as water; and yet was first in one of the stones. Benjamin and Joseph might be special favorites, yet they were last. In point of fact, each of the two stones gave forth is glowing brilliancy equally to each of the six names inscribed thereon.

One is precious and glorious as the other. The infinite cost of the blood of Christ has been paid alike for each and all. Each has indissoluble union with the risen Lord, in life and glory.

But the children of Israel were represented in an entirely DIFFERENT order, and after a different manner on the BREASTPIECE of the High Priest. Each there had his own peculiar precious stone, and his own peculiar place. JUDAH was the head of the first row and DAN took the lead in the last.

The gorgeous color of the RUBY shone out from one.
The soft refreshing green of the EMERALD was visible in another.
The brilliant light of the TOPAZ flashed out from a third.
The heavenly azure of the SAPPHIRE was displayed in a fourth.

Thus, . . .

Each had his own peculiar glory and beauty.
Each differed from, without rivaling the other.
Each filled his appointed place in the order of God.

There was unity, combined with diversity. God is able to create variety, without that variety involving inferiority. And so it is with the individuals that compose the body of Christ—the Church. Each reflects Christ—and yet Christ is seen in each, with a peculiar beauty and glory, into which another may not intrude. Each has believers holds a unique place in the body—a responsibility to exhibit Christ in that very place, which belongs to himself and not to another—for which the believer alone is fitted, and without which the symmetry of the body would not be complete, and its beauty would be defective.

Possibly, the individual glory of the saint in heaven will have a close connection with the place the believer occupied in the body below—a connection, which would inevitably be broken, were it not for the love and faithfulness of the great High Priest.

With respect to the symbolic meaning of each of the precious stones little is known. Many have attempted to discover the symbolism, but most Biblical scholars acknowledge the subject to be involved in obscurity.

Verses 22-28—

For the breastpiece make braided chains of pure gold, like a rope. Make two gold rings for it and fasten them to two corners of the breastpiece. Fasten the two gold chains to the rings at the corners of the breastpiece, and the other ends of the chains to the two settings, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front. Make two gold rings and attach them to the other two corners of the breastpiece on the inside edge next to the ephod. Make two more gold rings and attach them to the bottom of the shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the seam just above the waistband of the ephod. The rings of the breastpiece are to be tied to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband, so that the breastpiece will not swing out from the ephod.

The EPHOD, ONYX-STONES, and BREASTPIECE were linked together as one by the two gold chains.

The EPHOD, with its shoulder-stones of onyx and breastpiece formed the PROPHETIC dress of the High Priest. By means of it, the priest learned the counsel of God, and was thus able to declare what course the people should take, or what events were about to happen. When it is said later in the OT that a priest wore the EPHOD, it includes the onyx-stones, breastpiece, along with the URIM and THUMMIM for decision making.

Verses 29-30—

Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the LORD. Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD.

The Breastpiece was the most costly, most magnificent, and most eye-catching of the High Priest’s garments, while at the same time it was the most mysterious. Externally it was a blaze of gold and jewels; internally it held those strange and precious objects known as THE URIM AND THE THUMMIM by means of which the Divine will was made known to the High Priest, and through him to the people.

Though this process may have the appearance of superstition, actually it was a humble act of confidence in God’s interest in human affairs and testified tot he trust of the suppliants that God would manifest His will through His appointed representatives.

In the Hebrew, URIM denotes LIGHTS and THUMMIM denotes PERFECTIONS. Combined I would stay they represent PERFECT LIGHT for making judgments or decisions.

The Septuagint translates these two words DELOIS and ALTEHIA, that is MANIFESTATION and TRUTH.

These mysterious contents of the BREASTPIECE direct our thoughts to the heart of the Lord Jesus, as containing all lights and perfections, all grace and truth, all mercies and righteousness. In Him is LIGHT and He manifested that LIGHT. He declared the Father. He is the light of the glory of God—all fulness of light dwells in Him. The Septuagint translation, MANIFESTATION, is not an inappropriate expression, though its more of a paraphrase than a translation.

The NT centers around Jesus Christ—THE PERFECT ONE— THE WORD—THE LIGHT—who became FLESH and dwelt among us—revealing the not only God’s glory, but the will of God also. In Christ, we have light and perfection personified.

Before Christmas, I told you to think of Jesus not only as the KING laid in the manger, but also as the HIGH PRIEST. Matthew Gospel presents Jesus as the KING. It is John’s Gospel that presents Jesus as the HIGH PRIEST.

Think of URIM and THUMMIM—LIGHT and PERFECTION—MANIFESTATION and TRUTH as I read the opening of John’s Gospel—

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The High Priest, with the URIM and THUMMIM in his BREASTPIECE, became the channel by which God made manifest His counsels. The Lord Jesus, as the great High Priest, makes known the counsels and purposes of God. He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all—so the mind and will of God can be perfectly revealed by Him and communicated to His followers. He is the brightness or shinning forth of God’s glory, the radiance of God—the bright morning star!

Again with the URIM and THUMMIM in mind listen to the words Hebrews 1:3 employs to assert that Jesus is our High Priest—

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

All the perfections of truth and holiness dwell in Christ. Light and truth, love and holiness, grace and righteousness are inseparable.

And of course, in James 1:17 we read—

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

THUMMIM is very similar to the word translated with reference to the Passover-Lamb, and the sacrifices in Leviticus and Numbers as WITHOUT BLEMISH or DEFECT or PERFECT. The Lord Jesus first manifested Himself as the unblemished Lamb of God. And now is is holy, undefiled High Priest, full of all LIGHTS and PERFECTIONS and revealing the Father of Lights.

Here we have God as the Father of Urim, or LIGHTS; and He is also Thummim, or PERFECTIONS—for with Him there is no variableness, not the shade of a turn. His work is perfect; for all His ways are just. Deuteronomy 32:4 affirms—

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

Therefore, His Son, the great High Priest, makes manifest the heart and works and ways of the Father. And through Jesus, every good gift and every perfect gift comes down to us from above, from the Father of lights.

Interestingly, URIM beings with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and THUMMIM begins with the last letter. Jesus identifies Himself with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet—the ALPHA and OMEGA, the beginning and end. Possibly, we should make a similar connection with the URIM and THUMMIM.

The URIM and THUMMIM symbolized the High Priest’s mediatorial authority, especially to inquire of God on behalf of the people for divine illumination. This medium was bound up with the official dress of the High Priest.

I’ll tell you a little secret. I know what the URIM and the THUMMIM foreshadow, but I don’t know what they are. The interesting thing is that they had something to do with determining the will of God. Just how, I do not know. Some people think the URIM and THUMMIM were dice, or stones that indicated YES or NO—either a positive or negative answer to an inquiry of the LORD. Whatever, they were, and however they were used, they determined the will of God.

I believe God has kept the details obscure for a very good reason—some would try to produce a URIM and THUMMIM today and would claim that it would give us all the answers. We have a lot people around today trying to give us the answer without the URIM and THUMMIM! God want us to go to Him for the answers!

Undeniably, the URIM and THUMMIM diminished in importance as the Scriptures were written. Psalm 119:105 rightly declares—

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

The Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Poets were a light to guide the Hebrew race in particular, and the human race in general, during the Old Testament era. Eventually, the URIM and THUMMIM were replaced by the prophets as God’s means of communicating His will.

Israel did not need to stumble in darkness. Neither do we WHO possess the Holy Spirit and God’s completed revelation—the Bible! There is no longer a need for the URIM and THUMMIM to make decisions as there was in OT times. We rely on God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for guidance. Christians do not consult Urim and Thummim for His direction, nor a pillar of cloud and fire for direction.

The more we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, the better we become at decision making in the will of God. For Proverbs 9:10 says—

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

The ultimate Source of the wisdom that is needed in decision making is God. What must we do to acquire His wisdom?

Have the right attitude: Reverence, humility, teachableness, diligence, uprightness and faith.

Take the right approach:

Ask God for Wisdom
Seek wisdom in the pages of Scripture
Seek wisdom through personal research
Seek Wisdom through wise counselors
Seek Wisdom from life itself.

On a number of occasions, David sought and obtained answers from God through Abiathar the High Priest’s use of the URIM and THUMMIM.

Sometimes the URIM is mentioned without the THUMMIM. For instance, in Numbers 27:21, Yahweh told Moses that . . .

[Joshua] is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.

Aaron’s priesthood, as seen in Exodus and Leviticus, is a type of Christ in His sacrificial work on the Cross. Eleazar, Aaron’s successor, prefigures the resurrection-heavenly priesthood of Christ. Accordingly, Joshua foreshadows Christ in heaven, who acts in and through His people on earth by the Holy Spirit conducting them into salvation rest. Therefore, Joshua had to stand before Eleazar, the priest, depending, as it were, upon him, as the work of the Holy Spirit in believer is dependent on the priesthood of Christ in glory.

Moreover, the whole community was to be identified with Joshua, so whether they went out or came in, they were to move with him. The close association of the leader with the priest demonstrates how two office of Christ stand in relation to each other before God. The leader was to receive LIGHT concerning God’s mind from the priest through the URIM in the priestly breastpiece. So God has made communication by Jesus Christ, that through the Spirit He may show what He has communicated to His servants.

God’s people are to follow their leader, who goes ahead of every spiritual movement, to bring them into the full blessings of salvation rest. Spiritual leaders are to be followed, as they follow Christ. Hence, spiritual leadership has great significance in God’s ways.

Every Christian leader should be able to say with the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1—

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Paul is himself an imitator of Christ. The preacher is a leader and is bound to set an example or pattern for others. Christ being our perfect example, our actions and conduct, as related in the Scriptures, should be followed only so far as they are like Jesus. That’s a primary teaching of the URIM.

An example of failed leadership is seen in First Samuel 14, where we find Saul ordering Ahiah the priest, who was wearing the ephod, to withdraw his hand from the ephod and not use the URIM and THUMMIM due to the urgency of the moment.

The whole Philistine army had been struck by God with panic. Saul decided not to wait for the word of the LORD, believing that it would jeopardize his military advantage. Saul’s decision rests on his own insight rather than on dependence upon the LORD and a commitment to obey Him. Saul bind Israel with a curse and enters into battle. 1 Samuel 14:23 records—

Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.

How foolish of Saul to think a sacrificial vow would give him victory when his heart was not right with God! He was later to learn, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Saul’s son, Jonathan, knew nothing about this curse, so he went ahead and ate honey and was strengthened, and his example of practical wisdom encouraged the army to go ahead and eat after their victory.

When the army went to their next engagement, they sought the guidance of God but failed to get an answer. This led to Saul’s discovery of Jonathan’s disobedience, and the foolish king was going to kill his own son! The people rescued Jonathan, but Saul’s actions revealed the darkness of his heart. Filled with pride, he depended upon himself rather than taking the time to humble himself before the LORD and seek His will. Saul had stepped onto the slippery slop that would lead to his downfall.

It is recorded of Saul in 1 Samuel 28:6—

He enquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.

Often leaders as well as followers of Christ are too anxious. They fail to wait upon the Lord—and trouble ensues!

In several passages, where the URIM is translated FIRE or FIRES. For example, Isaiah 31:9 says—

Their stronghold will fall because of terror; at sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic,” declares the LORD, whose FIRE is in Zion, whose furnace is in Jerusalem.

Judgment must also be associated with URIM. We are told in John 5:22—

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.

Therefore, we should not be surprised at John’s vision of the ascended Son of God in Revelation 1:12-16—

I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing FIRE. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

The LIGHTS and PERFECTIONS of God are revealed in the eyes of blazing FIRE of Christ the High Priest of the Church—represented by the seven golden lampstands. The Priest of the Most High could say, as He addressed each church separately, “I KNOW YOUR WORKS,” and could give them a word of encouragement or of rebuke as it was needed.

As the High Priest was Israel’s judge, so Jesus Christ is our Judge!

When the High Priest entered the Holy Place with the names of the tribes of Israel inscribed on the two onyx stones on his shoulders and the twelve individual stones on his breastpiece, each Israelite was symbolically brought into the presence of the lights and perfections of God to be examined for holiness.

The High Priest restored Israel to fellowship with God through sacrifice and prayer. It was his task to present the people holy to God so that they may worship Yahweh in the beauty of holiness. Remember that the LORD said in Exodus 28:2—

Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor—or for glory and beauty!

Certainly, the BREASTPIECE with its dazzling stones pictures the believer worshiping God in dignity and honor as well as glory and beauty. For the Father seeks such to worship Him.

The names and judgments of Israel were always upon the heart of the High Priest when he appeared before the LORD. Their names, indelibly engraved on the precious stones, shone out in beauty and glory before Yahweh. No one was wanting—not one was inferior to another—but each flashed out with his own peculiar lustre and color, and each retained his own place in the firm setting of gold.

But we must not forget the URIM and THUMMIM upon the heart of the High Priest. Underneath the glory and beauty lies the judgment of God. Therefore, the Cross! Ephesians 5:25-27 puts the Breastpiece and its contents into proper perspective—

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Today, you and I sparkle like a precious stone in a radiant church because Christ gave up Himself for us—to make us holy!

He sustains us to this end. He bears each believer before the throne of grace, so that He can present each faultless in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.

God’s judgment respecting the Church is, that it stands in the LIGHTS and PERFECTIONS of Christ, accepted in the Beloved Son—our Great High Priest.

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