Tabernacle Studies: The Garments of the High Priest

Edited by Eugene Higgins. Continuation of the meditations on the Tabernacle and High Priest’s garments.

The Breastplate

Inseparably connected with the ephod, and a constituent part of it, was the breastplate. It was the chief and most costly of the vestments, the other garments being a sort of foundation or background for it. It was a four-square bag, made of the same materials as the ephod. On the front of it were placed, in settings, twelve precious stones in four rows of three each. On each stone was cut the name of a tribe of the children of Israel. The order of the names on the breastplate, however, was different to the order on the shoulders. Here, on the breastplate, the names were by the order of the encampment or the march. Each tribe had its own precious stone and its own peculiar place on the breastplate. Judah was probably the head of the first row and Dan took the lead in the last row. Not only were the positions different but the colors were also different. Thus, each had its own appointed place in God’s order and each had its own peculiar glory and beauty. Here was unity combined with diversity.

So it is with the individuals who compose the Body of Christ. Each reflects Christ, and yet Christ is seen in each with a glory and beauty peculiar to the individual. Each has his own place in the body, performing the function which is his or hers by divine appointment, and thereby adding to the glory of Christ (Eph 4:11-13 and 16).

Little is really known about these stones. Many have attempted to discover the real names of these gems, but perhaps only four or five can be positively and accurately identified.

The Lord said, “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” (Ex 28:29). Aaron carried them upon his heart – the seat of affection, the symbol of love. This, too, is the place where our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, carries His beloved people (Song of Solomon 8:6).

The breastplate was doubled or folded to form a pouch into which were put two objects called Urim and Thummim (Ex 28:30). Exactly what they were, whether they were precious stones bearing these significant names, no one knows or is able to decide at present. Urim means “Lights” (compare James 1:17; 1 John 1:5). Thummim means “Perfections” (compare Deut 32:4; Ps 18:30). We are, however, sure about their use. This may be gathered from Num 27:21, where it seems clear that in certain circumstances and on certain occasions the mind of God was conveyed through them. See also 1 Sam 28:6; Ezra 2:61, 63. It was called the “breastplate of judgment” because it contained the means by which God’s judgments or decrees were revealed.

The antitype of these is our Lord Jesus, Who is the One through Whom the mind of God is made known (Heb 1:1, 2; John 1:14; Matt 11:27). The counsels of God are only to be learned through our Great High Priest; and those counsels are inseparably connected with His own dear people – as symbolized by the Urim and Thummim and the twelve precious stones bearing the names, being together in the breastplate.

The breastplate was inseparably linked to the ephod, which was peculiarly and essentially the high priestly garment. Ex 28:22-28 describes how this was done. Actually the ephod, the shoulder pieces, the breastplate, and the curious girdle were all bound together and formed one garment. In wearing this garment the high priest carried the names of the children of Israel both on his shoulders and in his heart. God’s people were thus doubly represented. This is a lovely type of our Redeemer in His present heavenly ministry, exercising His power to uphold His people, and embracing them in His tender love as He presents them to the Father.

The Mitre

The mitre: “And thou shalt make a mitre of fine linen” (Ex 28:39). The word, “mitre,” is derived from a verb which means “to roll or wind around.” The fine linen was, therefore, wrapped around the head of the high priest in the form of a turban. In 1 Cor 11:3-10, we learn that the covered head symbolizes “subjection.” Thus the headdress of the high priest intimated his subjection and subordination to God, his obedience to God’s commands, and his submission to God’s will. In fulfillment of all this, our blessed Lord took the place of the servant, called Himself the “Sent” of the Father, and said continually that He did not come to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him, reaching the climax of obedience in the death of the Cross (Philippians 2:8).

The Golden Plate

The golden plate was fastened upon the forefront of the mitre (Ex 28:36, 37) and attached to a background of “blue lace.” On the plate was an inscription, “Holiness to the Lord,” which signified that the high priest was devoted or dedicated to Jehovah. These words gave character and meaning to the office of the high priest, to his garments, and to his person; he was sacred to the Lord. “And it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” Thus Israel was represented by him and accepted in him. The saints are seen in this relationship to Christ in Eph 1:6 – “accepted in the beloved One.”

A Summary of the Teaching of the Garments of the High Priest

1. The Linen Coat – The Sinless One

2. The Linen Girdle – The Serving One

3. The Robe of the Ephod – The Heavenly One

4. The Ephod – The Human and Divine One

5. The Breastplate – The Loving One

6. The Mitre – The Obedient One

7. The Golden Plate – The Holy One