Page 6 - August 2022 - Truth & Tidings
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mind of God, for in the pouch formed by   They shared with the shoulder stones the
        his breastplate, Aaron carried the Urim   purpose of being a memorial: “And Aaron
        and the Thummim: “Thou shalt put in   shall bear the names of the children of
        the breastplate of judgment the Urim and   Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon
        the Thummim; and they shall be upon
        Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before   his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy
        the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judg-  place, for a memorial before the Lord
        ment of the children of Israel upon his   continually” (v29).
        heart before the Lord continually” (Exo   These stones, engraved with the names
        28:30). How precisely these “lights and   of the tribes, must have had a very special
        perfections” served to reveal God’s mind
        has prompted no little conjecture, but it is   and precious significance for the Israelites.
        clear from passages like Numbers 27:21, 1   They were a reminder of the value of the
        Samuel 28:6, and Nehemiah 7:65 that this   high priest’s ministry on their behalf; their
        was their purpose.                    location attested to his strength (the shoul-
          Aaron’s garments, then, emphasised   der stones) and his affection (the stones on
        his link with the sanctuary and with God.   the breastplate) engaged on their behalf.
        They also emphasised his link with the Is-  The flashing stones of the breastplate
        raelites. On Aaron’s shoulders were onyx
        stones engraved “with the work of an   would also have spoken to them of their
        engraver in stone, like the engravings of a   value in the eyes of God – and of His ap-
        signet,” bearing “the names of the children   preciation of the variety of their character.
        of Israel” (Exo 28:11). These stones, set in   But above all, perhaps, their message to
        golden ouches, or wrought settings, were   the Israelites would have been that there
        “stones of memorial unto the children of   was a man equipped for the sanctuary
        Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names
        before the Lord upon his two shoulders   who bore their names before God and,
        for a memorial” (v12). On Aaron’s breast-  though there was never any prospect of
        plate, a further twelve stones were set,   God’s forgetting about them, those names
        arranged in four rows: “And the stones   served as a reminder to God of the people
        shall be with the names of the children of   with whom He had entered into covenant
        Israel, twelve, according to their names,   relationship.
        like the engravings of a signet; every one
        with his name shall they be according to   The application of these truths to our
        the twelve tribes” (v21). Unlike the onyx   experience is inexpressibly precious; it
        shoulder stones, these breastplate stones   takes something of an effort of will not
        were an assortment of precious gems.    to focus upon what these garments tell
        ² The identification of these stones is not   us about Christ’s ministry on our behalf.
        straightforward. “For all the scholarly recourse to
        conjectured etymologies and comparative philology,   The Israelites, of course, knew nothing of
        it is virtually impossible to determine precisely what
        precious stones are referred to in this list. … We can   that, but, in the garments “for glory and
        do little more than revel in the gorgeousness of the   for beauty,” they learned profound lessons
        words, which is surely part of the intended response
        for the ancient audience” (Robert Alter, The Five Books   about the meaning of priesthood that were
        of Moses. A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY:
        W.W. Norton, 2004), 475.              relevant for them, as well as for us.

        230 TRUTH kTidings   August  2022
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