The significance of the high priest’s breastplate
In the midst of the commandments for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), we find the instructions for the making of the garments that the High Priest was to wear. The details for the High Priest’s clothing are detailed completely from head to foot in Exodus chapter 28. We also know that every detail provided in the Bible was given so that every person reading the Scriptures would in some way be directed or led to Yeshua (Jesus). Each word was framed precisely to make a pathway where, no matter where you start from, the end of the path leads to Yeshua. Every item, no matter how small, was, by design, entered into the text with specificity and is part of the elaborate spiritual GPS system that is always directing or redirecting the reader so that their journey continues toward Yeshua.
In my last blog, I pointed out a connection between the Ark of the Covenant and Yeshua. This week, I want to share just one of the of the ways that the High Priest’s clothing teaches us something about Yeshua.
The High Priest’s clothing contained both undergarments and outer-garments and even provided a miter, or hat, for him to wear. These clothes served very functional purposes, just as our normal clothes serve us today. Whether you are a mechanic or a lawyer, you wear the clothing of your trade.
The instructions for the Priest went beyond normal clothing and included a breastplate, which contained gold chains and precious gemstones. This breastplate was, for all intents and purposes, a beautiful piece of jewelry worn by the High Priest. The breastplate, like all jewelry, was worn to represent something, just as a wedding ring lets people know we are married, or a Star of David necklace would demonstrate a love or support of Israel.
The Breastplate was unique in that it had two focal points instead of one. There were the onyx stones on the shoulder and the gemstones on the chest piece. On each of these focal points were beautiful stones to draw one’s attention and they both included the names of all 12 tribes of Israel. I think we can all see without a lot of discussion that the High Priest represented Yeshua our Perfect High Priest. But why the breastplate? Why the stones? And why the two separate focal points?
Is it possible that the two onyx stones of Exodus 28:9 engraved with the names of Israel, which rested on the shoulders of the High Priest, represents the Priest carrying the sins of all Israel upon his shoulders as intercessor? These two stones were identical in size, shape, and color. They were engraved as a signet – an item used to seal contracts, covenants, or decrees. Showing us that in G-D’s view, all of us who have entered covenant with Him are viewed the same, or as Galatians 3:28 says:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.
The High Priest, through intercession, carried our sins on his shoulders just as Yeshua would, years later, carry the burden of our cross on His shoulders.
The second focal point of the breastplate were the 12 gemstones of Exodus 28:17-21 that were on the front, which lay over the heart of the High Priest. Unlike the gems on the shoulder piece, these stones were different one from another. Different stones and different colors, but all placed together in unity. Could it be that these stones represent the individuality and diversity of the people that the High Priest would intercede for, just as Yeshua made intercession for all people of all cultures and backgrounds? These stones were not placed upon the shoulders, but rather upon the heart because it takes a work of the heart to truly intercede for diverse people.
He didn’t just offer Himself for an entire nation (the onyx stones). He also offered Himself for each one of us individually and personally (the 12 individual stones). It wasn’t simply the strength (shoulder stones) of Yeshua that brought redemption to the world. Remember, He said in Matthew 26:53:
Or do you suppose that I cannot call on My Father, and at once He will place at My side twelve legions of angels?
No, it wasn’t strength and might alone that brought the covenant-promised redemption to Israel. It required a greater power than the Arm of the L-RD; it was the Heart of the L-RD (the heart stones).
It is important to note that the shoulder stones were connected to the heart stones by golden chains. The two groups of stones were connected and only complete when they were together. Just as we can only understand the fullness of the work of our High Priest Yeshua when we understand that the strength of His redemption was a combination of His carrying us upon His shoulders and His heart.