Exodus 28:15-30 - Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Bible Comments

And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it. Breastplate of judgment, х choshen (H2833)] - a very splendid and richly embroidered piece of brocade, of the same texture and workmanship as the ephod, a span square, and doubled, to enable it the better to bear the weight of the precious stones in it. There were twelve different stones, containing each the name of a tribe, and arranged in four rows, three in each. (cf. Psalms 133:1-3.) The Israelites had acquired a knowledge of the lapidary's art in Egypt; and the amount of their skill in cutting, polishing, and setting precious stones may be judged of by the diamond forming one of the engraved ornaments on this breastplate (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' 3:, 106: see the note at Exodus 35:33).

A ring was attached to each corner, through which the golden chains were passed to fasten this brilliant piece of jewellery at the top and bottom, tightly on the breast of the ephod. The precious stones enumerated here are the same as the apocalyptic seer has represented on the foundation walls of the celestial city (Revelation 21:19); and as the names of the twelve tribes were engraven upon the stones in the breastplate of the high priest, so the names of the twelve apostles are inscribed upon the constituent gems in the walls of the celestial city. This correspondence is of great significance, the idea intended to be represented by the symbol being the preciousness in the sight of God of His people; while the splendour betokens the reflected glory of the divine presence.

Verse 20. A beryl, х tarshiysh (H8658); Septuagint, chrusolithos (G5555)]. So also Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 7:, sec. 5), the chrysolite.

Verse 21. The engravings of a signet. 'People in the East,' says Niebuhr ('Travels,' p. 90), 'usually write their names with letters interlacing each other in ciphers, in order that their signature may not be imitated. Those who cannot write cause their names to be written by others, and then stamp their name or their device with ink at the bottom of the paper, or on the back of it. But usually they have their name or their device engraven on a stone, which they wear on their finger' (cf. Genesis 38:18; Genesis 41:42). This usage was, in the opinion of many writers, borrowed from Egypt, purified, however, from the pagan accompaniments by which it was there associated; for conspicuous on the breastplate of the Egyptian priest was an idolatrous symbol, usually the winged scarahaeus, the emblem of the sun; but the substitution of the gems, inscribed with the names of their tribes, completely changed the character of that garment in the eyes of the Israelites.

Verse 30. Thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, х 'et (H854) haa-'Uwriym (H224) wª'et (H853) ha-Tumiym (H8550)]. The words-judging from the usual acceptations of their roots and related forms-signify 'lights' and 'perfections;' and, in the opinion of Josephus, Brannius ('De Vest. Sacred Heb.'), Dathe, Bellermann, etc., nothing more is meant by them than the precious stones of the breastplate, already described, and the surpassing luster produced by the reflected radiance of so many gems.

Others think that these mysterious names denote the latent virtue or power communicated to the breastplate, at its consecration, of obtaining an oracular response from God. But as the words, "thou shalt put," are used (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 25:21) to intimate an outward act-namely, the depositing of the two tables in the ark-it may be inferred that they are used in the same sense here; and that this phraseology implies the insertion of some material ornament, additional to, and separable from, the breastplate. This view, which seems clearly supported by Leviticus 8:8, is that which is now generally adopted.

But opinions greatly differ regarding the origin of the practice and the import of the names. Spencer ('De Legg. Heb.,' tom. 2:, Dissert. 7:) maintains that they pointed to the teraphim, which, from their having been long used by the people in private for the purposes of divination, Moses resolved to eradicate; and accordingly, as the best way of putting an end to the superstition, embodied them in a cavity of the high priest's breastplate, in order that all inquiries in matters of doubt or difficulty should be publicly made to Yahweh alone. This view is founded on Hosea 3:4 and Jdg. 17:14 , where the teraphim are mentioned in conjunction with the ephod. But it is obviously untenable; because neither of these passages give the least countenance to the idea that the teraphim were, in accommodation to the gross conceptions of the Egyptianized Israelites, placed in the front of the ephod; and, besides, can it be supposed that He who declared Himself jealous of His honour would authorize or sanction the superaddition of an idolatrous image to the attire of His priest when equipped in full official costume for going into the sanctuary to ask an oracular response?'

Michaelis ('Commentary on the Laws of Moses,' art. ccciv.) and Jahn ('Introduction,' p. 370) see in the Urim and Thummim the institution of a sacred sortilege, which consisted in two stones engraven, one with х keen (H3651)], Yes, the other х lo' (H3808)] No; and that the answer to inquiries was made in some way through the medium of these.

The Jewish Rabbis generally held that the response was given by a miraculous blaze of light emanating in succession from every stone that contained the answer. Rejecting all these theories as the vagaries of fancy and learned conjecture, Gesenius, following the Septuagint translation [which renders the words deeloosin kai aleetheian], and Philo ('De vita Mosis'), after them, affirm that the words properly interpreted, mean Revelation and Truth, which were represented by two miniature images representing these allegorical characters; and Wilkinson ('Ancient Egypt,' 4:, pp. 27, 28), who supports this view as the right one, says, in the Egyptian courts the presiding judge put a golden chain round his neck, to which was appended a small sapphire figure of Truth, Thmei (Greek: themis), or in the double form of Truth and Justice-whence the Hebrew words are in the plural.

But though there is an apparent resemblance in some of these circumstances, there is no real ground for concluding that the Urim and Thummim was a derivative form from Egypt. It was not in a judicial character that Aaron wore this symbol, but in his priestly capacity, when, as mediator, he negotiated with God on behalf of those whose names he bore upon his breast. In fact, there is no foundation, either linguistic or Scriptural, for the prevalent notion that there was a close affinity between the Hebrew and the Egyptian emblems.

Thummim, as has been well remarked (see Bahr, 'Symbolik,' 2:, sec. 164), is a regular Hebrew form, grammatically unconnected with the Coptic Thmei. The Septuagint, in rendering Thummim into Greek, have departed from the letter of the Hebrew text, and confounded qualities which really differ. For the bearing of the Urim and Thummim qualified the high priest to consult the divine oracle-not as a civil judge, on matters of common and daily interest, but only on public and national emergencies, by going into the holy place, standing close before the veil, and putting his hand upon the Urim and Thummim, conveyed a petition from the people, and asked counsel of God, who, as the Sovereign of Israel, gave response from the midst of His glory. The words are in the plural (plu. majest.), and, by a Hendyadys, seem intended to denote the clearness and fullness of divine illumination.

'When the glorious properties of light and perfection had been ascribed emphatically to the Hebrew breastplate, by affixing to it the significant symbols of the Urim and Thummim, the high priest was made to bear the whole of "the oracular apparatus with him as "a memorial before the Lord." If, therefore, in accordance with some other texts of Scripture, the inserted symbols may be construed as uniting into one the highest moral qualities ascribable to God Himself, it is no idle fancy to conclude that Aaron, so adorned, and bearing on his heart the names of the children of Israel was to them a vivid image of the law of mediation (cf. Numbers 16:47-48), and to us a luminous shadow of "the Mediator between God and man," who having in the fullness of the times obtained a more excellent ministry, has gathered up into Himself the various functions of the mediatorial office,' (Hardwick, 'Christ and Other Masters,' vol. 2:, p. 336; Tomkins' 'Hulsean Lectures,' 1850, p. 80; Henderson 'On Inspiration,' pp. 13-124; Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' pp. 149-153; Witsius, 'AEgyptiaca;' Lightfoot's 'Works,' vol. 1:, p. 186, etc.)

Exodus 28:15-30

15 And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.

16 Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.

17 And thou shalt seta in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.

18 And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond.

19 And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.

20 And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.b

21 And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.

22 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold.

23 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.

24 And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate.

25 And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the shoulderpieces of the ephod before it.

26 And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward.

27 And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod.

28 And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.

29 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.

30 And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.