“You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for a memorial.
Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.”
Exodus 28:12, 29
The priestly garments are a topic that lots of folks have commented on. This morning, I was struck by a parallel between what the high priest did in symbol and what my High Priest does in practice.
The two stones mentioned in verse twelve are onyx. Onyx is a beautiful stone and is black. Black, as a color in clothing and art and such, is often a representation of wrong-doing and sin The high priest wore these black stones on his shoulders and the names of the twelve tribes were etched into the stones. My High Priest—one Jesus, by name—took my sin and shame and cross on His shoulders. When Jesus was crucified, parts of the process was Him being scourged. This means that His back and shoulders were shredded.
The breastplate included one stone for each tribe of Israel with the name of that tribe etched into it. Verse twenty-nine says that the stones would rest on the heart of the high priest. All believers are continually “on Jesus’ heart.” He constantly thinks about us. One verse says that He lives to make intercession for us. When He prays before going to the cross (John 17), He prays for His disciples at the time and looks forward through the halls of time toward all of us who believe now and prays for us as well. Add to this the fact that the Roman soldiers, to confirm Jesus’ death, pierced His side—near the heart.
Why this focus on where Jesus was wounded? Isaiah 49:15-16 says (quoting God), “Can a woman forget her nursing child / And have no compassion on the son of her womb? / Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. / Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; / Your walls are continually before Me.” Jesus’ scars are, to my mind, an inscription. They are His breastplate and shoulder pieces. He bears the names of those who are His on His shoulders and near His heart; on the palms of His hands and the soles of His feet (the word used for “palms” in Isaiah can also mean soles of the feet). And those scars will be in Heaven for all eternity, “a memorial before the LORD continually.” Jesus, my Great High Priest, is the substance of what Aaron and those who followed in his office were foreshadowing.
How about some application?
First, my sins were on Jesus’ shoulders as He carried the cross. I should look to lighten the load as much as I can. The onyx will not be any less black for the effort, but the cross might be one sin lighter for my obedience.
Second, I am always on Jesus’ heart. Is He always on mine? He bears my name in front of the Father for the rest of eternity. I should bear His Name and the marks of His presence in my life.
Third and finally, the other priests were clothed in garments similar to those of the high priest “for beauty and glory.” My Great High Priest is beautiful and glorious beyond comparison. My life; my actions; my words should be beautiful and glorious and an echo of the beauty and glory of my High Priest.
Father, I am not perfected in any of the things You have shown me today. Ultimately, they all boil down to me being clothed with Your beauty and glory and I confess to not being so with any regularity. Please forgive me for not taking up the garments of the office You’ve appointed to all of Yours or for wearing them so as to display Your beauty and glory. Please, also, enable me to be clothed appropriately and to minister as You direct me. Thank You for thinking of me as often as You do.