In Exodus 28, when the priesthood is introduced, there’s a great emphasis on the garments the priest wore; these garments signify our living as priests to God – our living must be a God-man living with the divinity of Christ and the humanity of Jesus. What qualifies us to be priests to God is our garments, our conduct, our living out of Christ Himself.
The first item of the garments of the priests emphasized is the breastplate.
The priests wore a long robe covering their whole body, then on top there was a tunic, a kind of coat to the knees. On top of the tunic there was the ephod, a special garment for the priests, and on the ephod there were two onyx stones on the shoulders inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, and on the front of the ephod there was the breastplate.
The breastplate was a setting of gold with twelve precious stones, and there was a front and a back; inside – between the front and the back – there was the Urim and the Thummim. To this day we don’t exactly know what the ephod, the Urim, and the Thummim is, since the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but we know what they do and how they operate.
The central item of all the garments of the priests was the breastplate; all the other garments were there to hold it. Urim means lights: it illuminated the precious stones on the breastplate; in the center of the breast of the priests there was a shining breastplate with twelve transparent precious stones.
This week we want to see three main things, with many details:
- Why do we consider the breastplate to be the central and ultimate point not only of the garments of the priests but also of the priesthood.
- Get a clear picture from Exo. 28 how God used the breastplate with the Urim and the Thummim to speak to His people and lead them; this is a type not only of the Lord’s leading but also of the church – the high priest was wearing God’s building, the church, in God’s presence.
- How can we apply the breastplate with its function to our Christian life and church life.
The Breastplate is the Central Item of the Priestly Garments and the Central and Ultimate Point of the Priesthood
According to Exo. 28:15-30, the breastplate of judgment is the central item of the priestly garments and the central and ultimate point of the priesthood. When God spoke of the garments of the priests, He didn’t start with the robe but with the breastplate, which is directly attached to the ephod.
These all go together: the breastplate, the ephod, and the two shoulder pieces. The ephod was made of fine linen with strands of blue and purple and gold, and it signifies the individual Christ. The shoulder pieces with the breastplate signify the church, the built-up church joined to Christ.
The priestly garments which we should wear in our service to God signify Christ and the church. When we read the description of the twelve precious stones on the breastplate of judgement we are reminded of the twelve precious stones in the foundation of the New Jerusalem; the breastplate typifies the consummate stage of God’s building.
Inside the breastplate there was the Urim and the Thummim, both of which signifies Christ; Christ today is not only in us individually but especially in the built up church. We don’t individually possess the Urim and the Thummim, but the built up church does.
God used the breastplate of judgement to speak to His people and lead them; it was the central item of the priestly garments. The main purpose of the breastplate of judgement was for God’s leading; God’s people acted according to God’s leading obtained through the breastplate.
The breastplate functions as a heavenly, divine, and spiritual typewriter. Of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, eighteen were contained in the names of the twelve tribes inscribed in the stones set on the breastplate. The remaining four letters were contained in the Thummim attached to the breastplate. Therefore, with the breastplate there were all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet….The Lord’s leading could be obtained through the breastplate with the Urim and the Thummim much like a word, or a sentence, is composed one letter at a time by using a typewriter. (Witness Lee, Life-Study of Exodus, msg. 123)
Aaron signifies Christ as the high priest; Aaron died before Moses, and so most likely he never used the Urim and the Thummim because Moses was alive.
When Joshua succeeded Moses and Eliezer succeeded Aaron, Joshua went to Eliezer (the high priest) and they enquired of God through the Urim and the Thummim with the breastplate; from that point onward, all God’s speaking to His people came through the breastplate.
Today we as God’s people should act according to God’s leading obtained through the reality of the breastplate. The breastplate typifies the church, and if we do not know the church, we do not know what God’s leading is; actually, God’s leading and the church are one.
We may apply and desire to have God’s leading individually concerning who to marry, where to move, what to study, where to live, etc, but God’s leading is not an individual matter but a matter of the church.
If we want to have God’s leading and speaking, we need to be in the church life being built up with the saints!
Lord Jesus, we want to have Your fresh and up-to-date speaking and leading by remaining in the church and being built up with the saints so that we may have the reality of the breastplate of judgement. Lord, we need Your speaking. Take us with You, and lead us in the Body. Cause us to experience the reality of the breastplate of judgement by being in the church and receiving Your leading, Your message, and Your fresh speaking. Lord Jesus, we love You! Build us up more with the saints into Your expression, Your testimony, Your building, where Your speaking and leading is!
God reveals what we should Do through the Church; the Church is God’s Leading
The ephod the priests wore was a type of Christ as the glorious expression of God, and the breastplate is a type of the church. God today reveals to us what we should do is through the church, by the church, and with the church; the church is God’s leading, for the church bears the divine alphabet by which God makes known His leading (Exo. 28:21; see Psa. 73:2-3, 16-17, 22-28).
In Psa. 73 the psalmist was perplexed: he saw the prosperity of the wicked, but as he considered it he was troubled, until he went into the sanctuary of God, where he realized what their end was.
This is our situation many times: we may not be clear concerning God’s leading, and things around us may leave us perplexed, but when we come into God’s house, in the meetings of the church, right away we receive not only God’s speaking but also His leading.
The breastplate is called “of judgement” not because through it God judged His people but because through His speaking the Lord purified and cleansed His people to make them His shining testimony.
The church bears “the divine alphabet”, just as the breastplate contained 18 of the 22 Hebrew letters of alphabet, with the Thummim being the completion – it added the missing four letters. The breastplate functioned as a divine and mystical typewriter: as light shone on certain letters, the priests could compose words, sentences, and paragraphs.
God sends us “divine and mystical texts” through the reality of the breastplate in the meeting. In the meetings of the church we have God’s speaking, His leading, and His message to His people.
It is our experience many times that we try to have God’s leading in an individual way in our Christian life, but we are not clear until we are being built up with the saints in the church – then the Lord has a clear way to convey His leading and message!
The breastplate being borne upon Aaron’s heart for a memorial before Jehovah signifies that the entire church as one built-up entity is being borne upon Christ’s loving heart for a memorial, a pleasing remembrance, before God (see Exo. 28:29).
The high priest bore the names of the children of Israel upon his shoulders (on the two onyx stones) and on his breast (on the breastplate) into God’s presence. This is a type of Christ as our High Priest; He has our names on His shoulders of strength and on His heart of love.
When Christ goes into the Holy of Holies, He bears God’s people upon His heart – He bears the entire church as the Body of Christ before God. And He doesn’t bear us individually but as members of the Body of Christ.
In dimensions the breastplate was a span – the span of a hand, which humanly speaking is not that big, but the Lord’s hands are quite big! We all are on His hands, and nothing can snatch us out of Christ’s hands (John 10:28); He has engraved us in the palms of His hand. Praise the Lord!
Thank You Lord for showing us that Your leading and speaking today is through the church and in the church. Save us from remaining individualistic in seeking Your leading. We want to enter into the sanctuary of God, being built up with the saints in the church, so that we may receive the divine and mystical leading from You in and through the church. Lord, build us up together in love, and keep us in Your hands and on Your shoulders! We trust in You, we come to You in the church, and we are open to Your judging, purifying, speaking, and enlightening!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother Mark R. for this week, and Life-study of Exodus, msg. 123 (by Witness Lee), as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, Crystallization-Study of Exodus (part 4, 2016 Summer Training), msg. 9 (week 45 in the HWMR), The Breastplate — the Central and Ultimate Point of the Priesthood.
- Hymns on this topic:
# All the clothing of his service / Is the beauty of the Lord; / Glorious splendor do his garments, / Breast and shoulder-piece afford. (Hymns #911)
# We give ourselves the flock’s steps to follow / Knowing the Shepherd’s care. / Now in the churches Jesus is leading / And He is speaking there. (Hymns #1246)
# Arise, my soul, arise! / Shake off thy guilty fears; / The bleeding Sacrifice / In my behalf appears. / Before the throne my Surety stands; / My name is written on His hands. (Hymns #300)
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