In last week’s Torah reading, God instructed Moses and the Israelites to construct a Tabernacle (Mishkan) in the wilderness.
This week, God commands them to bring pure olive oil for the lamp, and to create holy garments for the priests (cohanim).
The Role of Beauty and Splendor in Serving God
“These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 28:4)
In this Parasha, sacred garments are to be made for the priests so they can serve God.
One of them is the breastplate of judgment (Choshen Hamishpat).
The breastplate is associated with the Urim and Thummim, and they are used for divining the will of the Lord.
The priestly breastplate was made of embroidered linen sized and shaped into a square cubit. It contained four rows, each with three precious gems embedded within the plate and surrounded with gold.
Each jewel in the priest’s breastplate represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel, whose names were engraved upon the stones. God would use the individual letters of these names to spell out His judgments for Israel when the Urim was used to consult Him.
“He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” (Numbers 27:21)
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), John describes his vision of the New Jerusalem, in which the foundation stones of the city walls are adorned with 12 precious gems. Some, if not all, of these gems are also in the breastplate.
Some of the stones’ true identities may have been lost, since the Hebrew and Greek cultures shared no definitive gem names, especially during the 1000 years between the writing of 1 Samuel and the Book of Revelation:
“The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.” (Revelation 21:19–20)
There are over 30 different opinions concerning the identification of the breastplate stones in rabbinical literature and tradition. (Temple Institute)
What we see in the description of the Breastplate and New Jerusalem is that God considers beauty to be glorifying as we serve Him on earth and in Heaven, where we will one day be surrounded by the brilliant splendor of streets paved with gold and divinely cut jewels embedded in foundations.
God also considers certain colors and material important and glorifying in service to Him.
“You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.” (Exodus 28:2)
The ephod, or garment underneath the breastplate, was made out of fine linen and woven out of gold, blue, purple and scarlet threads. Although a priestly garment, it seems that King David wore it as well when he brought back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
“Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen.” (1 Chronicles 15:27; see also 2 Samuel 6:14)
Serving God in the Beauty of Holiness
Everything God creates in His physical world helps us understand His spiritual world. The use of physical gems on the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol is no different. Since these stones represent the 12 tribes, and the breastplate is connected with discovering the will of God, the stones represent how precious Israel is to the Lord and His desire to lead them into His will.
The precious stones embedded in the foundations of the New Jerusalem also represent the 12 tribes. From this we can understand the continued importance of Israel in the Messianic Age.
All Believers in Yeshua play a significant role, as well. Scripture says that we are a holy priesthood and living stones, a spiritual house through Yeshua the Messiah:
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Messiah Yeshua.” (1 Peter 2:4–5)
Like a precious jewel, precisely cut, shaped and polished by a master lapidary, we each have the ability to uniquely reflect the beauty and glory of God’s Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) as we serve Him.
When we fulfill that destiny, we take our place in a spiritual house, whose cornerstone—the One who holds it all together—is, of course, Yeshua HaMashiach.
“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (1 Peter 2:6)
Because this is the Shabbat before the festival of Purim (Lots), a special reading from Deuteronomy 25:17–19 is studied in addition to the regular Scripture portion. It is also called the Zachor (Remembrance) reading, because it details God’s command that we remember the wickedness of Amalek: