Exodus 28:17
And you shall set 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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17-19) Set in it settings of stones . . . There is always considerable difficulty in identifying ancient with modern gems, the etymologies of the words being frequently uncertain, the names (where they have survived) having sometimes changed their meaning, and the opinions of early commentators, who might seem to speak with some authority, being discrepant. In the present case, scarcely one of the twelve stones can be said to be determined with certainty. 1. The ôdem, identified by the LXX. and the Vulg. With the “sard,” has been regarded as the ruby, the carbuncle, and the carnelian. Etymologically the word means “red,” or “the red stone.” The ruby is certainly wrong, since ancient engravers could not cut it. Either “sard” or “carnelian” is probably intended, both being common in Egypt. 2. The pitdah is certainly not the topaz, which could no more be cut than the ruby. If the word is derived, as supposed, from a root meaning “pale,” the chrysolite, which resembles a pale topaz, but is far softer, may be meant. 3. The bârěketh is rendered smaragdus, “emerald,” by the LXX. and Vulg.; but neither could the emerald be cut by the ancient engravers. The word means “brightly flashing,” which tells us next to nothing. “Beryl” and “a kind of corundum” have been suggested; but neither is particularly sparkling. 4. The nôphek, translated ἃυθραξ by the LXX. and Josehus, may well be the “carbuncle,” as is now generally supposed. It cannot, any more than the ôdem, be the ruby. 5. The sappir one might have supposed by its name to be certainly the “sapphire;” but this, again, is a gem which ancient engravers could not cut. It would seem that here we have one of the cases where the name has been transferred from one stone to another, the modern “lapis lazuli” being the gem which was called “sapphire” by the ancients. 6. The yahălôm is certainly not the “diamond,” which is the hardest of all gems. The LXX. and Vulg. translate by “jasper” (ἴασπις, jaspis); but this seems really to have been the twelfth stone. Other renderings are mere conjectures, and the yahălôm must be regarded as unknown. 7. The leshem, rendered “ligure” by the LXX., the Vulgate, Josephus, and our translators, is probably the stone known to the ancients as lapis ligurius, but what that stone was is a matter of great uncertainty. It has been regarded as amber, as jacinth, and as tourmaline; but amber does not admit of engraving, while jacinth and tourmaline are pure conjectures. This stone, then, must also be regarded as unknown. 8. The shevo, rendered achates, “agate,” by the LXX. and the Vulg., is generally allowed to have been that stone, which was well known to the ancients, and widely used for engraving. 9. The akhlâmâh was regarded as the amethyst by the LXX., the Vulgate, and Josephus; but it has been suggested that it may have been “malachite” (Knobel); and there is no disproving the suggestion. Still the amethyst, which is easily engraved, and was well known in Egypt, should find a place in the present list, and may well have been intended by the akhlâmâh. 10. The tarshish, by its name, should be a stone brought from Tarshish, which is either Tarsus or Tartessus. Some suppose it to have been the beryl, some the chrysolite, others the turquoise. There are really no sufficient grounds for identifying it with any known gem. 11. The shôham has been already discussed (see Note on Exodus 28:9), and identified with the onyx, or the sardonyx. 12. The yâsh’peh should, by its name, be the “jasper,” which was one of the stones most used in Egypt, and which could scarcely have been absent from the present list. The LXX., however, translate “onyx,” Josephus and the Vulgate “beryl;” so that here again there is uncertainty. The views of the present writer may be best presented to the reader by means of a table:—

1st Row of Gems . . .

2nd Row . . .

3rd Row . . .

4th Row . . .

Odern

(the Sard)

Nôphck

(the Carbuncle)

Leshem

(uncertain)

Tarshish

(uncertain)

Pitdah

(the Chrysolite)

Sappir

(the Lapis Lazuli)

Shevo

(the Agate)

Shôham

(the Onyx or the

Sardonyx)

Bârĕtketh

(uncertain)

Yuhâlôm

(uncertain)

Akhlâmâh

(the Amethyst)

Yush’peh

(the Jasper)

28:15-30 The chief ornament of the high priest, was the breastplate, a rich piece of cloth, curiously worked. The name of each tribe was graven in a precious stone, fixed in the breastplate, to signify how precious, in God's sight, believers are, and how honourable. How small and poor soever the tribe was, it was as a precious stone in the breastplate of the high priest; thus are all the saints dear to Christ, however men esteem them. The high priest had the names of the tribes, both on his shoulders and on his breast, which reminds us of the power and the love with which our Lord Jesus pleads for those that are his. He not only bears them up in his arms with almighty strength, but he carries them in his bosom with tender affection. What comfort is this to us in all our addresses to God! The Urim and Thummim, by which the will of God was made known in doubtful cases, were put in this breastplate. Urim and Thummim signify light and integrity. There are many conjectures what these were; the most probable opinion seems to be, that they were the twelve precious stones in the high priest's breastplate. Now, Christ is our Oracle. By him God, in these last days, makes known himself and his mind to us, Heb 1:1,2; Joh 1:18. He is the true Light, the faithful Witness, the Truth itself, and from him we receive the Spirit of Truth, who leads into all truth.Settings - Ouches of "cloisonnec" work, like those mentioned in Exodus 28:11.

A sardius - i. e. "the red stone." The Sardian stone, or sard, was much used by the ancients for seals; and it is perhaps the stone of all others the best for engraving.

Topaz - Not the stone now called the topaz: it may have been the chrysolite, a stone of a greenish hue.

A carbuncle - More probably the beryl, which is a kind of emerald.

15-29. thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work—a very splendid and richly embroidered piece of brocade, 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. 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. A ring was attached to each corner, through which the golden chains were passed to fasten this brilliant piece of jewelry at the top and bottom tightly on the breast of the ephod. It is needless to trouble the reader with the explication of these stones, which the Jewish doctors themselves are not agreed in, seeing this use of them is now abolished. It may suffice to know that they were precious stones severally allotted to the names of the several tribes, according to God’s good pleasure, possibly with respect to some disposition or concernment of each tribe, which at this distance we cannot learn. And thou shalt set in it settings of stones,.... Or "fill in it fillings of stones" (d); which shows that there were in it ouches, or sockets of gold, the hollows of which were to be filled up with precious stones:

even four rows of stones; making a four square, and so filling up the measure of the breastplate:

the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle; about these stones, and those that follow, there is a great variety of interpretations of them, both among Jews and Christians; and they seem to be little known: our translators upon the whole seem to be as right as any in giving the names of them; the first of these, the "sardius", is a red stone of a blood colour, as the "cornelian" or "ruby", and which some have thought is here meant, and has its name either from the place where it has been found, Sardis or Sardinia; or rather from its red colour; for "sered" signifies red in Ezekiel 28:13 as Braunius (e) has observed from Kimchi; and so Odem, which is the word here used, signifies, and undoubtedly intends a stone of such a colour; and it is highly probable that this is the Demium of Pliny (f), which is one of the three kinds of sardius in India; and the red is so called from its redness, as the same Braunius observes. The second stone, the "topaz", had its name, according to Pliny (g), from an island in Arabia, in the Red sea, called Topazos; and the best topaz is the topaz of Cush or Arabia, as in Job 28:19. The topaz of the ancients was of a green colour; and so the three Targums call this stone Jarken or Jarketha, which signifies green; hence some have taken this to be the emerald, which is of a fine green colour: the third stone is the "carbuncle", as we render it; whatever stone is meant, it must be a bright and glittering one, like lightning, as the word signifies; wherefore some have taken it to be the emerald, so the Septuagint and Braunius (h); it being a very radiant and glittering stone, of a grass green, and very refreshing to the sight; but Danaeus (i) says, that the carbuncle is that species of the ruby, which of all is most beautiful and excellent, and darts out light like lightning to those that look at it at a distance, and shines in the middle of the night and darkness, so that it enlightens places near it, as if it were a sun:

this shall be the first row; now upon these three stones were engraven the names of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, as both the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem agree.

(d) "et implebis in eo plenitudinem lapidis", Montanus; "vel eum impletione lapidis", Pagninus; "implebis in eo impletione lapidis", Drusius. (e) De Vestitu Sacerd. Heb. l. 2. c. 8. sect. 10. p. 639. (f) Nat. Hist. l. 37. c. 7. (g) Ibid. l. 6. c. 29. (h) Ut supra, (De Vestitu Sacerd. Heb. l. 2.) c. 10. sect. 4. p. 653. (i) Apud De Dieu in loc.

And thou shalt set 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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. a sardius. Heb. ’ôdem, ‘redness,’ LXX. σάρδιον, Vulg. sardius: Ezekiel 28:13, Revelation 21:20. The sardius is described by the ancients as ‘blood-red’: it is either what we call the cornelian (Kn. Di., Myres altern.), or the opaque red jasper (Petrie, Myres altern.). The ruby (RVm.) is improbable, because (1) it is found only in countries as distant from the Hebrews as Ceylon and Burmah, and (2) because it is so hard that it was scarcely ever engraved in antiquity.

a topaz. Heb. p̣iṭdâh, τοπάζιον, topazius (Ezekiel 28:13, Revelation 21:20); spoken of in Job 28:19 as coming from Ethiopia. The modern ‘topaz’ was hardly known before Greek times. ‘The τοπάζιον of the Greeks was a translucent, golden-coloured (διαφανὴς χρυσοειδὲς ἀποστίλβων φέγγος, Strabo xvi. 770), or yellow-green (e virenti genere, Plin. H. N. xxxvii. 8) stone, probably the modern chrysolite (or peridot); and this was in common use for scarabs and cylinders of all dates’ (Myres). The ancient topaz was obtained chiefly from an island (τοπάζιος νῆσος) in the Red Sea (Strabo, p. 770). The identification with the Ass. ḥipindu [EB. iv. 4803) depends upon an alteration in the Heb. text (ibid. 5140).

a carbuncle. Heb. bâréḳeth, σμάραγδος, smaragdus: Ezekiel 28:13, Revelation 4:3; Revelation 21:20. Probably, if these renderings are right, a rock-crystal, a colourless stone, used for engraving in Egypt at all periods: or (Petrie) only a colourless stone would shew a rainbow of prismatic colours (Revelation 4:3), or could have been used by Nero for an eye-glass (Pliny, H. N. xxxvii. 64). So also Myres, who compares carefully the rival claims of beryl.

17–21. Twelve precious stones, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel, to be arranged in gold settings in four rows of three each, and fastened in front of the pouch. The identity of several of the stones mentioned is very uncertain; for philology throws little or no light upon the meanings of the names, and the ancient Versions in several cases give inconsistent renderings, or renderings which are themselves of uncertain interpretation. The oldest interpretations of the names are those given by the LXX.; and in identifying these, much help is afforded by Theophrastus, On Stones [c. 300 b.c.), and notices in Pliny, H. N. See more fully Petrie, DB. iv. 619 ff., and esp. J. L. Myres, EB. iv. 4799 ff. The list is repeated in Exodus 39:10-13 : comp. also the lists in Ezekiel 28:13 (= the 1st, 2nd, and 4th rows here, the stones being however differently arranged) of stones in the ‘covering,’ or decorated garment, of the king of Tyre, and in Revelation 21:19 f. of the stones forming the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 54:11 f.; Tob 13:16 f.).Verse 17. - Settings of stones. These were similar to those of the two shoulder stones - i.e. of filagree or cloisonne work - as appears from Exodus 39:13. The first row of the stones is said to have been composed of a sardius, or sard, a topaz, and a carbuncle. Of these names the first only would seem to be tolerably certain. The second cannot be right, since the topaz was too hard a stone to be engraved by the ancient engravers. We may conjecture that the chrysolite, a pale stone not unlike the topaz, but far less hard, was the Genesis intended. The "carbuncle" is also thought to be wrong; and the "beryl" is suggested by some; by others "a sort of precious corundum." Emerald, to which the "smaragdus" of the LXX. and Josephus would seem to point, cannot be right, since that stone is fully as hard as the topaz. "Work of the engraver in stone, of seal-cutting shalt thou engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel." The engraver in stone: lit., one who works stones; here, one who cuts and polishes precious stones. The meaning is, that just as precious stones are cut, and seals engraved upon them, so these two stones were to be engraved according to the name of the sons of Israel, i.e., so that the engraving should answer to their names, or their names be cut into the stones. "Surrounded by gold-twist shalt thou make it." זהב משׁבּצות, from שׁבץ to twist, is used in Exodus 28:39 (cf. Psalm 45:14) for a texture woven in checks; and here it denotes not merely a simple gold-setting, but, according to Exodus 28:13, gold-twists or ornaments representing plaits, which surrounded the golden setting in which the stones were fixed, and not only served to fasten the stones upon the woven fabric, but formed at the same time clasps or brooches, by which the two parts of the ephod were fastened together. Thus Josephus says (Ant. iii. 7, 5) there were two sardonyxes upon the shoulders, to be used for clasps.
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