Exodus 28:29
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.
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(29) Aaron shall bear the names . . . upon his heart.—Comp. Exodus 28:12. The high priest was to be wholly identified with the people; to be one with them in affection no less than in action; to bear their names on his shoulders, as supporting them and wrestling for them, while he also bore their names on his heart, as loving them and feeling for them. Thus he was continually to present before God a two-fold “memorial” of His people, and to make a sort of double appeal, on the one hand, to God’s power, and, on the other hand, to His mercy and loving-kindness.



Exodus 28:12
, Exodus 28:29.

Every part of the elaborately prescribed dress of the high priest was significant. But the significance of the whole was concentrated in the inscription upon his mitre, ‘Holiness to the Lord,’ and in those others upon his breastplate and his shoulder.

The breastplate was composed of folded cloth, in which were lodged twelve precious stones, in four rows of three, each stone containing the name of one of the tribes. It was held in position by the ephod, which consisted of another piece of cloth, with a back and front part, which were united into one on the shoulders. On each shoulder it was clasped by an onyx stone bearing the names of six of the tribes. Thus twice, on the shoulders, the seat of power, and on the heart, the organ of thought and of love, Aaron, entering into the presence of the Most High, bore ‘the names of the tribes for a memorial continually.’

Now, I think we shall not be indulging in the very dangerous amusement of unduly spiritualising the externalities of that old law if we see here, in these two things, some very important lessons.

I. The first one that I would suggest to you is-here we have the expression of the great truth of representation of the people by the priest.

The names of the tribes laid upon Aaron’s heart and on his shoulders indicated the significance of his office-that he represented Israel before God, as truly as he represented God to Israel. For the moment the personality of the official was altogether melted away and absorbed in the sanctity of his function, and he stood before God as the individualised nation. Aaron was Israel, and Israel was Aaron, for the purposes of worship. And that was indicated by the fact that here, on the shoulders from which, according to an obvious symbol, all acts of power emanate, and on the heart from which, according to most natural metaphor, all the outgoings of the personal life proceed, were written the names of the tribes. That meant, ‘This man standing here is the Israel of God, the concentrated nation.’

The same thought works the other way. The nation is the diffused priest, and all its individual components are consecrated to God. All this was external ceremonial, with no real spiritual fact at the back of it. But it pointed onwards to something that is not ceremonial. It pointed to this, that the true priest must, in like manner, gather up into himself, and in a very profound sense be, the people for whom he is the priest; and that they, in their turn, by the action of their own minds and hearts and wills, must consent to and recognise that representative relation, which comes to the solemn height of identification in Christ’s relation to His people. ‘I am the Vine, ye are the branches,’ says He, and also, ‘That they all may be one in us as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee.’ So Paul says, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ ‘The life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,’

So Christ gathers us all, if we will let Him, into Himself; and our lives may be hid with Him-in a fashion that is more than mere external and formal representation, or as people have a member of Parliament to represent them in the councils of the nation-even in a true union with Him in whom is the life of all of us, if we live in any real sense. Aaron bore the names of the tribes on shoulder and heart, and Israel was Aaron, and Aaron was Israel.

II. Further, we see here, in these eloquent symbols, the true significance of intercession.

Now, that is a word and a thought which has been wofully limited and made shallow and superficial by the unfortunate confining of the expression, in our ordinary language, to a mere action by speech. Intercession is supposed to be verbal asking for some good to be bestowed on, or some evil to be averted from, some one in whom we are interested. But the Old Testament notion of the priest’s intercession, and the New Testament use of the word which we so render, go far beyond any verbal utterances, and reach to the very heart of things. Intercession, in the true sense of the word, means the doing of any act whatsoever before God for His people by Jesus Christ. Whensoever, as in the presence of God, He brings to God anything which is His, that is intercession. He undertakes for them, not by words only, though His mighty word is, ‘I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am,’ but by acts which are more than even the words of the Incarnate Word.

If we take these two inscriptions upon which I am now commenting, we shall get, I think, what covers the whole ground of the intercession on which Christians are to repose their souls. For, with regard to the one of them, we read that the high priest’s breastplate was named ‘the breastplate of judgment’; and what that means is explained by the last words of the verse following that from which my text is taken: ‘Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord.’ Judgment means a judicial sentence; in this case a judicial sentence of acquittal. And that Aaron stood before God in the Holy Place, ministering with this breastplate upon his heart, is explained by the writer of these regulations to mean that he carried there the visible manifestation of Israel’s acquittal, based upon his own sacrificial function. Now, put that into plain English, and it is just this-Jesus Christ’s sacrifice ensures, for all those whose names are written on these gems on His heart, their acquittal in the judgment of Heaven. Or, in other words, the first step in the intercession of our great High Priest is the presenting before God for ever and ever that great fact that He, the Sinless, has died for the love of sinful men, and thereby has secured that the judgment of Heaven on them shall now be ‘no condemnation.’ Brethren, there is the root of all our hope in Christ, and of all that Christ is to individuals and to society-the assurance that the breastplate of judgment is on His heart, as a sign that all who trust Him are acquitted by the tribunal of Heaven.

The other side of this great continual act of intercession is set forth by the other symbol-the names written on the shoulders, the seat of power. There is a beautiful parallel, which yet at first sight does not seem to be one, to the thought that lies here, in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, where, addressing the restored and perfected Israel, he says, speaking in the person of Jehovah: ‘I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands.’ That has precisely the same meaning that I take to be conveyed by this symbol in the text. The names of the tribes are written on His shoulders; and not until that arm is wearied or palsied, not till that strong hand forgets its cunning, will our defence fail. If our names are thus written on the seat of power, that means that all the divine authority and omnipotence which Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father, wields in His state of royal glory, are exercised on behalf of, or at all events on the side of, those whose names He thus bears upon His shoulders. That is the guarantee for each of us that our hands shall be made strong, according to the ancient prophetic blessing, ‘by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.’ Just as a father or a mother will take their child’s little tremulous hand in theirs and hold it, that it may be strengthened for some small task beyond its unbacked, uninvigorated power; so Jesus Christ will give us strength within, and also will order the march of His Providence and send the gift of His Spirit, for the succour and the strengthening of all whose names are written on His ephod. He has gone within the veil. He has left us heavy tasks, but our names are on His shoulders, and we ‘can do all things in Christ who strengthened us.’

III. Still further, this symbol suggests to us the depth and reality of Christ’s sympathy.

The heart is, in our language, the seat of love. It is not so in the Old Testament. Affection is generally allocated to another part of the frame; but here the heart stands for the organ of care, of thought, of interest. For, according to the Old Testament view of the relation between man’s body and man’s soul, the very seat and centre of the individual life is in the heart. I suppose that was because it was known that, somehow or other, the blood came thence. Be that as it may, the thought is clear throughout all the Old Testament that the heart is the man, and the man is the heart. And so, if Jesus bears our names upon His heart, that does not express merely representation nor merely intercession, but it expresses also personal regard, individualising knowledge. For Aaron wore not one great jewel with ‘Israel’ written on it, but twelve little ones, with ‘Dan,’ ‘Benjamin,’ and ‘Ephraim,’ and all the rest of them, each on his own gem.

So we can say, ‘Such a High Priest became us, who could have compassion upon the ignorant, and upon them that are out of the way’; and we can fall back on that old-fashioned but inexhaustible source of consolation and strength: ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted’; and though the noise of the tempests which toss us can scarcely be supposed to penetrate into the veiled place where He dwells on high, yet we may be sure-and take all the peace and consolation and encouragement out of it that it is meant to give us-that ‘we have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities,’ but that Himself, having known miseries, ‘is able to succour them that are tempted.’ Our names are on Christ’s heart.

IV. Then, lastly, we have here a suggestion of how precious to Aaron Israel is.

Jewels were chosen to symbolise the tribes. Bits of tin, potsherds, or anything else that one could have scratched letters upon, would have done quite as well. But ‘the precious things of the everlasting mountains’ were chosen to bear the dear names. ‘The Lord’s portion is His people’; and precious in the eyes of Christ are the souls for whom He has given so much. They are not only precious, but lustrous, flashing back the light in various colours indeed, according to their various laws of crystallisation, but all receptive of it and all reflective of it. I said that the names on the breastplate of judgment expressed the acquittal and acceptance of Israel. But does Christ’s work for us stop with simple acquittal? Oh no! ‘Whom He justified them He also glorified,’ And if our souls are ‘bound in the bundle of life,’ and our names are written on the heart of the Christ, be sure that mere forgiveness and acquittal is the least of the blessings which He intends to give, and that He will not be satisfied until in all our nature we receive and flash back the light of His own glory.

It is very significant in this aspect that the names of the twelve tribes are described as being written on the precious stones which make the walls of the New Jerusalem. Thus borne on Christ’s heart whilst He is within the veil and we are in the outer courts, we may hope to be carried by His sustaining and perfecting hand into the glories, and be made participant of the glories. Let us see to it that we write His name on our hearts, on their cares, their thought, their love, and on our hands, on their toiling and their possessing; and then, God helping us, and Christ dwelling in us, we shall come to the blessed state of those who serve Him, and bear His name flaming conspicuous for ever on their foreheads.

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.See Exodus 28:12; the same names engraved on the stones of the breastplate were worn over the heart, the seat of the affections, as well as of the intellect, to symbolize the relation of love and of personal interest which the Lord requires to exist between the priest and the people.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. Partly to admonish the high priest of that dear affection he should have to his people, and with what ardency he should pray for them, and principally to represent the tender compassions of Christ, the great High Priest, towards his people, and how mindful he is of them, and of all their concerns, even when he is in the holy of holies, that is, in heaven, where he remembers them still, and incessantly intercedes for them.

Unto the holy place, i.e. into the most holy place; the positive degree being put for the superlative.

And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart,.... Their names being engraven on the stones, and the stones put into the breastplate of judgment, and this breastplate hanging down upon the breast and heart of Aaron, he was a representative of the twelve tribes of Israel, as Christ his antitype is the representative of the whole Israel of God; and who lie near the heart of Christ, are set as a seal upon it, are engraven on the palms of his hands, and carried in his bosom, and whom he always presents to his divine Father, and are accepted in him: he represented them in eternity, and in time; in his sufferings and death, in his burial and resurrection from the dead, when they were crucified, buried, and raised with him; and he represents them now in heaven, where they sit together in heavenly places in him, as it here follows in the type:

when he goeth in unto the holy place; to trim the lamps and offer incense, and especially when he went into the most holy place once a year:

for a memorial before the Lord continually; for a memorial to himself, to pray for them when he appeared before the Lord, to put the Lord in remembrance of his covenant with them, and promises to them; see Gill on Exodus 28:12, Isaiah 43:26, the Targum of Jonathan is, "for a good memorial": not a memorial for evil, but for good.

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.

(m) Aaron will not enter into the holy place in his own name, but in the name of all the children of Israel.

29. Aaron (i.e. the high priest), bearing the names of the tribes of Israel both (v. 12) on his shoulders (which support the weight and symbol of office, Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 22:22), and on his heart (implying that they have a constant place in his thoughts, Deuteronomy 6:6), will thus enter the Holy place as Israel’s official representative, ever mindful of the nation’s interests, and ever bringing the remembrance of it before God;

the pouch of judgement] see on v. 15. So v. 30.

for a memorial] to call them to remembrance before God: so v. 12; cf. Exodus 30:16, Numbers 10:10; Numbers 31:54.

Verse 29. - And Aaron shall bear, etc. "Aaron," i.e., "shall not only bear the names of the twelve tribes upon his shoulders (ver. 12), but also upon his heart." He shall thus make a double presentation of them to God continually. The explanation is somewhat fanciful, that the names on the shoulder-stones indicated that the people were a burthen to him, while those on the stones of the breast-plate, being upon his breast, indicated that he bore them affection. The breast and the shoulder were probably chosen as being conspicuous and honourable positions. Exodus 28:29In this way Aaron was to bear upon his breast the names of the sons of Israel engraved upon this breastplate, as a memorial before Jehovah, whenever he went into the sanctuary.
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