This was the high priest’s outermost article of attire. It was worn above the ephod, but was closely bound to it, so when one looked, they appeared to form just one piece. It was to be nine inches square and was to be folded double, probably so that it could sufficiently bear the weight of the gems that would be set into it. It could also be the case that it was to hold the Urim and Thummim.
It was made of the same rich and bright material as the ephod and was also the work of a very skillful weaver. It shone radiantly all over with gold, blue, purple and scarlet, and formed a beautiful groundwork for the magnificent precious gems that would be set into it.
The twelve precious stones set in this beautiful breastplate were “enclosed in sockets of gold in their settings and were even four rows of stones”. The names were of the twelve tribes and arranged according to the order of the tribes. The names of Levi and Joseph were not included in the twelve because Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were included to make the twelve.
Below is a diagram of the tribes in their order and what precious gem was placed in their square in the breastplate. Notice that some of the gem names have small letters above them. In these cases, look below the diagram and match the letter and this is the name of what we would know that particular gem as today.
The Breastplate over the High Priest’s Heart
This breastplate bearing the precious stones was placed over the high priest’s heart. It was kept in its position by means of two chains like cords of wreathen work of pure gold. The under ends of the chains were put on two gold rings which were attached to the upper corners of the breastplate, then the other two ends of the chains were fixed to the forefront of the two gold sockets that rested on the shoulder pieces.
In this way, the breastplate was prevented from moving above or below its place over the heart. Every corner of this breastplate was fastened down so there was no way that it could move. There is a diagram directly below that shows how it may have been attached together. The bottom part folds back under the breastplate for extra support for the stones.
Urim and Thummim
Moses was commanded to put the Urim and Thummim into the breastplate. We don’t know exactly what they were, but their names signify light and perfection. There are different beliefs as to exactly the way that God communicated with the High Priest. Some think this was small stones with the words “yes” and “no” written on them and they glowed or something with the right answer. Others think that they were in a pouch that was attached to the twelve stones, and when a question was asked, whichever stone the High Priest pulled out was the answer to the question.
This author leans to the opinion, though, that the precious stones constituted the Urim and Thummim, but not by any special means of supernatural illumination. He thinks that because the High Priest wore these precious stones, it qualified him to makes inquiries of Jehovah. The Bible says that “they shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he goeth in before the Lord.” One purpose for Aaron to consult Jehovah would have been to give a righteous decision in difficult cases. The Breastplate on that account was the breastplate of judgment.
The biggest thing that leads one to believe that there were no rocks with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on them is that there was divine directions given to make each of the various articles of attire down to the very letter. Nothing is mentioned as to the making of the Urim and the Thummim separately and there are no directions given for making them. For this reason, it is thought that they and the twelve precious stones were the same thing.
The precious stones may have received the collective name of the Urim and Thummim for the following reasons:
On their own account. Of all earthly objects these precious stones are the most lustrous, and emit light of themselves. Like the stars, they shine in the darkest night, and for that reason they have been called the stars of earth. For this reason they could have been given the name light. The name Thummim signifies perfection, as Urim signifies light. The stones from their brilliancy, purity, and uncommon beauty are perhaps the most striking emblems which earthly objects furnish of truth or perfection.
On account of their being the badge or ornament necessary for the high priest to wear when consulting Jehovah. The object of the high priest was to get light on some dark subject, or to arrive at the truth on some matter he could not discover otherwise, or to give a righteous decision in cases in which his knowledge or wisdom was deficient.
On account of their representing the children of Israel. The names of all the tribes were written on the stones. This was concrete evidence of what they were to do for God and what He had said He would do for them. He wanted to bring them into a state of perfection.
Both man and the gems had their nature in mother earth. Just as the gems were dirty while there, once they were polished they shone with brilliance like the stars. This could have been also a reminder to the Israelites of what they were like while in a state of sin, and what they could be like once their life was cleansed.
The splendid breastplate worn right over the high priest’s heart reminded him that he was not only to care for the people, but also to love them. Now he had two things to remind him of the great burden that he carried for his people – the onyx stones on his shoulders with the tribes written on them, and the breastplate with the precious stones. These priests were not perfect, though, and could only care about the people in a general way, as they could not have talked intimately with each person. They were the symbol of the great and coming High Priest that would be able to know each of them intimately and care for their every need and problem.
The high priest’s crowning article of attire was the headdress, or mitre. It was made of fine white linen, and fashioned like that of the regular priests. These were somewhat resembling of a crown.
The one thing that distinguished the headdress of the high priest from just the ordinary priest was a plate of pure gold, called the holy crown. It was fastened to the forefront of the mitre and had “Holy to the Lord” engraved upon it as the Bible says “like the engravings of a signet”. A lace of blue was tied upon it to fasten it to the mitre itself. We are not exactly sure how this was accomplished, but the blue lace must have been attached through small holes in the mitre so that the lace could go through and help to keep the headdress on by tying in the back somehow.
Directly below is a small diagram of what this piece may have looked like.
At the consecration of Aaron the holy crown is mentioned: “And he (Moses) put the mitre upon his head, and upon the mitre, even upon his forehead, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown; and he poured the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head”. Lev. 8: 9-1 2
Exodus 28:38 said that it (the holy crown) shall be always upon his forehead, that they (the offerings) be accepted before the Lord. Holy to the Lord described the character of the high priest, or at least what he should be like. The Israelites, along with the High Priest, were taught that it was their duty to devote themselves to God by a holy life. That should be the way the Christian should live today – everything we do should be done as “Holy to the Lord”.
Now we have discussed all the articles of clothing that the High Priest wore. Below is a black and white diagram of all those articles. You can refer back to the above and previous text to remember what colors all the pieces were.