Why did the high priest wear the breast plate?

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By BibleAsk Team


The breastplate worn by the high priest in ancient Israel was an integral part of his sacred attire, serving both practical and symbolic functions within the religious framework of Israelite worship. Through its intricate design and symbolic significance, the breastplate conveyed important spiritual truths and facilitated communication between God and His people. To explore the significance of the high priest’s breastplate, we will delve into the biblical descriptions, historical context, and theological implications of this sacred garment, drawing upon references from the Bible.

The High Priest’s Garments: A Symbol of Holiness and Authority

The attire of the high priest in ancient Israel was meticulously prescribed by God to reflect His holiness and authority. Among the garments specified for the high priest, the breastplate held a prominent position, signifying his role as the mediator between God and the people.

Exodus 28:15 (NKJV): “You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it.”

This verse underscores the detailed craftsmanship and symbolic significance of the breastplate, which was to be made of precious materials and adorned with specific gemstones, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Symbolism of the Breastplate

  1. Representation of the Twelve Tribes: The breastplate featured twelve gemstones, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel, symbolizing the unity and collective identity of God’s chosen people. Exodus 28:21 (NKJV): “And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes.” By wearing the breastplate, the high priest carried the burden of representing the entire nation before God, interceding on behalf of each tribe and seeking divine guidance for the nation as a whole.
  2. Urim and Thummim: Encased within the breastplate were the Urim and Thummim, sacred objects used for seeking God’s guidance and discerning His will in matters of national significance. Exodus 28:30 (NKJV): “And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord continually.” The presence of the Urim and Thummim signified the high priest’s role as a conduit for divine communication, enabling him to discern God’s guidance and make decisions in accordance with His will.

Spiritual Significance of the Breastplate

  1. Representation of Divine Authority: The breastplate served as a visible symbol of the high priest’s authority and consecration to God, signifying his unique role as the intermediary between heaven and earth. Exodus 28:29 (NKJV): “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the Lord continually.” By carrying the names of the tribes of Israel over his heart, the high priest demonstrated his commitment to upholding God’s covenant and fulfilling his sacred duty with integrity and reverence.
  2. Facilitator of Divine Revelation: Through the Urim and Thummim contained within the breastplate, the high priest had access to divine revelation and guidance, enabling him to seek God’s wisdom and discern His will in matters of national importance. Numbers 27:21 (NKJV): “He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him—all the congregation.” The breastplate served as a conduit for divine communication, allowing the high priest to seek God’s counsel on behalf of the nation and lead the people in accordance with His purposes.

Christ the High Priest in Heaven

The high priest carried the names of the tribes on the breast plate on his heart showing his love and affection for them. He prayed for the people repetitively before the Lord showing his responsibility for their salvation. Whenever he went into the tabernacle for the people, his heart was bowed before the Lord in humility for their sins and needs.

In like manner, Christ, our High Priest is now ministering before God on our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary. “We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:1, 2, NKJV).

Christ our high priest bears on His heart our names for He loved us and gave himself for our redemption (Galatians 2:20). He has accepted the responsibility for our salvation, and thus the “government” of the kingdom of grace is laid “upon his shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6, NKJV).

The love of Christ constrains us (2 Corinthians 5:14), and His righteousness becomes a reality in our lives (Romans 8:3, 4). In all our affliction, He is afflicted, and He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Isaiah 63:8, 9; Hebrews 2:14–18; 4:14–16). As a kind, loving parent agonizes when suffering comes upon his children, so does God.

Therefore, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV). The believer who daily studies God’s word of God and prays will certainly receive a supply of divine mercy that will enable him to overcome all the powers of darkness (1 John 4:4).

Conclusion: The Significance of the High Priest’s Breastplate

The breastplate worn by the high priest in ancient Israel was far more than a decorative garment; it was a sacred emblem of spiritual authority and divine revelation. Through its symbolic design and purposeful construction, the breastplate conveyed profound truths about God’s covenant relationship with His people and the role of the high priest as their mediator and intercessor.

As the high priest bore the names of the tribes of Israel over his heart and carried the Urim and Thummim within the breastplate, he embodied the collective identity of God’s chosen nation and sought divine guidance on their behalf. In this way, the breastplate served as a tangible reminder of God’s presence among His people and His commitment to lead, guide, and protect them according to His sovereign purposes.

Though the era of the high priest and the physical breastplate has passed, its spiritual significance endures as a timeless symbol of God’s faithfulness, wisdom, and grace. Just as the high priest interceded for the nation of Israel, believers today have a High Priest in Jesus Christ, who intercedes for them before the Father in the heavenly temple and carries their burdens upon His heart. In Him, we find ultimate fulfillment of the symbolic imagery embodied in the high priest’s breastplate, as He leads us into the fullness of God’s presence and purposes for our lives.

In His service,
BibeAsk Team

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