Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verses 29-30


Exodus 28:29-30. And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breast-plate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. And thou shalt put in the breast-plate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.

LITTLE do men in general imagine what treasures of knowledge are contained in the Old Testament. There is not any thing revealed concerning Christ in the New Testament, which was not prefigured in the Mosaic ritual. As every thing relating to his life and death may be clearly seen in the prophets, so every thing relating to his office and character may be learned from the ceremonial law. Even the ornaments of the high-priest were intended to shadow forth some of the most important offices which our blessed Lord sustains. That particular ornament which we propose to notice at present, is the breastplate of judgment: respecting which we shall point out,


Its primary use—

It will be proper, before we speak of its use, to shew what the breast-plate was—
[The priest wore an ephod, (a kind of short coat without sleeves,) made of fine linen, richly embroidered. The breastplate was a piece of fine linen, which, when doubled, was a span square. Upon that were placed twelve precious stones, each of them having the name of one of the tribes (according to their seniority) engraven upon it. This was worn upon the breast, over the ephod: and the high-priest was to wear it whenever he went into the presence of God: and it was called “the breast-plate of judgment,” because God, by means of it, communicated his mind and judgment to him respecting the children of Israel.

Within this breast-plate were placed the Urim and the Thummim. What these were, we are not informed. Many have thought, that they were not distinct from the stones: and that the terms Urim and Thummim merely designated the use to which those stones were applied. But the language of the text, especially when confirmed by Leviticus 8:8, leaves no doubt, but that the Urim and Thummim were distinct from the breastplate, and were “put into” it after it was made. It is no objection to say, that the one is sometimes mentioned without the other, or, that we know not who made the Urim and Thummim, or what they were. It is sufficient for us to know, that they were added to the breast-plate, and that they were appointed for a very important purpose.]

The particular use of the breast-plate shall now be distinctly declared—
[The breast-plate thus formed, was to be worn by the high-priest, whenever he performed the duties of his office. It was suspended from his shoulders by two golden chains, fixed to two onyx-stones; on which, as well as on the twelve stones, were engraven all the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, six on each stone; and both the one and the other were “for a memorial before the Lord continually [Note: 2.].” We must understand this as spoken after the manner of men. We are not to suppose that God needs to be reminded of his people; but the sight of their names, whenever the high-priest came into his presence, was (so to speak) to remind him, that he had a people who were to be the objects of his peculiar care.

The Urim and Thummim were for a different purpose. They were, in some way or other, to communicate answers to the high-priest, whenever he consulted God upon any matter relating to the civil or religious concerns of the nation. To inquire how the answers were given, whether by a secret suggestion to the mind of the high-priest, or by an audible voice, or in any other way, is vain: we should be contented to be ignorant about those things whereon God has not seen fit to inform us. That the Urim and the Thummim were consulted, and not only by the high-priest, but by others without him; and that specific answers were obtained from God; is certain. Joshua [Note: Numbers 27:21.], and those who succeeded him in the government of Israel [Note: Judges 1:1.], sought instruction from God through the medium of these. The eleven tribes had the mind of God repeatedly made known to them in the same way, when they desired to be informed, whether they were to wage war against the offending tribe of Benjamin [Note: Judges 20:18; Judges 20:23; Judges 20:27-28.]. David in various straits took counsel of God in this way, and had such information conveyed to him as was impossible for any but the omniscient God to impart [Note: 1 Samuel 23:9-12; 1 Samuel 30:7; 1 Samuel 8:0; 1 Samuel 8:0.]. Saul asked counsel in the same way; but could not obtain an answer, because he had provoked God to cast him off [Note: 1 Samuel 28:6.]. At the time of the Babylonish captivity the Urim and the Thummim were lost, and were never afterwards recovered [Note: Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65.] ; till Christ, whom they typified, came to instruct us in all things that can at all conduce to our real welfare.

The very names, Urim and Thummim, serve in a great measure to designate their particular use. Their import is, Lights and Perfections: and they were for the express purpose of conveying light to those who consulted them, even such light as would perfectly and infallibly direct their way.

Thus, as the breast-plate of judgment consisted of two different parts, so it was intended for two different uses; the stones in it were for a memorial before God; and the Urim and Thummim that were in it, were for the obtaining of instruction from God.]

But we shall have a very inadequate notion of the breast-plate, unless we understand,


Its typical intent—

Few are so ignorant as to need to be informed, that Christ is our great High-Priest. Now the breast-plate, of which we have been speaking, was designed to represent,


What Christ is doing for us

[Christ, in the execution of his priestly office, was to “enter into the holy place,” there “to appear in the presence of God for us.” Accordingly, after his resurrection, he ascended to heaven, that he might there complete the work he had begun on earth. On his heart are engraven the names of all his people: on his shoulders he also bears them all: not one of them is forgotten by him: he presents them all before his Father, and is “their memorial before God continually.” God cannot even look upon his Son without being reminded, that there is in this lower world a people who need his incessant care. He sees at one view all their states, and all their circumstances. He sees how dear they are to his Son, who bears them ever on his heart; who sympathizes with them in their afflictions, and desires to have them extricated from all their difficulties. Were he disposed to be unmindful of them, he could not cast them out of his thoughts, or be deaf to the intercessions of our great High-Priest.
Here then is the security of all the children of Israel: “they have a great High-Priest, who is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,” who has undertaken their cause, and is their Advocate with the Father, and “who is therefore able to save them to the uttermost, because he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”]


What Christ will do in us—

[In Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” There is no case wherein we may not consult him; nor any, wherein he will not vouchsafe to direct our steps. How he will answer us, we will not presume to say: he has ten thousand ways of making known his will, and of over-ruling our purposes, without at all infringing the liberty of our will, or altering the general dispensations of his providence. It is sufficient for us to know, that “the meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way;” and that “whatsoever we ask of him he will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” From the consideration of his being our great and compassionate High-Priest, we are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help us in the time of need [Note: Hebrews 4:14-16.] ; and we are sure, that, if we come unto God through him, “we may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us.” We need not say, This is so great a matter, that it would be presumptuous in me to ask it; nor, This is so small, that it would be unworthy of his attention: for, whether it be great or small, he would spread it before his heavenly Father, and obtain for us an answer of peace: his light should dispel our darkness, and his perfections dissipate our fears: the weakest should not be left to faint [Note: Isaiah 40:29-31.], nor the most ignorant to err [Note: Isaiah 35:8.].]

In this subject we may find abundant matter,

For reproof—

[When we come into difficult circumstances, we are too apt to imagine, like the Church of old, that “God hath forsaken and forgotten us.” But if God reproved them by declaring, that “a nursing mother could sooner forget her sucking child than he could forget them, since they were engraven on the palms of his hands [Note: Isaiah 49:14-16.],” how much more are we reproved by this typical representation of Christ, on whose shoulders we are supported, and on whose heart we are engraved! O let such unbelieving fears be put away! Let us “know in whom we have believed, that He is able to keep that which we have committed to him.” Let us remember, that, whilst he retains his priestly office, and his Father retains his regard for him, “he will not suffer one of his little ones to perish.”]


For encouragement—

[Our trials may be numerous, and our difficulties urgent: but our High-Priest is ever at hand, to inquire of God for us. Nor does he need to be informed by us, what to ask; for he “knoweth what is in man,” and sees at the same time all the devices of our enemy. If only we lift up our hearts to him, his effectual aid shall be instantly obtained; for he is with us, to know our desires; and with God, to interest him in our favour. Let us then be encouraged to cast our care on him: and let us make him, what God has intended he should be to us, “our wisdom, and righteousness, our sanctification, and redemption [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].”]

Verses 36-38


Exodus 28:36-38. And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre: upon the fore-front of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things. which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts: and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.

IF it were once ascertained that God had imposed a number of ordinances upon his people, we should be ready to conclude that his institutions were not mere arbitrary and insignificant laws, but that they had some occult meaning, worthy of their divine Author. But when we are informed by God himself, that many things, apparently most indifferent, were intended to shadow forth the great mystery of redemption, we are persuaded that not even the minutest ordinance among them was without some appropriate and important signification. But though we believe this, we do not presume to assign the meaning of each, any further than we are warranted by the Scriptures themselves. Instead of wandering into the regions of conjecture, we judge it more for general edification to confine ourselves to matters which are obvious and acknowledged.
The whole dress of the high-priest was unquestionably typical; and designated either the office of our great High-Priest, or his qualifications for the discharge of it. That part to which we would now direct your attention, is his mitre. This, as the text informs us, was a covering for his head (somewhat like the turbans worn in the East at this day): it was made of fine linen, and had, in the front of it, a gold plate, with this inscription, holiness to the lord. It was worn by him whenever he officiated in the temple. Through this the high-priest was considered as holy, and was the appointed means of expiating the defects that were in the services of the people, and of procuring acceptance for their persons. Now, whilst the end for which it was worn manifests, beyond a doubt, that the appointment was typical, it enables us to declare with certainty the true intention of the type.

This institution then was intended to foreshew,


The holiness of our great High-Priest—

[Christ was in truth “the holy one of Israel” It was necessary that he should be spotless himself; for had he not been so, he could not hare made atonement for us; yea, he would have needed an atonement for himself [Note: Hebrews 7:26-27. 1 John 3:5.]. The utmost care was taken respecting the typical offerings, to ascertain that they were without blemish: and it seems to have been particularly ordained of God that the innocence of Jesus should be established by every possible proof, (and by the repeated testimony even of the judge that condemned him,) in order that his fitness, as our sin-offering, might appear. Thus was the type accomplished in him; and a sure foundation was laid for all the hopes that are built upon him.]


The need we have of an interest in it—

[The high-priest, so habited, was to “bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the people should hallow.” Their best services were imperfect, in manner at least, if not in the matter of them also: and they were to seek acceptance through the holiness of their high-priest alone. Thus it is with us also. All that we do is imperfect. The best service we ever performed was mixed with sin, and needed an atonement to be made for it. Without an atonement, it could never have been regarded by a holy God. This was strongly marked in the ordinance before us, and ought to be remembered by us as a ground for the deepest humiliation.]


Its efficacy in our behalf—

[The people’s services were, through this typical holiness of their high-priest, accepted of God, notwithstanding the imperfection of them: nor shall ours be despised, if we trust in the merits and mediation of the Lord Jesus. This was beautifully represented under the Mosaic dispensation by the acceptance of leavened bread [Note: Lev 2:11 with 7:13 and 23:17.], and mutilated beasts [Note: Lev 22:21-23], when offered as thank-offerings, and not as offerings for sin: and the same encouraging truth is plainly asserted in the New Testament [Note: Heb 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5.]. Let us only be interested in “the spotless Lamb of God,” and all that we do in his name shall find acceptance before God.]

This subject is well calculated,

To humble the self-righteous—

[What room can there be for trusting in our own righteousness, when the most righteous act we ever performed had an iniquity in it which needed to be borne by our great HighPriest? Lay aside your proud thoughts, and “seek to be found in Christ, not having your own righteousness, but his.”]


To encourage the desponding—

[Be it so; you are a sinner: “but if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:” and through him you may draw nigh to God with boldness and confidence [Note: Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:19-22.].]


To direct and animate the godly—

[You are now “priests unto God;” and are to have holiness to the lord written upon your foreheads [Note: Zechariah 14:20.], that it may be visible to God and man. Remember that “God will be sanctified in all that draw nigh unto him [Note: Leviticus 10:3; Psalms 93:5.] ;” and that “as He who hath called you is holy, so must ye be holy in all manner of conversation [Note: 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:9.].”]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 28". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.