So I’ve been reading through Exodus and … whew, is there some challenging reading! The first chapters, of course, are action packed. But lately I have been working my way through the instructions for the tabernacle and its priests – the “poles of acacia wood” overlaid with gold, the “blue, purple and scarlet material,” the “sockets of silver,” the “porpoise skins,” the “linen breeches,” the rams, the blood on Aaron’s earlobe, and so on.
All these things, of course, had their vital purpose; and the descriptions of them are still “inspired by God and profitable” (2 Timothy 3.16). But from this side of the coming of Jesus, the instructions in Exodus (and Leviticus!) can seem quite remote, and difficult to follow. We may even be tempted to bypass them altogether – since the “great high priest” has come, fulfilling (and thus rendering obsolete) all the ceremonies and sacrifices of old.
But that is actually one of the very reasons we should press on in our reading of such portions of scripture – because they were given as signs and symbols of “the Expected One”! And we must try and remind ourselves to read them in just that way.
I don’t always get this right, I confess. Many times I find myself just blankly reading through the descriptions of the tabernacle, and priests, and sacrifices … wondering if I should just stop and turn to something a little more obviously helpful. But now and again I have my head on straight, and I see the foretastes of Jesus that God has laid out like bread crumbs for us throughout the Old Testament. And this week I had one of those moments. I noticed something that I can’t ever remembering noticing before. Let me explain …
Exodus 28 basically consists of instructions for how the Old Testament priests – and particularly the high priests – were to dress. There were outer garments, undergarments, hats, multiple colors, precious stones, and so on. And one of the items that the high priest was to wear was called an ephod – which appears to have been a beautiful piece of wearable artwork that hung over the high priest’s shoulders. The artists’ renderings I turned up on Google Images seem mostly to depict it as a kind of ornately woven apron. It must have been beautiful! And on each shoulder of the ephod was an onyx stone, with “the names of the sons of Israel” engraved on them – “six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone.” And the high priest carried those stones and those names “before the LORD on his two shoulders for a memorial” (see Exodus 28.9-12).
Do you see the picture? All the sons of Israel – who represented all the tribes of Israel – were being symbolically carried on the shoulders of their priest. And I think perhaps the idea was that the high priest was constantly upholding God’s people by means of the sacrifices; bearing them up before the Lord’s remembrance through his priestly duties on their behalf. Their well-being, in some ways, rested on his shoulders! And it seems that perhaps these onyx stones were a reminder of that; a reminder that, as their high priest, he bore up the whole nation of God’s people up, spiritually, before the Lord.
And here is the thought that had never before occurred to me as I read through the book of Exodus: That is what Jesus, the “great high priest,” does for us! He carries us, as it were, like the priests of old. Our spiritual well-being rests squarely on His shoulders, does it not? And by his high priestly prayers; by His sacrifice on our behalf, He is constantly bringing us before the Lord’s remembrance; constantly carrying us, spiritually! And that was refreshing to remember on a Monday morning!
And so those two little nuggets of onyx, set into the priestly garments in Exodus 28, provided me a nugget of my own – another reminder of who Jesus is for me, and for all who believe. And there is much, much more where that came from. So keep reading!