As I was reading through Exodus 28 today, I came across something that I know I’ve read before but, to my knowledge, I’ve never thought to question the significance of.  Exodus 28:30 says the following:

And you will put the Urim and the Thummim on the breast piece of judgment, and they will be on the heart of Aaron when he comes before Yahweh, and Aaron will bear the judgment of the Israelites on his heart before Yahweh continually. (LEB)

Now, the Urim and Thummim are not really what we’re talking about here, but they’re worth mentioning because Keil & Delitzsch (K&D)[1] use their inclusion in their commentary on what the breastplate is. K&D posit that because the Urim and Thummim are included in this verse that the reason for naming the breast piece the “Breastplate of Judgment” is because the Urim and Thummim were used by the Lord for informing His people of His judgments. In this understanding the breast piece takes its name because it is an instrument of the judgment which the Urim and Thummim provided. While the idea of the Urim and the Thummim are certainly fertile ground for speculation, I would argue that there’s a different clue this verse which better speaks to the reasoning for this breast piece being referred to as the Breastplate of Judgment.

If we look at the end of the verse we see that Aaron is going to be bearing the judgment of the Israelites. Looking at some of the other instances where the Hebrew word nasah (נשׂא) is used, I think we will get a better idea of why this breastplate may have gotten its name. It may be easier to use a different word than ‘bear’ to better express what the overall point is here so it’s probably worth saying that other places that nasah is used in the Bible it can also be translated as ‘carry’ or ‘lift up’. So we see that Aaron is said to be carrying the judgment of the people of Israel in this verse. What may clear things up a bit more is if we knew if there were other times in Scripture that the High Priest carries/bears anything for Israel?

There are a few other times where we can see things like this mentioned but, probably, the best example would be during the Day of Atonement. On this day, the High Priest makes atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. What he is doing on this day is taking on all the sins of Israel. This is what the High Priest does when he goes before YHWH; he is acting as a representative for the entire assembly of Israel, and he is carrying all their sins. Then, on the Day of Atonement specifically, the High Priest transfers all the sins of the people over to the goat sent out to Azazel[2]. Leviticus 16:22 says that the goat, “shall bear on itself all their iniquities” (emphasis added).[3] There’s still a good bit that happens after that (and quite a bit more which happens before this) but, for the most part, after the goat has been led out of the city, and has been given over to the wilderness, the sins of the people have been atoned for. The point of walking through that passage of Scripture is to show that priests (and High Priests, in particular) can carry judgment for the entire assembly of Israel.[4]

So now we have a better understanding of what it might mean to “bear the judgment of the people of Israel,”[5] let’s take a look at the Breastplate of Righteousness mentioned in the book of Ephesians. The Breastplate of Righteousness (Eph 6:14) is much better known than is the Breastplate of Judgment but in all the times I have read through this passage I have never stopped to think about it and compare it to the High Priest’s breastplate. Probably the most common association that’s made for this breastplate is the breastplate of the Roman soldier, and then we are given some spiritual meaning having to do with your righteousness guarding your heart. And, just to be clear, it’s still entirely possible that’s the proper way to think about this. But I wanted to submit a new theory. A new way to think about the Breastplate of Righteousness…

What if we’re supposed to envision ourselves carrying righteousness as we wear the breastplate? Except, we’re not the High Priest, Jesus is. And, much like how the High Priest would bear the sin of the people as he went before the LORD, and the people in turn carried the Name of the LORD out into the world around them, Jesus has carried our sin before the LORD and we’re now carrying His righteousness out into the world around us?

This understanding would not only explain why Paul would bring it up as an amazing defense but it also adds a new context to it. To be sure, we must make sure that we’re representing the righteousness of Jesus appropriately. Are our actions misrepresenting the righteousness of our King? If this is the case, bearing the Breastplate of Righteousness carries the same responsibility that the third commandment carries.

This presents one of the articles found in the “Armor of Salvation” in an different light than we’re used to looking at it, and the depth that’s added to it is so rewarding. As a sidenote, I’m developing a totally different way of looking at the Shield of Faith, as well.

What have you noticed that has changed the way you’ve looked at things you hadn’t given a second thought before?

[1] Delitzsch, Franz, and Carl Friedrich Keil. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1857.

[2] Sklar, Jay. Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Volume 3. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014, 212.

[3] Lev 16:22, NKJV

[4] This same conversation has a great deal to do with the Name Command mentioned in Exodus 20:7. For a more thorough discussion on the Name Command please see Carmen Joy Ime’s work Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters.

[5] Exodus 28:30 ESV


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About the Seeking Scripture Team: We are a group of believers from all walks of the faith, saved by grace alone through faith in our Messiah. While we are of one accord in many things, we are all works in progress and lifelong learners. Therefore the opinions of one may not always represent the opinions of all.

Aaron Baker