As one of the oxen of God—a teacher of the word, I mean—it is my lot to tread out the grain. I go round and round the word-of-God threshing floor, round and round, patiently plodding along, treading out the grain—work that I find fitting to my nature and so even enjoy, though I’m guarded as to who I admit that to; some are pained at the very thought; they are relieved they are not harnessed to such menial work.
But it’s in me to do this, at the same time often feeling… Lord, is my labour in vain? It seems to fall, oh so short of the word of God that is needed in this desperate hour.
I was praying along this line a few days ago when I became aware of a gentle correction from my Lord—that the word of teaching is the portion He has given me as part of a greater work. The ox that treads out the corn isn’t seeing the finished product; that is yet to come. And will certainly come. The very reason for which the ox must do his part.
And so let me do that; let me do my teaching part, small though it be. Hopefully it will prepare the hearts of the saints for the greater word of God that I know is surely, most surely building pressure, and cannot help but soon burst forth.
Let me tell you, then, of an experience I had recently. I was happily treading out the grain. I was reading an old book a friend gave me called Word Meanings in the New Testament (Volume 3, Romans) by Ralph Earle. He made a comment regarding the word oracles in Romans 3:2, stating that this word in its plural form means “the words or utterances of God.” Earle enlarged on that, adding something about the word in its singular form:
Logion [the singular] literally means “a little word” or “a brief utterance.” By Greek writers it was used of divine oracles, since they were usually brief. In the Septuagint it was used for the breastplate of the high priest, which he must wear when seeking to find out God’s will. It is always related to the idea of God speaking.
Isn’t that fascinating?
Well… let me tread it out; hopefully then you’ll share my excitement.
We first read of the breastplate of the high priest back in Exodus Chapter 28, where it is called in most of our English translations “the breastplate of judgment.” The words come from two Hebrew words which transliterated into English are khoshen, breastplate. And mishpat, judgment.
Strong’s Concordance has this to say about khoshen.
From an unused root probably meaning to contain or sparkle; perhaps a pocket (as holding the Urim and Thummim), or rich (as containing gems), used only of the gorget of the high priest.
The word mishpat, means “right, decision of right,” according to Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzsch. Or again from Strong’s:
Properly a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree… abstractly justice, including a particular right, or privilege…
It seems to me that the Septuagint translators (who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek around 200 BC) ought to have translated the Hebrew words khoshen and mishpat with whatever the Greek is for “pocket of judgment” or “gems of judgment,” or something like that. Why then, did they choose λογειο͂ν τῶν κρίσεωον (logeiōn tōn kriseōon) that is, oracle of judgment? There is no semantic reason why they should have translated the Hebrew khoshen with the Greek logeiōn.
Let’s see now why it’s likely that they did so.
The breastplate was a kind of purse or pouch the high priest wore upon his breast over the ephod. It wasn’t really a plate; it was intricately woven of the same fine linen material as the ephod, and folded double to form the pouch about nine inches square. The ephod itself was a garment the priests wore; it was a kind of servant’s apron uniquely proclaiming and qualifying them as servants in the priestly service of God. (This calls to mind the servant’s apron of humility Peter spoke of, 1 Pt. 5:5.) Into the breastplate the Urim and Thummim were placed. These are Hebrew plural words meaning lights and perfections. We are never told just what they were, but possessing the Urim and Thummim meant the certainty of the priest receiving a clear and specific and authoritative word from God—an oracle. And that is no doubt why the Septuagint translators chose for the breastplate the word logeiōn (which is built upon the Greek logos—word).
They are meaningful and beautiful words, then. The oracle of judgment.
Now, the oracle of Urim and Thummim was not primarily for the priest himself; he received the word on behalf of the people of God. Scripture carefully details this point; this was the purpose of the breastplate of judgment. It was for the priest on behalf of the people relative to the purposes of God. In fact, the breastplate was secured to the ephod, the priestly apron, with blue lace at its bottom edge, and gold chains from its top to two shoulder pieces that it “be not loosed from the ephod” (Ex. 28:28), demonstrating that it was not to be used for any other purpose.
The shoulder pieces were made of two onyx stones inscribed, six on each stone, with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The breastplate also had on it the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on gemstones.
And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two shoulders for a memorial (Ex. 28:12).
And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually (Ex. 28:29).
And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be on 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 (Ex. 28:30).
And so the high priest with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his heart (the place of love) and on his shoulders (the place of strength) carried the judgment, the cause, of the people of God before the Lord. And was therefore assured of a clear, authoritative oracle from God. That is the very beautiful picture—and it is but a picture; this is all a highly symbolic portrayal of a powerful spiritual reality.
The reality is this (and let us meditate on those words in Exodus with this reality in mind):
We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens… (Heb. 8:1).
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are figures of the true; but into heaven itself, there to appear in the presence of God for us… (Heb. 9:24).
The Urim and Thummim are His.
In view of this, it’s very enlightening that the initial revelation of the preparation of the priests states that it was Aaron the high priest who was to wear the ephod and the breastplate of judgment with its Urim and Thummim. “…They shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he goeth in before the LORD.” It doesn’t appear that Aaron’s sons were fitted with ephods and breastplates of their own (Ex. 28:40, see also Lev. 8:6-14 ff), although later in the scriptural record we read of priests who wore ephods. Aaron’s sons, then, were priests only inasmuch as they were participants in Aaron’s priesthood.
The significance of this for you and me is that it is our great High priest the Lord Jesus Christ who in the throne of God wears the ephod and has on His heart the breastplate in which are the names of the people of God. It is He who has the Urim and Thummim. He is not just a king on the throne of God, He is also a priest upon that throne: He is deeply indentified with those for whom He is making continual intercession before the throne. He bears our names in His heart and upon His shoulders—I will say further, upon His hands—having made our cause His own.
And His fellow priests are vital participants in His priesthood. Yes, it is He, the Holy One, who has the Urim and Thummim, the authoritative, pure, clear word of God in power for every need of this hour. It is He, the great high priest over the house of God, who has the word of grace needed to fulfill the cause of the people of God, and He will not fail to release that word, to reveal it, to the glory of God. But just as Aaron’s sons were sanctified to be participants in his priesthood, so too we who are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, being thereby made one with our great High Priest in the heavens, are participants in His priesthood. He shares with us that same priestly burden, and provision, for the people of God (Heb. 3:1, 10:19-22).
And so, dear saints of the Lord, partakers of His heavenly calling, let us be encouraged in this hour. Let us do as we are bidden; let us continue to draw near, draw near, draw near, with a true heart in full assurance of faith, that He might commune with us the same Urim and Thummim that are upon His own heart. God has this for His beloved people in this hour. Those who draw nigh Him on behalf of others are assured of the very oracle of God shining forth in this dark and desperate hour. That—the hour that is upon us—is particularly what is on my heart. No doubt we have known this precious oracle of judgment in countless ways, yet I tell you brothers and sisters, my friends, dear saints of the Lord, there is a word-in-waiting in God, hidden in the breastplate of our beloved high priest, and though it has tarried long, it shall not fail to come forth in this desperate hour, shall not fail to burst forth with explosive power and meet the cry of our heart exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think.