Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holy Shoulder Pads!?

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests... And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty... 

"You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance...
“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work... There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly."
Exodus 28: 1-2, 9-10, 12, 15a, 21a, 29-30
The New Testament teaches what theologians call the priesthood of the believer. This is a fancy way of saying that all Christians are priests. We aren't priests in the same way that Aaron was. We don't go into the tabernacle and make animal sacrifices. But we are priests in that now all Christians enjoy the privileges that Aaron had. We all have direct access to God the Father through Jesus. We can all enter into the very presence of God  (Matthew 27:50-51) through prayer in Jesus' name, and one day we will enter His presence physically in heaven. Also, as priests we are all called to minister in Jesus' name. We are called to offer a sacrifice of praise to God (I Peter 2:5-9). I also believe this feeds into the Great Commission which commands us all to go out and make disciples for Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
Since it is true that all believers are priests, some of the Old Testament passages that guide the priests in their ministry ought to apply to us as well. The above passage is taken from God’s instruction for how Aaron’s priestly robes are to be made in the book of Exodus. It would be easy to read over this and think that it is a pointless piece of Scripture. But II Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." If you are willing to give this passage a deeper look you will find that there is buried treasure here.

First, we see that Aaron was to get a rather nifty set of shoulder pads: two onyx stones which had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them. Now I don’t know a lot about stones, but I do know that they tend to be heavy. And then there is a clue that this has a deeper meaning. God says “Aaron will carry their names on his two shoulders before the LORD as a reminder.” A reminder of what? The Bible does not say, but I think a good argument could be made for the idea that these stones were placed there to remind Aaron that he ought to be aware that he carried the burden of Israel on his shoulders. He was responsible for all of these people. He was to feel the weight of that responsibility when he went before the Lord on their behalf.

There is even more to be had here though because attached to these shoulder pieces was a breastpiece which had a stone for each of the twelve tribes of Israel and a set of holy dice which were used to determine God’s will. This breastpiece is called the breastpiece for decisions and in verse 30 it says, "Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly." Often this breastpiece was used to determine God’s judgment in a given situation. For example if you know the story of Achan, I think it is likely that it was used to determine which tribe the man was from who had stolen the gold (Joshua 7). Thus, some translations of the Bible call this breastpiece the breastpiece of judgment. Aaron is to carry the judgment against the people’s sin on his heart.

Certainly Jesus as the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16) fulfilled these verses in ways which we never can, but they have application for us as well. As a believer and a priest you have a responsibility to feel the burden of those around you whom you have been charged with taking the gospel to and ministering to. The Bible commands us to carry each other’s burdens. Moreover, you are also responsible for carrying on your heart the terrible judgment that awaits those who reject Christ or turn from His ways. When was the last time you prayed for your lost family member, friend, or even for the lost in a certain city or country of the world? Are you helping to carry anyone’s burden? I struggle to remember to do this myself. If you are like me, then rejoice with me that even this sin of self-centeredness was covered by Christ on the cross and is forgiven by God. Then begin carrying the burdens of others and seeking their salvation today. 

For further reading.
  • This prayer calendar is a great way to get started praying for the lost around the world. You simply select today's date and it gives you a target country with statistics and appropriate prayer prompts.
  • Ezekiel 22:29-30- Some of the saddest words in all of the Bible. May they not be true of us today.
  • II Timothy 3:16- Do you really believe that all Scripture is useful?
  • I Peter 2:5-9- What do you think this passage means when it says that we are a "royal priesthood?"

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