Breastplate of the High Priest
What was the Breastplate of the High Priest?
The Hebrew word חשן , ḥōshen , rendered in the King James Version "breastplate," means really a "pouch" or "bag." The references to it are found exclusively in the Priestly Code (Exodus 25:7 ; 28; Exodus 29:5 ; Exodus 35:9 , Exodus 35:27 ; 39; Leviticus 8:8 ).
The descriptions of its composition and particularly the directions with regard to wearing it are exceedingly obscure. According to Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65 the Urim and Thummim, which were called in the priestly pouch, were lost during the Babylonian exile. The actual pouch was a "span in length and a span in breadth," i.e. about 9 inch square. It was made, like the ephod, of "gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen" ( Exodus 28:15 f). In it were twelve precious stones, in rows of four, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
Apparently the pouch had two rings (perhaps four) through which passed two gold chains by which it was fastened to the ephod supplied for the purpose with ouches or clasps. The pouch was worn by the high priest over his heart when he entered the "holy place" "for a memorial before Yahweh." The presence of the high priest, the representative of the people, with the names of the separate tribes on his person, brought each tribe before the notice of Yahweh and thereby directed His attention to them. The full designation was ḥōshen mishpāṭ , "pouch of judgment" or "decision."
It was the distinctive symbol of the priest in his capacity as the giver of oracles. As already suggested the priestly pouch contained the Urim and Thummim which were probably precious stones used as lots in giving decisions. In all probability the restored text of 1 Samuel 14:41 preserves the true custom. On one side stood Saul and Jonathan, and the people on the other side. If the result was Urim, Saul and Jonathan would be the guilty parties. If the result was Thummim, the guilt would fasten on the people.Recommended:
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).