Like The Engravings of a Signet

"Like the engravings of a signet." Three times this phrase occurs in our chapter (Ex. 28), which describes the garments of the High Priest in Israel. Once for the shoulders, once for the breast and once for the brow. The shoulders for strength, the breast for love, and the brow for wisdom. They remind us of "the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1) which has been given to us; but this is not that; it is not here what we can be for the Lord in the world, but what He is for us in heaven. The garments described in our chapter speak to us typically of "things concerning Himself," and especially of the fact that He is our great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.

Moses was not left to devise these garments "for glory and beauty" out of his own imagination: God gave him the most definite instructions as to them, for He had Christ in view, and us; and would show us pictorially the graces and glories of our great High Priest — they were the shadows of good things to come (Heb. 10); "a shadow of heavenly things." In these instructions God said, "Thou shalt make an ephod (a robe) … it shall have two shoulder pieces… and thou shalt take two onyx stones and grave on them the names of the children of Israel, six names on one stone and six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, shalt thou engrave the stones with the names of the children of Israel. Thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold and thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod, and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord, upon his two shoulders for a memorial" (vv. 6-12).

The glory that shines in the Hebrew Epistle lights up the type for us. In that Epistle we learn that Christ is the substance of the shadows; that it is He who is the true Priest. He is a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God (2:17). He is not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (4:15); and He is such a High Priest as became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and made higher than the heavens (7:26). But when was He made higher than the heavens? After He had suffered and died for our sins and been raised again from the dead. What He is as our High Priest crowned with glory and honour, has not in view His lowly life on earth, though it was then that He qualified for this great service; nor has it in view His death on the cross, though we should have had no title to this service if He had not died for us; but He exercises His priesthood in "the power of an endless life." It is not what He did, but what He is doing now, in this very hour of our need, in His victorious, resurrection life in the glory of God. Paul puts it in this order in Romans 8, "It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us"; and Hebrews 7:35 tells us the same blessed truth, "He ever lives to make intercession for us." It is in heaven itself that He appears in the presence of God for us (9:24). Indeed, if He were not in heaven He could not be our High Priest, for the Scripture says, "If He were on earth He should not be a priest" (8:4).

"And thou shalt take two onyx stones and grave on them the names of the children of Israel." The Hebrew word translated 'onyx' signifies "flashing forth in splendour" (Soltau). It was a flesh- coloured gem called by Job "the precious onyx" (chap. 28). Two of this precious gem had to be taken and the names of Israel's tribes deeply cut into them, "like the engravings of a signet" — unmistakable and indelible. They were to be set or fixed in ouches of gold and put in the shoulders of the ephod, and Aaron had to bear the names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial. That was the shadow — but what is the substance? With reverence we say that the names of the ransomed people of God are for ever engraved in the very flesh of the Lord Jesus. He uses the figure Himself in regard to Israel. "Behold," He says, "I have graven thee on the palms of My hands" (Isa. 49). And on the evening of the resurrection day when He appeared in the midst of His disciples He showed to them His hands, His side and His feet. For their sakes and for ours He had endured those wounds that they beheld in His sacred, incorruptible body; they were mute yet eloquent witnesses to the power that had brought Him from the dead, as they were also of the love that led Him to die.

The engraved onyx stones were for the shoulders of the High Priest — the place of burden-bearing power; the figure is familiar and forcible. In the Lord's own parable, the Shepherd laid the sheep that was lost upon his shoulders when He had found it. He Himself is the Shepherd, both good and great; and He bears His own upon the shoulders of His power from the moment that He finds them until He places them beyond the reach of every foe and fear and danger and distress, at home in the glory of God. He does it as their great High Priest. As the merciful and faithful High Priest He is able to succour them that are tempted (Heb. 2:18); because He has an unchangeable Priesthood, He is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him (Heb. 7:25). He sympathizes with them and succours and saves them when they are beset with sorrow and testings and ready to faint in the pilgrim way; and He fulfils even now to them His promise made to Israel — "Even to hoar hairs I will carry you; I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isa. 46:4).

In the Septuagint version of the Old Testament the ephod is called the "shoulder piece," for a great part of the priest's work was to bear the burden of the people of God before Him, but He was to have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way also, and this called for patient love. Hence coupled to the shoulders by rings and chains of gold was the breast-plate; these two were never to be separated. The breast-plate was made of twelve precious stones upon which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved, "like the engravings of a signet"; one name on each stone, but all bound in one by being set in pure gold — symbol of Divine faithfulness and glory. The meaning of the type is clear; the saints of God are borne upon the heart of the great High Priest as well as upheld by His power; His unchanging love is behind His undiminished and patient strength. The ephod made the breast-plate and the shoulder pieces one. His is not an impotent love, or a loveless power; His power is the servant of His love, and both have no measure or end.

Every name on the breast-plate had its own stone, but not one was larger or brighter than another. Each had a distinctive glory but all had an equal place on the heart of the High Priest. Each name was deeply engraved there, "like the engravings of a signet," and set to shine with an equal brilliance in the light of the sanctuary. The figure is an affecting one, but how wonderful is the reality. While the whole pilgrim band is borne onward and upward by the infallible power of Jesus, our great High Priest, He has a heart interest in each individual in the band. Not one of them should doubt this. It should not have to be said to any one of them what God had to say to Israel — "Why sayest thou O Jacob and speakest O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord." No name in the breast-plate was hidden from the Lord, and not one was obscure amongst them. Each saint of God has an infinite preciousness to Jesus; each one is loved by the same love that passes knowledge. He calls His own sheep by name; each one has a personal link with Him and He considers each one for his blessing; He has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee: My strength is made perfect in weakness." What solace this gives in sorrow, what triumph in tribulation, what confidence in conflict!

But power and love without wisdom might be weakly indulgent and lead to disaster. There must be divine wisdom also to give perfection to the present service of our great High Priest. Does He possess this wisdom? Yes, for He is the wisdom of God, and He has been made wisdom to us. The garments of Aaron were not complete without the plate of pure gold bound with a lace of blue upon his mitre. Upon this golden plate was engraved, "like the engravings of a signet" HOLINESS TO THE LORD. In shining prominence this indelible inscription had always to appear upon Aaron's brow in the presence of God. He would have been no true priest without it. God must be first, and all the activities of our Lord Jesus as our High Priest must be for the glory of God, and we could not be truly blessed apart from this. We remember His words to the Father, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself that they may be sanctified through the truth." He has set Himself apart that His people might be practically maintained as a holy priesthood to God.

From the time that He made Himself of no reputation and took on Him the form of a servant He has been "Holiness to the Lord." This was involved in His words spoken in eternity and recorded in the volume of God's eternal book, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." But now risen from the dead, it is for us that He is "Holiness to the Lord." As such He represents us, for He has entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9). The golden plate was upon Aaron's brow that He might "bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts." That was the shadow, and not the very image of the things, for the sacrifices that Aaron offered could never take away sins. "But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sin, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; for by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified; and the Holy Ghost bears witness that their sins and iniquities will be remembered no more (10:12-17). "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (2:11). The golden plate was to be always upon Aaron's forehead that the people might be accepted before the Lord. The reality of that shadow for us is "to the praise of the glory of His grace wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1). In full assurance of faith and with hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience we draw near to offer our worship to God.

Yet it is indeed true that we are often ignorant and indolent in our approach to God, and our prayers and praises are mean and imperfect, but He is there for us on this behalf, and He adds His sweet perfume to our poor words so that they reach the ears of God in His own perfection. But we believe there is more than that. He is the Leader of our praises, and if we are to join intelligently in any measure in the praises that He leads, and worship God in spirit and in truth, we must be instructed by Him, and this He has undertaken to do. He has said, "I will declare Thy Name to My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises to Thee." One of the old prophets said, "The priest's lips should keep knowledge; they should seek the law at His mouth, for He is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts" (Mal. 2:7). And this word is true in its fullest meaning in our great High Priest, a merciful and faithful High Priest; for of Him we read, "By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant instruct many in righteousness" (Isa. 53:11; N.Tr.).

How wise are His ways with us and with what perfect balance He pursues His service. He is indeed most merciful to us in our weaknesses, but ever faithful to God — He will not compromise His glory one iota. "Having made purgation for our sins, and having obtained eternal redemption for us by His death, we are being saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10); and in His life wisdom and love and power combine to bring us through every trial and test to the glory of God, whither He, our Forerunner, has entered for us.