Sacred Stones: High Priest's Breastplate Gems in the Bible and Torah

Crystal Gemstones Used for Miraculous Guidance and Symbolism

Bible stones
The priest's breastplate featured 12 different colorful gemstones. (This not the actual layout -- just a representation of various gemstones in a row.). Joseph Clark / Photodisc / Getty Images

Crystal gemstones inspire many people with their beauty. But the power and symbolism of these sacred stones go beyond simple inspiration. Since crystal stones store energy inside their molecules, some people use them as tools to better connect with spiritual energy (such as angels) while praying. In the Book of Exodus, the Bible and Torah both describe how God himself instructed people to make a breastplate with 12 different gemstones for a high priest to use in prayer.

God gave Moses detailed instructions for how to build everything that the priest (Aaron) would use when approaching the physical manifestation of God's glory on Earth -- known as the Shekinah -- to offer people's prayers to God. This included details about how to build an elaborate tabernacle, as well as the priest's clothing. The prophet Moses passed this information along to the Hebrew people, who put their individual skills to work carefully making the materials as their offerings to God.

Gemstones for the Tabernacle and Priestly Garments

The Book of Exodus records that God instructed the people to use onyx stones inside the tabernacle and on a garment called an ephod (the vest that the priest would wear underneath the breastplate). Then it presents the details of the 12 stones for the famous breastplate.

While the list of stones isn't completely clear due to differences in translations over the years, a common modern translation reads: "They fashioned the breastplate -- the work of a skilled craftsman. They made it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. It was square -- a span long and a span wide -- and folded double. Then they mounted four rows of precious stones on it. The first row was ruby, chrysolite, and beryl; the second row was turquoise, sapphire and emerald; the third row was jacinth, agate, and amethyst; the fourth row was topaz, onyx, and jasper. They were mounted in gold filigree settings. There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the 12 tribes." (Exodus 39:8-14).

Spiritual Symbolism

The 12 stones symbolize God's family and His leadership as a loving father, writes Steven Fuson in his book Temple Treasures: Explore the Tabernacle of Moses in the Light of the Son: "The number twelve often indicates governmental perfection or complete divine governance. We can conclude that the breastplate of twelve stones symbolizes the complete family of God -- a spiritual Israel of all who has been born from above. ... The twelve names engraved upon the onyx stones were also engraved upon the stones of the breastplate. Surely this portrays a spiritual burden upon both the shoulders and the heart -- a sincere care and love for humanity. Consider that the number twelve points to the ultimate good news destined for all nations of mankind."

Used for Divine Guidance

God gave the gemstone breastplate to the high priest, Aaron, to help him spiritually discern answers to the people's questions that he asked God while praying in the tabernacle. Exodus 28:30 mentions mystical objects called "Urim and Thummim" (which mean "lights and perfections") that God instructed the Hebrew people to include in the breastplate: "Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord."

In Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary: Spreading the Light of God's Word Into Your Life, Earl Radmacher writes that the Urim and Thummim "were intended as a means of divine guidance for Israel. They involved gems or stones that were either attached to or carried inside the breastplate worn by the high priest when he consulted with God. For this reason, the breastplate is often called the breastplate of judgment or decision. However, while we know that this decision-making system existed, no one knows for sure how it worked. ... Thus, there is a great deal of speculation about the how the Urim and Thummim delivered a verdict [including making various stones light up to represent answers to prayer]. ... However, it is easy to see that in the days before much of the scriptures were written or collected, there was a need for some kind of divine guidance. Today, of course, we have God’s complete written revelation, and therefore have no need of devices such as the Urim and Thummim."

Parallels to Gemstones in Heaven

Interestingly, the gemstones listed as part of the priest's breastplate are similar to the 12 stones that the Bible describes in the Book of Revelation as comprising the 12 gates to the wall of the holy city that God will create at the end of the world, when God makes a "new heaven" and a "new earth." And, because of the translation challenges of precisely identifying the breastplate stones, the list of stones may be entirely the same.

Just like each stone in the breastplate is inscribed with the names of ancient Israel's 12 tribes, the gates of the city walls are inscribed with those same names of Israel's 12 tribes. Revelation chapter 21 describes an angel giving a tour of the city, and verse 12 says: "It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel."

The city wall's 12 foundations "were decorated with every kind of precious stone," verse 19 says, and those foundations were also inscribed with 12 names: the names of Jesus Christ's 12 apostles. Verse 14 says, "The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

Verses 19 and 20 lists the stones that make up the city's wall: "The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst."

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Your Citation
Hopler, Whitney. "Sacred Stones: High Priest's Breastplate Gems in the Bible and Torah." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, Hopler, Whitney. (2020, August 25). Sacred Stones: High Priest's Breastplate Gems in the Bible and Torah. Retrieved from Hopler, Whitney. "Sacred Stones: High Priest's Breastplate Gems in the Bible and Torah." Learn Religions. (accessed March 28, 2023).