“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. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. 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.” Exodus 28:9-12 ESV
Have you ever wondered where some of our “Christianese” vocabulary comes from? Phrases like, “God put your name on my heart this morning,” or “I’ve been burdened for you lately.” Today’s reading may give us some clues.
In Exodus 28:11, we read that the High Priest had the names of the tribes of Israel engraved on the stones that were set on the shoulder piece of the ephod. Then, in 28:30, the names were engraved on twelve stones set into the breast piece.
I can imagine the priest getting ready to stand before the Lord. He pulls the ephod over his head. The onyx stones feel heavy on his shoulders. They are supposed to; for every time he enters the presence of the Lord he carries the names of the sons of Israel on his shoulders. Like a prayer, he whispers the names: Reuben, Simeon, Judah. Gad. Asher. Dan. Naphtali. Zebulun. Isaachar. Ephraim. Manasseh. Benjamin.
Then, the breast piece is attached. Once again, the High Priest feels the weight of stone and gold, now on his heart as well as his shoulders. Again, he prays the names of the tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Judah. Gad. Asher. Dan. Naphtali. Zebulun. Isaachar. Ephraim. Manasseh. Benjamin.
The only tribe not included is his own.* When he goes before the Lord, it is to intercede for others, not petition for himself.
The names on the heart feels easier to me then the names on our shoulders. The heart is often the people we delight to pray for. Your family members. Your best friends. Those people in your church that are on fire for God and are vital to your ministry. These are the ones Paul described in Philippians 1, when he said,
“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
Philippians 1:7 ESV
But if the names on the heart are about love, the names on the shoulders are about work. The people we need to pray for, even when we don’t necessarily want to.
Romans 15:1-2 says
15 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
“Bear with.” This doesn’t mean “put up with,” in some kind of eye-rolling, here-we-go-again kind of way. It means carry. Put their burdens on your your shoulders.
This hits me hard as a pastor, but since we are a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), it’s really a word for all of us. The needs and the names of our fellow church members ought to be heavy on our hearts. Their burdens ought to be the burdens we are shouldering.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak. Why? Because at one time we also were weak. Helpless. Ignorant, sinful. Dead in our transgressions.
And Someone carried our burden on His shoulders.
Galatians 6:2– Carry one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Philippians 1:7– It is right for me to feel this way about you, since I have you in (on) my heart.
Who’s names are heavy on your heart and shoulders this morning? Who’s burdens are you bearing?
*It’s unclear whether the names were listed by actual sons of Jacob, or by tribal allotment. If it was the sons of Jacob, then Levi and Joseph were included. But if by tribal allotment, they would have been replaced by Ephraim and Manasseh. In Ezekiel’s vision of the twelve gates of the holy city (Ezekiel 48:31) it is Levi and Joseph. But in Revelation 7:5-8, Joseph and Levi are there, but Dan is replaced by Manasseh. I personally believe it was tribal allotments, because that’s how the first six books of the Bible most often list them. But I could go either way.