THE EXPERIENCE OF READING THE BREASTPLATE
IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Question: In chapter four of this book (pp. 47-48), you mentioned that the leading brothers should exercise to "read the saints," just as the high priest in the Old Testament read the stones on the breastplate. Could you share something further concerning this?
Answer: This is based upon the type of the high priest’s breastplate with the Urim and Thummim (Exo. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65). The government among God’s people in the Old Testament was neither by autocracy nor by democracy. This government was by theocracy, which means that God governed the people directly, yet through some agents. Today in the church there should also be theocracy, God’s governing. In the Old Testament there is a type of God’s government. Among the children of Israel, God set up the elders and appointed the priests. The elders did not govern the people according to their opinion or view but according to the direct word from God received by the high priest.
The way the high priest received the word of God directly was by means of the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim. On the breastplate were twelve precious stones, and each stone bore a name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve names of the twelve tribes only required eighteen of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The remaining four letters were put on a piece called the Thummim. Thummim means completion. These four added letters completed the Hebrew alphabet on the breastplate.
Furthermore, the Urim was added to the breastplate. Urim means light. When there was a problem among the children of Israel, the high priest bearing the breastplate went into the presence of God to seek God’s direction. By the shining of the Urim upon the stones, the high priest received God’s instant speaking. It was in this way that, letter by letter, the high priest was able to spell out a word, then a sentence, and then a paragraph, until the full judgment of God was determined. Then the high priest passed on God’s speaking to the elders, and the elders executed what God had spoken.
We need to experience this type of reading the breastplate in the presence of God. Today we are both elders and priests. If the church has a problem and the elders need to see how the church should go on, they should go to God with much prayer. In this way the elders will become clear about what the church should do and how the church should go on. In the presence of the Lord through prayer, they can read the letters on the stones of the breastplate, which is to read all the members of the church. By reading the members of the church, taking the members as the letters of a divine typewriter, God’s speaking will come to them, telling them what to do and how to do it.
In the Old Testament times, they had the law of Moses as the constant, written Word, but to have the written Word of God by itself was not adequate. They still needed the instant word of God. They received the instant word by the high priest going into the presence of God to read the names of God’s people. We need both the constant word, the word in the Bible, and the instant word, the word from the present contact with God. The instant word should not contradict the constant word. This means that today our guidance from God should correspond with what is written in the New Testament. By this way we can have the leading from the Lord day after day concerning the church. This matter also shows how organic the eldership should be. The eldership is not organizational, but it is altogether an organic matter. The elders need to be living and exercised in contacting the Lord to be enlightened to read the situation among the Lord’s people.
(Elders' Training, Book 09: The Eldership and the God-Ordained Way (1), Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)