In addition to reading the Bible I have also made it a point to listen to the audio Bible more this year than I ever have. I have not done this to merely see how much of the Scriptures I can cram into my day, but for a different reason. Scrolls and parchments in antiquity were no where close to as common as paper and notebooks today. So the content of the Bible was not as frequently read as it is today, it was heard. If you’ve never listened to an audio book, or the audio Bible, then I recommend it highly for the experience. My motivations in listening more have been to try and see what the 1st Century listeners – in either the Synagogue or the house churches that made up much of early Christianity – would have made of the sacred writings. The things that stand out as you hear a manuscript as opposed to reading it are significant. You tend to listen for things that make the entire story understandable and not get as bogged down in the minutia (not that there is no value in the minutia, I am a proponent and practitioner of taking a microscopic approach to Bible study). Also, as I have listened, I have found that the more literal the translation, the more difficult it is to keep up with. So I have given up listening to the ESV and NRSV (my versions of choice to read and study) and listened almost exclusively to the NIV. It was in this translation that I heard something recently that I’ll share.
In Exodus, the meticulous account of God’s instructions for the design of the Tabernacle, Priestly garments, sacrifices, rites, and construction practices can become numbing. This does not change when listening to the Bible as opposed to reading it. There seems to be no narrator who has managed to jazz up a sentence like, “it will be this many cubits long, this many cubits high, this many cubits wide…purple, with 50 rings that match another 50 rings on the other side…etc… It is a laborious process to willfully keep up with these sections of Scripture. So in the midst of that I heard, in the NIV’s translation of it, this verse,
Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions
Now, in the ESV it refers to this piece of priestly clothing as a “breastplate of judgment”, which sounds much more ominous and stuffy. Granted, the ESV is likely closer to the actual literal interpretation, the NIV captures something unique here that causes the imagination to move.
God’s instructions imply something here. Decisions, priestly decisions of much consequence , ought not be left primarily to the mind or heart of a human. Further reading of this passage lets us know that the point of the breastplate was to hold the Urim and Thummim stones. If you aren’t familiar with those terms then prepare to be amazed. God used the Urim and Thummim kind of like a two-object, divinely directed version of the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. As the priest was required to make a legal judgment in a court-type decision he would ask the question and then reach into the breastplate. Whichever stone he had associated with the correct decision would be the one that God would cause the priest to take hold of and remove from the pocket (you can look at 1 Samuel 14’s account of Saul and Jonathon for a narrative that seems to include this practice). The two stones (or whatever they were, there is debate regarding the actual objects) were kept close to the priest’s heart, symbolically.
I offer you all of that background to make a very simple point. There are many things that we decide every day. Many choices that we are faced with seem mundane, and on occasion we find ourselves as the corner of a bonafide, life-altering decision. Regardless of the level of consequence, I would suggest that all of our decisions would be best made with the breastplate on. Paul refers to a breastplate for believers in Ephesians.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
This breastplate is referred to as righteousness. There are different ways of looking at this, and most are valid interpretations, but I like to see it as the righteousness of Jesus. As I look to God for direction throughout the moments of my life, I can be confident that He will lovingly guide my steps because of the righteous status that Jesus has given me through the Cross. It was on the Cross that He took my sin and made me to be His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). Prior to making any decisions, but particularly life-changing ones, I offer you this: put on the righteousness that God has supplied and pray with confidence that He will lovingly lead you.
There are decisions to be made, and there is a way that we should “dress” to make those decisions…with God’s righteousness. I would also add that if a decision of ours seems to work in opposition to the practical idea of righteousness (purity and holiness), then you don’t need to reach in your pocket for a rock, you merely need to submit to the obvious instruction of the Lord.
Confidence in our steps is a big deal. It has much to do with whether or not we look back at the landscape of our lives with regret or peace. Do not make decisions with your head or your heart first. Let those two things, your logic and your passion, be brought to God in prayer and then, at then end, pray as Jesus Himself prayed, “Not my will be done, Father, but Yours.” That is a decision made from righteousness.