Two onyx stones were attached to this garment and were inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes (Exod 28:9-12; 39:6-7). Similarly, the small cloth breast piece that the high priest wore over the ephod had twelve precious and semiprecious stones attached to it, each engraved with the name of one of Israel’s tribes gold plate was slung so that it faced forward. It was engraved with the phrase “HOLY TO THE LORD” (Exod 28:36; 39:30). Solomon’s temple was also filled with handiwork that called for the skill of the engravers. The panels of the ten
moveable basins and the structure of the temple itself were filled with engravings (1 Kings 6;18, 29, 35; 7:18-20, 36, 42). Clearly all this engraving helped set apart the clergy and the temple in a way that lifted them above the mundane things of life, as was fitting of their purpose. But the most striking example of engraving is one that was lost nearly as soon as it was created. That was the engraving God himself did as he etched his will into two stone tablets (Exod 32:15-16).
In four instances the idea of engraving is used as a metaphor by Job, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Zechariah. The physical and emotional pain endured by Job shook him to his very core. There was one premise to which he lifted his eyes and found some measure of comfort: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-26). This notion is so powerful that Job expressed his desire for this hope to be “inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!” (Job 19:24). There it could sustain him and others facing intense challenges of life.
That is the kind of message we want preserved for all time. At the other end of the spectrum, however, is sin. That is not something we want anywhere near us because where sin abounds a divine response is sure to follow. Yet that is exactly what had happened to God’s people prior to their exile in Babylon. “Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars” (Jer 17:1). The circumstances grew so grave in Israel that the Lord permitted his holy city of Jerusalem to be destroyed. Nevertheless, the Lord had a plan for its restoration; a new Zion would arise. The hope that lived in the hearts of the faithful was propelled in part by this amazing image: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me” (Isa 49:16).
Forgiveness and restoration are ultimately linked to one day-Good Friday-when the sins of all people of all time would be poured out on Jesus. Zechariah anticipates that day and summarizes it in one powerful phrases that he says is worthy of being inscribed in stone: “I [the LORD] will remove the sin of this land in a single day” (Zech 3:9)