BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 92
Copyright 1997 Biblical Horizons
One of the distinctive items of the high priest’s clothing was the "golden plate" inscribed with the words "Holy to Yahweh" (Exodus 28:36-38). The word translated as "plate" is tsits, which literally means "flower." The verbal and noun forms are both used in Numbers 17:8, which describes Aaron’s rod as "budding with buds." Aaron’s budding rod was a sign that he alone, of all the leaders of Israel’s tribes, would flourish as an almond ("watcher") in the house of Yahweh. The flower-crowned rod symbolized the flower-crowned high priest, and since it was Aaron’s rod that blossomed, Aaron would be high priest. Though nothing more than dead wood, the golden flower signified that he would sprout and bloom and become fruitful in service. Through his representative ministry, Israel was to become a flowering field; this is indicated later in the temple, where tsitstsim are carved into the walls and overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35)
Flowers are associated in Scripture with glory; as Jesus said, flowers are the glorious clothing of the grass, and a God who takes time to make little jackets and ornaments for the grass the grass that we trample and mow and pluck without a thought will take care of His children. Just as the Lord clothes and crowns the grass, so He robed and crowned Aaron in garments of glory and beauty. Aaron was the glorious flower of Yahweh’s garden-house.
Flowers are beautiful but rapidly fade and die, and so it is with the glory of man, as Psalm 103:15 and James 1:9-11 indicate. I suspect, however, that there is a more specific connection between the priestly flower and another famous biblical statement about flowers, Isaiah 40:6-8. This passage opens the prophet’s announcement of a new exodus, speaking the comforting words that Israel’s sins have been paid and that a pathway of return will be made in the wilderness. The glory of the Lord will be revealed in His redemption of Israel from her exile, as it was revealed in the first exodus from Egypt. Verses 6-8 must be understood in this context. These verses are structured by parallel sets of threes:
All flesh is grass; all his hesed (faithfulness) is like
the flower of the field.
Grass withers; flower fades.
Because the ruach (breath; Spirit) of Yahweh
blows upon it.
Surely the people are grass.
Grass withers; flower fades.
Word of our God stands forever.
This is not merely a general statement about the weakness and brevity of fleshly life but a specific statement about Israel and her condition; these people are like grass, not people in general. Israel’s hesed ("faithfulness") is glorious as a tsits and equally impermanent, as her exile testifies. The flowers of Israel, her priests, or better, Israel as priestly flower, has faded. Herein, perhaps, is revealed the weakness of the old covenant, for Israel’s flower fades precisely because the breath of God, the breath that gave life to Adam, blows upon her. The hesed of Yahweh is quite different, standing forever; and so the flower garden that has become a desert will one day blossom like the rose, when a resurrected Man of the Spirit will pour out the Spirit on all flesh, will breathe in such a way that the flowers do not fade but bloom everlastingly.