Precious stones of the Biblical world (Isaiah 54)

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Illustration: Precious stones of the Bible

Precious stones have been known and sought after since earliest antiquity – gathered as loose rocks, chiseled out of sandstone or mined in shafts (Job 28:1-11). One of the first, and finest, examples of Jewelry known in the ancient world comes from the royal tombs of Ur (ca. 2500 B.C.). Among the funerary hoard is a queen’s diadem (crown or royal headband), exquisitely fashioned of hammered gold beech leaves and floral motifs in lapis lazuli, as well as bead necklaces of gold, lapis, cornelian and agate. Valued for their rarity and beauty, gemstones served a wide variety of purposes in the ancient world:

  • Adornment: Precious stones were used for ornamentation in both life and death (Isaiah 3:20-21).
  • Currency: Gems were coveted as a mark of wealth (2 Chronicles 32:27) and exchanged as a form of currency preceding coinage. Their light weight, ease of transport and durability made precious stones in the form of Jewelry the most common bridal gift and dowry (Genesis 24:22, Isaiah 61:10, Ezekiel 16:11-13). As a woman’s personal possessions, they also became her inheritance.
  • Seals: Hard stones such as jasper, agate and onyx were among the favourites for engraved seals. Inscribed with pictoral scenes or letters identifying their owner (Genesis 38:18, 1 Kings 21:8), signet rings were pressed, and cylinder seals rolled, on wax or clay to leave their impression. Jewels naturally served as insignia of royalty (Zechariah 9:16) and, by extension, of royal authority (Genesis 41:42).
  • Signs of national power: Gemstones were exchanged as gifts between rulers (2 Chronicles 9:9) and seized as spoils of war (Judges 8:26).
  • Ceremonial: Ceremonial use of precious stones included their dedication to the Lord as an offering (Exodus 35:22, Numbers 31:50). The most abundant use of gems in ancient Israel was in the adornment of the temple (1 Chronicles 29:2) and its chief ministrant, who wore a jewel-encrusted breastplate (Exodus 28:17-21).
  • Theological symbols: The value, luminosity and enduring nature of gems rendered them a most apropriate literary image for the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 1:26) and for the recreated, eschatological (end time) people of God (Isaiah 54:12, Revelation 21:18-21).


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