In the Old Testament era, people wore the following jewelry:
- Crescents for camels
- Gems for headdress
- Jewelled fragrances
- Ointment boxes
Jewels weren’t just handmade, they were acquired as spoils of wars. They were also used as a sign of commitment to a marriage. When approaching a deity, a person could dress for the occasion, wearing a lot of jewels, and taking them off afterwards.
Archaeology has unearthed precious jewels that can be traced as far back as 2500 B.C. In Ur, a Sumerian city where Abraham came from, Queen Shubad and her royal family were buried with jewels made of precious materials, only to be excavated recently. Amulets, gold pins, rings, earrings, seals, diadems, and a cape of polished precious metals and gold were discovered.
Instances in the Bible Where Jewels Were Worn
Isaac’s Hand in Marriage
In the book of Genesis 24:22, 30 and 53, we see situations where jewelry was used for betrothal and appreciation. Isaac had sent Abraham’s servant to Mesopotamia to deliver two gold bracelets and an earring to Rebekah – his wife to be. Preparing his camels for a return journey, she had watered his camels. To thank her, the servant gave her silver and gold jewels, and precious metals to members of her family.
The Israelites had asked Egyptians, during the exodus, for items made of gold and silver (Exodus 12:35). And when Moses ascended to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, he spent 40 days, the time during which men and women took out their gold earrings, and melted and moulded them to be a golden calf under Aaron’s directions (32:2-4).
By making the idol, they had disobeyed God, and needed redemption. And so, Moses instructed them to remove ornaments (33:4-6). And when God instructed the Israelites to make the first tabernacle, the Israelites contributed gold jewels, rings, bracelets, tablets and earrings (35:22).
Clothing of Jewish Priests
Priests communicated directly with the deity, and so they had to look pleasant. Dressing for such occasions required them to dress themselves with lots of jewels. In Exodus 39, priests were required to wear an ephod robe. The sleeveless garment was long and blue, and had tassels at its corners. The tassels contained gold bells with pomegranates interchanging.
The priest would wear another robe over the ephod robe to cover the front and back. The robe was shorter and more embroidered than the ephod robe. The front part of the vestment was separate from the back part, and so onyx stone was used to join the two parts together at the shoulder.
Over the vestment, the priest would wear a breastpiece. The square garment was sewn with gold thread over a fine twist of linen. Dressed over the material making up the vestment were four rows each containing three precious metals, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
The first row contained a beryl, a topaz and a ruby. An emerald, a turquoise and a sapphire made up the second raw. In the third row were an amethyst, a jacinth and an agate. The fourth raw contained an onyx, a jasper and a chrysolite. A gold basement supported each stone (Exodus 39:13).
The priest had to use rings and chains of gold to tie the breastpiece to the ephod robe at the shoulder and to the lacers of a blue bans of weaves. The material composition of the diadem was 100% gold, and had an engraving, “Holy to the Gold” (39:30).
In the book of Judges 8:24-27, after leading an army that defeated the Midianites, Gideon refused an endorsement to become a king. His only wish was to construct an ephod that would put idolatry to an end. And so, he directed everyone to remove and throw the spoils of war: camel chains, crescents, earrings and necklaces onto a garment, which make up the ephod.
The Jerusalem Temple
God required David to build for Him a temple in Jerusalem. While he didn’t live to see his dream accomplished, his son, Solomon, completed the task. David had amassed lots of jewels, after successfully defeating and conquering Philistines, Syrians, Amalekites, Ammonites and Moabites.
The temple’s purpose was to dedicate the material wealth to God (2 Samuel 8:7-8). His noble effort touched everyone, including high ranking members of society, who donated what they could. God accepted all the gifts: gold, silver, iron and brass (1 Chronicles 28).
Solomon also received gifts of precious stones and gold from the Queen of Sheba. The king’s residence was full of gold. Everything from Solomon’s throne to cups to footstool were made of gold (2 Chronicles 9:20). Increasingly, Judean and Israeli kings placed lots of value on amassing jewels.
The Gospel Begs to Differ…
The New Testament warns us against placing a lot of value on jewelry. Jesus mentioned about jewels in the parables of pearl merchant (Matthew 13:45-46; 7:6). In similar vein, apostle Paul warns Christians against materialism (1 Timothy 2:9). James plays down the importance of adornment of jewels on human dignity (James 2:2).
Revelation foretells Babylon’s destruction as an event marked by merchants running out of jewelry to sell (18:12). Replacing Babylon will be a new city of Jerusalem whose walls are made of jasper, and foundations with the precious stones, which make up the priest’s breastpiece in the Old Testament (21:19).
One More Thing…
We see a deviation in the value the deity placed on jewelry in the Bible. Since the ancient times, before Abraham started relationship with God, royals, nobles and commoners amassed a lot of jewels. In the eyes of a deity, a person dressed in precious stones and jewels was pleasant. That’s why priests wore cloth decorated with jewels and precious stones but that was to change in the New Testament. Jesus, and apostles following in his footstep, warned us against placing a lot of emphasis on material wealth.