Biblical Gemstones

Foundation Stones, Gemstones of the Bible

Way back at the beginning of the Old Testament, there were twelve sacred gemstones that came from the Mountain of God, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. They were given to Moses, whose blueprint for a sacred breastplate for his brother, the high priest Aaron, is given in Exodus, 28:15-30.

Many of these same gemstones are listed in Ezekiel, Chapter 28 in reference to the King of Tyrus. Said to have the power to summon angels, the book of Ezekiel calls them "The Stones Of Fire" Ezekiel, Chapter 28:13-16).

There are also twelve gemstones listed in Revelation, Chapter 21. Despite the confusion surrounding the various names and translations of them, many believe that the gems listed in Revelation, Chapter 21 are the same twelve sacred gemstones from the Mountain of GOD, "The Stones of Fire", that were in Aaron's BreastPlate of Judgement.

The twelve sacred gemstones of Revelations are Jasper, Sapphire, Chalcedony, Emerald, Sardonyx, Sardius, Chrysolite, Beryl, Topaz, Chrysoprasus, Jacinth, and Amethyst.

Many also believe that there is a clear association between the twelve apostles and the twelve gems from the walls of Jerusalem. One of the earliest writers to tie in the apostles with the symbolism of the twelve gems is Andreas, Bishop of Caesurae. Each of the saints was assigned their own gemstone and all twelve gems match up exactly with those mentioned in the Revelations passage.

Biblical References to Gemstones

There are many biblical references to gemstones but the most important are considered to be Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28: 15-20 and 39:10-13), the stones in the foundations of the wall of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:18-21), and the precious stones that were among the King of Tyre's treasures (Ezekiel 28:13).

Aaron was Moses' brother and led the tribe of the high priests. His breastplate is one of the earliest accounts of an array of gemstones as decoration and symbols. It is described in the Bible as the breastplate of judgment or decision. It had twelve precious gems, one for each of the Israelite tribes, and was inscribed with their names. The stones were set in four rows: a sardius, topaz, and carbuncle in the first row; an emerald, sapphire and diamond in the second; a ligure, agate, and amethyst in the third; and a beryl, onyx, and jasper in the fourth row. Each stone was set with an ouch, or clasp or buckle, of gold.

From the time of Aaron in the 13th century BC, high priests wore a breastplate or gorget of cloth similar to that worn by Aaron. The priests wore these garments whenever they were communicating with God over the course the Israelites should take. Josephus felt that the breastplate represented the earth, and the priest's girdle as the ocean that went around it. He took the twelve stones to be the months or Zodiac signs. The priests' bells and pomegranates represented thunder and lighting, and their headdress signified heaven. After Solomon's temple was destroyed and the Jews were taken captive to Babylon in the 6th century BCE, they always hoped for Jerusalem's restoration. Successive foundations of the wall of New Jerusalem were garnished with various precious stones. From the first foundation to the twelfth foundation, stones used were jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolyte, beryl, topaz, chrysoprasus, jacinth, and amethyst respectively.The wall itself was made of jasper. The stones are very similar to those worn by Aaron and successive high priests.

In reference to the treasures of Hiram I, 10th century king of Tyre, Ezekiel (28:13) describes the Garden of Eden as having "every precious stone", including beryl, carbuncle, diamond, emerald, gold, jasper, onyx, sapphire, sardius, and topaz, and that "the workmanship of thy tablets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou was created". Tyre was the center of a large trading empire which traded with Egypt, Arabia, and Mesopotamia and the king became quite rich. Hiram helped Solomon build his temple.

Let's now turn to the major individual precious stones mentioned in these three important biblical references and the significance of each gem.

Agate was the second stone in the third row of the breastplate and thought to represent the Aser tribe of the Israelites. The stone was associated with health, longevity, and wealth. It was brought to Palestine by merchants from places such as Babylonia, Persia, Saba, and Reema in their caravans (Ezekiel 27:22). Agate was considered to have medicinal powers into the Middle Ages, supposedly countering poisons, contagious diseases, and fever. Agate comes in various bright colors. Red agate was meant to improve eyesight.

Amethyst represents the Issachar tribe. It appears in the breastplate, the wall foundations, and among the king's treasure. This stone was thought to prevent intoxication. Drinkers would wear an amulet of amethyst for this reason. It is supposed to provide deep and pure love. It is a brilliant purple, close to the color of red wine.

Beryl is thought to represent the Nephtali tribe and is in the breastplate and the wall foundations. It can be pale blue to yellowy green, although it can also be white or rose. It relates to happiness and everlasting youth.

Carbuncle relates to the tribe of Juda, is in the top row in the breastplate, and in the King of Tyre's treasure. It is a glittering red color. Holding it up to the sun makes it look like burning coal.

Carnelian is a blood red color or it can be a pale skin color, and is in the first stone (sard) in the breastplate. It also appears in the king's treasure, and in the celestial city's wall foundations. Carnelian was an important stone in preventing misfortune.

Chalcedony is one of the stones in the wall foundations. It is milky or grayish in color and is translucent. It was supposed to get rid of depression.

Chrysolyte belongs to the tribe of Zabulon. It is a stone in the foundations of the wall. Orangey yellow in color, it gladdened the heart, helped people get over a fear of the dark, and drove away the devil. It was supposed to cure eye diseases.

Chrysoprasus is a green agate and is a foundation stone.

Diamond was in the breastplate and one of the precious stones in the king's treasure. It signifies purity, preserves peace, and prevents storms.

Emerald is represented by the tribe of Levy. It is in the breastplate, the wall foundations, and the Tyre treasures. It glitters and is a brilliant green. Emerald is actually a green beryl. It was supposed to preserve or restore sight. It signifies immortality and incorruptibility.

Hyacinth is a foundation stone. It is reddish-orange in color and gave second sight.

Jasper is in the breastplate and represents the Benjamin tribe. The New Jerusalem wall itself was made of jasper. It is opaque, comes in most colors, and gives courage and wisdom.

Ligurus is a stone in the breastplate and the wall foundations, and relates to the tribe of Gad.

Onyx appears in the breastplate and belongs to the Joseph tribe. It relates to marital happiness. Its color is white and black, and sometimes includes brown.

Sapphire is found in the breastplate, wall foundations, and king's treasure. It represents the Dan tribe. It is a beautiful blue color and promotes constancy, truth, and virtue.

Topaz also features in all three of the important biblical references to precious stones. It signifies friendship and happiness.

There are various other biblical references to the gemstones found in the priests' breastplate, New Jerusalem's wall foundations, and the King of Tyre's treasures, as well as to other stones, but these three and their stones are generally regarded as the most important. 

The 12 Stones of the Breastplate

Exodus 39:8-14 (ESV)

8 He made the breastpiece, in skilled work, in the style of the ephod, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. 9 It was square. They made the breastpiece doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth when doubled. 10 And they set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle was the first row; 11 and the second row, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; 12 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13 and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. 14 There were twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes.

No matter whose translation of the word or scripture you read - Protestant, Catholic, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian or Assyrian - you will note the placement of stones in the breastplate differ - as do the names of each. This was because there were no specific names given to gemstones as there are today. Many were named regionally. Some carried the name of the city or country of origin such as Chalcedony (Turkey). They did not analyze these favored stones by their composition or crystalline form in those days.

The New Jerusalem

Revelation 21:15-21

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

The ancients were not versed in the science of mineralogy, they did have names for the many commonly used minerals and stones of their day. A number of these can be directly traced back to the mineral, gem, or type of stone they used. However, some are clouded, now and forever, by the veil of time. Lack of specific information about the characteristics, particularly color, is not available. Therefore, you will find much speculation in the literature. The translation of the original Hebrew and then translation by later writers from the ancient Grecian language has added to the confusion.

A Lament over the King of Tyre

Ezekiel 28:12-13

“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.