Why the order of the twelve stones for the twelve tribes?
Exodus 28 describes the clothes the High Priest of Israel was to wear. In this passage God tells Moses how to make the garments. Among the garments is a breastplate on which twelve stones were to be placed in four rows. The names of the twelve tribes were to be engraved on each stone. Here is God’s command to Moses.
You shall make a breastplate of judgment, the work of a skillful workman; like the work of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen you shall make it. It shall be square and folded double, a span in length and a span in width. You shall mount on it four rows of stones;
the first row shall be a row of ruby, topaz and emerald; and
the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; and
the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; and
the fourth row a beryl and an onyx and a jasper;
they shall be set in gold filigree. The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes. (NASB) Ex. 28:15-21
God determined the order of the stones, and it also appears from Ex. 28:9-10 that He determined the order of the names.
. . . according to their birth. (NASB) Ex. 28:9-10
Ex. 28:9-10 is actually talking about the names being engraved on two stones which would rest on the high priest’s shoulders, but it appears from Ex. 28:21 that the names were probably in the same order.
Why did God pick this order? Why did God want certain stones to belong with certain names? He does not say, but it is wonderful to note that God honors the order of a child’s birth. But the greatest gift of all was His expression of love to the children of Israel by having their names on the high priest’s breastplate. Christianity is not an abstract religion of rules and regulations. Why put names on the high priest’s chest? It implies a personal relationship between Him and His people. It echoes God heart, “I love you!” Christianity is about a loving God who cares for us more than we do! Thank you God!