Exodus 28 – Garments for Priests
A. The command to make garments for the priests.
1. (1-2) The purpose of the garments.
“Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”
a. Take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him: The priesthood of Israel was not earned by effort nor aspired to by ambition. It could only be inherited by birthright. One must be born into a priestly family.
i. The priesthood was no place for ambition or self-glory. It was only entered into by God’s call and invitation. In the New Covenant, our priesthood is also not earned nor aspired to. We are priests because of our new birth into Jesus’ priestly family (1 Peter 2:5).
b. Make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty: The priestly garments were made for glory and for beauty. Since there was something glorious and beautiful – indeed, heavenly about the priestly service, it was appropriate to make the garments glorious and beautiful.
i. “Is then the dismal black, now worn by almost all kinds of priests and ministers, for glory and for beauty? Is it emblematic of any thing that is good, glorious, or excellent? How unbecoming the glad tidings announced by Christian ministers is a colour emblematical of nothing but mourning and woe, sin, desolation, and death!” (Clarke)
2. (3-4) What to make and who must make it.
“So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest.”
a. Speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments: God promised a special gifting from the Holy Spirit given to the craftsmen of these garments.
i. If it is really done to the glory of God, practical, manual service requires the leading of the Holy Spirit just as much as what we normally consider to be spiritual service.
ii. “The Hebrew slaves must have learned many Egyptian arts and crafts, such as metalwork, spinning, weaving and embroidery during their stay in Egypt.” (Cole)
b. That he may minister to Me: Three times in these first four verses, this command is repeated. Priests – under the old or new covenants – have their first ministry to God Himself.
c. And these are the garments which they shall make: Here are listed the various garments for the clothing of the priests and the High Priest. Each item on this list will be described in the section following.
B. Garments for the High Priest.
1. (5-14) The ephod.
“They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked. It shall have two shoulder straps joined at its two edges, and so it shall be joined together. And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship, made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone, and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial. You shall also make settings of gold, and you shall make two chains of pure gold like braided cords, and fasten the braided chains to the settings.”
a. Make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked: The ephod was essentially an ornate apron-like garment, made of gold, blue, purple and scarlet thread.
i. “Linen was the dress of the noble and the priest in Egypt, chosen both for coolness and cleanliness.” (Cole)
b. Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: On the shoulder straps were polished gemstones on each strap, with the inscription of six of the tribes on each stone. Therefore, the High Priest would bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial.
i. “Aaron bears Israel’s names before God whenever he enters the Tent, identifying himself with them.” (Cole)
ii. While the first ministry of a priest is always unto God Himself, a priest also is constantly connected to the people, bearing them on his shoulders. The shoulders are a place of work; therefore, in the priest’s ministry unto the LORD, he also worked for and with the people.
2. (15-30) The breastplate.
“You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width. And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes. You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold. And you shall make two rings of gold for the breastplate, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. Then you shall put the two braided chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate; and the other two ends of the two braided chains you shall fasten to the two settings, and put them on the shoulder straps of the ephod in the front. You shall make two rings of gold, and put them on the two ends of the breastplate, on the edge of it, which is on the inner side of the ephod. And two other rings of gold you shall make, and put them on the two shoulder straps, underneath the ephod toward its front, right at the seam above the intricately woven band of the ephod. They shall bind the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the ephod, using a blue cord, so that it is above the intricately woven band of the ephod, and so that the breastplate does not come loose from the ephod. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually. And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.”
a. Make the breastplate of judgment: The breastplate was also made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread. It was attached to the ephod with gold chains.
i. “This explains why the garment may be called the ‘breastplate of judgment’, since it contains the two oracular stones, by means of which God’s ‘judgment’ might be made known.” (Cole)
b. Put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: On the breastplate were four rows of three gemstones, each stone having one of the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on it. In wearing the breastplate, the High Priest would bear the names of the sons of Israel… over his heart.
i. It was not enough that the High Priest worked for the people (having them on his shoulders). He must also love the people – that is, bear them on his heart.
ii. It isn’t enough for a priest to have a heart for God. He must also have a heart for the people, and bear them on his heart in his entire ministry unto the LORD.
c. A sardius, a topaz, and an emerald: This begins a list of twelve gemstones set in the breastplate of the high priest. It is impossible to know exactly what all of these gemstones were; but we can come to some likely conclusions. Revelation 21:19-20 describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem with a series of twelve gemstones, which may answer to these stones in the breastplate.
i. We cannot neglect the fact God commanded the tribes to have their names inscribed on gemstones – truly precious things. God’s people are indeed precious to Him.
d. Put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim: Three times in this passage the breastplate is called the breastplate of judgment because it held the Urim and Thummim which were tools for discerning God’s will.
i. The use of the discerning tools of Urim and Thummim is described on a few occasions (Numbers 27:21, 1 Samuel 28:6, Ezra 2:63, and Nehemiah 7:65) and their use may be implied in other passages (Judges 1:1; 20:18, 23).
ii. The names Urim and Thummim mean “Lights and Perfections.” We aren’t sure what they were or how they were used. The best guess is that they were a pair of stones, one light and another dark, and each stone indicated a “yes” or “no” from God. The High Priest would ask God a question, reach into the breastplate, and pull out either a “yes” or a “no.”
iii. Meyer suggests the Urim and Thummim were brilliant diamonds, which flashed brightly with a “yes” or dimly with a “no” answer from God.
iv. Many consider the Urim and Thummim as crude tools of discernment. In fact, they are better than the tools many Christians use today. It would be better to use the Urim and Thummim than rely on feelings, or outward appearances, or to simply use no discernment at all.
v. The key to the effectiveness of the Urim and Thummim was that God’s Word gave them. In seeking God through the Urim and Thummim, one was really going back to God’s Word for guidance, because it was the word of God that commanded their place and allowed their use. Today, if we have the same focus on God’s Word, He will guide us also. One old preacher was asked to explain the Urim and Thummim. He said, “Well, this is how I understand it. When I need to know God’s will, I get out my Bible and I do a lot of usin’ and thummin’ through my Bible, and God always speaks to me.” More Christians would know God’s will if they did more usin’ and thummin’.
3. (31-35) The robe.
“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die.”
a. Make the robe of the ephod all of blue: This was the basic covering of the priest, made of all blue, and seamless and with no tear for the head opening.
b. Bells of gold between them all around: On its hem, between the ornate pomegranates of blue and purple, were bells, so the priest could be heard while ministering before God – if he were to die, the bells would stop ringing and he could be pulled out of the Most Holy Place. The sound of the bells would remind the priest of the solemn nature of his work and remind him so that he may not die.
i. “The tinkling bells were presumably so that the people outside could trace the movements of the priest within, who was of course invisible to them. By this they would know that his offering had been accepted, and that he had not been struck dead.” (Cole)
ii. “The pomegranates (symbols of fruitfulness) were either hanging as ‘bobbles’ between the bells, or else embroidered on the fabric.” (Cole)
iii. “The alternating bell and pomegranate on the skirts of the priest’s robe were typical of his obligation to testimony and fruit bearing.” (Morgan)
4. (36-38) The turban and its engraving.
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”
a. It shall be on the front of the turban: The turban was a simple wound linen headpiece. More important than the turban itself was the gold plate with the inscription HOLINESS TO THE LORD.
i. “The turban (literally something wound around: the Talmud tells us that eight yards of material were used).” (Cole)
ii. The inscription HOLINESS TO THE LORD indicated that first and foremost the high priest was the servant of God, not man. “Hence it was not lawful for the high priest, say the Jews, to put off his bonnet to whomsoever he met, were he never so great a man; lest the same name and glory of God, whose person he sustained, should seem to submit to any man.” (Trapp)
b. That Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts: Even the gifts and sacrifices Aaron and the other priests brought before the Lord were touched with iniquity. Yet when God’s appointed priest in God brought them in God’s appointed way, God accepted them.
c. That they might be accepted before the LORD: Holiness – not as a legalistic list of rules, but in the power of a life separated to God – is essential for anyone who will appear before God. Hebrews 12:14 reinforced this principle: Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
5. (39) The tunic, the turban, and the sash.
“You shall skillfully weave the tunic of fine linen thread, you shall make the turban of fine linen, and you shall make the sash of woven work.”
a. Skillfully weave the tunic of fine linen: These basic garments are simply described as being woven of fine linen.
6. (40-43) Garments for the sons of Aaron.
“For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests. And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.”
a. For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics: Though the regular priests had special garments, they were simple clothes of fine linen. They were special, but not much compared to the glory and beauty of the High Priest’s garments.
i. This is because the regular priests, though important, had a far lesser office than the High Priest – and were appropriately clothed for this lower position.
ii. Even so, the High Priest’s clothing, in total, speaks more of Jesus’ glory and beauty than of ours. We are (or should be) content with simple linen robes.
b. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests: Here God explained three important and essential aspects to the preparation of His servants: anointing, consecration, and sanctification. They are separated because here they indicated three different ideas.
i. Anoint describes the application of the sacred oil upon the head. In the consistent idiom of the Bible, it represents the filling and continual reliance upon the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
ii. Consecrate “Is the translation of two Hebrew words, meaning the filling of the open hand, and signifies the perfect equipment of the anointed one for the discharge of that ministry.” (Morgan)
iii. Sanctify “Means literally, to make clean, and refers to the spiritual and moral separation of the priest from all defilement.” (Morgan)
c. Linen trousers to cover their nakedness: The priests – all of the priests – were to wear undergarments, so it would be impossible for their nakedness to be exposed while ministering.
i. This was probably a reaction to the nakedness of many pagan priests while performing their rituals. “This command had in view the necessity of purity and decency in every part of the Divine worship, in opposition to the shocking indecency of the pagan worship in general, in which the priests often ministered naked, as in the sacrifices to Bacchus.” (Clarke)
ii. Also, the trousers were to be made of cool linen, instead of warm wool. God doesn’t want His servants to sweat.
C. A Contrast between Jesus’ clothing when He accomplished His great priestly work and the garments of the High Priest.
1. Jesus wore no beautiful ephod – only a purple robe for mocking.
2. Jesus had no precious gems were on His shoulders, only a cross that we deserved.
3. Jesus had no breastplate with “Israel on His heart,” yet He died of a broken heart for Israel – and all of mankind.
4. As the High Priest, Jesus had a seamless robe that was not torn, but it was stripped away at the cross.
5. Jesus heard no delicate sound of bells proving that the High Priest was alive, only the sound of pounding nails ensuring our High Priest’s death.
6. Jesus wore no fine linen turban, rather a painful crown of thorns.
7. Jesus had no headplate reading HOLINESS TO THE LORD, but a life and death showing nothing but holiness to the LORD!
8. Jesus had no linen trousers to hide His nakedness, rather He bore our sins on the cross in a naked shame.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission