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Bible Commentaries

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

Exodus 28

Verses 1-43

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Clothing for the priests (28:1-43)

All priests wore special clothing that gave them a dignity and honour suited to their office. The high priest’s clothing was especially striking, but more importantly its various pieces helped the people understand the sacredness of his functions before God (28:1-3).
The most colourful piece of clothing worn by the high priest was the ephod (GNB: sacred vest), a short linen garment of the same material as the tabernacle curtains but with gold thread worked into the cloth (see 39:2-3). It was held in place by two shoulder straps and bound at the waist by a band (RSV: girdle; GNB: sash) of the same material. Attached to the shoulder straps were two stones, one to each shoulder, engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel (4-14).

Positioned centrally over the high priest’s chest was a piece of richly embroidered cloth, doubled to form a square flat pouch. This was called the breastplate or breastpiece. Fixed to the outside of it were twelve precious stones, again symbolic of Israel’s twelve tribes. The breastplate was tied over the ephod with gold chains attached to rings at the four corners. Inside it were the Urim and Thummim, generally thought to be two small objects which, when drawn out of the pouch, would indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a suitably put question (15-30; cf. Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 14:41; 1 Samuel 28:6).

Directly beneath the ephod was a blue robe. From the bottom of this robe hung bells and pomegranates, so that when the high priest moved from place to place inside the tabernacle, the people outside, on hearing the bells, could follow him in their thoughts and prayers. The sound of the bells would reassure them, letting them know that the high priest had not been struck dead. Their offering had been accepted (31-35).
On his head the high priest wore a turban, fixed to the front of which was a gold plate engraved with the words ‘Holy to the Lord’. This declared to all that holiness was essential to every part of Israelite worship (36-38). The remaining garments of the high priest (that is, those worn under his blue robe) were the same as those for ordinary priests, namely, a full length long-sleeved white linen garment (GNB: embroidered shirt), along with undergarments and other accessories (39-43).
Several features of the high priest’s clothing reminded him constantly that he was acting not as an individual, but as the representative of the people. First there were the engraved stones bearing the names of the twelve tribes on his shoulder pieces and breastplate (v. 12,21). Second there were the objects known as the Urim and Thummim, through which he sought God’s will in judging the people (v. 30). And third there was the gold plate on his turban to symbolize that he bore their guilt before the holy God who alone could pardon them (v. 38).

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Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 28". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/exodus-28.html. 2005.