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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-5

This chapter may be captioned, “Garments of the Priesthood.” However, the greater part of it deals with the special vestments of the High Priest.

There are six paragraphs:

(1) summary of the High Priest’s garments (Exodus 28:1-5);

(2) instructions for making the ephod (Exodus 28:6-15);

(3) directions for the breastplate (Exodus 28:16-30),

(4) how the robe was made (Exodus 28:31-35)

(5) the manner of making the mitre (Exodus 28:36-39), and

(6) the details for the garments of the suffragan priests (Exodus 28:40-43).


“And bring near unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a coat of checker work, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. And they shall take the gold, and the blue, and the purple, and the scarlet, and the fine linen.”

This paragraph introduced a dramatic change into the religious economy of Israel. Until this point, Moses himself had acted in the capacity of a High Priest, actually sprinkling the blood upon the people in the ratification of the Covenant (Exodus 24:8). There had never been an established priesthood dedicated to the worship of Jehovah prior to the one commanded here. Job offered sacrifices for his family. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as countless others, as the first-born or heads of families, had discharged the duties of priests. That entire period of history was called the Patriarchal Age, but now, with the setting up of the Aaronic priesthood, the Mosaic Dispensation would begin, meaning the age which in matters of the priesthood would follow the instructions God gave to Moses.

It has been pointed out that Moses here offered no protest, nor did he defer in any manner from doing promptly and exactly what God commanded. One may read various opinions regarding the choice of Aaron instead of Moses, but the most convincing reason lies in the fact that as a type of Christ, it would not have been correct for Moses to have been High Priest, for Christ was not intended to be a High Priest after the order of Moses, but after the “order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 100:4). In his magnificent person and achievements, Moses was already a type of Christ in many ways, but adding the High Priest’s office to Moses would not have fit the divine pattern.

The liberal community of scholars have advanced some impossible allegations regarding this chapter, denying its divine origin and Mosaic authorship. Clements stated that this introduction of the Aaronic priesthood, “represents a late development in Israel’s history, which did not come into force until after the exile, probably late in the sixth century B.C.”(F1) Honeycutt also echoed this notion, but neither he nor any advocate of such a view has ever offered the slightest proof, not one solid fact, in support of their radical allegations. Honeycutt did say that, “Aaron’s royal regalia is suggestive of the postexilic period when, in the absence of a king, the High Priest became a semi-royal figure.”(F2) The long centuries prior to the monarchy, however, are just as logically suggested as the later period. There was a tabernacle, and, therefore, there was an established priesthood from the very beginning of the tabernacle, which would have been worthless without it. And, as for the Aaronic priesthood being any kind of a late development, Johnson stated that, “There is no evidence in any of the later history of Israel that, except for extraordinary circumstances, any but the sons of Aaron ever acted as priests.”(F3) Even Martin Noth who frequently follows the critical line admits that this account of Aaron and his garments, “would not have been written purely from fancy.”(F4)

Of course, what we have here is the very moment of institution of the priestly system that was to dominate the history of Israel until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The pairing of the names of Nadab and Abihu and those of Eleazar and Ithamar in Exodus 28:1 is of deep interest. The first pair lost their lives in the very act of their consecration through disrespect for the Word of God, and it was through the latter pair alone that the Aaronic line continued: “Eleazar succeeded Aaron as High Priest (Numbers 3:4), later the descendants of Ithamar became High Priests from Eli through Abiathar (1 Samuel 2:27-28; 1 Kings 2:26-27).”(F5) At a time still later, the sons of Eleazar again resumed the office from Zadok onward (1 Chronicles 6:8-15).

Esses, a former rabbi, pointed out that the elaborate dress of the High Priest was designed to “fit all sizes of men,” and that the very garments described here continued to be worn, “until Titus invaded the city of Jerusalem in 70. A.D.”(F6) We are unable to find any confirmation of such an idea.

One of the things of great interest in this paragraph is in Exodus 28:3, where God indicated that unusually skilled persons had been given their great gifts by God Himself, “whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom.” Indeed, how true this is! Great skills were truly God-given, and they still are. Think of Mozart who wrote a cantata at age seven years, which is still played by orchestras all over the world. “God is the Source of every intellectual faculty and artistic gift.”(F7) Amen! This conviction has long resided in the human heart.

Verses 6-14


“And thou shalt make the ephod of gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, the work of the skillful workman. It shall have two shoulder-pieces joined to the two ends thereof, that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band, which is upon it, wherewith to gird it on, shall be like the work thereof and of the same piece; of gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel: six of the names on the one stone, and the names of the six that remain on the other stone, according to their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engraver of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones, according to the names of the children of Israel; thou shalt make them to be enclosed in settings of gold. And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, to be stones of memorial for the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before Jehovah upon his two shoulders for a memorial. And thou shalt make settings of gold; and two chains of pure gold; like cords shalt thou make them of wreathen work: and thou shalt put the wreathen chains on the settings.”

This was the principal element in the High Priest’s costume, bearing not only the memorial stones on the shoulders, but also the breastplate (next to be described) with its four rows of memorial stones. The mention of the “two ends” indicates that it was long enough to come down to about the knees both front and back, connected with straps, to which there were affixed the onyx stone memorials at the shoulder level. This arrangement permitted the adjustment of the straps to fit any sized person. It consisted of a beautifully-woven tapestry of gold and the three colors so predominately used throughout the whole tabernacle. The gold was apparently to be woven separately into the completed tapestry.

“According to their birth” This meant either: (1) according to their chronological ages; or (2) accordingly as they were born (a) of Jacob’s legal wives, or (b) of his concubines. Scriptural examples of either arrangement may be cited; but which was to be used here is not given.

The old problem so often encountered in the O.T. of the same word having more than one meaning is also apparent here. In context, it is clear enough that some kind of garment is meant, an article of the “holy garments” designed for Aaron, the soon-to-be-named high priest. There are instances, however, in the O.T., where, “an image of some sort is indicated (Judges 8:24-35; Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14; and Hosea 3:4).”(F8)

“To be stones of memorial” The symbolism of these indicated that when the High Priest fulfilled his mission of entering the Holy of Holies he did so as a representative of all Israel. These memorial stones were a reminder primarily to Israel of this supplication upon their behalf, and also to Aaron in order that he might not forget that his was a mission ON BEHALF OF the whole nation. We reject the notion that the purpose of these was “to remind God… that God would not forget to be gracious to Israel!”(F9) It is true, however, that, “They served as a kind of visible supplication of His gracious remembrance.”(F10)

Throughout this chapter the prevailing conception is that of a properly clothed and anointed priesthood employed in supplicating God on behalf of others. The holy church itself, at times, has been betrayed into the acceptance of this device of a human priesthood, a system that may be identified generally as sacerdotalism. Here at the outset of the O.T. sacerdotalism is a good place to note that these devices were temporary, expedient, and served merely as types, shadows, copies and signs of the great realities which replaced them in Christianity. There is NO earthly priesthood today in the church of God, despite some religious practices that might seem to indicate that there is. As Fields put it:

We must beware of religions like Roman Catholicism and its descendants, that set up a special class of individuals within the church as “priests.” To adopt such a system is to lapse back into the covenant of Moses! We live under a new and better covenant, with a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:18-22). To revert to the system of the law of Moses is to revert to condemnation (Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:9).(F11)

The ephod described here has been variously described as “a waistcoat,”(F12) “a short linen garment,”(F13) “a very gorgeous robe,”(F14) or “a kind of apron.”(F15) Whatever it might be called, one thing is clear, the expensive beauty of the garment must have made it indeed a beautiful and glorious element of the High Priest’s regalia.

Verses 15-30


“And thou shalt make a breastplate of judgment, the work of the skillfull workman; like the work of the ephod thou shalt make it of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, shalt thou make it. Four-square it shall be and double; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span the breadth thereof. And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, four rows of stone a row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amythest; and the fourth row a beryl, and onyx, and a jasper; they shall be enclosed in gold in their settings. And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names; like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name, they shall be for the twelve tribes. And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains like cords, of wreathen work of pure gold. And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt put on the two settings, and put them on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod in the forepart thereof And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate, upon the edge thereof which is toward the side of the ephod inward. And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and put them on the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod underneath, in the forepart thereof, close by the coupling thereof, above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be upon the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod. And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before Jehovah continually. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummin; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before Jehovah: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before Jehovah continually.”

There is a great deal of repetition here with a view to making it virtually impossible for the workmen to miss any important part of the design. It is clear that the breastplate was to form an integral part of the ephod.

“The breastplate of judgment” is mentioned three times and was apparently given this name because of the presence, in the “pouch” of the breastplate, of the Urim and Thummin, by which God’s judgments in certain matters were given to the children of Israel.

“Breastplate” The current meaning of this word is “a piece of armor fitted over the breast.” “The meaning of the Hebrew word here rendered breastplate appears to be simply an ornament. The term breastplate relates merely to its place in the dress.”(F16)

The twelve precious stones mentioned here are, in a number of instances at least, exactly the same as those in John’s vision of the Celestial City, where they were indicated as being the “twelve foundations” of it. Due to the uncertainty with reference to some of the designations, Robert Jamieson affirmed that, “The precious stones enumerated here are the same as the apocalyptic seer has represented as being the foundations of the Celestial City.”(F17) It is also of great interest that the Twelve Sons of Israel were engraved upon the stones here, and that the names of the Twelve Apostles of Christ are engraved upon the foundations of the Eternal City. The typical nature of the First Israel as it relates to the New Israel is inherent in such a fact as this, and a hundred others witnessing the same thing.

See my comments at Revelation 21:20 regarding the use of these stones in connection with the signs of the Zodiac.

“The Urim and Thummin” We do not know what these were. They appear to have been two objects already widely known, and apparently having been used to determine in some manner God’s will regarding certain questions that could have been answered by some system of inquiry suggesting, to some at least, the casting of lots, or dice. It is thought that only that type of question capable of being answered “Yes” or “No.” could have been resolved by their use. Fields gives this example of a Scriptural account of their use:

The function of the Urim and Thummin is illustrated by Numbers 27:21, where Joshua was instructed to inquire (seek God for unrevealed information) before the priest Eleazar through the Urim and Thummin. (This does not indicate that the Urim and Thummin had magical power in themselves, but only that God used these items as a vehicle of his truth).(F18)

“It is impossible to know what the Urim and Thummin looked like, but there is little doubt that they were used as sacred lots to determine the divine will in some way.”(F19) Esses’ opinion that, “They were eight-sided (octahedral) stones in which semi-precious stones were set,”(F20) is evidently a Jewish tradition, but without proof. “They could apparently give only yes or no answers.”(F21) Honeycutt based his conclusion upon 1 Samuel 14:38 ff. Their use in Israel declined, and there is no instance of their use after the times of David.(F22) Even the meaning of these two enigmatic words is lost. The Septuagint (LXX) rendered them as the equivalent of “Manifestation and Truth”; the Vulgate translates it as the equivalent of “Doctrine and Truth”; and “Lights and Perfections” is another learned guess. However, “The truth seems to be that no theory on the subject can be more than a theory, quite arbitrary and conjectural. Neither Scripture nor tradition furnishes any hint on the matter.”(F23)

Despite the near unanimous opinion of scholars that the Urim and Thummin were actually objects of some kind, the following quotation from John Newton in the 18th century must be viewed as having some merit:

“They were something in Aaron’s breastplate, but what, critics and commentators are by no means agreed. It is most probable that they were only names given to signify the clearness and certainty of Divine answers which were obtained by the High Priest consulting God with his breastplate on, in contradistinction to the obscure, enigmatical, uncertain, and imperfect answers of the heathen oracles.”(F24)

Verses 31-35


“And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue. And it shall have a hole for the head in the midst thereof: it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of a coat of mail, that it be not rent. And upon the skirts of it make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before Jehovah, and when he cometh out, that he die not.”

One of the significant things here is the fact of this robe being a seamless robe, in that characteristic resembling the one Jesus wore to the Cross, and upon which the soldiers cast lots for his vesture. Keil described it thus:

“In order that the robe might not be torn when it was put on, the opening of the head was to be made with a strong hem, which was to be of weavers’ work; from which it follows as a matter of course that the robe was woven in one piece, and not made in several pieces and then sewed together.”(F25)

Josephus also adds the information that this seamless robe had no sleeves, only arm-holes, and thus it must have resembled the “panchos that one sees in Mexico and Central America (except for the arm-holes). We agree with the thought advanced by Fields: “This pullover robe of one piece reminds us of Christ’s seamless robe. John 19:23 seems almost an indirect reference to Christ’s High Priestly office.”(F26)

The seamless robe of the High Priest also had another connection with the sacred drama of the crucifixion. In Mark 14:61, where is recorded the question of Caiaphas: “Art thou the Christ the Son of the Blessed? Jesus amswered, I AM, and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!” It is then recorded that, “The High Priest rent his clothes!” (Mark 14:63). This was an unlawful and capital offense on the part of Caiaphas. God had specifically commanded even the sons of Aaron, “Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes, lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people” (Leviticus 10:6). This tearing of his High Priestly garments by Caiaphas has been understood as typifying “the rending of the priesthood from himself and from the Jewish nation.”(F27)

“Golden bells… pomegranates” Perhaps it is best to understand this in the sense of extravagantly beautiful decorations. There is practically no certain information either as to their number or their symbolism. Rawlinson cited three different schools of thought regarding how many there were: “According to some, there were 12 only; according to others 72; according to a third school 365!”(F28) The same confusion exists with regard to what the bells and the pomegranates symbolized.

Verses 36-39


“And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLY TO JEHOVAH. And thou shalt put it on a lace of blue, and it shall be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon the forehead, that they may be accepted before Jehovah. And thou shalt weave the coat in checker work of fine linen, and thou shalt make a mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make a girdle, the work of the embroiderer.”

“And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold” “The word for plate here literally means petal of a flower, which seems to have been the figure (shape) of this burnished plate of gold.”(F29)

“HOLY TO JEHOVAH” We agree with Fields that the King James Version of this expression is superior. “[~QODESH], the Hebrew word for “HOLY” is a noun; and despite the fact that it is sometimes used as an adjective, the use of it here without a noun closely preceding it, indicates that it should be taken as a noun, HOLINESS.”(F30) It should therefore read, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD, or HOLINESS UNTO JEHOVAH (YAHWEH). The measure of the distance by which the Church of God has surpassed this conception of HOLINESS is evident in Zechariah’s great passage:

“In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLY UNTO JEHOVAH; and the pots in Jehovah’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar (Zechariah 14:20).”

God’s redeemed people in the New Israel would be accounted HOLY UNTO JEHOVAH without any of the symbolism so richly evident in this great chapter.

“And Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things” Aaron’s bearing the iniquity of the holy things given by the people is a manner of saying that Aaron would bear the iniquity of Israel; and this is a symbol of Him who bore our sins in his own body on the tree! “This was prophetic of our Lord’s taking on him the iniquity of us all’“ (Isaiah 53:6).(F31)

The shape of the mitre is not given here, but Josephus’ description of the head-dress of the ordinary priests states that, “they were not conical of form, nor did they cover the whole head.”(F32) From this, it has been assumed that the mitre of the High Priest was conical and that it covered the whole head except for the face.

“The girdle” This was also called a sash and was to be made of fine embroidered needle work. “According to the Talmud, the sash was wrapped around the coat and was forty-eight feet long!”(F33)

“The coat” also mentioned here was not described except in the general requirement that it should be of “checker work.” Josephus described it as an inner garment worn close to the body, with sleeves tied close to the arms, and covering practically all the body. “It was embroidered with flowers of scarlet, purple, and blue, and hung loosely down to the ankles and was tied about the waist.”(F34)

Verses 40-43


“And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and head-tires shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and upon his sons with him, and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they minister unto me in the priest’s office. And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover the flesh of their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: and they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they go in unto the tent of meeting, or when they come near to the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute forever unto him and unto his seed after him.”

This is a very brief mention of the holy garments that distinguished the lesser priests, leaving other details to be added later. The purpose of the breeches was to “prevent the exposure of their private parts,”(F35) which, to us, might seem an unnecessary precaution; “But ritual nakedness, especially for priests, was a feature of some ancient pagan religions; it was to be quite otherwise in Israel.”(F36)

The religion authorized by God was designed in such a manner that no essential element of it in any way manifested any similarity to the pagan religions of antiquity. And another distinguishing feature of the priesthood here initiated by Almighty God was the clothing of its priests in white, contrasting magnificently with the black-robed priests of paganism. This is not always apparent in the Scriptures, because the word “linen” as used here actually means white linen. This may be seen in kinds of cloth designated as acceptable gifts for the building of the tabernacle: blue, and purple, and scarlet, and linen. “The Hebrew word for linen in this passage is a name applied to it from its whiteness.”(F37) As F. C. Cook noted:

“The dress of white linen was the strictly sacerdotal dress common to the whole body of priests (Ezekiel 44:17-18). The linen suit which the High Priest put on when he went into the Holy of Holies was wholly of white linen, even including the girdle.”(F38)

Not even the high priest could wear the beautifully colored and decorated garments of his full dress regalia when he went into the Holy of Holies, but he was instructed to wear the white linen coat and white linen breeches and the white linen sash (Leviticus 16:4; Leviticus 16:23). As Esses expressed it, “When the high priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he had to wear a simple linen garment without seams, a garment of the type Jesus wore when he went to the cross as our sacrifice.”(F39) White was therefore the requirement for the entire priesthood. In this connection, Zephaniah prophesied that Jehovah would “cut off the name of the Chemarin with the priests” (Zephaniah 1:4); and “[~Chemarin] is the usual Aramaic word for priest, which comes from a root whose meaning is `to be black.’“(F40) “[~Chemarin] means black-robed and is applied to idolatrous priests in 2 Kings 23:5 and Hosea 10:5.”(F41) In view of this, what a stupendous blunder is that of the historic church which, when reverting to the Mosaic conception of a separation between clergy and laity, dressed their priests in the black robes of the ancient paganism!

“A statute forever” This is a record of the divine establishment of the Aaronic priesthood, later expanded somewhat to include the Levites generally.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 28". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-28.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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