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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Exodus 28

Verses 1-43

(Compare Exodus 39:1-31.) Moses is now commanded to commit all that pertains to the offerings made to the Lord in the sanctuary to the exclusive charge of the members of a single family, who were to hold their office from generation to generation. In the patriarchal times, the external rites of worship had generally been conducted by the head of the tribe or family, in accordance with the principle involved in the dedication of the firstborn Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:12-13. Moses, as the divinely-appointed and acknowledged leader of the nation, had, on a special occasion, appointed those who were to offer sacrifice, and had himself sprinkled the consecrating blood of the victims on the people Exodus 24:5-6, Exodus 24:8. On the completion of the tabernacle, after Aaron and his sons had been called to the priesthood, he took chief part in the daily service of the sanctuary Exodus 40:23-29, Exodus 40:31-32 until the consecration of the family of Aaron, on which occasion he appears to have exercised the priest’s office for the last time (Leviticus 8:14-29; compare Exodus 29:10-26). The setting apart of the whole tribe of Levi for the entire cycle of religious services is mentioned Numbers 3:5-13; Numbers 8:5-26; Numbers 18:1-32.

Exodus 28:1

Nadab and Abihu, the two older sons of Aaron, had accompanied their father and the seventy Elders when they went a part of the way with Moses up the mountain Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:9. Soon after their consecration they were destroyed for offering “strange fire before the Lord” Leviticus 10:1-2. Eleazar and Ithamar are here mentioned for the first time, except in the genealogy, Exodus 6:23. Eleazar succeeded his father in the High priesthood, and was himself succeeded by his son Phinehas Judges 20:28. But Eli, the next high priest named in the history, was of the line of Ithamar. The representatives of both families held office at the same time in the days of David. See 1 Chronicles 24:1-3; 2 Samuel 8:17.

Exodus 28:3

The spirit of wisdom - See Exodus 31:3 note. What may be especially noticed in this place is, that the spirit of wisdom given by the Lord is spoken of as conferring practical skill in the most general sense.

Garments to consecrate him - A solemn recognition of the significance of an appointed official dress. It expresses that the office is not created or defined by the man himself Hebrews 5:4, but that he is invested with it according to prescribed institution. The rite of anointing was essentially connected with investiture in the holy garments Exodus 29:29-30; Exodus 40:12-15. The history of all nations shows the importance of these forms.

Exodus 28:5

With the exception of the gold, the materials were the same as those of the tabernacle-cloth, the veil of the tabernacle and the entrance-curtain of the tent Exodus 26:1, Exodus 26:31, Exodus 26:36; Exodus 25:4. The gold was made into thin flat wires which could either be woven with the woolen and linen threads, or worked with the needle. In regard to the mixture of linen and woollen threads in the High priest’s dress, see Leviticus 19:19.

Exodus 28:6-12

The ephod - Exodus 39:2-7. The Hebrew word has the same breadth of meaning as our word vestment. The garment was worn over the shoulders, and was the distinctive vestment of the High priest, to which “the breast-plate of judgment” was attached Exodus 28:25-28.

Cunninq work - Skilled work, or work of a skilled man Exodus 35:35.

Exodus 28:7

Compare Exodus 39:4. The ephod consisted of two principal pieces of cloth, one for the back and the other for the front, joined together by shoulder straps (see Exodus 28:27 note). Below the arms, probably just above the hips, the two pieces were kept in place by a band attached to one of the pieces. On the respect in which the ephod of the High priest was held, see 1 Samuel 2:28; 1Sa 14:3; 1 Samuel 21:9; 1 Samuel 23:6-9; 1 Samuel 30:7. But an ephod made of linen appears to have been a recognized garment not only for the common priests 1 Samuel 22:18, but also for those who were even temporarily engaged in the service of the sanctuary 1 Samuel 2:18; 2Sa 6:14; 1 Chronicles 15:27.

Exodus 28:8

The curious girdle ... - Rather: the band for fastening it, which is upon it, shall be of the same work, of one piece with it. This band being woven on to one of the pieces of the ephod, was passed round the body, and fastened by buttons, or strings, or some other suitable contrivance.

Exodus 28:11

Like the engravings of a signet - Compare Exodus 28:21, Exodus 28:36. These words probably refer to a special way of shaping the letters, adapted for engraving on a hard substance. Seal engraving on precious stones was practiced in Egypt from very remote times.

Ouches of gold - Gold settings formed not of solid pieces of metal, but of woven wire, wreathed round the stones in what is called cloisonnee work, a sort of filigree, often found in Egyptian ornaments. These stones, as well as those on the breastplate, were perhaps in the form of ovals, or rather ellipses, like the cartouches, containing proper names, in hieroglyphic inscriptions. The word “ouches” is used by Shakespeare, Spenser, and some of their contemporaries in the general sense of “jewels.”

Exodus 28:12

Upon the shoulders - i. e. upon the shoulder pieces of the ephod. See Exodus 28:7.

Upon his two shoulders - Compare Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 22:22. The high priest had to represent the Twelve tribes in the presence of Yahweh; and the burden of his office could not be so aptly symbolized anywhere as on his shoulders, the parts of the body fittest for carrying burdens.

Verse 13-30

Compare Exodus 39:8-21.

Exodus 28:14

Rather, two chains of pure gold shalt thou make of wreathen work, twisted like cords. They were more like cords of twisted gold wire than chains in the ordinary sense of the word. Such chains have been found in Egyptian tombs.

Exodus 28:15

The breastplate of judgment - The meaning of the Hebrew word rendered “breastplate,” appears to be simply “ornament”. The term breastplate relates merely to its place in the dress.

Exodus 28:16

Doubled - To give it stability, or to form what was used as a bag for the Urim and Thummim: the latter appears to be the more likely.

Exodus 28:17

Settings - Ouches of “cloisonnec” work, like those mentioned in Exodus 28:11.

A sardius - i. e. “the red stone.” The Sardian stone, or sard, was much used by the ancients for seals; and it is perhaps the stone of all others the best for engraving.

Topaz - Not the stone now called the topaz: it may have been the chrysolite, a stone of a greenish hue.

A carbuncle - More probably the beryl, which is a kind of emerald.

Exodus 28:18

An emerald - Rather the garnet, which when cut with a convex face is termed the carbuncle.

A sapphire - Not the stone now called the sapphire; the lapis-lazuli is most probably meant.

A diamond - There is no trace of evidence that the ancients ever acquired the skill to engrave on the diamond, or even that they were acquainted with the stone. The “diamond” here may possibly be some variety of chalcedony, or (perhaps) rock crystal.

Exodus 28:19

A ligure - Amber, which came from Liguria.

Exodus 28:20

A beryl - Supposed to be a brilliant yellow stone, identified with what is now nown as the Spanish topaz.

A jasper - Probably the green jasper.

Exodus 28:22

Chains ... - See Exodus 28:14.

Exodus 28:23

On the two ends of the breastplate - The extremities spoken of here, and in the next verse, must have been the upper corners of the square. The chains attached to them Exodus 28:25 suspended the breastplate from the ouches of the shoulder pieces Exodus 28:9, Exodus 28:11-12.

Exodus 28:27

“And two rings of gold shalt thou make and put them on the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, low down in the front of it, near the joining, above the band for fastening it.” It would seem that the shoulder pieces were continued down the front of the ephod as far as the band (see Exodus 28:8); the joining appears to have been the meeting of the extremities of the shoulder pieces with the band. These rings were attached to the shoulder pieces just above this joining.

Exodus 28:28

The curious girdle of the ephod - The band for fastening it (see Exodus 28:8 note).

Exodus 28:29

See Exodus 28:12; the same names engraved on the stones of the breastplate were worn over the heart, the seat of the affections, as well as of the intellect, to symbolize the relation of love and of personal interest which the Lord requires to exist between the priest and the people.

Exodus 28:30

The Urim and the Thummim - “The Light and the Truth, or perfection.”

From the way in which they are spoken of here and in Leviticus 8:8, compared with Exodus 28:15-21, it would appear that the Urim and the Thummim were some material things, previously existing and familiarly known, that they were separate from the breastplate itself, as well as from the gems that were set upon it, and were kept in the bag of the breastplate Exodus 28:16.

By means of them the will of Yahweh, especially in what related to the wars in which His people were engaged, was made known. They were formally delivered by Moses to Aaron Leviticus 8:8, and subsequently passed on to Eleazar Numbers 20:28; Numbers 27:21. They were esteemed as the crowning glory of the tribe of Levi Deuteronomy 33:8. There is no instance on record of their being consulted after the time of David.

The opinion has prevailed to a great extent that the Urim and the Thummim were of Egyptian origin, and two small images of precious stone, and that the divine will was manifested through them by some physical effect addressed to the eye or the ear.

Others prefer the view that they were some means for casting lots. Appeals to lots were made under divine authority by the chosen people on the most solemn occasions Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 26:55; Joshua 7:14-18; Joshua 13:6; Jos 18:8; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; Acts 1:26, and it must have been a truth commonly recognized by the people that though “the lot was cast into the lap, the whole disposing thereof was of the Lord” Proverbs 16:33.

Exodus 28:31-35

The robe of the ephod - Exodus 39:22-26. A frock or robe of the simplest form, woven without seam, wholly of blue. It was put on by being drawn over the head. It appears to have had no sleeves. It probably reached a little below the knees. It must have been visible above and below the ephod, the variegated texture of which it must have set off as a plain blue groundwork.

Exodus 28:32

An habergeon - Corselets of linen, such as appear to be here referred to, were well known amongst the Egyptians.

Exodus 28:35

His sound - Its sound, i. e. the sound of the robe, that the people, who stood without, when they heard the sound of the bells within the tabernacle, might have a sensible proof that the high priest was performing the sacred rite in their behalf, though he was out of their sight.

That he die not - The bells also bore witness that the high priest was, at the time of his ministration, duly attired in the dress of his office, and so was not incurring the sentence of death (see also Exodus 28:43). An infraction of the laws for the service of the sanctuary was not merely an act of disobedience; it was a direct insult to the presence of Yahweh from His ordained minister, and justly incurred a sentence of capital punishment. Compare Exodus 30:21; Leviticus 8:35; Leviticus 10:7.

Exodus 28:36-43

Compare Exodus 39:27-31.

Exodus 28:36

Holiness to the Lord - This inscription testified in express words the holiness with which the high priest was invested in virtue of his sacred calling.

Exodus 28:37

A blue lace - The plate was fastened upon a blue band or fillet, so tied round the mitre as to show the plate in front.

The mitre - A twisted band of linen Exodus 28:39 coiled into a cap, to which the name mitre, in its original sense, closely answers, but which, in modern usage, would rather be called a turban.

Exodus 28:38

Bear the iniquity of the holy things - The Hebrew expression “to bear iniquity” is applied either to one who suffers the penalty of sin (Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 5:1, Leviticus 5:17; Leviticus 17:16; Leviticus 26:41, etc.), or to one who takes away the sin of others (Genesis 50:17; Leviticus 10:17; Leviticus 16:22; Numbers 30:15; 1 Samuel 15:25, etc.). In several of these passages, the verb is rightly rendered to forgive. The iniquity which is spoken of in this place does not mean particular sins actually committed, but that condition of alienation from God in every earthly thing which makes reconciliation and consecration needful. Compare Numbers 18:1. It belonged to the high priest, as the chief atoning mediator between Yahweh and His people (see the note at Exodus 28:36), to atone for the holy things that they might be “accepted before the Lord” (compare Leviticus 8:15, note; Leviticus 16:20, Leviticus 16:33, note): but the common priests also, in their proper functions, had to take their part in making atonement (Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 5:10; Leviticus 10:17; Leviticus 22:16; Numbers 18:23, etc.).

Exodus 28:39

The coat of fine linen - A long tunic, or cassock. Josephus says that it was worn next the skin, that it reached to the feet, and that it had closely fitting sleeves. The verb translated “embroider” appears rather to mean weave in diaper work. The tissue consisted of threads of one and the same color diapered in checkers, or in some small figure.

The girdle of needlework - The girdle of the work of the embroiderer Exodus 26:1; Exodus 35:35. The word translated “girdle” is different from that so rendered in Exodus 28:8 (see the note), and is probably Egyptian. Josephus says that it was wound several times round the body, and that its ends ordinarily hung down to the feet, but were thrown over the shoulder when the priest was engaged in his work.

Exodus 28:40

Bonnets - Caps of a simple construction which seem to have been cup-shaped.

Exodus 28:41-43

The dress of white linen was the strictly sacerdotal dress common to the whole body of priests Ezekiel 44:17-18. “These were for glory and for beauty” not less than “the golden garments” (as they were called by the Jews) which formed the high priest’s dress of state Exodus 28:2. The linen suit which the high priest put on when he went into the most holy place on the day of atonement, appears to have been regarded with unique respect (Compare Exodus 31:10; Leviticus 16:4, Leviticus 16:23), though it is nowhere stated that it was distinguished in its make or texture, except in having a girdle Exodus 28:39 wholly of white linen, instead of a variegated one. The ancient Egyptian priests, like the Hebrew priests, wore nothing but white linen garments in the performance of their duties.

Exodus 28:43

That they bear not iniquity and die - See Exodus 28:35, note; Exodus 28:38 note.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Exodus 28". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/exodus-28.html. 1870.