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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 28

Verse 1

And take thou 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.

Take thou ... Aaron thy brother. Moses had hitherto discharged the priestly functions (Psalms 99:6), and he evinced the piety as well as humility of his character in readily complying with the command to invest his brother with the sacred office, though it involved the perpetual exclusion of his own family. The appointment was a special act of God's sovereignty; so that there could be no ground for popular umbrage by the selection of Aaron's family, with whom the office was inalienably established, and continued in unbroken succession until the introduction of the Christian era.

Verses 2-5

And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.

Holy garments [ bigdeey (H899) qodesh (H6944)] - garments of holiness [Septuagint, stoleen hagian]. Beged denotes the outer cloak of Orientals (Genesis 39:12-13, etc.; 1 Kings 22:10; 2 Chronicles 18:9). It is always applied to describe the official dress of the priests (Exodus 35:19; Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:10). No inherent holiness belonged either to the materials or the workmanship. But they are called "holy" simply because they were not worn on ordinary occasions, but assumed in the discharge of the sacred functions (Ezekiel 44:19).

For glory and for beauty. It was a grand and sumptuous attire. In material, elaborate embroidery, and colour, it had an imposing splendour. The tabernacle being adapted to the infantine age of the Church, it was right and necessary that the priest's garments should be of such superb and dazzling appearance that the people might be inspired with a due respect for the ministers as well as the rites of religion. But they had also a further meaning; for, being all made of linen, they were symbolical of the truth, purity, and other qualities in Christ that rendered Him such a high priest as became us.

Verses 6-14

And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work.

Ephod. It was a very gorgeous robe, made of byssus, curiously embroidered, and dyed with variegated colours, and further enriched with golden tissue, the threads of gold being either originally interwoven or afterward inserted by the embroiderer. It was short, reaching from the breast to a little below the loins; and though destitute of sleeves, retained its position by the support of straps thrown over each shoulder. These straps or braces, connecting the one with the back, the other with the front piece of which the tunic was composed, were united on the shoulder by two onyx stones, serving as buttons, and on which the names of the twelve tribes were engraved, and set in golden encasements. It was essential to all acts of divine worship; and none ever inquired of the Lord without it. The symbolical design of this was, that the high priest, who bore the names along with him in all his ministrations before the Lord, might be kept in remembrance of his duty to plead their cause, and supplicate the accomplishment of the divine promises in their favour. The ephod was fastened by a girdle of the same costly materials - i:e., dyed, embroidered, and worked with threads of gold. It was about a hand-breadth wide, and wound twice round the upper part of the waist: it fastened in front, the ends hanging down at great length (Revelation 1:13).

Verses 15-30

And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it. Breastplate of judgment, [ choshen (H2833)] - a very splendid and richly embroidered piece of brocade, of the same texture and workmanship as the ephod, a span square, and doubled, to enable it the better to bear the weight of the precious stones in it. There were twelve different stones, containing each the name of a tribe, and arranged in four rows, three in each. (cf. Psalms 133:1-3.) The Israelites had acquired a knowledge of the lapidary's art in Egypt; and the amount of their skill in cutting, polishing, and setting precious stones may be judged of by the diamond forming one of the engraved ornaments on this breastplate (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' 3:, 106: see the note at Exodus 35:33).

A ring was attached to each corner, through which the golden chains were passed to fasten this brilliant piece of jewellery at the top and bottom, tightly on the breast of the ephod. The precious stones enumerated here are the same as the apocalyptic seer has represented on the foundation walls of the celestial city (Revelation 21:19); and as the names of the twelve tribes were engraven upon the stones in the breastplate of the high priest, so the names of the twelve apostles are inscribed upon the constituent gems in the walls of the celestial city. This correspondence is of great significance, the idea intended to be represented by the symbol being the preciousness in the sight of God of His people; while the splendour betokens the reflected glory of the divine presence.

Verse 20. A beryl, [ tarshiysh (H8658); Septuagint, chrusolithos (G5555)]. So also Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 7:, sec. 5), the chrysolite.

Verse 21. The engravings of a signet. 'People in the East,' says Niebuhr ('Travels,' p. 90), 'usually write their names with letters interlacing each other in ciphers, in order that their signature may not be imitated. Those who cannot write cause their names to be written by others, and then stamp their name or their device with ink at the bottom of the paper, or on the back of it. But usually they have their name or their device engraven on a stone, which they wear on their finger' (cf. Genesis 38:18; Genesis 41:42). This usage was, in the opinion of many writers, borrowed from Egypt, purified, however, from the pagan accompaniments by which it was there associated; for conspicuous on the breastplate of the Egyptian priest was an idolatrous symbol, usually the winged scarahaeus, the emblem of the sun; but the substitution of the gems, inscribed with the names of their tribes, completely changed the character of that garment in the eyes of the Israelites.

Verse 30. Thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, [ 'et (H854) haa-'Uwriym (H224) wª'et (H853) ha-Tumiym (H8550)]. The words-judging from the usual acceptations of their roots and related forms-signify 'lights' and 'perfections;' and, in the opinion of Josephus, Brannius ('De Vest. Sacred Heb.'), Dathe, Bellermann, etc., nothing more is meant by them than the precious stones of the breastplate, already described, and the surpassing luster produced by the reflected radiance of so many gems.

Others think that these mysterious names denote the latent virtue or power communicated to the breastplate, at its consecration, of obtaining an oracular response from God. But as the words, "thou shalt put," are used (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 25:21) to intimate an outward act-namely, the depositing of the two tables in the ark-it may be inferred that they are used in the same sense here; and that this phraseology implies the insertion of some material ornament, additional to, and separable from, the breastplate. This view, which seems clearly supported by Leviticus 8:8, is that which is now generally adopted.

But opinions greatly differ regarding the origin of the practice and the import of the names. Spencer ('De Legg. Heb.,' tom. 2:, Dissert. 7:) maintains that they pointed to the teraphim, which, from their having been long used by the people in private for the purposes of divination, Moses resolved to eradicate; and accordingly, as the best way of putting an end to the superstition, embodied them in a cavity of the high priest's breastplate, in order that all inquiries in matters of doubt or difficulty should be publicly made to Yahweh alone. This view is founded on Hosea 3:4 and Jdg. 17:14 , where the teraphim are mentioned in conjunction with the ephod. But it is obviously untenable; because neither of these passages give the least countenance to the idea that the teraphim were, in accommodation to the gross conceptions of the Egyptianized Israelites, placed in the front of the ephod; and, besides, can it be supposed that He who declared Himself jealous of His honour would authorize or sanction the superaddition of an idolatrous image to the attire of His priest when equipped in full official costume for going into the sanctuary to ask an oracular response?'

Michaelis ('Commentary on the Laws of Moses,' art. ccciv.) and Jahn ('Introduction,' p. 370) see in the Urim and Thummim the institution of a sacred sortilege, which consisted in two stones engraven, one with [ keen (H3651)], Yes, the other [ lo' (H3808)] No; and that the answer to inquiries was made in some way through the medium of these.

The Jewish Rabbis generally held that the response was given by a miraculous blaze of light emanating in succession from every stone that contained the answer. Rejecting all these theories as the vagaries of fancy and learned conjecture, Gesenius, following the Septuagint translation [which renders the words deeloosin kai aleetheian], and Philo ('De vita Mosis'), after them, affirm that the words properly interpreted, mean Revelation and Truth, which were represented by two miniature images representing these allegorical characters; and Wilkinson ('Ancient Egypt,' 4:, pp. 27, 28), who supports this view as the right one, says, in the Egyptian courts the presiding judge put a golden chain round his neck, to which was appended a small sapphire figure of Truth, Thmei (Greek: themis), or in the double form of Truth and Justice-whence the Hebrew words are in the plural.

But though there is an apparent resemblance in some of these circumstances, there is no real ground for concluding that the Urim and Thummim was a derivative form from Egypt. It was not in a judicial character that Aaron wore this symbol, but in his priestly capacity, when, as mediator, he negotiated with God on behalf of those whose names he bore upon his breast. In fact, there is no foundation, either linguistic or Scriptural, for the prevalent notion that there was a close affinity between the Hebrew and the Egyptian emblems.

Thummim, as has been well remarked (see Bahr, 'Symbolik,' 2:, sec. 164), is a regular Hebrew form, grammatically unconnected with the Coptic Thmei. The Septuagint, in rendering Thummim into Greek, have departed from the letter of the Hebrew text, and confounded qualities which really differ. For the bearing of the Urim and Thummim qualified the high priest to consult the divine oracle-not as a civil judge, on matters of common and daily interest, but only on public and national emergencies, by going into the holy place, standing close before the veil, and putting his hand upon the Urim and Thummim, conveyed a petition from the people, and asked counsel of God, who, as the Sovereign of Israel, gave response from the midst of His glory. The words are in the plural (plu. majest.), and, by a Hendyadys, seem intended to denote the clearness and fullness of divine illumination.

'When the glorious properties of light and perfection had been ascribed emphatically to the Hebrew breastplate, by affixing to it the significant symbols of the Urim and Thummim, the high priest was made to bear the whole of "the oracular apparatus with him as "a memorial before the Lord." If, therefore, in accordance with some other texts of Scripture, the inserted symbols may be construed as uniting into one the highest moral qualities ascribable to God Himself, it is no idle fancy to conclude that Aaron, so adorned, and bearing on his heart the names of the children of Israel was to them a vivid image of the law of mediation (cf. Numbers 16:47-48), and to us a luminous shadow of "the Mediator between God and man," who having in the fullness of the times obtained a more excellent ministry, has gathered up into Himself the various functions of the mediatorial office,' (Hardwick, 'Christ and Other Masters,' vol. 2:, p. 336; Tomkins' 'Hulsean Lectures,' 1850, p. 80; Henderson 'On Inspiration,' pp. 13-124; Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' pp. 149-153; Witsius, 'AEgyptiaca;' Lightfoot's 'Works,' vol. 1:, p. 186, etc.)

Verse 31

And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue.

The robe of the ephod, [ mª`iyl (H4598)] - an exterior tunic, larger and fuller than the common one, worn by persons of rank and distinction (1 Samuel 18:4; 1 Samuel 24:5; 1 Samuel 24:12; 2 Samuel 13:18; Job 1:20; Job 2:12), and by priests (Ezra 9:3; Ezra 9:5), especially by the high priest (Exodus 28:31; Exodus 39:22). It was the middle garment, under the ephod and above the coat. It had a hole through which the head was thrust, and was formed carefully of one piece, such as was the coat of Christ (John 19:23). The high priest's was of a sky-blue colour. The binding of this corslet at the neck was strongly woven, and it terminated below in a fringe, made of blue, purple, and scarlet tassels, in the form of a ponegranate interspersed with small bells of gold, which tinkled as the wearer was in motion (see Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' p. 142).

Verses 32-33

And there shall be an hole in the top of it, in the midst thereof: it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of an habergeon, that it be not rent.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 34

A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.

A golden bell and a pomegranate. The bells were hung between the pomegranates, which are said to have amounted to 72, and the use of them seems to have been to announce to the people when the high priest entered the most holy place, that they might accompany him with their prayers, and also to remind himself to be attired in his official dress, to minister without which was death.

Verse 35

And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 36-39

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.

Plate - literally, petal of a flower, which seems to have been the figure of this burnished plate of gold, which was tied with a ribbon of blue on the front of the mitre, so that everyone facing him could read the inscription.

Mitre, [ mitsnaapet (H4701)] - a turban, a tiara; crown-like cap for the head, not covering the entire head, but adhering closely to it, composed of fine linen. The Scripture has not described its form; but from Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 7:, sec. 3) we may gather that it was conical in shape, as he distinguishes the mitres of the common priests by saying that they were not conical; that it was encircled with swathes of blue embroidered, and that it was covered by one piece of fine linen to hide the seams (Braun, 'De Vest. Sacerd. Heb.,' p. 624).

Verse 39. Coat of fine linen - a garment fastened at the neck, and reaching far down the person, with the sleeves terminating at the elbow (Braun, 'De Vest. Sacerd. Magni., 1:, p. 93; Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses, p. 145).

Girdle of needlework - a piece of fine twined linen, richly embroidered, and variously dyed. It is said to have been very long, and being many times wound round the body, it was fastened in front, and the ends hung down, which, being an impediment to a priest in active duty, were usually thrown across the shoulders. This was the outer garment of the common priests.

Verse 40

And for Aaron's sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty.

Bonnets - turbans.

Verse 41

And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office.

Thou ... shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, [ uwmilee'taa (H4390) 'et (H854) yaadaam (H3027)] - and fill their hands [Septuagint, empleeseis autoon tas cheiras]; in allusion to the ceremony of consecration, when the priest's hands were filled with a sample of sacrifices, (see the note at Exodus 29:9; Leviticus 8:1.)

And sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office. To discharge the functions of the priestly office was synonymous with ministering unto God. He was the special and exclusive object of those sacred acts. The priests, when they ministered unto God - i:e., when they performed sacrificial rites-drew near unto God; and all the ceremonial observances of religion bear more or less a specific reference to Him. This, then, is the difference between the ministers of the New and the priests of the Old Testament Church. The function of the former is to negotiate God's business with men, whereas that of the latter was to negotiate for men with God (Hebrews 5:1).

Verse 42

And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:

Linen breeches - drawers, which encompassed the loins, and reached haft-way down the thighs. They are seen very frequently represented in Egyptian figures.

Verse 43

And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him.

That they bear not iniquity, and die. To bear iniquity, 'is a common Scripture phrase, equivalent to suffer the punishment due to sin,' frequently coupled with the synonymous expressions of 'being cut off from the people,' and 'dying' (cf. Leviticus 19:8).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 28". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-28.html. 1871-8.