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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-43


The abrupt termination of the directions for the tabernacle at the close of the preceding chapter is remarkable; especially as the subject is taken up again at chapter 30. There must be some reason why the intervening chapters are occupied with the priesthood.

Some see in this the symbolism of a deep fact. God has in grace come out from His throne in the Holy of Holies through the way He has prepared for Himself in the table of shewbread and the candlestick, to meet man in his sin at the brazen altar. And now man is to be brought back through the way God has Himself come, to the place of communion with Him before His throne. The priesthood is necessary for this, and before the way is itself shown the arrangements for the priesthood are completed.

As soon we reach the altar, in other words, we feel the need of the priest (which means mediator or advocate), who is to officiate thereat.

From God he comes to man, authorized to invite man to return to God with penitence, confession and faith, and to make for him the propitiatory sacrifice to that end.

The garments of the priests as well as the details of their consecration are specified in this and the next chapter, because they are symbolical of the their standing and office before God, as well as types of Him of whom Aaron and the Aaronic priesthood are the shadows. (See Hebrews, particularly chapters 5-10.) What family is chosen for the priesthood (Exodus 28:1 )? What provision has God made for the preparation of their clothing (Exodus 28:3 )? What are the number and names of the garments (Exodus 28:4 )? Notice the correspondence of color and texture of material to those of the inner curtains already named (Exodus 28:5 ). It will be seen later that three of these garments are peculiar to the high priest the first three, and that he wears the rest in common with the other priests. There is this further exception, however, that whereas he dons a mitre, they only have bonnets or turbans (Exodus 28:40 ). It might be advisable to say here that while the high priest typifies Christ, the priests, his sons, typify believers on Christ, or the church.

THE EPHOD (Exodus 28:6-12 )

The ephod was a shoulder-piece covering the back and reaching under the arms, kept in place by the two shoulder straps (Exodus 28:7 ) and the belt around the waist (Exodus 28:8 ), leaving the breast uncovered. The gold was beaten into thin pieces, cut into wire and interwoven with colored threads.

What two precious stones belonged to the ephod? What was engraved on them? How were they set? Where were they placed, and why (Exodus 28:9-12 )

These indicate that God was to have Israel in perpetual remembrance through the mediation and representation of the high priest. The shoulder, moreover, is symbolical of power, so that the high priest thus arrayed became a beautiful suggestion of Him whose everlasting arms are underneath His people (Deuteronomy 33:27 ). This ephod was the uppermost garment and worn outside the blue robe whose description follows.

THE BREASTPLATE (Exodus 28:13-30 )

What name is given to the breastplate (Exodus 28:15 )? Its shape and size (Exodus 28:16 )? What precious stones should it contain (Exodus 28:17-20 )? What graving upon them (Exodus 28:21 ) What was the significance of this latter (Exodus 28:29 )? This “breastplate of judgment” represents the high priest as the spokesman of God, at the same time that he is the affectionate intercessor for Israel for each tribe and each member of it.

URIM AND THUMMIN (Exodus 28:30 )

Urim and Thummin are thought to be the sum of the twelve precious stones attached to the breastplate. That is, the twelve stones are Urim and Thummin, which means “the lights and the perfections.” Lights as to their brilliancy, and perfections as to their hardness and absence from flaws.

They represent the light and the right that are in the high priest for the enlightenment and reconciliation of those who come unto God by him. He exercises the functions of teaching and sacrificing in their behalf, as the type of the great High Priest.

The import of Urim and Thummin dawned on the Israelite as he saw the high priest making an offering on the altar for the sins of the people, thus rendering them imputatively perfect, and then returning oracular answers from God out of the Most Holy place to the reverent inquirer.

We have no ground for supposing that God conveyed verbal messages to the high priests by illuminating any letters on the stones, as some have fancied. In other words there is nothing concealed nor mystical about this transaction after the manner of the heathen temples and priesthoods, nor anything in the nature of a charm as in an amulet. God indicated the light and the perfection which He vouchsafed to His people by means of these stones, but that light and perfection did not reside in the stones in any way.

THE ROBE (Exodus 28:31-36 )

How does Exodus 28:31 show that this robe belong to the ephod in some way? What shows it to have been entirely woven, and without seam (Exodus 28:32 )? Habergeon means a coat of mail. How was the base to be trimmed (Exodus 28:33-34 )? The significance of this (Exodus 28:35 )?

It would appear from the last words of this verse that the wearing of this robe on the part of the high priest while ministering, was necessary to insure him from death. It becomes therefore a type of that robe of Christ’s righteousness which is the only security of eternal life for human kind (Isaiah 61:10 ). The sound of the bells testified that “the mail of proof had been put on, and the dread of death removed.” It must have been a constant source of comfort and encouragement to the high priest as he stood alone in the Holy of Holies in the presence of the awful glory of Jehovah. Every slightest movement he made brought the assurance from the bells that all was well.

THE CROWN (Exodus 28:36-38 )

More is revealed about the plate on the mitre (or turban) than the mitre itself. What is this place called in 39:30? By the names on the precious stones the high priest is shown to be the representative of the people, and by what in this case is he shown to be the representative of God? For what does this holiness thus qualify him (Exodus 28:38 )?

The ephod, the breastplate, and the golden crown combined present us symbolically with the three-fold office of our great High Priest, Jesus

Christ. In the ephod the priestly office is obvious, in the breastplate the prophetic comes into the view, and in the crown the kingly makes its appearance, although the priestly discloses and maintains itself throughout.

THE COMMON GARMENTS (Exodus 28:39-43 )

In these verses we have directions for the garments common to all the priests including the high priest.

The coat was to be woven in checker work as intimated in the Revised Version. It seems to have been provided with sleeves and to have reached to the feet. The mitre, or turban, was of the same material, and was wrapped around the head. The girdle was wound twice around the body it is said, and tied in front with the end hanging down to the feet. Note the difference between this girdle going around the waist and holding the coat in place, and the “curious” or cunningly-woven girdle of Exodus 28:8 , which fastened the ephod. Notice also that the head-gear of the priests is not called a “mitre” but a “bonnet,” evidently different somewhat in shape and appearance. The linen breeches are described in Exodus 28:42-43 . They do not seem to have belonged to the official dress of the priests, but to have been prescribed for the sake of propriety in other respects.


1. Why may chapters 28 and 29 be a parenthesis in the revelation of the Tabernacle?

2. What New Testament book discusses the typical character of the priesthood?

3. What typical distinction seems to exist between the common priests and the high priest?

4. What may be the significance of Urim and Thummin?

5. What did the robe and the bells signify?


In the last lesson attention was called to the phrase at the head of this lesson found in 28:38. The significance of the expression, both for Israel and for Christians, and the prevailing ignorance on the subject of which it treats, is the justification for a special lesson in the way of an addendum to it.

William R. Nicholson, D.D., bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church, suggests that “the iniquity of the holy things” is only part of a sentence, their connection being that Aaron the high priest should bear the iniquity of the holy things. Of course, the bearing of this iniquity means the atoning for it.

But we are startled by the repellency of the idea. How strange to hear of the iniquity of what is holy!

The “holy things” are described in the context as the sacrifices and offerings of Israel. Whatever they presented to God in worship were holy in the sense that they were consecrated to and appointed by Him. And yet these things themselves had iniquity. When the worshipper brought his bleeding victim as an offering for his sins his very act of bringing it had in it additional sin which required to be atoned for.

And the truth with regard to Israel is the same with us. We were by nature children of wrath, and now, although as believers on our Lord Jesus Christ we are regenerated by His Spirit, still in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7:18 ; Romans 8:7 ). In consequence, we entail our sin upon whatever we attempt. We worship God, even in the way He appointed, and yet the sin in us imparts to that worship the imperfection of its sinfulness and therefore the sin of imperfection. We pray, and our act of prayer has iniquity in it. We sing God’s praises, we read His Word, we come into His house, we kneel at the sacrament and at each and all there is sin, for they have the imperfection and defilement of our sinfulness. Indeed, we trust in Jesus for the pardon of our sins as the Israelite brought his bleeding victim to the altar, and yet the very act of trust is sinfully done and needs the divine pardon.

God’s People Are Meant

Notice that “the iniquity of the holy things” was affirmed of Israel, the type of the true people of God, and not unregenerate men.

When they assembled at the Tabernacle they did so as the redeemed of God. The blood of the paschal lamb had been sprinkled upon their houses in Egypt. Sheltered beneath it from the curse which had devastated that land, they had gone forth from its bondage and terror, and were now brought nigh to God in His own house of communion. They were even supplied by His hand with all holy gifts which they were now permitted to offer to Him.

They represent, therefore, true believers in Jesus Christ, delivered out of the world, and having received through His blood the forgiveness of sin, made nigh to God in the privilege of worship and the joy of fellowship.

There is therefore iniquity in our holy things. In every act of our worship there are imperfection and defilement, because there is present in that act the old evil nature along with the new. We need therefore to be forgiven for every duty we perform, for every sorrow for sin we feel, for every hope we cherish, and for all the love we enjoy. Bishop Beveridge said:

I cannot pray but I sin; I cannot hear or preach a sermon but I sin; I cannot give alms or receive the sacrament but I sin; no, I cannot so much as confess my sins but my very confessions are still aggravations of them; my repentance needs to be repented of; my tears want washing; and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer.

The Proof

That the meaning of these words is not exaggerated may be seen in that the same truth is taught again in Leviticus 16:0 , where we meet with a description of the annual Day of Atonement.

In the present text the high priest is directed to bear the iniquity of the holy things, but in that chapter he is represented as actually bearing them. He is attired in his holy garments, his forehead glittering with “Holiness to the Lord,” and actually sprinkling the blood of sacrifice to cleanse the uncleanness of the worshipers, to make atonement for the holy sanctuary itself, for the altar on which the sacrifices are offered (for these things were polluted by the very presence of sinners), for the priests who offered the sacrifices, and for all the people accustomed there to worship.

Once a year regularly and solemnly the great truth of this text was recognized and enforced. Every day in the year, to say nothing of extra sessions, the blood of atonement was offered for pardon and acceptance, but the acts of offering had iniquity in them and needed themselves to be specifically sprinkled with the atoning blood. This was done on this annual day, the greatest of all the occasions of expiation.

Moreover, the New Testament is full of this teaching of the iniquity of our holy things. It speaks to us concerning it in those words of Paul throughout the seventh chapter of Romans, and in his words to the Philippians where he speaks of discarding his own righteousness, even that which belonged to him as a Christian (Philippians 3:1-15 ). Indeed, it speaks to us in all that is said in the New Testament concerning the sanctification which comes to believers through faith in the blood of Christ.

A Three-Fold Application

The application of this truth is wide-reaching.

In the first place, it enhances our appreciation of our Savior and the value of His merits for us. It helps us to see how deeply we need Him, and how great is the sovereign mercy and the boundless grace of God towards us in Him. The high priest in the tabernacle typifies Him, and the service he rendered for Israel, even in the iniquity of their holy things, typifies the service Christ has rendered and is rendering for us in a like case. For if there is iniquity in our holy things, thank God there is also atonement for it accomplished, and full, and of instant efficacy (1 John 2:1-2 )!

In the second place, it opens our eyes and broadens our vision as to the relative meanings of sin and holiness. In the light of this text, what Christian can question much less deny the application to him at all times of the words of the apostle John: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 )? Who can talk about sinless perfection in the light of this truth? And how professions of the eradication of evil shrink into worthlessness, and themselves become sin in its shadow! So deeply indeed is the truth of this text imbedded, as a living principle, in the experience of true and enlightened Christians, that the more devoted they are the more it is felt.

It is indeed a test of our nearness to God to have a Christian conscience so cultivated as to appreciate our daily and hourly need, and at the same time our daily and hourly completeness only in Christ. This is the way to feast upon Him richly. If our faith, considered as an act, does itself require to have blood sprinkled upon it, then as we appreciate that fact shall our faith itself sink down more and more upon Christ for all that He is to us, and rest upon Him with the very rest of heaven.

In the third place, it furnishes a momentous warning to the unbeliever and the unregenerate man. If there is no such thing as a Christian’s self- righteousness, if there is no such thing as a Christian’s purchasing to himself the divine favor even by such life-long goodness as that of Paul, how impossible must all this be to the man who has not received Christ at all! If no Christian who is himself personally accepted in Christ can put forth one act which does not need forgiveness, what can he do to commend himself to God who is unwashed in redeeming blood, and on whom even now abideth His condemnation?

With regard to any dependence on one’s own righteousness it becomes us all, Christian or non-Christian, to say with the patriarch Job, “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean, yet shalt Thou plunge me into the ditch, and mine own clothes shall make me to be abhorred!”

“The iniquity of the holy things!” What Jesus is, and that alone, Is faith’s delightful plea; Which never deals with sinful self Nor righteous self in me.


1. Where is the phrase used in the title of this lesson found?

2. Of whom is this iniquity affirmed, the world’s people or God’s people?

3. On what great day in Israel was this solemnly enforced?

4. What New Testament Scripture shows that there is atonement in Christ for such iniquity?

5. What erroneous doctrine does this truth contradict?

6. To whom is it a solemn warning?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 28". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/exodus-28.html. 1897-1910.
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