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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Exodus 28

Verses 1-5

(cf. Ex 39:1-31). Appointment and Clothing of the Priests. - Exodus 28:1, Exodus 28:5. “ Let Aaron thy brother draw near to thee from among the children of Israel, and his sons with him, that he may be a priest to Me.” Moses is distinguished from the people as the mediator of the covenant. Hence he was to cause Aaron and his sons to come to him, i.e., to separate them from the people, and install them as priests, or perpetual mediators between Jehovah and His people. The primary meaning of cohen, the priest, has been retained in the Arabic, where it signifies administrator alieni negotii , viz., to act as a mediator for a person, or as his plenipotentiary, from which it came to be employed chiefly in connection with priestly acts. Among the heathen Arabs it is used “ maxime de hariolis vatibusque; ” by the Hebrews it was mostly applied to the priests of Jehovah; and there are only a few placed in which it is used in connection with the higher officers of state, who stood next to the king, and acted as it were as mediators between the king and the nation (thus 2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 20:26; 1 Kings 4:5). For the duties of their office the priests were to receive “ holy garments for glory and for honour.” Before they could draw near to Jehovah the Holy One (Leviticus 11:45), it was necessary that their unholiness should be covered over with holy clothes, which were to be made by men endowed with wisdom, whom Jehovah had filled with the spirit of wisdom. “ Wise-hearted, ” i.e., gifted with understanding and judgment; the heart being regarded as the birth-place of the thoughts. In the Old Testament wisdom is constantly used for practical intelligence in the affairs of life; here, for example, it is equivalent to artistic skill surpassing man's natural ability, which is therefore described as being filled with the divine spirit of wisdom. These clothes were to be used “ to sanctify him (Aaron and his sons), that he might be a priest to Jehovah.” Sanctification, as the indispensable condition of priestly service, was not merely the removal of the uncleanness which flowed from sin, but, as it were, the transformation of the natural into the glory of the image of God. In this sense the holy clothing served the priest for glory and ornament. The different portions of the priest's state-dress mentioned in Exodus 28:4 are described more fully afterwards. For making them, the skilled artists were to take the gold, the hyacinth, etc. The definite article is sued before gold and the following words, because the particular materials, which would be presented by the people, are here referred to.

Verses 6-14

The first part mentioned of Aaron's holy dress, i.e., of the official dress of the high priest, is the ephod. The etymology of this word is uncertain; the Sept. rendering is ἐπωμίς ( Vulg. superhumerale , shoulder-dress; Luther, “body-coat”). It was to be made of gold, hyacinth, etc., artistically woven, - of the same material, therefore, as the inner drapery and curtain of the tabernacle; but instead of having the figures of cherubim woven into it, it was to be worked throughout with gold, i.e., with gold thread. According to Exodus 39:3, the gold plates used for the purpose were beaten out, and then threads were cut (from them), to be worked into the hyacinth, purple, scarlet, and byssus. It follows from this, that gold threads were taken for every one of these four yearns, and woven with them.

“Two connecting shoulder-pieces shall it have for its two ends, that it may be bound together.” If we compare the statement in Exodus 39:4, - “shoulder-pieces they made for it, connecting; at its two ends was it connected,” - there can hardly be any doubt that the ephod consisted of two pieces, which were connected together at the top upon (over) the shoulders; and that Knobel is wrong in supposing that it consisted of a single piece, with a hole cut on each side for the arms to be put through. If it had been a compact garment, which had to be drawn over the head like the robe (Exodus 28:31, Exodus 28:32), the opening for the head would certainly have been mentioned, as it is in the case of the latter (Exodus 28:32). The words of the text point most decidedly to the rabbinical idea, that it consisted of two pieces reaching to about the hip, one hanging over the breast, the other down the back, and that it was constructed with two shoulder-pieces which joined the two together. These shoulder-pieces were not made separate, however, and then sewed upon one of the pieces; but they were woven along with the front piece, and that no merely at the top, so as to cover the shoulders when the ephod was worn, but according to Exodus 28:25 (? 27), reaching down on both sides from the shoulders to the girdle (Exodus 28:8).

Exodus 28:8

And the girdle of its putting on which (is) upon it, shall be of it, like its work, gold, etc.” There was to be a girdle upon the ephod, of the same material and the same artistic work as the ephod, and joined to it, not separated from it. The חשׁב mentioned along with the ephod cannot mean ὕφασμα , textura (lxx, Cler., etc.), but is to be traced to &#חשׁב חבשׁ to bind, to fasten, and to be understood in the sense of cingulum, a girdle (compare Exodus 29:5 with Leviticus 8:7, “he girded him with the girdle of the ephod”). אפדּה is no doubt to be derived from אפד , and signifies the putting on of the ephod. In Isaiah 30:22 it is applied to the covering of a statue; at the same time, this does not warrant us in attributing to the verb, as used in Exodus 9:5 and Leviticus 8:7, the meaning, to put on or clothe. This girdle, by which the two parts of the ephod were fastened tightly to the body, so as not to hang loose, was attached to the lower part or extremity of the ephod, so that it was fastened round the body below the breastplate (cf. Exodus 28:27, Exodus 28:28; Exodus 39:20-Ecclesiastes :).

Exodus 28:9-2 Samuel :

Upon the shoulder-piece of the ephod two beryls (previous stones) were to be placed, one upon each shoulder; and upon these the names of the sons of Israel were to be engraved, six names upon each “according to their generations,” i.e., according to their respective ages, or, as Josephus has correctly explained it, so that the names of the six elder sons were engraved upon the previous stone on the right shoulder, and those of the six younger sons upon that on the left.

Exodus 28:11

Work of the engraver in stone, of seal-cutting shalt thou engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel.” The engraver in stone: lit., one who works stones; here, one who cuts and polishes precious stones. The meaning is, that just as precious stones are cut, and seals engraved upon them, so these two stones were to be engraved according to the name of the sons of Israel, i.e., so that the engraving should answer to their names, or their names be cut into the stones. “ Surrounded by gold-twist shalt thou make it.” זהב משׁבּצות , from שׁבץ to twist, is used in Exodus 28:39 (cf. Psalms 45:14) for a texture woven in checks; and here it denotes not merely a simple gold-setting, but, according to Exodus 28:13, gold-twists or ornaments representing plaits, which surrounded the golden setting in which the stones were fixed, and not only served to fasten the stones upon the woven fabric, but formed at the same time clasps or brooches, by which the two parts of the ephod were fastened together. Thus Josephus says (Ant. iii. 7, 5) there were two sardonyxes upon the shoulders, to be used for clasps.

Exodus 28:12

The precious stones were to be upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, stones of memorial for the sons of Israel; and Aaron was to bear their names before Jehovah upon his two shoulders for a memorial, i.e., that Jehovah might remember the sons of Israel when Aaron appeared before Him clothed with the ephod (cf. Exodus 28:29). As a shoulder-dress, the ephod was par excellence the official dress of the high priest. The burden of the office rested upon the shoulder, and the insignia of the office were also worn upon it (Isaiah 22:22). The duty of the high priest was to enter into the presence of God and made atonement for the people as their mediator. To show that as mediator he brought the nation to God, the names of the twelve tribes were engraved upon precious stones on the shoulders of the ephod. The precious stones, with their richness and brilliancy, formed the most suitable earthly substratum to represent the glory into which Israel was to be transformed as the possession of Jehovah (Exodus 19:5); whilst the colours and material of the ephod, answering to the colours and texture of the hangings of the sanctuary, indicated the service performed in the sanctuary by the person clothed with the ephod, and the gold with which the coloured fabric was worked, the glory of that service.

Exodus 28:13-2 Chronicles :

There were also to be made for the ephod two (see Exodus 28:25) golden plaits, golden borders (probably small plaits in the form of rosettes), and two small chains of pure gold: “ close shalt thou make them, corded ” (lit., work of cords or strings), i.e., not formed of links, but of gold thread twisted into cords, which were to be placed upon the golden plaits or fastened to them. As these chains served to fasten the choshen to the ephod, a description of them forms a fitting introduction to the account of this most important ornament upon the state-dress of the high priest.

Verses 15-16

The second ornament consisted of the choshen or breastplate. Chosen mishpat, λογειο͂ν τῶν κρίσεωον (lxx), rationale judicii (Vulg.). חשׁן probably signifies an ornament ( Arab. pulcher fuit; Ges.); and the appended word mishpat , right, decision of right, points to its purpose (see at Exodus 28:30). This breastplate was to be a woven fabric of the same material and the same kind of work as the ephod. “ Foured shall it be, doubled (laid together), a span (half a cubit) its length, and a span its breadth.” The woven cloth was to be laid together double like a kind of pocket, of the length and breadth of half a cubit, i.e., the quarter of a square cubit.

Verses 17-19

And fill thereon (put on it) a stone-setting, four rows of stones, ” i.e., fix four rows of set jewels upon it. The stones, so far as their names can be determined with the help of the ancient versions, the researches of L. de Dieu ( animadv. ad Ex 28) and Braun ( vestit. ii. c. 8-10), and other sources pointed out in Winer's R. W. ( s. v. Edensteine), were the following: - In the first or upper row, odem ( σάρδιος ), i.e., our cornelian, of a blood-red colour; pitdah, τοπάζιον , the golden topaz; bareketh, lit., the flashing, σμάραγδος , the emerald, of a brilliant green. In the second row, nophek, ἄνθραξ , carcunculus , the ruby or carbuncle, a fire-coloured stone; sappir, the sapphire, of a sky-blue colour; jahalom, ἴασπις according to the lxx, but this is rather to be found in the jaspeh, - according to the Graec., Ven., and Pers., to Aben Ezra, etc., the diamond, and according to others the onyx, a kind of chalcedony, of the same colour as the nail upon the human finger through which the flesh is visible. In the third row, lesehm, λιγύριον , lugurius , i.e., according to Braun and others, a kind of hyacinth, a transparent stone chiefly of an orange colour, but running sometimes into a reddish brown, at other times into a brownish or pale red, and sometimes into an approach to a pistachio green; shevo, ἀχάτης , a composite stone formed of quartz, chalcedony, cornelian, flint, jasper, etc., and therefore glittering with different colours; and achlaham, ἀμέθυστος , amethyst, a stone for the most part of a violet colour. In the fourth row, tarshish, χρυσόλιθος , chrysolite, a brilliant stone of a golden colour, not like what is now called a chrysolite, which is of a pale green with a double refraction; shoham, beryl (see at Genesis 2:12); and jaspeh, no doubt the jasper, an opaque stone, for the most part of a dull red, often with cloudy and flame-like shadings, but sometimes yellow, red, brown, or some other colour.

Verse 20

Gold borders shall be on their settings ” (see at Exodus 28:11 and Exodus 28:13). The golden capsules, in which the stones were “ filled,” i.e., set, were to be surrounded by golden ornaments, which not only surrounded and ornamented the stones, but in all probability helped to fix them more firmly and yet more easily upon the woven fabric.

Verse 21

And the stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names; seal-engraving according to each one's name shall be for the twelve tribes.” (On אישׁ before על־שׁמו see at Genesis 15:10.)

Verses 22-25

To bind the choshen to the ephod there were to be two close, corded chains of pure gold, which are described here in precisely the same manner as in Exodus 28:14; so that Exodus 28:22 is to be regarded as a simple repetition of Exodus 28:14, not merely because these chains are only mentioned once in the account of the execution of the work (Exodus 39:15), but because, according to Exodus 28:25, these chains were to be fastened upon the rosettes notice in Exodus 28:14, exactly like those described in Exodus 28:13. These chains, which are called cords or strings at Exodus 28:24, were to be attached to two golden rings at the two (upper) ends of the choshen , and the two ends of the chains were to be put, i.e., bound firmly to the golden settings of the shoulder-pieces of the ephod (Exodus 28:13), upon the front of it (see at Exodus 26:9 and Exodus 25:37).

Verse 26

Two other golden rings were to be “ put at the two ends of the choshen, at its edge, which is on the opposite side (see at Exodus 25:37) of the ephod inwards, ” i.e., at the two ends or corners of the lower border of the choshen, upon the inner side - the side turned towards the ephod.

Verses 27-28

Two golden rings were also to be put “ upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod underneath, toward the fore-part thereof, near the joining above the girdle of it, ” and to fasten the choshen from its (lower) rings to the (lower) rings of the ephod with threads of hyacinth, that it might be over the girdle (above it), and not move away ( יזּח Niphal of זחח , in Arabic removit), i.e., that it might keep its place above the girdle and against the ephod without shifting.

Verse 29

In this way Aaron was to bear upon his breast the names of the sons of Israel engraved upon this breastplate, as a memorial before Jehovah, whenever he went into the sanctuary.

Verse 30

Into this choshen Moses was to put the Urim and Thummim, that they might be upon his heart when he came before Jehovah, and that he might thus constantly bear the right ( mishpat ) of the children of Israel upon his heart before Jehovah. It is evident at once from this, that the Urim and Thummim were to bring the right of the children of Israel before the Lord, and that the breastplate was called choshen mishpat because the Urim and Thummim were in it. Moreover it also follows from the expression אל נתתּ , both here and in Leviticus 8:8, that the Urim and Thummim were not only distinct from the choshen , but were placed in it, and not merely suspended upon it, as Knobel supposes. For although the lxx have adopted the rendering ἐπιτιθέναι ἐπί , the phrase is constantly used to denote putting or laying one thing into another, and never (not even in 1 Samuel 6:8 and 2 Samuel 11:16) merely placing one thing upon or against another. For this, על נתן is the expression invariably used in the account before us (cf. Exodus 28:14 and Exodus 28:23.).

What the Urim and Thummim really were, cannot be determined with certainty, either from the names themselves, or from any other circumstances connected with them.

(Note: The leading opinions and the most important writings upon the subject are given in my Bibl. Archaeol. §39, note 9.)

The lxx render the words δήλωσις (or δῆλος ) καὶ ἀλήθεια , i.e., revelation and truth. This expresses with tolerable accuracy the meaning of Urim ( אוּרים light, illumination), but Thummim ( תּמּים ) means integritas , inviolability, perfection, and not ἀλήθεια . The rendering given by Symm. and Theod., viz., φωτισμοὶ καὶ τελειώσεις , illumination and completion, is much better; and there is no good ground for giving up this rendering in favour of that of the lxx, since the analogy between the Urim and Thummim and the ἄγαλμα of sapphire-stones, or the ζώδιον of precious stones, which was worn by the Egyptian high priest suspended by a golden chain, and called ἀλήθεια ( Aelian. var. hist. 14, 34; Diod. Sic. i. 48, 75), sufficiently explains the rendering ἀλήθεια , which the lxx have given to Thummim, but it by no means warrants Knobel's conclusion, that the Hebrews had adopted the Egyptian names along with the thing itself. The words are therefore to be explained from the Coptic. The Urim and Thummim are analogous, it is true, to the εἰκῶν τῆς ἀληθείας , which the Egyptian ἀρχιδικαστής hung round his neck, but they are by no means identical with it, or to be regarded as two figures which were a symbolical representation of revelation and truth. If Aaron was to bring the right of the children of Israel before Jehovah in the breastplate that was placed upon his breast with the Urim and Thummim, the latter, if they were intended to represent anything, could only be symbolical of the right or rightful condition of Israel. But the words do not warrant any such conclusion. If the Urim and Thummim had been intended to represent any really existing thing, their nature, or the mode of preparing them, would certainly have been described. Now, if we refer to Numbers 27:21, where Joshua as the commander of the nation is instructed to go to the high priest Eleazar, that the latter may inquire before Jehovah, through the right of Urim, how the whole congregation should walk and act, we can draw no other conclusion, than that the Urim and Thummim are to be regarded as a certain medium, given by the Lord to His people, through which, whenever the congregation required divine illumination to guide its actions, that illumination was guaranteed, and by means of which the rights of Israel, when called in question or endangered, were to be restored, and that this medium was bound up with the official dress of the high priest, though its precise character can no longer be determined. Consequently the Urim and Thummim did not represent the illumination and right of Israel, but were merely a promise of these, a pledge that the Lord would maintain the rights of His people, and give them through the high priest the illumination requisite for their protection. Aaron was to bear the children of Israel upon his heart, in the precious stones to be worn upon his breast with the names of the twelve tribes. The heart, according to the biblical view, is the centre of the spiritual life, - not merely of the willing, desiring, thinking life, but of the emotional life, as the seat of the feelings and affections (see Delitzsch bibl. Psychologie, pp. 203ff.). Hence to bear upon the heart does not merely mean to bear in mind, but denotes “that personal intertwining with the life of another, by virtue of which the high priest, as Philo expresses it, was τοῦ σύμπαντος ἔθνους συγγενὴς καὶ ἀγχιστεὺς κοινός ( Spec. leg. ii. 321), and so stood in the deepest sympathy with those for whom he interceded” ( Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.). As he entered the holy place with this feeling, and in this attitude, of which the choshen was the symbol, he brought Israel into remembrance before Jehovah that the Lord might accept His people; and when furnished with the Urim and Thummim, he appeared before Jehovah as the advocate of the people's rights, that he might receive for the congregation the illumination required to protect and uphold those rights.

Verses 31-35

The third portion of Aaron's official dress was the robe. To the ephod there also belonged a מעיל (from מעל to cover or envelope), an upper garment, called the robe of the ephod, the robe belonging to the ephod, “ all of dark-blue purple ” (hyacinth), by which we are not to imagine a cloak or mantle, but a long, closely-fitting coat; not reaching to the feet, however, as the Alex. rendering ποδήρης might lead us to suppose, but only to the knees, so as to show the coat (Exodus 28:39) which was underneath.

Exodus 28:32

And the opening of the head thereof shall be in the middle of it; ” i.e., there was to be an opening in the middle of it to put the head through when it was put on; - “ a hem shall be round the opening of it, weavers' work, like the opening of the habergeon shall it (the seam) be to it; it shall not be torn.” By the habergeon ( θώραξ ), or coat-of-mail, we have to understand the linothoo'reex, the linen coat, such as was worn by Ajax for example (Il. 2, 529). Linen habergeons of this kind were made in Egypt in a highly artistic style (see Hengstenberg, Egypt, etc., pp. 141-2). In order that the meïl might not be torn when it was put on, the opening for 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; and this is expressly stated in Exodus 39:22. Josephus and the Rabbins explain the words ארג מעשׂה ( ἔργον ὑφαντόν ) in this way, and observe at the same time that the meïl had no sleeves, but only arm-holes.

Exodus 28:33-Nahum :

On the lower hem ( שׁוּלים the tail or skirt) there were to be pomegranates of dark-blue and dark-red purple and crimson, made of twisted yarn of these colours (Exodus 39:24), and little golden bells between them round about, a bell and a pomegranate occurring alternately all round. According to Rashi the pomegranates were “ globi quidam rotundi instar malorum punicorum, quasi essent ova gallinarum .” פּעמנים (from פּעם to strike of knock, like the old High German cloccon, clochon, i.e., to smite) signifies a little bell, not a spherical ball.

Exodus 28:35

Aaron was to put on this coat, to minister, i.e., to perform the duties of his holy office, “ that his sound might be heard when he went into the holy place before Jehovah, and when he came out, and he might not die.” These directions are referred to in Ecclus. 45:9, and explained as follows: “He compassed him with pomegranates and with many golden bells round about, that as he went there might be a sound, and a noise made, that might be heard in the temple, for a memorial to the children of his people.” The probable meaning of these words is either that given by Hiskuni (in Drusius), ut sciant tempus cultus divini atque ita praeparent cor suum ad patrem suum, qui est in coelis , or that given by Oehler, viz., that the ringing of the bells might announce to the people in the court the entrance of the high priest and the rites he was performing, in order that they might accompany him with their thoughts and prayers. But this is hardly correct. For not only is the expression, “for a memorial to the children of Israel,” evidently intended by the writer of Ecclesiasticus as a translation of the words ישׂראל לבני זכּרן in Exodus 28:12 (cf. Exodus 28:29), so that he has transferred to the bells of the meïl what really applies to the precious stones on the ephod, which contained the names of the twelve sons of Israel, but he has misunderstood the words themselves; for Aaron was to bear the names of the sons of Israel before Jehovah in these precious stones for a reminder, i.e., to remind Jehovah of His people. Moreover, the words “and he shall not die” are not in harmony with this interpretation. Bähr, Oehler, and others, regard the words as referring to the whole of the high priest's robes, and understand them as meaning, that he would be threatened with death if he appeared before Jehovah without his robes, inasmuch as he was merely a private individual without this holy dress, and could not in that case represent the nation. This is so far justifiable, no doubt, although not favoured by the position of the words in the context, that the bells were inseparably connected with the robe, which was indispensable to the ephod with the choshen , and consequently the bells had no apparent significance except in connection with the whole of the robes. But even if we do adopt this explanation of the words, we cannot suppose that Aaron's not dying depended upon the prayers of the congregation which accompanied his going in and out before Jehovah; for in that case the intercession of the high priest would have lost its objective meaning altogether, and his life would have been actually given up in a certain sense to the caprice of the people. All that remains, therefore, is to take the words as they occur: Aaron was not to appear before the Lord without the sound of the bells upon his robe being heard, in order that he might not die; so that to understand the reason for his not saying, we must inquire what the ringing of the bells signified, or rather, what was the signification of Aaron's robe, with its border of pomegranates and ringing bells. The trivial explanation given by Abraham ben David, viz., that the ringing was to take the place of knocking at the door of Jehovah's palace, as an abrupt entrance into the presence of a great king was punished with death, is not more deserving of a serious refutation than Knobel's idea, for which there is no foundation, that the sounding of the bells was to represent a reverential greeting, and a very musical offering of praise (!).

The special significance of the meïl cannot have resided in either its form or its colour; for the only feature connected with its form, that was at all peculiar to it, was its being woven in one piece, which set forth the idea of wholeness or spiritual integrity; and the dark-blue colour indicated nothing more than the heavenly origin and character of the office with which the robe was associated. It must be sought for, therefore, in the peculiar pendants, the meaning of which is to be gathered from the analogous instructions in Numbers 15:38-Malachi :, where every Israelite is directed to make a fringe in the border of his garment, of dark-blue purple thread, and when he looks at the fringe to remember the commandments of God and do them. In accordance with this, we are also to seek for allusions to the word and testimony of God in the pendant of pomegranates and bells attached to the fringe of the high priest's robe. The simile in Proverbs 25:11, where the word is compared to an apple, suggests the idea that the pomegranates, with their pleasant odour, their sweet and refreshing juice, and the richness of their delicious kernel, were symbols of the word and testimony of God as a sweet and pleasant spiritual food, that enlivens the soul and refreshes the heart (compare Psalms 19:8; Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:43, Psalms 119:50, with Deuteronomy 8:3; Proverbs 9:8, Ecclus. 15:3), and that the bells were symbols of the sounding of this word, or the revelation and proclamation of the word. Through the robe, with this pendant attached, Aaron was represented as the recipient and medium of the word and testimony which came down from heaven; and this was the reason why he was not to appear before the Lord without that sound, lest he should forfeit his life. It was not because he would simply have appeared as a private person if he had gone without it, for he would always have the holy dress of a priest upon him, even when he was not clothed in the official decorations of the high priest; but because no mere priest was allowed to enter the immediate presence of the Lord. This privilege was restricted to the representative of the whole congregation, viz., the high priest; and even he could only do so when wearing the robe of the word of God, as the bearer of the divine testimony, upon which the covenant fellowship with the Lord was founded.

Verses 36-38

The fourth article of the high priest's dress was the diadem upon his head-band. ציץ , from צוּץ to shine, a plate of pure gold, on which the words ליהוה קדשׁ , “ holiness (i.e., all holy) to Jehovah, ” were engraved, and which is called the “crown of holiness” in consequence, in Exodus 39:30. This gold plate was to be placed upon a riband of dark-blue purple, or, as it is expressed in Exodus 39:31, a riband of this kind was to be fastened to it, to attach it to the head-band, “ upon the fore-front (as in Exodus 26:9) of the head-band, ” from above (Exodus 39:31); by which we are to understand that the gold plate was placed above the lower coil of the head-band and over Aaron's forehead. The word מצנפת , from צנף to twist or coil (Isaiah 22:18), is only applied to the head-band or turban of the high priest, which was made of simply byssus (Exodus 28:39), and, judging from the etymology, was in the shape of a turban. This is all that can be determined with reference to its form. The diadem was the only thing about it that had any special significance. This was to be placed above (upon) Aaron's forehead, that he “might bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel sanctified, with regard to all their holy gifts, an acceptableness for them before Jehovah.” עון נשׁא : to bear iniquity (sin) and take it away; in other words, to exterminate it by taking it upon one's self. The high priest was exalted into an atoning mediator of the whole nation; and an atoning, sin-exterminating intercession was associated with his office. The qualification for this he received from the diadem upon his forehead with the inscription, “holiness to the Lord.” Through this inscription, which was fastened upon his head-dress of brilliant white, the earthly reflection of holiness, he was crowned as the sanctified of the Lord (Psalms 106:16), and endowed with the power to exterminate the sin which clung to the holy offerings of the people on account of the unholiness of their nature, so that the gifts of the nation became well-pleasing to the Lord, and the good pleasure of God was manifested to the nation.

(Note: See my Archaeology i. pp. 183-4. The following are Calvin's admirable remarks: Oblationum sanctarum iniquitas tollenda et purganda fuit per sacerdotem. Frigidum est illud commentum, si quid erroris admissum est in ceremoniis, remissum fuisse sacerdotis precibus. Longius enim respicere nos oportet: ideo oblationum iniquitatem deleri a sacerdote, quia nulla oblatio, quatenus est hominis, omni vitio caret. Dictu hoc asperum est et fere παράδοξον , sanctitates ipsas esse immundas, ut venia indigeant; sed tenendum est, nihil esse sane purum, quod non aliquid labis a nobis contrahat.... Nihil Dei cultu praestantius: et tamen nihil offerre potuit populus, etiam a lege praescriptum, nisi intercedente venia, quam nonnisi per sacerdotem obtinuit .)

Verse 39

In addition to the distinguishing dress of the high priest, Aaron was also to wear, as the official costume of a priest, a body-coat ( cetoneth) made of byssus, and woven in checks or cubes; the head-band (for the diadem), also made of simple byssus; and a girdle ( abnet, of uncertain etymology, and only applied to the priest's girdle) of variegated work, i.e., made of yarn, of the same four colours as the holy things were to be made of (cf. Exodus 39:29).

Verses 40-43

The official dress of the sons of Aaron, i.e., of the ordinary priests, was to consist of just the same articles as Aaron's priestly costume (Exodus 28:39). But their body-coat is called weavers' work in Exodus 39:27, and was therefore quite a plain cloth, of white byssus or cotton yarn, though it was whole throughout, ἀῤῥαφος without seam, like the robe of Christ (John 19:23). It was worn close to the body, and, according to Jewish tradition, reached down to the ankles (cf. Josephus, iii. 7, 2). The head-dress of an ordinary priest is called מגבּעה , related to גּביע a basin or cup, and therefore seems to have been in the form of an inverted cup, and to have been a plain white cotton cap. The girdle, according to Exodus 39:29, was of the same material and work for Aaron and his sons. This dress was to be for glory and for beauty to the priests, just as Aaron's dress was to him (Exodus 28:2). The glory consisted in the brilliant white colour, the symbol of holiness; whilst the girdle, which an oriental man puts on when preparing for the duties of an office, contained in the four colours of the sanctuary the indication that they were the officers of Jehovah in His earthly kingdom.

Exodus 28:41

But since the clothing prescribed was an official dress, Moses was to put it upon Aaron and his sons, to anoint them and fill their hands, i.e., to invest them with the requisite sacrificial gifts (see at Leviticus 7:37), and so to sanctify them that they should be priests of Jehovah. For although the holiness of their office was reflected in their dress, it was necessary, on account of the sinfulness of their nature, that they should be sanctified through a special consecration for the administration of their office; and this consecration is prescribed in ch. 29 and carried out in Lev 8.

Exodus 28:42-John :

The covering of their nakedness was an indispensable prerequisite. Aaron and his sons were therefore to receive מכנסים (from כּנס to cover or conceal, lit., concealers), short drawers, reaching from the hips to the thighs, and serving “to cover the flesh of the nakedness.” For this reason the directions concerning them are separated from those concerning the different portions of the dress, which were for glory and beauty. The material of which these drawers were to be made is called בּד . The meaning of this word is uncertain. According to Exodus 39:28, it was made of twined byssus or cotton yarn; and the rendering of the lxx, λίνα or λίνεος (Leviticus 6:3), is not at variance with this, as the ancients not only apply the term λίνον , linum , to flax, but frequently use it for fine white cotton as well. In all probability bad was a kind of white cloth, from בּדד to be white or clean, primarily to separate.

Exodus 28:43

These drawers the priests were to put on whenever they entered the sanctuary, that they might not “bear iniquity and die,” i.e., incur guilt deserving of death, either through disobedience to these instructions, or, what was still more important, through such violation of the reverence due to the holiness of the dwelling of God as they would be guilty of, if they entered the sanctuary with their nakedness uncovered. For as the consciousness of sin and guilt made itself known first of all in the feeling of nakedness, so those members which subserve the natural secretions are especially pudenda or objects of shame, since the mortality and corruptibility of the body, which sin has brought into human nature, are chiefly manifested in these secretions. For this reason these members are also called the “flesh of nakedness.” By this we are not to understand merely “the sexual member as the organ of generation or birth, because the existence and permanence of sinful, mortal human nature are associated with these,” as Bähr supposes. For the frailty and nakedness of humanity are not manifested in the organ and act of generation, which rather serve to manifest the inherent capacity and creation of man for imperishable life, but in the impurities which nature ejects through those organs, and which bear in themselves the character of corruptibility. If, therefore, the priest was to appear before Jehovah as holy, it was necessary that those parts of his body especially should be covered, in which the impurity of his nature and the nakedness of his flesh were most apparent. For this reason, even in ordinary life, they are most carefully concealed, though not, as Baumgarten supposes, “because the sin of nature has its principal seat in the flesh of nakedness.” - “ A statute for ever: ” as in Exodus 27:21.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Exodus 28". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.