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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 1

Exodus 28:1

The priest’s office.

Interpretation of the priesthood

The Hebrew priesthood was instituted because the people were not qualified to draw near to God in person. By virtue of their election, the people of Jehovah were entitled to dwell in His habitation, but their consciousness of sin made them afraid of Him: therefore, in condescension to their inability to understand the greatness of His love, He provided a class of persons who, as the representatives of His elect, might in their stead enter the Tabernacle. To draw near to God, and to be a priest, are equivalent expressions. Aaron drew near in behalf of those who were elected to have spiritual communion with God, but were not yet delivered from bondage to fear; and his admission within the habitation signified that they were entitled to a corresponding access in spirit, that they were called a kingdom of priests for the reason that they might thus draw near to God in spiritual fellowship. By his office he was qualified to do outwardly and symbolically what all might do in spirit and in truth. But, before Aaron could enter the holy habitation in behalf of the people, he must officiate at the altar of sacrifice, and expiate sin; for his constituents were sinful, and the representation of their approach to God as members of His household must be preceded by signs that their sin was taken away: otherwise it might be inferred that Jehovah was indifferent whether His people were holy or unholy. The Hebrew priesthood therefore symbolized in general, the expiation of sin, and the admission to filial intercourse with God effected thereby. (E. E. Atwater.)

The priests

. Qualifications. Every applicant for the priesthood had to prove his descent from Aaron, and had to be free from bodily defect or blemish (see Leviticus 21:1-24). This restriction pointed to the dignity and holy character of the position occupied by a priest, and to the inward purity requisite for the proper discharge of his sacred duties.

Duties. The chief duty of the priests was to offer or present offerings and sacrifices to God. They had sometimes to kill the victims (Leviticus 16:1-34) and always to sprinkle and pour out their blood, and also to burn their carcases, or part of them, on the altar. They had the charge of the altar and the sanctuary; they had to see that the fire was ever burning on the altar; they made loaves of shewbread, trimmed and lighted the lamps of the golden candlestick, and evening and morning burned incense on the golden altar, and, in general, conducted the sacred services of the Tabernacle worship. Their duties were not, however, confined to the performance of the rites and ceremonies of that worship; for the law being committed to their custody, they, with the Levites, were intrusted with the religious instruction of the nation (Deuteronomy 33:10); and the people were exhorted to seek knowledge at the priests’ lips.

Maintenance. The priests were not permitted to follow any secular calling. Their time was entirely devoted to their sacred work; hence it was necessary and just that their maintenance should be provided for at the expense of those for whose spiritual and temporal welfare they ministered. The remuneration consisted principally of the redemption money paid for the first-born Israelites, the first-fruits of the field, the fruit of trees in the fourth year, parts of various of the offerings, and a tenth of the tithes which fell to the Levites. They were not able, of course, to reap all these dues till they reached the promised land. (W. Brown.)

The priesthood

Previous to this time, there was probably no separate order of priesthood in the Church of God; but every father was the priest of his family, as in killing the lamb of the passover and sprinkling the blood, or each worshipper had been at liberty to transact the business of sacrifice as he pleased. So far, in the history of Israel as redeemed from Egypt, Moses seems to have officiated occasionally as priest, as in the case of offering the sacrifice and sprinkling the blood of the covenant; or he selected young men as temporary priests. But the erection of a special place of worship, most notably carried with it the setting up an order of priesthood, with ritual of worship. The very name “cohen,” which we translate “priest,” is supposed to denote the idea of a familiar friend of God. The distinctive function of the office was to receive and present to God, as His nearest friend and associate, that which belonged to Him. The three great elements entering into the idea of their position and office were:

1. That they are chosen by Jehovah Himself to be His.

2. That they are officially holy in a pre-eminent sense.

3. That they have, by reason of their election and holiness, the privilege of drawing near to God, as holding a position intermediate between man and God, and therefore of mediators. (S. Robinson, D. D.)

Verse 2

Exodus 28:2

Holy garments for Aaron.

The vestments of our High Priest

The vestments appointed by God for the high priest when he went into the holy place were, besides those which he wore in common with the other priests, four: the ephod, with its “curious girdle”; the breastplate; the robe of the ephod; and the mitre.

1. And speaking of these garments generally, you will notice that it was God’s especial command that they should all be made of linen, which, being a material of a very simple and natural kind, has always been understood by the Church to be typical of that human nature which Christ wears still in His glorified state, and in which, as man, we are distinctly to understand that He now executes, as our Representative, all the services of His exalted Priesthood.

2. And, further, it is to be observed generally, that all the garments were carefully fastened together so as to be one. The girdle binding the ephod, and the ephod the robe, and the breastplate carefully joined to the ephod by chains of gold; signifying, again, the complete unity which there is in all Christ’s work for His people, so that it cannot be divided; for if we have Him in one of His offices so, necessarily, we hold Him in all. A blessed truth I there is no such thing as anything partial in the work of Jesus; no partial pardon; no partial peace! If you have one promise, you have every promise!

3. And yet, once more, generally, you will see that (unlike the description of our Saviour’s garments in the 59th chapter of Isaiah, and unlike that which is provided for the believer in the 6th chapter of Ephesians)all these are robes, not of war, but of peace. Indicating that the warfare is now accomplished, and that our Saviour, having triumphed over His enemies and ours, is now set down in the calm and quiet of His holy, peaceful functions. A thought which should be one of unselfish joy to the Christian.

4. The robe of ephod represents the perfect robe of the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He wore as man, and which He will always present to the Father for our sakes. Its seamless fabric denotes the perfectness and the unity of the righteousness which He has wrought.

5. The ephod itself was a closer vestment--long behind, and short in front--which was worn over the robe, and fastened by clasps, or “ouches,” over the shoulders; it was also “for beauty and for glory”--“of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine-twined linen, with cunning work,” costly and magnificent. Upon each shoulder, in the “ouches,” was placed an onyx stone, and on either onyx stone were engraven the names of six of the tribes of the children of Israel, placed according to their seniority. Concerning this engraving, God was very express: “With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet,” that is, very accurately, very deeply, very beautifully, “shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of the children of Israel: thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold. And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial.” And, then, the ephod was girt about with a girdle of the same kind. Here, then, we have our great High Priest continually standing in heaven, and always of necessity bearing, as part of His own glory, the names of all His people in holy remembrance before God. He both remembers us, and causes us to be remembered. We are held in perpetual remembrance. The weakest and the strongest--the greatest saint with the unworthiest and guiltiest sinner--we are all remembered: everything which goes to make our name is there: the smallest work, the secret sorrow that the world knows nothing of: it is all in the memorial: our prayers, and tears, and sighs--they are all gone there! they are all rivetted there! There they are! They are knit into the dignity of Jesus, into the glory and the excellency of Jesus!

6. The breastplate teaches that Christ not only bears His people on His shoulders for strength, but lays them separately on His heart for love. He identifies His interest with ours. It becomes a dear and fond thing to Him to have us upon His breast, that He may save us and magnify us for ever! We live always in His love, and God sees us there; in that love, loves us--unloveable though we be--for the love He has to us. And, living on His heart, each one in his own proper place and order, we hold in Him safe and privileged intercourse.

7. The high priest wore a mitre of linen, with this inscription, “Holiness to the Lord.” Now observe the comfort of this thought. Here we all are assembled, in our holy devotions before the mercy seat of God, but every prayer we have put up this day is stained, and every service is unclean before Him “who chargeth His angels with folly”! Presently, your petitions will go up in your own bedroom; and the very supplication, in which you ask for pardon, only goes to increase the amount of the guilt that has to be pardoned. It is all unclean! The brand of sin, the degradation of sin, is everywhere! But He, in His very character and being, as our Representative, is standing before God; and high emblazoned upon His front is His own proper righteous title, “Holiness to the Lord”--not for Himself, He needs it not, but for us! He “bears the iniquity of our holy things”--what a thought! even as if we were the holy, we poor worms--as if we were the holy--we stand before God: “Holiness to the Lord.” A poor sinner, incapable of one pure thought, lifts himself up in Christ, and looks in the face of God, and stands there, in his High Priest--“Holiness to the Lord”;--and God recognizes His own eternal counsel, and acknowledges the unworthiest services of the poorest sinner to be--“Holiness to the Lord.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The priestly garments

They signified--

1. The function to be glorious and excellent.

2. The fitness of their persons to that office.

3. The glory of the true High Priest, Jesus Christ, of whom Aaron was but a figure.

For all the glistering show of these priestly garments set forth the more angelical brightness of all the virtues which should shine in Jesus Christ. The priestly garments appointed by God were ten in number; of which four belonged to the inferior priests (Exodus 28:40; Exodus 28:42).

1. A linen garment. Which signified the white garment of Christ’s righteousness and innocency; which they were to appear in before the Lord, if they would be acceptable in their persons and duties. Noting to us by the way, that every godly minister wears a white linen garment, not woven and made by men, but by God; not without him, but within him; not a shadow or ceremony, but the substance and truth, to which all shadows give place. Nay, there is no private man that is godly, but he must wear this white linen garment, having put it on in the laver of regeneration: as Galatians 3:27.

2. A girdle (verse 40). Which signifies constancy and stability in the truth, both in our High Priest, Jesus Christ, who was not a reed shaken, but a firm rock: as also in His members, who are commanded to stand fast, their loins girt with verity (Ephesians 6:14). Hence follows, that the minister’s word must be yea and nay; his course must be constantly gracious and watchful. And for private Christians (Hebrews 13:9).

3. A bonnet (verse 40). A symbol and sign to them of God’s protection still covering them in their faithful service: signifying to us the Lord’s cover and faithful protection both over our head, and over His member’s for His sake.

4. The breeches (verse 42). Putting more comeliness upon the uncomely parts. Signifying to them and us--

(1) What reverence we ought to use in the service of God; far removing thence every uncomely thing.

(2) Shadowing out the true and perfect holiness, with which Christ’s humanity was clothed; and not only with that, but with the majesty of His Deity, which highly graced and honoured the despised and frail humanity, which had no form nor beauty (Isaiah 53:2).

(3) Not darkly representing that care and respect which our Lord and Saviour Christ hath of His inferior, base, and despised both ministers and members through the world (Isaiah 41:14). To the high priest belonged six peculiar garments:

First the ephod (verse 4), in which--

1. The matter. It was not wool or silk, but linen, which riseth out of the earth (Ezekiel 44:17). Signifying that holy flesh of Christ which veiled His Deity as a garment; and that it was taken not from heaven, but from His mother on earth, as the matter of that garment grew immediately out of earth.

2. The form. It was a long white garment: signifying the long white garment of Christ’s absolute righteousness; white, innocent and unspotted; and long, to cover all our nakedness, without patching of merits.

3. The ornament of it. In it were set two onyx stones, and in them the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraven, which Aaron carried upon his shoulders; signifying--

(1) That the names of the godly are not lightly written, but fast engraven in the love and memory of Christ as those names were engraven in very hard stones.

(2) That Christ doth still carry His Church on His shoulders; lifting them up out of dust and misery, and bearing them upon the shoulders of His power and providence, as on eagles’ wings (Isaiah 40:31).

The second garment peculiar to the high priest was called the breastplate of judgment (verse 15), the most precious part of all his garments.

1. In respect of the twelve costly and glittering stones, which were set in four rows, according to the number of the tribes (verse 17-22). In which--

(1) The shining of these stones signified the shining purity and innocency of Jesus Christ, both in Himself and in His members. If they be pure as the sun, fair as the moon, what is He?

(2) Their price of great value and worth signified what a price the Lord Jesus valued His Church at.

(3) Their place or situation. They are set in the pectoral, and Aaron must carry them on his heart: signifying that Christ hath as much care of His Church, as if it were enclosed in His heart; lets out His blood to make room in His heart for them.

(4) Their number; twelve, according to all the tribes: noting that there is room in the heart of Christ for every one of the elect. None can anticipate or prevent the other. With Him is plentiful redemption. The former without the latter shall not be perfected (Hebrews 11:40).

(5) Their order. They stand in four rows in a comely quadrangle: signifying the comely order that Christ hath established in the Church: some in higher places, some in lower, some in one rank and office, and some in another, as those stones, but all stand seemly and fitly. And this order we must maintain, keeping our ranks as they did.

(6) The figure. The foursquare (verse 16), signifying the stability and firmness of the Church, as a foursquare, turn it any way ‘tis firm. Satan and all deceivers shall not pick one stone out of Christ’s pectoral. The gates of hell shall not prevail against him that is fixed in that rock and stone of Israel.

(7) Their use. That Aaron, who before bare the names of Israel on his shoulders before the Lord, might now bear them on his heart continually for a remembrance before the Lord, when he goeth into the holy place (verse 29). Signifying--

(a) The ardent love of Jesus Christ towards His Church, who bears it not only on His shoulders as a shepherd, or only in His arms as a nurse; but upon His heart, and in His heart, never to forget our good.

(b) Bearing of the names continually before the Lord on His heart signifieth the continual mindfulness and intercession of Jesus Christ for His Church in that heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 7:25). By virtue of which all our prayers get audience and acceptance.

(8) The quantity. As all the names of Israel were gathered into a narrow compass: so Jesus Christ our Mediator shall gather together into one all the dispersed sons of God, and present them before God as the most beautiful and precious parts of the world (John 11:52). (T. Taylor, D. D.)

The garments of the priesthood, and their significance

In almost every modern nation there are some remnants of the ancient custom of representing office by garments of peculiar material, shape, and colour. History registers the decline of the custom, but not its birth and growth; for it was as powerful as ever in the earliest age which has transmitted to us its records. In the time of Moses, both kings and priests in every country were clothed in a garb not only distinctive but emblematic. In interpreting the significance conveyed by the garments of the Levitical priesthood, it will be convenient to treat first of the four pieces worn by priests of ordinary rank, and then of those peculiar to their chief. Is there, then, no significance in the fact that this official costume consisted of four pieces? As four limits the colours of the tapestry, the ingredients of the incense, the spices of the holy anointing oil, the composite parts of the cherubs, we conclude that the same signature of the kingdom of God was designedly impressed on the official costume of those who were elected to draw near to Jehovah.
This judgment is confirmed by the recurrence of four as the number of pieces additional to the dress of the ordinary priests which the head of the order was required to wear in the performance of official duty. The numerical signature of the Tabernacle was thus impressed on the official garments of its priesthood. The garments of the priests of ordinary rank were all of pure white except the girdle. The drawers, the coat, and the bonnet were of shesh, bleached, but not dyed. White raiment was emblematic of ethical purity. It was “the righteousness of the saints.” As worn by the priest, it signified that those who were admitted to intimacy with the Holy One of Israel must be pure in heart and life. The material also contributed something to the significance of the dress. The garments must all be of linen; and in the vision of Ezekiel the directions given for the official raiment of the priests add to the requirement of linen the express prohibition of anything woollen. The reason of the requirement lies, doubtless, in the greater cleanliness possible in a warm climate to one whose garments are exclusively of this material. Not only was the costume of a priest significant in its material, colour, and number of pieces, but each of the four garments of which it was composed contributed an element peculiar to itself.

The coat, or tunic, was first in importance, as it was in size. Reaching from the neck to the ankles, it was merely coincident, as a covering of the person, with the whole costume; so that the other three garments were supplements to this, rather than its equals. Its import, as might be expected, is also nearly the same as that of the whole dress. As the entire costume of four pieces, by means of its material and its dominant colour, was suggestive of holiness, so was the coat in particular, as it invested the person from the neck to the ankles with linen white and shining as light. Moreover, this garment was woven in one piece to represent, by this sort of integrity, moral wholeness or holiness. The tunic of the priest was also woven so as to exhibit checks like the pattern called damask; for such is the meaning of the descriptive adjective which the English translators incorrectly regarded as equivalent to “broidered.” The coat was therefore covered throughout with four-sided figures of small size. Bahr thinks that these were symbols of like import with the precious stones in the breastplate of the high priest; as if every member of the sacerdotal family bore on his person visible signs that as a priest he was the representative of the tribes of Israel, these symbols designedly having, in the case of the subordinate priests, only a reflection of the glory and beauty of those which distinguished the head of the order. A girdle of some kind was in ancient times, as it is even now, essential to the completeness of an oriental costume; and, by means of diversity in material, size, shape, and ornamentation, was easily made a badge of office.
The girdle of the Hebrew priest seems to have been, more than any other article of his attire, an official badge. According to the traditional law of the Hebrews, the priest must remove his girdle when he ceased to officiate, but might, if more convenient, continue to wear the other official garments through the day. How the girdle of the priest symbolized his office as an attaché of the Tabernacle, is evident when we consider its peculiar ornamentation. Like the other garments it was of white linen; but, unlike them, it was interwoven with threads of blue, purple, and crimson. The four colours of the Tabernacle signified that the wearer belonged to the institution. This badge of office certified that he had a right to enter the habitation where these significant colours were dominant. The Arab wears on his head a cap similar to the Turkish fez, which he calls a tarbush. The Bedouin spreads over it a handkerchief folded so that three of the four corners hang down on the back and shoulders, and binds it in place with a twisted rope of goat’s hair or camel’s hair, reaching around his head. The Syrian Arab, if he wishes any addition to his tarbush, ties a handkerchief over it, or winds around it a shawl of wool, silk, or cotton, so as to form a turban. The oriental turban has exhibited both in modern times and in the remotest antiquity, a great variety of form, material, and colour. By means of this diversity it has served to distinguish between men of different nations, and of different classes in the same nation.

As an ancient Assyrian king was distinguished by a head-dress of a peculiar shape and ornamentation, as a descendant of Mohammed is known by the colour of his turban, so the dignity of the Hebrew priest, as an attendant on Jehovah in His holy habitation, was symbolized by a turban peculiar to his order in its material, its colour, and perhaps its shape. The priests must wear drawers while officiating, to cover their nakedness; and neglect to do so was to be punished with death, even if no exposure of the person resulted. The covering was therefore symbolic. It was a removal from the significant tableau in which the priest was engaged, of those parts of his person which, as excretory, were especially representative of defilement. The significance of the costume of the Hebrew priest cannot be fully seen by one who overlooks the fact that it left his feet uncovered. An oriental does not wear a shoe or sandal for protection from cold, but from filth, and lays aside at least the outermost covering of his feet when he enters a house, because he will not need such protection in such a place, and because his shoe might bring filth into the house. The costume of the high priest consisted of the four pieces worn by his subordinates, and of four others peculiar to him as the head of the order.

Over the tunic he wore the robe of the ephod, the significance of which resulted from its blue colour and the ornamental fringe which hung from its border at the bottom. To understand the meaning of this fringe see Numbers 15:38-39. The ornaments were intended to remind the wearer of the commandments of Jehovah, and were connected with his garment, whatever its colour, by a cord or ribbon of blue, to signify the heavenly origin of that which he was to keep in remembrance. But this fringe, in the case of the high priest, consisted of tassels in the shape of pomegranates, alternated with little golden bells. If, as seems probable, the pomegranates symbolized the law in its totality as including every specific requirement, it is at least a plausible conjecture that the bells with which they alternated signified that the high priest, or rather the covenant people whom he represented, were not only to remember the commandments of Jehovah, but by obeying to proclaim them. So far as they remembered and obeyed it, the Word of the Lord sounded out from them. The specifications for the ephod make its shoulder-pieces so prominent that the Greek and Latin versions give it names in those languages which characterize it as a shoulder-garment. But the shoulder as the seat of strength was, in the early times, when the strongest ruled, the seat of authority, and the most appropriate position for an emblem of government. We infer, then, that the ephod was a symbol of rank; and from the materials of which it was made, that it invested the wearer as a badge of royalty. This garment was provided for the high priest as the representative of the holy nation, that the jewels on its shoulders, and the threads of beaten gold woven into it throughout, might signify that they were kings as well as priests.

The breastplate of judgment was closely connected in significance with the ephod, indicating that the wearer was a ruler endowed with wisdom for the decision of important questions relating to the public welfare. He wore it on his heart because the heart was regarded as the seat of wisdom. The head-dress of the high priest was distinguished from that of his subordinates not only by its shape, but by its plate of gold bearing the inscription, “Holiness to Jehovah.” This plate, peculiar to him as the head of the priesthood, and of the nation as a kingdom of priests, was another badge of rank, and equivalent in meaning to a crown. The inscription, peculiarly important from its position on the forehead, proclaimed that the high priest, through his election, his physical faultlessness, his separation from common life, his investment with the robes of office, and his consecration, was so holy that he might not only approach Jehovah, but could take away the sins of his people (verse 38). Their iniquity was taken away, and they were accounted holy because their representative was holy. (E. E. Atwater.)

The robes of glory and beauty

Aaron had not in himself the proper qualifications for shadowing forth the Lord Jesus, the great High Priest; so the requisite beauty and glory were put on him symbolically. Arrayed in those beautiful, costly, and Divinely-appointed garments, he was symbolically what Jesus Christ is in reality, and he could minister about the Tabernacle as a type of Him who is the true Minister and the ever-living Saviour. These garments were said to be “for glory and for beauty” (verse 2). They were very costly and very beautiful, and everything belonging to them was significant in some way of the manifold excellencies and glories of the blessed Jesus. They are so many glasses which God has given to us, by which we may see Jesus in various aspects, as manifested to us in all His moral comeliness, and beauty, and spiritual excellences. I love to see Jesus as set forth here, because He is so lovely. “He is altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16). And yet even here we do but see through a glass darkly; we only know Him in part; we do not see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). He is here looking forth at the windows, and showing Himself through the lattice (Song of Solomon 2:9), and it is very blessed to see Him thus; but it will be much better to see Him as He is, with no window or lattice between Him and ourselves (Philippians 1:23; 1 John 3:2). (G. Rodgers.)

Verses 6-14

Exodus 28:6-14

The ephod.

The ephod

The ephod, with its “curious girdle” and the oynx stones upon its shoulder-pieces, was the distinctive priestly garment. It hung upon the shoulders down to the waist, and was formed of the most costly and beautiful materials, corresponding exactly to those employed in the interior decoration of the holy place. The girdle was made of the same materials, with the same combination of colours. As garments were associated in the Hebrew mind with character, and the girdle with energy in work, we find in the correspondence of both with the interior of the holy place, a memorial of the necessity that those who enter the house of the Lord must be themselves holy and beautiful in character, and be engaged in high and holy service. But the most important parts of the ephod were the shoulder-pieces, on which were set two oynx stones, with the names of the tribes engraven on them (see Exodus 28:12). Here we have the idea of representation clearly and beautifully symbolized. The shoulders, to a Hebrew mind, were the symbol of strength; and the idea was, that when the high priest entered the holy place he did not go alone, but carried with him on his strong shoulders the children of Israel whom he represented; and the estimation in which the people were held was expressed in the value of the precious stones on which the names were engraved, and the setting of pure gold with which they were surrounded. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)

The ephod

The ephod, with the breastplate and girdle fastened to it, and put upon the person of Aaron, constituted him a worshipper; adorned with this he could draw near and worship in the holy place. It was put on over the blue robe, and is supposed to have been much shorter than that garment, reaching a little below the knees, whilst the blue robe reached down to the feet. It fitted closely to the person, and was kept in its place by the girdle. It was made of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen. These materials represent the purity, loveliness, and glory of Christ as the Man Jesus Christ and the mighty God. It would spangle with gold, and the colours would be so blended as to display their richness and beauty in the best possible way. The four materials were the same as the vail was made of, viz., fine linen, blue, purple, and scarlet, which represent the manhood of Christ in all its perfection as such (Hebrews 10:19-20); but in the gold thread with which that cloth was embroidered (Exodus 39:3), I see the Godhead of the Lord, and the two are so joined together that you cannot have one without the other. The back and front parts of the ephod were joined at the shoulders, by means of the shoulder-pieces from which it was suspended. In each shoulder-piece was a precious stone set in gold--an oynx stone, a beautiful white and half-transparent stone. In these precious stones the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraven. Aaron carried the names of his people upon his shoulders. He presented them thus before the Lord, and when God looked down upon Aaron, He saw the names of His people indelibly engraven in white stones. The shoulder is the place of strength. The omnipotent strength of Christ is ours. He carries His people’s burdens and themselves too (Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 46:4; Psalms 55:22). The government is upon His shoulder, and the crown is upon His head. (G. Rodgers.)

Verses 15-30

Exodus 28:15-30

The breastplate of Judgment.

The breastplate

A full description of the breastplate is given twice over in the Book of Exodus, and from it we may gather certain useful lessons as to the Church in all ages.

There were twelve stones in the breastplate, each of them different, and each bearing a different name. This shows what variety there is among believers. So long as the human race differs so much in mental structure, we shall not be able to think alike, even in those things that are spoken of in Holy Writ. There are differences with regard to worship, differences in religious feelings and experiences; the stones are not alike, yet they are all on the same breastplate.

This brings us to another truth--the unity of the Church, all differing, yet all on the heart of Christ. The enemy has only to show himself, and men who differ amongst themselves agree to drive him back.

They were all precious stones; not one was mean or contemptible. God’s Church has ever been costly. No jewel is what it afterwards becomes when first found. Let not the stone which sparkles in its setting sneer at that which only looks like a pebble. The Master has chosen it; He knows that He has put within its rude exterior that which only needs time and skill to make it “shine as the stars for ever and ever.”

Why were those precious stones put upon the breastplate? They were not on the mitre; they were upon the heart, teaching us that the Church is beloved. Every believer is on the heart of God.

Great pains were taken to keep the Breastplate from being lost. It was not only fastened to the shoulders by chains, but the bottom part of the breastplate was fastened by two rings lashed to the two rings in the ephod. This tells us of the Church’s security. (T. Champness.)

The breastplate

As the heart is the place of affection, and the shoulder the place of strength, Aaron had to carry the names of his people on his heart, to show that he loved them, and on his shoulder, to show that he was ever ready to serve them. The typical and spiritual meaning of this is very sweet. Jesus Christ is our great High Priest, and the names of all His people are not upon, but in, His heart. His omnipotent strength and His infinite love are ours--ours for ever. He never forgets one of His people, nor fails to love them. They are His jewels, His special treasures, His Father’s love-gifts, and He values them because His Father gave them to Him. The time is coming when He will count up His jewels, and it will then be found that not one soul given to Christ by the Father will be missing. As every ray of light that fell upon Aaron would fall upon the names of Aaron’s people, so every smile that God gives to Christ is given also to the people of Christ; for Christ and His people are one, and God never looks upon Christ without seeing His people--all His people, for they are in Him--loved as He is loved. (G. Rodgers.)

The topaz

The topaz is a beautiful jewel, of a bright orange or golden colour, though they are sometimes found green, blue, and red. It is very hard, being next to the ruby in this respect. I saw lately an account of a fine old topaz seal among the curiosities in a museum in England. What is called the field of the seal was blue. On this there were three arrows. On the top or crest of the seal was the head of a dragon on a crown. And round the seal was this inscription or motto--“Sola bona quae honesta. The meaning of this is “Honesty, which is the only good thing.” And this, according to the old proverb, might be rendered, “Honesty is the best policy.” The topaz is considered to represent honesty. Most people think that if they don’t cheat when they get a chance, and don’t steal from those about them, they are honest. True honesty means to give to all persons whatever belongs to them. I want to speak of four different kinds of temptations, and to show how this precious jewel, the Bible topaz, will be a safeguard to you against them all.

The first kind of temptation in which this jewel will be a safeguard to us are temptations for the eye. You know when an army is besieging a walled city or fortress how very careful those inside of it are to protect the gates. But our souls are like walled cities or fortresses. Satan is the enemy trying to get in. And the eye is one of the gates of entrance. We must guard this gate well if we want to keep our souls safe. Job said he had “made a covenant with his eyes “not to look on anything that it was not right to look at. David used to pray--“Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” And if we keep this precious Bible jewel, the topaz of true honesty, about us, it will be a safeguard to us in temptations. The first temptations from which it will save us are temptations for the eye.

The second kind of temptations in which this Bible jewel, the topaz of true honesty, will be a safeguard to us are temptations for the ear. This is another of the principal gates of entrance to the soul. And it is a very important gate. It ought to be most carefully guarded. We receive a great deal of good, and a great deal of harm, through the ear. If our souls are saved at last, they will be saved by what we hear; and if our souls are lost at last, they will be lost by what we hear.

The third kind of temptations from which this jewel will save us are temptations for the tongue. Oh, how much sin people commit by means of the tongue! If we could keep from saying what is wrong, how nicely we should get along! Well, if we carry this Bible jewel, the topaz of true honesty, about us all the time, it will keep us safe from these temptations.

The fourth and last kind of temptations we are to speak of from which this jewel keeps us are temptations for the hand. I mean by this, the temptation to take or to keep what does not belong to us. If we keep this jewel about us--that is, if we remember God’s presence and try honestly to please Him--it will save us from ever taking or keeping what does not belong to us. If you want to keep this jewel about you all the time, so as to be kept from temptation, there is one text you must always remember. It is this, “Thou, God, seest me.” Oh! pray God to write that text on your memory. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The emerald

The emerald is a jewel of a beautiful, soft, rich green colour. Ireland is called the “Emerald Isle” because the grass which covers its hills and valleys is such a beautiful green. When you look at this island from the deck of a vessel far off at sea, it looks like a great jewel--a great emerald rising out of the ocean. The emerald stands, in value among jewellers, next to the ruby. It is spoken of several times in the Bible. In old times people used to think that the emerald had certain wonderful or magical powers. It was not true that it had any such powers. But hope, which is the Bible jewel represented by the emerald, does have them. I wish to speak of three of these powers. This will give us three reasons why hope may be compared to an emerald.

And the first reason why hope may he compared to an emerald is because it makes us industrious. People used to think that the emerald had the power of curing idleness or of making men industrious. If it only had this power the emerald would be the most valuable of all jewels. Then, when boys and girls were put to school, it would only be necessary to hang an emerald round each one’s neck, and there would be no lazy scholars. The owners of all our workshops and factories would want to have a good supply of emeralds. I need not tell you, however, that the emerald never had any such power as this. But hope, the beautiful Bible jewel, that which the emerald represents, does have this power. If people hope to get rich they know that they must be industrious and work hard.

Again, people used to think that the emerald had the power of taking away fear. And this leads us to speak of the second reason why hope may be compared to an emerald, because it makes us courageous. The Bible tells us that “hope maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5). In one place in the Bible hope is compared to a helmet. And a soldier who had his head covered with a good helmet would be very bold and courageous. He would not be afraid when the arrows were flying thick around him. In another place in the Bible hope is compared to an anchor (Hebrews 6:19). Suppose that you and I are at sea on board a vessel. A storm is driving our vessel right on towards a rocky and dangerous coast. If we have no anchor on board we may well be afraid, for pretty soon we shall be dashed against the rocks and perish. But suppose we have a good anchor, and a strong cable to hold it by on board our vessel. We drop our anchor in the sea. It sinks to the bottom and is buried in the mud and sand, or takes hold of the rocks there. It keeps the vessel from drifting towards the shore. We are safe. Our fear is gone. Let the winds blow, and the waves roar ever so much, they can’t hurt us. The anchor gives us hope, and this hope makes us bold or courageous. And it is just so when we become Christians. Then we love Jesus. We have hope in Him. That hope is to our souls just like what the anchor is to the sailor. It keeps us from being afraid.

Another strange power, which it used to be supposed the emerald had, was that of taking away gloom and sadness from the minds of people. Of course this was a mistake. It never had any such power. But this points out to us a third reason why hope may be compared to an emerald. It is because it makes us cheerful. Hope is a bright, sunshiny thing. You know how beautiful the rainbow is! Hope is sometimes compared to the rainbow. And it may very properly be so compared, because it seems to paint in bright colours the things it leads us to look for, and to put rainbows all about them. There is a steam ferry-boat on the river Mersey in England. It runs from Liverpool to Birkenhead and back. Several years ago passengers on that ferry-boat would sometimes see on a warm bright day a poor crippled boy. His body was grown almost to a man’s size, but his limbs were withered and helpless, and not bigger than the limbs of a child. He used to wheel himself about in a small carriage, like those that boys use in their play. He had a little musical instrument called a concertina, and on this he used to play some sweet simple tunes. He never asked for anything, but yet very few of the passengers could hear his touching music, or look at his honest, cheerful face, without dropping a penny or two into his carriage. One day a lady was standing near, looking at him with great pity. She thought how sad and lonely he must feel, unable to help himself, and with no prospect of ever being any better in this world. She said to a lady who was with her, but not intending that he should hear it--“Poor boy l what a sad life he has to lead; and nothing in all the future to look forward to!” But he did hear it. And in stepping out of the boat that lady saw a tear in his eye and a bright smile on his face trying to chase the tear away, as he said--“I’m expecting to have wings some day, lady.” (R. Newton, D. D.)

The sapphire

I want to find out what this jewel stands for or represents. Well, when I come to read about the sapphire, I find that in old times people used to think that if you carried one of these jewels on your heart, or in your bosom, it would have the effect of making you strong. And then we have only to ask ourselves which of the Bible jewels, or Christian graces, is it which has the greatest power to make people strong? We see in a moment that it is faith. And so we feel safe in saying that the sapphire stands for faith or trust in God; Faith may be compared to the sapphire because it makes us strong. I wish to speak of two things for which faith makes us strong.

In the first place, faith makes us strong to suffer.

The second reason why faith may be compared to the sapphire is because it makes us strong to serve. Now, my dear children, if you want to have this Bible jewel, you must ask Jesus to give it to you. You can’t find it. You can’t buy it. Your parents, or teachers, or friends, can’t get it for you, or give it to you. Nobody but Jesus can give it to you. It is only His grace that can put it in your hearts. If you pray earnestly to Jesus to give you a believing, trusting heart, He will give it to you. This precious jewel, trust in Jesus, is all we need to make us comfortable and happy here, and all we need to save our souls and take us to heaven at last. It is faith, simple faith, or trust in Jesus, that saves us. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The diamond

Every true Christian is a spiritual diamond, one of God s jewels. Let us look at this diamond and see what there is about it on account of which a Christian may be compared to it.

Its hardness. It is one of the hardest things in the world.

1. It will bear a great deal of rough handling without being scratched or injured at all, And Christians are just like diamonds on this account. They can bear trial or hard treatment without being injured by it.

2. It can make marks that cannot be rubbed out. When we become Christians, we are like diamonds in this respect. One day the superintendent of a Sunday school in this city was going along near Third and Dock Streets. He saw one of the large boys belonging to his school coming out of a drinking-saloon. The boy’s name was George Simpson. As the superintendent passed by he raised his finger, and shaking it gently, he said, in a kind, but serious way, “Take care, George, take care.” Some ten or twelve years passed away. He had forgotten all about it. But one day a very genteel-looking man came up to him in the street, and, bowing to him, said, “I think, sir, this is Mr. P., who used to be superintendent of such a Sunday school?” “That is my name, sir, but I don’t remember you.” “Don’t you remember a boy named George Simpson who used to belong to your school?” “No, I can’t recollect the name.” “Well, sir, don’t you remember meeting him one day coming out of a drinking-place near the corner of Third and Dock Streets, when you shook your finger at him, and said, ‘Take care, George’?” “Oh, yes, I remember that.” “Well, sir,” said the young man, “I am George Simpson, and I want to thank you for what you did and said that day. It was a little thing, but it saved me from ruin. I was just beginning to go in the drunkard’s ways. But something in your words and manner made a great impression on me. I gave up drinking. Not long after, I joined the Church. Now I am living in the West, and am quite well off; but, my dear sir, I owe it all to you.” Here you see how the superintendent was like a diamond, making a mark that never can be rubbed out.

Its brightness. The most brilliant of all jewels. It gives up freely the rays of light that God freely bestows upon it. And this is what makes it look so bright and beautiful. And so you see that when Jesus said, “Freely ye have received, freely give,” it is about the same as if He had said, “Be like the diamond, which gives back again so freely the light which it receives”. A piece of coal does not reflect any light. All the light that falls on it is swallowed up and kept to itself. This is what makes it look so black, so dark, and disagreeable. Selfish, miserly people are like coal in this respect. They don’t reflect or scatter about them anything they receive. Whatever God gives them they swallow up and keep to themselves.

But there is a third thing connected with diamonds, on account of which Christians may be compared to them, and that is the way to find out counterfeits. There are many counterfeit diamonds. Men can make imitation diamonds. And these often look so very much like the real that it is difficult to tell one from the other. And then God sometimes makes stones that appear so much like diamonds that hardly one person out of twenty can tell the difference between them. Sometimes even the merchants who are engaged in buying and selling diamonds can hardly tell a real jewel from an imitation. There are one or two tests, however. A real diamond can’t be scratched. Another way is by putting it beside a true diamond and comparing them together. And so, if you wish to tell if a person is a true Christian, you must compare him with Jesus, and see if he is like Him. Jesus was gentle, loving, and kind. And the Bible says that “unless the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, we are none of His.” This means that unless we are like Him we are not true Christians. And then there is another way by which you can tell a real diamond from a counterfeit. If you put them in water, the diamond will still look bright and shine; the counterfeit, instead of shining, will look dark and dull. The Bible compares affliction or trial to water; and you can easily tell a true Christian from a counterfeit by seeing how he acts when affliction comes upon him. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The agate

In old times people used to think that this jewel had the power of securing success. It was supposed that if persons only had an agate with them they would be sure to get the victory over their enemies. The agate was considered as the conqueror’s jewel. And now what is the Bible jewel that will always give us the victory--that will make us “more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us”? It is the grace of God. This is the Bible jewel that we may compare to the agate. And there are two things over which this jewel, the grace of God, will make us conquerors, if we have it in our hearts. Each of these things begins with the letter S.

The first thing over which this Bible jewel, the grace of God, will make us conquerors is sin. The Bible tells us that we are born in sin. Our hearts are full of sin. Unless we get this sin driven out, and overcome, we never can be happy, either in this world or in the world to come. We read a great deal in the Bible about the wrestling, and struggling, and fighting, that Christians have to do. And the thing they have to fight against all the time is sin. When two people are fighting, it generally happens that they keep on at it till either one or the other of them gets the victory. And so it is in the great battle we have to fight with sin. Either we must conquer it, or it will conquer us. But we never can conquer sin ourselves. And there is nothing that will give us the victory over it but the grace of God. This is the real agate, the Bible jewel, that will give us the victory.

The second thing over which this jewel will make us conquerors is satan. This is the next S. Satan is the great tempter. The Bible tells us that he “goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” or destroy. The only way in which Satan can destroy us, or do us any harm, is by tempting us to sin. And he cannot hurt us, even in this way, unless we yield to the temptation. If we only have this Bible jewel, the grace of God, with us, it will make us conquerors over Satan. And then, although he is so powerful and so wicked, and although he tries so hard to injure us and keep us from getting to heaven, he won’t be able to do us any harm. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The conqueror’s jewel

The greatest enemy with which we have to fight is sin. This enemy meets us in many forms. But the form in which it gives us more trouble than any other is perhaps that of selfishness. This is an evil that is very hard to conquer. Suppose we are walking in the country, and meet a snake in the path; with the cane in our hand we strike it again and again, till it lies still and motionless. We leave it, and go on our way, feeling sure that we have killed the snake. But when we have finished our walk, and come back to the place where we left the snake, we find it still alive and active. Then we say to ourselves, “Snakes are hard to kill.” And it is just so with selfishness. It is a very difficult thing to conquer it. If we wish to subdue it, and get the victory over it, we must be sure to have this conqueror’s jewel, the grace of God. And there are three things that this jewel will lead us to do in fighting against selfishness.

In the first place, it will lead us to pray against it. Prayer is necessary to our success in everything we do. Jesus said to His disciples, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” And this is as true now as it was then. It is as true of us as it was of the disciples. And it is particularly true of the thing we are now considering. If we want to get the victory over the selfishness of our own hearts, it is especially necessary for us to pray to Jesus to help us.

The second thing that this conqueror’s jewel will lead us to do in getting the victory over selfishness is to struggle against it. We must not think that praying is to take the place of striving. God only helps those who strive to help themselves. Suppose that you and I have to climb up a high mountain. We kneel down at the foot of the mountain, and pray God to help us get up to the top of it. And then suppose we should sit down and wait for God to send an angel to take us in his arms and carry us up to the top of the mountain. Have we any right to expect that God would help us in that way? Not at all. We might wait all our lives, but we never should get any help. If we want to get up the mountain, we must begin to climb, and we must keep on climbing till we get to the top, and while we are doing this God will help us. No soldier ever expects to gain the victory over his enemies without a hard struggle. We have all read about the great victory which the Duke of Wellington obtained over the Emperor Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. But he had to fight hard all day before he gained that victory. And so, if we want to get the victory over our selfishness, we must struggle hard against it.

The third thing that this conqueror’s jewel will lead us to do in getting the victory over selfishness is to remember the example of Jesus. Jesus came down from heaven to do three things for us. The first was to fulfil God’s law for us. The second was to die for our sins. The third was to show us how to live. The Bible tells us that “He left us an example that we should follow His steps.” You know, when we are learning to write, our teacher sets us a copy. Then we take the word or sentence that has been written for us, letter by letter, and try to make others like them. And just in the same way the life of Jesus is set before us as our copy. We are to keep it before us, and try to make our own lives like His. Being a Christian means being like Jesus. Now it is said of Jesus that “He pleased not Himself.” (R. Newton, D. D.)

The amethyst

The amethyst is a very precious jewel and very much admired. Its colour is a mixture of blue and red. It is a rich purple, very much like the appearance of a bunch of ripe, dark-coloured grapes. The name of this jewel comes from the Greek language, and it means not to intoxicate, or not to make drunk. The amethyst is the temperance jewel. The boys’ and girls, and men and women, who make clear, cold, sparkling water their principal drink, should take the amethyst as their favourite jewel. In old times people used to think that if they only had a cup made out of an amethyst to drink from, they never would get intoxicated. And if they only carried one of these jewels about them it would have the same effect. They thought the amethyst was a charm against intemperance, and a cure for it when men fell into this dreadful habit. What a blessed thing it would be if this were so! Then this jewel would be worth its weight in gold, and ten times more than that. But it cannot do this. It is only the Bible jewel, which the amethyst stands for, that can do this. And what is the Bible jewel that may be compared to the amethyst? It is the fear of God. This is the real temperance jewel. I wish to speak of three ways in which this Bible jewel--the true amethyst--the fear of God--will be a temperance jewel to us.

In the first place it will keep us from learning to drink. You know what a dreadful thing it is to be plunged over the Falls of Niagara. Nobody can go over there without being killed. And if, when you are visiting the falls, you should see a person sailing in a boat on the river above the falls, to see how near he could go without being drawn over, you would think that a very dangerous position to be in. And so it would be. So long as a person is on the river above Niagara he is always in danger of being drawn over. But if he keep out of the river, he is free from danger. Now, to fall into intemperance is worse than going over Niagara. And learning to drink intoxicating liquor is like sailing on the river above Niagara. You are in danger at any time of being drawn over. This Bible gem, the fear of God, is the true amethyst--the temperance jewel--in the first place, because it will keep us from learning to drink.

It is so, in the second place, because it will keep us from tempting others to drink. It is impossible to tell how much harm is done in this way. God has tried to stop this evil by speaking about it in the Bible. He says in one place, “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that putteth the bottle to him” (Habakkuk 2:15).

And then there is another reason why this Bible jewel, the fear of God, may be compared to the amethyst--the true temperance jewel--and that is, it will lead us to stop drinking even when we have got into the habit of doing so. When the habit of drinking is once formed it becomes very strong. Nothing but this temperance jewel will enable any one to break off from the habit of drinking. My dear young friends, you know that in Switzerland there are great mountains, very high and very steep. Many of them have there tops covered with ice and snow. Sometimes great masses of this ice and snow will get loose and fall. In their fall they go rushing down the sides of the mountains with a noise like thunder. These masses of falling ice and snow are called avalanches. If travellers, or cottages, or even villages are in their path, they are swept away into instant destruction. When an avalanche is once started, it never can be stopped till it gets to the bottom of the mountain. Sometimes a very little is enough to start an avalanche. The stepping of your foot upon it; the taking away of a loose stone; or even the jarring of the air may do it. What a dangerous thing it is to loosen an avalanche and send it down the mountain side, breaking and crushing everything before it! But drunkenness is worse than an avalanche. And when any one gets into the habit of drinking he is loosening an avalanche over his head which may at any time rush down upon him and kill him. Be very careful how you do this. Don’t get into the habit of drinking, and then you will be sure never to become a drunkard. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Verse 29

Exodus 28:29

Aaron shall bear the names.

I. The person typified by aaron.

1. Christ (Hebrews 5:4-5).

2. His Divine call to the priesthood (Hebrews 5:10).

3. The destruction of His enemies (1 John 3:8).

4. The leader of His people (John 10:3).

5. The averter of God’s vengeance (1 Timothy 2:5).

The persons represented by the term “Israel.” Ancient Israel, as an elect nation, was a typical people, representing the collective body of Christ’s Church. For which compare Deuteronomy 7:6-8 with Romans 8:28-30.

1. All true believers are called Israel (Galatians 6:16).

2. They are circumcised, as was Israel (Romans 2:28-29).

3. They are a peculiar people, as was Israel (Titus 2:14).

What is meant by Aaron’s bearing them on his heart.

1. Christ’s affection for us (1 John 3:16).

2. His great pity towards us (Isaiah 63:9).

3. His interest in us (John 17:9-10; John 17:24).

What we are to understand by Aaron’s going into the holy place. Eternal exclusion from God’s glory would have been our unchanging portion, had not the blessed Saviour opened a way for our admission. See it literally explained in Leviticus 16:1-34.

1. It shows Christ’s entrance into heaven for us (Hebrews 9:24).

2. To present His perfect offering for us (Hebrews 9:12).

3. His continual intercession (Hebrews 7:25).

Here i shall explain this “continual memorial,” ever before the lord: It may signify--

1. The constant efficacy of His blood.

2. The perfection of His everlasting righteousness.

3. The daily outpouring of His Spirit.

4. The gracious preservation of His people in holiness.

5. It represents the place which Christ’s Church occupies in His heart, in glory.

6. And ensures our everlasting enjoyment after this time-state is passed away. (T. B. Baker.)

The connection between priest and people

That the connection between the priest and the people might be made more plain, God not only placed on his breast the memorials of the twelve tribes, but also engraved their names on his shoulders. Thus the people would understand that this one man was not separated from the others for the sake of private advantage, but that in his one person they were all a kingdom of priests (see 1 Peter 2:5; Isaiah 66:21; Revelation 1:6). Hence arises our confidence of ascending to heaven because Christ raises us up with Him; we “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”; however weak we may be in ourselves, herein is all our strength that we are His burden. (J. Calvin.)

Shoulder and heart ministry

History shall not be forgotten, deliverances shall be held in perpetual remembrance; marvels of the Lord wrought yesterday shall be as the marvels wrought in the present hour. Then there shall be a tenderer representation--the names shall be upon the heart. There shall be a ministry of love, a pleading of sympathy, an identification of the spirit of the man with all the difficulties and distresses of the people. Shoulder work: representing publicity, courage, strength, leadership--shoulders to which men may look as to strong towers; and then the delicate heart-work; the sweet sympathy, the paternal or fraternal interest in all that concerns the development, and culture, and completion of poor, shattered, struggling human life. It is nothing to bear upon the shoulder--that is a kind of burden-carrying, and there is a kind of applause immediately following the completion of any athletic task--but who can tell the heart-work of the true mediator or minister of the new covenant? A man who enters into this work with his whole soul must live a life of singular tension and agony, otherwise he is but a shatterer of words; only his shoulder engaged in the function; his heart is at liberty to run after any vanity and court the applause of any foolish idolatry. We must look at ideals; we must fasten our attention upon the thing as God meant it to be, and taking the Divine meaning of the priesthood in the olden time and of the ministry of to-day, we have amongst us men who care for us, men with strong shoulders, tower-like men; sturdy, visible, valiant, dauntless men; men who can speak in the darkness and make their voices heard in the storm; men who know not the cloud of fear and who heed not the tempest of opposition. But we need in the same men other qualities, tenderer elements, more gracious and insinuating forces that find their way into our inmost experience, into our heart’s aching and sore necessity--men who are taught of Heaven to speak a word in season to him that is weary; men who have the gift of consolation, who can lower the voice into a tender and helpful whisper, and who can bring all God’s gospel to bear in gracious and healing application upon the wound which makes the heart sore. This is the ideal. That we do not rise to it may be a rebuke to ourselves, but it is no just criticism upon the Divine purpose. It is an ideal we should do much to sustain. We cannot tell what we owe to the men who teach us great doctrines, who pray off many a burden that strains our strength; who speak to us, even between the lines of their eloquence, things that help us to bear life’s misery with a more cheerful courage. We do not know what is being done by ministry of a truly Christian type, whether in the pulpit, or in the school, or in the family, or in the market-place. No man can measure the full issue and outgoing of influence connected with the profound agonistic service on behalf of truth and humanity. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 30

Exodus 28:30

The Urim and the Thummim.

The Urim and Thummim

A very great mystery hangs over those two words--“the Urim and the Thummim”--commonly translated “light and perfection”--in the Septuagint version, “manifestation and truth,”--and in the Vulgate, “doctrine and truth.” But until there shall stand up a priest with Urim and Thummim, we are told, both in Ezra and Nehemiah, it will remain a mystery. And as a mystery we must view it.

The stones representing the Church, that were borne upon the high priest’s breast and the high priest’s shoulders, connect themselves with the Urim and the Thummim. In some way or other, it is quite clear that God was pleased to reveal His will in connection with these twelve stones. In what way it is very difficult to determine. There are these possible interpretations. It may be that it pleased God at certain times to throw a miraculous light upon these twelve different coloured stones, which did in some way write His mind; either by the initiatory letters, or by some signs which were familiar to the high priest, God did, by the means of these twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes, convey His will to the high priest--that he might again convey it to the people. But the closest investigation that has been given to the subject does not lead to that conclusion--and those who are the most competent to speak do not adopt that interpretation. It has been rather supposed that these stones were not made themselves the channels or the mediums by which God conveyed His will, but that they accredited, as it were, and empowered the high priest, when he was before God, authenticated the high priest, that then God seeing him in the fulness of his priesthood, was pleased to convey spiritually and not materially by these stones to his mind what God had in His own mind upon the subject that was transferred to him for consultation.

Consider now practically what is that which is to us the Urim and Thummim?--and how should we consult God, and obtain our answers?

1. And here let me speak to you of the very great importance of going to God very often consultingly. In prayer, pray consultingly--in reading, read consultingly. Always consult God first, before you ask any man--if possible, before you ask yourself. Before you go to a thought, if possible, ask God to take the initiative--ask God first to speak even before your own heart speaks.

2. You must be very careful, whenever you go to consult God, that there are two conditions.

(1) That your mind is not pre-occupied, that you be free, that you do not bring pre-conceived and settled ideas, and then ask God to fall in with your view. You will be surprised, if you examine your own hearts, how very generally you do that. You have settled what you wish, and then you go to God to persuade God, as it were, to follow your design. Try to go to God as the blank sheet, that God will write there, upon a mind quite free, His own entire will.

(2) And again, it is quite essential, if you will have answers to your consultings of God, that you should have thoroughly and honestly made up your mind to follow whatever you find to be, believe to be God’s guidance. If you do not go to God with that true determination, you will consult him in vain.

(3) If we are to attain Urim and Thummim in our consultations with God, we must do it through priest-hood--in the recognition of the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are many ways in which God may give us the Urim and Thummim to direct our steps.

1. By a light breaking on some passage of the Bible.

2. By the Spirit of God illuminating our own minds. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The Urim and Thummim

We lean to the opinion that the precious stones constituted the Urim and Thummim, but not by reason of any supernatural illumination of the letters, and that the stones rendered the breastplate the ornament or badge which qualified the high priest for making inquiries of Jehovah: “They shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he goeth in before the Lord.” The precious stones may have received the collective name of Urim and Thummim:

1. On their own account. Of all earthly objects, these precious stones are the most lustrous, and emit light of themselves. Like the stars they shine in the darkest night, and for that reason they have been called the “stars of earth.” Are they not, then, well called lights? Thummim signifies perfection. The stones, from their brilliancy, purity, and uncommon beauty, are perhaps the most striking emblems which earthly objects furnish of truth or perfection, and are therefore not inappropriately named “Thummim.”

2. On account of their being the badge or ornament which it was necessary for the high priest to wear when he consulted Jehovah. The object of the high priest was to get light on some dark subject, or to arrive at the truth on some matter he could not discover otherwise, or to give a righteous decision in cases in which his knowledge or wisdom was deficient, and such as would accord with innocence and justice. For these reasons the gems seem to be appropriately called “Urim and Thummim.”

3. On account of their representing the children of Israel. The names of all the tribes being on the stones--one name on each--the Israelites might see in these stones an emblem of what it was designed they should become, before they were meet for being worshippers in the heavenly temple; and the high priest might be reminded by them that his mission was to bring the pious Israelite into that state of perfection. Like these gems, man by nature is of the earth earthy. Both have their origin in mother earth. Yet both, when polished, may shine like the stars of the firmament, (W. Brown.)

The Urim and the Thummim

As to the Urim and the Thummim, whether they were precious stones bearing those significant names, or what they were, no one is able at present to decide. Urim means “Lights”; Thummim, “Perfections.” These mysterious contents of the breastplate seem to direct our thoughts to the heart of the Lord Jesus, as containing all lights and perfections, all grace and truth, all mercies and righteousness. In Him was light: and He manifested forth that light; He declared the Father. He is the light of the glory of God: all fulness of light dwells in Him. The Septuagint translation “Manifestation,” is not an inappropriate expression, though rather a paraphrase than a translation. We are told in Ephesians 5:13, “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” The high priest, with the Urim in his breastplate, became the channel by which God made manifest His counsels. The Lord Jesus, as the great High Priest, makes known the counsels and purposes of God. He is light; and in Him is no darkness at all; so that the mind and will of God can be perfectly revealed to Him, and can by Him be communicated to His saints. He is the brightness or shining forth of God’s glory, the irradiation of God. The Thummim also, or all perfections of truth and holiness, dwell in Him. Light and truth, love and holiness, grace and righteousness are inseparable. Sometimes we find the Urim mentioned, without the Thummim (Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6). From these two passages it is clear that by means of the Urim, or lights, in the breastplate of the high priest, the counsel, judgment, and prophetic guidance of Jehovah were revealed. In three other passages (Deuteronomy 33:8; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65), the Urim and Thummim are mentioned together. “Urim” is also translated “fire” and fires (Isaiah 24:15; Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 44:16; Isaiah 47:14; Isaiah 50:11; Ezekiel 5:2). In the vision of the Son of Man (Revelation 1:12-16), the eyes of the High Priest, in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, were as a flame of fire. The lights and perfections of God searched into the ways of the seven Churches; and the Priest of the Most High could say, as He addressed each separately, “I know thy works,” and could give a word of encouragement or of rebuke, according as it was needed. (H. W. Soltau.)

Verses 31-35

Exodus 28:31-35

The robe of the ephod.

The robe of the ephod

The third peculiar garment of the high priest was the robe of the ephod (Exodus 28:5; Exodus 28:31). On the skirts of which were fastened--

1. The pomegranates of blue silk, and purple, and scarlet round about. This fruit hath a most pleasant smell, sweet in itself, and sweetening other things round about it; and is full of precious juice and liquor.

2. Bells of gold between them round about, a golden bell and a pomegranate; the use of which was, that his sound might be heard round about when he went into the sanctuary and holy of holies. The whole garment signified the righteousness of Christ’s human nature, which is--

(1) Most sweet itself, having a most pleasant savour as the pomegranate.

(2) Full of most precious juice and virtue, to qualify and abate the raging heat of God’s displeasure, as the juice of pomegranates doth allay the burning heat of an ague that would shake the body to pieces.

(3) Casts upon us a sweet savour being wrapped in it. For we, by nature, stinking in our sins and rottenness, are loathsome to the Lord; but once covered with this mantle, we are a sweet savour to God.

3. This garment hath a sweet sound, as of golden bells, which to hear were most delectable, because the garment of Christ’s righteousness brings grace to us no otherwise than by the sound of the gospel. For faith, by which we put on Christ, is wrought by hearing the sweet sound and golden bell of the gospel. Whence some have thought, that by this part of the priest’s attire, is shadowed the prophetical office of Christ. Sweet is the proclamation of the gospel of peace!

4. The use. That by these bells the priests must be heard when he goeth into the sanctuary; signifying the power of Christ, our High Priest’s, perpetual intercession (being entered into the sanctuary of heaven) for His elect and chosen. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

The blue robe

The robe was of one piece, and was all of blue. This colour sets forth that which was pre-eminently heavenly in the character of Christ, and it reminds us of that perfect, seamless robe of Christ’s righteousness, which is “unto all and upon all them that believe”(Romans 3:22). The bottom of this long robe was ornamented with golden bells and pomegranates. Here were sound and fruit, and as much fruit as sound. As he moved about in the court or in the tabernacle, every step sent forth a sweet golden sound from each of the many little bells hanging about his feet, and Aaron would seem to say by this sound, “I am ready to serve you, and to bless you.” The pomegranates would often remind him that a priest must do more than make a sound; he must work as well as talk; he must produce both sound and fruit, and both must be good. These bells and pomegranates were about the feet--the walk of the high priest; reminding us of the loveliness of Christ’s walk, and of the sweetness and pleasantness of His conversation. The sound of these bells would not be heard in the camp, and but faintly, if they could be heard at all, outside the court. To hear this sweet sound distinctly, a man must have come as far as to the brazen altar; but he could not come there without an offering. And as the first offering he was required to bring was a sin-offering, if a man stood at the altar of brass and listened to the sweet and joyful sound of the golden bells about the hem of the priest’s blue robe, we are quite sure that he had come, first of all, as a sinner to be pardoned and saved. So now a man must feel himself a sinner, and in need of a sin-offering: he must come out from the world; must draw near to Him who is both the altar and the sacrifice; must lay his hand by faith on the head of Christ. (G. Rodgers.)

The robe of the ephod

This robe embodied the colour of the heavens; it was all of blue. It seems to have typified the especial glory of the true High Priest, whose name is “Prince of Peace,” the “Lord of Peace”; and who wears His princely robes as King of Righteousness, and King of Peace, upon the ground of having made full, perfect, and eternal peace through the blood of His cross. God, known as love, is the God of peace: and He has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant. That title, “the Great Shepherd of the sheep,” seems to sum up in one name the whole of the priesthood of Christ, as described in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He is the Great Shepherd; for He is King as well as Priest. He has royal power; a royal heart; royal glory; and His dominions are righteousness and peace; and He is the Shepherd, having proved His love and care for the sheep, in laying down His life for them; and all His priestly service on their behalf is conducted with the heart of a good Shepherd, who loves His own, and whose own the sheep are. This is, therefore, a princely, priestly, shepherd robe. It displays the love of God as seen in the gift of His Son and as manifested by the Son Himself, in laying down His life, and so making peace. It was a robe which covered the high priest from head to foot, and showed the great object of His priesthood, namely, to maintain, on the behalf of His own, that peace with God which He had procured at the cost of His own blood, and which the God of peace had sealed and established, by raising Him from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant. This robe was all of one piece, woven from the top throughout, and a provision was made by means of a binding of woven work round about the hole in the top of it, that it should not rend or be rent. Is not this very significant of the unchanging love of Christ? (H. W. Soltau.)

A golden bell and a pomegranate.

Golden bells

I am glad that the first use of bells was a religious use; and hereafter the gospel of God to me shall be a chime of bells; and whether I hear them in the garments of the high priest, or in the cathedral tower, they shall suggest to me the gladness, the warning, and the triumph of the gospel.

1. These gospel bells, like those that adorned the high priest’s robe, are golden bells. Other bells are made of coarser materials--zinc, and lead, and tin, and copper; but these gospel bells are bells of gold. There is one bell in Europe that cost three hundred thousand dollars. It was at vast expense that metallic voices were given to the towers of York, and Vienna, and Oxford. But all the wealth of heaven was thrown into this gospel bell. No angel can count its value. Eternity cannot demonstrate its cost. When the bell of the Russian Kremlin was being fused, the lords came and threw their gold into the molten mass; but when this Gospel bell was to be constructed, the kings of heaven, the hierarchs of eternity, threw into it their crowns and their sceptres. It is a golden bell. Do you believe it? Hear it ring! “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Him hath God exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”

2. I remark, further, that these gospel bells, like those around the high priest’s garment, are bells of invitation. When the Jews heard the clash of those bells in the hem of the priest’s robe they knew it was an invitation to worship. That is the meaning of every church tower from San Francisco to New York, and from London to St. Petersburgh. It is, “Come--come.”

3. I remark, further, that the gospel bells, like those on the high priest’s robe, are bells of warning. When the Jews heard the clash and ring of these bells, it was a warning for them to worship, lest their God be offended. On Bell Rock, in the German Ocean, there is a lighthouse, and there are two bells, that every half-minute ring out through the fog, through the darkness, through the storm, and over the sea. Beware! Beware! The helmsman on the ship, hearing the warning, turns the wheel and steers off. It is a startling thing, at midnight, to hear the heavy clang of a fire bell, if you live in the third ward, and the tongue of the bell strike one, two, three! If a city is besieged, and the flash of the musketry is seen on the hill-tops, and the cavalry horses are dashing up and down, and the batteries are being unlimbered, all the bells of the city call, to arms! to arms! So this gospel bell is a bell of alarm.

4. I remark, further, that the bells on the high priest’s robe were bells of joy. When the Jews heard the chiming of those bells on the priest’s robe, it announced to them the possibility of pardon for their sins, and of deliverance. “Behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all people.” There have been bells rung on days of victory. The bell of London rang after Waterloo. The bells in many of our cities rang after the settlement of our national strife. The great bells of York, and Oxford, and Vienna, at some time, have sounded the victory.

5. These gospel bells, of which I speak, are bells of triumph. Aye! they are ringing now: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” “And He shall reign for ever and for ever!” The Bishop of Malta, in superstition, had all the bells of the city rung, in the hope that the storm that was raging in the city might be quieted. That was superstition: but I think it is faith in God that leads us to believe that the ringing of these gospel bells will yet silence all the storms of this world’s sin, and all the storms of this world’s trouble. Oh! when Jesus, our Great High Priest, in full robes shall enter into His glory, the bells on the hem of His garments will ring with the music of an eternal merriment.

6. But we shall have no share in that joy unless now we listen to the gospel tiding. There is a bell on the other side of the waters, weighing two hundred and eight thousand pounds; and it takes twenty-four men to ring it. But to bring out all the sweetness of this gospel bell would take all the consecrated spirits of earth--seraphim and archangel. Who in this august assembly will listen? Who will listen now? In New England they have what they call a passing bell; that is, when some one dies in a village, word is sent to the sexton, and he sounds the bell just as often as the man lived years: and when the sound is in the tower, the people are solemn, and they say, “Some one is dead--who is it?” For us the passing bell will soon sound. Gone from the family. Gone from the church. Gone from the last opportunity of salvation. (T. De Witt Talmage.)


As the priests must have in their skirts both bells and pomegranates: so must every evangelical minister.

1. The bells allow them not to be dumb dogs (Isaiah 56:10), but the sound of the law and gospel must clearly sound in their mouths, to be heard afar off.

2. These bells must be of gold, to put ministers in mind that their doctrine be pure; not corrupt, not savouring of popish liberty, or self-respect.

3. They must never come into the congregation without these bells; for ministers must still be furnished with some sound matter of instruction and edification. How is it then that many come into the congregation and never bring bells? Many are afraid lest the sound of their bells should be heard too much, and that it would disgrace them to be counted diligent preachers. And many scorn others that their bells sound so often.

4. To the bells, ministers must join pomegranates: with the wholesome word, join good works and holy life. He carries the bell, a minister whose life is agreeable with the holy doctrine (Matthew 5:19). He that keepeth the commandments, and teacheth others so to do, shall be great in the kingdom of God. John Baptist had both bells (being a burning light in himself), and pomegranates; being a shining light unto others. And as the pomegranates smelled sweet; so must ministers labour to leave a sweet smell behind them everywhere. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

The church-going bells

In considering the usefulness of church bells, it may be proper to say: First, that they render a worthy claim for their existence in promoting the temporal welfare of communities where their voice is heard. But, secondly, the worth of a bell is perhaps still more evident when we consider its use for religious purposes. The ways of its usefulness, when calling the people together for worship, are easily seen.

It calls attention to the claims of God for love and service. Nothing is more manifest than that men are apt to become careless in respect to these claims.

It is useful in promoting a larger attendance upon the services of the sanctuary, than would be secured but for its influence.

Added to an increase of attendants, the bell pronotes punctuality.

The bell is useful in the influence it has in preparing the mind of those who obey its call for worship.

The bell is useful because of the sacred associations connected with its sound, and the hallowed memories its notes inspire. (G. L. Foster.)

The dumb bell

Mr. Gatty, in his book on “Bells,” gives the following anecdote, on the credit of Cardinal Baronius: “When Charles II., king of France, A.D. 615, was at Sens, in Burgundy, he heard a bell in the church of St. Stephen, the sound of which pleased him so much that he ordered it to be transported to Paris. The Bishop of Sens, however, was greatly displeased at this, and the bell so sympathized with him that it turned dumb on the road and lost all its sound. When the king heard of this he commanded that the bell should be carried back to its old quarters, when, strange to relate, as it approached the town, it recovered its original tone, and began to ring so as to be heard at Sens, whilst yet about four leagues distant from it.” The true preacher grows silent if forced to any other service than his Lord’s. If he attempts to speak on any other topic than that which concerns his Lord and the gospel, he misses his former force; he is not at home, he is glad to end his speech and sit down. Our bell is dumb if it does not ring out for Jesus. The world would soon dismiss us if it had hired us to be its orator, for our heart is elsewhere, and only upon the one dear, familiar theme can be eloquent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verses 36-38

Exodus 28:36-38

Holiness to the Lord.

Holiness to the Lord

This plate of pure gold was fastened by blue lace to the mitre, or turban, or tiara, or linen, which was upon the head of the high priest. He put it on with the robe of the ephod, the robe under the breastplate and the ephod--the robe of the ephod, which had, round the bottom, a bell and a pomegranate alternately--fruitfulness and music--showing the fruitfulness of the priesthood and the music of the priesthood before God, without which emblems the high priest might never enter into the holy of holies, lest he die. To teach man that no creature can ever stand before God but through priesthood, lest he die. Were we to stand before God but in the fruitfulness and music of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we should die. The plate of pure gold upon his forehead, he went in before God to present the inscription graven there like the engraving of a signet, “Holiness to the Lord,” to take away the iniquity of the holy things of Israel, and to make those holy things, purged from their iniquity, acceptable to God. Consider the subject of holiness.

The word is used in three senses in the Bible.

1. Sometimes the word “holy” means that which is set apart, consecrated. In that sense the vessels of the Temple were holy.

2. Sometimes the word signifies the indwelling of the Spirit, with His gradually sanctifying processes. In this sense the church is holy.

3. There is a still higher sense in which man is perfectly holy. Christ perfects them that are sanctified.

The true definition of holiness is the likeness of God. But we cannot conceive of the likeness of God but through a medium, and that medium must be the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever traits we find characterizing the life of Jesus, these make up holiness.

1. The life of Christ was a separate life.

2. He always carried about an inner sanctuary in His own soul.

3. The life of Christ had a subdued tone.

4. It was a life consecrated to an object.

5. It was a life of praise.

Look upon holiness as an end to be obtained. Do not seek holiness as a means to happiness, but happiness as a means to holiness. Be more careful about the holiness of little things than of great things. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Christ our High Priest, bearing the iniquity of our holy things

The first thing that strikes us here is, that it is the head of the high priest that is thus adorned, the most honourable member of the body, the seat of the indwelling soul. Then, again, it is the forehead that is selected, which is the comeliness and glory of the head--the place on which the eye of the observer rests, and on which the eye of God would rest when meeting with the priest or the worshipper. On the forehead of the high priest, on “the forefront of his mitre,” was the ornament to be fastened. It consisted of a plate of pure gold, the purest and costliest of metals, to signify the purity that God demanded. On it there was to be engraved, like the engravings of a signet, distinct and deep, “Holiness to the Lord,”--still farther foreshadowing the awful holiness of God, and the no loss awful holiness which He required in the sin-bearer. Forming thus the most prominent part of his dress, and placed upon his forehead, it would be that on which the eye of God might be said first to rest, whether at the-brazen altar, or the altar of incense, or the mercy-seat, in all parts of his holy service. When standing before God, it was this peculiar adorning that presented itself, with its inscription, “Holiness to the Lord.” Thus, then, there was proclaimed to Israel a free forgiveness for the iniquities of their holy things. It was forgiveness through the holiness of another, as if God would teach them that while He required holiness in him who was to bear any sin, yet especial holiness was required when bearing the sins of our holy things. And then there was not merely the bare forgiveness, but there was the acceptance thus provided, both for themselves and their services, before the Lord. All this was to Israel the shadow of “good things to come.” The law, indeed, made nothing perfect, but it was the bringing in of the better hope, by which we draw nigh to God (Hebrews 7:19). This better hope has now been brought in. What was thus foreshadowed afar off by Aaron, as Israel’s high priest, has been fulfilled to us in Jesus of Nazareth, God’s own anointed Priest.

We learn how complete is the provision made by God for a sinner’s acceptance. This provision is entirely in Him who is our great High Priest. It is not in ourselves at all, but in Him alone. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.” He is the Father’s infinite treasure-house of all blessing, secured for, and set open to sinners. Nothing that a guilty soul can require, is awanting in Him. Out of Him, there is nothing; in Him, there is everything. “He, of God, is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” In our text, however, the allusion is not to His fulness in general, but to His priesthood alone, as making provision for a sinner’s pardon and acceptance: and this in reference to the sins of our holy things--the sins committed in our more direct transactions with God. For every sin, and for every kind of sin, there is provision in Him on whom our sins were laid. For all these there is a special way of pardon ordained by God, and certain sins are minutely specified, in order to show us that no case has been overlooked or left without a special remedy.

Let us learn how perpetual and unchangeable this provision is. It is written here, concerning the high priest on earth, “It shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” In this we have a vivid type of Him, who is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever”; who hath “an unchangeable priesthood”; who “ever liveth to make intercession for us.” He who bears the iniquity of our holy things, is one who changes not; who is ever the same holy High Priest, and ever glorious in the Father’s eyes. We vary, but He varies not. Our feelings change, His alter not. Our soul fluctuates, ever rising and falling, ever ebbing and flowing, but He remaineth steadfast and true. We grow cold and faithless, He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself. His is a priesthood which endureth for ever, which never loses aught of its efficacy and value.

Learn how glorious and certain is this provision. It depends upon the holiness of the high priest. Not upon his grace, or mercy, or compassion, but upon his holiness. It is because there is such holiness in him to meet and satisfy the holiness of God that our forgiveness is so secure, and the way of our obtaining it so glorious. What an ample pardon, what a secure acceptance, must that be which is secured to us by the holiness of our great High Priest! for His holiness cannot change, neither can it pass away. His mercy might be worn out by our sins, and He might forget to be gracious, but He cannot cease to be holy.

Learn how accessible and free is this provision. It is set open to all. Its benefits are wide and unrestricted “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The mitre

1. Made of blue silk and fine linen (Exodus 28:39), like (as it seems) to an half-coronet.

2. Beautified with a golden plate, on which was written “Holiness to the Lord.”

3. The use. Aaron must ever have it on his forehead while he bears the iniquity of their offerings, to make the people acceptable before the Lord (Exodus 28:38).

The mitre and crown on the priest’s head signified--

1. The Deity of Christ our head, which as a crown or circle wants beginning and end.

2. The kingly office of Christ, with all that honour and crown of glory set on the head of our Redeemer, to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth.

The golden plate in which was written “Holiness to the Lord,” did not only distinguish it from the mitres of the ordinary priests, which wanted such a plate: but specially typified Jesus Christ our head, in whom was most conspicuous (as in a man’s forehead), a most Divine and perfect holiness purer than the gold of that plate.

The use was significant, that as the high priest, having on this plate, with this inscription, got the iniquities of the people pardoned, which he bare before the Lord: So our High Priest, Jesus Christ, presenting before His Father, His most absolute holiness, gets a pardon for all our sins, which He bears upon Himself. And as their sins were pardoned in respect of the high priest, who represented Christ: So both theirs and ours are indeed and in truth pardoned, for the true and eternal High Priest, who is Christ Himself. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

Holiness to the Lord

Holiness to the Lord! Where is that inscription to be stamped now? The Jewish Tabernacle has expanded into that world-wide brotherhood, where whosoever doeth righteousness is accepted. Morning has risen into day. The ministry of Aaron is ended. All the outward glory and beauty of that Hebrew worship which the Lord commanded Moses has vanished into the eternal splendour of the gospel, and been fulfilled in Christ. What teaching has it left? What other than this?--that we are to engrave our “Holiness to the Lord” first on the heart, and then on all that the heart goes out into, through the brain and the hand; on the plates of gold our age of enterprise is drawing up from mines and beating into currency; on bales of merchandise and books of account; on the tools and bench of every handicraft; on your weights and measures; on pen and plough and pulpit; on the door-posts of your houses, and the utensils of your tables, and the walls of your chambers; on cradle and playthings and schoolbooks; on the locomotives of enterprise, and the bells of the horses, and the ships of navigation; on music-halls and libraries; on galleries of art, and the lyceum desk; on all of man’s inventing and building, all of his using and enjoying, for all these are trusts in a stewardship, for which the Lord of the servants reckoneth. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)

Material and shape of mitre

Elsewhere this ornament is called “nezer,” from a verb signifying to separate; and hence denoting a crown as a mark of separation or distinction. The same word is applied to the diadem of kings. Indeed, such turbans of fine linen, with an encircling or front ornament of gold or precious stones, seem to have been the usual diadems of ancient kings. Justin says that Alexander the Great took his diadem from his head to bind up the wounds of Lysimachus. This shows clearly that it was of linen. Probably, it had some distinguishing ornament like that of the high priest here.

1. Jahn says curiously enough that, in the time of Josephus, the shape of the mitre had become somewhat altered. It was circular, was covered with a piece of fine linen, and sat so closely on the upper part of the head that it would not fail off when the body was bent down: apparently it did not cover the whole of the head. It may be that there is mystical reference to the crown of gold worn by each of those who exulted before God in the acknowledgment that He had made them prince-priests unto Himself. Each cast his mike-coronet down before Him, who sat upon the throne, singing--

“I bless Thee, gracious Father, for Thy pleasant gift to me, And earnestly I ask Thee, that it may always be In perfect consecration laid at Thy glorious feet, Touched with Thine altar-fire, and made an offering pure and sweet.”

On the cultivation of holiness

Let me say a few words concerning the cultivation of holiness. Look upon holiness as an end to be obtained. Do not seek holiness as a means to happiness--but happiness as a means to holiness. In heaven itself, the bliss of that world of glory is to be most prized because the happiness of that world will be the attainment of spotless sanctity. Be sure you take your forgiveness--accept the peace which God freely offers--believe in the love of God; receive gladly and gratefully every token of that love; if it be only for this, that it is the means to holiness; it will make you holy. And you may argue it with God so; “Lord, give me happiness that I may be holy, for I find that without happiness I cannot glorify Thee by holiness, make me happy that I may be holy.” Another suggestion which I would make to you in the cultivation of holiness, is to be more careful about the holiness of little things than of great things. It is so easy to go to church, and have a very devout manner, and even at the time to feel devoutly, and then to go away into life, and to have so very little holiness; rather, such unholiness, in the common affairs of our common life. Now that which characterizes the dispensation on which we are entered, and will characterize it infinitely presently, is this--that there shall be holiness to the Lord, not in the sanctuary, but in the common-places of every-day life, out of doors and in doors; out of doors on that most familiar thing in the East, “the bells on horses”--the very harness of the horses is to be holiness; and in doors (the same passage in the last chapter of Zechariah), in doors, upon the most ordinary vessels that are used for domestic uses, the commonest thing that is in the house is to be “Holiness to the Lord!”--the very culinary vessels are to be “Holiness to the Lord.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The mitre

The white linen is the emblem of purity; the head is the seat of thought and of intellect. Christ had a pure mind; all His thoughts were holy thoughts. And because He is so holy, He can bear His people’s sins (Isaiah 53:4). He who is our Great High Priest before God is pure without a stain. God sees Him as such, and He stands for us who are His people, and we are accepted in Him. His holiness is ours by imputation. Standing in Him we are, in the sight of God, holy as Christ is holy, and pure as Christ is pure. (G. Rodgers.)

Holiness to the Lord in common things

In an old book I was reading the other day the writer laughed at some commoner who had just been made a peer, because he had his coat of arms burned and painted even upon his shovels and wheelbarrows. Now, in my reckoning, that was a very fine action and full of significance. If a man is a true man he is a man of God, a prince of God; and he ought to put the stamp of his nobility on the commonest things with which he has to do. (Christian Journal.)

Holiness unto the Lord

Write on our garnered treasures, Write on our choicest pleasures, Upon things new and old, The precious stone and gold--Wife, husband, children, friends--On all that goodness lends; Go write on your good name--Upon your cherished fame--On every pleasant thing--On stores that Heaven doth fling Into your basket--write! Upon the smile of God, Upon His scourging rod--Write on your inmost heart, Write upon every part--To Him who claims the whole, Time, talent, body, soul--holiness unto the lord!

That Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things.

The iniquity of our holy things

A sad subject, “The iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel shall hallow.”

1. They were “holy things.” Despite the iniquity, their offerings were hallowed and holy. This is a precious saving clause. Our prayers, our praises, our service of God, these are holy things, albeit that iniquity attaches to them. They are holy as to God’s ordinance, for He has ordained them for His glory. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me.” When we do what God bids us, the act is holy, because done in obedience to the Divine ordinance. Such deeds are holy as to the Divine design: for the sacrifices which the Israelites brought were meant to set forth Christ and His glorious work, and therefore they were holy. The great Father teaches us much precious truth by every institution of the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the gospel Church, and therefore obedience to each ordinance is holy. These deeds were often holy in the intent of the worshipper.

2. But although “holy things,” there was iniquity upon all of them; and did we ever do anything yet that had not some spot of iniquity upon it? Is not our repentance, after all, but poor stuff compared with what it ought to be? Is not unbelief mixed with our faith? Hath not our love a measure of lukewarmness in it? No act of consecration, no act of self-sacrifice, no rapture of fellowship, no height of spirituality has been without its imperfection.

3. Furthermore, some of these sins are apparent: indeed, many of them are painfully before our own eyes. If the Lord sees iniquity in our holy things, what iniquities there must be in our unholy things! I have to complain that wandering thoughts will intrude in my prayers, my study of the Word, my sacred song, my choice meditation; indeed, even in ministering the Word among you, I find my mind roaming. I have to complain also--and I fear many here would have to complain even more than I do--of want of faith in prayer.

4. These are only a few of the iniquities of our holy things which we can see; but beside these there are many imperfections of our service which we do not notice because we are not spiritual enough to discern them; but God sees them. Bring me that microscope! I have just now put the wing of a butterfly under it. That is God’s work, and, as I enlarge it, I discover no imperfection, but more and more of marvellous beauty. That butterfly’s wing under the microscope becomes most wonderful, and I worship God as I gaze upon His handiwork. Take the butterfly away now and put your needle in its place. What? Why this is a rough bar of iron which has never been smoothed or polished. This is wretched workmanship. It does not seem fitted for delicate work. Such is man’s manufacture, the best of it. When God puts your prayers and my sermons under His microscopic eye, they are not at all what we thought they were, but quite the reverse. This ought to humble us as we come before the presence of the All-seeing One.

5. These imperfections in our holy things are so grievous that they would prevent any one of our works, or offerings, or prayers being accepted before the thrice-holy God.

A glad subject. What was done in type has also been done in reality.

1. Consider, then, that God provided the high priest. It was ordained that he should be a man perfect in his person. In our Lord Jesus there is no defect open or secret. He is perfect, and so He can be high priest unto God. The man had to be chosen of God. Aaron was so. Christ is ordained of God, and by Divine authority He stands as high priest for us. This man had to be anointed for his work. Aaron was anointed with oil; but our Lord was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

2. This high priest was altogether given up to his people. He has a heart; his people’s names are on the breast-plate which covers it. He has shoulders: his people’s names are written on his Shoulder-pieces, and thus he lends them his power. Thus Christ has given up His thought, His judgment, His mind, His every faculty to His people. He is all ours. The high priest reserved nothing of himself; he gave all of himself to all his people.

3. The high priest bore “the iniquity of the holy things.” All the iniquity of our holy things our Lord Jesus has borne, and it is no longer imputed unto us. As He stood before God, though He bore the iniquity of the people, yet He exhibited to God no iniquity, but on His forehead was written, “Holiness to Jehovah.” Notice that He bore before God a holiness most precious; in token whereof, in type, the engraving was inscribed upon a plate of pure gold. The righteousness of Christ is more precious to God than all the mines of gold in the whole world. There was no iniquity in His holy things; His holiness was conspicuous and undeniable, it shone on the forefront of His mitre. That holiness of His was permanent. One thing more I want you to notice, and that is, that he always wore it, “And it shall always be upon his forehead.” Jesus is always “Holiness to God” on our behalf. Our holy work is now viewed with Divine favour. Will you not offer more and more of these holy things, since they are in very deed accepted in Christ? Now I have taught you the main doctrine of the type, I desire to bring forth one or two lessons.

1. The first is, see here a lesson of humility. Our good works, if we lay them up in store, and value them as jewels, will, like the manna in the wilderness, very soon breed worms and stink. There is enough rottenness in our best performances to make them offensive to an enlightened conscience. Oh, that this fact, that even our holy things are tainted, may he the death-warrant of our pride!

2. In the next place, learn the awful hazard of going unto God without our High Priest.

3. Learn how you must be dressed as a royal priesthood unto the Lord.

4. Lastly, let sinners gain a store of comfort here. If God’s own people have iniquity in their holy things, and yet they have Christ to bear it for them, how patient must He be who is our High Priest. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 39

Exodus 28:39

The coat of fine linen.

The embroidered coat

The portion of the high priest’s dress called the coat was more properly a tunic. It was the innermost garment worn by the high priest, being placed first upon him after he was washed (Leviticus 8:7). It seems to be derived from a verb meaning “to cover, or hide.” It seems to have been interwoven, like net or chequer work, so as to present what in modern days we should call a “damask” appearance, combining weaving with a species of embroidery. The blue robe, and gorgeous ephod with its cluster of brilliant precious stones on the shoulders and breastplate, would entirely conceal from the eye of an observer this fine linen coat. Beneath, therefore, the splendid dress of the high priest there was a more humble attire of pure white, though it was still a “garment for glory and beauty.” The outer garments were distinctly of a representative character; that is, they bore the names of Israel before the Lord. But in this under tunic there was no apparent connection with that people. It was rather the personal clothing of the high priest, manifesting him, beneath all his official glory, as one who could minister before the Lord in a perfect righteousness of his own. A glory and beauty no less costly and precious than was displayed by the other garments, though to the eye of sense not so striking in appearance. In fact, the high priest could not have worn his magnificent apparel Unless he could previously exhibit a spotless purity, diversified in every possible way like the embroidered fine linen coat. The Lord Jesus, in the days of His flesh, passed through an ordeal of temptation and suffering, throughout which He evinced His complete fitness to be the Great High Priest in resurrection, showing forth a righteousness and holiness, as well as grace, sympathy, and tenderness which proved Him perfectly suited for this high dignity and responsibility. (H. W. Soltau.)

The embroidered coat

This garment was most proper to our High Priest of the New Testament, Jesus Christ, who is by it described (Revelation 1:13), “clothed in a garment down to the feet.” Noting--

1. The excellency of His person, who is “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), for such long white garments ever betoken peace, both within the church and without.

2. That He excelled in wisdom and counsel, being the Great Counsellor and the “Spirit of counsel and understanding resting in His breast” (Isaiah 11:2), for to such also the garments belonged (Daniel 5:7; Daniel 5:16).

3. The lovely and beautiful connection and conjunction of His prophetical, priestly, and princely offices; sincerely and perfectly fulfilling them and appearing before God in them as in a most costly embroidered garment consisting of many pieces and many colours fitly couched and laid together. And this garment He wore, not only on earth (as the priests did), but now after His ascension, He continues to perform the office of the High Priest for His Church, in the same embroidered garment, presenting before God the merit of His only sacrifice and making intercession to the Father for it. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

The girdle.

The girdle

This was worn by the Hebrews as an ornament and as a strengthener. It was put on Aaron, but our Jesus has in Himself everything that was symbolized by this, and everything else that was put on Aaron. I like to look at the girdle as the symbol of service, and at Jesus Christ as our girded High Priest, ever ready to go to God on His people’s errands. Jesus is ever ready for any service His people may need. He will present their prayers to God and obtain answers for His beloved disciples, or He will stoop to wash their feet. (G. Rodgers.)

The girdle

This girdle was made of the same materials as the vail; but the order of their arrangement was that of the innermost curtains of the Tabernacle, viz., “fine linen, blue, purple, scarlet.” The fine linen, type of righteousness, comes first, answering to that beautiful passage in Isaiah 11:5. Righteousness and faithfulness which the Lord Jesus has made perfectly manifest and proved to the utmost in His death upon the Cross. The object of the girdle was to strengthen the loins for service. And the high priest, beneath garments of majesty, glory, brilliancy, and power, still preserved his place as the girded righteous servant of the Lord. So the Lord Jesus upon the throne of glory, having all power in heaven and in earth, and with the name above every name, yet delights to maintain His place as God’s servant, fulfilling the Father’s counsels and accomplishing His will in the salvation and ultimate perfection of those that are His. We have in John 13:1-38 a striking illustration of our blessed Lord’s holy service; deeply instructive to us in two ways: first, as teaching us what His present occupations are in our behalf, and next, as giving us an example which we have to follow if we would taste of His happiness and joy. One way in which we may wash one another’s feet is by prayer and intercession for one another; and another mode is by seeking to deliver any of the Lord’s people that may be ensnared, from the entanglements into which they have fallen. (H. W. Soltau.)

The girdle

The sixth garment is the girdle of needlework (verse 39). Of divers matter, linen, blue silk, purple and scarlet, and of divers colours (Exodus 39:29). The use of it was to fasten the priest’s garment unto him, that they may not hang loose upon him in his ministration; and specially points out unto us our High Priest, Jesus Christ, described after His ascension (Revelation 1:13), “And girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” Noting in Christ four things.

1. The truth and constancy in accomplishing all the gracious promises of the gospel, seeing our High Priest is girt about with a girdle of verity.

2. His justice, integrity, pure and uncorrupt judgment, as gold (Isaiah 11:5), “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins and faithfulness the girdle of His reins.”

3. His readiness to do the office of a Mediator.

4. His mindfulness and care in performing His office. For as not girding is a sign of carelessness and negligence, so girding of care and industry. So our Lord and High Priest never carelessly cast off any poor and penitent sinner; but in the days of His flesh minded their misery; and now in heaven keeps on His girdle, casts not off the care of His Church, but perpetually accomplisheth whatsoever is needful for her salvation. (T. Taylor, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 28". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/exodus-28.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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