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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Aaron and his sons are set apart for the priest's office: the holy vestments for the high-priest, and the common ones for the other priests, are described.

Before Christ 1491.

Verse 1

Exodus 28:1. And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother The house and the more material parts of the furniture being provided, Jehovah next appoints the ministers of that house, and by a solemn consecration sets apart Aaron and his sons. What we read, that he may minister unto me, should certainly be read, according to the Samaritan and others, that they may minister unto me. There cannot be the least doubt that there were priests among the Hebrews before this time, as we have had occasion frequently to remark in the course of our notes; see, particularly, ch. Exodus 19:22; Exodus 19:24.

Verse 2

Exodus 28:2. Thou shalt make holy garments—for glory and for beauty Holy garments, or garments separated and set apart for the sole use of the priests, are directed to be made for glory and for beauty; that is, very glorious and beautiful; not only that the high-priest might appear in a manner something worthy the solemn character of representative of the Almighty King of the Jews; but also, that the people's minds might be impressed with a due reverence to the dignity of his office, as well as of the character which he sustained: for it should be remembered, that as the tabernacle or temple was the court of Jehovah, the King of Israel; so the high-priest sustained the character of the vice-roy or immediate representative of that great King: and hence many writers have observed, that the glorious and beautiful garments were symbolical of the real glories and perfections of JEHOVAH, the present King and future MESSIAH of the Jews. Philo tells us, that the law dressed up the priests to the venerableness and honour of a king: and in Josephus we have a remarkable relation, that when Alexander the Great was advancing to besiege Jerusalem, the high-priest of the Jews in his sacerdotal robes went forth to meet him at the head of the sacred order, all clothed in their holy vestments; the majesty of which spectacle struck Alexander with such reverence, that he bowed down, and saluted the high-priest: upon which Parmenio asked him, How it came to pass that, when all others adored him, he should adore the high-priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, "I did not adore him, but that GOD who has honoured him with his high-priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit, when I was at Dios in Macedonia." See more in Josephus, Antiq. B. 11: ch. 8.

Verse 3

Exodus 28:3. All that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom These two clauses depend one upon the other: the meaning is, all the wise in heart, whom I have made so, by filling them with the spirit of wisdom. Spirit, in the Hebrew, is often used for an affection or quality of the mind; as Num 5:14 the spirit of jealousy: Isaiah 19:14 a perverse spirit. The Hebrews were accustomed to consider God, most justly, as the Author of all wisdom, and the Giver of every good gift: to him, therefore, they justly ascribed every useful invention and every beneficial art; see Isaiah 28:26. Le Clerc has well observed, that Seneca (in his 4th Book, De Beneficiis) has a fine sentiment to the same purpose: "It is God who has invented so many arts; for those things which we invent are no more our own than the increase of our bodies. As the secret kind of God has implanted seeds in the body, whereby it springs up to a proper growth in all the stages of life; so he has implanted in the minds of men the seeds of all arts, and, being the great Master, calls them forth as he pleases."

To consecrate him See an account of this consecration in the next chapter.

Verse 5

Exodus 28:5. And they shall take gold, and blue, &c.— For a full account of the manner in which these were used, see ch. 39:

REFLECTIONS.—The altar being prepared, they who must minister to it are appointed with their robes.

1. Aaron and his sons. His descendants are preferred to Moses's own children. God chooses his own servants. Note; It is bad to intrude into the ministry without a divine call. No man may take this office, but he who is called of God, as was Aaron.

2. Their garments must be glorious and beautiful, not only in the preciousness of the materials, but also in the exquisiteness of the work. These magnificent garments signify, (1.) the transcendent excellence and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. (2.) The beauty of holiness, which God puts on every believer when he is consecrated a priest unto him. (3.) The eminence of gifts and graces which every gospel-minister should possess.

Verse 6

Exodus 28:6. The ephod The high-priest's garments are first described, the outermost of which was the ephod or super-humeral; which was a kind of close garment or short vest without sleeves, which hung behind upon the back and shoulders, and came down before upon the breast, somewhat in the nature of our heralds' robes. It was joined by two shoulder-pieces; and this, which was appropriated to the high-priest, was made of fine linen embroidered with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet: the ephods worn by the common priests were made with linen only; see 1 Samuel 2:18; 1 Samuel 22:18.

Verse 8

Exodus 28:8. The curious girdle of the ephod The word rendered girdle here, as many critics have observed, is different from that so rendered in the 4th and 39th verses, and signifies, properly, texture or embroidery; and therefore, both here and in the other places where it occurs, it ought to be so rendered: and I apprehend, that this verse informs us of the materials of the two shoulder-pieces, which were of great consequence, as they contained the two stones of memorial, and therefore Moses is directed to make them of the same materials with the ephod itself; so that the verse might be rendered, and the texture of that which is upon the ephod, like the work of the ephod itself, shall be of gold, &c. The LXX understand it in this manner. Houbigant renders it, textura limbi, the texture of the edge which is upon it, shall be, &c.

Verse 9

Exodus 28:9. Thou shalt take two onyx-stones See Genesis 2:12. Moses was to cause the names of the twelve tribes of Israel to be engraved, as letters or devices are cut in a seal, Exo 28:11 on two onyx-stones; six ranked according to their seniority on each stone, Exo 28:10 and these stones were to be set in ouches of gold: the original word signifies, small edges, or pieces of metal, which enclose and hold fast a seal, or any thing set in that manner. These stones were to be fastened upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, to be borne by the high-priest, for a memorial that he always appeared before God in behalf of the whole people of Israel. See Isaiah 9:6. In Exo 28:29 this reason is also given for his wearing the breast-plate; and Le Clerc thinks that three things were chiefly denoted by these names, which the high-priest wore on his shoulders and near his heart: first, the union of all the tribes in one common wealth; secondly, their union in one religion and priesthood; thirdly, the wearing of these names on his shoulders and near his heart, served to remind the priest, that the care of the public religion rested, as it were, upon his shoulders, and was, of all concerns, to be next his heart. See ch. Exodus 30:16. Lev 2:2 from whence, as well as from Num 10:9-10 and Act 10:4 it appears, that the word memorial refers also to GOD. For thus Christ appears, Rev 1:13 ever living to make intercession for his people. He presents their names, not merely engraven on stones of onyx, but more deeply on his heart in characters of divine love. With respect to the chains mentioned in the 14th verse, we shall see their use hereafter.

Verse 15

Exodus 28:15. The breast-plate of judgement This breast-plate of judgement was the most superb and important of the high-priest's ornaments. It was called the breast-plate of judgement, because the high-priest wore it upon his breast when he went to ask counsel or judgement of the Lord, Exodus 28:29. The word is rendered by the LXX λογειον, the oracle; but the exact meaning of the original word is not determined. It was to be made of the same materials with the ephod: it was to be four-square, a span long, and a span broad; a span, that is, about nine inches; and it was to be double, most probably for the greater strength and convenience, as it was to hold the weight of twelve precious stones, with the names of the twelve tribes engraved upon them. It is not possible to determine whether the names of these stones be properly rendered. There are writers* who have laboured the subject very much, and to them we refer the reader desirous of further satisfaction; observing, that our translation is generally thought as judicious as any. In the description of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21:19-20 there seems to be an allusion to these twelve stones in the high-priest's vestment.

* Lud. de Dieu, Braunius de Vest. Sac. Hebr.—Hill's Version of Theophrastus on Stones, &c.

Verse 20

Exodus 28:20. Gold, in their inclosings Hebrew, fillings. In the 17th verse it is said, Thou shalt set in it settings of stones; literally, shalt fill up fillings of stones; i.e. shalt fill the sockets with stones, or set stones in the sockets or cavities made to receive them; so, ch. Exo 35:9 stones to be set is, in the Hebrew, stones for filling up: (comp. ch. Exodus 39:10.) It appears from these verses, that the chains mentioned Exo 28:14 were to fasten the breast-plate to the two onyx-stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod. Besides the two rings on the end of the breast-plate, Exo 28:23 two more were to be made, and put into the doubling next to the ephod, Exo 28:26 in which two corresponding rings were to be made, Exo 28:27 and by means of these, the breast-plate was to be laced with a lace of blue to the ephod, Exo 28:28 and never to be parted from it. The reader will remember the remark respecting the words curious girdle, made on Exo 28:8 and those who are desirous of an exact and critical discussion of Exo 28:22-28 we refer to Houbigant's notes.

Verse 29

Exodus 28:29. And Aaron shall bear the names, &c.— See note on Exodus 28:9. Note; 1. Though the holy place of heaven is not yet accessible, yet, our High-Priest bearing our names there, it is our privilege even now to sit with him by faith in heavenly places. 2. The spiritual graces adorning particular saints make them like these stones; all are jewels, though each shines with some different and peculiar lustre.

Verse 30

Exodus 28:30. Thou shalt put in the breast-plate of judgement the Urim and the Thummim Urim and Thummim, lights and perfections, are mentioned here, and in Lev 8:8 as put into the breast-plate of the high-priest. That these did, in some manner or other, give prophetical or oracular answers from Jehovah, is disputed by none who pretend to believe the authority of the Scriptures; being evidently proved from Num 27:21. 1Sa 28:6 and elsewhere. But the two great questions relating to them are, first, of what form and substance these Urim and Thummim were? And, secondly, how or in what manner prophetic answers were delivered by them? Not to trouble the reader with rabbinical dreams, or what seem evidently to be erroneous opinions on this subject, we shall endeavour to clear both these points from the Scriptures themselves: 1st, As to their form and substance, it seems highly probable that they were no other than the twelve precious stones inserted into the high-priest's breast-plate, Exodus 28:17, &c. on which were engraven the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; for, first, it is written, Exodus 28:29. Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel (viz. those engraven on the stones) in the breast-plate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. And, to enjoin this the more strongly, the same is expressed in the present verse: and thou shalt put in the breast-plate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be upon Aaron's heart when he goeth in before the Lord: And [or So] Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually. Who, that compares these two verses attentively together, but must see that the Urim and Thummim are the substance or matter upon which the names were engraven? Secondly, In the description of the high-priest's breast-plate, given ch. Exodus 28:9, &c. the Urim and Thummim are not mentioned, but the rows of stones are; and, on the contrary, in the description, Lev 8:8 the Urim and Thummim are mentioned by name, and the stones not: therefore it is probable that the Urim and Thummim, and the precious stones, are only different names for the same thing. Thirdly, If the Urim and Thummim be not the same with the precious stones, then we must say that Moses, who has so particularly described the most minute things relating to the high-priest's dress, has given us no description at all of this most stupendous part of it; which seems highly improbable. As to the second question, How or in what manner prophetic answers were delivered by Urim and Thummim? It seems determined beyond dispute, that it was by an audible voice (as at other times, Numbers 7:89.); for, when David consulted the Lord by the ephod of Abiathar, we read, 1 Samuel 23:11. The Lord [אמר amar] said, He will come down: so again, Exo 28:12 compare also 1 Samuel 30:7-8. 2 Samuel 2:1.Judges 1:1-2; Judges 1:1-2; Judges 20:18. Thus, then, it was the LORD who returned answer by an audible voice, when the priest presented himself before him, adorned with the Urim and the Thummim. Who can doubt but that the typical high-priest's appearing continually before the LORD, with the names of the children of Israel upon his heart, prefigured the appearing of the real High-Priest in the presence of God as Intercessor for ever in behalf of the true Israel, even of all those who come unto God by him? Who can doubt but that Jehovah's being sometimes (see 1 Samuel 28:6.) pleased to answer by Urim and Thummim, was a shadow of that Spirit of truth and prophecy which was to be inherent in Jehovah incarnate? See Deuteronomy 33:8. There was a remarkable imitation of this sacred ornament among the Egyptians: for we learn from Diodorus and AElian, that "their chief-priest, who was also their supreme judge in civil matters, wore about his neck by a golden chain an ornament of precious stones called TRUTH, (Αληθεια, the very word by which the LXX render תמים Thummim, in this verse and Leviticus 8:8.) and that a cause was not opened till the supreme judge had put on this ornament." It seems probable, that the Egyptians carried off this, as well as other sacred rites, from the dispersion at Babel; and the supposed priority of it to the time of giving the law, will account for Moses's first making mention of it in this place as of a thing well known. Thus far Parkhurst. To what this author has said I would just add, that many very learned men deliver it as their opinion, that the words might be rendered, thou shalt put therein stones which are shining and perfect; and they quote Josephus, (Antiq. b. 3: ch. 8.) who maintains, that the Urim and Thummim were nothing else than the precious stones themselves in the high-priest's breast-plate. We would also observe, that the question, how or in what manner prophetic answers were delivered by Urim and Thummim, seems not altogether properly put; as there are no proofs that the Urim and Thummim, separately considered, ever gave answers. The high-priest, wearing the ephod, received answers from God; and so far as he could not receive answers without it, so far answers, may be said to have been given by that ephod, or by the breast-plate, as a part for the whole. We would just observe too, that there is no proof that the Egyptian ornament, mentioned above, was so old as the time of Moses: Herodotus has not mentioned it; and as, after the time of Moses, it was not unknown in other countries, so the Egyptians might have derived it from him. Let it however, after all, be noted, that the Egyptian priests wore not this badge when they ministered about sacred things, but when they sat as judges in the civil courts. Calmet observes, that the custom of consulting God by Urim and Thummim continued no longer, according to the Jewish doctors, than under the tabernacle. It is a maxim among them, that the Holy Spirit spake to the children of Israel by Urim and Thummim, while the tabernacle remained; and under the first temple, i.e. the temple of Solomon, by the prophets; and under the second temple, or after the captivity of Babylon, by Bathkol or the daughter of the voice; by which they mean a voice sent from heaven, as that which was heard at the baptism of Christ, and at his transfiguration: Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5. Note; The written word of God is now our Urim and Thummim; and when we are enquiring there of his will, he can, and still does, by divine irradiation on our minds, inform and comfort us under every difficulty.

Aaron shall bear the judgement of the children of Israel What is meant by bearing the judgement, is very plain from Exo 28:29 and also 15 where see the note.

Verse 31

Exodus 28:31. The robe of the ephod The robe of the ephod, another part of the high-priest's vestments, is next described; which was long, reaching down to the ancles, in form something like one of the surplices used in our churches, without sleeves, made all of blue woollen cloth, in direct contradiction to the superstitions of the Egyptians, who never appeared in their temples in woollen apparel, or in any other than linen garments. It is called the robe of the ephod, because the ephod was placed immediately upon it. The hem, (or skirts of it,) Exo 28:33 was to be adorned with figures of pomegranates of various colour and workmanship, with bells of gold between each pomegranate; the reason of which is given in Exo 28:35 that his sound may be heard, &c.—that he die not; this sound declaring that he was clothed with the proper robes, to minister without which was death, see Exodus 28:43. Probably this sound too was designed as an admonition to the people; at least the author of Ecclesiasticus so understands it, ch. Sir 45:9. And he compassed him with pomegranates, and with many golden bells round about, that, as he went, there might be a sound and a noise made, that might be heard in the temple, for a memorial to the children of his people. Some have supposed, that as the high-priest was a type of the MESSIAH, the light of the world, so the blue colour of his robe referred to this striking particular; and the bells to that sound of the Gospel, which, from Christ, went out into all the earth. See Psa 19:4 compared with Romans 10:18.

Verse 36

Exodus 28:36. Thou shalt make a plate of pure gold The word rendered plate, properly signifies a flower; and, probably, this plate was formed with indentations or rays like a flower. It is called in the next chapter, Exodus 28:6. נזר nezer, a crown, a mark of separation, or distinguished dignity, either priestly or regal. It was to be fastened with a blue lace upon the fore-front of the mitre, which was to be made of fine linen, Exo 28:39 something like the Turkish turbans, of which form were anciently the diadems of kings. Justin (lib. 15: cap. 3.) tells us, that Alexander the Great took his diadem from his head to bind up the wounds of Lysimachus. Upon the plate, thus bound upon the mitre, was to be engraved HOLINESS TO JEHOVAH; and it was always to be worn upon Aaron's forehead, i.e. upon the part of the mitre which covered the front of his forehead, Exo 28:38 not only to remind him of the solemnity of the service to which he was consecrated, but also to shew that he was the intercessor for the people; and, in that capacity, the type of HIM, who, being essentially holy and undefiled, intercedes for, and makes acceptable to God, all his believing people. See Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 7:28. For an exact description of the mitre, as well as the other parts of the sacerdotal dress, we refer to Josephus, b. 3: ch. 7.

Verse 39

Exodus 28:39. And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen This was the inmost of the vestments, which reached down to the heels, with sleeves to the wrists. The girdle or sash was used to gird the priest's coat close to him, which was tucked up also in the girdle when he officiated, that it might not encumber him in his service.

Note; 1. From the golden plate on Aaron's forehead we may learn, (1.) That God's ministers must never be ashamed of their profession. (2.) That they who appear before God should have holiness written on their hearts. (3.) That true holiness is not a superficial thing, but deeply engraven and durable. 2. His linen mitre or diadem may remind us, that our High-Priest is also our King; he not only atones for our sins, but will subdue all our enemies within or without us.

Verse 40

Exodus 28:40. And bonnets These bonnets or mitres were to be of linen, like the high-priests; differing only in this, that they wore no plate of gold upon them. Josephus, however, says, that the high-priest's mitre had a purple cover over it. See Antiq. b. 3: ch. 7.

Verse 43

Exodus 28:43. They shall be upon Aaron and upon his sons They, that is, all the sacerdotal vestments as above described, shall, on pain of death, be worn always during the time of their ministrations; but at no other time, and in no other place. See Ezekiel 42:14; Ezekiel 44:19. Hence some account for St. Paul's not knowing the high-priests, Act 23:5 as he was not clothed in his sacerdotal vestments. It shall be a statute for ever, means as long as the Jewish policy and priesthood shall subsist.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 28". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/exodus-28.html. 1801-1803.
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