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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-12


THE HOLY GARMENTS. The special object of the present chapter is to prescribe the form, materials, colour, etc; of the holy garments—or the attire of those who were to minister in the tabernacle at the time of their ministration. As the service of the tabernacle was about to be committed to Aaron and his sons, their selection for this office is mentioned in Exodus 28:1, and their investiture and consecration briefly touched in Exodus 28:41. Otherwise the whole chapter is concerned with the attire That of Aaron is first prescribed (Exodus 28:4-39). It consists of an ephod (Exodus 28:6-12); a breastplate (Exodus 28:13-30); a robe (Exodus 28:31-35); a mitre (Exodus 28:36-38); a coat, or tunic; and a girdle (Exodus 28:39). The dress of his sons follows. It comprises drawers (Exodus 28:42), tunics, girdles, and caps or turbans (Exodus 28:40). Incidentally it is mentioned in Exodus 28:43, that drawers are also to be worn by Aaron; and, in conclusion, the neglect of this ordinance in the case of either Aaron or his sons is forbidden under penalty of death

Exodus 28:1

Take thou unto thee. Literally, "Make to draw near to thee." Moses had hitherto been of all the people the one nearest to God, the medium of communication. He was now to abdicate a portion of his functions, transferring them to his brother and his brother's sons. By this act he would draw them nearer to him than they were before. It is worthy of remark that he makes no remonstrance or opposition, but carries out God's will in this matter as readily and willingly as in all others. (See Le Exodus 8:4-30.) From among the children of Israel. The LXX. react "And from among the children of Israel," as if others besides the family of Aaron had been admitted to the priesthood. But this is contrary to the entire tenor of the later narrative. The existing Hebrew text is correct. Nadab and Abihu, and again, Eleazar and Ithamar, are always coupled together in the Pentateuch (Exodus 24:1; Le Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:12; etc.), while a marked division is made between the two pairs of brothers. It is probably the sin and early death of the two elder (Le Exodus 10:1-2) that causes the separation. Of Ithamar after the death of his brothers, nothing is known. Eleazar became high priest (Numbers 34:17; Joshua 4:1; Joshua 16:4; etc.).

Exodus 28:2

Holy garments have provoked an extreme aversion and an extreme affection at different periods of the world's history. In Moses' time probably no one thought of raising any objection to them. Priestly dresses of many different kinds were worn in Egypt, and some costume other than that of ordinary life, was probably affected by the priest class of every nation. Without entering into any elaborate "philosophy of clothes," we may say that the rationale of the matter would seem to be that expressed with great moderation by Richard Hooker—"To solemn actions of royalty and justice their suitable ornaments are a beauty. Are they in religion only a stain?" (See Eccl. Pol. 5.29, § 1.) The garments ordered to be made for Aaron and his sons (Exodus 28:41), are said to have been for glory and for beauty.

1. "For glory." To exalt the priestly office in the eyes of the people—to make them look with greater reverence on the priests themselves and the priestly functions—to place the priests in a class by themselves, in a certain sense, above the rest of the nation.

2. "For beauty." As fit and comely in themselves—suitable to the functions which the priests exercised—in harmony with the richness and beauty of the sanctuary wherein they were to minister. God, himself, it would seem, is not indifferent to beauty. He has spread beauty over the earth, fie will have beauty in his earthly dwelling-place. He requires men to worship him "in the beauty of holiness" (Psalms 29:2; Psalms 96:9; 1 Chronicles 16:29). He ordains for his priests rich and splendid dresses "for glory and for beauty."

Exodus 28:3

Wise-hearted. In modern parlance the heart is made the seat of the affections and emotions, the brain of the intellect. But the Hebrew idiom was different. There the heart was constantly spoken of as the seat of wisdom. (See below, Exodus 31:6; Exodus 35:10, Exodus 35:25; Exodus 36:1, Exodus 36:2; Job 9:4; Proverbs 11:29, etc.) The spirit of wisdom might seem to be scarcely necessary for the work of constructing a set of priestly garments; but where "glory and beauty" are required, high artistic power is needed; and this power is regarded by the sacred writers, as indeed it is by most of those who have written on the human understanding—notably Plato and Aristotle—as a very important part of the intellect. Techne, says Aristotle, involves theoria, as well as aesthesis and genesis, requires, i.e; a knowledge of high abstract truths, as well as the perceptive faculty which we commonly call "taste," and the constructive one known as "power of execution.'' (See Eth. Nic. 6.4, § 4.) It is, with him, one of the five chief intellectual excellences. To consecrate him. Investiture in the holy garments was made a part of the ceremony of consecration (Exodus 29:5-9; Le Exodus 8:7-9, Exodus 8:13), as it is in the English Ordinal in the consecration of a bishop.

Exodus 28:4

These are the garments. The enumeration does not follow the same order exactly as the description. The two agree, however, in giving the precedence to the same three articles of apparel out of the six—viz; the breast-plate, the ephod, and the robe. His sonsi.e; his successors in the office of high priest,

Exodus 28:5

The materials of the priestly garments.

The materials for the priestly garments were to be limited to six—precious stones, which are not here mentioned, as being ornamental, rather than essential, parts of the apparel; a blue thread, known as "blue" (compare Exodus 25:4); a purple or crimson one, known as "purple;" a scarlet one, known as "scarlet;" and a white one, which is called "fine linen." These were the same materials as those used for the veil (Exodus 26:31), and curtains (Exodus 26:1, Exodus 26:36) of the sanctuary; but probably the fabric was of a more delicate quality. They shall takei.e.," They," the wise-hearted men to whom the work was to be entrusted—"shall take," or receive from Moses—"the (necessary) gold, blue, purple," etc. In the original all these words have the definite article prefixed.

Exodus 28:6

The Ephod,

They shall make the ephod The word ephod signifies etymologically any "vestment" or "garment;" but in its use it is confined to the special vestment here described, the great object of which was to be a receptacle for the "breast-plate." The ephod was a sort of jerkin or waistcoat, consisting of two pieces, one to cover the chest and the other the back, joined together probably by a seam, above the shoulders, and united at the waist by a band called "the curious girdle of the ephod." This band was of one piece with the ephod, being woven on either to the front or the back part; it held the other part in place, and was passed round the body and fastened either with a clasp, or with buttons, or strings. Of gold, of blue, of purple, etc.—i.e; "of the same materials as the curtains and veil of the sanctuary, with the addition of gold." The gold was probably in the shape of gold thread, or wire of extreme tenuity, and was introduced by the needle after the fabric bad been woven, as was commonly done in Egypt. The white, blue, purple, and scarlet threads were doubtless woven into a pattern of some kind; but it is impossible to say what the pattern was. In Egypt patterns were not much affected, the dress worn being commonly white, with a stripe sometimes at the edge; but the Semitic tribes, who bordered Egypt on the East, affected gay colours and. varied designs, if we may trust the Egyptian wall-paintings. With cunning work. Literally, "work of the skilled (workman)." Some of the Hebrews had evidently carried on the trade of weaving in Egypt, and had brought their looms with them. The Egyptian looms were hand-looms, and of no great size; they admitted of easy transport.

Exodus 28:7

The two shoulder-pieces thereof, Literally, "Two shoulder-pieces." There is no article, and no possessive pronoun. At the two edges thereof. Literally, "at its two ends." A union of the back and front flaps of the dress by a seam at the top of the shoulder seems to be intended. Female dresses were made in this way among the Greeks, but fastened with a brooch or buckle.

Exodus 28:8

The curious girdle. Josephus says of the ephod, ζώνῃ περισφίγγεται βάμμασι διαπεποικιλμένῃ χρυσοῦ συνυφασμένου, "it is fastened with a girdle dyed of many hues, with gold interwoven in it." Hence its name, khesheb, which means properly "device" or "cunning work." Of the ephod. Rather "of its girding"—i.e. "wherewith it (the ephod) was to be girded." Shall be of the same. Compare above, Exodus 25:19. The girdle was to be "of one piece" with the ephod, woven on to it as part of it, not a separate piece attached by sewing. According to the work thereof. Rather, "of like workmanship with it."

Exodus 28:9

Two onyx stones. The correctness of this rendering has been much disputed. The LXX. give σμάραγδος, "emeraid." as the Greek equivalent in the present passage, while many argue for the beryl (Winer, Rosenmuller, Bollermann), and others for the sardonyx. This last rendering has the support of Josephus and Aquila. The sardonyx is, in fact, nothing but the best kind of onyx, differing from the onyx by having three layers—black, white, and red—instead of two—black and white—only. When large, it fetches a high price, as much as a thousand pounds having been asked for one by a dealer recently. The probability is, that it is the stone here intended. It is an excellent material for engraving. With respect to the possibility of Moses having in the congregation persons who could engrave the sardonyx, we may remark that the Egyptians cut stones quite as hard, from a date long anterior to the exodus. Grave on them the names of the children of Israel. Egyptian names are frequently found engraved on rings and amulets in hard stone; these rings and amulets date from the time of the twelfth dynasty. The names here intended are evidently the Israelite tribe names, which are reckoned as twelve, the double tribe of Joseph counting as one only. (Compare Numbers 1:10; Deuteronomy 33:13-17.)

Exodus 28:10

The other six names of the rest. Literally, "The remaining six names." According to their birthi.e; in the order of seniority—or perhaps, in the order observed in Exodus 1:2-4, where the children of the two legitimate wives are given the precedence.

Exodus 28:11

With the work of an engraver. Rather, "an artificer." The engravings of a signet. Signets in Egypt were ordinarily rings, on the bezel of which the name of the owner was inscribed. Some were of solid gold; others with cylindrical bezels of glass or hard stone. On the early use of such signet rings in Egypt see Genesis 41:42. Cylinders, strung round the wrist and engraved with a name and titles, were common in Mesopotamia from b.c. 2000. Ouches of gold. Settings in open-work or filagree seem to be intended—a kind of setting which is very common in Egyptian ornaments.

Exodus 28:12

Stones of memorial unto the children of Israel. Rather "for the children of Israel"—stones, i.e. which should serve to remind God that the high priest represented the twelve tribes, officiated in their name, and pleaded on their behalf.


Exodus 27:1-5

The glory of holy garments.

"Holy garments"—garments appropriated to the service of God in his sanctuary—will always be "glorious," however simple they are:—

1. As the dress of office for those whose office is of an exalted and glorious character, who are "ambassadors for God," and "stewards of his mysteries."

2. As associated with rites, which show forth, and help forward, the glorious work of redemption: and

3. As typical of the glorious robes which will be worn by the saints in heaven. The garments assigned by the will of God to the Levitical priesthood were, further, glorious in themselves, i.e; splendid, magnificent, of rich and beautiful materials. They thus harmonised with the richness and magnificence of the tabernacle, and afterwards of the temple, and taught the people, by the eye, that whatever is rich and rare should be devoted to the service of God. But the highest glory of holy garments is to be found in those "robes of righteousness," which the set apparel of priests is intended to suggest and signify (Psalms 132:9; Isaiah 61:10). The white linen of priestly robes tells of purity and innocence—gold and jewels, of precious gifts and graces—azure, the hue of heaven, speaks of heavenly thoughts and aspirations—the scarlet and the purple are signs of the martyr spirit, which is willing to" resist unto blood" (Hebrews 12:4). If the priest or the Levite have no other adorning but that of the outward apparel, if they are not "clothed with the garments of salvation" (Isaiah 1:1-31.s.c.), and robed with righteousness, "holy garments'' will little avail either themselves, or those to whom they minister. The "marriage garment" required of each Christian in Holy Scripture is purity of life and conduct; and certainly without this, "holy garments" are vain, and lose both their "glory" and their "beauty."

Exodus 27:6-12

The symbolism of the ephod and its onyx stones.

The ephod was, par excellence, the priestly garment. When idolatrous rites grew up in Palestine, which sheltered themselves under the pretence of being modifications, or adaptations, of the Sinaitic religion, an ephod was always retained, and made a prominent feature in the new form of worship (Jud. Exodus 8:27; Exodus 17:5; Exodus 18:14; etc.). The ephod came to be worn by all Israelitish priests (1 Samuel 22:18; Hosea 3:4), and even by laymen when engaged in sacred functions (2 Samuel 6:14; 1 Chronicles 15:27). Its materials and workmanship united it pointedly with the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1), and especially with the holy of holies (Exo 26:1-37 :51). It may be considered—

I. AS TYPIFYING THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH. The shoulder pieces of the ephod were to be "joined together" (Exodus 27:7). The "curious girdle" was to be of one piece with it (Exodus 27:8). Though formed of various parts, it was to be one single indivisible garment, united both above and below, and always worn in its entirety. The seamless robe of our Blessed Saviour is generally allowed to prefigure his one Church. The ephod as worn, was, perhaps, not seamless; but still it was "woven of one piece," and so far resembled the Lord's garment.

II. AS REPRESENTING THE VARIETY OF GIFTS AND GRACES WITHIN THE CHURCH. The blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and gold, and gems of the ephod gave it a variety and a beauty which made it the most glorious of all the priestly vestments. Variety has a charm of its own, and is a mark of the Church, in which there is such vast "diversity of gifts," though there is but one spirit. Gold is especially appropriate for the dignity of those whom God has made "both priests and kings." "The king's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold" (Psalms 45:13). Purple, too, is an imperial colour, and suits those who shall "reign with Christ for ever" (Revelation 22:5).

III. AS CONSTITUTING, WHEN WORN BY THE HIGH-PRIEST, A PRESENTATION OF THE CHURCH TO GOD IN PERFECT BEAUTY. The onyx, or sardonyx stones, with the twelve names engraved upon them, completed the representative character of the ephod, and showed clearly that the high priest, when, thus attired, he entered the sanctuary, presented before God the Church whereof he was the head, as freed from sin by the expiation which he had made at the altar before entering, and made meet for the presence of the Most High. And this presentation was, we are distinctly told (Hebrews 9:9-12; Hebrews 10:19-22), a type or figure of that far more precious one, which Christ is ever making before his Father's throne in heaven, where he presents to him his Church, "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27), washed in his blood, redeemed by his death, sanctified by his in-dwelling. Christ can and will purge his elect from all sin (1 John 1:7); Christ can and will present them pure before God. He has his "sealed" ones of all the twelve tribes (Revelation 7:4-8); and, besides these, he has others who are equally his—"a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues" (Revelation 7:9) who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14), and whom he will "present faultless" to his Father.


Exodus 27:1-4

The priests' garments.

I. OBSERVE HOW THE INDIVIDUAL IS HERE SUBORDINATED TO THE OFFICE. Jehovah tells Moses here, amid the solemnities of the mount, that his brother Aaron and Aaron's sons are to be taken for service in the priest's office; but no word is said concerning the characters of any of these men, not even Aaron himself. There is a demand that those who made the priestly garments should be wise-hearted, men with a spirit of wisdom which Jehovah himself would put into them; but nothing is said as to Aaron himself being wise-hearted. Nor is there any indication given beforehand of any personal fitness that he had for the office. We gather much as to the way in which God had been training Moses; but Aaron so far as we can see, seems to have been led by a way that he knew not. All the commandment to Moses is, "take to thee Aaron thy brother." He is indicated by a natural relation, and not by anything that suggests spiritual fitness. It is interesting to compare the utter absence of any reference here to personal character with the minute details of what constitutes fitness for bishop and deacon, as we find these details in the epistles to Timothy and Titus. In the old dispensation where there was but the shadow of good things to come, the trappings of the official and the ceremonies of the office were of more importance than the character of any individual holder. The purpose of Jehovah was best served, in proportion as the people, beholding Aaron, forgot that it was Aaron, and were chiefly impressed by the fact that they were looking on the appointed priest of the Most High.

II. OBSERVE WHAT WAS AIMED AT IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE PRIESTLY GARMENTS. They were to be for glory and for beauty. Not only different from the garments of the common people, but much more splendid. Gold was worked into the very substance of these garments; precious stones glittered upon them; and everything was done to make them beautiful and impressive. Nor was the splendour of these garments for a mere occasional revelation. Though not worn constantly, yet they had to be assumed for some part of every day; and thus all eyes were continually directed to symbols of the glory, beauty, and perfection which God was aiming to produce in the character of his people. There was as yet no finding of these things in human nature. The gold of human nature could not yet be purified from its debasing dross; but here for a symbol of the refined and perfected man, was gold, pure and bright, we may imagine, as ever came out of the furnace; and here were these precious stones, inestimably more precious since the tribal names were graven on them, and with the preciousness crowned when they took their place on the shoulders and breasts of the priest. Thus, whenever these stones flashed in the light, they spoke forth afresh the great truth, that this priest so gloriously attired, was the representative of the people before God; not a representative whom they had elected for themselves, and who would therefore go to God on a peradventure, but one who, because God himself had chosen him, could not fail to be acceptable. The principle underlying the direction to make these splendid garments is that which underlies the use of all trappings by government and authority. The outward shows of kingly state, the crown, the sceptre, the throne, the royal robes—these may not be impressive now as once they were; but they have been very serviceable once, and may still serve an important purpose, even though it be not easily perceived. It might make a difference in the administration of justice, if the garb of those who are the chief administrators were to differ nothing in public from what it is in private.

III. OBSERVE THAT TO SHOW FURTHER THE IMPORTANCE ATTACHED TO THESE GARMENTS, GOD HIMSELF PROVIDED SKILL FOR THE MAKING OF THEM. Much skill might be needed, far more than could be guessed by the observer, to make these garments graceful and impressive. What was all the richness of the material unless there was also dextrous, tasteful, and sympathetic workmanship? The gold, and the blue, and the purple, and all the rest of the promising materials would have availed nothing in some hands to avert a clumsy and cumbrous result. The people provided all they could, and it was a great deal; but God had to provide the craftsmen in order to make full use of the people's gift.—Y.


Exodus 27:1, Exodus 27:2

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?

The tabernacle (cf. outline on Exodus 26:30) shows through what steps a man must pass who would approach God. The high priest shows what the man must be like who would attempt to take those steps. The dress of the high priest is usually said to have consisted of eight pieces, viz.: breast-plate, ephod with its girdle, robe of the ephod, mitre, gold plate or holy crown, broidered robe, drawers, girdle. Such a dress is meant to be characteristic, to shadow forth what ought to be the character of the man who wears it. As the high priest represents the people in their relation to God, the character required in him must be the character required in all would-be worshippers. Take a few points:—

I. THE WORSHIPPER MUST BE IN HARMONY WITH HIS SURROUNDINGS. The colours and materials of the garments are the same as those of the tabernacle with its veil and entrance curtain—gold, blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen. So, too, the character of the worshipper must match with the character of the sanctuary. What can a man do in heaven if he be not heavenly-minded? Every one, in the end, like Judas, must go to his own place; the character of the individual must decide the character of his surroundings (cf. Matthew 22:11-13).

II. HE MUST BE CAPABLE OF REFLECTING THE LIGHT AMID WHICH HE WALKS AND THE GLORY WHICH HE IS APPROACHING. The breast-plate is, amongst the garments of the high priest, what the mercy seat is amongst the furniture of the sanctuary. In some sort, also, the two are related; the mercy seat is the throne of glory, the resting-place of the shechinah, whilst the breast-plate reflects the same glory, and glorifies the wearer by reflecting it.

1. Man is glorified by reflecting the glory of God. The more he can reflect, the more manifold the ways in which he can reflect it, the more perfect is the glory which is revealed on him. We may note, however, that the high priest representing the nation, the breast-plate which he wears suggests rather the national than the individual reflecting power. The one grows out of the other, but amongst individuals some may reflect as the sardius, some as the topaz, etc. The great thing is that they do reflect, though each may reflect differently to others. Remember, too, that the glory of each helps to make and to intensify the glory of the whole.

2. The reflector is the breastplate. The breast-plate covers and symbolises the heart or the affections. "God is love," and the glory of God is the glory of love made manifest. Only love can reflect love; the loving heart is the enlightened and the enlightening heart.

III. PROGRESS MUST NOT BE SILENT BUT MUSICAL. The robe of the ephod with its border of embroidered pomegranates, blue, red, and crimson; bells of gold alternating with the pomegranates. The music of the priest's movement is associated with fruitfulness; look whence the sound comes and you see the varicoloured pomegranates. So, too, the melody of a holy life rings out from amongst good deeds; deeds which like the varicoloured pomegranates are all one fruit, "the fruit of the Spirit" (cf. Galatians 5:22). Such fruit advertises to his fellows a man's progress along the way of holiness (cf. Ecclesiasticus 45:9, "a memorial to the children of his people"); yet specially is it required by God for his own pleasure and satisfaction (cf. Exodus 28:35): whether men hear or no, the golden bells must not be silent.

IV. THE WORSHIPPER MUST BE HELMETED AND CROWNED WITH HOLINESS. (Cf. Exodus 28:36.) The golden plate with its inscription.

1. Generally, it may be said, that they who approach a holy place must approach it as a holy people. We have safeguards against unseemliness and impurity (Exodus 28:42).

2. Specially does the head, associated with the intellect, need consecration. Unless the head be protected the heart must soon cease to reflect. He who lays aside the helmet of holiness cannot retain the breast-plate of glory.

Conclusion.—We want to draw nigh to God. The tabernacle shows us by what successive stages we must approach him; the high priest shows us how in character and conduct we must be prepared for those successive stages. As we should put it now-a-days,—to get to heaven a man must be like Christ; the journey thither can only be achieved by those who are in communion with the great High Priest. In and through him we may draw nigh; growing daily more heavenly-minded, and therefore more fit for heaven; reflecting more and more of the light and glory which shines out upon us; making life musical with the melody of good works, a sweet sound in God's ears and a sign to direct men's attention God-wards; consecrated wholly to God's service, hallowed now by outward dedication; at length like the great High Priest himself, to be not merely hallowed but altogether holy.—G.


Exo 27:1 -43

The priests and their garments.

From instructions about inanimate things, we come now to persons. Aaron and his four sons were to be set apart for the office of the priesthood, and garments were to be made for them, "for glory and for beauty." Aaron was to be high priest (" the priest who is higher than his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured," Le Exodus 21:16); his sons were to be ordinary priests. The high priest was a very especial type of Christ.

I. THE INSTITUTION OF THE PRIESTHOOD (Exodus 27:1). Hitherto there had been no distinct class invested with the office of the priesthood. The need for a separate priesthood arose with the giving of the law, with the entrance of Israel into covenant relationship with God, and with the founding of a sanctuary.

1. With the giving of the law. A distinct revelation had been made of God's holiness. But God's holiness had as its correlative the unholiness of the people. By the law came the knowledge of sin. A priesthood, specially sanctified to God's service, became necessary to mediate between an unholy people and a holy God.

2. With the establishment of a covenant relationship between Israel and Jehovah. In virtue of the covenant, Israel became to God "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:5). It was this priestly calling of the nation which found official expression in the priesthood of the house of Aaron. The priests were "vicars," in the sense of the following passage—"A truly vicarious act does not supersede the principal's duty of performance, but rather implies and acknowledges it …. In the old monastic times, when the revenues of a cathedral or cure fell to the lot of a monastery, it became the duty of that monastery to perform the religious services of the cure. But inasmuch as the monastery was a corporate body, they appointed one of their number, whom they denominated their vicar, to discharge those duties for them. His service did not supersede theirs, but was a perpetual and standing acknowledgment that they, as a whole and individually, were under the obligation to perform it". That is to say, the priests stood in a representative relation to the body of the people. They acted in the name of the community.

3. With the founding of a sanctuary. "The groundwork of this new form of religion stood in the erection of the tabernacle, which God chose for his peculiar dwelling-place, and through which he meant to keep up a close and lively intercourse with his people. But this intercourse would inevitably have grown on their part into too great familiarity, and would thus have failed to produce proper and salutary impressions upon the minds of the worshippers, unless something of a counteracting tendency had been introduced, fitted to beget feelings of profound and reverential awe toward the God who condescended to come so near to them. This could no otherwise be effectually done than by the institution of a separate priesthood, whose prerogative alone it should be to enter within the sacred precincts of God's house, and perform the ministrations of his worship" (Fairbairn). The Aaronic priesthood had thus a twofold function to discharge in relation to the people.

1. Representative. It represented the nation in its priestly standing and vocation. It performed sacerdotal acts in the name of the tribes. The representative character culminated in the person of the high priest.

2. Mediatory. The priesthood mediated between the people and Jehovah. It was the link of communion between the holy and the unholy. Gifts and. offerings, which otherwise, on account of the unholiness of the people, would not have been accepted, were accepted at the hands of the priests. The high priest transacted with God on behalf of his constituents as well as in their name. It pertained to him, and to the other priests, "to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17). The priesthood, and especially the high priest, thus typifies Christ—

(1) in his Divine appointment to his office (Hebrews 5:5, Hebrews 5:6);

(2) in his personal and official holiness (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26);

(3) in his representative relations to his people (Hebrews 6:20);

(4) in his work of mediation and intercession (Hebrews 9:11, Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:24);

(5) in his heavenly glory (Hebrews 2:9).

Note, however, the following point of difference (one among many) between the high priest and Christ. The Jewish high priest embodied priestly rights already existing in the nation. Believers, on the contrary, derive their priestly rights from Christ. They are admitted to a share in his priestly standing. Their priesthood, unlike that of the old covenant, is purely spiritual. It includes privileges formerly possessed only by the official classes, e.g; the right of direct access to God (Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:19).

II. THE PRIESTLY GARMENTS (Exo 27:2 -43). Having chosen his priests, God next proceeds to clothe them. As the office was of his appointment, so must the garments be which are to be the insignia of it. Nothing is left to individual taste. The articles of attire; their shape, material, co]our, workmanship; the manner of their ornamentation; everything is fixed after a Divine pattern. The garments are to be "for glory and for beauty" (Exodus 27:2, 40), indicative of the official dignity, of the sacred character, and of the honourable prerogatives of the wearers of them. Men are even to be inspired with "the spirit of wisdom" (Exodus 27:3), for the purpose of making them, so entirely are they to be garments of Divine origin. Look

(1) at what these garments were, and

(2) at the functions and privileges of the priesthood as shadowed forth in them.

1. The parts of the priestly dress. The dress of the ordinary priests, with the exception of the girdle of needlework (cf. Exodus 39:29), was to be of fine white linen. It consisted of an embroidered coat, a cap, and plain white linen drawers. The high priest's garments were of a much richer order. They embraced

(1) the ephod, with its curious girdle (Exodus 27:6-15).

(2) The breast-plate, in which were to be placed "the Urim and Thummim" (Exo 27:15 -31).

(3) The robe of the ephod, "all of blue," and embroidered along the hem with pomegranates. Alternating with the pomegranates were to be little golden bells, which should give a sound when the priest went into the holy place, and when he came out (verses 31-36).

(4) The mitre, on which was to be a plate of gold, fastened with blue lace, and engraved with the words—"Holiness to the Lord" (verses 36-39).

(5) A broidered coat, girdle, and drawers, similar to those of the ordinary priests (verse 39).

2. The symbolism of the dress. The blue of the robe of the ephod denoted the heavenly origin of the priest's office; the shining whiteness of the ordinary garments, the purity required in those who served before Jehovah; the gold, the diversified colours, the rich embroidery and gems, in the other articles of attire, the exalted honour of those whom Jehovah had chosen, and caused to approach to him, that they might dwell in his courts (Psalms 65:4). More specifically, the garments bore testimony

(1) to the fundamental requirement of holiness in the priesthood. This requirement found its most distinct expression in the engraved plate on the high priest's mitre. Holiness was to be the characteristic of the people as a whole. Most of all was it required in those who stood in so peculiarly near a relation to Jehovah, and on whom it devolved to make atonement for the others. The requirement is perfectly fulfilled in Christ, whose people, in turn, are called to holy living.

(2) To the representative character of the priesthood. This was beautifully imaged by the fact that, both on his shoulders and on his breast, the high priest bore precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 27:9-13; 17-23). Another indication of this representative character is found in the order to place bells upon the hem of the robe of the ephod, that the people might hear the sound of his movements as he went in and out of the holy place (verse 35). Conscious that he was transacting in God's presence in their name, they were to follow him with their thoughts and prayers in the different parts of his sacerdotal task. It was, however, the wearing of "the breast-plate of judgment" (verse 29), which most specially declared that the high priest appeared before God as the people's representative. His function, as clothed with the breast-plate, was to sustain the "right" of the children of Israel before Jehovah (verse 30). The "right" included whatever claims were given them on the justice and mercy of Jehovah by the stipulations of the covenant, it was a "right" derived, not from unfailing obedience to the law, but from Jehovah's goodness. It was connected with atonement. Our "right," in like manner, is embodied in Christ, who bears us on his heart continually in presence of his Father.

(3) To the priestly function of mediation. The onyx stones on the shoulders of the high priest, each having engraved on it six of the names of the tribes of Israel (Exodus 27:12), indicated that on him rested the burden or responsibility of the entire congregation. A more distinct expression of this idea is given in verse 38, in connection with the gold plate of the mitre, engraved with HOLINESS TO THE LORD—"It shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron. may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord." A shadow of the higher mediation. Our persons, gifts, and works find acceptance only in Christ.

(4) To the need of sympathy in the priest, as a qualification for his office. The high priest was to bear the names of the children of Israel upon his heart, graven on the stones of the breast-plate (verse 23). Christ has perfect sympathy (Hebrews 2:14-18; Hebrews 4:14 Hebrews 4:16). The people also, as is hinted in verse 35, were to have sympathy with their priest.

(5) To the function of the priest, as revealer of God's will (verse 30). Urim and Thummim—whatever these were—are now superseded by the external word, and the inward illumination of Christ's Spirit. Christ gives forth unerring revelations of the will of the Father. "Lights and perfections" is not too high a name to bestow upon the Scriptures (Psalms 19:7-12; 2 Timothy 3:15, 2 Timothy 3:16).—J.O.

Verses 13-30


THE BREAST-PLATE. It has been noticed that the ephod had for its main object or purpose to be a receptacle for the breast-plate which was attached to it after it had been put on, and formed its principal ornament. The Hebrew word khoshen, which is translated "breast-plate," means "ornament;" and the khoshen must certainly have been the most striking and brilliant object in the whole attire of the high priest. Externally, it did but repeat the symbolism of the ephod, exhibiting the high priest as the representative of the twelve tribes, whose names were engraved upon its twelve stones, as well as upon the onyxes of the ephod. Internally, it had, however, another, and a deeper import. It contained within it the Urim and the Thummim (Exodus 28:30), by means of which God was consulted, and signified his will to his people. This must be regarded as its main end and use. It was from the decisions thus given that it received the name of "the breastplate (or ornament) of judgment."

Exodus 28:13

Ouches of gold. "Buttons" according to one view (Cook): "sockets," according to another (Kalisch): "rosettes," according to a third (Keil). Some small ornament of open-work (see the comment on Exodus 28:11), which could be sewn on to the ephod, and whereto a chain might be attached, seems to be intended. The object was to fasten the "breast-plate" firmly to the ephod.

Exodus 28:14

At the ends. The meaning of the Hebrew word migaloth is very doubtful. Jarchi and Rosemuller approve of the rendering of our translators. Geddes, Boothroyd, and Dathe render "chains of equal length." Gesenius, Kalisch, Canon Cook, and others, believe the true meaning to be "wreathed," or "of wreathen work," so that the next clause, "after the manner of a rope," would be simply exegetic. Of wreathen work. Literally, "after the manner of a rope." Cords of twisted gold wire were frequently used, instead of chains, by the Egyptians.

Exodus 28:15

The breast-plate. As the khoshen was to be worn upon the breast (Exodus 28:29), this name is appropriate; but it is not a translation of khoshen. Of judgment. See the introductory paragraph to this section. Kalisch translates "the breast-plate of decision." It was to be made, so far as its main fabric was concerned, of exactly the same materials as the ephod. See Exodus 28:6.

Exodus 28:16

Four square … being doubled. It has been generally supposed that the doubling was merely for the purpose of giving additional strength to the work, which was to receive twelve heavy gems; but Gesenius and others are of opinion that the object was to form a bag, in which the Urim and Thum-mira, which they regard as material objects, might be kept. A span. Half a cubit, or about nine inches.

Exodus 28:17

Settings of stones. These were similar to those of the two shoulder stones—i.e. of filagree or cloisonne work—as appears from Exodus 39:13. The first row of the stones is said to have been composed of a sardius, or sard, a topaz, and a carbuncle. Of these names the first only would seem to be tolerably certain. The second cannot be right, since the topaz was too hard a stone to be engraved by the ancient engravers. We may conjecture that the chrysolite, a pale stone not unlike the topaz, but far less hard, was the Genesis intended. The "carbuncle" is also thought to be wrong; and the "beryl" is suggested by some; by others "a sort of precious corundum." Emerald, to which the "smaragdus" of the LXX. and Josephus would seem to point, cannot be right, since that stone is fully as hard as the topaz.

Exodus 28:18

The second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. Here all the names must be wrong, for none of these three stones could be cut by the ancient engravers. Probably, carbuncle (or garnet), lapis lazuli, and onyx are intended.

Exodus 28:19

The third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst. The term "ligure" is unknown in modern mineralogy; and it is to the last degree uncertain what stone the ancients intended by their lingurium or lapis ligurius Some think that "jacinth," others that "tourmaline," is the stone here meant. A few suggest amber, but amber cannot receive an engraving. "Agate" and "amethyst" are generally allowed to be right translations.

Exodus 28:20

The fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper. If the identifications above suggested are allowed, two at least of these translations must be rejected. We have supposed the third stone in the first row to have been the "beryl," and the third in the second the "onyx." Perhaps we should translate, "a turquoise, a sardonyx, and a jasper." (See the comment on Exodus 28:9.) Their inclosings. Rather, "their settings," as in Exodus 28:17.

Exodus 28:21

The stones shall be with the names. Rather, "according to the names;" the number of the stones shall agree with that of the names, viz; twelve. Everyone with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes. Rather, "every one according to its name, they shall be for the twelve tribes," i.e; each, according to the name that is on it, shall stand for one of the twelve tribes.

Exodus 28:22

Chains at the ends. Compare the comment on Exodus 28:14. Kalisch translates, "chains of wreathen work, twisted in the manner of ropes."

Exodus 28:23-28

These verses present no difficulty. They describe very minutely, and with some tautology, the mode in which the breast-plate was to be fastened to the ephod. It was to have four rings, two at its two upper corners (Exodus 28:23), and two just behind its two lower corners (Exodus 28:20); a gold twist or cord was to be passed through each of the two upper rings, and then attached to the" ouches" or settings of the shoulder stones (Exodus 28:25; compare Exodus 28:11-14). A blue lace or ribbon was to be passed through each of the two lower rings, and these laces were to be tied to two rings, sewn for the purpose on to the front of the ephod a little above the "curious girdle" (Exodus 28:26, Exodus 28:27). By these four fastenings at its four corners, the breast-plate was securely attached to the ephod, and could not readily get loose from it.

Exodus 28:27

Over against the other coupling thereof. Rather, "near its joining." The "joining" of the ephod is perhaps the place where the 'curious girdle" was woven on to it.

Exodus 28:29

And Aaron shall bear, etc. "Aaron," i.e; "shall not only bear the names of the twelve tribes upon his shoulders (Exodus 28:12), but also upon his heart." He shall thus make a double presentation of them to God continually. The explanation is somewhat fanciful, that the names on the shoulder-stones indicated that the people were a burthen to him, while those on the stones of the breast-plate, being upon his breast, indicated that he bore them affection. The breast and the shoulder were probably chosen as being conspicuous and honourable positions.

Exodus 28:30

Thou shalt put in the breast-plate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim. The words Urim and Thummim mean respectively "Lights "and" Perfections," or perhaps "Light" and "Perfection—the plural form being merely a plural of honour. They were well translated by Aquila and Symmachus, φωτισμοὶ καὶ τελειότητες: less well by the LXX. ἡ δήλωσις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια: still worse by the Vulgate, Doctrina et Veritas. What exactly the two words represented is doubtful in the extreme. It has been supposed by some that they were not material objects, but a method by which God communicated his will; e.g; a miraculous light, or a miraculous voice. But such things as these could not have been put by Moses either "in," or "on the breastplate of judgment." Modern critics are generally agreed that the Urim and Thummim must have been material objects of one kind or another. The objects suggested are—

1. The engraved stones of the breast-plate.

2. Two small images, like the teraphim.

3. A gold plate, engraved with the name of Jehovah.

4. Three plates or slips; one blank, one engraved with "yes," and one with "no."

5. Diamonds, cut and uncut, with marks engraved on them.

Against the first of these views it is urged with very great force that the present passage shows the Urim and Thummim to be something quite distinct from the breast-plate—something which was to be added to the breast-plate after all the stones had been set in it; and which Aaron was to bear upon his breast in addition to the breast-plate and its jewels (compare Exodus 28:29 with Exodus 28:30). Against the fourth and fifth, it is sufficient to observe that they are pure conjectures, without any basis of authority, either in Scripture or tradition. The second and the third remain. The third has important Jewish names in its favour, but is open to the objection that it makes a single object correspond to both words. The second alone seems to have any basis in Scripture, which certainly connects the use of teraphim with the use of an ephod (Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14, Judges 18:17, Judges 18:20; Hosea 3:4). On the whole, while admitting that there is no sufficient evidence to determine the question, we incline to regard the Urim and Thummim as small images, kept in the bag of the "breast-plate" (Exodus 28:16), by means of which the high priest gave a decision when he was consulted. How the decision was arrived at, is an even more difficult problem than the one which we have attempted to solve. Some suppose the two images to have been used as lots, one giving an affirmative and the other a negative answer. Others imagine, that by gazing attentively upon them, and fixing his thoughts on the qualities which they symbolised—illumination and perfection—the high priest was thrown into an ecstatic state which enabled him to prophesy aright. The notion has even been started, that an angel spoke by their lips, and answered any question that was put to them. The truth seems to be that no theory on the subject can be more than a theory—quite arbitrary and conjectural—neither Scripture nor tradition furnishing any hint on the matter. If we knew how men divined from teraphim (2 Kings 23:24; Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2), we might thence obtain some inkling of the truth, since there is much probability in the view, that the teraphim were employed as an unauthorised substitute for the Urim and Thummim. (See Judges 17:5; Judges 18:5, Judges 18:6, Judges 18:14-20.) But the method of this divination is wholly unknown. It is not however likely to have been a mere casting of lots, which is a very simple process, and requires no images; nor can this explanation of the decision by Urim and Thummim be regarded as having probability m its favour. Perhaps, of all the theories, that which supposes the Urim and Thummim to have been objects gazed at by the high priest until he entered the ecstatic state, is the least objectionable. It must not, however, be considered an essential part of this theory, that the material objects were derived from the religion of Egypt (Plumptre). The objects must have been well known to Moses and to those for whom he wrote; otherwise, they could not have been introduced, without any account of their nature, as," The Urim" and "The Thummim." They had probably been long possessed and consulted by the nation, which was accustomed to believe that it received enlightenment from them. Perhaps they were a sort of teraphim, but unconnected with any idolatrous worship. It is quite conceivable that an old usage, hitherto un-authorised, but not debased by any flagrant corruption, should have been adopted by Divine command into the Mosaic ritual, purified of any evil that attached to it, and consecrated to an important purpose.


Exodus 28:13-30

The Teachings of the Breast-plate.

The breast-plate of judgment has many aspects, and teaches us several important truths—e.g.:—

I. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF SOULS IN GOD'S SIGHT. The tribes of Israel are represented by gems—gems of the most precious kinds known to, and workable by the engravers of the day—sard, and onyx, and carbuncle, and lapis lazuli, and chrysolite, and perhaps turquoise. We are reminded by this of the saying of the Lord recorded by the prophet Malachi—"They (that fear me) shall be mine in that day when I make up my jewels" (Malachi 3:17). His own elect are the "jewels" of Christ, wherewith he decks himself as a bridegroom with his ornaments (Isaiah 61:10). As Israel was of old, not only his "special people," but his "peculiar treasure" (Exodus 19:5), so are Christians now—each one of them dear to him; each one of them purchased with his blood; each one of them a stone in that glorious temple whereof he is the chief corner stone—a "white stone," having on it "a new name written" (Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12).

II. THE VARIETY IN THEIR GIFTS. Each stone in the breast-plate was different from all the rest—each had its own peculiar beauty. One was more brilliant, one more lovely in its hue, one more curious from its complexity. Yet the breast-plate needed all, would not have been perfect without all. None could say to its neighbour—"I have no need of thee." Contrast with its neighbours heightened the effect of each and so added to its beauty. It is the same with Christ's "jewels"—no two are alike—each has his own peculiar characteristics, his idiosyncrasy. And the crown in which the jewels are set is rendered more beautiful than it would otherwise have been by this diversity and variety. An endless repetition of even that which is most lovely pails. Of the thousands upon thousands whom Christ has saved and will save, no two but will be different; no one but will add somewhat to the majesty and beauty of the Church in heaven by its peculiar and distinctive character.

III. THE HIGH VALUE OF HIDDEN GIFTS OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE. It was not from its external beauty—from the gold and purple, and scarlet, and blue, and fine linen of its main fabric, or from its ouches and its golden chains of wreathed work; or even from the dazzling brilliancy and varied hues of its twelve gems—that the breast-plate of the high priest drew either its main value or its honourable title. It was "the breast-plate of judgment;" and this "judgment" was wholly unconnected with the external beauty and gorgeous appearance of the breast-plate. Hidden away in the treasury of its innermost folds lay the mysterious objects, known as "light" and "perfection," by means of which the priest pronounced his "judgments," and declared the will of God to the people. These constituted the true glory of the breastplate. While the twelve stones symbolised the twelve tribes, with their varied gifts and faculties (Genesis 49:3-27; Deuteronomy 33:6-25), the Urim and the Thummim symbolised light and perfection—intellectual and moral excellence—those best gifts of wisdom and moral knowledge which are the crowning graces of the regenerate human being (Ephesians 1:8, Ephesians 1:17; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9, Colossians 1:10; etc.).

IV. THE PROPRIETY OF REFERRING ALL OUR DOUBTS TO GOD FOR DECISION. Though the Christian Church does not enjoy, any more than did the post-captivity Jewish Church (Ezra 2:63), the advantage of oracular responses from on high, though our High Priest is gone before us into the holiest, and has taken with him the light and perfection, which are his alone, yet it is still possible to refer doubts to God, and so obtain light enough to serve as a guide to conduct. If we take our difficulties to God on our knees, and ask his counsel upon them in a faithful spirit, we have full reason to trust that we shall receive illumination from him. What after prayerful communion with God appears to us the best course to take, we may accept as his decision, his voice speaking to us. How consoling and encouraging the thought that we can, each one for himself, in the solitude of our chambers cast the burthen of our cares upon One who is perfectly good and perfectly wise, and who has promised to be our guide unto death!


Exodus 28:1-38

Aaron in his priesthood the type of Jesus.

I. IN HIS APPOINTMENT (Exodus 28:1).

1. He is chosen of God (Hebrews 5:4), and therefore our accepted intercessor.

2. He is taken from among his brethren; "from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me." The priest who ministers before God for us must go up with a brother's heart and with experience of human infirmity (Hebrews 4:15).

II. IN HIS ARRAY. The holy garments were "for glory and for beauty," the symbol of the perfect humanity of Jesus; "holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners.'


1. The names of the tribes were engraved upon and identified with the choicest jewels. Christ not only remembers, us; we are loved, honoured, treasured by him.

2. The name of each tribe was engraved upon a separate, and different kind of jewel. We are not grasped by our high priest in a mass; we are individually known, loved, cared for.

3. The names were borne upon Aaron's heart whenever he went into the holy place (Exodus 28:29), for a memorial before the Lord con-tin,ally. We are held in perpetual remembrance before God.


1. That remembrance was burden-bearing; he went in for them, his heart was bowed before God in the consciousness of their sin and need. For us in our sin and need Christ's entreaties ascend day and night.

2. In his zeal for holiness (Exodus 28:36-38). Christ, sin's sacrifice, shall also be sifts destruction.—U.

Verses 31-35


THE ROBE OF THE EPHOD. Underneath the ephod and breast-plate the high priest was to wear a robe, or frock, wholly of blue. This robe was to have a hole for the head at the top, and was to be woven without seam (Exodus 39:22). It was put on over the head, like a habergeon or coat of mail, and probably reached below the knee. Josephus says that it had no sleeves.

Exodus 28:31

All of blue. This plainness and uniformity offered a strong contrast to the variegated hues of the breast-plate and ephod, and threw those portions of the attire into greater prominence. If the blue used was indigo, the effect of the contrast must have been heightened

Exodus 28:32

An hole in the top of it. A mere circular hole for the head to go through, unaccompanied by a slit or longitudinal opening. In the midst of it. Midway between the two arm-holes. A binding of woven work round about the hole of it. This would strengthen the edge of the opening) and prevent it from tearing or fraying. The binding was probably sewn on after the frock was woven. As it were the hole of an habergeon. Linen corselets or habergeons have been found in Egypt. They were sometimes covered with metal scales, and were of the make here indicated. The word here used for "habergeon" (takharah) is Egyptian.

Exodus 28:33

Upon the hem of it. Literally "at its edge" Pomegranates. Tassels in the shape of pomegranates, of three colours, seem to be intended. An ornament of the kind is common in Assyria, but not in Egypt. Bells of gold between them. The bell is not often found in Egypt, and seems certainly not to have born in common use there. It was, however. often hung round the necks of horses in Assyria, and is so simple an object that its invention was probably very early. The Assyrian bells are shaped almost exactly like our own. as are the classical ones.

Exodus 28:34, Exodus 28:35

A golden bell and a pomegranate. Hebrew tradition gives a most uncertain sound with respect to the number of the bells. According to some, they were 12 only; according to others, 72; according to a third school, 3651 Equally conflicting are the explanations given of their symbolism—

(1) that they typified the proclamation and expounding of the law by the high-priest—

(2) that they were a musical offering of praise—

(3) that they marked kingly dignity, since Oriental kings sometimes wore bells—and

(4) that they were a call to vigilance and attention.

This last view is supported by the words of Exodus 28:35it shall be upon Aaron to minister, and his sound shall be hoard, or "that its sound may be heard." The bells were a means of uniting priest and people in one common service—they enabled the people to enter into and second what the priest was doing for them, and so to render his mediation efficacious—they made the people's worship in the court of the sanctuary a "reasonable service." And hence the threat, which certainly does not extend to all the priestly garments, implied in the words, "that he die not." If the high priest neglected to wear the robe with the bells, he separated himself off from the people; made himself their substitute and not their mouthpiece; reduced their worship to a drear formality; deprived it of all heartiness and life and vigour. For thus abusing his office, he would deserve death, especially as he could not do it unwittingly, for his ears would tell him whether he was wearing the bells or not.


Exodus 28:31

The Teachings of the Robe.

I. THE NEED OF HEAVENLY CALM AND PURITY, The robe was to be of one hue—uniform, peaceful; without glitter; something on which the eye could rest itself with a quiet satisfaction. And it was to be "blue "-the colour of heaven, the hue which God has spread over "that spacious firmament on high," which in his word represents to us his dwelling. "The blue sky is an image of purity." Nothing purer, nothing calmer, nothing more restful, than the deep soft azure of the eternal unchanging sky. The high priest's robe was to mirror it. He was to present himself before God in a robe "all of blue." So let us present ourselves before him arrayed in purity and peacefulness.

II. THE NEED OF UNITY. If the ephod was to some extent emblematic of the oneness of the Church, so, and much more, was "the robe of the ephod." It was of woven work (Exodus 39:22), absolutely seamless—one, emphatically, in material, in hue, in texture. So Christ prayed that his Church might be one—"as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us—one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:21-23). Visible unity is broken up; but something of invisible unity there may still be, if all true lovers of Christ will cultivate the spirit of unity; judge charitably; think the best they can of all branches of the Church; look to the good points of each; pray for their advance in holiness and in the know]edge of Christ; work with them so far as they can—e.g; for charitable and moral objects, amicably. If we thus act, if we be thus minded, we shall, in a true sense, put on "the robe of the ephod"—we shall be promoters, and not hinderers, of unity.

III. THE NEED OF KEEPING OUR ATTENTION FIXED ON THE ACTIONS OF OUR TRUE HIGH PRIEST, AND JOINING IN THEM. The bells of the robe were to advertise the people of every movement made by the high priest, and enable them to take their part in his actions. To profit by the contrivance, they had to keep their ears attent to the sound, and their minds fixed on the service which was in progress within the sanctuary. We Christians have equal need to mount up in thought continually to that holy place, whither Christ has taken our nature, and set it down at the right hand of God—to join with him as he pleads his meritorious sacrifice on our behalf; to "have boldness" with him "to enter into the holiest;" with him to ask the Father to pardon our sins; with him to intercede for the whole Church; with him to pray that strength may be given us to persevere. We do not, indeed, need bells to tell us how he is employed at each successive moment, because he is always doing all these things for us—always interceding, always pleading his sacrifice, always beseeching his Father to forgive us and sustain us. We may join him in these acts at any moment. Thus, bells are not necessary for us; but still they may sometimes help us. Many an Israelite, whose thoughts wandered and became fixed on worldly things, when no sound issued from the sanctuary, was recalled to a sense of religion, and the recollection of his soul's needs, by the tinkling of the priest's golden bells. So Christians, who ought in heart and mind ever to ascend to where Christ sits at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-3; Ephesians 2:6, etc.), but whose attention will wander to earth and earthly objects, may sometimes by the chime of bells, or by their solemn toll, be woke up to higher thoughts,—recalled, as it were, from earth to heaven, taken back from the vain distractions of the world to that holy place where their High Priest is ever interceding for them.

Verses 36-38


THE MITRE. Josephus tells us that the head-dress of the high priest was "not a conical cap, but a sort of crown, made of thick linen swathes" (Ant. Jude 1:3Jude 1:3.7, § 3). It was thus really a species of turban. The colour was white; and the only ornament on it was the gold plate, with its blue ribbon or fillet.

Exodus 28:36

Thou shalt make a plate of pure gold. The plate, though a mere ornament of the mitre, was, at once, its most conspicuous and its most significant feature. Placed directly in front, right over the forehead, and probably of burnished gold, it would attract universal attention, and catch the eye even more than the breast-plate. Its position made it "the culminating point of the whole priestly attire" (Kalisch)—and its inscription gave to that position extraordinary force and significance. For it taught that "holiness to the Lord" is the very highest crown and truest excellence of religion—that to which all ceremonial is meant to conduce—that without which all the paraphernalia of worship must ever be in God's sight a mockery. It set this truth conspicuously before the eyes, and was apt to impress it upon the hearts of all. It taught the high priest himself not to rest upon outward forms, but to aim in his own person, and teach the people to aim continually, at internal holiness. The extreme importance of this, causes the putting forward at once of the plate and its inscription before any account of the "mitre" is given.

Exodus 28:37

Thou shalt put it on a blue lace. In Exodus 39:31, it is explained that the blue lace, or ribbon, was "tied to it," probably at either end. That it may be upon the mitrei.e; "that it may be kept in place, and not slip from its position on the mitre."

Exodus 28:38

It shall be upon his forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the sacred things. Imperfection attaches to everything that man does; and even the sacrifices that the people offered to God required to be atoned for and purified. It was granted to the high priest in his official capacity to make the necessary atonement, and so render the people's gifts acceptable. For this purpose he was invested with an official holiness, proclaimed by the inscription upon the plate, which exhibited him as the type and representative of that perfectly Holy One, through whom alone can any real atonement be made to the Father. It shall be always upon his foreheadi.e; whenever he ministers.


Exodus 28:36-38

The Teachings of the Mitre.

The main lesson taught by all the priestly garments is intensified in the mitre, namely, the need of holiness. "Without holiness no one shall see God; Holiness becometh thine house for ever." The high priest was to be—

I. HOLY, OFFICIALLY. By his birth, of Levi and Aaron—by his bringing up—by his consecration—by his investiture—by his representative position as priestly head of his nation and type of Christ—he was set apart from all others, dedicated to holy employments, assigned a holy character. Of these things he could not dispossess himself. Even a Caiaphas "prophesied, being high priest that same year."

II. HOLY, PERSONALLY. To wear holy garments, to be employed about holy things, and yet to be impure in heart and life, is to be a "whited sepulchre," beautiful outwardly, but "within full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27). Nothing can be a greater offence to God. A high priest, with "holiness to the Lord" written upon his brow, and unholiness working in his brain and nestling in his heart, was a moral contradiction, a paradox, a monstrosity. Such there may have been, and their official acts for the benefit of others God may have accepted and allowed, since otherwise the innocent would have suffered for the guilty; but their hatefulness in his sight must have been great, and their punishment will be proportionate. We may believe that such cases were few. Not many men can bear to be hypocrites. The holy attire, the holy offices, the profession of holiness upon the brow, must have helped to make the great majority holy, or at least harmless, in life—true "examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3)—holy, not merely officially, but personally.

III. A CAUSE OF HOLINESS IS OTHERS. The high priest, as the religious leader of the nation, had to help forward holiness in every possible way—

(1) Ceremonially, by his official actions;

(2) Ministerially, by teachings and exhortations;

(3) Individually, by the force of example.

It was his mission to make the people "accepted before the Lord." The mediation which he offered not only purified from legal defilements, but, by virtue of his typical character, purged the conscience and cleansed the soul from sin. His exhortations and example had the natural force of one in authority, and must have been potent at all times. It was at his peril if he took life too easily, and rebuked sin too mildly, and was not "a faithful priest," as appears from the history of Eli (1Sa 2:22-36; 1 Samuel 3:13; 1 Samuel 4:11-15). Unfaithful priests are, in truth, an abomination, and have need to tremble at the "terrors of the Lord." Those who have undertaken a holy office are doubly bound to holiness. If men "corrupt the covenant of Levi," God will "send a curse upon them, and curse their blessings" (Malachi 2:2, Malachi 2:8),

Verse 39


THE TUNIC AND GIRDLE. From the outer garments, which were the most important and distinctive, a transition is now made to the inner ones, in which there was nothing very remarkable. The linen drawers are for the present omitted, as not peculiar to the high priest. Directions are given for the tunic and the girdle. The former is to be woven in some peculiar way—so as to be diapered, as some think—and the latter is to be "the work of the embroiderer."

Exodus 28:39

Thou shalt embroider. This is certainly not the meaning of the Hebrew. Some peculiar mode of weaving the coat is intended. The coat. Rather, "the tunic" or "shirt." The keloneth was a long linen gown or cassock, worn immediately over the drawers. It reached to the feet, and had tightly-fitting sleeves (Joseph. Ant. Jude 1:3Jude 1:3.7, § 2). Whether it showed beneath the "robe of the ephod," or not, is uncertain; but the sleeves must certainly have been visible. The keloneth was white. Thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen. This direction had not been previously given. It is a little out of place. Thou shalt make the girdle of needlework. Literally, "of the work of the embroiderer." The girdle was worn directly over the linen shirt, and under "the robe of the ephod." It would seem that it was not seen at all, unless its ends hung down below "the robe of the ephod." It was however to be artistically embroidered (See Exodus 39:29.)


Exodus 28:39

The Lesson of the Tunic.

The tunic, or inner vest, was to be of fine linen, and of spotless white. Both the material and the hue denoted purity. God's priests must be clothed in purity from top to toe. Purity must wrap them round on every side. This purity may be hidden—unseen of man, or nearly unseen. But God sees it and honours it. The tunic, though it must be all of white, shall not lack its ornamentation. It is to be diapered with a pattern, like the best damask cloths, and so to be rich and costly.

The Lessons of the Girdle.

(1) Girdles were less for beauty than for use. Men girded themselves for battle, for a race, for active exertion of any kind. The high priest was to have his loins continually girded, that he might be ready at all times for God's service. But he was not to make a parade of this readiness. The girdle was to be hidden under the robe of the ephod.

(2) Hidden as it was, the girdle was to be costly and beautiful—of many colours, the work of the skilled embroiderer. The Israelites were taught by this, that things devoted to God's service, whether they be seen or not, should be of the best. The intention is not to please men's eyes by beauty of colour or form, or richness of material, but to do honour to God. Scamped work in places where it is not seen has been thought allowable by many a church-architect; dust and untidiness in hidden corners are tolerated by many who have the care of sacred buildings. True piety will make no difference between the seen and the unseen, the hidden and that which is open to sight, but aim at comeliness, fitness, beauty, in all that appertains to the worship of God.

Verses 40-43


THE APPAREL OF THE ORDINARY PRIESTS. The chapter concludes with brief directions concerning the official attire of the ordinary priests. This was to consist of linen drawers like those of the high priest; of a tunic, also of linen (Exodus 39:27), shaped like his, but not diapered; of a linen girdle, the exact character of which is not stated; and of a close-fitting cap. The entire dress, with perhaps the exception of the girdle, was white. The linen drawers were regarded as of primary necessity, and the priest who did not wear them was threatened with death.

Exodus 28:40

For Aaron's sons. His actual sons at this time—his descendants afterwards, to whom the priesthood was rigidly confined. Thou shalt make coats. The verb is different from that used in Exodus 28:39, and seems to imply that the priests' tunics were not to be patterned. Girdles. It has generally been supposed that these were of the same material and workmanship as the high priest's; but this is nowhere stated. In Exodus 39:29, the high priest's girdle alone is spoken of. Bonnets. Certainly not "bonnets "in the modern sense. Plain, close-fitting caps, shaped like a cup, or rather basin, seem to be meant. Such caps were often worn in Egypt, but not by the priests. For glory and for beauty. See above, Exodus 39:2. It is very noticeable, that the extremely simple attire of the ordinary priests—a dress of pure white, without anything ornamental about it, unless it were the girdle—is still regarded as sufficient "for glory and for beauty." White robes have certainly a vast amount of scriptural testimony in their favour.

Exodus 28:41

Thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, etc. These words serve to connect the present chapter with the following one. They contain the first intimation that Moses is not only to cause the holy garments to be made, but to invest the priests in them, and further to consecrate both Aaron and his sons by anointing. On this point, see the comment on Exodus 29:7-9.

Exodus 28:42

Linen breeches. Rather, "linen drawers" (Kalisch), such as we see worn by the Egyptians generally, reaching from the waist to a little above the knee. This also was of linen (Herod. 2.83). Unto the thighsi.e; to the bottom of the thighs where they adjoin on the knee.

Exodus 28:43

When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation. Literally," when they go into the tent of meeting—i.e; the place where God and the high priest were to meet. The holy place. The "holy place" seems in this passage to include the court of the tabernacle, wherein the altar was situated. That they bear not iniquity. To "bear iniquity" is to incur guilt, or have sin imputed to one. If even through forgetfulness a priest entered the sanctuary without this necessary article of clothing, and so risked an unseemly, exposure of his person, he was to be accounted guilty, and punished by death. This was to be a "statute for ever," and to apply both to the high priest and the ordinary priests. Compare Exodus 20:26.


Exodus 28:40-42

The priests' attire.

The dress of the ordinary priests teaches us—

I. THAT NOT ONLY THE CHIEF, BUT THE SUBORDINATE, MINISTERS OF THE SANCTUARY MUST BE CLAD IN HOLINESS. The priests' garments are called "holy," no less than the high priest's (Exodus 28:4). They are almost entirely of fine white linen. The linen drawers denote the need of holiness with respect to sins of the flesh. The linen cap implies purity of thought and imagination. The linen tunic is symbolical of the complete sanctification in which the whole man should be wrapped. The girdle, also of linen, marks the need of purity in respect of all the active part of life. In every one of these respects the ordinary priests were on a par with the high priest. The same holiness was required of both.

II. THAT IN EXTREME SIMPLICITY THERE MAY BE A HIGH DEGREE OF BEAUTY. The priests' garments were, like the high priest's (Exodus 28:2), "for glory and for beauty" (Exodus 28:40). And, being designed by God for those ends, they doubtless attained them. Yet, unless the girdle was an exception, they were all white. So, when Jesus was transfigured, "his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them" (Mark 9:3). There is a wondrous beauty in pure, spotless, snow-white raiment. Still more is there beauty in the simplicity of a spotless life. A pure mind—a pure heart—pure conduct—simple, uniform performance of every-day duty—what is more lovely, more glorious? To such the Divine Bridegroom will address the words—"Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee" (So Exodus 4:7).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 28". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-28.html. 1897.
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