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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 28

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. Take thou unto thee Aaron Or, Bring thou Aaron thy brother near to thee . Moses, as the divinely chosen minister and mediator between Jehovah and the people, is the proper person to formally institute a new law and order of priestly ministrations . Nadab and Abihu have been already mentioned, (Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9,) and in Leviticus 10:1-2, we read of their sudden destruction for offering “strange fire before Jehovah . ” The four sons of Aaron are mentioned in the genealogy of chapter 6:23 . Eleazar succeeded his father, and the priestly robes were transferred to him in Mount Hor . Numbers 20:24-28. He in turn was succeeded by his son Phinehas . Compare Exodus 6:25, and Joshua 24:33; Judges 20:28. The descendants of Ithamar subsequently attained precedence, (see note on 1 Samuel 1:9,) and representatives of both these sons of Aaron appear to have held office in David’s time, (see note on 2 Samuel 6:17; 2 Samuel 8:17,) but the deposition of Abiathar by Solomon (2 Kings 2:35, note) restored the line of Eleazar .

Verses 1-43


The institution of the Aaronic priesthood and the ceremonials of their induction into office, their dress, and the duties of their office, are explicitly referred in this and following chapters to the time of Moses. The theory which maintains the post-exilian origin of this “priest code” is obliged to treat this entire narrative as unhistorical, and has gone to the extreme of teaching that the structure and cultus of the Mosaic tabernacle must all be relegated to the realm of fiction. How this reverses and revolutionizes all history and tradition, and introduces difficulties greater than those it seeks to explain, must be apparent to the un-biassed student of these sacred books. That the Levitical priesthood was instituted by Moses, and that Aaron and his sons were consecrated first for the holy services of the tabernacle, are facts most reasonable and supposable in themselves. No other period in all the history of Israel was so appropriate for the establishment of such a sacerdotal cultus, and no man, under God, could have been better qualified to set in order the offices and work of this ministry than Moses, whose Egyptian training must have made him familiar with the cultus and mysteries of the great temples of the Nile.

Verse 2

2. Holy garments… for glory and for beauty As the entire sanctuary service constituted a system of object teaching to impress lessons of God’s truth and holiness and his relations to his people, it was eminently proper that the vestments of the ministers of the sanctuary should have noticeable harmony with the holy and beautiful places and services . Hence, the figures of clean robes and beautiful attire to signify the righteousness of the saints .

Verse 3

3. Wise hearted Those gifted with the genius and skill for such artistic work as is here contemplated . The spirit of wisdom is here and in Exodus 31:3, shown to be a gift of God, and those who possessed the tact and knowledge for making appropriate garments for the priestly office were to be regarded as divinely qualified for just such kind of service.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. These are the garments In these two verses the principal articles of the priestly dress are mentioned, and the materials which were to be used in making them, but the fuller description of the several articles is given in the sequel of the chapter .

Verse 6

6. The ephod This was the most conspicuous garment of the high priest, and was made of the same material as the tabernacle-cloth and vail, (Exodus 26:1; Exodus 26:31,) but was interlaced with gold threads, the cunning work of the weaver . According to Wilkinson the Egyptian monuments exhibit coloured costumes woven with what appear like threads of gold .

Verse 7

7. Two shoulderpieces Hence the ephod is called, by the Septuagint translators, επωμις , and the Vulgate, superhumerale, a garment to be worn upon the shoulder. It evidently consisted of two pieces, joined at the two edges, that is, at the two upper ends, or edges, which were fitted to come together at the top of the shoulders, as may be seen in the cuts on the opposite page.

Verse 8

8. The curious girdle By means of which the two pieces of the ephod were to be fastened about the body . These were of the same material as the rest . Comp . Exodus 28:6.

Verses 9-12

9-12. Two onyx stones Hebrews, stones of shoham . Some render beryl, others, sardonyx . These were to have graven on them the names of the twelve sons of Israel; according to Josephus ( Ant . , 3: 7, 5) the elder sons’ names were on the right shoulder, so that the younger must have been on the left . Thus arranged according to their birth, if we are guided by Genesis 29:30, they would have been as follows:


Reuben Gad

Simeon Asher

Levi Issachar

Judah Zebulun

Dan Joseph

Naphtali Benjamin.

The engraving of the names upon the two stones was to be after the manner of a signet, or seal, and the stones themselves were to be set upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial, continually admonishing the wearer of them that he acted as the consecrated representative of the twelve tribes of Israel, and not for himself alone. The stones were to be set in ouches of gold, or rather surrounded with textures of gold. According to Josephus, “there were two sardonyxes upon the ephod at the shoulders to fasten it, in the nature of buttons, having each end running to the sardonyxes of gold that they might be buttoned by them.” The vacant space ( e) in the cut indicates the place where the breastplate (described Exodus 28:15-29) was to be worn.

Click image for full-size version

Verses 13-14

13, 14. Ouches… chains These were designed in some way to fasten the ephod and breastplate together, (comp . Exodus 28:25,) and so serve to introduce the description of the latter .

Verse 15

15. Breastplate of judgment This is not to be thought of as a military breastplate of metal, but as a very richly ornamented fabric, made of the same material as the ephod, upon which it was to be fastened by rings and chains of gold . Exodus 28:22-25. Its probable form is shown in the cut, which is taken from McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia . It was called breastplate of judgment from its holding the mysterious Urim and Thummim, (Exodus 28:30,) by which the judgment of God was sometimes ascertained .

Verse 16

16. Foursquare it shall be… doubled Being a span, that is, half a cubit (about 9 . 5 inches) in length and breadth, the doubling or folding of it would form a kind of bag, adapted to contain the Urim and Thummim .

Verse 17

17. Four rows of stones These were in-wrought into the costly fabric in settings or fillings, so as to form a splendid piece of work . The names of these stones, which follow, (Exodus 28:17-20,) are sufficient to show that this ornamental breast-piece of the high priest must have been prepared with the greatest possible care and skill. It is hardly possible to identify the Hebrew names of all the stones. The student should consult the larger Bible dictionaries on the several words, where all that is known upon the subject is gathered together.

Verse 21

21. Names… according to the twelve tribes As the names on the two onyx stones were to be according to their birth, or generations, (Exodus 28:10,) this arrangement according to the tribes may denote a difference .

Verses 22-28

22-28. Chains… rings This description shows in minute detail the manner in which the breastplate was securely fastened to the ephod . Josephus says that “whereas the rings were too weak of themselves to bear the weight of the stones, they made two other rings of a larger size, at the edge of that part of the breastplate which reached to the neck, and inserted into the very texture of the breastplate, to receive chains finely wrought, which connected them to the tops of the shoulders with golden bands, whose extremity turned backward and went into the ring on the prominent back part of the ephod; and this was for the security of the breastplate, that it might not fall out of its place . ”

Verse 29

29. For a memorial Comp . Exodus 28:12, note .

Verse 30

30. The Urim and the Thummim Volumes have been written upon the significance of these mysterious words, but no one has succeeded in clearing the subject of its mystery . This verse shows that they should not be identified with the twelve stones mentioned above, (17-20,) but that they were something additional put in the breastplate; that is, according to the simplest import of the words, given or placed in the fold implied in the language of Exodus 28:16. This seems to have been in the form of a case or bag fitted to receive these special treasures . That they were some material things, like small pieces of wood or stone, is the most probable inference, but not a word have we anywhere from which we may judge of their form or size . They were formally delivered to Aaron along with the breastplate when he was consecrated to the high priest’s office, (Leviticus 8:8,) and were employed in asking counsel or judgment from Jehovah in respect to the going out or coming in of the children of Israel. Numbers 27:21. That they thus served to determine important movements may be inferred from 1 Samuel 22:15; 1 Samuel 23:9-12; 1 Samuel 28:6; 1Sa 30:7-8 ; 2 Samuel 2:1; but in what form or manner answers from Jehovah were obtained no one is able now to explain . They no longer existed after the exile, except as traditions of the past, and as possible means for solving difficulties which might again be restored to Israel in the good providence of God . Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65. Comp . Hosea 3:4.

The Hebrew words are in the plural, and according to their simplest etymology mean lights and perfections. The Septuagint translates by words in the singular, meaning revelation and truth. They have been conjectured to have been small images, like the teraphim of patriarchal times, (see Genesis 31:19,) and granted to the Israelites as a substitute for these, which they had persisted in retaining for purposes of divination . Thus it is supposed divine wisdom accommodated itself to the weakness and superstitions of the people, but after the word of prophecy arose in Israel these lower forms of communication gradually ceased . Josephus ( Ant . , 3: 8, 9) evidently identified the Urim and Thummim with the twelve stones above described, and says that they indicated the divine will or favor by giving out a brilliancy and splendour that were not natural to them at other times. Later rabbinical writers held that letters were inscribed upon these stones, and the divine answer was given by means of the letters, which became luminous one after another, so as thus to spell out words. Others have maintained that the high priest, when inquiring by these stones, was wont to stand in the holy place before the vail, and fix his gaze intently on them until he was seized by the spirit of prophecy, and distinctly heard the divine revelation proceeding from the glory of the Lord. According to Michaelis, ( Commentaries on Laws of Moses, vol. i, p. 261,) the Urim and Thummim were “three very ancient stones, which the Israelites before the time of Moses used as lots, one of them marked with an affirmative, a second with a negative, and the third blank or neutral.” Without adopting this particular view of the number and marking of the stones, many later writers have adopted the opinion that they were employed in some form of casting lots. Certainly, the casting of lots to ascertain some matter of uncertainty is often referred to, (comp. Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 26:55; Joshua 18:8; 1 Samuel 14:41-42,) but in such a way as not to suggest that inquiry through Urim and Thummim was thus performed, but rather the contrary. For why should such casting of lots have been resorted to if the Urim and Thummim already existed, and were given for the same purpose and were employed in the same manner?

It is manifest that all these notions of the form and use of the mysterious stones are purely conjectural, and no degree of certainty or authority attaches to any one of them. All that the Scripture affirms is, that they were some objects put in the breastplate of judgment, and were upon Aaron’s heart when he officiated in the holy place before the Lord. As the prophet received the divine revelation in a vision or in a dream, and as Moses was honoured by receiving it in still more open ways, (Numbers 12:6-8,) it is not improbable that the high priest was granted special and extraordinary revelations through some visible media, and as the anointed minister of the holiest places bore these sacred signs and media as witnesses of the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually. They were a perpetual sign and symbol of his being a chosen medium of communication between God and the people.

Verses 31-35

31-35. The robe of the ephod A garment distinct and separate from the ephod, and to be worn underneath it . Being all of blue it would appear as a becoming groundwork for the richly ornamented and variously . coloured breastplate with its precious stones . The hole in the top of it, in the midst thereof, was simply an opening, neatly bound by the weaver’s skill, through which the head was put, thus permitting the garment to come down and rest upon the neck, breast, and shoulders. In this same manner the habergeon, or military coat of mail, was made to fit about the neck and shoulders. See the cut at 1 Samuel 17:5. Linen habergeons of this form are said to have been common in Egypt . This robe was woven so firmly about the hole of it as to be not easily rent, and it seems to have been without sleeves . The skirts of this robe (not merely the hem of it, as the common version) were to be ornamented with pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, running like a rich border around the lower part, and bells of gold were to be placed between the pomegranates, so that a bell and a pomegranate alternated with each other round about. The bells were designed to assure those without that their officiating minister was about his holy work, and when the sound was heard they knew that he was performing his duties in proper attire . The sound indicated both when he entered and when he came out of the holy place. A failure to wear this robe (as also the linen breeches, Exodus 28:42-43) would have been on the part of the priest a wanton contempt shown to the holy place and its service, and would have exposed him to the judgment of death.

Verses 36-38

36-38. A plate of pure gold This was the most notable feature of the mitre, or turban, and is, therefore, mentioned here before the blue lace and headdress, although in Exodus 39:28; Exodus 39:30-31, the mitre is first mentioned. This golden plate bore the inscription HOLINESS TO THE LORD, and, being attached by a blue lace so as to be upon the forefront of the mitre, it would appear as if set as a jewel upon Aaron’s forehead, and signifies that he, as high priest and atoning mediator in all matters of oblation and sacrifices, was set forth to bear the iniquity of the holy things. He, as the representative of a holy nation and consecrated people, sanctified unto God by remission of their sins and in the symbolism of all their holy gifts, was, while discharging the duties of his office, always to wear upon his forehead this symbol of the redemption and consecration of Israel. So intense was the conception of the holiness of Jehovah that even the holy things which the children of Israel consecrated were thought of as still containing some elements of iniquity, and this golden signet on Aaron’s forehead was a continual acknowledgment of this, and proclaimed the merciful provision by which the iniquity might be borne away and forgiven.

Verse 39

39. The coat of fine linen This appears to have been an undergarment, or body coat, made of the same material as the mitre, namely, of fine linen, to be worn next to the skin, and fitted closely about the body by a girdle of needlework. An approximate representation of the high priest in full costume is exhibited on the next page .

Verse 40

40. For Aaron’s sons The ordinary priests are here to be understood . The foregoing elaborate description of the high priest’s dress leaves little to be said about the garments of the common priests . Their coats, or under-garments, were also fastened on by girdles, (comp. Exodus 28:39, note,) but their bonnets, or caps, were a headdress of different make from the mitre of the high priest. Keil supposes these bonnets to have been in the form of an inverted cup, and to have been plain white cotton caps. These articles of dress were to serve not merely the common purpose of clothing, but especially for glory and for beauty, and to enhance the sanctity, dignity, and importance of the priestly office. The priests were Jehovah’s consecrated ministers, and should be clothed in becoming attire for such holy service.

Verse 41

41. Put them upon… anoint… consecrate… sanctify The formal consecration of Aaron and his sons is more fully given in chap . 29, and Leviticus 8:0, where see notes .

Verse 42

42. Linen breeches The Hebrew is from a root which means to conceal . They were a garment for concealing the nakedness, short drawers reaching from the loins even unto the thighs, and were, on peril of death, to be worn by Aaron and his sons whenever they ministered in the holy places . The word בר , here rendered linen, is not the same as that so rendered above, שׁשׁ in Exodus 28:39; Exodus 28:15; Exodus 28:8; Exodus 28:6; Exodus 28:5. The material intended is not certainly known, but would seem, from Exodus 39:28, to be something much resembling the linen, or byssus, if not a peculiar texture of the same material.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 28". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/exodus-28.html. 1874-1909.
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