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Bible Commentaries

C. H. Mackintosh's Notes on the Pentateuch
Exodus 28

 

 

Verses 1-43

These chapters unfold to us the Priesthood, in all its value and efficacy. They are full of deep interest. The very word "Priesthood" awakens in the heart, feelings of the most profound thankfulness for the grace which has not only provided a way for us to get into the divine presence, but also the means of keeping us there, according to the character and claims of that high and holy position.

The Aaronic priesthood was God's provision for a people who were, in themselves, at a distance, and needed one to appear for them in His presence continually. We are taught in Hebrews 7:1-28, that this order of priesthood belonged to the law — that it was made "after the law of a carnal commandment" — that it "could not continue by reason of death" — that the priests belonging to it had infirmity. It could not, therefore, impart perfection, and hence we have to bless God that it was instituted "without an oath." The oath of God could only stand connected with that which was to endure for ever, even the perfect, immortal, untransferrable priesthood of our great and glorious Melchisedec, who imparts, both to His sacrifice and His priesthood, all the value, the dignity, and the glory of His own peerless Person. The thought of having such a sacrifice and such a Priest as He causes the bosom to heave with emotions of the liveliest gratitude.

But we must proceed to the examination of the chapters which lie before us.

In chapter 28 we have the robes, and in chapter 29 we have the sacrifices. The former have more especial reference to the need of the people; the latter; on the other hand, to the claims of God. The robes express the varied functions and qualities of the priestly office. "The ephod" was the great priestly robe. It was inseparably connected with the shoulder-pieces and the breastplate, teaching us, very distinctly, that the strength of the priest's shoulder, and the affection of the priest's heart, were wholly devoted to the interests of those whom he represented, and on whose behalf he wore the ephod — that special priestly robe. This, which was typified in Aaron, is actualized in Christ. His omnipotent strength and infinite love are ours — ours eternally — ours unquestionably. The shoulder which sustains the universe, upholds the feeblest and most obscure member of the blood-bought congregation. The heart of Jesus beats with an undying affection, with an everlasting and an all-enduring love for the most neglected member of the redeemed assembly.

The names of the twelve tribes engraven on precious stones, were borne both on the shoulders and on the breast of the high priest. (See ver. 9-12, 15-29.) The peculiar excellence of a precious stone is seen in this, that the more intense the light which is brought to bear upon it, the more brightly it shines. Light can never make a precious stone look dim; it only increases and develops its lustre. The twelve tribes, one as well as another, the smallest as well as the greatest, were borne continually upon the breast and shoulders of Aaron before the Lord. They were, each and every one, maintained, in the divine presence, in all that undimmed lustre and unalterable beauty which belonged to the position in which the perfect grace of the God of Israel had set them. The people were represented before God by the high priest. Whatever might be their infirmities, their errors, or their failures, yet their names glittered on the breastplate with unfailing brilliancy. Jehovah had set them there, and who could pluck them thence? Jehovah had put them thus, and who could put them otherwise? Who could penetrate into the holy place to snatch from Aaron's breast the name of one of Israel's tribes? Who could sully the lustre which gathered round those names, in the position which Jehovah had placed them? Not one. They lay beyond the reach of every enemy — beyond the influence of every evil.

How encouraging and consolatory it is for the tried, tempted, buffeted, and self-abased children of God to remember that God only sees them on the heart of Jesus In His view, they ever shine in all the effulgence of Christ; they are arrayed in divine comeliness. The world cannot see them thus; but God does, and this makes all the difference. Men, in looking at the people of God, see only their blots and blemishes. They have no ability whatever to see further, and as a consequence, their judgment is always wrong — always one-sided. They cannot see the sparkling jewels, bearing the names of God's redeemed, engraven by the hand of changeless love. True it is that Christians should be most careful not to furnish the men of the world with any just occasion to speak reproachfully. They should seek "by patient continuance in well doing, to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." If only they entered, by the power of the Holy Ghost, into the comeliness in which they ever shine, in God's vision, it would assuredly lead to a walk of practical holiness, moral purity, and elevation, before the eyes of men. The more clearly we enter, by faith, into objective truth, or what is true of us in Christ, the deeper, more experimental, and practical will be the subjective work in us and the more complete will be the exhibition of the moral effect in our life and character.

But, thank God, our judgment is not with men, but with Himself: and He graciously shows us our great high priest, "bearing our judgment on His heart, before the Lord continually." This imparts deep and settled peace — a peace which nothing can shake. We may have to confess and mourn over our constant failures and short-comings; the eye may, at times, be so dimmed with the tears of a genuine contrition as to be but little able to catch the lustre of the precious stones on which our names are engraven, yet there they are all the while. God sees them, and that is enough. He is glorified by their brightness — a brightness not of our attaining, but of His imparting. We had nought save darkness, dulness, and deformity. He has imparted brightness, lustre, and beauty. To him be all the praise, throughout the everlasting ages!

"The girdle" is the well-known symbol of service and Christ is the perfect Servant — the Servant of the divine counsels and affections, and of the deep and manifold need of His people. With an earnest spirit of devotedness, which nothing could damp, He girded Himself for His work; and when faith sees the Son of God thus girded, it judges, assuredly, that no occasion can be too great for Him. We find, from the type before us, that all the virtues, the dignities, and the glories of Christ, in His divine and human nature, enter fully into His servant character. "The curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen." (Verse 8.) The faith of this must meet every necessity of the soul, and satisfy the most ardent longings of the heart. We not only see Christ as the slain victim at the brazen altar, but also as the girded High Priest over the house of God. Well, therefore, may the inspired apostle say,

"Let us draw near," — "let us hold fast," — "let us consider one another." (Hebrews 10:19-24.)

"And thou shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim ("lights and perfections,") and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually." We learn from various passages of the Word, that the "Urim" stood connected with the communication of the mind of God, in reference to the various questions which arose in the details of Israel's history. Thus, for example, in the appointment of Joshua, we read, "And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him, after the judgment of Urim before the Lord." (Numbers 27:21.) "And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim (thy perfections and thy lights) be with thy holy one. . . . . they shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law." (Deuteronomy 33:8-10.) "And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." (1 Samuel 28:6.) "And Tirshatha said unto them that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim." (Ezra 2:63.) Thus we learn that the high priest not only bore the judgment of the congregation before the Lord, but also communicated the judgment of the Lord to the congregation — solemn, weighty, and most precious functions! All this we have, in divine perfectness, in our "great High Priest who has passed through the heavens." He bears the judgment of His people on His heart continually; and He, by the Holy Ghost, communicates to us the counsel of God, in reference to the most minute circumstances of our daily course. We do not want dreams or visions; if only we walk in the Spirit, we shall enjoy all the certainty which the perfect "Urim," on the breast of our High Priest, can afford.

"And thou shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. . . . and beneath, upon the hem of it, thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not." (Ver. 31-35.) The blue robe of the ephod is expressive of the entirely heavenly character of our High Priest. He is gone into heaven He is beyond the range of mortal vision; but, by the power of the Holy Ghost, there is divine testimony to the truth of His being alive, in the presence of God; and not only testimony, but fruit likewise. "A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate." Such is the beauteous order. True testimony to the great truth that Jesus ever liveth to make intercession for us will be inseparably connected with fruitfulness in His service. Oh! for a deeper understanding of these precious and holy mysteries!*

{*It is needless to remark that there is divine appropriateness as well as significancy, in all the figures presented to us in the Word. Thus, the "pomegranate," when opened, is found to consist of a number of seeds, contained in a red fluid. Surely this has a voice. Let spirituality, not imagination, judge.}

"And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre, upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And 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." (Ver. 36-38.) Here is a weighty truth for the soul. The golden plate on Aaron's forehead was the type of the essential holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ. "It shall be ALWAYS upon HIS forehead, that THEY may be accepted before the Lord." What rest for the heart amid all the fluctuations of one's experience! Our High Priest is "always" in the presence of God for us. We are represented by, and accepted in, Him. His holiness is ours. The more deeply we become acquainted with our own personal vileness and infirmity, the more we enter into the humiliating truth that in us dwelleth no good thing, the more fervently shall we bless the God of all grace for the soul-sustaining truth contained in these words, "it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord."

If my reader should happen to be one who is frequently tempted and harassed with doubts and fears, ups and down in his spiritual condition, with a constant tendency to look inward upon his poor, cold, wandering, wayward heart; if he be tried with an excessive vagueness and want of holy reality — oh! let him stay his whole soul upon the precious truth that this great High Priest represents him before the throne of God. Let him fix his eye upon the golden plate and read, in the inscription thereon, the measure of his eternal acceptance with God. May the Holy Ghost enable him to taste the peculiar sweetness and sustaining power of this divine and heavenly doctrine!

"And for Aaron's sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty and thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity and die." Here we have Aaron and his sons, typifying Christ and the Church, standing in the power of one divine and everlasting righteousness. Aaron's priestly robes express those inherent, essential, personal, and eternal qualities in Christ; while the "coats" and "bonnets" of Aaron's sons represent those graces with which the Church is endowed, in virtue of its association with the great head of the priestly family.

Thus, in all that has passed before us in this chapter, we may see with what gracious care Jehovah made provision for the need of His people, in that He allowed them to see the one who was about to act on their behalf, and to represent them in His presence, clothed with all those robes which directly met their actual condition, as known to Him. Nothing was left out which the heart could possibly need or desire. They might survey him from head to foot and see that all was complete. From the holy mitre that wreathed his brow, to the bells and pomegranates on the hem of his garment, all was as it should be, because all was according to the pattern shown in the mount — all was according to Jehovah's estimate of the people's need and of His own requirements.

But there is yet one point connected with Aaron's robes which demands the reader's special attention, and that is the mode in which the gold was introduced in the making of them. This is presented to us in Exodus 39:1-43, but the interpretation comes in suitably enough in this place. "And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the fine linen with cunning work." (Ver. 3.) We have already remarked that "the blue, the purple, the scarlet, and fine twined linen" exhibit the various phases of Christ's manhood, and the gold represents His divine nature. The wire of gold was curiously insinuated into all the other materials, so as to be inseparably connected with, and yet perfectly distinct from, them.

The application of this striking figure to the character of the Lord Jesus is full of interest. In various scenes, throughout the gospel narrative, we can easily discern this rare and beauteous union of Manhood and Godhead, and, at the same time, their mysterious distinctness.

Look, for example, at Christ on the sea of Galilee. In the midst of the storm "he was asleep on a pillow" — precious exhibition of His perfect manhood! But, in a span class="T2">moment, He rises from the attitude of real humanity into all the dignity and majesty of Godhead, and, as the supreme Governor of the universe, He hushes the storm, and calms the sea. There is no effort, no haste, no girding Himself up for an occasion. With perfect ease, He rises from the condition of positive humanity into the sphere of essential Deity. The repose of the former is not more natural than the activity of the latter. He is as perfectly at home in the one as in the other.

Again, see Him in the case of the collectors of tribute; at the close of Matthew 17:1-27. As the "Most High God, possessor of Heaven and earth," He lays His hand upon the treasures of the ocean, and says, "they are mine;" and, having declared that "the sea is his and he made it," He turns round and, in the exhibition of perfect humanity, He links Himself with His poor servant, by those touching words, "that take and give unto them for me and thee." Gracious words! peculiarly gracious, when taken in connection with the miracle so entirely expressive of the Godhead of the One who was thus linking Himself, in infinite condescension, with a poor, feeble worm.

Once more, see Him at the grave of Lazarus. (John 11:1-57.) He groans and weeps, and those groans and tears issue from the profound depths of a perfect manhood — from that perfect human heart which felt, as no other heart could feel, what it was to stand in the midst of a scene in which sin had produced such terrible fruits. But then, as the Resurrection and the Life, as the One who held in His omnipotent grasp "the keys of hell and of death," He cries, "Lazarus, come forth;" and death and the grave, responsive to His authoritative voice, throw open their massy doors and let go their captive.

My reader's mind will easily recur to other scenes in the gospels illustrative of the beautiful combination of the wire of gold with "the blue, the purple, the scarlet, and the fine twined linen;" that is to say, the union of the Godhead with the manhood, in the mysterious Person of the Son of God. There is nothing new in the thought. It has often been noticed by those who have studied, with any amount of care, the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

It is, however, always edifying to have the blessed Lord Jesus introduced to our thoughts as "very God and very man." The Holy Ghost has, with "cunning workmanship," wrought the two together and presented them to the renewed mind of the believer to be enjoyed and admired. May we have hearts to appreciate such teaching!

Let us now, ere we close this section, look for a moment at chapter 29.

 


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Bibliography Information
Mackintosh, Charles Henry. "Commentary on Exodus 28:4". C. H. Mackintosh's Notes on the Pentateuch. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/nfp/exodus-28.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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