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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 28

 

 

Introduction

Moses in Mount Sinai Receives God’s Revelation.

Moses In The Mountain With Yahweh For Forty Days and Nights (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 31:18).

After receiving the covenant and putting it into writing Moses was called by Yahweh to go up to Him into the Mountain. The Great Overlord wished to establish the necessary protocol for His people’s approach to Him. There through revelation Moses was to be given instructions concerning the provision of a Dwellingplace for Yahweh, with all its furniture, so that they could know that He ‘dwelt among them’. This was in order to confirm to Israel His gracious intentions towards them (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46), and which will enable them to reveal their continued loyalty and concern for His holiness (Exodus 30-31).

An Earthly Dwellingplace Is To Be Prepared For Yahweh’s Convenience (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46)

The first act is to establish a Dwellingplace among them which will be a reminder that He is their Overlord. The preparation of the Dwellingplace falls into two sections:

1). That which expresses Yahweh’s sovereign activity towards His people and His provision of atonement (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46), and at the end of it He expresses His intention to dwell among them (Exodus 29:45).

2) This is followed by the provision of the means by which they can express their loyalty to Him, and can approach Him, through their representatives, in His throne room, and at the end of this He gives them the covenant as sealed by His hand (Exodus 30:1 to Exodus 31:18).

The New Priests And Their Garments (Exodus 28:1-41).

At this stage Aaron and his sons are to be instituted as priests for the service of the Dwellingplace. We are given no direct information as to how the priesthood previously operated. Perhaps Moses operated as ‘the Priest’ (high priest) (Exodus 24:4), and perhaps the patriarchs of households, or the redeemed firstborn (Exodus 13:2), acted as priests for their households, although the latter were more likely simply assistants as the Levites would be. The future ideal was that all might become a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). We do know that in Exodus 24:5 some young men assisted Moses in the offering of burnt offerings and the sacrifice of peace offerings. But everyone then knew what their system was and no one needed to be told, and there may have been a number of variations. It was only because a major change was to take place that we have these detailed descriptions. They would incorporate something of the old and introduce other things that were new.

For we must remember that the present ‘Israel’ was made up, not only of connections with the twelve tribes in Egypt, but also of a ‘mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12:38), many of whom would have had their own gods and their own form of priesthood. Only a short while had passed since the deliverance, and it was now necessary to formalise the way of worship for all that they might be one people with one way of worship. Had just anyone been appointed ‘high priest’ (in those early days regularly called ‘the Priest’) there may have been dissension, but none could dissent at the appointment of one who with Moses had been a major player in the deliverance. All would recognise his worth and recognition by God.

This chapter may be analysed as follows:

a Aaron and his sons to be set aside to minister in the priest’s office (Exodus 28:1).

b Preparation for making the holy garments (Exodus 28:2-5).

c The making of the Ephod, the priestly surcoat, with the Girdle, the Ephod containing the names of the tribes of Israel on its shoulders (Exodus 28:6-14).

c The making of the Breastpouch which contains on its jewellery the names of the twelve tribes and within it the Urim and the Thummim (Exodus 28:15-30).

c The making of the Robe of the ephod to be worn beneath the ephod hemmed with pomegranates and bells (Exodus 28:31-35).

c The making of the Headplate to be on the mitre and declaring Holiness to Yahweh (Exodus 28:36-38).

b The making of the garments for Aaron’s sons (Exodus 28:40).

a The robing, anointing, consecrating and sanctifying of Aaron and his sons to the priest’s office (Exodus 28:41).

The Appointment of Five Priests Including Aaron the Leading Priest (Exodus 28:1).


Verse 1

(See the "The New Priests And Their Garments" section of the Chapter Comments for an introduction to this chapter.)

Exodus 28:1

“And bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.”

The choice was wise. Moses was unavailable, for he had a nation to lead through the wilderness and could not give his time to the office of ‘the Priest’. He would always be unique. He was Yahweh’s man. But Aaron was equally recognised by the people as having been an instrument of God, and his relationship to Moses, and his part in the deliverance, were equally recognised. Indeed in an age when the firstborn was often seen as pre-eminent it might have been seen as appropriate that the elder brother be appointed.

That Aaron as ‘the Priest’ was seen as holding a priesthood superior to that of his sons comes out in the special garments which he was to wear. He was the leading priest, called ‘the Priest’, a position described as the ‘great priest’ when differentiation needed to be made and no name could be given because the reference was general (Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 35:25).

His sons acted as his assistants. Nadab and Abihu had been with him when they had feasted before God in the Mount (Exodus 24:1), but would die (possibly struck by lightning) because they offered ‘strange fire’ (with incense - compare Exodus 30:9) before Yahweh, in disobedience to His commands (Leviticus 10:1-2). We know little of the future of Ithamar (see 38:21; Numbers 4:28; Numbers 4:33), but Eleazar would later become ‘the Priest’ (Numbers 20:25-26; Numbers 26:3; Numbers 26:63; Numbers 34:17; Joshua 14:1), and from him would be descended Zadok (1 Chronicles 6:8).

Much later the descendants of Ithamar would be ‘the Priest’ although we do not know how it came about. It was possibly because a vacancy was left when there was no adult son of the line of Eleazar. Eli, Ahimelech and Abiathar were all descended from Ithamar (compare 1 Chronicles 24:3; 1 Samuel 22:20; 1 Kings 2:27), but with Zadok the Priesthood returned to the house of Eleazar.

Thus five were appointed, the covenant number, of whom three would die because of disobedience (Numbers 20:24; Leviticus 10:1-2), and one would simply fade from the scene (but see Exodus 38:21; Numbers 4:28; Numbers 4:33). When God chooses a man he must show himself worthy. Presumption may lead to his downfall.

It is significant that the four sons are divided into two sets of ‘two’, that is, two sets of witnesses. The first two failed in their witness. The second two carried it on. None, except Eliezer, was ever titled ‘the Priest’, but he appears to have taken over the role before Aaron’s death, possibly because of Aaron’s great age (Numbers 16:39; Numbers 19:3-4), after which he only is called ‘the Priest’ (e.g. Numbers 26:1 and regularly), apart from a mention of Aaron in the designation of Eliezer as ‘son of Aaron the priest’. See also Leviticus 6:22; Deuteronomy 10:6 for the idea of a sole ‘Priest’. The plural ‘priests’ can be applied to Aaron’s sons but not even then as a specific title (Numbers 3:3; Numbers 10:8). All are called ‘son(s) of Aaron, the priest’.

In Leviticus ‘the priest’ is spoken of generally, either as himself acting, or as possibly acting through his assistants (see Leviticus 6:22 which emphasises this position). Later descendants called ‘the Priest’ are Phinehas (Joshua 22:30 - when Eliezer has grown old), Eli (1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 2:11), Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21, 1, 2; 1 Samuel 2:11), Abiathar (1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 30:7 and often). Zadok is also called ‘the Priest’ (2 Samuel 15:27; 1 Kings 1 (eight times); 2:35; 4:2; 1 Chronicles 16:39 (in contrast with ‘his brethren the priests’) 1 Chronicles 24:6) even when Abiathar is still alive, and they are then coupled together as ‘the priests’ (2 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 17:15; 2 Samuel 19:11). This may well be because when Abiathar deserted to David (1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 30:7), Saul appointed Zadok in his place. The tension between them was resolved when Abiathar supported Adonijah and Zadok supported Solomon (1 Kings 1), resulting in Abiathar’s downfall.

The responsibilities of the priests in general in Israel were fourfold.

1). They had the responsibility of maintaining the service of the Holy Place. This included burning the incense each morning and evening, trimming and refilling the lamps each evening, and replacing the showbread each Sabbath day.

2). They maintained the service of the courtyard of the Dwellingplace.. This included the offering of sacrifices each morning and evening, and as required, and blessing the congregation after the daily sacrifice. It also meant keeping the fire on the brazen altar burning always for when sacrifices were brought to be offered, and periodically removing its ashes.

3). They were responsible to inspect and appraise people and their sacrifices. These included lepers coming for examination, wives accused of adultery, and things offered to God or dedicated to the sanctuary.

4). Finally, they were to teach and counsel the people. It was their responsibility to communicate the Law of Moses to the congregation and to pronounce on difficult cases of law.

The Priest” had the additional responsibility of overall supervision, responsibility to ensure that the ordinances were correctly carried out, responsibility for the use of the Urim and Thummim and especially responsibility for officiating solely in unique situations like the Day of Atonement when he, and he alone, entered the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies.

The word used for ‘priest’ is ‘cohen’, which more rarely signified a mediator, a chief representative when it was also used of chief representatives of a king (see 2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 20:26; 1 Kings 4:5). But the ‘priest’ was mainly the representative of Yahweh and the mediator between man and his God.


Verses 2-4

The Priestly Garments (Exodus 28:2-4)

Exodus 28:2

“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”

The garments made for Aaron are now to be described. They are to be ‘for glory and for beauty’. They are unique and are to separate him off as holding a splendid office, a thing of beauty, distinguished from all others in his being ‘sanctified’, set apart as holy, as belonging to God, as God’s supreme representative to His people, as God’s mediator between God and man. They were to reveal to the people a hint of Yahweh’s own glory and beauty, and that this one acted before God on their behalf, and came to them from God. He was a shadow of the Greater Who was yet to come.

So God was concerned that men should honour ‘the priest’ as His representative and mediator, and through his clothing God revealed some small hint of His own glory and beauty. Aaron was called on to reveal ‘the beauty of holiness’ (Psalms 29:2; Psalms 96:9; 1 Chronicles 16:29), the beauty of total dedication and separation to God. His failure to fully do so led to his death (Numbers 20:24).

But it should be noted that only one had such garments as are described in what follows, because of his unique position, because uniquely he represented God, and he represented Israel (Exodus 28:38 see also Leviticus 16). On the other hand, his sons also wore special robes ‘for glory and for beauty’ (Exodus 28:40). They too were mediators, for one man could not bear the responsibility alone. And they possibly even wore the full garments when acting as ‘the Priest’, if such occasion ever arose before the death of Aaron. Eleazar would do so, and would inherit them from Aaron (Leviticus 16:32).

Today the One Who has a right to these garment ministers in Heaven. We have ‘the high priest’ eternal in the heavens (Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:24-28; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:21). There is now only One Mediator between God and man. It is questionable therefore whether any should wear such garments on earth. To do so is to make a claim that is not justified. There is now only One Who represents God before His people. All others come as suppliants and humble servants to God, as the chief of sinners. There was never any suggestion that the Prophets or Apostles should have such clothing. Indeed they often wore camel’s hair or rags. And if not they who else is justified in doing so? For to wear such clothing is to turn men’s eyes from God and from the Saviour of the world, to exalt a man. Anything that thus exalts man is to be abhorred.

Men love such clothing for it exalts them. The motive for them may initially be pure, but man’s heart is such that it soon turns what is good into what is supremely evil, and man becomes exalted, and enjoys his exaltation, rather than exalting God. They actually begin to mistakenly see themselves as especially holy.

Exodus 28:3

“And you shall speak to all who are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister to me in the priest’s office.”

To Israel the ‘heart’ was seen as the seat of the intellect and of all wisdom. And those who made Aaron’s garments were to be those whose hearts had been filled with the Spirit of wisdom, revealed by the expertise of their work. There seems little doubt here that they were to be seen as not just talented but as inspired by God in a special way. His own Spirit would inspire their spirits. For these garments were special, and they set apart Aaron in holiness before God so that he could fulfil the priestly office. They were to be seen therefore as, in a real but secondary sense, made by the Spirit of God. And yet even these had to be ‘sanctified’ by the shedding of blood (Exodus 29:21), as had Aaron.

Exodus 28:4

“And these are the garments that they shall make, a breastpouch, and an ephod, and a robe, and an under-robe of patterned work, a turban and a girdle. And they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, and his sons, that he may minister to me in the priest’s office.”

The garments are summarised and will be dealt with in more detail. They number six, the intensification of three, expressing full completeness. They are ‘holy’ garments for they set apart firstly the leading priest (‘the priest’) and then these other priests for a unique task, men who are set apart for mediation between God and man.


Verses 5-12

The Ephod (Exodus 28:5-12).

The ephod was made of costly material worked with gold, bluey-violet, purpley-red and scarlet. It consisted of front and back pieces which reached from below the shoulders to the hips and was held in place by two shoulder bands, and was tied round the waist. Attached to it by gold fittings was the breastpouch of judgment (see below). It was put on over the priestly robe to be described in Exodus 28:31-35.

Exodus 28:5-8

“And they shall take the gold, and the bluey-violet, and the purpley-red, and the scarlet, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, of bluey-violet, and purpley-red, scarlet and fine twined linen, the work of the skilled workman. It shall have two shoulder pieces joined to its two ends. And the skilfully patterned, cunningly woven band which is on it, to gird it on withal, shall be like its work, and of the same piece, of gold, of bluey-violet, and purpley-red, and scarlet and fine twined linen.”

The ephod was to be made by a skilled workman of the multicoloured materials used for the curtains. The gold was probably gold thread interwoven after the remainder had been done. The colours might be woven in a variety of patterns. While the Egyptians preferred white with a little colour the Semites preferred brighter colours.

The looms used would be Egyptian hand looms, which were not large and easily transportable. The weaving skills had been brought from Egypt.

The two shoulder pieces joined the separate pieces of the ephod over the shoulder, (and possibly was interwoven with the ephod all the way down to the band - see Exodus 28:27-28 ) while the skilfully-patterned woven band around the waist seems to have been attached to, or even woven into, the ephod and of a similar nature to the cloth.

Exodus 28:9-12

“And you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the children of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, according to their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engraving of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones. You shall make them to be enclosed in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod to be stones of memorial for the children of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before Yahweh on his two shoulders for a memorial.”

The actual type of stones has been much disputed with onyx, beryl, emerald and sardonyx all having been suggested. The onyx is black and white, the sardonyx black and white with a layer of red. A large sardonyx was very expensive. It was an excellent stone for engraving. Engraving was an art well known in Egypt. It is no argument against this to say that slaves would not have learned engraving and weaving. They were not always slaves in Egypt, and even when they were slaves those who were skilled in such things would have been treasured and encouraged in order to bring profit for their masters.

The stones were to be engraved with the names of the twelve sons of Jacob and placed in gold settings on the shoulder of the ephod so as to bring the names of the twelve tribes before Yahweh. When Aaron entered the Sanctuary the whole of Israel in effect went with him and were brought to Yahweh’s attention.

According to their birth” may indicate order of age, or it may refer to the six sons of Leah on one stone and the remainder on the other (compare Genesis 37:2).


Verses 13-30

The Breastpouch of Judgment (Exodus 28:13-30).

This Breastpouch of Judgment was so-called (Exodus 28:5; Exodus 28:29-30) because it had within it the Urim and the Thummim by which decisions were reached before Yahweh. It was like a 23 centimetre (nine inch) bag, was foursquare, and also contained on it twelve semiprecious stones, in four rows of three, on which were the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. It would be attached to the ephod when Aaron was preparing to go in to the Holy Place before Yahweh.

This double emphasis on the names of the twelve tribes stresses how important this was seen to be. As we have already pointed out, when Aaron entered the Holy Place the whole of Israel was seen as entering with him. He was their representative in the fullest sense. Every Israelite (and the foreigners who had united with them and become members of different tribes) would see themselves as entering with Aaron.

Exodus 28:13-16

“And you shall make catches of gold, and two chains of pure gold. You shall make them like ropes, of intertwined work, and you will put the intertwined chains on the catches. And you shall make a breastpouch of judgment, the work of the skilful workman. You shall make it like the work of the ephod. You shall make it of gold, of bluey-violet, and purpley-red, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. It shall be foursquare and double. Its length shall be a span and its breadth shall be a span.”

This breastpouch was to be made of the same materials as the ephod and the curtains. There was no idea of contrasting colours or artistic beauty, except for the skilful workmanship, possibly due to the limitations of their resources. It was to be doubled to form a pouch to contain the Urim and Thummim, and was to be foursquare, indicating its perfection, and about half a cubit (say, 23 centimetres or nine inches). It would be fastened to the shoulderstraps of the ephod by two golden chains which were intertwined like golden ropes, and connected to the pouch by the catches.

The word for ‘breastspouch’ is ‘choshen’ and is etymologically obscure. There is little agreement about its meaning apart from the fact that the context makes it reasonably clear. It was hung on the breast and was in the form of a foursquare pouch.

Exodus 28:17-21

“And you shall set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones; a row of sardius, chrysolite and beryl shall be the first row; and the second row a garnet, a lapis lazuli, and an onyx; and the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; and the fourth row a turquoise, a sardonyx and a jasper. They shall be enclosed in gold in their settings. And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve according to their names. Like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name. They shall be for the twelve tribes.”

We have named the stones in terms of those which it would be possible for ancient engravers to engrave. (Such stones as emerald, sapphire and diamond would have been impossible for them to even scratch with the tools they had). All are contained in gold settings, marking their great holiness, They are of great value because God’s people were of great value (Malachi 3:17), and each contains the name of one of the tribes of Israel, engraved on them like a signet ring is engraved.

Four rows.” Therefore four rows of three, making twelve in all. Four regularly indicates ‘worldwideness’. Three represents completeness. Thus the priest was seen as representing the whole of his world, with the twelve indicating the twelve tribes, that is, all Israel.

Exodus 28:22-25

“And you shall make on the breastpouch chains, like ropes, of intertwined work of pure gold. And you shall make on the breastpouch two rings of gold and shall put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpouch, and you shall put the two intertwined chains of gold on the two rings at the edge of the breastpouch, and the other two ends of the two intertwined chains you shall put on the two catches, and put them on the shoulderpieces of the ephod, on its front part.”

This describes the way in which the pouch is attached by golden chains of interwoven gold cords to the shoulder straps of the ephod by means of catches. All are of pure gold.

Exodus 28:26-28

“And you shall make two rings of gold, and you shall put them on the two ends of the breastpouch, on the edge of it which is towards the inward side of the ephod (or ‘which is on the edge of it on the inside of the ephod’). And you shall make two rings of gold, and shall put them on the two shoulderpieces of the ephod underneath, in its forepart, close by its coupling above the skilfully woven band of the ephod. And they shall bind the breastpouch by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be on the skilfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpouch be not loosed from the ephod.”

This is describing the attaching of the lower section of the breastpouch to the ephod and to the band around the ephod. The attachment is by bluey-violet cord put through golden rings which are attached to the ephod in the one case and the shoulderpieces of the ephod in the other. This may suggest that the shoulderpieces come very low and that the ephod is worn low down, or that the shoulderpieces are not just attached to the top of the ephod but continue on down, attached to the ephod and interwoven with it, even as far as the lower band. (Just as the band itself is of one weaving with the ephod).

One purpose behind all this is to ensure that the breastpouch does not hang loose. It is to be attached as part of the whole.

Exodus 28:29-30

“And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel on the breastpouch of judgment on his heart when he goes in to the Holy Place, for a memorial before Yahweh continually. And you shall put in the breastpouch of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart when he goes in before Yahweh, and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel on his heart before Yahweh continually.”

There is a twofold purpose for the breastpouch. One is that it enables Aaron to carry on his heart, that is on his whole intellectual and emotional being, the names of the twelve tribes before Yahweh for a continual memorial, concerned for them, feeling for them, praying for them. And secondly that it may contain the instruments by which judgment can be found on His people’s behalf through the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim were instruments of judgment on behalf of Yahweh, and their ever being in the pouch meant that concern for the true judgment of the people was ever before Yahweh and ever a concern of Aaron’s.

There is no certainty about what the Urim and Thummim consisted of, but they were clearly some way by which the divine will could be found (see Deuteronomy 33:8; Deuteronomy 33:10; Numbers 27:21). There is no certainty about the etymology of the words themselves. It would appear that they probably worked by a series of questions being put which required a particular simple response, and a positive or non-positive answer was received, leading up by further questions to a final answer. While positive answers are known there is no example of a negative answer being given, but there is one of a refusal to answer (1 Samuel 28:6). However, the paucity of information might mean that in fact a negative answer could be given.

So it could be that one simply represented the positive and the other the negative or neutral; or that different answers were temporarily written on each of them in some way and they were then selected by some method; or that they were tossed down on a surface and the answer came from the way they turned up or down. Or the answer may have been found by drawing one ‘blind’ from the pouch, indicating ‘yes’ or ‘no answer’ or ‘no’, or by casting them on the surface as suggested above with the answer given by how they fell.

See for an example 2 Samuel 2:1 where the first question received the answer ‘yes’ or ‘go up’ to the question whether David was to go up to a city of Judah, and the second said ‘to Hebron’ in some way (possibly by saying ‘shall I go to Hebron?’). Compare also 1 Samuel 23:9-12 where the ephod, presumably with the breastpouch containing the Urim and Thummim, was brought to David and questioned; and 1 Samuel 14:36-42 where they were probably used at Saul’s behest. See also Joshua 7:14-18 where Joshua may have used them.

So the ephod with the breastpouch, both containing engraved jewels, and the pouch containing the Urim and Thummim, were worn by Aaron to bring the nation before Yahweh continually. By their jewels they depicted them as precious to God, by the engraved names as personally within God’s cognisance, and through the Urim and Thummim they were a constant ‘reminder’ of the need for justice for God’s people. Furthermore they were actually sometimes the means by which it was obtained. They were crucial to the nation and worn by Aaron as representing them all before Yahweh.


Verses 31-35

The Priestly Robe (Exodus 28:31-35).

Under the ephod Aaron wore a priestly robe. From its skirts were to hang pomegranates of bluey-violet, purpley-red and scarlet all round, and in between there were to be golden bells. Their sound as he went in and out of the Holy Place in some way contributed to his survival.

Exodus 28:31-32

“And you shall make the robe of the ephod all of bluey-violet, and it shall have a hole for the head in its midst. It shall have a binding of woven work round about its hole, as it were the hole of a coat of mail, that it be not torn.”

The priestly robe was to be of one colour, setting off the multicolours of the ephod. The place for the head to go through was to be round and not formed by a slit, and the hole was to be protected by a binding of woven work, carefully protected just like the hole in a coat of mail. This was to prevent any danger of it being torn. To wear a torn robe within the sanctuary would bring dishonour to it for it would depict that which was less than perfect.

Exodus 28:33-35

“And on the skirts of it you will make pomegranates of bluey-violet, and of purpley-red and of scarlet, round about its skirts, and bells of gold between them round about. A golden bell, and a pomegranate, a golden bell, and a pomegranate, on the skirts of the robe round about. And it shall be on Aaron to minister, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before Yahweh, and when he comes out, that he die not.”

Hanging from the bottom of the skirt of the robe were to be, alternately, replica pomegranates and golden bells. The pomegranates were to be made of material of three colours matching the colours used elsewhere. Bells for religious purposes are known from Assyria, where bells were common, and Assyrian fashions would be known in Egypt, and no doubt copied by some. And bells were certainly known in Egypt by 800 BC, both as decoration and as often being attached to children to ensure knowledge of their whereabouts.

The probable idea of the bells is that Aaron must not enter the Holy Place secretly and unawares. The bells would announce his presence as all high servants of a king must be announced. Thus his entry was always to be a public affair, on behalf of the people, and never to be seen as a private audience. This would stress that the Holy Place belonged to Yahweh, and Aaron did not have freedom of movement in it. He came as an underling. To give the impression of trying privately to sneak up on God or as a private person would be to be worthy of death. Thus the emphasis of the bells is on the necessity for his announcement each time he came, and resulted from the fact that there was no one else there to announce him.

The bells could then further be seen as an indication of subservience. They declared that he was not free to move as he would. They indicated that he was always to be under some level of subservience and observation. Compare how horses and cattle would later wear bells as subservient to man because they too were under control and so that they could be found by means of the sound of the bells.

The pomegranates, like the bread of the presence, probably spoke of the fruitfulness of the land that God intended to give them. Pomegranates are often mentioned with this in mind (Numbers 13:23; Numbers 20:5; Deuteronomy 8:8; see also Song of Solomon 4:13; Song of Solomon 6:11; Song of Solomon 7:12; Joel 1:12; Haggai 2:19) and may have been seen as especially suitable for depiction on the robe, possibly matching the shape of the bells (round metal ones with a piece of metal inside to make the noise). Thus they may have been intended in the eyes of the people to indicate their request for the fruitfulness of the land.

Or the bells with their music and the pomegranates with their wholesomeness may have been intended to indicate happiness and fruitfulness. To enter into a king’s presence in a gloomy state was to be in danger of death. Thus the thought here may be that Aaron must remember that he must enter God’s presence with happiness, happiness at the God-given fruitfulness of the land and with the joyful sound of bells.

Or the idea may be that the bells were important because by hearing the bells the people could participate in what Aaron was doing and could participate with him in thought as they heard him moving about, and that for Aaron to deliberately act in such a way as to prevent this was to be worthy of death. He must ever remember what his position was, and to go in without their being aware would make him as one who went in as an individual regardless of the fact that he was the people’s representative. Proper reverence always had to be observed.

Sirach 45:9 gives the interpretation held by some many centuries later and explained it as follows: “He compassed him with pomegranates and with many golden bells round about, that as he went there might be a sound, and a noise made, that might be heard in the temple, for a memorial to the children of his people.”

Others have suggested that God may have intended the pomegranates and bells on the hem of the robe to remind the Israelites of the declaration of God's commandments, the pomegranate being possibly a symbol of the spiritually nourishing quality of God's Word and the bells a warning that they should be heeded (compare Proverbs 25:11; Psalms 19:8-11; Deuteronomy 8:3). Or there is the view that the bells were a symbol of the sounding or proclamation of God's Word through testimony, the priest being the teacher of God’s word par excellence. The problem with these latter is that while the principles are good, they are rather remote from what is being described, and are nowhere else directly so connected with such ideas. Nor do they explain why their lack in this particular place should be particularly worthy of death.

The later tradition that the High Priest went into the Most Holy Place with a rope tied round his leg so that if he was struck down and the sound of the bells ceased he could be dragged out without anyone desecrating the Most Holy Place is interesting, but is hardly relevant. If true it would, however, bring out the recognition of the awesomeness of entering the Sanctuary at all, and bells (a different type) do later declare the holiness of Yahweh (Zechariah 14:20).



Verses 36-38

The Turban And The Golden Plate of Holiness to Yahweh (Exodus 28:36-38).

It should be noted that the turban is secondary here, only worthy of mention because of the plate of gold which had on it HOLY TO YAHWEH which was to be on Aaron’s forehead. The turban is not itself described here in any way (but see for this Exodus 28:39). All eyes are to be on the golden plate with its powerful declaration.

This plate is remarkable. It sums up why Aaron can come before Yahweh as the representative of the people. It is because he has in his official capacity as ‘the Priest’ been made ‘holy to Yahweh’, set apart as ‘holy’ through due process. It sums up the significance of his office. It is why he can make atonement for all the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel ‘set apart to God’, and can ‘bear the iniquity of sacred things’. He stands alone, a picture of a Greater yet to come, because of God’s appointment, the shedding of blood on his behalf, and his various preparations which we have yet to consider. He is God’s appointee. But as such he represents all Israel. Thus in him Israel too is holy to Yahweh. The whole of the sacrificial system and ordinances, and the covenant, are summed up on that plate.

So having been anointed, and cleansed, and purified, and having clothed himself in his underrobe which covers him from neck to toe, including sleeves, so that no part of him might come naked before God, and having put on robe and then the ephod, together with the breastpouch of judgment, He now dons his turban and the golden plate on his forehead which declares that he and Israel are Holy to Yahweh. He is ready to function as Yahweh’s anointed.

And yet we are aware that Aaron too is sinful. His holiness as ‘the Priest’ is God-provided and not his own. He too has had to come through the blood of bulls and of goats, and through various other ceremonies, and will again and again have to do so, and will in the end die because of his particular sinfulness. He is not the perfect representative. But he is pointing ahead, pointing to One Who would one day come, and would wear on His head the declaration that He was holy to Yahweh, and that His people were holy to Yahweh, and that not because of some sacrifice offered on His behalf, but because He truly was so, and had offered Himself for them. And He would then bear, not just the iniquity of sacred things, but the sins of the whole world. Aaron is a shadow of things that will be, of Jesus, the Great High Priest Who is yet to come.

Exodus 28:36-38

“And you shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet ring, HOLY TO YAHWEH. And you shall put on it a lace of bluey-violet, and it shall be on the turban. It shall be on the forefront of the turban. And it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron will bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel will sanctify in all their holy gifts, and it shall be always on his forehead that they may be accepted before Yahweh.”

The plate of pure gold is to be engraved HOLY TO YAHWEH, in the same way as a man’s signet ring is engraved, and in the same way as the stones were engraved (for they were engraved in the same way as a signet ring - Exodus 28:21). Thus just as the signet ring represents a man, and the stones represented the children of Israel, it may be that we are to see this as representing Yahweh Himself. His stamp is on Aaron as the representative of Israel.

The golden plate is to be fastened to the turban over Aaron’s forehead by a bluey-violet lace (see Exodus 39:31), the same colour as his robe. (The turban is in fact white - Exodus 28:39). Perhaps the bluey-violet represents what is heavenly. But the placing of the golden plate certainly emphasises its pre-eminence. And it is because this one is made holy to Yahweh that he can in effect bring all the gifts and offerings of the children of Israel and present them to Yahweh even though there is that in them which is lacking, either because of what the children of Israel are, and because of the nature of the gifts, or because of anything lacking in their presentation. Aaron, through the whole sacrificial system carried through in accordance with God’s commands, as it were perfects them. It is the wearing of the golden plate, and its significance, that finally makes this possible. Through him Yahweh presents them to Himself, Aaron, of course, having previously made atonement for himself and the people as he does daily.

But this all points forward to the One Who will perfect for ever those who are sanctified by the offering of Himself as the perfect One (Hebrews 10:14). Thus are they made holy in Him.

And it shall be always on his forehead that they may be accepted before Yahweh.” Always, that is, when he is officially ministering and especially when he enters the Holy Place. The sign on his forehead is the symbol that all Yahweh’s requirements in the sacrificial system have been fulfilled. Full atonement has been made.

The assumption behind all this is, of course, that the people are living in accordance with the covenant. That is why later Isaiah will point out that their sacrifices were in vain (Isaiah 1:10-20), because they were not living in accordance with the covenant. Israel were no longer ‘holy to Yahweh’.


Verse 39

The Coat, the Turban and the Girdle.

“And you shall weave the under-robe in patterned work of fine linen, and you shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a girdle, the work of the embroiderer.”

The under-robe is pure white, delicately woven and patterned. The turban too is white. Both are of fine linen. The under-girdle is to be embroidered, and is to be of fine linen, blue-violet, red-purple and scarlet (Exodus 39:29). The white is a picture of purity and righteousness covering the whole person, a righteousness possible because the appropriate sacrifices have been made from an honest heart. But the weaving and the patterning and the embroidery suggest an added something to the white indicating that God has added to them something of His own purity and holiness. But these clothes are on the whole hidden, so why the delicate work? The answer is that in all things to do with God man must take the greatest care and trouble. All must be done to the glory of God, even that which is not seen.

Summary. So prior to coming forward to fulfil his priestly duties Aaron must robe himself in a pure white under-robe which covers his person, with its multicoloured girdle patterned on the curtains of the Sanctuary, and put on his pure white turban. Then he puts on his robe or tunic of blue-purple, over which he dons the multicoloured ephod together with the attached breastpouch, and finally he dons the golden plate which declares Him and Israel as ‘holy to Yahweh’.

He is thus a picture of Christ Who will come pure in righteousness, girdled by God in His strength and holiness, bearing in Himself His people whose representative He will be, bearing also all that is necessary for judgment and marked off uniquely as ‘holy to Yahweh’.


Verse 40

The Clothing of Aaron’s Sons (Exodus 28:40).

The other priests, the sons of Aaron, wore simpler clothing. They were seemingly all in white apart from their girdle which connected them with the colours of the Sanctuary. (The latter is assumed from Exodus 39:29, not stated). But these too were ‘holy’ (Exodus 28:4).

Exodus 28:40

“And for Aaron’s sons you shall make robes, and you shall make for them girdles, and you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty.”

The robes of Aaron’s sons were probably like Aaron’s under-robe (kethoneth), from neck to toe and with sleeves. They were probably also of fine linen. The verb used may indicate that they were not patterned like Aaron’s, but it may be that the patterning was assumed. They were fastened with a girdle, or belt, and they were to wear caps, probably close-fitting. Such caps were often worn in Egypt, but not by priests. The caps were to retain the hair. Man must be totally covered in the presence of God to cover his unworthiness. The letting down of the hair was also a symbol of sadness and distress (Leviticus 10:6), and this must not occur in the Sanctuary where all was joy.

The same word for robe is used of the provision of robes for Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:21). Man in his puniness and his sinfulness must be totally covered before God. He is no longer fit to come before God as he is in himself.

We are given no information about the girdle, except that it was embroidered (Exodus 28:39), but Exodus 39:29 shows it to be of fine linen, and bluey-violet, and purpley-red, and scarlet, unless that is just describing Aaron’s. The remainder of their clothes were probably white. They too were to be clothed in purity from head to foot.

Their clothes too were ‘for glory and for beauty’. As priestly garments they covered their wearers, as it were, in the glory and beauty of God, depicting their status. Indeed white robes are regularly elsewhere depicted as the mark of the heavenly and the garb of angels and of the redeemed who have died (Mark 9:3; Matthew 28:3; Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 19:14).


Verse 41

The Donning of the Priestly Garments (Exodus 28:41).

This donning is deliberately described before the description of the linen breeches. The latter were not to be seen as priestly garments, but as a necessity by what they achieved.

Exodus 28:41

“And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and you shall anoint them, and consecrate them (literally ‘fill their hand’), and sanctify them, that they may minister to me in the priest’s office.”

The uniqueness of Moses is again here brought out. He is the one who under God is to establish the priesthood. They receive their commission from him. He is to clothe Aaron and his sons in the apparel that has been described, and is then to set them apart for the priesthood by anointing, consecrating and sanctifying them. This will be described in more detail in Exodus 28:29. But before then a small, but important, detail must be dealt with.


Verse 42-43

The Linen Breeches To Cover Their Nakedness (Exodus 28:42-43).

These are very pointedly not put on them by Moses. They are not a part of the official garb as such, although a requirement of the office. For these act to cover the private parts (like underpants). To ‘reveal a person’s nakedness’ was usually to expose their private parts in sexual relations (Leviticus 18:6-19; Leviticus 20:11-21).

Exodus 28:42-43

“And you shall make them linen breeches to cover the flesh of their nakedness. They shall reach from the loins even to the thighs. And they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the Tent of Meeting, or when they come near to the altar to minister in the Holy Place, that they bear not iniquity and die. It shall be a statute for ever to him and to his seed after him.”

Aaron and his sons must at all time within the Dwellingplace and while on duty in its courts wear linen breeches which covered from loins to thigh. Nothing of what they were must be exposed to God (compare Exodus 20:26). These private parts had once been man’s glory. Then man was naked and was not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). Indeed his purpose was stated as, to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28). But now what he produced was sinful and needed to be redeemed. Thus the linen breeches emphasised the fallenness of man. They did not declare the priest’s status, but rather were a reminder of his sinfulness, of the great lack that there was within him. Neither Temple of Meeting nor altar were to be approached unless they be worn. They may also have been intended to ensure that the holy garments were not soiled.

To fail to cover their nakedness on official duties before Yahweh was to be under sentence of death. And this was considered to be so important that it was declared to be a permanent statute while the priesthood continued (compare Exodus 27:21).

We must remember that sex played a major part in many religions, and especially among the Canaanites, something which would have been known from the regular practise of Canaanite religion in Egypt. The act of sex with sacred prostitutes and in wild orgies in the sacred groves and high places was seen as helping to persuade the gods to ensure the fertility of the land. Here it is made quite clear that Yahwism is the very opposite of that. Apart from between man and wife for the purpose of procreation and for making the man and woman one it was abhorred.

The Tent of Meeting.” In this case the Dwellingplace. The name was taken over from the old Tent of Meeting which will be described in Exodus 33:7-11. It referred to the place where God could be met with.

When they come near to the altar to minister in the Holy Place.” That is when they officially approach the altar preparatory to entering to minister in the Holy Place.

• Breeches were to be made for the priests reaching from the loins to the thighs to cover their ‘nakedness’ (Exodus 28:42).

• They were to be worn when going into the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 28:43 a).

• They were to be worn when coming near the altar to minister in the Holy Place (Exodus 28:43 b).

• This was so that they do not bear iniquity and die. This was to be a statute for ever to Aaron and his seed after him (Exodus 28:43 c).

Linen breeches of a similar kind, from waist to above the knees, were certainly worn in Egypt later and were no doubt so worn at this time, but here they have been given special significance.

It will be noted that no prescription has been made for footwear. The priests were to walk barefoot (compare Exodus 3:5), and must wash their feet (in the laver) prior to entering the Holy Place or approaching the altar to officiate at it (Exodus 30:18-21). Like the wearing of breeches this was a permanent statute.

Notes for Christians.

In the priestly garments are symbols of God’s provision for His people. The ephod symbolised God’s people being brought by the High Priest into His presence constantly, for he wore their names on his shoulders. Thus does our great High Priest ever bear our names before Him. While the clothing of us by God in His heavenly nature (2 Peter 1:4), the appointing of us as His royal priests (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9) and His provision for us of the blood of Christ which cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7) provides for all that we need in order to serve Him, and through this provision it is our responsibility to ‘wear the ephod’ and bring to God His people in our prayers and worship. The breastpouch too is the symbol that our High Priest bears our names upon His heart, and that from it by His Spirit He guides His church and brings to us all truth (John 14:26; John 16:13), we must therefore be ready to bring God’s guidance and truth to the world, by studying to show ourselves workmen approved to God, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). The clothing stresses again that we must wear the righteousnesses of the saints, and be constantly heavenly, royal and cleansed. The breeches remind us that the people of God must not treat lightly the sacredness of sex properly utilised, but must beware of flaunting it before God who knows our hearts. The golden plate declaring ‘holiness to the Lord’ must be worn by His people constantly that the world might know of what true holiness consists.

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 28:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-28.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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