Book of Exodus Chapter Twenty-Eight Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The High Priest
Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons were members of the tribe of Levi, who, along with his brother Simeon, was the subject of a prophesy judging them both for their sin—"I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel" (Genesis 49:5-7). The outcome of that prophesy about Levi is, humanly speaking, a surprise, because its fulfillment is glimpsed here in Verse 1: "Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons." The Levites would not inherit land like the other tribes. Instead they would become the priesthood of that nation, scattered throughout the land of Israel. Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu would soon offer "strange" (unauthorized) fire and die; being removed from the priesthood and from life itself (Leviticus 10:1-2). Eleazar was to be the one who would succeed Aaron as high priest (Deuteronomy 10:6).
This chapter is a look at the priesthood from God's perspective. We often see the flaws of those in ministry, but God will show us His intent for this office, occupied by simple human beings like you and me, bringing God to the people and the people to God. And keep in mind the first letter of Peter, written to ALL believers—ordinary men and women who have faith in the Lord—"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood...that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you..." (1 Peter 2:9 and 2:5). If you trust in the Lord, you are His priest. In Verse 2 of this chapter, God reveals more of his intention for those who are to serve Him: "You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty." The Lord intends to cover with beauty those who faithfully minister for Him and who glorify God in the process. Like Nadab and Abihu, many fail, but God's intentions will be carried out through even those who fall away.
The Lord in Verse 3 addresses "skillful persons" through Moses: "You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me." He's speaking of garment makers capable of producing high quality hand-crafted clothing, and note that all our abilities are gifts of God for His purposes rather than our own. The mechanic, seamstress, physicist, artist, orator, mechanic, teacher, computer tech, sewer inspector, farmer and doctor—the abilities we have, the training we've received, the capacity to learn how to do it and the money for our training—it's all from God, who endowed each one with "the spirit of wisdom" to accomplish what He intends.
As we continue in the next verses, also look at Ephesians 6:10-19, a Scripture akin to this one. Moses is told in Verse 4: "These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me." The Ephesians Scripture is a look at the uniform of a Roman soldier, offering defense to the wearer whereas the priestly garments seem flimsy by comparison—but when we come to the Lord in faith and enter His holy priesthood, we "put on Christ" (Romans 13:14 & Galatians 3:27), who is our Mighty Protector. The "breastpiece" is mentioned first here, and is equivalent to the "breastplate" of a Roman soldier, called the "breastplate of righteousness" in Ephesians 6:14, and the "breastplate of faith and love" in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. Both of the latter descriptive phrases are indications of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, a requirement for anyone who would serve the Lord.
The "ephod" of Verse 4 is essentially a two-piece vest and is more fully described in Verses 5-8: "They shall take the gold and the blue and the purple and the scarlet material and the fine linen. 6 They shall also make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workman. 7 It shall have two shoulder pieces joined to its two ends, that it may be joined. 8 The skillfully woven band, which is on it, shall be like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen." A complex, beautiful garment.
In Verses 9-11, "You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, according to their birth. 11 As a jeweler engraves a signet, you shall engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel; you shall set them in filigree settings of gold. 12 You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial." You might think it's not fair that the names of the twelve sons of Jacob, also known as Israel, are written there, when yours and mine aren't. But keep in mind that these are special names in relation to one nation, and all the faithful of every place and time can "rejoice" because Jesus revealed that "your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Rest assured that you will be rewarded for your faith, unique and special to God throughout all eternity.
This picture of the high priest's appearance continues in Verses 13-14: "You shall make filigree settings of gold, 14 and two chains of pure gold; you shall make them of twisted cordage work, and you shall put the corded chains on the filigree settings." His "uniform," if you will, was beautiful, and is an earthly parable of the heavenly original. As seen in Hebrews 8:1-7—"We have a High priest...seated at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in heaven...in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man... On earth...they serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things...Christ has obtained a ministry that is...much more excellent..." How was one to depict the Christ, who was to be born in Israel fifteen hundred years in the future from that moment—how would He be shown? This high priest is God's parable for our understanding.
God's choice to show us the future Jesus Christ was to design the clothing of Aaron, the first high priest, using the most costly materials put together by a "skillful" workman, as in Verses 15-16: "You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, the work of a skillful workman; like the work of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen you shall make it. 16 It shall be square and folded double, a span in length and a span in width." A "span" was about 9 inches of these expensive woven cloths. Note that the garment over Aaron's chest was a "breastplate of judgment." God does not compare us with one another as we do, but instead He judges us in comparison with Himself and His holiness. All fail the test and so the people would not be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. The high priest would, but only if his presentation was perfect. God wants us to live, not die, and that is why the Father sent the Son to die in our place (John 3:16). With the "boldness" given through faith, we "enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Hebrews 10:19). We are not perfect, but He is, and His victory is shared with those who are faithful.
Added to the breastplate are precious gems, brought with Israel out of Egypt for this very purpose, as in Verses 17-20: "You shall mount on it four rows of stones; the first row shall be a row of ruby, topaz and emerald; 18 and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; 19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row a beryl and an onyx and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree." Aaron would have recognized that he did not deserve the honors he was receiving anymore than we do, which is what the grace (the unmerited favor) of God is all about. We deserve nothing, but by declaring our sins and trusting in Christ, the Messiah, our true High Priest, we are given everything.
Verse 21: "The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes." One thing you can be sure about—The sons of Israel did not earn the honor of being represented on that garment, nor does anyone in humanity. Yet here they are, these irritable, complaining brothers, woven together into beautiful settings within one lovely outfit, seen further in Verses 22-28—"You shall make on the breastpiece chains of twisted cordage work in pure gold. 23 You shall make on the breastpiece two rings of gold, and shall put the two rings on the two ends of the breastpiece. 24 You shall put the two cords of gold on the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece. 25 You shall put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, at the front of it. 26 You shall make two rings of gold and shall place them on the two ends of the breastpiece, on the edge of it, which is toward the inner side of the ephod. 27 You shall make two rings of gold and put them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it close to the place where it is joined, above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 28 They shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it will be on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece will not come loose from the ephod." Granted that in eternity, gold will be mere paving material for the streets (Revelation 21:21), but here is an earthly image of something eternal, beyond our ability to understand it, shown in human terms and values. God's real goal for us is not merely to be striking in appearance, but instead full of the good things of God, such as love, faith and peace. Just as the stones are peacefully together on the high priest's garment, we are to be "one" in Christ (John 17:11, 21).
Jesus Christ is continually praying for each one of us, as seen in Romans 8:34. He is our High Priest, pictured here in Verse 29 by "Aaron (who) shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually." The "mystery" of all this through the centuries, has been and is: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). He is the Antidote who cures the dying patient. Much more than being outwardly memorialized on a garment, we are actually in and a part of the true High Priest, who carries us lovingly and freely into the Presence of the Father.
Verse 30: "You shall put in the breastpiece of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord; and Aaron shall carry the judgment of the sons of Israel over his heart before the Lord continually." The words "Urim and...Thummim" literally are "lights and perfections," two Hebrew words that begin with the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the "first and the last" of Revelation 1:17—God the Son is the subject of these verses in Exodus. We don't know how the Urim and Thummin functioned or what they were, but we can know God through Jesus Christ the Lord, who carries us in His heart to the Father.
Verses 31-32: "You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn." The blue robe of these verses was worn under the breastpiece and ephod, woven without a seam, and was put on over the head. The Jewish historian, Josephus, said this garment had no sleeves.
In Verses 33-35, "You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. 35 It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die." A pomegranate is a small tree producing thick-shelled fruit with a red pulp and many seeds, speaking of Christ's death for our sins and the many millions given life through Him. The Tabernacle was a tent and the "bells" were easily heard by nearby listeners. It's likely the camp of Israel was unnaturally quiet when the high priest ministered for their sins, as they listened for those little bells.
In Verses 36-38, Moses was told by the Lord: "You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engravings of a seal, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ 37 You shall fasten it on a blue cord, and it shall be on the turban; it shall be at the front of the turban. 38 It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take away the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate, with regard to all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord." Are there actions, thoughts and words in your life that you would change if you could? We can't go back and do anything about them, but God will forgive you and give you a new start, a clean slate, which is what the Lord meant by enabling us to be "born again" (John 3:3 & 7). God engraves us with His seal, marking us with the phrase, "Holy to the Lord," now and forever. Verse 39 completes our look at the clothing of the high priest: "You shall weave the tunic of checkered work of fine linen, and shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash, the work of a weaver." Every item was perfectly fashioned, and the greatest news of all is God's gift of Jesus Christ, our true High Priest, who has entered the Most Holy Place and has obtained salvation for all who simply believe in Him and what He has done for you and me.
Verses 40-43 extend God's careful workmanship to Aaron's sons, and through them we can catch a glimpse of God's concern for us as well: "For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics; you shall also make sashes for them, and you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty. 41 You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests. 42 You shall make for them linen breeches to cover their bare flesh; they shall reach from the loins even to the thighs. 43 They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and to his descendants after him." The Lord is God's offering for our sins, and all we are asked in return is to have faith in Him. Isaiah the prophet found such faith and he was enabled to understand that we who love the Lord are "clothed...with the garments of salvation (and we are) covered...with the robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10). Our High Priest has done it all for us, and our response is to say "yes" to Him.
Father, I believe. I am a sinner and cannot save myself, but You have provided the Way through Jesus Christ the Lord. I trust in Him now and enter the place of holiness in Him and through Him. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.