Exodus 28
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. With the establishment of a covenant relationship between Israel and Jehovah. In virtue of the covenant, Israel became to God "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:5). It was this priestly calling of the nation which found official expression in the priesthood of the house of Aaron. The priests were "vicars," in the sense of the following passage - "A truly vicarious act does not supersede the principal's duty of performance, but rather implies and acknowledges it ..... In the old monastic times, when the revenues of a cathedral or cure fell to the lot of a monastery, it became the duty of that monastery to perform the religious services of the cure. But inasmuch as the monastery was a corporate body, they appointed one of their number, whom they denominated their vicar, to discharge those duties for them. His service did not supersede theirs, but was a perpetual and standing acknowledgment that they, as a whole and individually, were under the obligation to perform it" (Robertson of Brighton, Sermons, vol. 2. p. 92). That is to say, the priests stood in a representative relation to the body of the people. They acted in the name of the community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) at what these garments were, and

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

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

(1) the ephod, with its curious girdle (vers. 6-15).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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