A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

Exodus 28:1-43

Design of the Sacred Priestly Garments, Ephod, Breastpiece, etc.

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Chapter 28

1 ‘Let Aaron your brother be brought to you from among the Israelites, with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so that they may serve me as priests.

The Tribe of Levi was set apart to serve God with specific duties concerning the Tabernacle (later the Temple) but of the Levites only those descended from Aaron were to be priests – those who would represent the people to God, and God to the people.

2 Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honour.

(Many artists have produced similar diagrams of the priestly clothes)

The priests, starting with Aaron, were to have not only recognisable uniforms, but ones which stood out – made of expensive materials that would be beyond the reach of other people. But more than that, they were to be clothes suitable to wear when you met with Almighty God. They could only be the best.

3 Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so that he may serve me as priest. 4 These are the garments they are to make:

a breastpiece (A), an ephod (B), a robe (C), a woven tunic (D), a turban (E) and a sash (F). They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so that they may serve me as priests. 5 Make them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.

Note that even the skills used to make all these articles came from God himself – the workmanship had to be faultless. Nothing is mentioned about shoes; were the priests expected to take their shoes off when they stood before God?

The ‘breastpiece’ and ‘ephod’ are terms we haven’t come across before – Moses explains these later.

5 Make them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.

Each of the different garments had to be of the same high standard. Fine gold wire was often too brittle to use as thread, so it was generally flattened into gold leaf, then wound round hair or flax. It could then be used along with blue, purple and scarlet yarn for the embroidered patterns.

The ephod

6 ‘Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen – the work of skilled hands. 7 It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so that it can be fastened. 8 Its skilfully woven waistband is to be like it – of one piece with the ephod and made with gold, and with blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and with finely twisted linen.

9 ‘Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel 10 in the order of their birth – six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. 11 Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings 12 and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod (G) as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. 13 Make gold filigree settings 14 and two braided chains of pure gold, like a rope, and attach the chains to the settings. (H)

It seems that the Ephod was a sleeveless jacket similar to a tabard, with open sides but joined at the waist. It was to be ‘one-size-fits-all’ and it is possible that there was only one Ephod to be worn by the high priest when he entered the Tabernacle.

The two Onyx stones, bearing the names of the Tribes of Israel would be prominently displayed, symbolically carried on Aaron’s shoulders as he performed his priestly duties on behalf of the people. The stones, set in gold filigree and fastened by gold chains, indicated the value in which God held the twelve tribes, and their total security.

The Breastpiece

15 ‘Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions – the work of skilled hands. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. 16 It is to be square – a span (260mm, about 10”) long and a span wide – and folded double.

Other translations refer to it as ‘the breastpiece of judgement’ which suggests a more judicial use. There has been much conjecture as to how the ‘breastpiece for making decisions’ would have been used. It was a pocket of material with perhaps the top seam open. It is generally accepted that it contained two distinctive stones (Urim and Thummim – see v30) but how these were to be used for decision-making is nowhere described. (Other suggestions are that the Urim and Thummim may have been wood or bone, and may have been one object or many)

The only time the use of Urim and Thummim is described is in 1 Samuel 14:41 ‘Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.’ Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared.

Back to the Breastpiece:

17 Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; 18 the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; 19 the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; 20 the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. 21 There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.

Different translations have suggested many different semi-precious and precious stones. We really don’t know which were used, but they would have been the best available, and colourful, and distinctive. And they would have been large enough to have had to have a tribal name engraved on each.

22 ‘For the breastpiece make braided chains of pure gold, like a rope. 23 Make two gold rings for it and fasten them to two corners of the breastpiece. 24 Fasten the two gold chains to the rings at the corners of the breastpiece, 25 and the other ends of the chains to the two settings, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front.

26 Make two gold rings and attach them to the other two corners of the breastpiece on the inside edge next to the ephod. 27 Make two more gold rings and attach them to the bottom of the shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the seam just above the waistband of the ephod. 28 The rings of the breastpiece are to be tied to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband, so that the breastpiece will not swing out from the ephod.

Note ‘gold, gold, gold, gold, more gold’! Nothing was to be withheld in God’s design.

29 ‘Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. 30 Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.

Besides symbolically carrying the weight of the tribes on his shoulders, he is also to carry each tribe close to his heart, and the decision-making process must also be from the heart – justice tempered with love.

Other priestly garments

31 ‘Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, 32 with an opening for the head in its centre. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear. 33 Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. 34 The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate round the hem of the robe. 35 Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out, so that he will not die.

‘So that he will not die’. What’s all that about? (See also verse 43)

The sound of the bells could be heard by those outside the Tabernacle. They could then follow his actions as he performed his duties. Did God need to hear when the High Priest was about to enter the ‘Most Holy Place’? Surely that is unlikely! Therefore I think it refers back to the start of the verse: ‘Aaron must wear it when he ministers’.

So here was a warning – do not enter God’s presence carelessly or disobediently. To enter the presence of God was a most serious thing. In Exodus 19:12-24 he had already given many solemn warnings to the people that anyone who even attempted to see him would be destroyed.

Look back at Exodus 24:1-2 ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.’’. Here Aaron and his sons are specifically chosen to go up the mountain. Nadab, as firstborn was destined to become High Priest as Aaron’s successor.

But now read Leviticus 10:1-2 ‘Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

God’s Holiness is awesome; those who were to lead his people in worship had to be constantly aware that in all things he had to be obeyed.

As we approach God we too must be aware of his awesome holiness. It is true that we can now approach him as Our Father, and we are told to ‘make a joyful noise to the Lord’, but – is there a danger that some of our modern worship is sometimes irreverent in the casual or superficial way that we now approach this same Holy God?

36 ‘Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: holy to the Lord. 37 Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. 38 It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord.

What does this mean: ‘holy to the Lord . . . will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate’?

One understanding is that the offerings brought by the Israelites could be contaminated by sin. By presenting them to God through Aaron, he would bear the iniquity on their behalf, thus making them acceptable.

In what way is this a glimpse into Christ’s future role – where the whole sacrificial system would come to its conclusion?

It may be appropriate here to look at Hebrews chapters 8-10.

by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy’ Hebrews 10:14

39 ‘Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer.

40 Make tunics, sashes and caps for Aaron’s sons to give them dignity and honour. 41 After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.

42 ‘Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43 Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.

Look back at verse 2, the second word. All these garments were to be treated as Holy, Sacred, solely for the service of God.

When the priests were consecrated, so were their clothes (v41). They must all be treated with the utmost respect and reverence.

‘This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.

Exodus 26 Exodus 29 NIV Copyright