The High Priestly Garments

Exodus 28:31-43

We have pondered the meaning of the Ephod and Breastpiece with the Urim and Thummim. Now, we will discover some of the riches we have in Christ as portrayed in the High Priest’s robe, turban and undergarments.

Exodus 28:31-35—

Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear. Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. 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.

In the Bible, the ROBE is a symbol of DIGNITY AND HONOR, of ROYALTY, and of RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Immediately, we are struck with the fact the ROBE OF THE EPHOD is entirely BLUE. The EPHOD is WHITE. The combination of these two garments portrays the RIGHTEOUS ONE FROM HEAVEN. WHITE being the color of RIGHTEOUSNESS, and BLUE picturing HEAVEN and ETERNITY.

It is said to be of woven work; it was woven from top to bottom, and had no seam in it: so Josephus says—

The coat did not consist of two parts, nor was it sewed upon the shoulder, nor on the side, but was one long piece of woven work.”

And such was the seamless coat our Lord Jesus Christ wore according to John 19:23—

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

The Septuagint version calls the ROBE OF THE EPHOD a garment down to the feet, using the same word as the ROBE Christ wears in Revelation 1:13—

And among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest.

The wearing of the ROBE OF THE EPHOD is prerogative of the High Priest alone. Ordinarily in the ANE, the robe was worn by the nobleman, but this civil dress, fringed with pomegranates and bells, is set aside for scared use.

In Israel, the High Priest carried the PRINCELY function of being the political representative of his people before the foreign ruler. The ROBE was symbolic of this role.

The High Priest is the ultimate authority in Israel, not the King. This is evident by the fact that God at no time describes the garments of the king, but He goes into to significant detail to dress the most important person in the nation of Israel. It is the High Priest who receives the decisions of God through the Urim and Thummim.

God wants to be the King of the nation. Israel’s government is to be a theocracy, not a monarchy. Such is the case, until the time of Samuel, when the people ask for a king like the nations around them and God gives them Saul.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the authority returns to the High Priest until Jesus arrives on the scene as the King of the Jews. The High Priest became the President of the Sanhedrin—the body of seventy elders that governed the affairs of the nation. But ironically, he was under the authority of the kings of Media-Persia, Greece and Rome. The Israelites had received what they asked for—A king like the nations around them!

Under the EPHOD was long, sleeveless blue ROBE, woven without a seam, which reached a little below the knees. It had slits for the arms and a hole for the head to pass through. Along the hem were blue, purple, and scarlet alternating pomegranates and golden bells.

We are not told whether the BELLS were for God or the people to hear. I assume they were for both since the text says SO THAT HE WILL NOT DIE.

The implication is that God would hear the High Priest when He entered the Holy Place.

According to Jewish tradition, one end of a length of rope was tied to the High Priest’s ankle and the other end remained outside the tabernacle. If the bells on his robe stopped tinkling while he was in the Holy Place, the assumption that he had died could be tested by pulling gently on the rope.

The bells, which jingled as the high priest served in the tabernacle, assured all who listened that he had no died in the Holy Place and that he continued to minister on their behalf.

Possibly, the BELLS reminded the people to offer their own prayers at the time the incense was offered by the High Priest, or at other proper occasions. Hence, the whole congregation could join the High Priest in prayer at his jingling of the bells. We find this to be the practice in Luke 1:10—

And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Revelation 8:3-4 connects the offering of incense with the prayers of the saints also—

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.

Certainly, the BELLS were JOYBELLS of SALVATION. The High Priest did not wear them on the Day of Atonement—the day of humiliation. He put on this robe with the bells after he sprinkled blood on the Atonement Cover. Until the sinner applies the precious blood of Christ to his heart and lets the Savior in, there will be no bells of joy ringing in his or her life.

Again, the colors of the four Gospels are used, portraying Christ as King, Man, Servant and God, are used in the making of the hem. The POMEGRANATES were purple, scarlet and blue attached to white linen.

Besides being on the hem of the High Priest’s robe, POMEGRANATES were hammered into the bronze work of Solomon’s temple. POMEGRANATE is a slightly acidic, seed-filled yellow or red fruit that grows on a bush-like tree in Palestine. The pomegranate was a symbol of the fruitfulness of Canaan. Numbers 13:23 reports that the twelve spies brought pomegranates back as evidence of fruitfulness of the land—

When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.

Grapes, pomegranates and figs (grown off the ground) stand in contrast to the melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions, and garlic (grown in the ground) left in Egypt. The delights of Egypt were procured from low earthly sources, while the fruits of the Promised Land ripened in the fresh air and sunshine of heaven.

The pomegranate fruit was eaten and its tart, refreshing juice was drunk or made into a sweet wine. Possibly, the pomegranate represents the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Certainly, God the Father is glorified when His people bear much fruit. The Fruit of the Spirit differs from works in that it is the spontaneous manifestation of spiritual life within God’s people.

Possibly, the jingling of the bells attracted the attention of the people to the pomegranates on the hem of the Priest’s robe and reminded them that they were to walk in holiness and bear much fruit.

Verses 36-39—

Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. 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. Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer.

Josephus describes the TURBAN of the High Priest—

Upon his head, he wears a cap, not brought to conic form, nor encircling the whole head, but still covering more than half it, which is called MANSAMEMPHTES; and its make is such, that is seems to be a crown, being made of thick swathes, but the contexture is of linen; and its doubled round many times, and sewed together.

The most conspicuous and important feature of the TURBAN was the golden plate with the engraving HOLY TO THE LORD. The golden plate stretched over the forehead from ear to ear and was attached with a blue band going through two hole at the ends of the plate and then over the top of the head to a hole in the center of the golden plate.

Here is a weighty truth for the soul. The GOLDEN PLATE on the High Priest’s forehead was the type of essential holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Acceptance by Yahweh is predicated on HOLINESS. Romans 3:23 states—

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The GLORY OF GOD is His holiness. Listen to Isaiah 6:1-5—

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

There we have Romans 3:23—“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”—the holiness of God and the ruin of man! The more knowledge we have of the Holy One, the more deeply we become acquainted with our own personal vileness and infirmity, the more we enter into the humiliating truth that in us dwells no good thing!

Therefore, the more we need to be thankful for the One who is HOLINESS TO THE LORD for man’s ruin and woe were taken away through the High Priest. Every time he offered an acceptable blood sacrifice, sin was covered and condemnation, alienation, and death were removed. So we read in Romans 5:1-2—

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Our PEACE WITH GOD is predicated on Christ’s HOLINESS TO THE LORD. His shed blood would be of no profit if Jesus was not a HOLY HIGH PRIEST! Because He is HOLINESS TO THE LORD— We are made HOLY in Christ.

The engraving HOLY TO THE LORD signified that the High Priest, and through him all Israel belongs to Yahweh and is set apart for God to fulfill His covenant objective that He outlined in Exodus 19:4-6—

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Whenever an Israelite looked at the High Priest’s TURBAN with its GOLD PLATE, he or she was reminded of the reason God redeemed them. Due to hard hearted unbelief, Israel never accomplished God’s goal for them and they were replaced by the church!

Let us never overlook the fact that we stand in Israel’s place during this present age and have been redeemed by God for the very same purpose as outlined in 1 Peter 2:9—

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Christians have a High Priest as their Prince and since by faith we are Christ’s brothers and sisters by faith, we are a royal priesthood. And as Aaron and every High Priest that followed him belonged to God, we also are a people belonging to God.

Additionally, and of no less importance, the GOLDEN PLATE was equivalent to a DIADEM or CROWN. Its name is taken from the Hebrew root meaning TO SHINE. The diadem or crown reminds us that in the Israelite community the High priest had the role of PRINCE.

When we looked at the OT High Priest, we are to observe a real life picture of Isaiah 9:6—

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

On each shoulder of the High Priest is an ONYX STONE, engraved on each stones is the names of six tribes of Israel—in other words, the government is on his shoulders.

Inside the BREASTPIECE that lies over his heart is the URIM and THUMMIM that makes him a WONDERFUL COUNSELOR.

He is dressed in the BLUE ROBE OF THE EPHOD that symbolizes the MIGHTY GOD.

You might be thinking, where does EVERLASTING FATHER fit the picture? Judges 18:19 supplies the answer—

They answered him, “Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?”

The people of the tribe of Dan spoke these words to the Levite priest Micah, who by the way was idolatrous. But what I want us to see is how the people viewed the priest. They thought of him as OUR FATHER. Even to this day, the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Episcopal Churches call their clergy—PRIEST and FATHER. So the High Priest dressed a robe of blue—the color of heaven and eternity—pictures the EVERLASTING FATHER.

And on the High Priest’s head is TURBAN with its GOLD PLATE—the diadem or crown of a PRINCE. The ultimate function of the High Priest was to represent the people on the Day of Atonement and make PEACE with GOD by sprinkling the blood of goat on the ATONEMENT COVER of the ARK OF THE TESTIMONY. Hear the announcements anew that was made to the shepherds the night Christ was born—

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:10-14).


What a marvelous insight does the picture of the High Priest in Exodus 28 make of one of the most profound statements of all the Bible, Isaiah 9:6—

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

It just sends goose bumps up and down me to think that we hit Exodus 28 in our EXPERIENCING EXODUS at the Christmas season.

I want you never to forget that when you think of Jesus in the manger, you need to think of Him as both High Priest and King! For His Kingship and Priesthood are inseparable. That’s the point of Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:17, which declare of Christ the Lord—

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Melchizedek, who is recorded without ancestry in the Bible, was the Priest-King of Salem—and SALEM means PEACE. In other words, Jesus is the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!

Also the BLUE ROBE is expressive of the fact that our High Priest is gone into heaven, He is beyond the range of mortal vision, but, He has send One just like Himself to be our WONDERFUL COUNSELOR— the Holy Spirit—to guide us and bring our prayers with words we cannot utter before the Throne of God.

There at the right hand of the Father, our Priest-King makes intercession for us as He sympathizes with our weaknesses—foreshadowed by the precious stones on the BREASTPLATE over the heart of Israel’s High Priest.

Theologically, we want don’t want to miss three important aspects of Christ’s ministry in the TURBAN with the GOD PLATE. Look at verse 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.

FIRST, this garment signified the High Priest was to bear the GUILT of the Israelites that attached to the sacrifices. Isaiah 53:4 says of Christ—

Surely he took up [bore] our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

1 Peter 2:24 asserts—

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

SECOND, this garment was to be worn continually by the High Priest. The Book of Hebrews over and over declares that Christ is a Priest forever. For instance, Hebrews 7:21 says of Christ—

He became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: `You are a priest for ever.'”

THIRD, this garment signified that those He consecrates will be acceptable to the LORD. That’s 2 Corinthians 5:21—

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Peter verified the Good News that not only Jews are acceptable to God in Christ, but Gentiles also in Acts 10:34-36—

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

So we are made acceptable to God by Christ bearing our sins forever as our Great High Priest. Folks, that Good News should rouse us to praising and glorifying God continually! If you are tossed back and forth by doubt, harassed by fears, meditate frequently on Exodus 28:38, it is for the wayward, wondering, heart. Great is our High Priest who continually presents us before the Throne of God. Fix your eyes upon the golden plate, and read in the inscription thereon the measure of his eternal acceptance with God. May the Holy Spirit enable you to taste the peculiar sweetness and sustaining power of this divine and heavenly doctrine.

Next the garments of the ordinary priests is described in verses 40-41—

Make tunics, sashes and headbands for Aaron’s sons, to give them dignity and honor. 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.

The attire for the ordinary priest was to give HONOR and DIGNITY or GLORY and BEAUTY to them in their office.

The mention of ANOINTING and ORDAINING of the High Priest and priests forms a transition to Chapter 29, which speaks of the ordination of the priests.

Verses 42-43—

Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 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. “This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.

The ALTAR in view here is the ALTAR OF INCENSE in the HOLY PLACE, where prayers on behalf of the people are offered to Yahweh.

LINEN UNDERGARMENTS were necessary so the nakedness of the priests would not be exposed when steps were allowed to be built at the Temple. God plans for future conditions.

Here we have Aaron and his sons, typifying Christ and the Church, standing in the power of one divine and everlasting righteousness. Aaron’s priestly garments express those inherent, essential, personal, and eternal qualities in Christ—while the robes and linen undergarments of the sons represent those graces with which the Church is endowed, in virtue of its association with the great Head of the priestly family.

THE LINEN UNDERGARMENTS to cover the naked flesh of priests sets forth the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer.

Without the priestly garments, Aaron’s sons could not approach the altar to minister because they still dressed in old garments of sin that incur guilt and death. Neither can we cannot approach in unrighteousness the Holy God and live! Every person outside of Christ stands guilty, already condemned to eternal death.

With Chapter 28 of Exodus, we see with what gracious care Yahweh made provision for the need of His people, in that He allowed them to see the One who was about to act on their behalf, and to represent them in His presence, clothed with the garments of dignity and honor.

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