The Priestly Garments

Exodus 28:1-14

Little children learn by pictures. The Bible is a picture book—especially the Book of Exodus! Most of the instructions of Exodus do not make very thrilling reading, nor do they read like a detective or a mystery story, but they are! These detailed instructions reveal Christ and the Church in mystery form. God wants us to learn these truths so He has us looking at them in pictures.

As we come to Chapters 29 and 30 of Exodus, the priesthood of Christ and believers is pictured in all its value and effectiveness. The very word PRIESTHOOD should awaken in our heart feelings of profound thankfulness since it is not only the way into the divine presence, but also the means of keeping us there.

In the beginning man acted as his own High Priest. We remember Cain and Abel offering their sacrifices to God. Later we find the father, the head of the household, offering sacrifices to God. Abraham was one of many who practiced this scared duty. Still later in the history of mankind, we find a man chosen of God to act as priest for a nation, and finally Christ Himself as priest for the entire world. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The Christian Church is built on the OT foundations. The Law was not abolished, but fulfilled in Christ our High Priest.

Basic to Judaism and the OT economy of Israel was the High Priest and priests who officiated in the Tabernacle and Jerusalem Temple. The priesthood of Judaism, however, came to an abrupt end in A.D. 70 when the Temple was destroyed by the Roman Titus. But in reality, the office of the High Priest dramatically ended 37 years before as the Temple Curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place tore from top to bottom—signifying that Christ had made the once-for-all atonement on the Cross. God’s drama of redemption was complete! The picture became the reality!

The priesthood neither ended in A.D. 33 or 70! It changed hands. Jesus became our Great High Priest and all in Christ became a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light according to 1 Peter 2:9.

John verifies this basic truth in Revelation 1:5—

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Today, the office of the PRIEST is held by every born again believer. First and foremost, we serve God the Father through prayer. The believer’s prayer of intercession on behalf of the lost is certainly our scared duty and a responsibility commensurate with or greater than that of any OT priest.

While Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, He executes His office after the pattern for Aaron. Aaron’s high priestly work foreshadowed what Christ came to do and now does for you and me.

As the High Priest was called and consecrated for service by being dressed in priestly garments, so Christ and the believer are chosen, clothed with righteousness, and called for service.

It is believed that the name AARON means either LIGHT BEARER or VERY HIGH. He is Israel’s first HIGH PRIEST. The first time the title HIGH PRIEST occurs in Scripture is Leviticus 16:32—

The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments.

Yet, the beginning of the High Priest occurs, in our text for today—Exodus 28:1-5—when Yahweh defines in detail the PRIESTLY GARMENTS—

Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so that they may serve me as priests. Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor. Tell all the skilled men 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. These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so that they may serve me as priests. Make them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.

DO CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN? One of the very first things I learned in the Army was that CLOTHES indeed do make the MAN! A person in an officer’s uniform commanded my instant respect! A salute was required when coming in contact with an officer along with a snappy SIR if I addressed him! Likewise a person in a police uniform commands our respect and immediate obedience. The uniform sets the person wearing it apart and gives that person dignity and honor that they might not otherwise receive.

Aaron, the High Priest of Israel, was immaculately clothed and wonderfully consecrated for service for God. The LORD said make SCARED GARMENTS. SACRED is the word for HOLY or SET APART. These garments were set apart for service to God. Anything that is set apart for God is holy or scared.

Suppose you have ten dollars in your pocket-book and you want to give one dollar to the Lord’s work. You have received the ten dollars from a store, and the store may have received it from a gambler, who in turn may have received it from a prostitute, who may have gotten it from a thief and so on. But the minute you set that money aside for God, it is holy. This is what happen to AARON and to everyone who follows in his footsteps.

Notice that gold hammered out into plates and cut into strands is interlaced with the same four colors of the Tabernacle curtains to make the priestly garments according to Exodus 39:3.

PURPLE is the royal color of Matthew’s Gospel, SCARLET is the Suffering Servant of Mark’s, WHITE is Luke’s Perfect Man, and BLUE is John’s God-Man from Heaven. GOLD is the color for deity. The strength and glory of the gold is intimately blended with every part of the priest’s EPHOD. In other respects, the texture was the same as that of the curtains.

Certainly, the colors of the priestly garments are holy. God set apart these particular colors to paint a picture for us. God said these garments are for DIGNITY AND HONOR of the High Priest, which is for his GLORY and HONOR! The scared garments added glory and honor to Aaron, but Christ added glory and honor to the office of High Priest.

The scared garments with gold strands picture Christ glorified and honored after His death with a resurrected body. We too will all be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 tells of our coming glory and honor—

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest wore a plain fine linen garment into the Most Holy Place, which foreshadowed Christ in His righteousness. The garments described in today’s passage were put on after the High Priest had made atonement for the nation—a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection. There can be no mistake that the High Priest of Israel foreshadows Jesus Christ our High Priest.

Although, Aaron is not called the High Priest by God at this point, he is specially called of God to that office. Hebrews 5:1-5 explains the call of Aaron and every legitimate High Priest of Israel that followed in this office —

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”

Besides being a descendant of Aaron, the High Priestly Office had two specific qualifications: first, a candidate had to be SELECTED FROM AMONG MEN, and thus be able to represent them before God; and second, he had to BE CALLED BY GOD.

Chapters 5 thru 7 of Hebrews demonstrates that Christ is superior to Aaron. The ground work for these chapters is laid in Hebrews 2:17. Turn to Hebrews 2:17—

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

What do you see when you look into the manger? Who do you see hanging on the Cross?

Usually, at Christmas we focus on Jesus being born the King because of the Magi’s visit and worship of Him as the King of the Jews. On Good Friday, our attention is drawn to the Cross’ inscription, which read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

But this CHRISTMAS, I want us to see Christ in the light of Hebrews 2:17. It tells us that Jesus also was born to be a MERCIFUL and FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST in the service of God. Jesus was born to be our High Priest.

Before Jesus is born, Mary and Zechariah declared in songs of praise the fact He would be our High Priest—

Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people (Luke 1:67-68).

At His birth, a great company of heavenly host appeared before shepherds, praising God and saying—

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Born on Christmas Day was the Prince of Peace, the Savior, who would redeem His people from their sins—in other words, our Great High Priest!

Unlike the High Priests of Israel that went before Him, Jesus did not sprinkle the blood of bulls and goats on the atonement cover—Christ Himself was the ATONEMENT—it was His blood that God accepted at the Throne to cover sin and take it away! Jesus appeased God’s wrath by paying the debt of sin— death— removing its stain and guilt.

Continuing to lay the ground work of a superior priest, Hebrews 3:1 says—

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

Notice Jesus is called the APOSTLE and HIGH PRIEST. APOSTLE refers to one who is called and sent to proclaim the Word of God.

The ground work is completed for the superiority of Christ’s priesthood with Hebrews 4:14-15—

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Here the High Priest’s role of intercession is emphasized. Unlike Aaron and every High Priest that followed him, Jesus was without sin! Tempted and tested in every way, Jesus is able to sympathize perfectly with our weakness and make intercession for us!

Obviously, the High Priest was a man himself, and thus properly fitted to act as man’s representative. The OT task of priestly mediation was not committed to angels, but to men. It was the priest who offered to God the various sacrifices which the worshipers brought. The High Priest being a fallen man knew sin. He was tempted and experienced sin. He had sufficient experience of human problems to achieve the proper balance between leniency and severity, encouragement and rebuke.

The High Priest himself needed a High Priest. A further weakness was that sinfulness in the priest often prevented him from being perfectly sensitive or aware of the needs of others. Nevertheless, God took into account the sins of the High Priest by establishing the Day of Atonement ritual in such a way that the High Priest made atonement with the blood of a bull for himself and his household before he offered the blood of the goat for the people.

Man needs a priest because sin has separated us from God. The offering of the prescribed sacrifice is the only way to find acceptance by the holy God. It is God whose wrath must be placated, and we must be sure He will accept our representatives.

Christ is perfectly able and perfectly willing to intercede for us. Assured of His love, we may approach Him with confidence. This is one of the characteristics of the New Covenant. The OT Israelites had to stand afar off, unable to enter the Holy Place, much less the Most Holy Place, the Throne Room of God.

With Christ, our High Priest, in heaven itself, the believer need not stand in the distance, or timidly seek intermediaries through whom God may be approached. We have confidence—a holy “boldness” for Jesus has identified Himself with us and enabled us to enter the very presence of God.

There are six priestly garments (the number of man) commanded by God: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash.

First, the EPHOD GARMENT is ordered by Yahweh with Exodus 28:6-8 —

Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen— the work of a skilled craftsman. It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so that it can be fastened. 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.

The EPHOD was worn by Aaron and his successors as they performed their priestly duties in the Holy Place. This was an outer garment of finely twisted linen made by the skilled craftsman that foreshadowed the King-Priest who is Immanuel—God with us!

The EPHOD was a waistcoat woven of blue, purple, scarlet, and white linen thread—all entwined with gold thread. Instead of having sleeves or being joined at the sides, it was hung from the shoulders by straps on which one only stone was mounted on each strap on top of a golden clasp. Verses 9-14—

Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth—six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. 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 and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the LORD. Make gold filigree settings and two braided chains of pure gold, like a rope, and attach the chains to the settings.

The Greek OT translators make the onyx stones emeralds, while Josephus makes them sardonyx, the best variety of onyx. The ONYX is a precious stone of peculiar excellence. The more intense the light which is brought to bear upon it, the more brightly it shines. Light can never make a precious stone look dim; it only increases and develops its lustre.

Each of the two stones engraved with the names of six tribes were placed on the shoulders of the High Priest. The purpose of the NAMES is to symbolize the fact that the high priest represented all Israel when he ministered in the Tabernacle.

The light from the Lampstand maintained the luster and beauty of the two stones in the Holy Place—in the presence of God. The people were represented before God by the High Priest. Whatever might have been their infirmities, their errors, or their failures, yet their names glittered with unfading brilliancy on the shoulders of the High Priest.

The world cannot see the twelve tribes of Israel in the light of the Lampstand—only God sees them in the light of grace. Men look at God’s people and see only their blots and blemishes—God sees the obedient and trusting believer presented before Him in Christ as precious jewels according to Malachi 3:17 —

They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.

Are you a precious stone that reflects the Light of the Spirit of Christ? The world may not be able to see you as a sparkling jewel, having your name engraved among God’s redeemed by the hand of changeless love, but Yahweh does.

Do you grasp the significance of the engraved stones in the midst of the light of the Lampstand? The picture is explained by 1 Peter 2:9—

But 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.

Oh! What joy! What peace! What love! should fill our hearts knowing that our names are recorded in heaven—we makeup God’s treasured possession!

The names are placed on the Priest’s shoulders. The SHOULDERS are for bearing burdens. Christ, as our High Priest, is our burden bearer and our names are written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Do you remember that little parable Jesus told in Luke 15:4-6—

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, `Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

Jesus carries me on His shoulders and that’s were He carries you!

And of course, as God’s royal priesthood, we have the responsibility of carrying others on our shoulders. Paul commands us in Galatians 6:2—

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

This is an interesting command since Christ is only able to bear these burdens, to remove them and take them away, which He has done by his blood, sacrifice, and satisfaction. Believers bear one another’s burdens, not by making satisfaction for them, which we are not able to do, nor by blinking at them, and allowing them, which we should not do. But by gently reproving the burdened, by comforting them when over pressed with guilt, by sympathizing with them in their sorrow, by praying for God to manifest His pardoning or sufficient grace to them.

By “FULFILL”, it is meant, doing it, acting in obedience to it. Being a Christian carries with it a tremendous responsibility! If we fail in the responsibility of carrying each other’s burdens, we break the law of Christ. In other words, we sin—because we transgress His Law. The Bible divides sin into sins of commission and sins of omission. Failure to perform the duty of a royal priest is a sin of omission.

Some fifty times the phrase ONE ANOTHER is used in NT to tell us that we have a responsibility for the spiritual, social, and economic welfare of fellow Christians:

1. From greeting one another with a holy kiss to submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ
2. From teaching one another to encouraging one another daily
3. From forgiving one another to loving one another deeply from the heart
4. From living in harmony with one another to offering hospitality to one another
5. From fellowshipping with one another to carry one another’s burdens

The two onyx stones, engraved with the names of the sons of Israel, on the shoulders of the High Priest communicate loud and clear to Aaron that as God’s priest, he is responsible for interceding on behalf of everyone in the nation.

What do you think God’s reaction would have been if Aaron got up one morning and said, “I’m only going to make intercession and inquire of the LORD for the tribes of Judah, Reuben and Benjamin. The rest of the tribes are rascals, they deserve anything they get!”?

Many think they are free to pick and chose from the Bible what they want to do and think—my friends that is folly! God has established laws, decrees, principles and standards by which every Christian will be measured at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Interestingly, the name AARON means VERY HIGH. He stood supreme, as the High Priest—very high above his own house, as well as exalted above the people. Aaron typifies Christ as He is explained in Acts 5:31—

God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

The SHOULDERS also represents STRENGTH. The OT priest as well as the NT Christian is to love God with all his strength. In other words, we are to serve God with all our being!

The Tabernacle would have been useless without its furnishings; and the Tabernacle with its furnishings would have been of no service, but for a living family of priests, constantly engaged in various active ministries within the holy places, about the various furnishings!

What would the coming of Christ have meant without the apostles to share the Good News? How long would Christianity survived without the priesthood of believers?

As went the kings and priests of Israel, so went the nation. As goes the royal priesthood, so goes the Church of Christ. We have an awesome responsibility to serve God, who called us out of the darkness into His light.

It is up to us as the priests of God to keep the Light burning—that’s why God began this section on the priesthood with the words of Exodus 27:20-21—

Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the LORD from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.

We are in the CHRISTMAS SEASON where people tend to be more open to the Gospel. I want you to think of one person who does not Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

As we sing our closing HYMN NO. 410—I AM PRAYING FOR YOU—would you commit yourself to pray for that person each day until Christmas.

Ask our heavenly Father to draw that person to Christ by His Spirit and Word—and to empower you with courage and wisdom to share the Good News of Christ’s coming, death, resurrection, and ascension with that person.

Exercise your right and responsibility as a member of the royal priesthood of God!

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