The Holy Bible is full of great stories. We find that in The Book of Exodus, Chapter 28, God instructs Moses, the author of this book, to gather his brother Aaron and Aaron’s sons–Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar–to serve the LORD as priests. There are sacred vestments that should be made for Aaron’s ‘glorious adornment’ and these must include a breastplate, an ephod, a rob, a checkered tunic, a turban, as well as a sash. These priestly garments are explained in great detail throughout the 43 verses of this chapter. But before we get into the verses, let’s start with a question.
What was the purpose of a priest?
Priests served as ritual experts charged with the responsibility of maintaining the purity of the sacred space. More important, a priest served as a mediator between people and God. The Lord called Israel a ‘kingdom of priests.’
In the verse of Exodus 19:6 (NIV) we hear The Lord speak: “‘You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
God said this because as his chosen people, the entire nation was to serve as a mediator between the world and God. In the New Testament, Jesus is identified as our ‘great high priest‘ and as the mediator between God and man. Take a look at these verses here.
Hebrews 4:14 (NIV) says, ‘Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.’
1 Timothy 2:5 puts it like this for us: ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.’
Exodus 28:1-5 (The Vestments)
[The Message: MSG Bible]
“Get your brother Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites to serve me as priests: Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, Ithamar. Make sacred vestments for your brother Aaron to symbolize glory and beauty. Consult with the skilled craftsmen, those whom I have gifted in this work, and arrange for them to make Aaron’s vestments, to set him apart as holy, to act as priest for me. These are the articles of clothing they are to make: Breastpiece, Ephod, robe, woven tunic, turban, sash. They are making holy vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons as they work as priests for me. They will need gold; blue, purple, and scarlet material; and fine linen.”
How would these be a memorial before the LORD?
In this picture, we see what is described as the garments of the High Priest. Aaron was to wear the names of the 12 sons of Israel on his shoulders to show that he, as the high priest, represented all of the people before the Lord. The 12 sons of Israel were the original ancestors of the 12 tribes that Moses and Aaron led out of Egypt.
Exodus 28:6-14 (The Ephod)
“Have the Ephod made from gold; blue, purple, and scarlet material; and fine twisted linen by a skilled craftsman. Give it two shoulder pieces at two of the corners so it can be fastened. The decorated band on it is to be just like it and of one piece with it: made of gold; blue, purple, and scarlet material; and of fine twisted linen. Next take two onyx stones and engrave the names of the sons of Israel on them 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 jeweler engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in settings of filigreed gold. Fasten the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the Ephod—they are memorial stones for the Israelites. Aaron will wear these names on his shoulders as a memorial before God. Make the settings of gold filigree. Make two chains of pure gold and braid them like cords, then attach the corded chains to the settings.“
But what is an Ephod?
The ephod was a sleeveless garment, better known as a apron, made of finely twisted linen worn in ancient Hebrew rites. It was a special vestment for the high priest, serving as an instrument of priestly divination. Worn over the Ephod was a square breastplate embroidered with gold. It held twelve precious stones set in gold. Let’s continue with the next part of this chapter.
Exodus 28:15-30 (The Breastpiece)
The Message (MSG)
15-21“Now make a Breastpiece of Judgment, using skilled craftsmen, the same as with the Ephod. Use gold; blue, purple, and scarlet material; and fine twisted linen. Make it nine inches square and folded double. Mount four rows of precious gemstones on it.”
“First row: carnelian, topaz, emerald.
Second row: ruby, sapphire, crystal.
Third row: jacinth, agate, amethyst.
Fourth row: beryl, onyx, jasper.”
“Set them in gold filigree. The twelve stones correspond to the names of the Israelites, with twelve names engraved, one on each, as on a seal for the twelve tribes.”
What was the significance of these gemstones?
Though it is difficult from the ancient Hebrew to identify the stones with certainty, it is clear that each was precious, signifying the value God placed on his people. Each had the name of one of the tribes of Israel engraved on it.
22-28 “Then make braided chains of pure gold for the Breastpiece, like cords. Make two rings of gold for the Breastpiece and fasten them to the two ends. Fasten the two golden cords to the rings at the ends of the Breastpiece. Then fasten the other ends of the two cords to the two settings of filigree, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the Ephod in front. Then make two rings of gold and fasten them to the two ends of the Breastpiece on its inside edge facing the Ephod. Then make two more rings of gold and fasten them in the front of the Ephod to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces, near the seam above the decorated band. Fasten the Breastpiece in place by running a cord of blue through its rings to the rings of the Ephod so that it rests secure on the decorated band of the Ephod and won’t come loose.
29-30 “Aaron will regularly carry the names of the sons of Israel on the Breastpiece of Judgment over his heart as he enters the Sanctuary into the presence of God for remembrance. Place the Urim and Thummim in the Breastpiece of Judgment. They will be over Aaron’s heart when he enters the presence of God. In this way Aaron will regularly carry the Breastpiece of Judgment into the presence of God.
Why was it called the breastpiece of decision?
The high priest was called on to give the judgements of God about a variety of matters. The breastpiece not only designated him as having this role but also held the Urim and Thummim, which were oracular devices for discerning the will of God.
What were the Urim and the Thummim?
Devices by which the high priest could discern God’s will. They were probably sacred lots or stones cast like dice to determine a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer from God.
Exodus 28:31-43 (Other Priestly Garments)
31-35 “Make the robe for the Ephod entirely of blue, with an opening for the head at the center and a hem on the edge so that it won’t tear. For the edge of the skirts make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet material all around and alternate them with bells of gold—gold bell and pomegranate, gold bell and pomegranate—all around the hem of the robe. Aaron has to wear it when he does his priestly work. The bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place and comes into the presence of God, and again when he comes out so that he won’t die.
Why such elaboration of garments?
God intended for these garments to give the high priest and the priests dignity and honor. The elaborate designs elevated the high priest and in the eyes of the people, these garments may have helped them find worship and service of God as an awesome, unique and special privilege.
Why wear bells and linen undergarments?
The bells were part of the high priest’s robe. According to one tradition, the ongoing sound of bells let the people outside know the high priest was still ministering within the Holy Place. If this sound stopped, they knew that his atonement was inadequate and that he had died for his sins. The linen underwear were part of the priest’s apparel that distinguished and protected him. They apparently symbolized the priest’s inner, spiritual condition. Without such a covering, he was spiritually ‘naked’–unfit to serve in the presence of a holy God.
The Turban, Tunic, Undergarments
36-38 “Make a plate of pure gold. Engrave on it as on a seal: ‘Holy to God.’ Tie it with a blue cord to the front of the turban. It is to rest there on Aaron’s forehead. He’ll take on any guilt involved in the sacred offerings that the Israelites dedicate, no matter what they bring. It will always be on Aaron’s forehead so that the offerings will be acceptable before God.
39-41 “Weave the tunic of fine linen. Make the turban of fine linen. The sash will be the work of an embroiderer. Make tunics, sashes, and hats for Aaron’s sons to express glory and beauty. Dress your brother Aaron and his sons in them. Anoint, ordain, and dedicate them to serve me as priests.
42-43 “Make linen underwear to cover their nakedness from waist to thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear it whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting or approach the Altar to minister in the Holy Place so that they won’t incur guilt and die. This is a permanent rule for Aaron and all his priest-descendants.”
Why have a lasting ordinance about linen undergarments?
God instituted this lasting ordinance to stand in contrast to pagan religions of the time, which utilized certain rituals involving nakedness. To separate them from such practices and to encourage holiness sin their worship, God instructed the priests to cover their nakedness. Besides ensuring literal modesty, the linen undergarments also symbolized a spiritual covering for the flesh.
Thanks for spending time reading my article. I hope this was Biblically educational to you. May God continue to bless your life and the lives of those you love.
Serving the Lord,
L. Joy Santa Cruz
Bible Gateway, Bible Verses in http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+28
Biblia, Holy Bible Verses from https://biblia.com/bible/esv/judges/8/27
Holy Bible, New International Version: NIV, ‘The Question & Answer Study Bible: Quest’, Published by Zondervan Bibles, Biblica, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49546, USA from http://www.zondervan.com
‘International Gem Society’, What Were the Gemstones of the Breastplate of Aaron, Accessed October 23, 2021 from https://www.gemsociety.org/article/what-were-the-gemstones-of-the-breastplate-of-aaron/
Scripture Images at https://www.scripture-images.com/bible-books-chapters/web/exodus-28-web.php