The Priestly Garments

see also:
The Priest
The Consecration of the Priests
The Priestly Garments

The Priestly Garments

'The Garments of the High Priest' (Ch. 28)

This section is mostly concerned with a description of the high priest's ceremonial robes known as the garments of glory and beauty. In style and color, the robes of the priests were rich in typical significance for they depicted both the wondrous beauties of Christ the High Priest and also the privileges and duties of all who are the priests of God, whether the appointed ones of the Old Testament or all believers of the New. In his garments of glory and beauty, Aaron became typically that which Jesus Christ was intrinsically in all the purity and holiness of His being.

'The Ephod' (28:6-14, 39:2-7)

His clothes had to be specially made by those who had been given particular ability for the task. Over a robe of checker work the High Priest wore a garment called an 'ephod'. It was made of linen with gold, blue, purple and scarlet. It was intended for both the front and back of the body and made in two parts, which were clasped together at the shoulder by two onyx stones set in gold. Each of these onyx stones was engraved with names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Six names, in order of birth, were carried on one shoulder and six on the other. This meant that every time the High Priest went into the Holy Place he bore the names of the tribes before the Lord and in keeping with the character of a priest, he represented these people to God.:

Exod 28:6-14 "and they shall make the ephod of gold blue purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked. It shall have two shoulder straps joined at its two edges, and so it shall be joined together. And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship, made of gold blue purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel:

six of their names on one stone, and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial. You shall also make settings of gold, and you shall make two chains of pure gold like braided cords, and fasten the braided chains to the settings."

Although in general, an ephod was a shawl or wrap, for the High Priest it was a particular outer garment in the style of a tunic or pinafore. It was made of linen in blue, purple, and scarlet and there was golden threads woven into it. It was made in two pieces joined together at the shoulders with golden clasps. Each clasp was set with an engraved onyx stone.

Jewish Tradition

According to Josephus, the engraved onyx stones on the shoulders were designed so that the names of the six eldest sons were engraved on the stone on the right shoulder, and those of the six youngest sons on the stone on the left shoulder.

The ephod as a whole, with its different colors and materials, typifies Christ in His high priestly ministry. Christ, the High Priest bears His people upon His shoulders, the place of strength and seat of power. The shoulders also speak of carrying a burden, Christ, the High Priest carries the whole burden alone.

'The Sash or Girdle'

The front and back of the ephod were made to be as one garment by a sash or girdle, which was tied about the priest's waist. This was also of blue, purple, and scarlet linen intertwined with golden threads. In the language of Scripture for a priest to be girded with his sash was for him to be fully arrayed in his garments and prepared and ready to serve.

'The Breastplate' (28:15-29, 39:8-21)

Over the ephod the High Priest wore a breastplate which was a pouch about 22-cm square made of beautifully woven material. On the front of the breastplate were fastened twelve precious stones in four rows of three. On each of these stones were engraved the name of one of the tribes of Israel:

Exod 28:15-29 "You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold blue purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width. And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes. You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold.

And you shall make two rings of gold for the breastplate, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.

Then you shall put the two braided chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate; and the other two ends of the two braided chains you shall fasten to the two settings, and put them on the shoulder straps of the ephod in the front. You shall make two rings of gold, and put them on the two ends of the breastplate, on the edge of it, which is on the inner side of the ephod. And two other rings of gold you shall make, and put them on the two shoulder straps, underneath the ephod toward its front, right at the seam above the intricately woven band of the ephod.

They shall bind the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the ephod, using a blue cord, so that it is above the intricately woven band of the ephod, and so that the breastplate does not come loose from the ephod. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually."

The breastplate was actually a piece of elaborately finished cloth of the same material as the ephod. It was a strip twice as long as it was wide, but folded back on itself so as to form a square bag into which the Urim and Thummim were placed. The breastplate was held in place by golden chains attached to the onyx shoulder clasps and also by blue lace ribbons, which attached the breastplate to the ephod. Evidently, there was a small golden ring attached to each corner of the breastplate to which in turn the golden chains and ribbons were connected. The stones upon the breastplate represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and they were borne before the Lord continually as a memorial. Inasmuch as the twelve stones were in one breastplate they speak of the oneness of the people of God; while their position upon Aaron's breast speaks of God's affection for His people. the names on the breastplate were always close to Aaron's heart just as with Christ and His precious ones.

Jewish Tradition

In modern times the Torah scrolls of the synagogue are frequently wrapped in blue or purple velvet or silk cloths. A breast plate adorns the scroll, and a crown or coronets of silver and gold with tinkling bells are placed upon its rollers; these recall some of the items of dress of the High Priest.

'Urim and Thummim' (28:30, cf. Num. 27:21, 1 Sam.28:6)

It is not known for certain exactly what the Urim and Thummim really were, but it is thought that they may have been two precious stones, possibly gems, which were identical in shape. One or the other could be drawn from the pouch in order to provide a yes or no answer in seeking the Lord for guidance.

Exod 28:30 "And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron's heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually."

Since Scripture explicitly states that the Urim and Thummim were placed in the breastplate, it would seem that they were separate from the twelve stones mounted on the outside. The name Urim means "lights, " while Thummim means "perfections;" and these meanings have led some to speculate that perhaps the stones flashed in a particular way to indicate "yes" or "no. "

"We can draw no other conclusion than that the Urim and Thummim are to be regarded as a certain medium, given by the Lord to His people, through which, whenever the congregation required divine illumination to guide its actions, that illumination was guaranteed. When God was displeased with His people in later history, He refused to permit the Urim and Thummim to function as a means of guidance. Apparently in a day when man lacked most of the the revelation of the Word of God, he required some other source of information of divine will."

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Num 27:21 "He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the LORD for him by the judgment of the Urim; at his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him-- all the congregation."

1 Sam 28:6 "And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets."

There is no record of this method being used to discover God's will after the time of David and the ministry of the prophets.

'The Robe of the Ephod' (28:31-35, 39:22-26)

Under the ephod the High Priest wore a robe of blue. Golden bells were attached to the hem and pomegranates made from material hung between the bells.

Exod 28:31-35 "You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die."

The robe of the ephod was a plain blue sleeveless garment worn directly beneath the ephod and probably extending some inches below it. Apparently there was a row of pomegranates embroidered upon the hem (see Ex 39:24) interspaced with tinkling golden bells which sounded as the priest moved. The bells speak of listening to God while in His service and the music of them brings a certain joy. The pomegranates speak of fruitfulness (abundant seeds) and are symbols of the Word of God as sweet and pleasant spiritual food. The sound of the bells could be heard when Aaron went into the Holy Place before the Lord, and the listening people would know that he had not been struck dead in God's presence, but that his offering on their behalf had been accepted by God.

Exod 28:35 "And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die."

'The Mitre and Crown' (28:36-38, 39:30, 31)

On his head the High Priest wore a turban or mitre of fine linen which was bound around the head in coils like a turban or tiara. On the front of the mitre on Aaron's forehead, attached by a blue lace ribbon, there was the golden plate engraved HOLINESS TO THE LORD. This was a constant reminder of holiness to the covenant people in Israel and to the High Priest in his calling , for the Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy"' (Lev. 19:2).

Exod 28:36-38 "You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD."

By being marked, the High Priest typified the true inner holiness on the ground of which, alone, Israel could be accepted before God. He was truly the most important man on earth. The conspicuous position of the golden plate upon Aaron's forehead gave special meaning and character to all of his garments and to his office. In committing himself to holiness, Aaron could be assured that he qualified for divine service and was accepted by God as a mediator between God and the people of Israel.

'The Ordinary Garments of the Priest' (28:39-43, 39:27-29)

Exod 28:39-43 "You shall skillfully weave the tunic of fine linen thread, you shall make the turban of fine linen, and you shall make the sash of woven work. For Aaron's sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests. And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him."

The Priests officiating in the Holy Place wore these garments: A long tunic (the embroidered coat) with sleeves of white linen, woven throughout without seam, white trousers from hip to thigh, a white linen hat or mitre wound like a turban, but cone-shaped, and a sash or girdle woven in the same material as the veil (Ex 39:29).

Jewish Tradition

According to Jewish sources both ends of the girdle draped on the ground except when the priest was officiating, when they were thrown over the left shoulder. The sash or girdle was several yards long and was wound many times round the body between the armpits and hips. An interesting tradition declares that the old garments of the priests were unraveled and made into wicks for the lamps of the tabernacle and temple.

As ordained priests, though in plain dress and of secondary status, Aaron's sons speak of today's believers; while Aaron, the High Priest, in his garments of glory and beauty, speaks of Christ our great High Priest.

The Priest
The Consecration of the Priests
The Priestly Garments