THE PRIEST: Clothed for Service
The high priest, arrayed in the stately garments of his office, methodically entered into the tabernacle to begin his day of ministry. Did it really make any difference how he dressed when representing the nation of Israel before God? Couldn’t he come in garments of his own choosing, style, or design? [The answers to these questions are “yes” and “no”! Yes, it did make a difference how he dressed! No, he could not come in garments of his own choosing!] God had explicitly revealed to Moses in vivid description each article of clothing to be worn by the priest. He said unto Moses, “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron, thy brother, for glory and for beauty (v. 2). Holy, for they were set apart only to be worn during service in the tabernacle. Glorious, because they exalted the priestly office in the eyes of the people. Beautiful, for their colors harmonized with the tabernacle furnishings. The look of the priest was to match the function of his ministry as he worshiped God in the beauty of holiness.
The dress of the priesthood was so important that the ones chosen to make these garments were “wisehearted” (v. 3)/ meaning God had filled them with special knowledge and skill through the Holy Spirit on how to make the priestly clothes. God used forty-three verses to describe in minute detail how each item of clothing was to be made. Each piece of clothing is full of divine truth and spiritual teaching which is typical of our Lord and His ministry.
The Ephod (vv. 6-14)
The term ephod, although a general word for garment, is used here in a higher sense denoting a special garment of religious significance. It consisted of two pieces of material in which a thin thread of gold wire was skillfully embroidered together with blue, purple, scarlet and fine-twined linen threads. One piece covered the chest and the other covered the back of the high priest. The two pieces of the ephod were held together by gold braided straps which were clasped together on the shoulders of the priest (vv.. 13-14). Later in Israel’s history the ephod became the symbol of the priest’s office (1 Sam. 2:28).
The gold thread running through the ephod is emblematic of our Lord’s deity. The Bible explicitly states that Jesus is divine (Jn. 1:1; 20:28; Rom. 9:5), ascribing divine attributes to Him such as His eternal existence (Rev. 1:8), omnipresence (Mt. 28:20), omniscience (Jn. 2:24-25) and omnipotence (Phil. 3:21).
The colorful materials used to make the ephod are typical of Christ’s ministry. The fine-twined linen was an Egyptian white byssus yarn woven tightly together. The white speaks of purity and righteousness. Fine, denotes the “faultlessness” of the material. What a picture of Christ, who in His flesh was without blemish and spot (1 Pet. 1:19). The fine white linen is also a type of the saints of God who will be arrayed in fine white linen garments at the marriage of the Lamb, symbolizing their righteousness before Him (Rev. 19:7-8).
The three colors woven into the ephod are symbolic of Christ’s incarnation, ministry and second advent. The blue color, probably that of indigo, was produced from a species of shellfish. The blue speaks of Christ who came down from Heaven as the Son of God to do the Father’s will (Jn. 3:13, 31). The color of scarlet is a bright red dye and was produced from worms or grubs, providing a very vivid picture of Christs ministry in shedding His blood to purchase our salvation (Rom. 3:25; 5:9). The purple color was produced from a secretion of the purple snail (murex).
The color of royalty, purple speaks of Christ’s kingship. Jesus was from the kingly line of David (Lk. 1:32), born a king (Mt. 2:2), mocked as a king (Mt. 27:29), declared to be king at His crucifixion (Mt. 27:37) and is coming back as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16) to rule as King forever (Lk. 1:33).
The ephod was held close to the body by a girdle (lit. belt) made of the same materials (v. 8). It was wrapped around the body of the priest and hung down to his ankles. The girdle was always used to strengthen those who wore it, whether by the priest when he served in the tabernacle or by soldiers going off to war.
The girdle is a type of Christ who came to minister as a servant (Mk. 10:45). At the end of His last Passover, He girded Himself with a towel and washed the disciples” feet leaving them a pointed lesson on what it meant to be a servant (Jn. 13:4-17),
The Christian as a believer-priest is to be girded with the truth of God’s Word (Eph. 6:14). When the Word controls his life, he will be able to meet the onslaughts of Satanic opposition and live a victorious life in Christ. The girdle also speaks of the Christian having his “loins girded” and “lamps burning” (Lk. 12:35-36) in service for his Lord, but eagerly expecting His return at any moment for the Church.
Two onyx stones had the names of the twelve tribes (six names on each stone) engraved upon them in order of their birth. Each stone was placed upon the shoulder of the high priest and attached to the gold straps of the ephod (vv. 9-12). We do not know what the onyx stones were made of, but they could have been one of “two types. The Septuagint translation of the
Bible states that the stones are “emeralds”. Yet Josephus, the Jewish historian, believes the onyx stones were the “sardonyx” which is a three layered stone, black, white and red in color. The onyx stones were placed on the shoulders of the high priest to remind him that he was representing the twelve tribes before God during his ministry (v. 1 2). This is a beautiful type of Christ who bears the believers’ needs before the throne of God where He intercedes for them (1 Jn. 2:1; Heb. 7:25;9:24).
The Breastplate (vv. 15-29)
Made of the same materials as -the ephod, the breastplate was square in shape and doubled over to form a pouch in the center (v. 16). Upon the breastplate, twelve precious stones were set in gold and placed in rows representing the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 17-21):
The breastplate was held in place by four rings, two on the corners of the plate and two on the ephod (vv. 23, 26). A twisted gold cord passed through the upper rings and was attached to the settings on the shoulder stones (v. 25). A ribbon.of blue lace was passed through the lower rings which were sewn on the front of the ephod a little above the girdie (vv. 26-28).
The breastplate is called the “breastplate of judgment (lit. decision) [vv. 15, 29-30], because it contained the Urim and Thummim (v. 30) by which God was consulted to discern His will for the people. Today, we must go through Jesus our High Priest to discern God’s will in areas of uncertainty (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 Jn. 2:1); all final judgment has been left to Him (Jn. 5:22, 27).
The high priest bore the children of Israel upon his heart, each tribe represented by a precious stone, as he ministered before the Lord (v. 29). Our Lord bears us close to His heart as He represents us before God (Rom. 8:33-34). Each Christian is a precious stone before the Lord which forms His Church (Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). Each stone in the breastplate had its individual character, color, beauty and glory. So it is with the Christian. Although fitly framed together in one body, he still reflects Christ’s glory in his own unique way.
As priests of God, we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14). The breastplate covered the vital organs of the soldier, especially the heart. We have the imputed righteousness of Christ which guards us against the fiery darts of Satan who tries to strike us at the heart of our faith.
The Urim and Thummim (v. 30)
In the pocket of the breastplate were the Urim and Thummim resting over the heart of the high priest when he went before the Lord. The term “Urim” is mentioned seven times, and Thummim” five times in the Old Testament (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Dt. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65). Urim means “lights” and Thummim means “perfections” ; both were used in seeking divine counsel and guidance from the Lord (Num. 27:21).
Many scholars have been puzzled over how the Urim and Thummim actually functioned in decision making. They have tried to come up with the answer, but their interpretations have varied greatly. Even though we do not know exactly how the Urim and Thummim functioned, we do know that they were used in finding the will of God for the Israelites, and this is what is important.
The Urim is a beautiful picture of Christ who is the believer’s light. He said, ‘. . .I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). The “light of life” which Jesus is speaking of can only be obtained by putting faith in His atoning work on the cross. But Jesus made it very clear that the world in general will not come to Him as the light of life; “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). The true believer finds that he can have the perfect fight of God’s will through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14-16). The Thummim speaks of the perfection we find in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21 ;1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He is our perfect counselor (Col. 2:3) who lights up the path we are to tread as He guides us along the way (Ps. 119:105).
The Robe of the Ephod (vv. 31-35)
The robe was a blue seamless garment with slits in the side for arms, and a hole at the top for the head, which was reinforced so it would not fray or tear. The robe reached just below the knees of the high priest and was trimmed with pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet to harmonize with the other pieces of the priestly garment. Each pomegranate was alternated with a pure gold bell.
As we have already seen, the colors in the pomegranates are very symbolic of Christ’s Heavenly origin, incarnation, ministry and second advent. The pomegranates speak of fruitfulness which was produced through Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross (1 Cor. 15:23). The belts speak of testimony. The sounding of the bells united the people and the priest as he ministered. The people were able to follow his movements and be in prayer with him.
The Miter (vv. 36-38)
The headdress worn by the high priest is called a “miter” (v. 37). Miter means “to wrap” or “to roll around”. Josephus tells us that the headdress was like a crown made of thick linen swathes wrapped around the head of the high priest, similar to a turban (Ant. Jud. 111;7:3). A plate of pure gold engraved with the words “Holiness to the Lord” (v. 36) was placed on a blue lace and tied to the front of the miter (v. 37). It served a twofold purpose. First/ it indicated that the high priest was to bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts …” (v. 38). The word “bear” means to “carry away . The high priest was to carry away the iniquity of the people by the atonement made through the blood of the sacrifice (Lev. 10:17).
Second, the gold plate was to “be always upon his forehead” (v. 38) that the Israelites would be accepted before the Lord. Here is a beautiful picture of our Lord’s ministry. He did not wear “Holiness to the Lord , but is the “Holy Lord”. As our High Priest, He who is holy offered Himself as a sacrifice not just to bear our iniquity, but to once and for all take it away “by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). In Christ we are made righteous and holy (2 Cor. 5:21).
As believer-priests, we offer “spiritual sacrifices” unto God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). The gold plate on the miter reminds us that as believer-priests, our lives and service are to be holy. Peter writes, “But, as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life. Because it is written. Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
The Breeches and Under Garments (vv. 39, 42)
The breeches (drawers) made from linen were to cover the nakedness of the priest from the loins unto the thighs (v. 42). Many nations surrounding Israel would not be covered like their priest, in fact, much of heathenistic worship in the ancient world was sensual and obscene, with services performed in nakedness by the people. But God demanded that worship be carried out in modesty and decency. The priest was to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2; 96:9).
This should convict us as believer-priests to make sure that our dress is glorifying to God when we come before Him in worship. The Scriptures give explicit instructions to women on how they should dress (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:3), and the same would hold true for men.
A coat (lit. tunic) was worn under the outer clothing of the high priest. Josephus tells us that it had tight fitting sleeves and reached down to the feet (Ant. Jud, 3:7:2). The tunic was held in place by a girdle of needlework (Lev. 8:7).
The Garments of the Priest (vv. 40-43)
The garments described thus far were those of the high priest. In the verses that follow we have a description of the ministerial garments worn by other priests who served in the tabernacle. They wore a coat, miter, girdle and breeches made of fine linen “for glory and for beauty” (v. 40- 42), yet the style and pattern differed from that of the high priest, being much more simple.
Garments have always been a symbol of righteousness in the Scriptures. As believer-priests we have been clothed with the white garment of salvation and robed in righteousness as a bride adorneth herself for her marriage (Isa. 61:10). Since we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, Paul instructs us to put off the old life of sin as one strips away an old wornout suit of clothes (Col. 3:8-9).
The believer-priest is not to allow his garments (under tunic) to be spotted by the flesh (Jude 23). As a garment can be spotted by the flesh it touches, so can the Christian be defiled by the things in this present world system which touch him. Thus, we are to keep ourselves from the corruption of this world by setting our affections on things above (Col 3:1-2). By being clothed in the righteous knowledge of Christ, we are empowered through the Holy Spirit to live a victoriously fruitful life in our Lord (Col, 3:10).
We await that great day when the old sin nature will be stripped away, and we’ll stand before our Lord clothed in white raiment. John tells us that at the marriage supper of the Lamb we shall “be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white” (Rev. 19:8). The white linen represents the righteous deeds which were manifested by the believer during his earthly ministry.
We who have been clothed in His righteousness are fit for worship and service. We are to go forth from worship to serve in this dark world manifesting the “glory and beauty” of Christ through our lives.
Do others see the glory and beauty of Christ shining through your life?