Exodus 28

The Garments of the Priests
Exodus 28
Exodus 28. In the preceding chapters we have had the tabernacle and its furnishings described in striking detail. Next we have the description of the garments of the priests, and their consecration, and afterward the details of the tabernacle resume. Why this change? Why bring in the priest’s garments at this point? It is helpful to see that in the tabernacle and its vessels as given so far we have various types of Christ as a testimony; it is God coming down to meet man. Another aspect of our fellowship with God is that of priesthood; man drawing near to God. Hence we have a new division in this part of Exodus, and the parts of the tabernacle that follow (the altar of incense and laver) have to do with priesthood. In the garments of the high priest we have typically represented various features of Christ as our great high priest! The ephod, etc. were worn by the high priest when he went into the holy place for intercession. It was not worn into the holiest on the Day of Atonement. This is what we have in Hebrews 9. Christ “appeared once… to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”, but now He appears continually “in the presence of God for us”. It is Christ in glory as our High Priest that we have before us in this chapter. We will see these garments typify the perfect power, love, and wisdom of God toward His people through the High Priesthood of Christ. 

The Priests (28:1-3)

And thou shalt take thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may serve me as priest — Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. 2 And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for glory and for ornament. 3 And thou shalt speak with all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to hallow him, that he may serve me as priest. vv.1-3 The Priests. For the very first time Moses was told the special office that God had in store for Aaron and his sons. Evidently before this time there were those among the people who functioned as priests, but not in the official capacity to which Aaron and his sons were now called (Ex. 19:22, 24). We saw Aaron having a place of prominence among the people in Ex. 24:14, and then in Ex. 27:21 that he and his sons would order the tabernacle. Here we find that Aaron was given that special privilege to represent the people before the Lord as priest. This office would be shared with his four sons, ” Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar”. These sons would then pass on the office to their sons, and so on. However, we find that on the wilderness journey Nadab and Abihu were killed because of their sin of offering strange fire to the Lord. Aaron would have the special role of high priest, and these garments that are described would be worn by him alone. There was a separate set of garments in vv.40-43 that were for Aaron’s sons. These garments were “for glory and for ornament”. Aaron could not appear before the Lord on his own terms. There was a certain beauty that Aaron must have in order to represent the people in the sanctuary. It required special wisdom from the Lord in order to make these garments in such a way as to clothe Aaron appropriately for the presence of the Lord. This gives us the key to understanding the meaning of the types in this chapter; the glories of Christ as He appears in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24).

The Garments of the Priests (28:4-43)

4 And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, and an ephod, and a cloak, and a checkered vest, a turban, and a girdle; and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may serve me as priest. v.4 The Principal Elements. The six main elements of the garments are now given. The shoulder-pieces, seventh article, is left out here. From the outside in, first there was the breastplate of gold containing gem stones, which really was how the high priest represented the people. Then there was an ephod, which was woven together gold and multi-colored thread. Under the ephod was a blue cloak. Under the cloak was a checkered vest of white woven byssus or linen. Atop the head was a turban also of white linen. Around the waist was a girdle made of the same materials as the ephod. Each of these elements has something to do with the intercession of the the high priest, and has typical meaning to us in connection with Christ our Great High Priest! He is presented to us as our High Priest in Hebrews (see Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 4:15; 6:20; 8:1; 9:25; 10:21).

The Ephod (28:5-14)

5 And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined byssus, 6 and shall make the ephod of gold, blue, and purple, scarlet and twined byssus, of artistic work. vv.5-6 The Ephod. The priest’s ephod was a sleeveless garments that was intricately crafted of various colored threads. The gold, which speaks of divine righteousness, was beaten into wires and sown into the garment.  The colors speak of the glories of Christ in various aspects. Blue is the heavenly character of Christ as presented in John’s gospel. Purple is the glory of Christ in connection with all mankind (His universal royalty) as presented in Luke’s gospel. Scarlet is the glory of Christ in connection with Jewish royalty as presented in Matthew’s gospel. The fine linen (white), or byssus, speaks of the spotless, holy humanity of the Lord Jesus. These colors were interwoven together. So with the glories of the Lord Jesus; the cannot be separated from each other!
7 It shall have two shoulder-pieces joined at the two ends thereof, where it is joined together. 8 And the girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to its work of gold, blue, and purple, and scarlet and twined byssus. vv.7-8 The Fastenings of the Ephod. The ephod had two means of securing it to the priest. The two shoulder-pieces would secure it vertically from the top, and the girdle would secure it horizontally from the middle. The ephod evidently had a front and a back, and the solder pieces connected where the two top ends joined together. These fastenings might speak to us generally of the security we have in Christ. In John 13:4 the Lord laid aside His garments and girded Himself to wash the disciples feet. The girdle speaks of the servant-character of Christ. He is serving us now in the presence of God!
9 And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the children of Israel: 10 six of their names on the one stone, and the six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth. 11 According to the work of an engraver in stone, as the engravings of a seal, shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; surrounded by enclosures of gold shalt thou make them. 12 And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod as stones of memorial for the children of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before Jehovah upon his two shoulders for a memorial. vv.9-12 Onyx Stones. The names of the tribes were engraved on the two stones. It was a permanent marking that could not be erased. The shoulders speak of strength and security. In the account of the lost sheep, the shepherd put the sheep on his shoulders (Luke 15:4). It reminds us of the double security we have in Christ (John 10:28-29). The security we have in Christ is permanent; He will carry us all the way home! All twelve tribes were there; not one left out. The stones were the same type in contrast with the stones of the breastplate; when it comes to our salvation, we are all equally secure. Concerning the government of the earth, “the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6), but when it comes to our salvation He carries us on both shoulders! The stones were set in enclosures of gold, which speaks to us of how the deity of Christ is involved in our security; we are “in Christ” just as the stones were “in gold”. Also, connected with the stones, the security of the believer is a display of God’s divine righteousness; “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). 
13 And thou shalt make enclosures of gold; 14 and two chains of pure gold; of laced work shalt thou make them, of wreathen work, and fasten the wreathen chains to the enclosures. vv.13-14 The Chains of Gold. The chains that secured the enclosures of the shoulder-pieces to the breastplate were of gold. Typically this speaks of the unbreakable and Divine connection between the power of God and the love of God, as seen in Christ our High Priest. His strength (shoulders) for us can never be separated from His love (heart). It is a Divine connection (“of pure gold”), and beyond our ability to understand it (“of laced work… of wreathen work”). This is important to remember in our wilderness pathway. Sometimes we see God working in our lives and we are impressed with His power, but we do not see His love in it. We must remember the golden chain. He work with us and for us is always motivated by His great heart of love!

The Breastplate (28:15-30)

15 And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment of artistic work, like the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined byssus shalt thou make it. 16 Square shall it be, doubled; a span the length thereof, and a span the breadth thereof. vv.15-16 The breastplate was made of the same materials as the ephod, and it was located on the chest of the high priest, on top of the ephod. It is called “the breastplate of judgment”, where judgment is more in the sense of discernment then punitive judgment. A span was about nine inches, so the breastplate was about 9×9 inches, a perfect square. It might remind us of the perfection of Christ’s love for us, as well as the double security we have in His love. Strength without love can be terrifying, but with our High Priest His strength is always coupled with love. It says it was “doubled”, referring perhaps to a pocket that was made inside the breastplate where the Urim and Thummim would be placed (v.30).
17 And thou shalt set in it settings of stones — four rows of stones: one row, a sardoin, a topaz, and an emerald — the first row; 18 and the second row, a carbuncle, a sapphire, and a diamond; 19 and the third row, an opal, an agate, and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row, a chrysolite, and an onyx, and a jasper; enclosed in gold shall they be in their settings. 21 And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, engraved as a seal: every one according to his name shall they be for the twelve tribes. vv.17-21 The Stones. The twelve gemstones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes represent us as individuals. We are each individually loved by the Lord! Notice there is no mention of birth order when it comes to the breastplate, while there was an order with the shoulder-stones. Just so with us, there was a specific time when we came to faith in Christ, but His love for us is outside of time! The stones were all different kinds, each one having a different color and different properties. The Lord knows our individual characteristics, and we are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10). You couldn’t say that one stone was greater than the other. They would have been massive stones, probably 2 inches by 1.5 inches or larger, showing the immense value that we have to the Lord. It was over the priest’s heart. Christ has us on His shoulders, all alike in security, and on His heart, all individually loved. It is hard to say exactly what the modern day equivalent is to each of the gemstones, but certainly they would have different ways of reflecting the light of the candlestick in the sanctuary; sardoin (red and white), topaz (orange), emerald (green), carbuncle (bright red), sapphire (deep blue), diamond (clear), opal (various), agate (unknown), amethyst (violet), chrysolite (green-gold), onyx (black), and jasper (clear, various).1
22 And thou shalt make on the breastplate chains of laced work, of wreathen work, of pure gold. 23 And thou shalt make on the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. 24 And thou shalt put the two wreathen cords of gold in the two rings on the ends of the breastplate; 25 and the two ends of the two wreathen cords thou shalt fasten to the two enclosures, and shalt put them on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, on the front thereof. vv.22-25 Rings and Chains to the Shoulders. Further details are given of the connection between the breastplate and shoulder-pieces. This all speaks to us of the unbreakable connection between the power and love of God as seen in Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us.
26 And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and shalt put them on the two ends of the breastplate, on the border thereof, which faceth the ephod inwards. 27 And two rings of gold shalt thou make, and shalt put them upon the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod underneath, to the front thereof just by the coupling thereof, above the girdle of the ephod. 28 And they shall bind the breastplate with its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod. vv.26-28 Rings and Lace to the Ephod. The breastplate was not only secured from the top by golden chains, but also from the bottom with a lace of blue that securely bound the breastplate to the ephod. Blue is connected with the character of Christ as the heavenly Man. His love is assured to us not only by Divine righteousness satisfied (gold chains), but also by the sympathies of the heavenly man who once walked here, but now appears in heaven for us (lace of blue).
29 And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, when he goes in to the sanctuary, for a memorial before Jehovah continually. 30 And thou shalt put into the breastplate of judgment the Urim [‘lights’] and the Thummim [‘perfections’], that they may be upon Aaron’s heart when he goeth in before Jehovah; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before Jehovah continually. vv.29-20 Continual Intercession: Urim and Thummim. When Aaron went into the holy place daily, he would wear the ephod with its breastplate, carrying the names of the children of Israel with him. In this way there would be a continual intercession for the people. Again, it is called the breastplate of judgment, because the breastplate would be used to give wisdom and guidance to Israel. We see this with the “Urim and the Thummim” that were to be placed inside the breastplate. Urim means ‘lights’ and Thummim means ‘perfections’, showing that whatever the Urim and the Thummim were, they were connected with wisdom and illumination. It makes us think of the Lord Jesus; “and we beheld his glory… full of grace and truth”. But it also means that Christ has perfect wisdom for our pathway (“lights”, James 1:17; “perfections”, Psa. 18:30). It would appear that if a situation arose where Israel did not know what to do, the leaders could go to the high priest, and the high priest would ask counsel of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim (Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8). We are never told how the Urim and Thummim actually worked. The Lord reserves the interworking of His wisdom to Himself. He keeps His wisdom for our pathway close to His heart, and reveals it to us bit by bit as we seek His fellowship. But it is wonderful to see how deeply the Lord cares about even the guidance of His own. He has a path for each one of us, and as Asaph could say, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary” (Psa. 77:13). This brings us to another great attribute of God that we see in Christ appearing for us at our great High Priest! We saw His power in the shoulder-pieces, His love in the breast-plate, and now we see His wisdom in the Urim and the Thummim.

The Blue Robe of the Ephod (28:31-35)

31 And thou shalt make the cloak of the ephod all of blue. 32 And its opening for the head shall be in the midst thereof; there shall be a binding of woven work at its opening round about; as the opening of a coat of mail, it shall be in it — it shall not rend. vv.31-32 The Robe and Its Opening. The robe was worn under the ephod, and it was all of blue. No mention is made of the material, but only the color. The color is its leading feature. Blue represents the heavenly character of Christ; “He who comes from above” (John 3:31). The priesthood of Christ is thus characterized by a glorified man in heaven. The opening of the robe was reinforced with a woven work so that it would not tear. This would speak of the unchanging character of the priesthood; “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).

 And on the skirts thereof thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and purple, and scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, in the skirts of the cloak round about. 35 And it shall be on Aaron for service; that his sound may be heard when he goeth into the sanctuary before Jehovah, and when he cometh out, that he may not die.
vv.33-35 Bells and Pomegranates. Another feature of the robe of the ephod was the bottom edge of the garment. A repeating pattern of alternating golden bells and pomegranates of blue, and purple, and scarlet. The bells would ring as Aaron walked, and “his sound may be heard when he goeth into the sanctuary before Jehovah, and when he cometh out, that he may not die”. The Lord would have the sound of these bells to be heard, rather than footsteps. The pomegranates speak of fruitfulness, and the bells speak of testimony. There is of course an application of this in the life of the Lord Jesus. There was a perfect harmony between the works and the words of the Lord Jesus; for every bell there was a pomegranate, and for every pomegranate there was a bell. The same should be true of us, although we all fall short of it. But really these types all have to do with the priesthood of Christ as a glorified man in heaven. The bells were heard when Aaron moved in and out of the sanctuary. The bells and pomegranates therefore speak of the effects of Christ’s priesthood in His people. The consequence of Christ entering the heavenly sanctuary was that the Holy Spirit was sent down, and an abundant witness of fruit and testimony was rendered here on the earth.

The Turban and Gold Plate (28:36-39)

36 And thou shalt make a thin plate of pure gold, and engrave on it, as the engravings of a seal, Holiness to Jehovah! 37 And thou shalt put it on a lace of blue, and it shall be upon the turban — upon the front of the turban shall it be. 38 And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all gifts of their holy things; and it shall be continually on his forehead, that they may be accepted before Jehovah. 39 And thou shalt weave the vest of byssus; and thou shalt make a turban of byssus; and thou shalt make a girdle of embroidery. vv.36-39 The Turban and Gold Plate. Atop the high priest’s head was placed a turban of fine linen, with a thin gold plate across the front, secured by a ribbon of blue. The plate was engraved with the words, “Holiness to Jehovah!” The head and especially forehead would be connected with the thoughts or the mind. For example, the helmet of salvation in Eph. 6 has to do with guarding our thoughts. The turban and its plate would speak to us of the “mind” or thoughts of the Lord Jesus. The covered head in scripture speaks of subjection, and the Lord Jesus as a man on earth, and even now in heaven (the lace of blue), has a mind that is totally subject to God. Paul says, “let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus, etc.” (Phil. 2:5-8). The golden plate speaks for itself; not only a subject mind, but a mind that was holy for God. This mind characterized the Lord Jesus here in this world, and it flowed out in His actions throughout His lifetime! But the function of the turban has to do with the priesthood of Christ; “and Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all gifts of their holy things; and it shall be continually on his forehead, that they may be accepted before Jehovah”. As Hebrews makes clear, sin-bearing is really not part of the priesthood of Christ, yet there is a sense in which Christ bears our iniquity now. Aaron would bear the iniquity of the people in connection with the offering of their sacrifices. Even the sacrifices of the people were tainted with sin, and part of the intercession of Aaron was to bear those wrongs so that only what was according to God’s mind might be presented to Him. So with us, our prayers and praises are tainted with sin: hypocrisy, pride, carelessness, etc. Christ presently bears the iniquity, not as a sin-bearer (that work is past) but as our High Priest, and presents to God only what is in “holiness to Jehovah”, so that our prayers are accepted before Him.
Though great may be our dullness
In thought, and word, and deed,
We glory in the fullness
Of Him that meets our need.
For us He wears the mitre,
Where “holiness” shines bright,
For us His robes are whiter
Than heaven’s unsullied light.2

Garments for Aaron’s Sons (28:40-43)

40 And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make vests; and thou shalt make for them girdles; and high caps shalt thou make for them, for glory and for ornament. 41 And thou shalt clothe with them Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and hallow them, that they may serve me as priests. 42 And thou shalt make them linen trousers to cover the flesh of nakedness; from the loins even to the hips shall they reach. 43 And they shall be upon Aaron and his sons when they enter into the tent of meeting, or when they come near to the altar to serve in the sanctuary; that they may not bear iniquity and die — an everlasting statute for him and his seed after him. vv.40-43 Garment’s for Aaron’s Sons. Aaron’s sons would have garments too, but not the same as Aaron’s. There was only one high priest, and this fits with the antitype. The sons’ garments were for glory and beauty, because they too would come into the tabernacle and approach the altar. That which was of nature must be covered in the presence of God, and what was seen must be that which speaks of Christ.
  1. A good resource for the meaning of the stones is The Tabernacle, The Priesthood, and The Offerings by H.W. Soltau, pp.209-239.
  2. Bowley, Mary. The Holiest We Enter. Little Flock Hymnbook #114.