Thursday, December 07, 2006

Exodus 28

Exodus 28: The Tabernacle: the ephod, the breastpiece, and other priestly garments


Continuing with our examination of God’s instructions for building the tabernacle, we come, in this chapter, to instructions for the priests’ attire.

The chapter starts with a general paragraph, that Moses is to gather Aaron and his sons, and have them serve God as priests. They are to have sacred garments to wear, while they serve the LORD as priests, made out of gold, yarn (blue, purple, and scarlet), and fine linen.
  • The Ephod
    • First off, I guess we should look at what an “ephod” is, since this isn’t a term we use anymore. From what I can tell, it’s simply a garment, to which the breastpiece will be attached; different definitions I found online ranged from calling it a “vest” to saying that it was “a ‘skirt’ with two shoulder straps”. I would put up a picture, but because there seems to be some confusion as to what exactly it would look like, I’m not sure which pictures would be accurate.
    • At any rate, it was to be made of gold, yarn (blue, purple, and scarlet), and finely twisted linen.
    • It was to be fastened by having two shoulder pieces attached to its corners.
    • The waistband was to be of one piece with the ephod, made out of the same materials.
    • On each shoulder piece was to be attached an onyx stone, mounted in a gold filigree setting, and on the stones were to be engraved the twelve names of Israel’s sons (six on each stone). They were to be engraved “the way a gem cutter engraves a seal” (verse 11).
    • To attach the ephod, there were to be gold filigree settings, and two braided chains of pure gold—like a rope—attached to the settings.
  • The Breastpiece
    • The breastpiece, like the ephod, was to be made of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. It is described in verse 15 as “a breastpiece for making decisions”—we’ll see why in a minute.
    • It was to be 22 centimetres by 22 centimetres, and folded double.
    • On the breastpiece were to be mounted four rows of precious stones, in gold filigree settings, three to a row, to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Each stone was to be engraved with the name of one of the tribes. The stones were to be: a ruby, a topaz and a beryl in the first tow; a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald in the second; a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst in the third; and a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper in the fourth. (The footnote for verse 20 in the NIV mentions that the precise identification of some of the stones mentioned in the Hebrew is uncertain.)
    • Whenever Aaron—or the High Priest—entered the Holy Place, he was to be wearing the breastpiece, as a continuing memorial before the LORD.
    • The Urim and Thummim were also to be kept in the breastpiece, so that Aaron (or the High Priest) would “always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD” (verse 30). See the Thoughts section, below for what little info I have on the Urim and Thummim.
  • Other Priestly Garments
    • The Robe: The priest’s robe was to be made of blue cloth. It was to be all one piece, with an opening in its centre for the head. (There was to be a woven edge around the opening, so that it wouldn’t tear.) Around the hem of the robe were to be bells and pomegranates, in an alternating pattern. Aaron—or the High Priest—was to wear the robe when entering the Holy Place, and the sound of the bells would be heard when he entered and when he left, so that he would not die.
    • A “plate” was to be made, of pure gold, which would be attached to the High Priest’s turban with a blue cord. It was to be engraved with the phrase HOLY TO THE LORD. Verse 38 says:

      It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the LORD.
    • For Aaron—and, I assume, subsequent High Priests—there was to be a tunic and a turban, made of fine linen, and an embroidered sash. There were also to be tunics, sashes, and headbands for Aaron’s sons, “to give them dignity and honor” (verse 40). After Aaron and his sons were given these garments, they were to be anointed and ordained—consecrated to serve the LORD as priests.
    • Linen undergarments were also to be made for the priests, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Any time any of the priests entered the Tent of Meeting or approached the altar to minister in the Holy Place, they were to wear these garments, so that they would not “incur guilt and die” (verse 43).


The Bible doesn’t give a lot of details about the Urim and Thummim; what they were, what they looked like, or how they were used. One site I read mentioned that, “because the words Urim and Thummim are plural, and in most cases do not connote an object, the device or process could be referred to as Urim and Thummim rather than ‘the’ Urim and Thummim.” Another definition I found, by looking it up on Google, posited that the Urim and Thummim were: “Sanctified crystals, which form a grid for communication using sacred Light and sound patterns that form geometries working with harmonics on given magnetic grids.” And yet another definition theorized that they were “lots thrown to determine God’s answers to yes-no questions.” So, overall, what I can say is not much more than what I get from the text itself; the Urim and Thummim were used for getting the LORD’s answer when making decisions, in some undetermined manner.

Notice the careful way in which Aaron, or the High Priests to come after him, were to enter the Holy Place. The bells on the bottom of the robe were there so that they would not die, when they entered the Holy Place. This is a concept which becomes very important throughout the Old Testament: God is a Holy God, and must not be taken lightly. In these days of “God is my friend and Jesus is my brother”, we sometimes forget how awesome, how Holy, and how un-understandable God really is. I’m not saying that God is not the friend of the Christian; He is. And I’m not saying that Jesus isn’t our brother; when you become a Christian, you are adopted as a son or daughter of God, making Jesus your adopted brother. But we have to be careful not to forget who God is. Just because He is your friend, it doesn’t make him any smaller, any less powerful, or any less Holy! Remember, Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”—the God being described in the Old Testament, Whom the Israelites could not approach lightly for fear of death, is the same God who sent His Son to die for our sins, so that we could be close to Him.

Notice also that when Aaron—and the High Priests who came after him—are offering the sacred gifts the Israelites have consecrated, they are bearing the Israelites’ guilt before the LORD. This is an example of the fact that Old Testament worship, for the Israelites, was a picture of what Christ would do for us, on the cross; the concept that there is no forgiveness for sins without blood, or that Aaron and his descendents are bearing sin before the LORD, on behalf of the Israelites, are pointing to a day when Christ would bear our sins on the cross, and cleanse us of our sin with his blood.

The best place to see this is in the book of Hebrews, much of which is concerned with proving the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice over the Old Testament sacrificial system.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1–4)

…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)


Anita said...

I have a friend who is a baby christian. She grew up Catholic and never opened her bible. I have asked to to read through the bible with me. We are in exodus this chapter. I send her out a summary and application of the chapter and found your Blog very helpful and simple. Thank you.

sernaferna said...

I'm glad this was helpful for you, Anita. :) I wish you and your friend well as you make your way through the bible!