GARMENTS FOR THE PRIESTS
Aaron and his four sons were the priestly family, thus separated from the rest of Israel for this sacred purpose. This select priesthood is a contrast to the New Testament order, for today all true believers are included in the priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). But Aaron, the high priest, is typical of Christ, our Great High Priest, and his sons are typical of believers today in their priestly character.
All the garments of the priests were "holy garments," and Aaron's official garments were "for glory and for beauty" (vs.2-4). The garments of Aaron are first considered at length before those of his sons are spoken of. Gifted artisans whom God had filled with the spirit of wisdom were enlisted to make these garments. Those for Aaron are listed in verse 4, "a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban and a sash," Notice that Aaron was to minister to God as priest (v.3). Certainly his priesthood involved that "he can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray" (Hebrews 5:2), but this is actually a part of his ministering to God.
The ephod was a garment that covered the upper body, and apparently made of two pieces, joined at the shoulders by straps (v.7), and held by a belt (or "band") that is called "the curious girdle of the ephod." Its first component is gold, telling us that our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, must Himself be God, just as Hebrews 1:1-14 establishes the fact that His is the eternal God before Chapter 2 speaks of His partaking of flesh and blood, becoming true Man in order to carry out the functions of His priesthood (Hebrews 2:14-18). Blue, purple and scarlet and finely woven linen all connect with His Manhood, but indicate a unique Manhood, standing out above His brethren. For He is the Man from heaven (as the blue indicates);; He is King, as purple shows; and the One perfect Servant of God, denoted by the scarlet.
The fine woven linen speaks of His moral purity, and this was also used for the garments of the other priest. However, chapter 39:29 tells us they had sashes of blue, purple and scarlet interwoven with the fine linen. These sashes indicated their identification with the high priest, just as all believers are identified with Christ in the beauties of His perfect Manhood, though in person we are far short of Him.
The ephod was the particularly characteristic garment of the high priest. It was specially used whenever authorities inquired of God on behalf of the people. The high priest was the true intermediary between God and the people, just as Christ is the one Mediator between God and men. He represents God before the people, and He represents the people before God. The joining together of the two parts of the ephod may have some reference to this linking together of the people with God.
Then two onyx stones were taken and each one engraved with six names of the tribes of Israel, in order of the birth of the fathers (vs.9-10). These were to be set in settings of gold and placed one on each shoulder of the ephod. They are called "memorial stones" (v.12), indicating that all Israel was to be kept in memory as being upheld on the shoulders of the high priest, just as today all believers are established in Christ, the Son of God (the gold settings) and sustained on His capable shoulders at all times. Wonderful grace! Wonderful strength! Compare Isaiah 9:6, "The government will be upon His shoulders." The strength of one of His shoulders is sufficient to govern all the nations, but believers are sustained on both of His shoulders!
Chains of pure gold were to be attached to each of the two gold settings for the onyx stones (v.14). Nothing more is said of them here, but from verses 24-25 it seems likely that the other end of each chain was fastened to the breast plate.
The breastplate, called "the breastplate of judgement," was particularly connected with decision making. It was of course at the forefront of the ephod and woven of the same materials, gold, blue, purple and fine linen. It speaks therefore of Christ Himself in all the glories of His deity and His Manhood. It was doubled into a square (v.2), no doubt for more firmness in order to hold the twelve settings of gold with the precious stones that were set into it. Its size was one span square (v.16), that is, three hand breadths, about twelve inches.
Verse 20 shows that the settings of the stones were gold, and verses 17-20 list the names of the stones, which were set in four rows. The top row was a sardius, a topaz and an emerald; the second row 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. In each one of these were engraved a name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, so that all Israel was again represented as borne upon the heart of the high priest, just as all were represented as borne on his shoulders (v.12)
In the onyx stones, however, no difference is seen in any of the tribes: all were the same. This indicates that all Israel was on the same basis of acceptance, typically that all believers have been accepted in Christ, all given the same position as sustained on His shoulders. The twelve stones of the breastplate, however, show diversity among the tribes, picturing the diversity there is among believers. Though all are established in the breastplate, that is, all believers are one "in Christ," yet each believer is the workmanship of God created to function in a distinct way. In the church there is this true unity in diversity.
The name "urim and thummim" given to the stones means "lights and perfections." For the stones reflect the light, as believers reflect the light that is in Christ. Each stone also signifies a beautiful perfection of the Lord Jesus shining in a believer. One believer cannot reflect all these glories: it requires all of them to do this. For instance, one stone, the sardius (first mentioned) is red, the warm attracting color of love. Some believers are specially characterized by this. The blue sapphire is a contrast to this, for it is a cool color, therefore one may reflect the calm, cool, collected character of the Lord Jesus. Yellow is the bright color of candid truth, and other believers may emphasize this specially in their reflection of the Lord Jesus. Green is the fruitful, restful color, symbolizing the grace of God seen so perfectly in the Lord Jesus. How good to see in some believers a gracious spirit of faithful consideration of others, and thus also a lovely reflection of Christ.
Two rings of gold were put on the upper edge of the breastplate, one on either end and braided chains of gold put into the rings (vs.23-24). The other ends of the chains were fastened in two settings attached on either side to the two shoulder pieces of the ephod (v.25). This was where the onyx stones were set, so it seems these were the same chains mentioned in verse 14.
This illustrates the close connection between the great power of the Lord Jesus and His love. For the shoulders speak of His strength or power in upholding every believer, just as the shepherd carried the previously lost sheep on his shoulders. But the breastplate indicates that "Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart" (v.29), therefore speaking of Christ bearing all believers on His heart of love. Thus power and love are seen in wonderful unity in the person of the Lord Jesus.
Two more rings of gold were put on the lower edge of the breastplate, but on the inside, to match with two rings of gold also attached to the ephod. Then these rings were bound with a blue lace, thus attaching the breastplate to the ephod on the lower side. The blue lace would remind us of the heavenly character of this testimony, and it is added that the breastplate thus would not come loose from the ephod.
The Urim and Thummim (the precious stones) being set in "the breastplate of judgment" indicated that Aaron would bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart continually. So Christ bears on His heart the administrative government of all His saints. It is He who discerns between one and another, who cares for the need of His saints with absolute impartiality, judging rightly in every case. This reminder is needed at all times when decisions must be made concerning problems amongst God's saints. We too need a true recognition of the lights and perfections of Christ in His saints if we are to have proper discernment to judge as to any problems of importance that may arise, dealing with governmental administration, specially in cases that affect the assembly.
THE ROBE OF THE EPHOD
This robe covered the body of the high priest from his neck to his feet. The ephod was necessarily on the outside of the robe. The robe however was all blue, so that it speaks of Christ as the heavenly Priest. In fact, while on earth, though in moral character He certainly was a priest, He could have no official place as Priest, for He was not of the line of Aaron (Hebrews 8:4). But He is a priest "become higher than the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26), saluted of God in resurrection power, the heavenly Intercessor in God's presence. He is the One therefore who lifts us above the level of earthly circumstances that we may enjoy the pure atmosphere of His heavenly glory.
The opening for the head was to have a collar of woven work, like that of a coat of armour, therefore having special strength so that there would be no damage of tearing. Compare Leviticus 21:10, which forbids the high priest to ever tear his clothes. For these garments were holy, speaking of the perfection of unity in the person of the Lord Jesus, which must not be violated. In total disobedience to this, Caiaphas, the high priest, tore his clothes in the very presence of the Lord Jesus, and dreadfully violated the truth which he ought to have firmly defended, that is, that Christ is indeed the Son of God (Mt 2:63-66).
On the lower edge of the robe there were to be simulated pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet all around the hem, alternating with golden bells. The sound of the bells was to be heard when he went in and when he came out, in order that "he may not die." The pomegranates particularly speak of fruitfulness, being full of seeds with their promise of abundant fruit. Thus, the fruitfulness of the ministry of the Lord Jesus in His High priestly work is far above our computation. Fruitfulness is seen in His character and in His works (John 10:25). On the other hand, His sound is wonderfully sweet music, for His words are the words of His father (John 48-50). His words therefore are absolutely essential to His High Priesthood. Any high priest lacking in this would die if he went into the sanctuary, for he would not be rightly representing the Lord Jesus.
More important than the turban itself was the place of pure gold with its engraved inscription, "Holiness to the Lord." This is therefore mentioned before the turban, and was set in the front of the turban over the forehead of the high priest, fastened there by a blue cord. Thus the gold of the divine glory of the Lord Jesus and the holiness of His character shines from His forehead, indicating that all His thoughts were always for the glory of God, the blue cord implying that those thoughts are as high as the heavens above the earth in comparison to ours (Isaiah 55:9).
The turban covered the head, and reminds us of1 Corinthians 11:5-15, where the woman today is instructed to have her head covered when praying or prophesying, as a sign of her subjection to authority. The turban then signified the subjection of the Lord Jesus to the supreme authority of God. So, in the Old Testament, the male priest was to have his head covered when in the presence of God (the tabernacle), while the New Testament makes it clear that the man is not to have his head covered, but the woman is told to do so.
The golden plate on the turban signified also that Aaron was "to bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts." Whatever we may devote to God as a holy gift or sacrifice, there remains in it some element of iniquity because of our own selfish, sinful nature. Thank God the pure holiness of the Lord Jesus is able to sanctify such gifts so that they are acceptable to God.
The tunic (or "coat" -- KJV) was an undergarment, and woven of fine linen (v.39). After the priest had been washed, this was the first garment put on them (Leviticus 8:6-7). It speaks therefore of the inward moral purity of the Lord Jesus, which was perfectly consistent with all the outward manifestations of His glory and beauty. Not only was it true that "He did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22), but also "in Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). The sash for the tunic was also woven of fine linen and used for binding the tunic in place. It would remind us that all the inner thoughts and motives of the Lord Jesus were always kept in perfect control.
GARMENTS FOR BOTH AARON AND HIS SONS
Verse 40 shows that the sons of Aaron also had tunics made for them. While Aaron's outer garments were spoken of first, when his sons are considered, the inner garments come first. For Christ being the Object of our adoration, we know that all His outward glories are proof of His inward character. As to ourselves, however, we must begin with our inward thoughts, to have those judged and disciplined according to the will of God. The sash too reminds us of stern self-discipline.
Turbans also were made for Aaron's sons, coverings for the head, indicating that their minds were to be in subjection to God. They were to be anointed (v.41), which is typical of all believers today being anointed by the Spirit of God to enable them for priestly service (1 John 2:20). Also they were consecrated, indicating their being entirely devoted to God's interests; and were sanctified, that is, set apart from others for the sacred purpose of glorifying God. How good it is for believers to keep these things in mind as regards their great dignity of being priests of God.
For both Aaron and his sons trousers were also made of linen (v.42). These were evidently undershorts, for they reached only from the waist to the thighs. Moral purity is again emphasized in these. They all must have these under garments on when entering the tabernacle, for they must rightly represent the purity of the Lord Jesus as before the eye of God. The penalty for disobedience would be death (v.43).