Exodus 28:1. Take Aaron thy brother. Intimations had before been given of this designation; but this is the first express appointment of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. The heads of families had hitherto officiated as priests and offered sacrifices, without any special appointment; but now this practice was retracted, and the sacerdotal office confined to the family of Aaron only. Moses not only gave proof of his disinterestedness, in leaving his own posterity in the rank of private Levites, whilst he confirmed Aaron and his descendants in this important and honourable service; but he made it manifest that he acted entirely by divine direction, Hebrews 5:4-5, which is further evinced by the remarkable circumstance of no provision being made about the succession to the priesthood in case Aaron's family should be extinct. This was according to human observation very probable, especially after the death of Nadab and Abihu, and must have been followed by the entire subversion of the whole form of worship instituted by Moses: for it was fundamental to it that no person in any age, or in any case, should officiate as priest under the penalty of death, except he was of Aaron's family. Yet in entire confidence that God would provide for the continuance of the religion which he had appointed, and being conscious that he acted by his authority, Moses left the whole dependent on an apparent mere contingency. This is what human policy would never have done; but the providence of God took care of that which was thus simply committed to him. The priests of the family of Aaron increased, and continued as long as that dispensation continued, and until the new dispensation was introduced.
Exodus 28:2. Holy garments. Whatever was separated from common uses, and consecrated to the immediate service of God, was called HOLY, whether it were person or thing. These garments were not only intended to distinguish the priest from the people, and to decorate them and render their persons and ministrations respected by the people; but they were emblematical of that holy conversation and conduct, which should ever be the “glory and beauty,” the distinguishing mark of the ministers of religion: without which they and the services they perform will be had in contempt. They were also especially typical of the glory of the divine majesty, and the beauty of complete holiness, which rendered Jesus Christ such a High Priest as became us, and stamped infinite value on his whole work.
Exodus 28:3. Wise-hearted. Whoever is endowed with skill to perform the service assigned him in the church of God, and does it uprightly and diligently, is “wise-hearted,” and will give God the glory of making him so. All natural wisdom is the gift of God, but this seems to have been supernaturally bestowed.
Exodus 28:6. The ephod, or the priest's outer garment, as in Exodus 25:7. Ephods were worn by the inferior priests, and even by others on some occasions, as by Samuel when a child, and by David when he danced before the ark: but they were made only of linen. This ephod of gold was formed of costly materials, and had much gold wrought up in it. It was girded on by a girdle curiously woven or wrought, of the same materials, and was buttoned upon each shoulder with a precious stone set in gold. On these two stones were engraven the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, which were fastened into chains of gold. Thus Christ appeared to John, “girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” Righteousness was the girdle of his loins; he was clad with zeal as with a cloak, and the government was upon his shoulders. He bears the names of the people before God, as a memorial; and as their Representative and Advocate, acts with all his power on their behalf, and maintains their cause.
Exodus 28:15. The breastplate of judgment was a double piece of cloth, a span square, richly wrought, and fastened with chains of gold to the golden ephod, upon the breast of the highpriest. In this breastplate were fixed twelve precious stones of different kinds, an emblem of the diverse excellencies of the members of the church of Christ, who amongst them possess all that is valuable upon earth. These stones were set in gold, each with the name of its tribe engraven upon it. This breastplate Aaron wore, when he went into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord; not only that he might present their cause before him, but that he himself might be reminded that he acted in a public character, and was to have the interest of all the tribes of Israel, whom he represented, near his heart, without prejudice or partiality. In this he was an evident type of Christ, who has the name of every individual of his people ever engraven upon his heart; and within the veil will be sure never to forget or neglect any of them, or of their concerns, however destitute or despicable they may be upon earth; but will care for them with his whole heart. The heathens had a teraphim, as in Ezekiel 21:21; and Zechariah 10:2. The ancient judges also wore breastplates of judgment, indicative that their decisions were clear and perfect.
Exodus 28:19. A ligure. The ancients do not apparently know what this gem precisely was; and indeed biblical critics are not always good naturalists. The variations of their opinion is proof of this. Gems sport their faces and brilliant beauties conformably to determinate laws; the tints arise from metalic essences in the rocks and cavities where they are formed. The Abbe Haüy is of opinion that it is the different proportions of oxygen which constitute the variation in their shades of colour. The topaz occurs, burning and yellow. The quartz comprises the purple amethyst, chrysoprasus, hyaline, and opal; some the colour of amber and of oil. The girson of hyacinth, the sapphire of indigo blue, the emerald of various green. The ruby of red, including the spinel. The granate of various tints. The tourmaline occurs, blue, green, or red. The peridote has many varieties. These modern names comprise the stones in the highpriest's pectoral. We must therefore regard this studded plate of gold as the noblest production of nature, and the brightest work of art ever presented to the human eye. And when the uncreated Glory shone upon it from the mercy-seat, it would refract all the colours of the rainbow, diverging its rays numerous as the faces of the gems with responsive glory to the emanation of a reconciled God. So Christ bears the names of his saints always on his breast.
Exodus 28:30. The Urim and Thummim; words equivalent to light and perfection. Let us hear what the scriptures say farther on this subject. “Joshua shall stand before Eleazer the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of the Urim, before the Lord.” Numbers 27:21. Conformably to the divine answer, war was conducted or suppressed. “When Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” 1 Samuel 28:6. “Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one,” that is, the priest. Deuteronomy 33:8. Phinehas stood before the ark and said, “shall I go up against my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, go up; for to-morrow I will deliver them into thy hand.” Judges 20:28. This is all we know of the Hebrew oracle, the oracle of the living God. Happy was Israel to have God so nigh unto them. When the emperor Alexander wished to consult the Hebrew oracle respecting his expedition to Persia, Jaddo, the highpriest said, “that from the day that the house of Israel were carried to Babylon, they had, remained ignorant of the Urim and Thummim.”
It is a fact fully recorded in ancient history, that all the great temples of the heathens had their oracles. The druids everywhere, on great occasions, asked counsel of their gods. Those oracles, whether real or pretended, are regarded by Isaiah with great contempt and high disdain, Exodus 29:4. The oracle at Delphos in the temple of Apollo, near Mount Parnassus, was so popular that the world, on great occasions, resorted there with offerings to consult the oracle. Strabo, book 9., reports that Pythoness, when seized with the prophetic spirit, foamed and rolled, as though furiously intoxicated with wine, and uttered confused words, which the priests about her put in distinct but ambiguous expressions, sometimes in prose, and sometimes in verse. Of those oracles we have specimens in Herodotus. The voice seemed to proceed from a small aperture in the cavern of a rock. Those assuredly were but the dark wiles of Satan, by which he would obscure the glory of divine revelation. The christian church knows of no oracle but the throne of grace.
Exodus 28:31. The robe of the ephod was the middle garment, worn under the ephod, and above the coat. It had a hole, through which the head was to pass, when it was put on; and seems to have been carefully formed of one piece, that it might not be rent. This reminds us of Christ's coat, which was without seam, woven from the top throughout, and was not rent, but cast lots for by the soldiers. This also was emblematical of his perfect, uninterrupted obedience to the divine law, and of the unbroken harmony which should subsist in his church. Upon the hem of Aaron's robe were golden bells, and pomegranates round about, which represented the sound of divine truth preached or professed, being joined with the precious fruits of holiness in the ministers of the gospel, and in all true christians. This sacred vest typified especially the glad tidings which Christ was anointed to preach, and the fragrant fruits of his priesthood, which he confers upon his church. The bells were also intended to give notice to the people when the highpriest entered into the most holy place: perhaps they might join his burning the incense, and sprinkling the blood, with their prayers. Luke 1:10. It is added, that he die not; which he might expect to do, if he acted not according to the prescribed rules.
Exodus 28:36. Upon the mitre; a cap with a high crown, made of linen; to this was affixed a golden plate, on which was inscribed HOLINESS TO THE LORD. This might be designed to teach him to remember his sacred office and character, and to take care not to disgrace it, nor to be ashamed of it, nor to wish to conceal it: it might also remind the people to honour his person and ministrations. But especially it represented our great High Priest, whose perfect holiness, and voluntary dedication of himself in our behalf unto the Father, to fulfil his will and magnify his law, by obedience unto death, have rendered him the fountain of holiness to his people, who are sanctified by his truth, and by his Spirit. He also bears the iniquity of our holy things; and by his prevailing intercession renders our sinful persons and imperfect services acceptable with a holy God. Coat of fine linen. This was the tunic, or innermost garment, which had sleeves to the wrist, as is supposed, and was bound on with a linen girdle. The whole of the priest's princely and grand array is understood to be a figure of the glory and grace of Christ.
Exodus 28:40. Coats and girdles. The garments of the inferior priest, though neither so costly as those of the highpriest, nor so particularly described, are said to be “for glory and for beauty,” as well as the others. They typified that holiness which was glorious and beautiful in Christ, and which is for glory and beauty to all who are adorned with it.
Exodus 28:42. Linen to cover them. The priests were to be clothed in the most decent and modest manner. Our garments were first necessary to hide the shame of a sinner's nakedness; and when we use them for ostentation we foolishly glory in our shame. They who prefer ornament to modesty do still worse; but it is worst of all to be guilty of pride and indecency in the courts of the Lord's house.
Exodus 28:43. That they bear not iniquity. All this was to impress them, and us, with a sense of God's holiness, and of our sinfulness. To teach us that God will be had in reverence of all them that are round about him, and will not be approached by a sinner, but in the name of Jesus Christ.
Blessed be God that we have such a Highpriest, as is in this chapter typically delineated; one solemnly appointed of God, and consecrated to his work; one furnished for his high office by the glory of his divine majesty, and the beauty of perfect holiness; one who bears the names of all his people upon his heart, presenting them, and all their several cases before the Father in heaven, and everliving by his continual intercession to apply the salvation which his sacrifice has purchased; in whom are illuminations and perfections, even inexhaustible treasures of wisdom and grace. Happy, if by the law spiritually understood we have so obtained the knowledge of sin, as to see that such a Highpriest became us; that we can have no access to or acceptance with a holy God but by him; no light, no wisdom, no perfection but from him; no glory nor beauty, but in conformity to him. If this be our experience, let us take encouragement from the power, love, and compassion of our Highpriest to the meanest of his people, “to draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16. “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29.