Gleanings In Exodus
48. Aaron’s Garments
In the preceding article we pointed out how that the interpretation and application of the typical teachings found in the Pentateuch concerning Israel’s priesthood calls for heavenly wisdom and guidance. In the light of the Epistle to the Hebrews it is clear that there are many points of contrast as well as comparison. But that which it is most important to see is, that when commenting there, on the types of Exodus and Leviticus, the Holy Spirit has expressly declared that the entire ritual of the Tabernacle was "a figure for the time then present" (Heb. 9:9), that it was "a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (10:1). They were not given to Israel as a model for Christians to imitate, but as a foreshadowing of spiritual things which find their fulfillment in Christ Himself. The holy places made with hands were "figures of the true," that is of "Heaven itself" (Heb. 9:24). A true apprehension of this is our only safeguard against the sacerdotalism and ritualism which the flesh so much delights in. After the advent, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the shadows must vanish before the substance. As one has well said, "To imitate a revival of that which God Himself has set aside by a fulfillment perfect and glorious, is audacious, and full of peril to the souls of men. It is not even the shadow of a substance; but the unauthorized shadow of a departed shade." It is failure to observe this which has wrought such confusion and havoc in Christendom, resulting in the denial of that which lies at the very foundation of Christianity.
Under the Mosaic economy, the priests were a special class appointed to minister unto God on behalf of the people. They enjoyed privileges which were not shared by others. Theirs was a nearness to Jehovah peculiar to themselves. They were vested with an authority and were permitted to do that which was not given to those whom they represented. But at the Cross a radical change was brought about. The old order ended, and a new one was inaugurated. Judaism ceased, and Christianity was introduced. Two symbolic actions gave plain intimation of this. First, in Matthew 26:65 we are told, "the high priest rent his clothes," which was expressly forbidden by the law, see Leviticus 21:10. God permitted this to show that Israel’s priesthood was ended—clothes are only torn to pieces when there is no further use for them. Second, the rending of the veil (Matthew 27:51): the barrier into God’s presence no longer existed for His people.
In Hebrews 5 and 7 the Holy Spirit has carefully called attention to a number of contrasts between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Christ. One of the things which qualified Israel’s high priest to officiate in that office was that he could have compassion on them that were ignorant or out of the way, because he himself was compassed with infirmity (5:2); but the Christian’s High Priest is "Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (7:26). Again, in Hebrews 5:3 it is pointed out that Israel’s high priest needed to offer sacrifice for his own sins: but Christ was "the Holy One of God," and "knew no sin." Again, the priests of the house of Levi were made "without an oath" (7:21), and in consequence, some of them were cut off from the priesthood, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, and Eli’s line; but Christ was made Priest with an oath, "by Him that said unto Him, The Lord swear and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (7:21). Finally, Aaron was made a priest after the law of a carnal commandment (i.e., that which pertained to mortality), but Christ "after the power of an endless life" (7:16).
In view of these differences, and of the exalted superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Aaronic, we are told, "for the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb. 7:12); that is, in its narrower sense, a "change" in the law pertaining to the priesthood; in its wider sense, a "change’ concerning the ceremonial law. It is important to note that no part of the ceremonial law was given to Israel till after the priesthood was established. Thus, this "change of the law" signified a change of dispensation and everything that pertained to the priesthood.
Now, it is this "change" in the law pertaining to priesthood which the Papacy, and all who are infected by its sacerdotal spirit, sets aside. Romanism is largely a revival of Judaism, plus the corruptions of Paganism. It is a deliberate and pernicious repudiation of what is distinctive in Christianity. It is a wicked denial of the perpetual efficacy of the one offering of the Lord Jesus. Rome perpetuates the Levitical order, claiming that her priests, like Aaron and his sons, are specially authorized and qualified to go to God on behalf of their fellow-men. But 1 Peter 2:5, 9 affirms that all believers are now "priests," and that all of God’s people alike enjoy liberty of access into the Holiest (Heb. 10:19, 22). As another has truly said, "The feeblest member of the household of faith is as much a priest as the apostle Peter himself. He is a spiritual priest—he worships in a spiritual temple, he stands at a spiritual altar, he offers a spiritual sacrifice, he is clad in spiritual vestments." That spiritual temple is Heaven itself, which he enters in spirit through the rent veil; that spiritual altar (Heb. 13:10) is Christ Himself—the altar which "sanctifieth the gift" (Matthew 23:19); that spiritual sacrifice is praise unto God (Heb. 13:15.).
Coming now to the robes of Israel’s high priest we would call attention once more to the order of Jehovah’s instructions to Moses. In Exodus 29 we have an account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons to their holy office. But before this is given, in Exodus 28, a description is furnished of the various garments they were to wear. First, the vestments of the high priest are detailed, and then those of Aaron’s sons. The anointed eye may easily discern the propriety of and the reason for this. Typically, the garments foreshadowed the manifold glories of Christ, the great High Priest, which glories and perfections manifested His fitness for that office. The holy garments of Aaron were "for glory and beauty": they gave dignity to his person, being suitable apparel for his position. In figure they pointed to Christ in all His perfections with the Father before He was "consecrated" to His work for us.
"And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty" (v. 2). With this should be compared Leviticus 16:4, "He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments." There were two sets of clothing provided for Israel’s high priest: the one mentioned in Leviticus 16 was what he wore on the annual Day of Atonement. Then he was robed only in spotless white, foreshadowing the personal righteousness and holiness of the Lord Jesus, which fitted Him to undertake the stupendous work of putting away the sins of His people.
It is worthy of note that the garments of Aaron which were "for glory and for beauty" were just seven in number. "And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office" (28:4). In addition to the six articles mentioned here, is the "plate of pure gold" on which was engraved the words "Holiness to the Lord" (v. 36). This, as Leviticus 8:9 tells us, was "the holy crown." Observe that in the enumeration given in 28:4 the "breastplate" comes before the others, but in the details which follow the order is changed: there it is the ephod, the girdle, the two stones, set upon the shoulders of the ephod, and then the breastplate. The "breastplate" was the chief and most costly of the vestments, the other garments being, as it were, a foundation and background for it—this central article pointing to the very heart of Christ Himself.
"And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. It shall have the two shoulder-pieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together" (vv. 6, 7). The "ephod" is the first garment described in detail. This was the outer robe of the high priest. It was made of two parts, one covering his back and the other his front; these being joined together at the shoulders by golden clasps, which formed the setting for the onyx stones. The ephod served to support the breastplate. The materials of which it was made were "gold," and "fine twined linen"—the blue, purple, and scarlet being emblazoned upon the latter. The mode by which the gold was interlaced with the linen is described in Exodus 39:3: "And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it in the blue," etc. Thus the strength and sheen of the gold was intimately blended with every part of the ephod, giving firmness as well as brilliancy to the whole fabric.
The spotless linen spoke of the holy humanity of Christ; the gold, of His divine glory; the colors, of the varied perfections of His character. "Christ acts for us as Priest in all that He is as Divine and human, the God-man. The whole value of His person enters into the exercise of His office . . .The apostle combines these two things in the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘Seeing then that we have a Great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.’ He is Jesus, and He is the Son of God. It is this most precious truth that is displayed m type in the materials of the ephod. How it enlarges our conceptions of the value of His work for us as Priest to remember what He is in Himself, and that we are thus upheld in His intercession by all that He is as Jesus, and as the Son of God" (Mr. E. Dennett).
"And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof: gold, blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen" (v. 8). In v. 39 we learn that this girdle was made of "needlework." The "girdle" speaks of preparedness for service. Beautifully is this brought out in Luke 12:37: "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them." In the days of His flesh "He took a towel and girded Himself, and then He washed the disciple’s feet" (John 13). Today He stands in the midst of His churches, girt about the breasts with a golden girdle (Rev. 1:13), ready to serve His people on earth. In the millennium it will be said, "And righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins" (Isa. 11:5).
It is most blessed to note that in Jehovah’s instructions to Moses He said, "It shall be of the same, according to the work for thereof." The girdle of the high priest was of the same materials and beautified with the same lovely colors as the ephod itself, How this tells us that the present gracious activities of Christ’s priestly service on our behalf are according to the perfections of His own person and character as the God-man! Though glorified, He is a Servant still, He is gone into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24), and there He "ever liveth to make intercession for us" (Heb. 7:25).
We come next to the two onyx stones—read carefully Exodus 28:9-13. Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word translated "onyx is derived from an unused root signifying "to shine with the lustre of fire." They were very different from the "onyx" of modern times, which is neither a costly nor brilliant stone. Job 28:16 speaks of "the precious onyx!" Upon these stones were engraved the names of the children of Israel. They were enclosed in "ouches," or, as the Hebrew word denotes, "settings." These, in turn, were secured by "two chains of pure gold" (v. 14), and securely fastened to the shoulders of the ephod. They were borne before the Lord by Aaron "for a memorial." In its typical application to the saints today, this tells of their perfect security. The "shoulder" (cf. Luke 15:5) is the place of strength (Isa. 9:6), and tells us that the omnipotence of Christ is engaged on the behalf of His people. It is not our strength, but His—"Kept by the power of God" (1 Pet. l:5). It is not our perseverance, but His—"He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him" (2 Tim. 1:12). "The shoulder which sustains the universe (Heb. 1:3), upholds the feeblest and most obscure member of the blood-bought congregation" (C.H.M.). The order in which the names of Israel’s tribes were engraved upon the two shoulder-stones was "according to their birth": spiritually this signifies their equality, for as born of God, all the saints have the same nature, the same moral features, the same acceptance to Christ.
Next comes the "breastplate," which we pass by now; as we purpose devoting a separate article to its consideration.
"And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue. And there shall be an hole in the top of it, in the midst thereof; it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of an habergeon, that it be not rent" (vv. 31:32). This robe was worn over the fine linen coat, but underneath the ephod. It was a long loose garment, of woven work, complete in one piece, with openings for head and arms. This is the first time at the word "robe" is found in Scripture. How striking that the "robe" is sever seen until the high priest comes before us! The various connections in which his word is found in later passages indicates that this robe of the ephod was a garment of dignity, one of office, one which gave priestly character to Aaron—see 1 Samuel 24:4, 1 Chronicles 15:27. Job 29:14, Ezekiel 26:16. This robe embodied the color of the heavens; it was all of blue. It portrayed the heavenly character of our great High Priest, and also pointed to the place where He is now ministering on our behalf. This is most important, for it defines the essential nature of Christianity as contra-distinguished from Judaism. The whole system takes its character from the Priest. Because Christ is a heavenly Priest, His people are partakers of a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), their citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), their inheritance is there (1 Pet. 1). Being worn beneath the ephod itself, this "robe" announces that the official character of Christ is sustained by what He is personally as the Heavenly One (1 Cor. 15:47).
Upon the hem of this "robe of the ephod" were colored tassels in the form of "pomegranates," and between each of these was a "golden bell," vv. 33:34. Pomegranate is a fruit, whose seeds float in a crimson liquid; the bell, with its tongue, tells of musical speech. Every step that Aaron took as he went about his sacred duties would cause the golden bells to sound and the variegated pomegranates to be seen. So the activities of our great High Priest cause His voice to be heard in intercession within the heavenly sanctuary, and this results in His fruit being seen through "bringing many sons unto glory" and by the graces which adorn their lives.
The words "his sound shall be heard when he goeth into the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out" (v. 35) has a dispensational significance. It was at His ascension that our great High Priest passed into the heavenly sanctuary, and consequent upon this, on the day of Pentecost, His "sound" was heard in the testimony to Himself which was borne by the apostles as the result of the Holy Spirit being poured out from on high. The "fruit" was seen in the multitude that was then saved. Even more glorious will be His sound and fruit when "he cometh out" again, and returns to this earth and redeems His people Israel. The linking of the two together may be seen by a reference to Acts 2:16, 17. where we find Peter quoting from the prophecy of Joel—a prophecy which is to receive its fulfillment in the Millennium: but a sample of which was given on the day of Pentecost.
We next have the "plate of pure gold," upon which was engraved "holiness to the Lord." This was attached to a background of "blue lace" and fastened upon the forefront of the mitre (vv. 36, 37). "The inscription, ‘Holiness to the Lord,’ signified that the high priest was devoted to, dedicated exclusively to, Jehovah; the golden plate upon which it was engraved sets forth that He who is the One thus truly dedicated to God, ‘holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners,’ is Divine, the very Son of God: the blue lace upon which it was placed, His heavenliness of character. Thus conspicuous upon Aaron’s forehead, it gave its meaning to the whole of his garments and of his office—he was sacred to the Lord, and, as such, interceded for Israel, representing them, and in himself hallowing the gifts of the people" (Mr. C. H. Bright).
"And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead. that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts" (v. 38) "This is the gracious provision which God has made for the imperfections and defilements of our services and worship. He can only accept that which is suited to His own nature. Everything offered to Him, therefore, must be stamped with holiness. This being so, notwithstanding that we are cleansed and brought into relation with Hint, and have a title to approach, our offerings never could be accepted. But He has met our need. Christ, as Priest, bears the iniquity of our holy things; and He is holiness to the Lord, so that our worship, as presented through Him. is acceptable to God. Blessed consolation, for without this provision we were shut out from God’s presence! Hence the apostle speaks not only of the blood and the rent veil, but also of the High Priest over the house of God (Heb. 10)" (Mr. E. Dennett)—cf. Revelation 8:3!
Beautiful are the closing words of v. 38: "And it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord." This golden-plate was the symbol of the essential holiness of the Lord Jesus. The saints are represented by Him and accepted in Him. Because of their legal and vital union with Him, His holiness is theirs. O Christian reader, look away from yourself, with your ten thousand failures, and fix your eye on that golden plate. Behold in the perfections of your great High Priest the measure of thine eternal acceptance with God. Christ is our sanctification as well as our righteousness!
"And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen" (v. 39). Apparently the word "embroider" here is explained by what we are told in 39:27: "They made coats of fine linen of woven work for Aaron and his sons." This fine linen "coat" was the inner garment, and was supplemented with linen "breeches" or pants (v. 42). These may be called the high priest’s personal raiment, even as the more beautiful external garments were his official vestments. As we have shown previously, "fine linen" was the emblem of purity. There is a verse in the Psalms which confirms this: "Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness" (132:9). Typically, these undergarments spoke of the personal righteousness of Christ, over which (so to speak) all His other perfections and glories were displayed. It reminds us of that blessed word in 1 John 2:1, "If any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous."
"And thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen" (v. 39). This was the head-dress of Aaron, and distinguished him from the ordinary priests, who wore "bonnets" (v. 40). The Hebrew word is derived from a verb which means "to roll, or wind around." This may denote that the high priest’s mitre was wound around his head, like a tiara. In 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, where we have Divine instruction for the covering of the women’s heads in the assembly of the saints, we learn that this symbolizes subjection. Thus the head-dress of the high priest intimated his subordination to God, his obedience to God’s commands and submission to His will. The fine linen of which it was made, tells of the personal righteousness which must be found in the one who stands in the presence of God on behalf of others.
It is most solemn to discover that the only other time "mitznepheth" occurs in Scripture is in Ezekiel 21:25, 27, where the Antichrist is in view. There the Hebrew word is translated "diadem," but should have been rendered "mitre" as in Exodus 28. This remarkable prophecy shows that the Man of Sin, who is yet to be revealed, will not only wear the crown of royalty, but will also assume the high priest’s mitre. He will not only be the supreme civil head, but the ecclesiastical pontiff as well. This "profane and wicked prince of Israel" will arrogantly and blasphemously wield both regal and priestly power, in Satanic parody of the true Priest and King, the Lord Jesus. This age will close with Satan’s son ruling over men, both in the political and religious worlds. Because men have received not the love of the truth that they might be saved, God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe the Lie (2 Thess. 2:3-12).
How profoundly thankful should each Christian reader be for that wondrous grace which has enabled him to flee from the wrath to come and to lay hold of eternal life! What praise is due to God for the great High Priest which His mercy has provided for His feeble and failing people: a Priest who is fully qualified, through His personal perfections, not only to supply our every need, but also to meet every requirement of a holy and righteous God! The last four verses of Exodus 28 will be considered, D.V., when we take up the Consecration of the Priests.