Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
51. The Vestments of the Priests
"Thy testimonies are wonderful" (Ps. 119:129). The one who first penned these words had a much smaller Bible than we now have. Little more than the Pentateuch had been written in the Psalmist’s time, yet his study of the first five books of Holy Writ moved David to wonderment as he pondered their contents. All that is said of the tabernacle and its priesthood, down to its minutest detail, is indeed "wonderful": wonderful in its depth, for there is much here which none has yet fathomed; wonderful in its freshness, for the Holy Spirit is ever revealing new beauties therein; wonderful in its preciousness, for the one in communion with its Author must say, "More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey or the honeycomb" (Ps. 19:10).
There is another and more comprehensive reason why God’s testimonies are "wonderful," and that is, because they are concerned with Him whose name is called "Wonderful" (Isa. 9:6). Said the Lord Jesus, as He came into this world, "Lo I come—in the volume of the Book it is written of Me—to do Thy will O God" (Heb. 10:7). Hence, to the unbelieving Pharisees He said, "Search the Scriptures . . . for they are they which testify of Me." The incarnate Word is the key to the written Word. It is the Person and Work of Christ which gives meaning and blessedness to what is found in the Old Testament types. "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).
But it is just because the Scriptures testify of Christ that He alone can expound them to us. Their Divine Inspirer must also be their Interpreter if we are to discern their spiritual import. As we read in Luke 24:45, "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." This is our deep need, too, to ask Him to anoint our eyes with eyesalve that we may see (Rev. 3:18). It is only as He does thus anoint our eyes, that we are enabled to discern in many an Old Testament character, ritual, symbol, wondrous and perfect foreshadowments of Himself. Oh that He may, increasingly. instruct both writer and reader.
"Thy testimonies are wonderful," wonderful also in their very arrangement. Again and again in the course of these articles upon Exodus we have called attention to this striking feature. In what is now to be before us, we have still another example. The order of the contents of Exodus 28 is most suggestive and significant. The whole chapter has to do with the priests and their vestments. First, in v. 1, before details are entered into, Aaron and his sons are seen together. This, as already pointed out, typified Christ and His people in their perfect union. Then, in vv. 2 to 39, we have described the robes and insignia of Aaron himself. Finally, in vv. 40-43, reference is made to the vestments of Aaron’s sons. Who can fail to see here the handiwork of God? In all things Christ must have the pre-eminence: first the garments of the high priest are mentioned, then those of the priestly family!
"And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty" (v. 40). It is very striking and most blessed to mark that here we have repeated what was said in v. 2. There, we read how that Jehovah said to Moses, "And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for glory and for beauty." So here in v. 40 the Lord gave instruction that Aaron’s sons should also have robes made for them for "glory and for beauty." As pointed out in the previous articles, the various garments worn by Aaron, pointed to the inherent, essential and personal excellencies of our great High Priest. That which was prefigured in those worn by Aaron’s sons was the graces with which Christ’s people are endowed, by virtue of their association with Him.
All believers are priests. All Christians have been consecrated to and for Divine service; all have access to God, a place within the heavenly sanctuary. They have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 10:6). They are a "holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, which are acceptable to God by Christ Jesus" (1 Pet. 2:5). They are also "a royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9), because united to Him who is King of kings. There is no Scriptural warrant at all for a separate priestly class among Christians; all have equal title to draw near to God (Heb. 10:22). Every Christian is a "priest," for he worships in a spiritual temple (Heb. 10:19), he stands at a spiritual altar (Heb. 13:10), he offers a spiritual sacrifice (Heb. 13:15). But to be priests to God necessitates holy garments. Those belonging to Aaron’s "sons" were four in number, each of which we shall consider separately.
1. Their Coats.
"And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats" (v. 40). This receives amplification in Exodus 39:27, where we are told, "And they made coats of fine linen of woven work for Aaron and for his sons." As we have seen in earlier articles, the "fine linen" speaks of the spotless purity and holiness of Christ. "The robing of Aaron’s sons is really the putting on of Christ; and this, in fact, brings them into association with Him; for the church possesses nothing apart from Christ. If believers, for example, are brought into the position of priests, and the enjoyment of priestly privileges, it is in virtue of their connection with Him. He is the Priest, and He it is that makes them priests (see Rev. 1:5, 6). Everything flows from Him. Thus, when Aaron is put into company with his sons, it is not so much that he becomes merged into the priestly family, but rather to teach that all the blessings and privileges of the priestly family are derived from Christ. But in order to do this they must first be invested with robes of glory and for beauty—robes which adorn them with the glory and beauty of Christ" (Ed. Dennett).
More specifically, these spotless linen coats of the priests set forth the righteousness with which the saints are clothed. Our own righteousnesses art as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). But these have been removed, and in their place the "best robe" of Christ’s righteousness has been placed upon us (Luke 15:22). This is strikingly and blessedly set forth in Zechariah 3: "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood, before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment" (vv. 3, 4). It is because of this that the believer sings, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels" (Isa. 61:10.)
Of old it was said, "Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy... I will also clothe her priests with salvation" (Ps. 132:9, 16). The answer to this is given in the New Testament, where we are told that God has made Christ to be "unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30); and again, "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).
"Aaron, as the high priest, appeared in the presence of the Lord in a representative character, personating, we may say, the whole nation of Israel, and upholding it in the glory and beauty required by God; bearing the names of the tribes on his shoulders and breastplate, graven on precious stones. His sons, the priests, stood in no such official dignity, but had access into the holy place and ministered at the altar on behalf of the people; not as representing them, but rather as leaders of their worship, and instructors of them in the holy things of God. They were types of one aspect of the church of God—the heavenly priesthood. In the Revelation, the four and twenty elders have a priestly standing; they form the heavenly council, being ‘elders,’ and therefore also judges. They are seated on ‘thrones’ because kings. They are clothed in white raiment as priests, and they have on their heads crowns of gold, that is, victors’ crowns as chaplets (Rev. 4:4).
"The countless multitude are also seen clothed with white robes; a priestly company serving day and night in the temple (7:9). The Lamb’s wife is seen arrayed in fine linen, clean and white (19:8). We have white raiment also alluded to in Revelation 3:4, 18 and 6:11. Thus the priestly dress of fine linen, and the garments of unsullied whiteness, represent the same thing—spotless righteousness. The standing of the believer in Christ before God not being his own righteousness, but the righteousness of God which is by faith" (H. W. Soltau).
Ere passing from this part of the priests’ vestments, we need to be reminded that our desire and aim concerning our state should ever be an approximation unto our standing. The Christian’s condition in this world ought to correspond to his position before God. Thus, while in Galatians 3:27 it is said, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," in Romans 13:14 we are exhorted "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." To do this we need to have the heart constantly engaged with Christ, remembering that He has left us "an example, that ye should follow His steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). O to be more engaged with Him who is fairer than the children of men.
2. Their Girdles.
"And thou shalt make for them girdles" (v. 40). With this should be compared what we are told in 39:29, "And a girdle of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, of needlework; as the Lord commanded Moses." Some have thought that because "girdle" is here found in the singular number that the reference must be to that alone which was worn by the high priest. But this is a mistake, his "girdle" is described in 28:8, and it will be seen by a careful comparison with 39:29 that it differed from those worn by the priests in this respect: his had "gold" in it, theirs did not.
It is only by comparing Scripture with Scripture that we can rightly interpret any figure or symbol. Two thoughts are suggested by the "girdle": it is an equipment for service, it is a means of strength. First, we may note Luke 12:35, 36, "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord." This is an exhortation from Christ for His people to be ready for His return. Here two things are prefaced: they must be active in service and faithful in testimony. As another has said, "The hope of our Lord’s return will not really abide in the heart unless we keep our loins girded, as engaged in the Master’s work, and unless our light shines out before men. An inactive believer is sure to become a worldly-minded one. He will have companionship with men of the world, whose intoxicating pursuits of avarice, ambition, and pleasure deaden their hearts and consciences to all the truth of God. ‘Occupy till I come’ is another precept of the same kind as ‘let your loins be girded.’"
Another New Testament exhortation where this figure of the "girdle" is used occurs in 1 Peter 1:13, "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Here believers are addressed as "strangers and pilgrims," passing through the wilderness on their way to the promised inheritance (vv. 1, 4). Two great motives are presented to them: the sufferings of Christ and the glory that shall follow (v. 1). Thus, in order to be constantly pressing onwards we must stay our minds upon Christ, ever contemplating Him in His two characters as the Victim and as the Victor. A man who fails to use the "girdle," allowing his garments to hang loose, is impeded in his movements and progress. Loose thoughts and wandering imaginations must be gathered in, and our hearts and understandings set upon the death, resurrection, and return of Christ, if we would pursue our journey with less distraction.
Ephesians 6 informs us of the nature of our "girdle": "Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth"(vv. 13, 14). Here the believer is contemplated in still another character. He is not only a priest to serve God, and a pilgrim journeying to another country, he is also a soldier, called on to "fight the good fight of faith" and to "wrestle" (v. 12). But no matter in what relationship he is viewed, the "girdle" is essential. It is striking to note that the "girdle" is mentioned first in Ephesians 6:14-18, and that here the two separate thoughts suggested in connection therewith are combined. The whole strength of the warrior to stand and wrestle, depends upon the close fitting of his firm girdle. If his outer garments are loose and trailing (carelessness in his ways), or if his loins (the place of strength) be not supported and sustained by God’s truth, Satan will soon overcome him, and instead of "standing"—experimentally maintaining his high calling in Christ—he will be cast down, to sink into the darkness of the world’s delusions; ensnared either by its vanities and glittering honors, or its learned speculations of "vain philosophy" and "science falsely so called."
Our loins are to be "girt about with truth." The "girdle," then, speaks of the Word of God, particularly, all that centers in Christ and proceeds from Him. This is the priest’s equipment for service, the pilgrim’s source of strength, the warrior’s staying power. Additional Scriptures which bring in the thought of strength in connection with the "girdle" are found in Revelation 1:13; 15:16. In the former, Christ is seen, "girt about the breasts with a golden girdle," the symbolic significance of this being, the binding of the ephod of blue—the robe of heavenly peace and love—about His heart, so that in the midst of searching words of reproof and warning, mercies might also proceed from "breasts of consolation." In the latter passage, golden girdles are seen about the breasts of the angels—to whom the vials of wrath are entrusted—indicating that their hearts needed strengthening for their terrible work of judgment. Thus, the "girdles" of the priests tell of that equipment and strength for service which is to he found in Christ.
3. Their Bonnets.
"And bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty" (v. 40). "And goodly bonnets of fine linen" (39:28). "The Hebrew word occurs only four times in the Old Testament, and is exclusively used for the head-dress of the priests. It is derived from a verb signifying ‘elevation,’ often used of a hill. They apparently differed from the mitre of the high priest, in the fact that they were bound round the heads of the priests, which is never said of the mitre. In Exodus 29:9 and Leviticus 8:13 the margin of the A.V. correctly gives ‘bind’ for ‘put.’ They were probably rolls of fine linen, folded like a turban round the head. The word translated ‘goodly’ (Ex. 39:28) is worthy of notice. It is rendered ‘tire’ of the heads (Ezek. 24:17, 23); ‘beauty’ (Isa. 61:3); ‘ornaments’ (Isa. 61:10), and is derived from a verb signifying ‘to beautify or glorify’" (Soltau).
There seems to be two thoughts suggested by these "bonnets," which, though at first glance seem widely dissimilar, are, nevertheless, closely related. From the etymology of the word, they speak of elevation or exaltation. On the other hand, from the general tenor of Scripture, the covering of the head betokens subjection (1 Cor. 11:4-10, etc). The orthodox Jew, to this day, always keeps his head covered in the synagogue; and even in private, when reading God’s Word, he covers his head. How, then, are we to harmonize the two things, so different, suggested by this figure? Thus: the priesthood of believers speaks of the high position to which Divine grace has elevated them—they shall, in Heaven, lead the worship of angels. Yet, are they in subjection to Christ, for He will lead their praise (Ps. 22:22). Even now we are in subjection to the revealed will of God; and this is true dignity or elevation. We serve in the liberty of Christ, but as growing "up into Him in all things which is the Head, even Christ" (Eph. 4: 15), avoiding the things mentioned in Colossians 2:18, which tend unto the "not holding the Head" (Col. 2:19).
"These head-tires of white are said to be ‘goodly’ or ‘ornamental.’ There was nothing of display to attract the common gaze, but like the adorning recommended for Christian women (1 Pet. 3:4, 5) they were types of the meek and quite spirit which in the sight of God is of great price. Like the holy women of old who trusted in God, and thus adorned themselves, in subjection to their own husbands" (Soltau). So these "bonnets" of the priests were for glory and beauty. True, complete subjection to God may be little admired by man, but they are lovely in the sight of Heaven.
4. Their Breeches.
"And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs shall they reach. And they shall be upon Aaron and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute forever unto him and his seed after him" (vv. 42, 43). Before taking up the typical teaching of these verses attention should, perhaps, be called to one point in them which, by a comparison with Leviticus 8:13, brings out the strict and high moral standard which God set before Israel. A careful reader of Leviticus 8:13 will note an omission: Moses was ordered to "put" the coats, girdles, and bonnets upon Aaron’s sons, but he was not told to "put" the "breeches" or trousers on them, even though they were his own nephews. Those, they would put on first, before they came to him to be formally invested with the other garments. They must not appear, even before one of their own sex, in the nude!
Unspeakably blessed is the spiritual purport of the present portion of our type, and most helpfully has it been presented by the one from whom we shall now quote. "The first result of the entrance of sin was to discover to man his nakedness (Gen. 3:7). The feeling of shame, a guilty feeling, crept over his soul; and his attention was immediately directed to some mode of quieting his confidence in this respect, that he might appear unabashed in the presence of his fellow. No thought of his fall as it regarded God, or of his inability to stand in His presence, occurred to him. And so it is to this day. The great object which men propose to themselves, is to quieten their own consciences, and to stand well with their neighbors. To this end they invent a religion. But as soon as we have to do with God, the conscience is convicted, and the guilt and shame which before were quieted, spring up within, and nothing can still the restless, uneasiness of the heart. We become aware that all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. The soul in vain attempts concealment. The still, small voice of God sounds within, and drags the culprit out to stand before Him.
"It is here that a righteousness not our own becomes unspeakably precious to the soul. A covering that both blots out all sin, and forever clothes the sinner with spotless purity, which conceals from the searching eye of God all iniquity, and in so doing completely justifies the sinner before Him: Psalm 32:1, 2" (Soltau). Thus these "linen breeches" speak of that perfect provision which God has made for His people in Christ, that which has made an end of the flesh before Him: "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6).
And what is the practical lesson to be drawn from the "breeches"? This: all that is of the flesh must be kept out of sight in our priestly activities. As another has said, "That which is of the flesh is bad anywhere, but it is most of all out of place in the holy service of God. What could be more dreadful than for such things as vanity, jealousy, emulation, or desire to make something of oneself, to come into what should be spiritual service? All that would be, indeed, ‘the flesh of nakedness’: it is not to be seen" (C. A. Coates). Striking are the words of v. 42: "To cover their nakedness from the loins even to the thighs." The whole strength of nature is to be concealed; that power of indwelling evil, which ever opposes God and seeks to mar our walk, must be covered.
Oh, that Divine grace may enable the writer and each Christian reader to put on, experimentally, the linen coat, girdle, bonnet, and breeches; to draw from Christ that strength which will enable us to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously and goldly, in this present world" (Titus 2:12).