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Exodus 28; Servants in God’s Tent – The Priests

04/15 Exodus 28 Servants in God’s Tent: The Priests

We are in Exodus, studying God’s specifications for the place where he will meet with his people. The view he gives us of the tabernacle began with the place of the manifestation of God’s immediate presence, the symbol of God’s throne in the most sacred place, and backs out through the holy place and out into the courtyard, to the means for sinful people to enter God’s presence, the altar of burnt offering. From there, our view is turned to the priests, primarily the high priest, who would be the one to bring the people back into the presence of God. Then, on the way back in, we will see some of the other furniture that was skipped over earlier, like the brass washbasin and the altar of incense, that would specifically be used by the priest as he enters into the holy places to serve. The focus of this chapter is the unique and elaborate clothing that is to be worn when the high priest enters the presence of God.

Oil For Illumination

It is interesting that the specifications for the lampstand are given in chapter 25, but the oil for the lamp is not presented until the end of chapter 27, right before the description of the garments of the priests.

Exodus 27:20 “You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.

The focus turns from the furniture itself to how it is to be used, and specifically to who is to use it. Here we are introduced to Aaron and his sons, who will tend the light. The pure olive oil, oil which is used for anointing, and oil which is used to provide illumination, points forward to the Holy Spirit, who illumines God’s people and anoints them for service. It is appropriate that the oil is presented immediately before those who would serve are are introduced.

Tent of Meeting

It is also interesting that the tabernacle is here for the first time referred to as the ‘tend of meeting’. It is called the tent of meeting because this is the place where God will meet with his people.

Unique Office; Unique Outfit

Let’s look together at the details of this unique outfit that would be worn by the one who would bring God’s sinful people back into his presence, and then we will look to our final High Priest who brings all this to its perfect fulfillment.

Exodus 28:1 “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests–Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2 And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3 You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. 4 These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. 5 They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. 6 “And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. 7 It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. 8 And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen.

Aaron, Moses’ brother, and his sons, are singled out of all Israel to be the ones who would serve God as priests. A priest is one who guards the honor and glory of God, the one who instructs the people on how God is to be approached, and the one who intercedes in the presence of God on behalf of the people. Aaron and his sons would serve in a unique role, they would fill a unique office, and they were to be clothed for service in a way that would be appropriate to that office.

Holy garments were to be made. These were uniforms that would only be worn while a priest was on duty; they were holy; and would visibly set him apart as one who was authorized to serve in the tabernacle. God says that they were to be made for glory and beauty. ‘Glory’ could literally be translated ‘weighty’ or ‘heavy’; as priests who served the very presence of God, they carried a huge, weighty responsibility. They represented the glory of God himself. They would bear the sins of the people into the very presence of a holy God. Their uniforms would display the weightiness of their responsibility. They were also for beauty. They were to match the beauty of the tabernacle itself, with its gold and its lavish royal colors. In fact, the cloth out of which these garments were made would match the cloth of the tabernacle itself; royal colors, blue, purple and scarlet, colors of the sky, beautiful flame colored garments. In chapter 39, which records the actual making of these garments, there is added detail about how gold leaf was to be hammered out and cut into threads to be woven into the holy garments. These would be uniforms appropriate for those who serve in the courts of the King of kings.

Names on His Shoulders

There is some very specific symbolism built into the uniform of the high priest.

9 You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. 11 As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. 12 And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance. 13 You shall make settings of gold filigree, 14 and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.

The high priest was to bear stones of remembrance on his shoulders into the presence of the LORD. These two onyx stones were engraved with the names of the the twelve tribes of Israel. He was to bear them on his shoulders. Shoulders are designed to bear burdens. This one man would carry the weight of the whole nation of Israel on his shoulders. He would carry them before God for remembrance. The exodus event started when the people of God cried out for help, and we are told that God heard, God remembered, God saw and God knew (Ex.2:23-25). Here, God was providing a regular way for his people to be symbolically and regularly brought to remembrance. Their names were carried into the presence of the LORD on the shoulders of the high priest.

Names on His Heart

There was a second way God’s people were to be carried by the high priest before the presence of the LORD.

15 “You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work. In the style of the ephod you shall make it–of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen shall you make it. 16 It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. 17 You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; 18 and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; 19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. 21 There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. 22 You shall make for the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. 23 And you shall make for the breastpiece two rings of gold, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. 24 And you shall put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. 25 The two ends of the two cords you shall attach to the two settings of filigree, and so attach it in front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. 26 You shall make two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. 27 And you shall make two rings of gold, and attach them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, at its seam above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 28 And they shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it may lie on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, so that the breastpiece shall not come loose from the ephod. 29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.

The high priest carried the names of the tribes into God’s presence, six on each shoulder. He also had them each deeply engraved, as a signet ring would be engraved to leave an impression, each on a precious stone mounted in gold settings on a cloth pouch. This pouch was bound over his heart. This may provide the background to the expression of love we find in the Song of Solomon:

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.

The high priest was to engage both his strength (shoulders) and his mind, will and emotions (heart) in carrying his people before his LORD. This ministry of intercession was to engage his whole being.

God’s Guidance

This breastpiece, bearing the names of each of the tribes of Israel, also had another function. It was called ‘the breastpiece of judgment’; or ‘the breastpiece of decision’.

30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.

We don’t know much about Urim and Thummim, except that their function was a means of receiving guidance from the LORD in making decisions. The words mean ‘lights and perfections’ or ‘lights and darks’, possibly differently colored stones that were used to determine the will of the LORD by casting lots. The breastpiece served as a pocket to hold the means by which the high priest could inquire direction of the LORD on behalf of the people.

Warning Bells

31 “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear. 33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. 35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.

The purpose of the bells on the hem of the robe of the high priest were to make noise and announce his presence in the holy place so that he would not die. Entering the presence of the LORD was to be taken seriously. The privacy of God’s holy presence was symbolically guarded by this part of the uniform.

Holiness of Mind

36 “You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ 37 And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. 38 It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.

There was to be a reminder, a declaration, bound on the forehead of the high priest, ‘holy to the LORD’. He was to keep at all times on the front of his mind, that he was set apart to the service of the Lord, and the people he represented were also a people set apart, holy. He was the one who would bear their guilt, and the sacrificial blood that covered it, into the presence of the Lord, and he would be the one to bear their gifts, set apart to the Lord, into the presence of the Lord.

To Cover Shame

The concluding note indicates that the rest of Aaron’s sons, those who were not the high priest, were to be similarly but much more simply clothed.

39 “You shall weave the coat in checker work of fine linen, and you shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash embroidered with needlework. 40 “For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty. 41 And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 42 You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; 43 and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him.

Remember back in the garden of Eden, God walked with the man and the woman in perfect fellowship, and they were naked and not ashamed. Their rebellion and sin brought shame and guilt, which must now be covered. God’s priests, who were to enter into fellowship with him were to be appropriately clothed.

No Shoes

One thing is missing from this description of the priest’s clothes. There is no description of any kind of footwear. Nothing is said about shoes. God had told Moses (Ex.3:5) to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. Now the priests who would minister in God’s holy tent, would apparently minister barefoot.

Our Greater High Priest

The author of Hebrews points back to the priests who descended from Aaron and tells us that a much greater High Priest is now on the scene. Our final High Priest is Jesus. Hebrews does not tell us that Jesus is the latest and greatest high priest. He points to the startling fact that Jesus doesn’t qualify to be one of these Old Testament priests at all (Heb.7:13-14). Jesus is from the wrong tribe. He is from the royal tribe of Judah. The priests who served in the tabernacle must be of the tribe of Levi, descended from Aaron. Jesus is a different kind of priest altogether. He tells us that Jesus is a priest not based on lineage, but on the power of an indestructible life (Heb.7:16). He points us to the fact that Old Testament priests had to be replaced because they kept dying (Heb.7:23-24), but Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” He points us to the weakness and uselessness of the old priesthood, because it was ineffective to make anyone perfect (Heb.7:11, 18-19), and its need to be replaced by something better. And that something better is here. Jesus, who has perfect holiness written on his forehead. Jesus is the one who carries our burdens on his strong shoulders and binds us in love over his heart. It was prophesied in Isaiah

Isaiah 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…

Jesus is the one who keeps us in constant remembrance before his Father.

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus is the one who guides us in paths of righteousness. Jesus is the one who covers our shame. Jesus clothes us in the royal robes of his own righteousness.

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

In fact, now that the old is done away with by Jesus our great High Priest, he invites us, each one of us, all of us, to serve him as priests.

1Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

April 15, 2012 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , | Leave a comment