Exodus 28

The Word Made Fresh

1“Summon your brother Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar to come to you. I want them to serve as my priests. 2Have official priestly clothing made for Aaron to give him dignity and honor. 3Instruct those to whom I have given the ability to make the official garments for him: 4a vest, an apron, a robe, a woven gown, a turban and a sash. Tell them to make these official clothes for Aaron and his sons to set them apart as my priests, 5and tell them to weave gold, blue, purple and crimson threads into the fine linen.

6“The apron should be made of gold, blue, purple and crimson yarns skillfully woven into fine linen. 7Make it with two shoulder straps to hold it together. 8The waistband of fine linen shall be decorated with gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns. 9Etch the names of Israel’s sons on two onyx stones, 10six names on each, from the oldest to the youngest. 11Have a gem cutter etch them and mount them in gold ornaments. 12Set the two stones in the apron’s shoulder straps. They will be memorials to the sons of Israel, and Aaron will carry them before the LORD in memory of them. 13Make the ornamental settings with gold, 14and attach two golden chains, twisted like rope, attached to the settings.

15“Fashion a vest to be used in making judgments. Make it of gold, blue, purple, and crimson thread in fine linen, like the apron. 16Make it square and double it. Make it nine inches long and nine inches wide. 17Set four rows of stones in it; ruby, topaz, and beryl in the first row; 18turquoise, sapphire, and emerald in the second; 19jacinth, agate, and amethyst in the third, 20and chrysolite, onyx, and jasper in the fourth, all set in gold ornaments. 21So there will be twelve stones in all with the names of the sons of Israel worn as signs for the twelve tribes. 22Make twisted chains of pure gold for the vest, 23and put two gold rings on the edges of the vest. 24Thread the two golden chains through the rings, 25and attach them to the settings in the front of the shoulder straps of the apron. 26Attach two more gold rings on the inside edge next to the vest, 27and another two rings attached to the front of the bottom of the apron just above the decorated belt. 28So, the vest will be attached by its rings to the rings of the apron with a blue cord, and it will lie on the decorated band of the apron. This is to prevent the vest from becoming detached from the apron.

29“In this way Aaron will be carrying the names of the sons of Israel on the vest of judgments over his heart when he goes into the holy place, and it will be a continuous remembrance in the LORDs presence. 30Also place the dice – the ‘Urim’ and ‘Thummim’ – in the vest so that Aaron will carry them over his heart when he approaches the LORD. In that way Aaron will carry the judgment for the Israelites on his heart every time he approaches the LORD.

31“Make the robe of the apron of blue, 32with an opening for the head in the center, woven around it to bind it and keep it from tearing. 33On the hem place pomegranates made of blue, purple, and crimson yarn all around, separated with gold bells; that is, a bell and a pomegranate alternating around the hem. 35This is what Aaron shall wear when he enters the holy place so that its sound will be heard when he goes in and comes out, so that he might not die.

36“Make a round plate of pure gold and engrave on it ‘Holy to the LORD.’ 37Attach it to the front of the turban with a blue string. 38It is to be worn on Aaron’s forehead so that he will carry on his person guilt levied on the Israelites as they offer their donations. It must always be on his forehead so they will find favor before the LORD.

39“Robes and turbans and waistbands shall be made of fine linen and the waistbands embroidered with needlework 40for Aaron’s sons. Make robes and belts and headbands for them to wear in their official capacity. 41Then dress Aaron and his sons and anoint them and set them aside for religious duties. They will serve me as priests. 42Provide linen underwear for them to cover the skin from hips to thighs. 43Aaron and his sons will wear this when they enter the tent or when they approach the altar as my ministers. If they do not, they will be guilty and die. This is a perpetual law for Aaron and his descendants who come after him.”

Commentary

1-5: Aaron and his four sons – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar – are designated as priests. Moses is told to have specific clerical garments tailored by craftsmen: breast piece, ephod (a sort of apron, we think), robe, tunic, turban, and sash – all this to be worn in the middle of the Sinai desert where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees. Linen and yarn are used, and they are to be quite colorful – gold, blue, purple, and crimson.

6-14: The ephod is to hang from the shoulders with onyx epaulettes set in gold on which are inscribed the names of the 12 tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Later, Levi will be set apart for special cultic duties without property holdings and Joseph will be divided into Ephraim and Manasseh so that there will still be twelve tribal territories in the land of Canaan.

15-30: The breast piece is described next in great detail. It is to contain twelve separate stones each with the name of a tribe inscribed on it, to be worn over Aaron’s heart. It also contains sacred lots called Urim and Thummim, which are used to discern God’s will.

31-35: Aaron’s robe is described, complete with pomegranates and bells. The bells are to be worn “so that he may not die,” a curious statement. Aaron and the high priests who come after him are the only ones allowed to enter the most holy place for the purpose of burning incense, pouring the daily libations, presenting the bread of the presence and inquiring of the LORD when needed, perhaps using the Urim and Thummim. While he is inside, the priests outside are able to hear his movements. If he collapses while inside, they will know that something has happened to him. The warning also suggests that serving in the most holy place is a very dangerous privilege that must be taken very seriously.

36-38: A golden rosette inscribed with “Holy to the LORD” is worn on Aaron’s forehead, attached to his turban, whenever he is serving in the tabernacle. It is a way of visibly communicating his office and transferring the people’s guilt from them to him to the offering he is presenting on their behalf.

39: Tunic, turban, and sash are to be fabricated of fine linen.

40-43: Every item of clothing worn by the priests is described, down to their underwear, except for shoes; perhaps they are to serve bare-footed. All of them wear the linen underwear, tunic, sash, and turbans. Aaron must also wear the other accoutrements.

Takeaway

All of this sounds totally foreign to us, but it is not. God is simply giving Aaron and his sons an identity that will be immediately recognized by the people. It is really not so different from the uniforms worn by our military, our police force, etc. The doctor’s white coat in the hospital is a uniform of sorts. The purpose of the uniform is to identify the authority of the person wearing it. In the Israelite community, when thousands of people gathered around the tabernacle, there would be no mistaking who was in charge of religious rituals.