Exodus 28: The Vestments for the Priesthood of Aaron and his Descendants

Michael Schmitt, the High Priest Aaron (1912)

Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2 You shall make sacred vestments for the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron. 3 And you shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood. 4 These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, and a sash. When they make these sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests, 5 they shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen.

 6 They shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, skillfully worked. 7 It shall have two shoulder-pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. 8 The decorated band on it shall be of the same workmanship and materials, of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 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 gem-cutter engraves signets, so you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; you shall mount them in settings of gold filigree. 12 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.

 15 You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work; you shall make it in the style of the ephod; of gold, of blue and purple and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen you shall make it. 16 It shall be square and doubled, a span in length and a span in width. 17 You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of carnelian,1 chrysolite, and emerald shall be the first row; 18 and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire1 and a moonstone; 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 names corresponding 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 chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; 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 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, 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 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 joining above the decorated band of the ephod. 28 The breastpiece shall be bound by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it may lie on the decorated band of the ephod, and 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, for a continual remembrance before the LORD. 30 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 Israelites on his heart before the LORD continually.

 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 coat of mail, so that it may not be torn.  33 On its lower hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the lower hem, with bells of gold between them all around —34 a golden bell and a pomegranate alternating all around the lower hem of the robe. 35 Aaron shall wear it 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 may not die.

 36 You shall make a rosette of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the LORD.” 37 You shall fasten it on the turban with a blue cord; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take on himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering that the Israelites consecrate as their sacred donations; it shall always be on his forehead, in order that they may find favor before the LORD.

 39 You shall make the checkered tunic 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 tunics and sashes and headdresses; you shall make them for their glorious adornment. 41 You shall put them on your brother Aaron, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, so 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 Aaron and his sons shall wear them when they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place; or they will bring guilt on themselves and die. This shall be a perpetual ordinance for him and for his descendants after him.

In North Africa during the 4th Century there was a schism that emerged within Christianity known as Donatism. In a time where Christians were no longer a persecuted church there were many individuals both lay and clergy who had, under persecution, denounced their faith while others had been imprisoned or martyred. The Donatists felt that clergy especially needed to be without fault for their ministry to be effective. For the Donatists, clergy who had denied their faith were unable to serve as a pastor. The conflict centered on whether it was the person or the office that made the ministrations of the priest effective and while the early Catholic church decided on the office of priesthood making the ministrations effective and not the character of the priest there are Donatists of every age who want to make priests into prophets, yet here in Exodus we have the setting aside of Aaron and his sons for the ministry of priesthood directly before Aaron fails dramatically in what his role will be.

Moses and the prophets who come after him will not have the vestments, ephods, breastplates, headpieces and all the elaborate garments that Aaron and his sons will have crafted for them as they fulfill their role within the tabernacle on behalf of the people of Israel. The type of relationship that Moses and other prophets have with the LORD will be rare, and yet there is a need for people to lead the community in worship. The clothing they wear sets them apart from everyone else, they are robed more richly than even kings would be, their garments are of incredible detail and workmanship and full of symbolism as they represent the people before their God. Aaron and his sons will not be perfect and yet they are to represent and bear the judgment of the people of Israel before God. The ephod and the breastplate also seem to have some functional role within the worship and the discernment of the will for the people of God.

On both the ephod and the breastplate there is the continual representation of the entire people before the LORD as the priest ministers. The priest acts not on their own behalf but on behalf of the entire people they intercede for. The engraved stones serve as a reminder for the priest, the people and for God of identity of the people in relation to God. The priest intercedes for the priestly kingdom. The precious stones remind us these tribes are God’s treasured possession. even though Aaron and his descendants will be consecrated to be holy to the LORD, the headband reminds both the LORD and the people that they are by extension ‘holy to the LORD.’

There is danger in the priestly role as well, for the priest intercedes for the people and must approach the holiest of spaces. Within the garments there are safeguards to protect the priest, bells sewn onto the robe that would ring as the priest approached the holiest of spaces and the undergarment to prevent the priest from accidentally exposing himself in the presence of God and the holiest items in the tabernacle.

Even though I come out of a liturgical tradition I don’t cling to the symbols of office the way that some pastors and priests do. Perhaps it is an arrogance on my part to not feel the need to be set apart by vestments that are a symbol of my office or simply comfort within my role. Yet, I do see the value in these vestments or symbols that let others know who I am and what my role is. I serve in the capacity I do not because of my own perfection or because I have lived a spotless life but simply because I trust that God and the community has called me. On behalf of the community I do serve in the capacities as priest/pastor and sometimes prophet. Clothes may not make the man (or woman) but sometimes they do grant them some of the power of the office to which they have been called.

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2 Responses to Exodus 28: The Vestments for the Priesthood of Aaron and his Descendants

  1. Pingback: Exodus 39 Completing the Work of the Tabernacle | Sign of the Rose

  2. Pingback: The Book of Exodus | Sign of the Rose

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