Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons.XXVIII.
THE DESIGNATION OF AARON AND HIS SONS FOR THE PRIESTLY OFFICE, WITH DIRECTIONS FOR THEIR MINISTERIAL APPAREL.
(1) Take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother.—Heb., make to draw near to thee Aaron thy brother. Hitherto the position of Moses had been absolutely unique. He had been, from the time that Egypt was quitted, the one and only intermediary between God and the people—the one and only priest of the nation. Now this was to be changed. Perhaps in consequence of his original reluctance and want of faith (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:10-13), perhaps on account of Aaron’s elder birth (Exodus 7:7), it pleased God to commit the office of ministering to Him in the tabernacle, not to Moses and his descendants, but to Aaron and those sprung from his loins. In this way Aaron and his sons were “drawn near” to Moses in respect of rank, position, and dignity.
That he may minister to me in the priest’s office.—Or, “that he may be priest to me.” The actual investiture of Aaron with the priestly office did not take place until some time after the tabernacle was completed. It is related in Leviticus 8; and his first priestly acts are recorded in the following chapter (Leviticus 9:8-22).
Eleazar and Ithamar.—The priestly office was, in fact, continued in the families of these two. Eleazar became high priest at the death of Aaron (Numbers 20:28), and was succeeded by his son Phinehas, whom we find high priest in the time of Joshua (Joshua 22:13) and afterwards (Judges 20:28). At a later date, but under what circumstances is unknown, the high priesthood passed to the line of Ithamar, to which Eli belonged.
And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.(2) Holy garments.—Though holiness is, strictly speaking, a personal quality, yet all nations have felt it right to regard as “holy,” in a certain modified sense, all those material objects which are connected with religion and employed in the worship of God. Hence we hear, both in Scripture and elsewhere, of “holy places,” “holy vessels,” “holy books,” “holy garments.” These last are required especially for the ministrants in holy places, who need to be marked out by some evident signs from the body of the worshippers. In Egypt the ministering priests in temples always wore peculiar dresses; and probably there was no nation in the time of Moses which, if it possessed a class of priests, did not distinguish them by some special costume, at any rate when they were officiating. The natural instinct which thus exhibited itself, received Divine sanction by the communications which were made to Moses in Sinai, whereby special dresses were appointed both for the high priest and for the ordinary priests.
For glory and for beauty.—These words have great force. God would have His priests richly, as well as decently, apparelled, for two objects—(1) For glory—to glorify them—to give them an exalted position in the eyes of the nation, to cause them to be respected, and their office to be highly regarded; (2) for beauty—to make the worship of the sanctuary more beautiful than it would otherwise have been, to establish a harmony between the richly-adorned tabernacle and those who ministered in it; to give to the service of the sanctuary the highest artistic, as well as the highest spiritual, perfection. The relation of art to religion is a subject on which volumes have been written, and which cannot be discussed here; but God’s regard for “beauty” is here brought prominently before us, and no honest exegesis can ignore the pregnant fact that when God was pleased to give directions for His worship upon earth, they were made subservient, not only to utility and convenience, but to beauty. Beauty, it would seem, is not a thing despised by the Creator of the universe.
And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.(3) Thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted.—By “all that are wise hearted” we must understand all that had the special knowledge which would enable them to give effectual aid in the production of such garments as were about to be commanded. The Hebrews regarded the heart as the seat of knowledge, with perhaps neither more nor less scientific accuracy than underlies our own current modes of speech whereby the heart is made the seat of the affections.
Whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom.—Few passages in the Bible are more antagonistic than this to the general current of modern thought. God speaks of Himself as having infused His Spirit into the hearts of men, in order to enable them to produce satisfactory priestly garments. Moderns suppose such things to be quite beneath the notice of the Creator of the universe. But it has to be remembered, on the other hand, (1) that God is the fountain whence all knowledge is derived; (2) that He alone knows what is beneath Him and what is not beneath Him; and (3) that dress is not a wholly insignificant matter, or so much would not have been said in Scripture about it (Genesis 3:21; Genesis 37:3; Genesis 41:42; Leviticus 8:7-9; Leviticus 16:4; Numbers 15:38, &c.). Garments intended “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2) required artistic power in those who were to make them; and artistic power, like all other intellectual excellence, is the gift of God.
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.(4). These are the garments.—The garments peculiar to the high priest are taken first, and described with great elaboration in thirty-six verses (4-39). The most conspicuous was the breastplate, described in Exodus 28:13-30, and here mentioned first of all. Next to this came the peculiar vestment called the “ephod,” a sort of jerkin or waistcoat, upon which the breastplate was worn (described in Exodus 28:6-12). Under the ephod was the long robe of blue, called “the robe of the ephod,” which may be considered as the main garment, and which is described in Exodus 28:31-35. Upon his head the high priest wore a “mitre” or turban (described in Exodus 28:36-38); and inside his “robe” he wore a linen shirt or tunic, secured by a girdle (Exodus 28:39). Underneath the tunic he wore linen drawers (Exodus 28:42-43). Nothing is said as to any covering for his feet; but it is probable that they were protected by sandals.
And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen.(5) They shall take gold, and blue.—Heb., the gold and the blue, &c.—i.e., they (the wise-hearted men of Exodus 28:3) shall receive (from Moses) the (necessary) gold, blue, &c., for the construction of the vestments. It is to be noted that the materials are the same as those employed for the vail and curtains of the sanctuary (Exodus 26:1; Exodus 26:31; Exodus 26:36), but with the further addition of gold and precious stones (Exodus 28:9; Exodus 28:17-21).
(6-12) The ephod was, as already observed (Note on Exodus 28:4), a sort of jerkin or waistcoat. It was made in two pieces, a front piece and a back piece, which were joined together at the shoulders, apparently by a seam (Exodus 28:7). The pieces descended to the waist; and there one or other of them was expanded into a band, called “the curious girdle of the ephod,” which being passed round the waist and fastened, kept both front and back pieces in place (Exodus 28:8). On either shoulder was an onyx stone set in gold (Exodus 28:9-11), and engraved with the names of six of the tribes.
(6) With cunning work.—On this phrase, see Note on Exodus 26:1.
It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together.(7) The two shoulder pieces thereof.—Rather, two shoulder pieces.
And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.(8) The curious girdle.—The word khésheb, which is thus translated, means properly “device,” “ornamental work,” and has not in itself the sense of “belt” or “girdle.” Still, there is no reason to doubt that the khêsheb of the ephod was in fact a girdle, as Josephus calls it (Ant. Jud., iii. 7, §4), though named from the peculiar skill displayed in its patterning. Josephus says it was “a girdle dyed of many hues, with gold interwoven in it.”
Shall be of the same.—Not sewn on, but woven continuously with the front or back piece.
And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel:(9) Two onyx stones.—The shôham of the Hebrews has been regarded by some as the emerald, by others as the beryl; but it is probably either the stone usually called the onyx, or that variety which is known as the sardonyx—a stone of three layers—black, white, and red. (See Joseph., Ant. Jud., iii. 7, § 5.) Emeralds could not have been cut by any process known at the time. Onyx and sardonyx were used from a very early period, as stones for signets, both in Egypt and elsewhere.
And grave on them the names of the children of Israel.—That gem-engraving was practised from a remote antiquity both in Egypt and in Babylonia appears from the remains found in those countries. The signet cylinders of Chaldæan kings are regarded by the best Assyriologists as going back, at least, to B.C. 2,000. The signets of Egyptian monarchs reach, at any rate, to the twelfth dynasty, which is perhaps nearly as early. The hardest kinds of stone—diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire, topaz—defied the art of the time; but stones of the second class—sard, carnelian, onyx, beryl, jasper, lapis lazuli—readily yielded to the engraver’s tools. There is no difficulty in supposing that among the Israelites were to be found persons who had been engaged in Egyptian workshops during the servitude, and were acquainted with Egyptian art in all its principal departments. The “names” to be engraved were doubtless the “tribe” names, as explained by Josephus.
Six of their names on one stone, and the other six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth.(10) The other six names of the rest.—Heb., the remaining six names. Either Levi was omitted, or Joseph’s name took the place of Ephraim’s and Manasseh’s.
According to their birth—i.e., in the order of their seniority.
With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of the children of Israel: thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold.(11) The engravings of a signet.—Compare Note 2 on Exodus 28:9. Signets had been already mentioned in Genesis 38:18; Genesis 38:25; Genesis 41:42. Those of Egypt were for the most part rings, with cylindrical bezels turning upon an axis. Those of Babylonia were cylinders, which were commonly worn by a string round the wrist. The engraving of the Babylonian cylinders is frequently of a very fine quality.
Thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold.—The setting intended seems to have been a sort of open or filigree work, such as is very common in Egyptian ornaments of the time. The term “ouche”—more properly “nouch”—is derived from the old French “nouche,”a buckle or clasp (see Skeat’s Etymol. Dict., §5).
And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two shoulders for a memorial.(12) For stones of memorial unto the children of Israel.—Rather, for the children of Israel. The intention was that the stones should be “stones of memorial” to God, on behalf of Israel; should remind God that the high priest represented all the tribes, and pleaded before Him on their behalf, and in their name. The tribes were represented doubly in the costume of the high priest, by the onyx stones and by the stones of the breastplate.
(13-30) The space devoted to the “breastplate” is indicative of its high importance. It was the most costly, most magnificent, and most conspicuous of the high priest’s garments, while at the same time it was the most mysterious. Externally it was a blaze of gold and jewels; internally it held those strange and precious objects known as “the Urim and the Thummim” (Exodus 28:30), by means of which the Divine will was made known to the high priest, and through him to the people. The basis of the garment was a linen fabric of similar materials and workmanship with the ephod (Exodus 28:15), square in shape, about nine inches each way, and “doubled,” so as to form internally a bag or pocket. Upon this linen groundwork were fastened twelve “stones,” or jewels, set in an open-work of gold, and arranged in four rows, three in each (Exodus 28:17-21). These stones covered probably the greater portion of the external surface of the breastplate. To its two upper corners were attached two rings of gold, which were made fast by means of gold chains to buttons (“ ouches”) on the upper part of the ephod; and to its two lower corners were attached similar rings, which were fastened by a lace to rings of the same material on the lower part of the ephod (Exodus 28:13-14; Exodus 28:22-28).
(13) Ouches of gold.—“Buttons” or “rosettes” of similar open-work to that which formed the setting of the onyx stones upon the shoulders of the ephod (Exodus 28:11). These “buttons” must have been sewn on to the ephod.
And two chains of pure gold at the ends; of wreathen work shalt thou make them, and fasten the wreathen chains to the ouches.(14) Chains . . . at the ends.—Rather, chains of equal length, or, perhaps, of wreathen work.
Of wreathen work.—Heb., after the manner of a rope. Such chains are often seen round the necks of Persian officials in the Persepolitan sculptures, and appear also to have been used by the grandees of Egypt. They were composed of a number of gold wires twisted together. The chains spoken of in this place are the same as those mentioned in Exodus 28:22-25. Their object was to attach the two upper corners of the breastplate to the upper part of the ephod.
And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.(15) The breastplate of judgment.—The word khoshen does not really signify “breastplate,” but “ornament.” It was the main ornament of the priestly attire. It was called “the ornament of judgment” on account of its containing the Urim and Thummim, whereby God’s “judgments” were made known to His people. (See Note on Exodus 28:30.)
Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.(16) Foursquare it shall be.—On the idea of perfection connected with the square, see Note on Exodus 27:1. But for this, twelve gems would probably have been arranged in the shape of an oblong.
Doubled.—Symmachus translates khoshen by δόχιον, “a receptacle” or “bag;” and if the Urim and the Thummim, being material objects, were to be “put in” it (Exodus 28:30), such a construction would seem to have been absolutely necessary. Hence the “doubling,” which would not have been needed merely for strength, since linen corselets, stout enough to resist the blow of a sword, were among the manufactures of Egypt, and could no doubt have been produced by the Hebrews.
A span.—The “span” was reckoned at half a cubit, or about nine inches.
And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.(17-19) Set in it settings of stones . . . There is always considerable difficulty in identifying ancient with modern gems, the etymologies of the words being frequently uncertain, the names (where they have survived) having sometimes changed their meaning, and the opinions of early commentators, who might seem to speak with some authority, being discrepant. In the present case, scarcely one of the twelve stones can be said to be determined with certainty. 1. The ôdem, identified by the LXX. and the Vulg. With the “sard,” has been regarded as the ruby, the carbuncle, and the carnelian. Etymologically the word means “red,” or “the red stone.” The ruby is certainly wrong, since ancient engravers could not cut it. Either “sard” or “carnelian” is probably intended, both being common in Egypt. 2. The pitdah is certainly not the topaz, which could no more be cut than the ruby. If the word is derived, as supposed, from a root meaning “pale,” the chrysolite, which resembles a pale topaz, but is far softer, may be meant. 3. The bârěketh is rendered smaragdus, “emerald,” by the LXX. and Vulg.; but neither could the emerald be cut by the ancient engravers. The word means “brightly flashing,” which tells us next to nothing. “Beryl” and “a kind of corundum” have been suggested; but neither is particularly sparkling. 4. The nôphek, translated ἃυθραξ by the LXX. and Josehus, may well be the “carbuncle,” as is now generally supposed. It cannot, any more than the ôdem, be the ruby. 5. The sappir one might have supposed by its name to be certainly the “sapphire;” but this, again, is a gem which ancient engravers could not cut. It would seem that here we have one of the cases where the name has been transferred from one stone to another, the modern “lapis lazuli” being the gem which was called “sapphire” by the ancients. 6. The yahălôm is certainly not the “diamond,” which is the hardest of all gems. The LXX. and Vulg. translate by “jasper” (ἴασπις, jaspis); but this seems really to have been the twelfth stone. Other renderings are mere conjectures, and the yahălôm must be regarded as unknown. 7. The leshem, rendered “ligure” by the LXX., the Vulgate, Josephus, and our translators, is probably the stone known to the ancients as lapis ligurius, but what that stone was is a matter of great uncertainty. It has been regarded as amber, as jacinth, and as tourmaline; but amber does not admit of engraving, while jacinth and tourmaline are pure conjectures. This stone, then, must also be regarded as unknown. 8. The shevo, rendered achates, “agate,” by the LXX. and the Vulg., is generally allowed to have been that stone, which was well known to the ancients, and widely used for engraving. 9. The akhlâmâh was regarded as the amethyst by the LXX., the Vulgate, and Josephus; but it has been suggested that it may have been “malachite” (Knobel); and there is no disproving the suggestion. Still the amethyst, which is easily engraved, and was well known in Egypt, should find a place in the present list, and may well have been intended by the akhlâmâh. 10. The tarshish, by its name, should be a stone brought from Tarshish, which is either Tarsus or Tartessus. Some suppose it to have been the beryl, some the chrysolite, others the turquoise. There are really no sufficient grounds for identifying it with any known gem. 11. The shôham has been already discussed (see Note on Exodus 28:9), and identified with the onyx, or the sardonyx. 12. The yâsh’peh should, by its name, be the “jasper,” which was one of the stones most used in Egypt, and which could scarcely have been absent from the present list. The LXX., however, translate “onyx,” Josephus and the Vulgate “beryl;” so that here again there is uncertainty. The views of the present writer may be best presented to the reader by means of a table:—
1st Row of Gems . . .
2nd Row . . .
3rd Row . . .
4th Row . . .
(the Lapis Lazuli)
(the Onyx or the
And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.(20) They shall be set in gold in their inclosings.—Or, in their settings. Every gem was to be enclosed in its own setting of gold.
And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.(21) The stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel.—Rather, the stones shall be according to the names, &c.—twelve, neither more nor fewer.
Every one with his name . . . —Rather, each stone, according to its name (i.e., the name engraved upon it), shall be (or, stand) for one of the twelve tribes.
And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold.(22) Chains at the ends.—Rather, chains of equal length; or, chains of wreathen work. (See Note on Exodus 28:14.)
Of wreathen work.—Heb., after the manner of ropes.
And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.(23) Two rings on the two ends—i.e., on the two upper corners of the breastplate. The chains were to be passed through the two rings, which they were then to unite with the “ouches” of the ephod. (See Exodus 28:13-14.)
And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward.(26) Thou shalt make two rings—i.e., “two other rings.” These were to be put on the two lower corners of the breastplate, “in the border thereof,” or at its extreme edge.
And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod.(27, 28) Two gold rings were also to be sewn on to the ephod, low down and in front, so as just to appear above the “curious girdle of the ephod,” and the lower rings of the breastplate were to be laced to these rings by a “lace of blue.” The breastplate was thus securely attached to the ephod, and showed above the “curious girdle” without covering it.
And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.(29) Aaron shall bear the names . . . upon his heart.—Comp. Exodus 28:12. The high priest was to be wholly identified with the people; to be one with them in affection no less than in action; to bear their names on his shoulders, as supporting them and wrestling for them, while he also bore their names on his heart, as loving them and feeling for them. Thus he was continually to present before God a two-fold “memorial” of His people, and to make a sort of double appeal, on the one hand, to God’s power, and, on the other hand, to His mercy and loving-kindness.
And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.(30) Thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim.—Comp. Leviticus 8:8. The expression used is identical with that employed in Exodus 25:15; Exodus 25:21 with respect to putting the Two Tables into the Ark of the Covenant, and can scarcely have any other meaning than the literal placing of one thing inside another. It has been already shown (see Note on Exodus 28:16) that the breastplate was a bag, and so capable of being used as a receptacle. The words “Urim and Thummim” mean literally, “lights and perfections,” or, if the plural be one of dignity, “light and perfection” (Aquila and Symmachus translate by φωτισμοὶ καὶ τελειότητεϛ; the LXX., by ἡ δήλωσιϛ καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια; the Vulg. by doctrina et veritas). The question arises, what do these two words, as here used, designate? Do they designate material objects; if so, what objects? In favour of their designating material objects are (1) the expressions, “thou shalt put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim,” “they shall be upon Aaron’s heart,” “he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim” (Leviticus 8:8); (2) the fact that the words are accompanied by the article, on this, the first mention of them, as if they were familiar objects, well known at the time to the people generally; and (3) the explanations of Philo and Josephus, which, while they differ in all other respects, agree in this, that material objects are intended. But, if so, what objects? The two sides of the breastplate, says Philo (De Monarch., ii. 5). But these were not “put in” the breastplate after it was complete, as implied in Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8. The twelve jewels, says Josephus; but the present passage, taken in conjunction with Exodus 28:17-21, distinguishes the Urim and Thummim from them. Some small objects which the bag of the breastplate could hold, and with which the people had long been familiar, can alone answer the requirements of the case. Most modern critics are thus far agreed; but when the further question is asked, what were these objects? The greatest difference appears. Diamonds, cut and uncut; slips of metal, marked with “yes” and “no”; lots, of some kind or other; and small images, like the teraphim (Genesis 31:19), are among the suggestions. A very slight examination of the arguments by which these various views are supported is sufficient to show that certainty on the subject is unattainable. Probability, however, seems on the whole to be in favour of a connection between divination by teraphim and consultation of God by Urim and Thummim (Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14; Judges 18:17; Judges 18:20; Hosea 3:4), whence it is reasonable to conclude that the Urim and Thummim were small images, by which God had been consulted in the past, and by which Moses was now authorised to state that He would be consulted in the future. How the consultation was made, and the decision given, is a question still more obscure than that which has been just considered, and one which seems to the present writer to admit of no solution. The reader who is curious upon the point may be referred to Dean Plumptre’s article on “Urim and Thummim,” in Dr. W. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, where the views propounded are ingenious, if not altogether satisfactory.
(31-35) The “robe of the ephod” was a frock or tunic, reaching from the neck to below the knees. It was put on over the head, for which a hole was left (Exodus 28:32). Josephus says that it had no sleeves; and it would seem that the upper portion, above the waist, was wholly, or almost wholly, concealed by the ephod and breastplate; but the lower portion, from the waist downwards, formed the outer dress of the high priest, and was conspicuous. The plain blue contrasted well with the variegated ephod and the sparkling breastplate. The robe had no ornament excepting round the bottom, where it was fringed with alternate bells and pomegranates. The pomegranates were a decoration, and nothing more; but the bells served a purpose, which is explained in Exodus 28:35.
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.(32) As it were the hole of a habergeon.—Linen corselets, or “habergeons,” were common in Egypt, and were shaped as is here indicated. The word used for “habergeon,” taklărah, is thought to be Egyptian.
And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:(33) Pomegranates.—The pomegranate was a favourite ornament in Assyria, but not in Egypt. It appears from Joshua 7:21 that the fabrics of Babylon were carried by the merchants into Syria at a date not much later than this, whence we may conclude that they circulated also in Arabia and Egypt.
Bells of gold.—The bell is also more Assyrian than Egyptian. Its use as an article of priestly costume has no direct parallel, nor are bells known to have been employed in the religious services of any ancient nation. The statement that Persian kings wore bells rests upon no sufficient authority. We seem to have here the introduction of an entirely new religious usage.
And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not.(35) And his sound shall be heard.—Rather, that its sound may he heard. The great object of the bells was to make known to the people, by a sensible manifestation, every movement of their representative, every act that he performed on their behalf. The bells enabled them to follow in their thoughts the entire service that he was engaged in, to join their prayers and praises with his, and offer to God a common worship. So important was this union of priest and people in the worship of God regarded, that death was denounced on the high priest who should minister in the sanctuary without this essential garment.
(36-39) The head-dress of the high priest was to be of fine white linen (shêsh) and appears by the description of Josephus (Ant. Jud. iii. 7, § 3) to have been a turban, made of several thick swathes or folds in the usual way. It was to be adorned in front with a plate of pure gold bearing the inscription “Holiness to Jehovah,” which was to be attached to the linen fabric by a ribbon or “lace” of blue.
(36) Thou shalt make a plate.—The plate is so much of the essence of the mitre that it is put forward first, as that whereto all the rest is subordinate. It was to be “of pure gold,” and “fastened on high upon the mitre” (Exodus 39:31); so catching the eye even more than the breastplate, and drawing men’s special attention. But the plate itself was only the vehicle for an inscription, and thus men’s attention would be especially directed to that. It taught the great truth that religion culminates in “Holiness to Jehovah,” without which all else is worthless—forms, ceremonies, priestly attire, sacrifice, prayer, are mockeries. It required primarily the high priest himself to be holy; but it was a call also to the whole nation, whose representative the high priest was, that they should be “a holy nation,” “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), and should consecrate themselves heart and soul to Jehovah.
And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.(37) Thou shalt put it on a blue lace.—Compare Exodus 39:31, where we read “they tied unto it a lace of blue.” Probably the two ends of the plate were perforated, and a blue lace or cord passed through the holes and tied to the plate, which was then put in front of the turban and kept in place by the two cords being tied together at the back of the head.
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; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.(38) That Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things.—The “holy things” are the offerings brought by the people. These would always have some “iniquity” attaching to them, some imperfection, owing to the imperfection of human nature and the mixed character of human motives. The high priest’s official holiness enabled him to present to God offerings thus imperfect without offending Him. It was accepted as purging the offerings from their impurity.
It shall be always upon his forehead—that is to say, during his ministrations.
(39) The garments hitherto described have been the outer garments. To these are now added the inner ones, of which there was but little to be said. They consisted of linen drawers (Exodus 28:42-43), a linen tunic or shirt, woven in a peculiar way, and, to confine the tunic, a girdle, which was to be of many colours (Exodus 39:29), and ornamented with embroidery.
Thou shalt embroider.—It is generally agreed that this is a wrong rendering. Kalisch translates, “thou shalt weave.” Gesenius, “thou shalt work in chequer.” Canon Cook, “thou shalt weave in diaper work.” The word used, which is a rare one, probably designates some peculiar kind of weaving.
The coat.—“Coat” is an unfortunate translation. The ketôneth (comp. Gr. χιτών) was a long white linen tunic or shirt, having tight-fitting sleeves, and reaching nearly to the feet. The sleeves must certainly have shown, as they were the only covering of the priest’s arms; and the lower part of the tunic probably showed below the “robe of the ephod.”
6. THE INNER GIRDLE.
It appears from Exodus 39:29 that the girdle was to be “of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet,” like the ephod (Exodus 28:6). It was not, however, to be woven of these colours, but to have them worked into it with the needle. As it was worn immediately above the tunic and underneath the robe of the ephod (Leviticus 8:7), little, if any, of it could have been seen. Perhaps, however, the ends may have depended below the robe of the ephod.
(40) For Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats—i.e., linen tunics like that of the high priest already described (see the last Note on Exodus 28:39), but not woven in any peculiar fashion.
Girdles.—Perhaps similar to the inner girdle of the high priest, but nowhere described particularly.
Bonnets.—Rather, caps. Plain, close-fitting caps, like those so commonly worn in Egypt, seem to be intended. The word used, migbâ’ah, is derived from gâbia’, “a cup” or “basin.”
For glory and for beauty.—It is certainly remarkable that so plain a dress as that of the ordinary priests—a white tunic, a girdle, which may or may not have been embroidered, and a plain white close-fitting cap—should be regarded as sufficing “for glory and for beauty.” White robes, however, are in Scripture constantly represented as eminently glorious (Daniel 7:9; Mark 9:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9-14; Revelation 15:6, &c.).
And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office.(41) Thou shalt put them upon Aaron . . . and his sons.—Moses was by these words commanded to take the part in the consecration of Aaron and his sons which he is related to have taken in Leviticus 8:6-30.
And shalt anoint them.—See the comment on Exodus 29:7-9.
And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:(42) Thou shalt make them linen breeches.—Rather, linen drawers. Drawers reaching from the waist to a little above the knee were the sole garment of many in Egypt, a necessary garment of all. Their object was as here stated.
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 for ever unto him and his seed after him.(43) The tabernacle of the congregation.—Heb., the tent of meeting.
The holy placeseems to be here the court of the tabernacle, within which the altar was to be set up (Exodus 40:6; Exodus 40:29).
That they bear not iniquity, and die.—The death penalty is threatened against the sin of ministering without the garments needed for decency, as against the sin of neglecting to wear the robe of the ephod (Exodus 28:35). In both cases a Divine vengeance, rather than a legal punishment, is probably intended.