THE GARMENTS OF THE PRIESTS had symbolic significance, as indeed had most things about the sanctuary. Especially was this true of the high priest, who was the embodiment of the people and represented them. Concerning the garments, this is written: "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." Ex. 28:4. Besides these are mentioned the linen breeches in Lev.16:4 and the holy crown in Ex. 29:6; 28:36-38. The breastplate first mentioned was a "foursquare" garment suspended upon the breast by little chains. In this breastplate were four rows of precious stones of three each, with the names of the children of Israel engraved upon them, one name on each stone. Ex. 28:21. This garment was called the "breastplate of judgement," and Aaron was to bear it "upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place." Verse 29.
On the breastplate were also said to be the Urim and Thummim, those two mysterious stones which denoted the Lord's pleasure or displeasure when He was consulted in times of need. Lev. 8:8; Ex. 28:30; 1Sam. 28:6. From the fact that they are said to be in the breastplate, some have supposed them to be in a pocket put there for that purpose. It seems better to believe, however, that they were placed prominently on the breastplate as were the other stones, one on the left side, the other on the right, in full view.
The ephod was a short garment made "of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine-twined linen, with cunning work." Ex. 28:6. It had no sleeves, and hung down both on breast and back. On the shoulder pieces were two onyx stones with the names of the children of Israel engraved upon them, six names on each stone. "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." Ex. 28:12.
Underneath the ephod was a long robe made of blue linen, sleeveless and seamless. Around the skirt upon the hem were pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet "and bells of gold between them round about.... 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." Verses 33-35. Underneath the robe of the ephod was the ordinary white linen coat of the priests and the linen breeches.
The girdle of the high priest was made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, the same as the ephod; that of the priest of white linen embroidered in blue, purple, and red. It was placed around the robe of the ephod, rather high up, and served to hold the garment together. Ex. 39:5; 29:5.
The priests wore the white linen coat, the breeches, the girdle, and the mitre. The high priest, in addition, wore the ephod, the robe of the ephod, the breastplate, and the crown upon the mitre, besides, of course, the precious stones with the names of Israel engraved upon them, and the Urim and Thummim.
Aaron's garments were "for glory and for beauty." Ex. 28:2. The ordinary garments of the priests which he wore underneath his high priestly garments, were symbolic of inward purity, and were also for utility. The strictly high priestly garments were for glory and beauty, and were in a special sense symbolic.
The garments which Aaron wore were not of his own choosing. They were prescribed. They were "holy garments," made by such as "are wisehearted, 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." Ex. 28:3. They harmonised in colour and material with the tabernacle itself, and were adorned with precious stones.
"They shall make the ephod of gold." "The curious girdle of the ephod which is upon it, shall be of the same." "Thou shalt make the breastplate of judgement ... of gold." "Thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue ... and bells of gold." Ex. 28:6, 8,15,31,33. While these garments were made of different materials, gold formed a prominent part. If to the garments is added the crown of gold upon the mitre, upon which was written: "Holiness to the Lord," the twelve precious stones with the names of Israel engraved upon them, and the two onyx stones also with Israel's name upon them, and lastly, Urim and Thummim, the whole effect must have been one of glory and beauty. As the high priest would slowly and with dignity move from place to place, the sun's light would be reflected in the sixteen precious jewels, the bells would give forth a musical sound, and the people would be deeply impressed with the solemnity and beauty of God's worship.
The high priest in his official capacity was not simply a man. He was an institution; he was a symbol; he not merely represented Israel, he was the embodiment of Israel. He bore the names of Israel in the two onyx stones "upon his two shoulders for a memorial;" he carried them in the twelve precious stones "in the breastplate of judgement upon his heart;" he bore "the judgement of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually." Ex. 28:30. He thus carried Israel both on his shoulders and on his heart. On his shoulders he carried the burden of Israel; in the breastplate, signifying the seat of affection and love--the mercy seat--he carried Israel. In the Urim and Thummim,--"that is, the lights and the perfections" (Ex. 28:30, R.V., margin),--he bore "the judgements of the children of Israel upon his heart;" in the golden crown upon the mitre inscribed with "Holiness to the Lord," he bore the "iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts," and this that "they may be accepted before the Lord." Verses 36-38.
"The high priest was to act for men 'in things pertaining to God,' to make propitiation for the sins of the people' (Heb. 2:17). He was the mediator who ministered for the guilty. 'The high priest represented the whole people. All Israelites were reckoned as being in him. The prerogative held by him belonged to the whole of them (Ex. 19:6),...(Vitringa).' That the high priest did represent the whole congregation appears, first, from his bearing the tribal names on his shoulders in the onyx stones, and second, in the tribal names engraved in the twelve gems of the breastplate. The divine explanation of this double representation of Israel in the dress of the high priest is, he 'shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial' (Ex. 28:12,19). Moreover, his committing heinous sin involved the people in his guilt: 'If the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people' (Lev. 4:3). The LXX reads, 'If the anointed priest shall sin so as to make the people sin.' The anointed priest, of course, is the high priest. 'When he sinned, the people sinned. His official action was reckoned as their action. The whole nation shared in the trespass of their representative. The converse appears to be just as true. What he did in his official capacity, as prescribed by the Lord, was reckoned as done by the whole congregation: 'Every high priest...is appointed for men' (Heb. 5:1)." --The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p.2439.
The representative character of the high priest should be stressed. Adam was the representative man. When he sinned, the world sinned, and death passed upon all men. Rom. 5:12. "By one man's offence death reigned;" "by one mans disobedience many were made sinners." Verses 17, 19.
So likewise, Christ being the second man and the last Adam was the representative man. "It is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." 1Cor. 15:45, 47. "As by the offence of one judgement came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Rom. 5:18. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Rom. 5:19. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1Cor. 15:22.
The high priest being in a special sense a figure of Christ, was also the representative man. He stood for all Israel. He carried their burdens and sins. He bore the iniquity of all the holy things. He bore their judgement. When he sinned, Israel sinned. When he made atonement for himself, Israel was accepted.
The consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood was a most solemn occasion. The first act was that of washing. "Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water." Ex. 29:4. The priests did not wash themselves. It being a symbolic act, a symbol of regeneration, they could not wash themselves. Titus 3:5.
Being washed, Aaron was then clothed in his garments of beauty and glory. "Thou shalt take the garments, and put upon Aaron the coat, and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the curious girdle of the ephod: and thou shalt put the mitre upon his head, and put the holy crown upon the mitre." Ex. 29:5, 6. Note again, Aaron did not put his garments on. They were put on him. As they were symbolic of the robes of righteousness, he could not clothe himself. "Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy." Ps. 132:9. "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.
Aaron is now fully clothed. He has on the white coat underneath, the long blue robe with the bells and the pomegranates, the ephod with the two beautiful onyx stones with the names of the children of Israel engraved upon them, the breastplate with the twelve stones and Urim and Thummim, the mitre and the golden crown with the inscription, "Holiness to the Lord." He is washed, he is clean, he is clothed; but he is not yet ready to officiate. Next is the anointing. The sacred oil is poured upon his head by Moses. "Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him." Ex. 29:7. Not only is Aaron anointed, but also the tabernacle. "And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them. And he sprinkled thereof upon the altar seven times, and anointed the -altar and all his vessels, both the laver and his foot, to sanctify them." Lev. 8:10, 11. This anointing included all the furniture in both the holy and the most holy place. Ex. 30:26-29. It is to be noted that while the tabernacle and what was therein was sprinkled with oil, upon Aaron the oil was poured. Lev. 8:10-12; Ex. 29:7.
The anointing with oil is symbolic of the endowment with the Spirit of God. 1Sam.10:1,6; 16:13; Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38. The profusion of oil used in the case of Aaron - it "ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments" - is symbolic of the fullness of the Spirit which God bestows upon His church. So far, all the ceremonies-except the washing-have been directed toward Aaron only. Now, however, the four sons have a part equal with the father in what follows.
A sin offering, a bullock, was provided, and Aaron and his sons placed their hands upon it and it was killed. The blood was taken by Moses, who put it "upon the horns of the altar round about with his finger, and purified the altar, and poured the blood at the bottom of the altar, and sanctified it, to make reconciliation upon it." Lev. 8:15. It is here to be noted that the blood of the bullock was not carried into the sanctuary as was the case when the anointed priest, the high priest, sinned. Lev. 4:6. Perhaps the reason is that this particular sin offering was not for Aaron alone, but also for his sons, and also that it seems to apply especially to the altar for its purification and sanctification, that reconciliation might be made upon it. Lev. 8:15. Some, indeed, hold that it was not for Aaron at all, but only for the altar.
After the sin offering was made, a burnt offering was provided. This was offered in the regular manner, all being burned on the altar, from which it came up before the Lord as a sweet savour. Verses 18-21.
The work so far has been preparatory. The service of consecration proper is begun by bringing "the ram of consecration," or, literally, "the ram of the fillings," and killing it, after hands had been imposed on its head. The blood is taken by Moses, who puts it "upon the tip of Aaron's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot." Verse 23. The same is done to the sons, and the altar also is sprinkled. "And he brought Aaron's sons, and Moses put of the blood upon the tip of their right ear, and upon the thumbs of their right hands, and upon the great toes of their right feet: and Moses sprinkled the blood upon the altar round about." Lev. 8:24.
After this came the "filling." Unleavened bread, a cake of oiled bread, and a wafer, together with the fat of the ram and the right shoulder, are placed in Aaron's hands and upon his sons' hands, and waved for a wave offering before the Lord. After it is waved by Aaron and his sons, Moses takes it off their hands and burns it upon the altar. The breast is reserved for Moses as his part. Verses 26-29.
After this, Moses took the oil and the blood "and sprinkled it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon his sons' garments with him; and sanctified Aaron, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons' garments with him." Verse 30.
With this ceremony, ended the special consecration of Aaron and his sons. They were now empowered to officiate at the sanctuary, though they still had to wait seven days in which they might not leave the sanctuary, but must "abide at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation day and night seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not: for so I am commanded." Verse 35.
So far, Moses had officiated at all the offerings made. At the end of the seven days Aaron begins his ministration. He offers a sin offering for himself, a young calf, and a ram for a burnt offering. Lev.9:2. He also offers a sin offering, a burnt offering, a meat offering, and a peace offering for the people. Verses 3,4. At the conclusion of the offerings, Aaron lifts up his hands and blesses the people.
Moses joins him in this, and the glory of the Lord appears. Moses has done his work, and need no longer officiate as priest.
The entire service of consecration tended to impress upon Aaron and his sons the sacredness of their calling. It must have been a new experience for Aaron to be washed by Moses. He could hardly escape the lesson intended by God. As the two brothers proceed to the laver, it can easily be imagined that they talk over the work about to be done. Moses informs his brother that he is to wash him. Aaron wonders why he cannot do this himself. They discuss the situation. Moses informs Aaron that God has given specific instructions regarding what is to be done. "This is the thing which the Lord commanded to be done," says Moses. Lev. 8:5. From his conversations with God, Moses has a better understanding of God's requirements than Aaron has. He understands that this is not an ordinary bath. If it were that, Aaron could probably do better himself. This is a spiritual cleansing. He cannot cleanse himself from sin. Somebody must do that for him; hence, the symbolic washing.
After the washing, Aaron is not permitted to dress himself. Moses does that for him. Aaron feels himself completely helpless. Is everything to be done for me? he wonders. Am I not permitted to do anything for myself? No, he must not even put on the mitre. He is to have everything done for him.
What a wonderful lesson this account teaches! God does everything. All man has to do is to be submissive. God cleanses; God clothes. He provides the robe of righteousness, the garments of glory and beauty. All God asks is that we do not reject the garment He provides, as the man in the parable did.
In the consecration service Moses touched Aaron's ear with the blood, signifying by this that he was to hearken to God's commandments and close his ears to all evil. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." 1Sam.15:22. Christ was obedient unto death. Phil. 2:8. Our ears are to be consecrated to God's service.
Moses also touched the thumb of the right hand, signifying that Aaron should do righteousness. As hearing has to do with the mind, so the hand has to do with bodily activity. It stands for the life forces, the outward act, the doing of righteousness. Of Christ it is written: "Lo, I come...to do Thy will, O God." Heb.10:7. Christ came to do God's will. "My meat," He said, "is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." John 4:3. Touching the hand with the blood means the consecration of the life and service to God -- entire dedication.
The touching of the toe with the blood has similar meaning. It signifies walking in the right way, running on God's errands, standing for truth and uprightness. It signifies treading the path of obedience, having one's steps ordered by the Lord. Every faculty of the being is to be dedicated to God and consecrated to His service. The ministry of God is not to be lightly entered into. It is a fearful responsibility to act as a mediator between God and men. Such a one must carry the people on his shoulders, he must bear them on his heart; holiness must be on his forehead, and his very garments must be sanctified. He must be clean, he must be anointed with the Holy Spirit, the blood must be applied to his ear, hand, and foot. The melody of a dedicated life must attend his every step, his progress must be marked by fruitful happiness, even from afar the sweet harmony of a well -- ordered life must be evident. He must be quick to discern God's will in the fleeting sunshine or shadow of God's approval or disapproval; the gold of worth and obedience must be interwoven in his very character structure; he must reflect in countenance, dress, and heart the purity, peace, and love of God. He must be submissive and willing to let God have His way; he must forget self and think of others; he must not shun a heavy load. He must continually have in mind that others' welfare and happiness are depending on him, that he does not live by or for himself, that his every act, because of his public and official character, has large significance.
As the true minister contemplates the responsibility resting upon him and the consequences resulting should he fail or come short he might well cry out, Who is sufficient for these things?