Pictures of Redemption (17): The High Priest’s Garments

In Exodus 28, Moses recounts the commissioning of Aaron and his sons as the highest order of Levitical priests. Special attention is given to the unique clothes of these priests, with lengthy descriptions being carefully recorded for all time by Moses. Certainly there would be no need to record such detail unless the dress of Aaron and his sons has exceptional significance.

Types of ourselves

In God’s plans, we frequently see a dominant principle: the small and imperfect precedes and foreshadows the great and the perfect. This is true of first natural and then spiritual Israel. If it is true of nations, it is true of individuals. The Jew of Moses’ time is prophetic of a believer today. Since Jesus has taught all of his followers how to approach God in prayer and has brought them all into contact with his sacrifice, then we are all, in effect, priests: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9).

As the spiritual heirs of the Mosaic priests, we should study our predecessors and understand their responsibilities and privileges, for we are spiritual “priests.” If we take this attitude, then the study of the law that vanished away after Christ’s advent will become alive and exciting again.

The significance of clothing

Many passages in the Scriptures refer to clothing as a symbol:

“Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness…” (Psa. 132:9).

“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem” (Job 29:14).

Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph.4:24).

“Be clothed with humility” (I Pet. 5:5).

Put on the whole armor of God. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace… And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God…” (Eph. 6:11,13-15,17).

“And righteousness shall be the girdle of his (Christ’s) loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins” (Isa. 11:5).

In Bible terms, our clothing is a fitting symbol of our way of life. As with natural clothing, our walk in the Truth should be kept clean — in anticipation of our acceptance by Christ.

God told Moses to “make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for GLORY and for BEAUTY” (Exo. 28:2). The clothes of Aaron would certainly be glorious and beautiful. But outward beauty and extravagance may be a characteristic of the most evil and sinful persons. Unless there is an inner beauty that God can see, then what is pleasing merely on the outside will fit Jesus’ descriptions of the pious hypocrites of his day. Pure and white on the outside, inside they were full of death and corruption (Matt.23:25-28). The priests that condemned Christ wore basically the same outfit, and stood in the same relation to God, as Aaron did.

The ephod

The ephod (Exo. 28:6) was a coat that reached about to the thigh. It was interwoven of many different colors: gold, blue, scarlet (or red), purple, upon white linen.

Jacob loved his son Joseph very much and gave him a coat of many colors (probably to signify Joseph’s priestly office). Our Father in heaven gives us a “coat” also. When we enter into covenant relationship with Christ, we become spiritual priests and are symbolically given the priestly clothing. It is our duty to keep our robe pure and spotless and to add to its beauty by acceptable service to God. If we willfully defile our garment or cast it off, we fall under the condemnation which Jesus pronounced upon those who came to the wedding without the proper garment (Matt.22:11-13).

Each of the colors of the ephod symbolizes some characteristic to be found in our coats. By studying Aaron’s clothes, we find powerful exhortation as to the fabric of our own lives.

Gold

Gold represents a tried faith – “tried with fire” (I Pet. 1:7). Gold is one of the most precious metals and has a wide variety of useful qualities. It is very flexible and can be drawn into thin wire without breaking. It can withstand much pounding. Gold is a fitting symbol of faith, “without (which) it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6).

The color blue

Under the ephod, the priest wore a long blue robe which was visible below the ephod. Blue also appeared in the ephod itself. The Jews have always worn blue upon ceremonial garments, feeling that it had a special significance. Yahweh commanded Israel to “make fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them” (Num. 15:37-40).

The fringe itself represented a law, because it encircled the wearer and restricted him within it. Its blue color reminded him of the sky above, and thus of the heavenly origin of the law. He could not go anywhere without seeing the heavens, God’s dwelling place, stretched out above. His clothes were encompassed blue; his laws were all divine; and his only hope was to remember and meditate upon them always. Blue therefore represents the divine, or heavenly, element in our garments. We are to manifest God’s love and mercy always.

We must try to follow Christ’s footsteps. Christ so perfectly imitated God’s character that those who saw him, saw God (John 14:9). God told the Israelites that they were to be His witnesses to the Gentiles. The same holds true for us. Blue is a color which should increase in our garments.

The color red

As blue represents God, so red represents man. The word for man in Hebrew is

practically the same as the word for blood and the word for red. Red is the color of flesh and the color of the blood that flows through it. Both flesh and blood are reminders of the imperfections of sinful dying nature. Red is included in our garment or body, as it was in Christ’s also:

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14,15).

So that Christ would undergo real trials, he had to be subjected to the temptations and lusts of the flesh. Only by suppressing the natural self could he remain sinless. We must have the weakness of mortality now — so that we may learn to rely only upon God and not upon our own strength.

The color purple

Purple is the color of kings. Jesus was mockingly arrayed in a purple robe — along with a crown of thorns. Purple is a mixture of the blue of God and the red of man. It was only by showing a God-like character in the weak body of a man that Jesus triumphed over sin and opened a way for us to do the same. The only right to any form of kingship is through submission to God as the only true ruler.

This is what Jesus did, and what we must do. The climax of the process is foreseen in Rev. 5:10: “Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth.”

White linen

The white linen is the foundation fabric of the ephod. Its significance is simply explained in Rev. 19:7,8: “And to her [the Bride] was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”

In the end, it will be the only color in the garments of immortality. It will be a whiteness and a purity, both moral and physical. The flesh will be totally forsaken.

The girdle

The ephod had a girdle, or a belt (Exo. 28:8). The girdle drew the other garments together and allowed freedom for moving about without stumbling. In the same way we must gird ourselves spiritually. We must put aside all things which hamper us and concentrate on the one goal — attaining to life everlasting. The girdle shows an active, working righteousness:

Let your loins be girded about and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately (Luke 12:35,36).

Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:13).

Stones and names

On the shoulders of the ephod, there were two onyx stones with the names of the TWELVE tribes engraved upon them. Also, on the priest’s breastplate there were another TWELVE stones arranged in four rows (suggesting the encampment of the twelve tribes around the tabernacle in the wilderness). Both sets of stones plainly symbolize the tribes ofIsrael. The fact that Aaron wore them shows a connection between himself and his countrymen.

We rejoice in the fact that our high priest, the Lord Jesus, offered himself so that we might be saved. As Christ was prepared to do so much for his fellows, we too are to see ourselves as connected with the rest of spiritualIsrael. We are connected for the purpose of serving them similar to the way Aaron acted in service to his countrymen.

Bells and pomegranates

Beneath upon the hem of it [the ephod] 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. A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe 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 (Exo. 28:33-35).

Pomegranates are a beautiful symbol of the righteous. Pomegranates are a fruit and Jesus has said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

What fruits reveal true saints to be what they are? The answer is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal.5:22,23).

As the pomegranate is full of many seeds, it suitably symbolizes the multitudinous Christ — many saints joined together in Christ, their leader. Each seed, like each saint, is complete in itself, but together they form an even more perfect whole.

The fruit also points to the inheritance of the saints: the land of promise is called a “land of pomegranates” (Deut. 8:8).

The bells were worn alongside the pomegranates. They made a pleasing sound and remind us that our words, as well as our works — or fruits — must be well-pleasing to God. As the priest went about his work, the bells were constantly heard. In the same way, we are told always to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

The crown

Finally, Aaron was to wear a crown, or miter. Upon this miter was a golden plate upon which was written “Holiness to Yahweh.” In everything, the priest, as well as the ordinary man, was to remember God’s laws:

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deut. 6:6-9).

For the present, there are many problems in our world. We may be ridiculed and feel discouraged because we sometimes fail to maintain our “holiness to Yahweh.” But if we constantly look to the end, we may be uplifted in thinking of that time when ungodliness will be turned from Jacob, and from all of the world: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles…” (Zech. 14:16).

The partial and imperfect of both the Mosaic era and the present time will be submerged by the completeness of the declaration: “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num.14:21).

May our “garments” be found acceptable at that time.

George Booker

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