Years ago I heard a preacher use God’s instructions concerning priestly garments as means to beat people over the head for not dressing up on Sunday morning. I mean some of the people were wearing jeans on a Sunday morning. I wonder if some of those jeans were holey. This brings up an important rule of interpretation. The goal is to do your best to discover what the passage meant to the original recipients and then to discover God’s truth for us. Otherwise, I believe we will miss the power of the passage. This will also help us to avoid searching out scripture to back up our preconceived theologies. It works like this. Apparently, said preacher believed that Christians should wear their nicest clothes on Sunday morning. So, he got busy and searched for a passage that would support his theory. Not only is this a dangerous approach it robs the Scripture of its intent and power.
Now, Exodus 28 is indeed about holy clothes but these instructions are for the priests; for Aaron and his sons as they minister before Yahweh. And these garments had a purpose; a symbolic purpose. The first garment dealt with is the ephod. Apparently the word sometimes refers to a simple linen shift-like garment that may have covered from the waist to mid thigh (1 Samuel 2:18; 22:18; 2 Samuel 6:14). Sometimes an ephod is used in connection to idolatry (Judges 17:5; 18:14-20). In our passage it is an elaborately made garment in which the front and back are clasped together at the shoulders. The most important feature of this garment was the onyx stones that rested on the shoulder pieces; one stone for each shoulder. The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on these stones; six names to each stone. So, Aaron and future high priests, would bear the names of Israel before the face of Yahweh. Can your suit or dress do that? These stones are called stones of memorial. And maybe they are memorials to Aaron – reminders that he is serving the tribes of Israel – and to the people whose tribal names are being taken into the very presence of the Lord.
The second article of holy clothing was the breastpiece of judgment. This was also to be made out of expensive materials. It was a doubled over piece of cloth that was about 9 inches by 9 inches. And upon the breastpiece were to be mounted twelve different precious stones. According to one source we are not able to match the Hebrew words to the actual stones. We just don’t know. They were most likely all a different color and they were all precious. Upon each stone was written a name of one of the tribes of Israel. Into this breastpiece the Urim and Thummim were to be placed. The words mean “Lights and Perfection”. They were used in some way to determine God’s judgment or decision about certain matters. This breastpiece is also called a memorial. In verses 29-30 the phrase “over his heart” is used three times in rapid succession. The names of Israel are worn over Aaron’s heart when he enters the holy place; the Urim and Thummim are over his heart when he goes before Yahweh; and Aaron shall carry judgment of the sons of Israel over his heart before Yahweh. Israel’s judgment comes from Yahweh, and Aaron wore the breastpiece as a reminder of who they are and who they stand before.
Aaron was also to wear a blue robe that would be worn under the ephod. This robe had pomegranates, either embroidered into the hem or made to hang down below the hem, and golden bells interspersed all around the hem. The pomegranates may represent God’s fruitful provision. The bells would serve as a auditory reminder that Aaron was moving around in the holy place serving before Yahweh; bearing the names of Israel into the Presence. Aaron was also to wear a turban upon which a pure gold flower petal was worn in the front. The inscription on this flower petal was “Holy to the Lord.” This may have referred to all of Israel since Aaron bore their names on his shoulder and over his heart before the face of Yahweh. They were to be a set apart and dedicated to God people.
This is about so much more than wearing nice clothes and it doesn’t even touch what we are to wear as we worship. This is about the priest bearing the tribal names before the face of Yahweh. This is about a reminder of who they serve. It is about a reminder to all of Israel that the high priest carries them into the Presence. For us, no one bears our tribal name into the Holy Space. No, the perfect high priest has become the perfect sacrifice and his blood makes us holy so that we can bear our own self into the Presence; to stand before the face of Yahweh. Wear that over your heart and approach the Holy God.