THE PRIESTHOOD Exodus 28–30
“I will consecrate . . . Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests” (Ex. 29:44). Only the priests in Israel were qualified to make the sacrifices required from those who approached God. The New Testament teaching that every believer is a priest (1 Peter 2:9) makes these chapters dealing with Israel’s priesthood especially significant.
Definition of Key Terms
Only men from Aaron’s family were permitted to serve as priests. Their function was to present sacrifices to God, to seek God’s guidance for the nation or individuals, to instruct the people in God’s Law, to serve as judges in certain cases, and to serve as guardians of the covenant and of Israel’s sanctuary and sacred treasures. The priests thus were mediators between God and the nation Israel. They represented the people to God by offering sacrifices and incense, by leading worship, and by praying for divine guidance. They also represented God to the people, for the priests instructed Israel in God’s Law, were channels through which God communicated His will, and served as living reminders that God forgives sinning people. Today each Christian is a priest with direct access to God. Each of us can represent others to the Lord in prayer. Each of us can be a channel through whom God’s love and grace reach lost men and women. The high priest. The Old Testament high priest had one duty that set him apart from other members of the priesthood. He and he alone entered the holy of holies on the annual Day of Atonement, carrying sacrificial blood which God promised would cover all the sins of His people (cf. Lev. 16). The New Testament presents Jesus as the true High Priest, who entered heaven itself with His own blood. As our High Priest, Jesus made the one sacrifice of Himself which won all who believe an eternal salvation (Heb. 10:10–14).
Special garments were prepared for the high priest (28:1–43). Aaron and his sons were to be ordained in an impressive ceremony that lasted seven days (29:1–46). Sacred duties were described, and formulas for sacred oils and incense were recorded (30:1–38).
Understanding the Text
“Make garments for Aaron” Ex. 28:1–43. As high priest, Aaron was provided with distinctive clothing to “give him dignity and honor.” Each item Aaron wore also had symbolic significance. The ephod Ex. 28:6–14. This vestlike outer jacket featured two stones, mounted one on each shoulder. The name of each Israelite tribe was engraved on one of these stones. Whenever Aaron entered the tabernacle, he represented all the people of God. Today Jesus, our High Priest, represents the church before God’s throne. The New Testament says “we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The breastpiece Ex. 28:15–30. This pouch was attached to the ephod with chains of gold. Twelve precious stones were mounted on it, each with the name of a single tribe. The text says that “whenever Aaron enters the holy place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart.” The symbolism is powerful. Here each tribe, rather than being engraved with others on a stone shoulder tab, is symbolized individually by an expensive gem. Each is worn over the heart. Jesus does more than represent us in heaven. He carries each individual in His heart. Each of us is known and loved. Each of us is precious to our Saviour. The Urim and Thummim Ex. 28:30. The breastpiece was a pouch called the “breastpiece of decision.” It contained two items called Urim and Thummim, which were used by the high priest to discern the will of God. No one knows just how they were used. Perhaps one represented no and the other yes, and they were drawn blindly by the high priest when inquiries were addressed to God. We do know, however, that God used them to communicate His will to Israel. Today our High Priest has sent us His Holy Spirit. We do not know exactly how the Spirit guides or communicates His will to us. But we do know that, when we honestly seek God’s guidance, the Holy Spirit leads us into His will. Robe, tunic, and turban Ex. 28:21–42. The clothing worn by the high priest was made of the finest material and beautifully worked. We not only need to bring God our best. When we serve God faithfully, He gives us His best. “Incense . . . every morning” Ex. 30:1–10. Revelation treats incense as a symbol of the prayers of God’s saints (Rev. 8:3–4). Aaron “must” burn fragrant incense on a golden altar within the tabernacle “every morning.” The image reminds us that daily prayer is a “must” for Christians, not only for our own spiritual benefit but because it is a vital ingredient in worship of God. “Atonement money” Ex. 30:11–16. A half-shekel tax to be collected from each Hebrew male was used for upkeep of the tabernacle. The tax is described as an atonement, or ransom. In the Old Testament all atonement is associated with sacrifice. This is true here as well, for the “service of the tent of tabernacle” implies payment for the sacrificial animals that were required for daily, Sabbath, and special festival offerings. Note that each Israelite paid the same small amount. Rich and poor had the same access to God through sacrifices offered by the priests. “A bronze basin . . . for washing” Ex. 30:17–21. Water in the Old Testament speaks of purification. Priests were never to approach the tabernacle without first washing in the bronze basin. “Take the following” Ex. 30:22–38. The fragrant oils and spices used on worship were compounded according to special formulas. In Old Testament Law, a clear distinction was maintained between the secular and sacred, and sacred things were never to be used for any secular purpose. Anything one sets apart to God is to be fully dedicated to Him.
Over His Heart (Ex. 29:15–30)
James Dobson suggests in his book Hide or Seek that we must decisively reject the values of a society which dismisses the plain girl and the less intelligent man as having no worth or value. In a society that places so much emphasis on looks, intelligence, athletic achievement, and wealth, the majority grows up with a sense of personal inferiority and even of worthlessness. A low self-image, Dobson says, is the painful product of a society that devalues the individual. But this is society’s view—not God’s. The difference is reflected in God’s design of the high priest’s breastpiece. God specified a different precious stone to represent each tribe in Israel. Each stone bore the name of one person, the forefather who represents the tribe. Each stone was attached with gold filigree to a pouch worn over the heart of the high priest. Each name was carried there, over his heart, into the very presence of the Lord. God views each of us as an individual. Each of us is different, yet each is a precious gem to the Lord. And each of us is close to the heart of Jesus, God’s High Priest. Most of us will be unable to leave our children wealth or riches. But each of us does have an important gift we can give. We can give each of our children a sense of his worth, value, and specialness that reflects God’s values, not the values of our society. First, however, each of us needs to accept the gift God offers us in the symbolism of the jewels worn over the high priest’s heart. The gift of realizing that we are special. Whatever our parents or our society may have implied, we have infinite worth and value to God. We are jewels. And He carries our names close to His heart.
Let any rings or jewels you wear remind you of the high priest’s breastpiece, and of how precious you are in God’s sight.