Jesus Christ Takes Full Responsibility for Our Salvation
We must look upon these sections of Scripture and infant seasons in the history of the church as being record for our instruction and example (1 Cor. 10:11). When we view them in the light of our Savior’s person and work, they become a living history. He said to the Jews that “Moses wrote about me” (John 5:47), and this certainly includes the entire worship of the old covenant – tabernacle, priesthood, and sacrifice. And we shall likely appreciate these sections more if we think of him walking along the Emmaus Road, talking to the two disciples on the afternoon of his resurrection about everything in Scripture written about him (Luke 24:27). He began with Moses, and he likely included a reference to these chapters – about his work as the great and faithful high priest typified in the work of the Levitical priesthood. But that priesthood was obviously provisional – obvious in the light of the perfection of Jesus Christ – for all the beautiful clothes covered the ugliness of the men who ministered; the symbols pointed to a higher reality to which those priests could never attain, a heartfelt ministry and atoning mediation that an ocean of animal blood could never effect. Now that the perfect has come in Jesus Christ, the day of full atonement and completed revelation (1 Cor. 13:10; Heb. 9:11), the fading glory of the older covenant should not be disrespectfully ignored but backlit by the glory of Christ. For in those old types, we behold our Savior’s glory and better understand God’s purpose for the priesthood. We are also led by the hand to embrace Jesus Christ for the enjoyment of every promise God has made and every blessing he has offered (2 Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:3).
He Bears Us upon his Heart:
The Priest’s Breastplate (vv. 15-30)
15 "You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. 16 "It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width. 17 "And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; 18 "the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; 19 "the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 20 "and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. 21 "And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes. 22 " You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold. 23 "And you shall make two rings of gold for the breastplate, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. 24 "Then you shall put the two braided chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate; 25 "and the other two ends of the two braided chains you shall fasten to the two settings, and put them on the shoulder straps of the ephod in the front. 26 "You shall make two rings of gold, and put them on the two ends of the breastplate, on the edge of it, which is on the inner side of the ephod. 27 "And two other rings of gold you shall make, and put them on the two shoulder straps, underneath the ephod toward its front, right at the seam above the intricately woven band of the ephod. 28 "They shall bind the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the ephod, using a blue cord, so that it is above the intricately woven band of the ephod, and so that the breastplate does not come loose from the ephod. 29 "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually. 30 "And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron's heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.
The Priest’s Dignity: Beauty and Judgment for God’s People (vv. 15-28)
The second main article of the priest’s official dress was the breastplate. It was made of finely woven cloth and was about 9 inches square; it was like an elaborate, decorative pouch (v. 16). If the ephod was the priest’s work apron, the breastplate was the symbol of his dignity. That they were bound together with loops and golden thread (vv. 22-28) was a reminder that there is no true dignity in the church without service, and that the way upward in God’s service is always downward – by laboring faithfully and humbling for God’s people, with no other thought than his glory and the good of those whom he loves. The breastplate is called the “breastplate of judgment,” for the priest stands between God and the people, between HOLINESS and SINFULNESS, to represent judgment on God’s side, his justice against sinners, and to seek atonement on man’s side. The office of priest is not an office of sentiment but of effecting justice and righteousness through mediation – sacrifice and intercession (v. 15).
The Priest’s Intercession: Bearing the Names of God’s People (v. 29)
Upon the beautiful breastplate were four rows of three stones, one for each of the twelve tribes – if Levi himself was omitted, then Joseph’s two sons would be included (vv. 17-21). Each stone was set in gold, emphasizing the value of God’s people in his sight – they could be complaining and stubborn, but he saw no sin in them, for he saw them clean through the blood of the Lamb (Num. 23:21). Sin was present, but through the priestly work, their sin was typically and corporately put away, although not individually, for this required faith in the promise. The important thing to understand about the breastplate is that the priest always bore before the Lord the names of God’s people – their needs and sorrows and sins. This was his office, as the description of the priest’s office and work makes clear – he bears the burdens that God’s people cannot bear. His work is thus self-denying, focused not upon his grandeur in his fine priestly garb, which served only to make him fit and acceptable to God so that he might labor for God’s people and bear them upon his heart.
We cannot fail to see the person and work of Jesus Christ typified in this breastplate, not only what he would come to do but that we desperately needed for him to come and do it! The instances of priestly abuse, self-aggrandizement, and indifference to God’s people are frequently recorded in Scripture. The Levitical priests had all the signs of what their work was to be, but they could not do it. Their hearts needed bearing up before the Lord. They were so loaded with transgressions, “compassed with infirmity” (Heb. 5:2), that any thinking priest must have been struck with amazement at the thought that he must bear the names of God’s people before the HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. Who would bear his name, his burdens, his sins? And thus, our Lord Jesus Christ came as the faithful and merciful high priest (Heb. 2:17), the meek and lowly in heart priest, who carries us in his bosom and intercedes for us before the throne of God (Isa. 40:11; Heb. 7:25). Each time we feel ready to faint, unable to take another step, cast down by our troubles, let us remember that the great Jesus Christ bears us up before his Father. And the Father always answers his prayers (John 11:42)! Thus, the more we bring our cares to our Savior, the greater the comfort and courage we must feel in our hearts, for the Lord Jesus has removed our sins and now bears us up before the throne of grace, to his Father, asking for all God’s good pleasure and good plans and great love to be fulfilled in us – by name. He never prays, “God bless so-and-so,” or, “Father, you know who I mean, but I cannot remember her name.” He cannot forget us; we are engraved upon his hands. He can sooner forget himself than one little lamb for whom he shed his precious blood.
The Priest’s Urim and Thummim: Guidance for God’s People (v. 30)
What the Urim and Thummim were we cannot now say. The words mean “lights and perfections.” Some have suggested that the twelve precious stones would light up when the priest sought an answer from God. More common today is the idea that the words should be translated as “lights and darks,” with perhaps one light and one dark stone placed in the breastplate pouch. Upon consultation, the “lot was cast into the lap” (Prov. 16:33), and the Lord made his will known. The recorded instances of consultation do not give us any uniform idea even if the Urim and Thummim were actual objects (Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6) or the way they might have operated. If it is true, as commonly said, that Israel knew what they were and how to make them, then the declarations of Ezra and Nehemiah are a little strange (Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65), unless Israel had already forgotten this information.
Might it be that the priest’s “bearing the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually” did not refer so much to material objects, like rocks or lots, but to the gift of priestly discernment? And even if this discernment, “lights and darks,” “yea and nay,” were symbolized by something material, since Ezra and Nehemiah longed for a priest who had them, surely they wanted men of discernment and wisdom for God’s people, far more than men who knew lost art of constructing seeing stones, or some such mediums. What can be said for certain is that the Urim and Thummim were consulted only by legitimate leaders of the people, in times of some great national distress, and when the needed direction required immediate divine intervention and direction.
This has immediate and glorious application and realization in our Lord Jesus Christ. The implication of the high priest’s lights and perfections is that God would answer his prayers and through him guide and give wisdom to his people. But this light failed early in Israel’s history. Nothing is more common than for the prophets to denounce priestly wickedness and lay upon the priests almost the entire blame for Israel’s spiritual declension and national miseries. But there is a Priest who has “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of the eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” (Isa. 11:2-3). This is Jesus Christ, the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:30). He is and possesses everything signified by Urim and Thummim – he is the light of the world, the perfection of God, possessing the Spirit without measure, having all discernment. And he has all this for us; in himself, he is the eternal God and possesses all this in himself. As the incarnate Mediator for our salvation, he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness,” and therefore “God his God anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows” (Ps. 45:7). The Spirit descended and rested upon him without measure or limit (John 1:32-33; 3:34).
And he now gives this Spirit to us, so that in him and his indwelling Spirit, we have the Urim and Thummim, immediate and infallible guidance from our enthroned Priest. We must take seriously our need of guidance, that good feelings are an unreliable guide and interpreting God’s will through circumstances is usually futile and often dangerous. But we have the Spirit of truth, and through careful study of his Word, we possess a basic but sufficient understanding of God’s will for our lives (John 8:31-32; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Then, as we are yielded to the Spirit, walk under his influence and submit to his guidance (Gal. 5:17), we may be sure that God will lead us in the proper path generally, and in time will made his particular will known to us, as we truly need to know it. Thus, each one of us must commit our way to the Lord, for he is our living and interceding Shepherd. We can depend upon his faithfulness to guide us in the proper path. And this requires that we patiently wait upon him, abide in his word, and are walking in obedience to what he has already told us (John 14:21,23). Lights and Perfections are one of the great benefits our Savior purchased for us, for “whenever he leads his sheep out, he goes before us, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4). If we were more careful to make use of the light God has given us, we would walk more perfectly and confidently.
He Is Clothed with Righteousness:
The Priest’s Robe (vv. 31-35)
31 "You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 "There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. 33 "And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: 34 "a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. 35 "And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die.
The symbolism of the blue robe that went under the ephod and breastplate was covering. It had no sleeves and extended from the neck to the high priest’s knees. The hem had woven pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet thread. Interspaced were golden bells that tinkled when the priests went in and out to minister before the Lord. The tinkling was to notify the people that the priest was official clothed and about to enter into the tabernacle to make intercession, and on the Day of Atonement, satisfaction for sin. They must pray for him. Aaron and his sons had to be clothed with this robe when they ministered before the Lord in his holy place, or else they would die. This might be said with respect to all the priestly garb and sacrifice, but it is said specifically of the blue robe, for the priest had to have the appropriate covering. Our Savior had a much better robe, for righteousness was his breastplate and zeal his robe (Isa. 59:17). By his learning obedience (Heb. 5:8) and his obedience unto death (Phil. 2:8), we are declared righteous before God (Rom. 4:22-24; 2 Cor. 5:21). Thus, in our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, we have an impeccable righteousness in which we are clothed as our robes of purity before God. We may therefore draw near with assurance of God’s favor as a kingdom of priests, but only in Jesus. In ourselves, we have nothing but filth; in him alone we are clothed with righteousness.
He Is Crowned with Glory:
The Priest’s Turban (vv. 36-39)
36 "You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. 37 "And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 "So it shall be on Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD. 39 "You shall skillfully weave the tunic of fine linen thread, you shall make the turban of fine linen, and you shall make the sash of woven work.
HOLINESS TO THE LORD (vv. 36-37)
Not much is said about the appearance (shape, color) of the high priest’s mitre or turban. Moses saw a model of it, and it is likely that its coloring matched the rest of the high priest’s garb. What receives prominent attention was the plate of pure gold upon which was engraved HOLINESS TO THE LORD. It was attached above the brim in the front of the turban. It was on Aaron’s forehead. His priestly service was set apart completely to the Lord – for his glory, to represent his covenant, word, and holiness to God’s people. Aaron’s work as priest was to set apart God’s people as his holy possession, through his intercession and sacrifices. Holiness was thus the whole work of the priesthood – both toward God and in man. Holiness is also an act of sovereign, amazing grace upon God’s part, for he must humble himself to behold what happens upon the earth, even in the absence of man’s sin. Now that we have sinned, for him to justify and adopt us to be his children, to give up his Son for us, is an act of unparalleled condescension and kindness upon his part. And HOLINESS TO THE LORD upon the priest’s head testified to the monergistic grace of God, that salvation was all of his work and power and grace to sinners.
Intentional Meditation, Personal Responsibility (vv. 38-39)
“Upon his forehead” means that the high priest’s ministry was personal and intentional. He bore the responsibility for the holy things, to make sure that God’s worship was according to his word and that he was conducting himself “according to the pattern shown upon the mount.” Deeper yet, the priest bore responsibility for the gifts of God’s people, that they were offered according to God’s will. The high priestly office required personal dedication, careful attention to detail, and deep conviction that he was serving the holy Lord of Israel. What high priest was sufficient for these things? He was the mediator of God’s people. He must have God’s interests at heart, especially his holiness and righteousness. The priest’s very life was upon the line. He may not diverge one inch from the careful service God revealed. He also carried the concerns and sins of God’s people into the Most Holy Place. He entered there with so many sacrifices because God’s justice screamed for satisfaction and man’s conscience for expiation.
Perhaps this gives us a little crisper understanding of why our Lord Jesus Christ was so careful to give meticulous obedience to God’s law. Professing believers scoff at this today – why, just follow your feelings – but our Savior had taken upon himself the whole responsibility for our salvation. He must fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). No required obedience could be withheld; no personal sacrifice and attention to duty was too great. Far better than the Levitical priests, his entire existence was HOLINESS TO THE LORD. He was set apart from the womb and cast upon his Father. He pleased his Father in all things (John 8:29). He required no beautiful robes to set him apart for office, for he was “fairer than the sons of men, and grace was poured into his lips” (Ps. 45:1). Righteousness and faithfulness was his girdle (Isa. 11:5). Unless we have such a high priest, we have no possibility of obtaining God’s favor; nothing but judgment and hell await us. Then, the Lord saw that there was no one, no savior, and his own arm brought salvation to us. He said, “Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7-8). A millennium before he was incarnate, already he declared himself to be our mediator, that in love and grace, he would take upon himself the obligation to be our Head and Surety, to save us by his obedience, to make his soul an offering for sin.
He Has No Sin:
The Under-Priests’ Clothing (vv. 40-43)
40 "For Aaron's sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. 41 "So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests. 42 "And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. 43 "They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.
Dignity and Purity Required (vv. 40-43)
Most of the Levites were under-priests, helpers in the tabernacle and its worship. All, however, even those who never entered the Most Holy Place, had to be appropriately attired. Each wore a girdle, linen breeches or underpants to “cover his nakedness,” an outer mark marking him out as part of the priestly order, and a bonnet. As with the high priests, “glory and beauty” must adorn those who would minister before the Lord of Hosts and Savior of Israel (v. 40). All the priests had to be set apart or ordained to office (v. 41), which is set forth in the next section. Decorum is the reason for the linen breeches extending down to the knees; altars in antiquity were notoriously places of impurity, and God’s worship, if it is nothing else, celebrates his absolute holiness (v. 42). Whenever Aaron’s sons came to the tabernacle or near to the altar, they must be properly clothed. This is not because God is stiff but because he is holy. When men think first of their personal comfort, this point will be lost upon most.
When we draw near to the Lord – and when he draws near to us! – it is dangerous for our first thought to be whether or not we are comfortable. Our first and almost only thought should be, “Is he pleased with me? Is he honored? Am I correctly attired with the righteous robes of my Savior? Otherwise, the Lord will cast me out of his feast (Matt. 22:11-14). He has made every provision for my salvation. I must worship him as he commands and gather about me the folds of my Savior’s beauty, loving him and seeking to be covered with him alone.” A greater consciousness of God’s presence among us and of the necessity of proper wedding clothing, a true and sincere faith in the Lord Jesus, would also increase our desire to worship God not as slouches but as men and women who are deeply conscious of the beauty of our Savior. This would also improve our overall appearance for worship, for the clothing we wear typically reflects the value we place upon where we are and what we are doing.
Deadly the Priest’s Office (v. 44)
It seems very hard that without the right clothing, Aaron and his sons were subject to God’s judgment, even death. Is God really this fastidious about dress, or is there a higher point being made? While we are his image bearers and must dress with dignity befitting our union with Christ and consistent with our earthly callings, the highest point here is not about clothes but the deadly work of the priesthood. Yes, it was a deadly work. Making atonement for sinners before a holy God is not something to be undertaken haphazardly but with the most careful attention to every word he has commanded. His worship is involved in the work of the priesthood, his holiness, and saving grace. Wrapped up in these is the regard he had then and now for his only begotten Son, who would soon come and make propitiation for our sins. This was not child’s play. Look at his cross. He offered himself with such great intentionality and attention to detail that he directed all the players in the great drama, even Pilate himself. Nothing would be omitted that was necessary to bring in everlasting righteousness, obtain our redemption, and provide a firm foundation for our assurance of our Father’s love. It was a deadly office our Savior undertook, and he completed it with his lifeblood. Let us adore him and believe upon his name.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. How does Scripture teach us to interpret these sections? (John 5:47, Luke 24:27, 1 Corinthians 10:11)
2. What does the breastplate reveal about Christ’s person and work? The Urim and Thummim? Blue robe?
3. How do we know God’s will?
4. Why was HOLINESS engraved upon the priest’s forehead?
5. What does this teach us about the work of the priest? Why Jesus was so committed to obedience?
6. Why was the priest’s office deadly? How did the right clothes help make this point?