THE PRIESTS AND THEIR ATTIRE
The appointment of a Tabernacle and its various appurtenances as a meeting place between God and Israel (for such God declared it to be—Exod. 29:43), necessitated the appointment also of an order of men to act as intermediaries: how otherwise could Israel acceptably draw near? Israel was unfit to draw near. Even as early as the manifestation of Yahweh on Mount Sinai, before Moses had received directions for the construction of the tabernacle, God had forbidden the people to touch the Mount on pain of death (Exod. 19:12). Their unfitness was alleged to consist in their “uncleanness” (Lev. 15:31)—a term expressive both of their physical and moral defilement—the character of the entire human race—the one growing out of the other. Man is an unclean and corruptible organization, physically considered, living or dead: and his thoughts and actions are of the same complexion. We see him in his true nature when we compare him as he is, even at his best, with what he is promised to be—the pure, incorruptible, spiritual, ever-living, and glorious nature of the Lord Jesus and the angels.
That God should dwell with men at all was esteemed by Solomon a great condescension on the part of a Being to whom it is humbling Himself “to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth” (Psa. 113:6). That He should dwell with unclean and rebellious man seemed contrary to the fitness of things. In a sense it was so, as is shown by the reservations by which the condescension was safeguarded. The erection of the Tabernacle was an intimation of His willingness to be approached by man for mercy, but not at the sacrifice of His holiness, or His authority, or His majesty. Hence, familiar and indiscriminate approach was not invited: “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me”, He would be approached in a consecrated and concealed recess, and that only once a year, and that only by blood shed, and that only presented by a man of His own choice, assisted by men of His own appointment, and attired in a way prescribed by Himself.
Moses was directed to “take Aaron, thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office”, The priesthood was to be Aaron’s and his successors by a perpetual ordinance: any stranger obtruding himself upon the sacred office was to be put to death (Num. 18:7). The sons were to be assistants: the father only was to be high priest: all were to be physically without blemish. Any disfigurement was to be a disqualification, though not for the eating of the sacrifices (Lev. 21:17–23). They were to live by the offerings made to God by the people: they were not to have any land inheritance: God was to be their inheritance (Num. 18:12–20). They were to stand between God and the people.
This was all part of “the figure for the time then present” (Heb. 9:9); part of “the form of (divine) knowledge and of the truth” (Rom. 2:20).
Its general significance is scarcely to be missed. We have seen it in other connections: that man cannot approach God except in God’s own way: that this we can only learn by the revelation of His mind, and that all other so-called religion is the mere device of human ignorance and presumption.
Its particular significance concerns Christ, who is the substance of all these preliminary shadowings (Col. 2:17). In him we see a chosen mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)—not self-appointed: “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). It was God who said, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psa. 110:4). We see him offer blood—not the blood of bulls and goats, but his own blood: he alone entering the holiest, “heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). We see him the perfect one, without spot, without sin, without superfluity, or incongruity—and this, his character from the beginning: yet assisted by his originally blemished sons in the ultimate development of his priesthood; for his children—his seed—the forgiven saints, are to reign with him as priests as well as kings (Heb. 2:13–14; Isa. 53:10; Rev. 5:10). When they live as the immortal priests in the great mediatorship between God and man, they will live not as other men live—by the fruits of the ground—but by Christ, the power of God, and the great offering, whom they will eat daily by a figure in partaking of his life and subsisting in the constant communion of his love. Their former sins—all blotted out—will be no flaw in their position; though blemish in this respect would have been fatal in the high priest.
The whole Mosaic shadow tells us how far away are the people who think to commend themselves to God by fair moral behaviour apart from Christ. It proclaims with loud confirming voice what Christ testified of himself: “No man cometh unto the Father but by me”, It preaches the gospel that Peter preached: “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12): and that Paul preached “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38). It even gives us the gospel of the Kingdom in the constant presence of the purple in all its fabrics.
The men chosen as priests were not only to be of a certain family, but they were to be dressed in a particular way, which is minutely described. Their outfit, when complete, was to be “for glory and for beauty”, It is said so several times (Exod. 28:2, 40).
There is a good deal condensed into this expression which is as much a part of the Mosaic parable as any other ingredient in it.
It cannot be that “glory and beauty” of dress were aimed at in the sense that would commend itself to a child, or a savage, or a fop. Yet, as a matter of fact, the attire of the high priest would be highly picturesque: it would be pleasing to the eye as regards symmetry of form and combination of colour: indeed, with the addition of the frontal-plate of pure gold, the shoulder-buckle of gold-set onyx stone, and the glitter of the twelve rich-set precious stones in the breast-plate, it would be nothing less than splendid. “Glory and beauty” describes it all.
What do we see in this but the fact that glory and beauty are the attributes of Divine wisdom, whether we regard it intrinsically or in its living expression in all experience. Qualities are best discerned by contrast. Baseness and hideousness are the reverse of “glory and beauty”, We have but to look at the ways of men apart from God to see how inglorious and ugly they are—in all ways and senses. The man who is the slave of vice: the community that is given over to lust and violence: the nation that is sunk in superstition, idolatry, and darkness—are extreme illustrations of the ugliness that belongs to human nature divorced from light and law—an ugliness that extends to the faces and persons, as well as the minds of men. But there are many intermediate shades—from the partial insipidities of the common people to the ornamental brilliancies of high life. Even the fair aspects of average refinement are but the picturesque wrappage of that which is unbeautiful in itself. In a word, the natural man, in all his manifestations, is an ugly creature. He is indebted for the little ameliorations that we see in modern life to the indirect scintillations of the glory and beauty that belong to revelation. There is more profound philosophy than people imagine in the Bible classification of “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the spirit”; and in James’s apparently narrow-minded declaration, that “every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights”, It will be found upon a broad and full study of the subject that the natural man left to himself is fruitful in all ingloriousness and unbeautifulness while he lives till his exhausted and withered organism becomes the natural heir of the corruption and hideousness of the grave.
But in nature and upshot, the spiritual is “glory and beauty” —take it how we may: whether in character, as the man who brings forth the fruit of the spirit, in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness (Gal. 5:22); or in nature, as the angels, pure, incorruptible, and glorious, who are the sample to us of the state to which men are by the gospel invited when offered “glory and honour and immortality”,
There is another great contrast between the natural and the spiritual, which is overlooked in almost all systems of human thought, philosophical or theological. The natural is fixed, mechanical and intrinsic, while the spiritual is wholly an affair of Divine will and permission, and, therefore, connected with the unlimited. As a rule, the spiritual is supposed to be as much an element of human nature as the natural, only requiring to be evoked, like electricity, by friction. This is found untrue in experience, and untrue in Bible teaching. The two are strictly separate. God is not in man, though man is in God. The divine is extraneous to the human, though the divine comprehends all things. What of God gets into a man, whether morally and intellectually now by the illumination of the word, or physically afterwards, in the change to the immortal, has to come from without. The doctrine of “light within” as “light within” is untrue to nature, and a misunderstanding of revelation.
The antitypical “glory and beauty” of the Aaronic garment is less the physical glory of the spirit-nature than the moral and intellectual glory of the spirit-mind, as expressed in what is understood by “doctrine”. This we see when we come to consider their constitution in detail.
The preponderant materials were “gold, blue, purple, scarlet, fine-twined linen” (Exod. 28:6–8): the materials of the veil and the gate hangings of the tabernacle. The significance of these materials we saw in considering the tabernacle itself:—tried faith, healing by chastisement, royal destiny, sin-nature, and spotless righteousness. The question is, what is there of “glory and of beauty” in these significances? The appropriate answer would be, what is there not of glory and beauty in them? They all involve one trancendent truth, which is to all others as the sun in the heavens—the hallowed supremacy of God as the rule of being. Consider: What is faith but trust in His word? What is tried faith but faith put to the test by Him? What is healing but His act who says, “I wound and I heal”? And whose are the stripes but His, Whom it pleased to bruise the saving Son, with whose stripes we might be healed? Who so royal as the King of glory, whether in Father or Son, to whom every knee shall bow? What is sin-nature but nature cursed by God because of disobedience? What is righteousness but the doing of His perfect will?
Thus God is in every aspect of the typical garments: and there could be no greater “glory and beauty” than this proclaimed fact that He will and must be worshipped and obeyed as “head over all” before there can be true well-being (in “body, mind, and estate”) for man whom He has made. None so beautiful and glorious as He: “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he”, He proclaimed His name to Moses: “Merciful and gracious, slow to anger… and abundant in goodness and in truth”, What more glorious than the absolute ascendancy of such a beneficent Being, who with all goodness, combines all wisdom and power? What more delightsome and ennobling to created man than the ecstasy of loving adoration of the unlimited and perfect fountain of existence? What more beautiful than the reign of love between God and man among all the creatures of His hand?
The man chosen as priest had to be covered with garments having all these meanings in a concealed manner. God not only plainly declared, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me”, but He required such to be arrayed in vestments which were not only glorious and beautiful in an artistic sense, but which typically proclaimed the supremacy of God and the complete subordination of man as the conjoint and indispensable conditions of acceptable fellowship. We may miss all the meanings intended, but some of them are very manifest.
Not man unclothed: not man naked: not man as he is in himself, but man invested or “clothed upon” with superadded attributes or conditions, is acceptable. And these superadded conditions must be of divine pattern and prescription: “See thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee in the mount”: “Ye shall not add thereto or diminish aught therefrom.”
This, in the Mosaic shadow, is the condemnation of all human invention in religion; and the confutation of the popular idea that sincere ignorance or ignorant sincerity is eligible in worship: or that man can save himself by his own devices. Man is “condemned already”, and can only escape this position by God’s own provision, of which man can only become aware or avail himself through the enlightenment of revelation. The revelation is abundant and clear, if men would but make themselves acquainted with it. This Mosaic shadow is part, and no inconsiderable part, of the revelation.
“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” (Exod. 28:4). The ephod is first described, both in the specification and in the record of manufacture (39:2). It was not the first put on, but it was evidently the most important of all the garments, for it contained the shoulder buckles of onyx stone on which the names of the Twelve Tribes were engraved in two groups of six each, “for a memorial before the Lord”; and also the four-square breast-plate of judgment, with the twelve precious stones of different quality and colour, set in gold, and each having the name of one tribe—to be borne on Aaron’s heart when he went into the holy place for a memorial before the Lord continually (28:29).
The order of putting on appears to be given in Lev. 8:7–9, 1 the coat; 2, the girdle of the coat; 3, the robe, or skirt, with pendant bells and pomegranates on the lower edge; 4, the ephod; 5, the curious girdle (or sash) of the ephod, with which it was secured; 6, the breast-plate; 7, the Urim and Thummim, or framed collection of twelve precious stones; 8, the mitre; 9, the golden plate (or holy crown) in front, inscribed with the words, HOLINESS TO THE LORD, to be worn always upon Aaron’s forehead, “they that might be accepted before the Lord” (Exod. 28:38).
It may be possible to discover in this order of investiture the shadowed history of the development of the antitypical high priest. At this we shall look when we have considered the garments themselves.
- The Coat.—This was a tunic, or long inner garment, of fine linen, of woven work, and embroidered (Exod. 28:39; 35:27). The fine linen is the symbol of righteousness, as we have seen: the weaving and embroidery would stand for the particular works or actions in which righteousness is expressed: as it is said by John, “He that doeth righteousness is righteous” (1 John 3:7), and as it is figuratively said of the King’s bride in the day of glory “she shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework”, This, then, is the groundwork of the mental attire which renders the clothed man acceptable: white, pure, beautiful, righteousness, or the disposition to do what God commands, expressed in the actual rendering to Him what He delights in, which we can only know by His requirements.
- The Girdle of the Coat.—This was a sash of the same material (Exod. 28:39), used as a sort of easy belt to draw the coat together at the loins, giving fit and comfort in the wearing of the garment. Its literal use is seen in the statement that Jesus “took a towel and girded himself” (John 13:4)—tucking up his loose robe for convenience of action. Its figurative use is frequently illustrated: e.g., “She girdeth her loins with strength” (Prov. 31:17); “I girded thee about with fine linen” (Ezek. 16:10); “Gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pet. 1:13). The typical significance of the girdle of the priestly linen coat, as distinguished from the coat itself, would therefore be intelligent and executive righteousness, in addition to the sentiment and habit of righteousness: a resolute binding together and strengthening of the principles of righteousness for action.
- The Robe.—This was a skirt of blue woven work—answerable almost to the modern petticoat of female attire, only that it was an outer garment, and did not reach to the ground, but fell some eight or ten inches short of the lower end of the inner coat or linen tunic. It was fastened over the tunic at the waist, exactly like a petticoat, except that the fastening was not with strings, but by the grip of the garment at the bound border of the upper opening. It would be put on by being slipped over the head. It was strengthened at the upper edge with a woven binding like a habergeon (Exod. 28:32); and the lower hem was finished in a remarkable way, namely, with a row of tassels resembling pomegranates worked in purple and scarlet, alternated with bells of gold—“a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate” all the way round. The explanation connected with this was as follows: “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” (Exod. 28:35).
We have already seen that blueness is healing. This blue robe (or skirt), resting upon an inner tunic of white linen (righteousness) is an allegorical intimation that there can be no healing of human woe except by righteousness: and that righteousness—namely, that which God appoints to be such—will at last heal with such completeness of effect that there be no more curse, “and the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick”, But the healing will never conceal the righteousness: therefore, the tunic reaches below the blue skirt, and is visible to the spectator’s eye: an edging of white at the bottom is the finish of the priestly attire.
But the artificial pomegranates of purple and scarlet: well, pomegranates are fruit: the streak of scarlet speaks of sin-fruit to be healed, and the purple of the kingly nature of the healing institution; the golden bells, with their sound, tell us of the means: namely, the preaching of the word of faith, both when the Great High-priest goes into heaven, and when he comes out: for preaching is not ended when Christ comes, though its particular object changes. The everlasting gospel is preached after the Lamb stands on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1–6); and John himself, who took part in the first preaching when Christ went away, takes part, with his brethren, in another preaching after Christ comes, to “many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (Rev. 10:11). This is the will of God, that His name be proclaimed, with all that is involved in that, in the two stages, “when he (the high priest) goeth into the holy, and when he cometh out”, Silence would be stagnation: it would be disobedience in the high priest: the golden bells sound, “that he die not”,
In so far as the brethren of Christ are covered with the name of Christ, and in him are an holy priesthood, the figure would have a minor application to them as the sounders of the truth and the doers of his commandments—“a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate”—words and deeds, words and deeds, of Divine character.
4 to 7.—The Ephod and its Attachments.—Ephod is an untranslated word: that is, it is the Hebrew word lifted into the English version, because there is no modern garment that is its equivalent, and therefore, it cannot be translated, except as to its root meaning: oracular. It appears to have been a kind of waistcoat or frock, closed behind the shoulders instead of in front (Exod. 39:4), and finished in a short skirt or girdle, reaching to the loins (verse 5).
As already remarked, it was the most complicated, beautiful, and significant of all the priestly garments. In material it differed from the others, except as to the main fabric, which was “fine twined linen”, On this appears to have been embroidered ornamental work in gold, blue, purple, and scarlet. We are exactly told how the gold was used. It was “beaten into thin plates and cut into wires to work in the blue” (Exod. 39:3). A garment with a white ground, with cunning work embroidered on it in gold and colours, would certainly have an aspect of” glory and beauty”, Though differing from the other garments, it was allied to them in blending their white and blue in its constitution. It was different only in being more complete in its texture, adding the gold and the purple and scarlet to the white and the blue. It was of identical constitution with the veil and the door-hangings of the tabernacle and the gate of the court, as its typical significance required: for while the fine linen and the blue betokened separate elements of the way of righteousness, the combination of the whole in the ephod prefigured the perfect qualification of Christ for the priesthood, as it prefigured his perfect qualification in the several aspects typified by the gate, and the door, and the veil.
What this perfect qualification was, we considered in connection with these earlier types, and need not repeat. Suffice it that it blended the assertion of every Divine right and prerogative that has been violated by man, as was beautiful in a representative man caused to draw near on behalf of the rest: “I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me” (Jer. 30:21). “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me” (Lev. 10:3).
There are two clues in the ephod to the subject of the condemnation of sin and the declaration of the righteousness of God in the crucifixion of Christ (qualifying him to be the representative high priest “to appear in the presence of God for us”). The constitution of the ephod (gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, on a ground-work of white), is a typification of the method of the development of Christ as the great high priest, and of the principles that have become incorporate in him as the result of that method. The gleaming shoulder-buckle of onyx stone, engraved with the names of the tribes, and the resplendent collection of twelve differently coloured gems, set in ouches of gold in the breastplate—each having cut into it the name of a tribe—tell us of the objects of the priesthood.
The language of the type is this: “Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually”, “upon his two shoulders for a memorial” (Exod. 28:29, 12).
The heart to love and the shoulders to carry—in memory this agrees with all that Paul tells us in the antitype concerning the priesthood of Christ in Hebrews: “We have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”—“to appear in the presence of God for us”—“called of God an high priest after the (perpetual) order of Melchisedec”, who “because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood… able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them”; and John: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous ”: and again Paul: “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Some see in the onyx stones and the breastplate, the nation of Israel, since they contain the names of the tribes. This is not inconsistent with the apparently more limited application of the apostolic interpretation. It is not so limited as it seems. Who are the nation of Israel in the ultimate and final sense? Not every son of Abraham after the flesh. “They are not all Israel that are of Israel.” The commonwealth of Israel finally consists of those who are reconciled to God through Christ, many of whom are adopted Gentiles. They are a multitude that no man can number, and will finally fill the earth. They are comprehended in the twelve tribes in their final organization. Meanwhile, they are represented in detail, in their development from generation to generation, by the same high priest who makes intercession for them all, according to their need. Therefore, the high priest’s function could not be more appropriately represented than by the memorial names of the twelve tribes on heart and shoulder.
That precious stones should be used to represent them is an intimation that they will at last be both excellent and immortal. That they should be set in gold shows that faith will never be absent from our relation to God, though sight will blend with, and in a sense, swallow it up. That they should be called the Urim and the Thummin (light and fulness) is an indication of the fact that without light, precious stones have no beauty; and that when the light shines upon them, their beauty is a radiant fulness. The light that developed the beauty of the stones in the ephod when Aaron “went in before the Lord” in the dark interior of the tabernacle, was the glory that dwelt between the cherubim. The antitype will be seen in its completeness when the glory of the Lord beautifies the perfected tribes of Israel with light and immortality.
When the glory of the Lord departed from the temple (Ezek. 11:23) there was no answer from the glory that used to cover the mercy seat: the breastplate of the high priest sank to a mere piece of lustreless jewellery. The ephod was no longer a medium of communication with God. This is why, afterwards, when a claim of belonging to the priesthood was put forward by certain families who could not show their pedigree on the return from Babylon, it was said to them that “they should not eat of the most holy thing till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim” that is, a priest with the means of Divine communication through the breastplate, called, therefore, “the breastplate of judgment” (Exod. 28:30).
The breastplate was held in its place by gold chains inserted in gold rings at the four corners, and ending in other rings. These other rings were fastened with a lace of blue to other corresponding rings fastened in the lower part of the ephod, and at the shoulder-buckles (verses 22–28). Considering the significance of gold as tried faith, we here have faith as the fastenings of the foundations of the commonwealth of Israel, and not only faith, but mutuality of healing-faith—ring to ring held with a lace of blue—“the mutual faith both of you and me” (Rom. 1:12). “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith suffuses the whole economy of things Divine, as a warming under-glow, pleasing to God, and ennobling and comforting to man.
- The Mitre.—This was a head-covering of linen—a crown of righteousness: a different thing, both in form and meaning, from the split, two-horned, towering headpiece of an ecclesiastical bishop: which identifies the wearer with the two-horned beast of the earth. The Aaronic mitre was a comfortable bonnet of white, surmounting the entire priestly dress as the token of kindly purity presiding over all. The Papal head-gear is associated with a double-headed system of draconic rapacity and iniquity—Church and State—Pope and Emperor. But the linen bonnet (or mitre) was fronted by
- The Plate of Pure Gold.—Engraved with the words, “Holiness to the Lord”, and tied with a lace of blue to the forefront of the mitre. The explanation connected with it was this: “It shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord” (Exod. 28:38). “The iniquity of the holy things” is at first sight a strange and obscure expression. It becomes intelligible when we look into it. The holy things were the things which Israel were required to offer, whether as free-will offerings, or firstfruits, or sacrifice. They were made holy in being consecrated to God: but as emanating from an unclean people, they were considered as tainted with their unholiness, and therefore as unfit for presentation, except through a cleansing medium. This cleansing medium under the law was the high priest. The defilement came upon him, but was neutralized, as we might say, by the ceremonial holiness of the ever-visible assertion of the holiness of God on the frontal plate of gold. Thus he was qualified to “bear the iniquity of the holy things” without harm, and the offerings through him (with the plate “always upon his forehead”) were “accepted before the Lord”
This was the type. The antitype is manifest in Christ, “the mediator between God and men”, Mankind are unfit to offer God anything in which He can take pleasure, by reason of their state—“alienated by wicked works”—“dead in trespasses and in sins”—which are apostolic definitions (Col. 1:21; Eph. 2:1). “We are all as an unclean thing: and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Yet we are invited to come: yet not in our own capacity, but through one who has borne the iniquity of the invited worshippers in partaking of their unclean nature and coming under the curse of the law which condemned their transgressions, and triumphing over it by resurrection. He has thus borne the iniquity of the antitypical holy things without harm by reason of that “Holiness to the Lord”, which in a tried faith was exhibited to all Israel when manifest in their midst as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and since more conspicuously shown in the preaching of the Apostles: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25–26). Like Israel’s gifts, we are “accepted before the Lord”, notwithstanding our imperfections, because of the proclamation of the holiness of the Lord in the life and death of the high priest through whom we come. But this feature is more particularly exhibited in the consecration of the high priest with the blood of sacrifice, which we shall next have to consider in connection with the order of investiture.