(1) “From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
(2) “He made the ephod of gold, blue, and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. (3) And they hammered out gold leaf, and he cut it into threads to work into the blue and purple and the scarlet yarns, and into the fine twined linen, in skilled design. (4) They made for the ephod attaching shoulder pieces, joined to it at its two edges. (5) And the skillfully woven band on it was of one peace with it and made like it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
(6) “They made the onyx stones, enclosed in settings of gold filigree, and engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. (7) And he set them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod to be stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
(8) “He made the breastpiece, in skilled work, in the style of the ephod, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. (9) It was square. They made the breastpiece doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth when doubled. (10) And they set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle was the first row; (11) and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; (12) and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; (13) and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. (14) “There were twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. (15) And they made on the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. (16) And they made two settings of gold filigree and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. (17) And they put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. (18) They attached the two ends of the two cords to the two settings of filigree. Thus they attached it in front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. (19) Then they made two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. (20) And they made two rings of gold, and attached them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, at its seam above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. (21) And they bound the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it should lie on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece should not come loose from the ephod, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
(22) “He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue, (23) and the opening of the robe in it was like the opening in a garment, with a binding around the opening, so that it might not tear. (24) On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. (25) They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates—(26) a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
(27) “They also made the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, (28) and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen undergarments of fine twined linen, (29) and the sash of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, embroidered, with needlework, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
(30) “They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ (31) And they tied it to a cord of blue to fasten it on the turban above, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Now my assignment today included not only these 31 verses of Exodus 39, but also chapter 38 verses 21-31. I’m going to use that section to do a review of what we’ve been studying the last couple months. But even Exodus 39 is a review. A little over a year ago, you were in Exodus 28 where we read about the priestly garments the first time. Here in chapter 39, we are told that Israel did all that God had instructed them. Chapter 28 was the command, and chapter 39 is the obedience.
The Holy Spirit spends a great deal of space telling us about these garments in detail. This pattern from the Lord through Moses for the priest’s clothes is so specific, we could recreate the outfit ourselves just from this description. It’s not difficult to find artist renderings of the priest in the tabernacle, and all of those depictions are almost unanimous in what the priestly garments looked like.
Why is this important? After all, we’re talking about clothes here that haven’t been a part of tabernacle or temple worship in two thousand years. If a pastor were to get this idea in his head, “I think we should revive the priestly garments, and I’m going to wear them when I preach,” you would think he looks downright goofy. Given that our present context is not in the tabernacle in the 15th century B.C., you would be right—that would be goofy. Not to mention expensive. Just consider the jewels we’re talking about here—diamonds and sapphires and beryl, oh my! Gold so finely hammered out, they rolled it into thread and wove it into these clothes. For Israel in Exodus, this was very serious. It was serious to God. This should be serious to us—when we handle God’s word in the right way.
As we look at this text, we want to consider what this meant to Israel. Secondly, we will consider how the priestly garments point us to Christ. Lastly, in the way this text ministers to us, there is application pertaining to how the church is called to be a royal priesthood as we live on this earth.
First, let’s do some re-cap. Look at chapter 38, verses 21 to 31:
(21) “These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest. (22) Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses; (23) and with him was Ohiliab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designing and embroiderer in the blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.”
For the description, the instruction, and the construction of the tabernacle, this section sums up the gathering of those materials and putting them to use. Verse 24:
(24) “All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary: a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone who was listed in the records, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men.
(27) “The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil; a hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent a base. (28) And of the 1,775 shekels he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their capitals and made fillets for them. (29) The bronze that was offered was seventy talents and 2,400 shekels; (30) with it he made the bases for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, (31) the bases around the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court.”
Talents and shekels were like dollars and cents, but the amounts were measured by weight, not against the value of a fluctuating currency like we do it today. To give you an idea of how much money we’re talking about here, the figures we’re given are 29 talents and 750 shekels of gold, 100 talents and 1,775 shekels of silver, and 70 talents and 2,400 shekels of bronze. One talent of gold is about 33 kilograms or 72 pounds by weight. According to the United States Gold Bureau, the value of one kilo of gold as of this past week is $60,376.42. That means one talent would be worth nearly two million dollars in our modern American currency. One talent of silver is worth $25,686.21, and one talent of bronze is $3,669.27.
With these precious metals combined, adding only talents minus the shekels, that brings us to a grand total of: $60,605,703.84 contributed by Israel for the construction of the tabernacle. More amazing still, none of that went to waste. Everything that was gathered went to use. As Pastor Tom pointed out a couple of weeks ago, at some point Moses had to say, “Stop giving!” They were accumulating more than they needed. Exodus 36:6 says, “So Moses gave command and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, ‘Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.”
I know this concept might be foreign to us as 21st century Americans—the idea of not being wasteful, or that we take only what we need and not any more than that. But consider again how willingly Israel was to give, and how faithful the workmen were to do the job. All of this was done in service to the Lord. Wouldn’t you want it said of you, that he or she was always willing to give of their time, their talent, and their treasure out of reverence to God?
That’s just a recap of some things we were studying a couple weeks ago. We’ve read about what was done with the fabrics and the precious metals for the construction of the tabernacle. This next part is how those materials were utilized for the making of the priestly garments. Look at chapter 39 verse 1:
“From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns, they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Notice that this is for the ministry in the Holy Place, not the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested and God dwelt there. The high priest would enter the Holy of Holies only one time a year on the Day of Atonement. For that service, the high priest wore white linens. Between sacrifices, he would take the linens off, bathe himself, and put on new linens. We read about the specifics for the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. These priestly garments we’re reading about here are not for entering into the Holy of Holies. They’re for the daily service the High Priest does in the Holy Place, which was just outside the Holy of Holies.
Keep in your mind the picture we have here. The presence of God was in the center of the Ark of the Covenant, right between the cherubim on top, what we call the mercy seat. Of all of the different articles we have described for us in the tabernacle, notice that there’s never a chair. Only one gets to sit enthroned, and He is God. That’s a point I will come back to later.
So God sits in the center of the ark, which is the center of the Most Holy Place, which is the center of the Holy Place, which is the center of the tabernacle, which is the center of the tabernacle courtyard, which is at the center of Israel encamped all around it. So God is at the center of the center of the center of the center of the center of the center. Not even the high priest, nor the rest of the priests—not even Aaron and his sons—were allowed to go in there. That is God’s seat in God’s room. God is so holy, not even the man declared the holiest in all the earth could stand in His presence without His permission.
In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, got drunk and tried to offer strange fire to God, which the Lord had not commanded them. Leviticus 10:2 says, “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”
The reason they were killed was not just because they did something the Lord had not commanded them to do. It was because when they did this, they tried to enter the Most Holy Place. God will not allow His holiness to be violated, not even by members of the High Priest’s own family.
The place of God is a place sinful man cannot dwell. We need a representative, a mediator, to go on our behalf. That is what the high priest was for Israel. He was not in the center. He ministered just outside the center. Not in the Most Holy Place, but very, very close to it. Not in the place of God, but nearer to God than the rest of the people.
A priest had a unique role—set apart, which is what “holy” means. Even the priest’s clothing was a testament to what he represented.
Exodus 39, verses 2-5 describe the threads with which the priest’s garments were made. Notice that verse 3 says, “And they hammered out gold leaf, and he cut it into threads to work into the blue and purple and the scarlet yarns.” They thinned out the gold so that it could become thread woven into this clothing. Blue and purple and scarlet yarns are valuable enough, setting aside that they’re making gold into thread. My friends, these clothes were to be considered royal. This was the high priest of the King of all creation. Can you imagine bearing the responsibility of that job?
Last year, preaching from Exodus 28, Pastor Tom said the following: “The high priest had the most dangerous job in Israel. He was warned multiple times to do exactly as God dictated, lest he die… Entering God’s presence was a matter of life and death.” That is incredibly humbling. If there was nothing special about the high priest—that even he could die if he didn’t follow God’s ordinances—then how much less should everyone else consider themselves before a holy God?
The most God-fearing people in Israel would have looked at the High Priest and thought, “I would be terrified to have that job. What kind of man am I that I should stand in the presence of a holy God?” But he would surely want to be accepted before God as the High Priest was, desiring to live a life of holiness. Those in Israel who did not fear God thought to themselves, “I could do that job. I deserve it just as much if not more than Aaron and his sons.”
Do you know the story of Korah’s rebellion? In Numbers 16, Korah rose up with a number of the well-known men of Israel. Verse 3 says, “They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone to far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
How did the Lord respond to Korah’s declaration that anyone in Israel was just as holy and just as deserving of the place of Moses the prophet or Aaron the high priest? Every one of them, including Moses and Aaron, were called to present themselves before God, and God consumed the household of Korah by opening up the ground beneath him and swallowing him alive, and the rest who were with Korah were consumed with fire.
My friends, let that be a warning to you and me, that you not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. You do not make yourself holy by declaring yourself to be holy. God is the one who makes holy. There are all manner of teachers out there wanting to tickle your itching ears and tell you, “God loves you just the way you are—He made you this way,” with no talk about sin or repentance or need for a Savior.
It was about a decade ago now that Lady Gaga released her song Born This Way, which quickly became an anthem among America’s youth who are caught up in the sexual revolution. Some of the lyrics go like this: “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are. He made you perfect, babe. I’m beautiful in my way, because God makes no mistakes. A different lover is not a sin. Just believe in capital H-I-M.”
Of such teachers, Jude verses 10 and 11 say, “These people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
To think of yourself as good enough is not good enough. We are made righteous by God when we believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. Ephesians 1:4 says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”
Aaron and his sons were chosen by God and appointed for the priesthood. A priest is a representative of men before God. As it says in Hebrews 5:1-2, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” The priest is a mediator who stands before God on behalf of God’s people.
Look at Exodus 39 verses 6-7. We have the mention of two onyx stones, one on either shoulder of this garment. Six of the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved in one stone, and six in another. You might consider the symbolization here of the priest carrying the people of Israel on his shoulders when he ministered on their behalf. Verse 7 says these stones were a “remembrance for the sons of Israel.”
Verses 8-21 describe the ephod and the breastpiece, which had four rows of three stones. Three times four is twelve. There are twelve tribes of Israel. So the stones on the shoulders represented the value that the Lord placed upon his people as a whole nation, and the individual stones represented the value that the Lord placed upon each individual tribe. The priest carried them on his shoulders and out in front of him. He was to consider the needs of the people ahead of himself.
By the way, back in Exodus 28:15, this breastpiece was referred to as the breastpiece of judgment. The Geneva Study Bible says, “It was so called, because the high priest could not give sentence in judgment without that on his breast.”
John Gill, Baptist pastor in 18th century England, elaborates further when he wrote the following: “The breastplate of judgment was to put him in mind that he,” the priest, “should do justice and judgment in the execution of his office, and that he should have at heart the judgment of the people of Israel. In difficult cases, [he] should ask it of God and faithfully declare it to [God’s people. The breastplate] was, with the twelve stones in it, an emblem of the church and the people of God, borne upon the heart of Christ our great High Priest, who are made righteous by Him, yea, the righteousness of God in Him, and are called by His name, the Lord our righteousness.”
These stones were immensely precious just as the people of Israel were made precious to God. The people were to be of such great value to the priest, he would risk his life on their behalf.
The first row of stones was of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle; the second was an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third is a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. These same stones are used to describe the foundation of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, depicting the people of God as chosen, treasured, and beautiful. Not only this, but the people of God in Christ Jesus are everlasting.
Exodus 39, verses 22-26 mention the bells and the pomegranates on the hem of the robe. When the high priest ministered in the courtyard or in the Holy Place, the people of Israel may not have been able to see him, but they could hear him. When they heard the sound of the bells, they knew the high priest was working for them.
Verses 27-29 describe the garments for Aaron’s sons, which were coats of fine linen. The linen undergarments and the fine linen turban would have been white. Verses 30 and 31 mentions the holy crown of pure gold. This was a broad gold band around the base of the turban. And on the crown was an inscription: “Holy to the Lord.” Literally, “Holy to Yahweh.” This was a reminder to the priest and to Israel that one must be holy to fellowship with God. Hebrews 12:14 instructs us to strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
We have read here of the costly ornamented beauty that the high priest was arrayed in. His garments were every bit as rich as the makings of the tabernacle itself. As Pastor Tom described him in Exodus 28, “The priest is like a walking tabernacle.” He is God’s representative who would bring God’s people into God’s presence. The symbol of God’s glory and beauty was in the high priest who was in their midst. The workers who labored to craft these fine garments did so in reverence to God. The men who wore them did so in reverence to God. And the people who looked upon them did so in reverence to God.
But remember how I said that of all the furnishings in the tabernacle and later in the temple, there was no chair? That’s because in ancient Israel, a priest’s work was never done. His work was insufficient. Turn with me if you will to Hebrews chapter 10. Let’s look at the first four verses:
(1) “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (2) Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consequences of sins? (3) But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. (4) For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The fact that the high priest had to offer a sacrifice every year was an annual reminder of man’s lasting sinful condition. The work of the high priest was never sufficient to take away sins, or else the priest wouldn’t have had to do it again the next year. He does the same work over and over and over again, high priest after high priest, for fifteen hundred years, with no rest. Skip down to verse 11:
(11) “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (12) But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Notice that. The high priest’s work was never done. But when our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, died on the cross, when He declared, “It is finished,” what happened next? He sat down! At the right hand of God, verse 13, “waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. (14) For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Turn back with me to chapter 9. I’m going out of order here, but this is all to show how Christ is our Great High Priest. Look at verse 11: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation).”
Let’s stop there. As Pastor Tom pointed out a couple weeks ago, that word “tabernacle” means to dwell. And when we read in John 1:14, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us,” the Greek word there for “dwell” is the same Greek word in the Greek Old Testament for tabernacle. The Son of God put on flesh and tabernacled among us.
In Hebrews 9, go on to verse 12. Through His more perfect tent, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Skip down to verse 24 and I’ll read to verse 28:
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (25) Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, (26) for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (27) And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, (28) so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”
Once again, the High Priest’s work was insufficient because the High Priest’s work was imperfect. But the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ—His work is sufficient because the Great High Priest’s work is perfect. The High Priest in the tabernacle was a shadow of the one who was to come. God’s plan of redemption was never meant to be through animal or annual sacrifices. These things pointed to Christ, the Lamb of God who died once for all who would believe in Him.
Now, we’ve read here about a high priest’s richly ornamented, specially crafted garments. Jesus didn’t come with that kind of beauty—not according to human eyes, anyway. The people of Israel marveled at how splendid their high priest looked. He was the best-dressed man in Israel. But Isaiah 53:2 says of Jesus, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.”
By earthly standards, Jesus was nothing to look at. By heavenly standards, He is the one we must look to in order to be saved. God gave the high priest as a glimpse of the Great High Priest who was to come. Likewise, the beauty of the garments that clothed Aaron were but a mere shadow of the glorious righteousness that clothes Jesus. That is the righteousness we must have if we are to enter the presence of God.
In Revelation 3:18, Jesus says to the church, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” Revelation 7:9-10 describes a great multitude that no one could number, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
In Revelation 19:6-8, we hear the voice of the great multitude sing, “‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with the fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
It was granted to the church to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Romans 3:22 says this is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” As it says in 1 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, He became sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” By faith in Jesus, your sins are imputed to Christ, who died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, and His righteousness is imputed to you, that you may be born again as a living sacrifice.
The high priest in the tabernacle and the temple points us to the Great High Priest who is Jesus. But the priesthood in the kingdom of Israel was not limited to Aaron and his sons, and the priesthood of the kingdom of heaven is not limited to the Son of God. Yes, there was a uniqueness to the high priest, and there is an incomparable uniqueness to Jesus Christ. But we are all called to be a kingdom of priests unto His name.
In Exodus 19:5-6, the Lord said to Israel from Mount Sinai, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; (6) and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” In light of this, turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 2, and let us read verses 9-12. The Spirit says to us:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (10) Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(11) “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (12) Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [or the pagans] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds, and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been appointed to His royal priesthood. You are to proclaim His righteousness in deed and in truth. As Peter says later on in chapter 4 verse 2, “Live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” We know what God’s will is for us, what it means to live righteously, when we read and conform ourselves to His word, the Bible.
I continue to be astonished at the number of Christians and their churches and the preachers, casting away their priestly garments for soiled, worldly clothing. They covet what the world has, desiring sex and love as the world defines them, wealth and attention as the world promises them, drunkenness and drug use as the world does them, philosophy and sociology and psychology as the world teaches them, religion and spirituality as the world practices them. These things are all dross. They will be burned up in fire at the judgment of Almighty God.
Desire the love that God has shown to us, the kingdom He has promised us, the Spirit He has poured out for us, the truth that He has spoken to us, the Son He has given for us. As His royal priesthood, He has clothed us in His righteousness. He has drawn you near to Him. Live for Him, in the priestly garments He has made for you. Brothers and sisters, there is nothing better than this.