Exodus 28 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Exodus 28)
The high priest's garments

The garments were composed of everything that is connected with the Person of Christ in this character of priesthood; the breastplate, the ephod, the robe, the broidered coat, the curious girdle, and the mitre. The ephod was, par excellence, the priestly garment; made of the same things as the veil, only that there was no gold in the latter, and there were cherubims (but all enclosed inside the veil was gold, for God's government and judgment were in Christ as Son of man): in the ephod, gold but no cherubim [1], because the priest must have divine righteousness, but was not in the place of rule and government (compare Num. 4). It signified also the essential purity and the graces of Christ. The girdle was the sign of service. The girdle was of the same materials as the ephod to which it belonged. Arrayed in these robes of glory and beauty, the high priest bore the names of the people of God in the fulness of their order before God; upon his shoulders, the weight of their government, and upon the breastplate on his heart—breastplate which was inseparable from the ephod, that is, from his priesthood and appearing before God. He also bare, according to the perfections of God's presence, their judgment before Him. He maintained them in judgment before God according to these things. They therefore looked for answers through the Urim and Thummim that were in the breastplate; for the wisdom of our conduct is to be according to this position before God. Upon the hem of the robe of the ephod [2] there was the desirable fruit, and the testimony of the Holy Ghost, which depended on the priesthood. I think that Christ, in entering heaven, made Himself heard through the Holy Ghost in His people—hem of His garment (compare Psalm 133); and He will make Himself heard through His gifts when He comes out also. Meanwhile He bears within also the iniquity of the holy things in holiness before the eternal God. (This holiness is upon His very forehead.) Not only His people, but their imperfect services are presented according to the divine holiness in Him.

The priests' clothing

The sons of Aaron were also clothed. Their natural nakedness was not to appear, but the glory and the honour with which God clothed them. The girdle of service also distinguished them.

The ephod, its girdle and the robe of blue

The dress of the high priest demands a little further explanation. That which characterised him in service was the ephod, to which was inseparably attached the breastplate in which the Urim and Thummim were placed. With the ephod, therefore, the description begins. It was that in which, as thus clothed, he was to appear before God. It was made as the veil, with the addition of gold, for the veil was Christ's flesh, the actings of which could not be separated from what was divine; but in the exercise of priesthood He appeared before God within the veil, that is, figuratively, in heaven itself; and there what met, and had the nature and integral essence of (along with the heavenly grace and purity) divine righteousness, had its place and its part as found in Him: as it is written, looking at Him in a somewhat different aspect, but alike as to this [3], "an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The groundwork of the priesthood, then, was absolute personal purity in man, in its highest sense as a nature flowing intelligently from God, and in the priesthood glorified [4], every form of grace interwoven with it, and divine righteousness. It was service, and the priest was girded for it, but service before God. The loins were girt, but the garments otherwise down to the feet. This was especially the case with the robe all of blue.

The shoulderpeices

But to pursue the ephod itself. The high priest represented all the people before God, and presented them to Him, and this in a double way. First, he bore them on his shoulders—carried the whole weight and burden of them on himself. Their names were all graven upon the two onyx stones which united the parts of the ephod; there was no wearing the ephod—that is, exercising the priesthood—without carrying the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders. So Christ carries ever His people.

The breastplate

Next, the breastplate was attached inseparably to the ephod, never to be detached. There also he carried the names of his people before the Lord, and could not, as thus dressed in the high priestly robes, be there without them. As it is expressed, he bore them on his heart before Jehovah continually. They shall be upon Aaron's heart when he goeth in before Jehovah. Thus are we borne ever before God by Christ. He presents us, as that which He has on His heart, to God He cannot be before Him without doing so; and whatever claim the desire and wish of Christ's heart has to draw out the favour of God, it operates in drawing out that favour on us. The light and favour of the sanctuary—God as dwelling there—cannot shine out on Him without shining on us, and that as an object presented by Him for it.

The Urim and Thummim

This was not, however, all. The Urim and Thummim were there—light and perfection. The high priest bore the judgment of the children of Israel in their present ways and as to their present relationship [5] upon his heart before Jehovah, and this according to the light and perfection of God. This we need, to get blessing. Stood we before God, such as we are, we must draw down judgment, or lose the effect of this light and perfection of God, remaining without. But, Christ bearing our judgment according to these, our presentation to God is according to the perfection of God Himself—our judgment borne; but then our position, guidance, light, and spiritual intelligence are according to this same divine light and perfection. For the high priest inquired and had answers from God according to the Urim and Thummim. This is a blessed privilege [6].

The priestly presentation of the high priest

Introduced into the presence of God according to divine righteousness in the perfection of Christ, our spiritual light, and privileges, and walk, are according to this perfection. The presentation in divine righteousness gives us light, according to the perfection of Him into whose presence we are brought. Hence we are said (1 John 1) to walk in the light as He, God, is in the light—a solemn thought for the conscience, however joyful a one for the heart, telling us what our conversation ought to be in holiness [7]. Christ bearing our judgment takes away all imputative character from sin, and turns the light which would have condemned it and us, into a purifying enlightening character, according to that very perfection which looks on us. This breastplate was fastened to the onyx stones of the shoulders above, and to the ephod above the girdle below. It was the perpetual position of the people, inseparable from the exercise of the high priesthood as thus going before the Lord. What was divine and heavenly secured it—the chains of gold above, and the rings of gold with lace of blue to the ephod above the girdle beneath. Exercised in humanity, the priesthood, and the connection of the people with it, rests on an immutable, a divine, and heavenly basis. Such was the priestly presentation of the high priest. Beneath this official robe he had a personal one all of blue.

The bells and pomegranates — the testimony and fruits of the Spirit

The character of Christ too, as such, is perfectly and entirely heavenly. The sanctuary was the place of its exercise. So the heavenly Priest must Himself be a heavenly Man; and it is to this character of Christ, as here in the high priest, that the fruits and testimony of the Spirit are attached—the bells and the pomegranates. It is from Christ in His heavenly character that they flow; they are attached to the hem of His garment here below. His sound was heard when He went in and when He came out; and so it has been and will be. When Christ went in, the gifts of the Spirit were manifested in the sound of the testimony; and they will be when He comes out again. The fruits of the Spirit, we know, were also in the saints [8].

Worship and servuce in holiness

But not only were there fruits and gifts. Worship and service—the presenting of offerings to God—was part of the path of the people of God. Alas! they also were defiled. It formed thus also part of the priest's office to bear the iniquity of their holy things. Thus the worship of God's people was acceptable, in spite of their infirmity, and holiness was ever before Jehovah in the offerings of His house—borne on the forehead of the high priest as His people were on the one hand presented to Him, and on the other directed by Him, according to His own perfections through the high priest [9].

The coat of fine linen

The coat of fine linen was that which was more proper to himself and personal, what was within—personal purity, but embroidered, adorned with every grace. Such was, and indeed is, Christ.

Where the garments of glory and beauty and those of fine linen were used

The application of this to Christ is evident. Only we must remember the remark of the apostle; that is, of the Spirit of God, that these were the shadow of good things to come, not the very image of the things. Our High Priest, though He ever liveth to make intercession for us, is set down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. In spirit all this is ours; He presents us, receives grace and direction for us through the Spirit, and bears the iniquity of our holy things. All our service is accepted, as our persons, in Him. In the literal fact the high priest never used the garments of glory and beauty to go within the veil. He was to use them for going into the sanctuary [10]; but this was forbidden after Nadab and Abihu's death, save on the great day of atonement, and then he went in in other garments, namely, the linen ones So death and entrance thereon were needed for us in Christ's fulfilment of the type. And, as regards the Jews, He is gone in in this last way, all this time being His absence in the sanctuary and they must wait, till He come forth, for the knowledge of the acceptance of the presentation of His work: we know it by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; He came out when the. Lord went in, so that we anticipate in spirit the glory He is in. This constitutes essentially the Christian's place. In His glorious high priest's garments, it would have been the intercourse of an accepted people through the high priest. Hence we have it in spirit, though this be not the whole truth as regards our position [11].

[1] See note, page 73.

[2] This was all of blue under the ephod; I suppose what was essentially heavenly, not the display of purity and graces in man.

[3] The priesthood in Hebrews is not for sins, save once in chapter 2 to make propitiation, because they are all put away, and we have no more conscience of them; it is for grace to help that we may not sin.

[4] Compare 1 John 2: 29, 3: 1-3, where remark how the Spirit passes from Godhead to manhood and manhood to Godhead in one person, according to the relationship spoken of. This is very beautiful, and makes us know what the new nature in us is, which flows from and is through the Holy Ghost, capable of appreciating Him. He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one. So practically in detail: we all beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image (2 Cor. 3), and actually we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, and he that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself as He is pure.

[5] The great day of atonement met the guilt.

[6] We must remember that all this is not children with a Father, but man drawing near to God, only with Christ there for us. We are seen on earth (not in heavenly places), and He appearing in the presence of God for us, securing our place according to God (only for us the veil is rent, a very great difference); yet we are here on earth with a heavenly calling. Compare Hebrews. There note, the priesthood, as now exercised on high, is not for committed sins, but for grace to help in time of need that we may not sin. The sins are borne and put away once and for ever as the basis of priesthood. See chapters 9, 10 and 8: 1, and 1: 3 Advocacy with the Father applies when we have to restore communion. Compare John 13 and Numbers 19.

[7] Dispensationally all was dark; God not revealed, the veil not rent; but I speak in the text of what was figured in the high priest's dress.

[8] The colours were blue, purple, and scarlet; heavenly, royal, and earthly glory. These, while belonging to Christ personally, were hidden when He went in, will be displayed when He comes out. We ought to display them characteristically, but as connected with a rejected Christ down here, bringing in the cross as the way to the crown.

[9] Our relationship with God is more immediate, the veil being rent. Still our High Priest is there for us, only set down on the right hand of God. The name of Father does not come in here.

[10] Their use is referred to going into the holy place before Jehovah when expressly spoken of, except the golden plate on the mitre or turban (chap. 28: 29, 30, 35); and for the golden plate, see verse 38. This characteristic use was forbidden: see Leviticus 16.

[11] We must always remember that we have only the shadow of good things to come. The great principles of the heavenly scenes are depicted, but not the change by the rending of the veil through which we enter ourselves boldly into the holiest, Christ being in glory at the right hand of God, and that through an eternal redemption. Also, as noticed already, the Son not being come, the Father's name and relationship does not come in.