Brothers, there is a great deal of symbolism being thrown at us as we read of the tabernacle and today of the priestly garments. All of this symbolism points to Christ. As I said when we started this reading plan together, every book of the Bible points to the Messiah. Here in Exodus we see Him in many ways including the very cloths the Levitical High Priest was to wear. The problem with symbolism is you can see symbolism where none exists and miss symbolism that is staring you in the face. I’ve read several commentators concerning the symbolism of the priestly garb and they can be all over the road. Below, however, is what I’ve deemed the best of what I have read. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a better commentary out there but that with my limited time this was the best I was able to discover.
“The priestly garments (vers. 2–43). Having chosen his priests, God next proceeds to clothe them. As the office was of his appointment, so must the garments be which are to be the insignia of it. Nothing is left to individual taste. The articles of attire; their shape, material, colour, workmanship; the manner of their ornamentation; everything is fixed after a Divine pattern. The garments are to be “for glory and for beauty” (vers. 2, 40), indicative of the official dignity, of the sacred character, and of the honourable prerogatives of the wearers of them. Men are even to be inspired with “the spirit of wisdom” (ver. 3), for the purpose of making them, no entirely are they to be garments of Divine origin. Look (1) at what these garments were, and (2) at the functions and privileges of the priesthood as shadowed forth in them.
1. The parts of the priestly dress. The dress of the ordinary priests, with the exception of the girdle of needlework (cf. ch. 39:29), was to be of fine white linen. It consisted of an embroidered coat, a cap, and plain white linen drawers. The high priest’s garments were of a much richer order. They embraced (1) the ephod, with its curious girdle (vers. 6–15). (2) The breast-plate, in which were to be placed “the Urim and Thummim” (vers. 15–31). (3) The robe of the ephod, “all of blue,” and embroidered along the hem with pomegranates. Alternating with the pomegranates were to be little golden bells, which should give a sound when the priest went into the holy place, and when he came out (vers. 31–36). (4) The mitre, on which was to be a plate of gold, fastened with blue lace, and engraved with the words—“Holiness to the Lord” (vers. 36–39). (5) A broidered coat, girdle, and drawers, similar to those of the ordinary priests (ver. 39).
2. The symbolism of the dress. The blue of the robe of the ephod denoted the heavenly origin of the priest’s office; the shining whiteness of the ordinary garments, the purity required in those who served before Jehovah; the gold, the diversified colours, the rich embroidery and gems, in the other articles of attire, the exalted honour of those whom Jehovah had chosen, and caused to approach to him, that they might dwell in his courts (Ps. 65:4). More specifically, the garments bore testimony (1) to the fundamental requirement of holiness in the priesthood. This requirement found its most distinct expression in the engraved plate on the high priest’s mitre. Holiness was to be the characteristic of the people as a whole. Most of all was it required in those who stood in so peculiarly near a relation to Jehovah, and on whom it devolved to make atonement for the others. The requirement is perfectly fulfilled in Christ, whose people, in turn, are called to holy living.
(2) To the representative character of the priesthood. This was beautifully imaged by the fact that, both on his shoulders and on his breast, the high priest bore precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (vers. 9–13; 17–23). Another indication of this representative character is found in the order to place bells upon the hem of the robe of the ephod, that the people might hear the sound of his movements as he went in and out of the holy place (ver. 35). Conscious that he was transacting in God’s presence in their name, they were to follow him with their thoughts and prayers in the different parts of his sacerdotal task. It was, however, the wearing of “the breast-plate of judgment” (ver. 29), which most specially declared that the high priest appeared before God as the people’s representative. His function, as clothed with the breast-plate, was to sustain the “right” of the children of Israel before Jehovah (ver. 30). The “right” included whatever claims were given them on the justice and mercy of Jehovah by the stipulations of the covenant. It was a “right” derived, not from unfailing obedience to the law, but from Jehovah’s goodness. It was connected with atonement. Our “right,” in like manner, is embodied in Christ, who bears us on his heart continually in presence of his Father.
(3) To the priestly function of mediation. The onyx stones on the shoulders of the high priest, each having engraved on it six of the names of the tribes of Israel (ver. 12), indicated that on him rested the burden or responsibility of the entire congregation. A more distinct expression of this idea is given in ver. 38, in connection with the gold plate of the mitre, engraved with holiness to the Lord—“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.” A shadow of the higher mediation. Our persons, gifts, and works find acceptance only in Christ.
(4) To the need of sympathy in the priest, as a qualification for his office. The high priest was to bear the names of the children of Israel upon his heart, graven on the stones of the breast-plate (ver. 29). Christ has perfect sympathy (Heb. 2:14–18; 4:14–16). The people also, as is hinted in ver. 35, were to have sympathy with their priest. (5) To the function of the priest, as revealer of God’s will (ver. 30). Urim and Thummim—whatever these were—are now superseded by the external word, and the inward illumination of Christ’s Spirit. Christ gives forth unerning revelations of the will of the Father. “Lights and perfections” is not too high a name to bestow upon the Scriptures (Ps. 19:7–12; 2 Tim. 3:15, 16).—J. O.”
Exodus Vol. II. 1909 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.). The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
The thing I took away from all of this is that you and I are part of the “priesthood of believers” and as such we have been set aside for God’s use. Do you know what they call something that is set aside for God’s use? They call such a thing “holy”. You probably don’t view yourself as holy but you are – in Christ. Let us every day purify ourselves from the filth of this world, put on the breastplate of righteousness which is Christ and represent Him before a dark and dying world. We are holy. Let’s act like it.