Holiness, Part 1
The book of Exodus recounts the revelation of God to His people to Mount Sinai. In this event, God reveals that He wants to make a covenant with them. In order for this relationship between God and His people to be maintained, a system needed to be set up so that the people could draw near and be intimate with God. This is the purpose of the priesthood and the tabernacle.
God tells Israel at Mount Sinai, “Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). Now, the tribe of Levi was the only tribe of Israel who could be priests, so how could God tell the whole nation this? Well, the Levitical priests were the priesthood to the nation of Israel, but the nation of Israel was to be the priesthood to the world. We see this imagery borrowed by Peter when he writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). To understand this, we must understand the priesthood.
The Duties of the Priesthood
“You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests.”
No other people except the Levites could approach God or minister to Him, and only the descendants of Aaron could be High Priests. They were set apart by God because God requires holiness in His temple. Everything that was done at the Temple was exclusively done by them. The Levites were divided by families, and each family would take their tour of duty. We see this in Luke’s account of the announcement of John the Baptist: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah… Now it came about [that] he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division…” (Luke 1:5, 8). So it was the function of the priests to maintain the Temple, fill the oil in the menorah, put in new wicks, clean the vessels, replace the showbread every week, etc. But what we most likely think of is what they do at the altar. Now, there is great depth in all of their duties, so we want to look at only a few; but first we want to look at their garments, and as we do, we will see how Israel was a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood.
The Garments of the Priesthood
“You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and beauty.”
God requires a specific way with everything that has to do with Him, because He is Holy! God often said to Moses, “Be careful to do everything that I have spoken.” This is very important to note, because there is no place for “man-made” anything when it comes to God. We must always do things God’s way, not ours.
There were eight garments which were called “vestments of sanctity.” The Hebrew word for “sanctity” comes from the word for “holy,” which is kadosh. Therefore, these garments were only used in the service of the Temple and at no other time. We also see this with the utensils used in the Temple; in fact, everything associated with the Temple was considered holy and was to be handled in a special way. These garments were called garments of glory. The Hebrew word for “glory” comes from the root word which has the meaning “heavy,” as in full, like the fullness of the Lord. The garments were a picture of the dignity and beauty connected with serving God.
“They shall also make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workman. It shall have two shoulder pieces joined to its two ends, that it may be joined.”
Biblical scholars did not know what to compare the ephod to because there was no piece of clothing to compare to it. The symbolism behind it could not even be determined because there was nothing similar to it in the ancient Near East—that is, until 1920 when they discovered tablets from Ugarit. Ugarit was in the modern Ras Shamra near the Syrian coast. We find that in the Ugaritic texts, the ephod was referred to as an expensive robe, something worn by the upper class in the Near East. An ephod was also worn by people other than the priests in the Bible. Gideon made a gold ephod which caused Israel to go after other gods. An ephod had a permanent place in the Philistine sanctuary; it was behind this ephod where Goliath placed his sword. The word ephod seems to be linguistically connected to teraph (Judges 17:5, 18:20), which was the household idol of Rachel (Genesis 31:19).
The fabric of the ephod was the same kind of fabric used in the curtains and veil of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meetings, thereby making a connection between the High Priest and the Sanctuary. The ephod contained all five colors of the Mishkan, which we will look into later. The main function of the ephod was the “stones of remembrance.” These were two stones of onyx which the names of the twelve tribes were written upon, six to a stone. Aaron wore this on his shoulders, symbolic of the shepherd who carries his lambs on his shoulders.
“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, the work of a skillful workman; like the work of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen you shall make it.”
The breastplate was called the “breastplate of judgment.” The breastplate was a rectangular plate with jewels hanging from gold chains. It was worn by kings. Its purpose? Well, the high priest was considered the mediator between God and the people. He was to bring the sanctity, glory, and splendor of God to the people, and he was to bring the sinful man to God. The breastplate was worn over the heart. The breastplate was set with four rows of small square stones, each row containing three stones. The exact identification of these stones/gems has been lost, and much debate surrounds the topic. An example of what the stones could have been is detailed as follows:
First row: sardius, a red stone representing the tribe of Reuben;
topaz/peridot, a greenish stone representing the tribe of Simeon;
carbuncle/agate, a red, white, and black striped stone representing the tribe of Levi.
Second row: emerald/turquoise, a greenish-blue stone representing the tribe of Judah;
sapphire/lapis-lazuli, a blue stone representing the tribe of Dan;
diamond/quartz, a white or clear stone representing the tribe of Naphtali.
Third row: amber/jacinth, a yellowish stone representing the tribe of Gad;
agate, a black/grey stone representing the tribe of Asher;
amethyst, a purple stone representing the tribe of Issachar.
Fourth row: anthrax, a black stone representing the tribe of Zebulun;
onyx, a black stone representing the tribe of Joseph; jasper or some multicolored stone, representing the tribe of Benjamin.
When Aaron entered into the presence of God, these precious, beautiful stones were a memorial and testimony to God of His love for His people. These same stones will be used in the New Jerusalem which is described in Revelation 21.
The breastplate, along with its pouch, contained the Urim and Thummim. If the stones of the breastplate are a picture of the high priest representing us before God, the Urim and Thummim are a picture of the high priest representing God to us. The Urim and Thummim were two objects (possibly stones or pieces of parchment) used as a means by which God’s judgment might be made known. The meaning of “Urim” and “Thummim” are “light” and “perfection,” respectively. The exact manner which they were used is not known today; however, one tradition, based on the meanings of the words Urim and Thummim, states that the Urim and Thummim would light up the gems of the breastplate in a specific manner, allowing the high priest to discern an answer for one who inquired. We know that they were used to determine God’s light in a matter or His perfect will. We see an example of its use in 1 Samuel 14:41-42. We see here that the word “lot” is used to describe it, although this term may be deceptive. There was no chance or luck involved; the decision was completely in the hands of God
(1 Samuel 28:6). After the days of David, we no longer read about them in God’s Word. Those stones seem quite the mystery; scholars feel that this too, like the ephod, may have been used before the time of Moses.
The breastplate worn by the priest was worn over the chest. We see that this covered his heart. Scripture tells us that we are to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). It’s our hearts that lie and are deceitful (Matthew 15:19). It is our hearts that the enemy of our soul wishes to have control over. So when battling the enemy, we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). It is our protection, guarding our hearts. The heart is the center of our emotions. It is with the heart that we love or we hate, we forgive or we resent, we judge or we show mercy. We are to judge according to righteousness (Leviticus 19:15, Proverbs 31:9). We are to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience like we would put on clothing (Colossians 3:12). We are to wrap ourselves in these virtues and live by them daily. When we live by these virtues, our hearts are protected from the accusing finger of the enemy (Ephesians 6:11).
“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn. You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around.”
This next piece of clothing is called “the robe of the ephod.” It was the robe that the ephod was worn over. The robe was quite unique with its bells and pomegranates on the hem. The bells were for the purpose that the people could hear them and know that the High Priest was ministering before God. This way the people could pray and repent as he was officiating in their name. Also, they would know that he was not struck dead by God, but that God was receiving his offering.
The Talmud (the collective work of the oral Torah) interprets the priestly garments this way: as sacrifices make atonement, so do the priestly vestments make atonement. The coat atoned for bloodshed (Genesis 37:31), the breeches for lewdness (Exodus 28:42), the head covering for arrogance (“let an article placed high up come and atone for an offence of hauteur”) the girdle for impure meditations of the heart “beneath which it was placed,” the breastplate for neglect of civil laws (“a breastplate of judgement,” Exodus 28:15), the ephod for idolatry (Hosea 3:4), the head piece for brazenness (Jeremiah 3:3, “brazen look” and “forehead” are two translations of the word metsach in this verse), and the robe for slander (“let an article of sound [the sound of the bells] come and atone for an offense of sound”). From this it seems that the rabbis considered the actual vestments worn by the High Priest on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to be in some way involved with making atonement. Now if you consider Yeshua as our High Priest, He also entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for us; and did He not enter into that sacred place with all His glory and splendor like those garments represent (Hebrews 6:19-20)?
How about the pomegranates? Well, a pomegranate contains 613 seeds representing the 613 commandments of Torah; thus this is a picture of the high priest carrying a constant reminder of the Torah on his clothing.
The Head Piece
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engravings of a seal, ‘Holy to the LORD.’… It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take away the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate, with regard to all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”
Exodus 28:36, 38
The head piece or crown was made of solid gold, and upon the head piece it was written “Holy to the Lord.” The priest was able to draw close with the name of God upon him and thus would bring acceptance to the people of Israel before God. We also approach God by His Name, for all our prayers are in the name of Yeshua. So the head piece was upon Aaron’s forehead so that he would bring forgiveness for the sacred offerings that the children of Israel consecrated. “And it shall be on his head always to bring them favor before the Lord.” One day, Yeshua will wear the golden crown of splendor upon His forehead.
“You shall weave the tunic of checkered work of fine linen…”
Not much is said about the tunic. The tunic was made of white linen. The word used here for linen is shesh, which literally means “six.” This meant that the thread used in this garment was a six-ply linen thread. It was worn closest to the body and it represented purity. It teaches us that no one may approach God with impurity/sin. Yeshua was our High Priest, and He was blameless and pure, without sin. Yeshua Himself wore a one-piece tunic which was like the priests’, and it was this that the soldiers cast lots for at His crucifixion (John 19:23-24).
The Head Covering
“…and you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty.”
There were two different types of head coverings. The priests wore one type, of which Josephus writes that it was a flattish cap of woven linen that was wrapped repeatedly around part of the head like a turban and then it hung down on the back. The high priest wore a beautiful wound turban around his full head, and it then hung down on his back, and the gold head piece was placed upon it. Yet the turban and head piece left enough room on the forehead for the tefillin. The covering of the head spoke of submission. It symbolized humility before God. Because the entire priesthood wore some sort of covering on their heads, this is why Jews wear a covering on their heads even till today.
We too are to cover our heads. We are to put on salvation as our covering. Part of the Armor of God is the helmet of salvation. This is to protect our minds. Paul tells us that we are to pray about everything and not to be anxious, for then the peace of God will guard our minds and hearts (Philippians 4:6-7). We are to think about only good things, things of good repute, things that are honorable and lovely, that are true and right; and we are to put our thoughts on heavenly things, not on things of this world because Yeshua, our salvation, has delivered us from sin and death (Colossians 3:2-3). God has now brought us out of darkness into His light. By dwelling on what is good, we will not allow the seeds of sin to grow in our hearts. Protecting our minds is protecting our hearts!
On the head piece was written “Holy to the Lord,” and we too have the name of Yeshua written on our foreheads. The Aaronic priest would give a blessing in which he would raise his hands and form them like the letter Shem (ש), which stands for The Name; and when he did this, God said, “I will put My name upon My people” (Numbers 6:22-27). We find that Yeshua, right before He ascended back to heaven, lifted up His hands and blessed them. When He did this, He was actually putting His name upon them through the priestly blessing (Luke 24:50).
Covering one’s head speaks of humility. I know that Paul, in
1 Corinthians 11:7, speaks of this—that if a man prays with his head covered he disgraces himself. But my opinion is if a man disgraces himself by covering his head when he prays, then God has led His people into disgrace, for God had the priests all cover their heads, and Yeshua Himself covered His head when He prayed. In fact, Paul covered his head when he prayed because he himself said that he kept Torah to the letter (Acts 28:17). In Zechariah 3:3-5 we see that after the filthy rags were taken off Joshua the high priest, he was given a clean turban. So once again, if this was true, God would not have had His priests cover their heads. But what we need to understand is that Paul spoke and taught according to rabbinic thinking. What Paul was talking about was that a man was to be a covering for his wife and not vice versa. We see this in Ephesians 5:23 that the husband was to be the head of the wife to sanctify her. Again, Paul refers to the fact that he was speaking in reference to Yeshua, who is the head or the covering of the redeemed.
Humility, which the head covering represents, is what we are to strive toward. The writer writes, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). You see, God is a holy God, and we are to enter into His presence with humility.
“You shall make for them linen breeches to cover their bare flesh; they shall reach from the loins even to the thighs.”
The breeches were like pants. They went from the hip to the thigh. Some commentaries refer to them as pants; others call them underwear. Nevertheless, the reason for them was for modesty. It was to cover up any potential nakedness when the priest would ascend to the altar.
Vestments of Splendor
“You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”
God referred to the priest’s garments not only as garments of sanctity and garments of glory, but garments of splendor. “Splendor” could be translated as “beauty.” These garments added beauty to the sanctuary. These garments had the finest embroidery and stitch work, detailed weaving, and handiwork. But what also added to the beauty were the colors. The colors of the sanctuary were the same colors of the priestly garments. We are going to look at these colors and what they symbolized.
Gold: Gold is the purest metal and is often used in connection with royalty. This showed that the priesthood was a royal priesthood.
Blue: The sky blue color in Hebrew is called techelet. Blue was to represent heaven. It is also the same color as the tzitzit (the cords which are worn on the four corners of the garments). The priest’s robe was made of this blue. So like the tzitzit, it is a reminder to follow Torah; the priest’s robe was like one big tzitzit to remind the people to follow Torah. Now, this blue was made from the blood of the chilazon. The chilazon was a Mediterranean snail. It was very rare. It took 12,000 snails to produce 1.4 grams of dye.
Scarlet: Scarlet is a color to remind us of our human nature. The high priest then represented mankind. The crimson color was produced by a worm called the crimson worm. The crimson red was called tola’at shani.
Purple: Purple was a combination of the blue and scarlet. Again, because of the difficulty in making this color, it was a sign of royalty. This dark red color which resembled purple was called argaman. This too was made from the same snail as the blue; the only difference was this dye was exposed longer to sunlight.
White: White represents purity; it’s on this basis that we come to God.
What a Picture!
Now, the Hebrew word for “splendor” means beauty, but it means much more. The same root word is also used in Isaiah 61:3 & 10 to refer to the Bridegroom. Specifically, it refers to the beautiful headwear a bridegroom used to wear. So it would seem that the picture that God was painting was one of a beautifully dressed bridegroom serving his bride in their little house, the Mishkan (the tabernacle). So here we have our Great High Priest Yeshua, who serves His Bride Israel, and those who have been grafted in, the redeemed, in their little house, represented by several things like the sukkah or the tabernacle of our hearts; and most of all, we too are being built up into a spiritual dwelling, a holy temple where our Great High Priest will reside full of glory and splendor (1 Peter 2:5).
What a picture of such glory and majestic beauty—the Bride and the Bridegroom, the Great High Priest ministering at the heavenly altar! But what does this have to do with us being a Royal Priesthood? Well, we too have clothing that we are to wear (Revelation 19:8), and we too must minister at the altar (Hebrews 13:10). And the purpose of the priesthood was to lead the people in their act of worship, which was done by their sacrifices.
The priests wore an ephod, robe, tunic, and a sash. Scripture tells us that we are to robe ourselves in righteousness (Ephesians 4:24). We see in Revelation 19:8 that the righteous are clothed in white linen, which represents their righteous acts. So what is righteousness? Righteousness is when we comprehend holy principles and live by them. It’s purity of heart, conforming one’s heart to Divine law. Righteousness is justice, honesty, virtue with holy affection. Righteousness is being free from guilt and sin in accordance to Divine law. Righteousness is obtained only in Yeshua, for our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God’s sanctuary is all about holiness and purity. We see this in the Book of Zechariah. This book speaks about the Messianic Age. The book starts with a call to repentance, much like John the Baptist who preceded Yeshua. Without repentance, one can not minister before the Lord. The Psalmist writes, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord, and who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4). As we see in chapter 2 of Zechariah, the people are told to flee Babylon, which stands for the world and its ways. This is important because we can not serve two masters. We must forsake the world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to place our minds on things above, not on things below.
Then in chapter 3, we see Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord. This is such great insight into the spiritual realm. Joshua was clothed in filthy rags (sin) and those rags were removed. Scripture tells us that we are to take off the old man of corruption (Ephesians 4:22). We are to put off things like anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, immorality, impurity, evil desires, greed, and idolatry and put on the new man of righteousness, being clothed now in Yeshua (Colossians 3:8-9), for our lives are now hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). It’s no longer I who lives, but Yeshua who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Joshua is told, “See I have removed your iniquity and clothed you with festive robes” (Zechariah 3:4). You see, when we repent and return to God’s ways, He then removes our filthy rags, which is our sin, and He then clothes us in clean garments of holiness and righteousness, which are the festive robes, much like garments of the Bride and Bridegroom.
If you remember, we saw that these garments of splendor referred to the garments of the bridegroom. These are the garments of the priesthood. These are the garments of the service of the Lord. Scripture tells us that when the Bridegroom (Yeshua) comes for the Bride (the redeemed), the bride will be clothed in these festive garments. They will be white linen (purity) and they will be without spot or wrinkle, blameless and holy, now washed clean in the blood of Yeshua (Revelation 19:8). He is our covering that we put on. It is His righteousness that we wear. We also see from the book of Zechariah that standing before God was also the accuser of the brethren (Zechariah 3:1). So serving at the altar of God can also include an encounter with the accuser of our soul. So our garments are holy and festive, but also garments of a warrior, for our service to the Lord requires us to fight a spiritual battle as well as doing the work of the Kingdom.
“…and you shall make a sash, the work of a weaver.”
The sash was worn around the middle. We too have a sash that we wear—it is better known as truth. We are to put on truth as part of the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:14). Scripture tells us that God would send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26). So when we are led by the Spirit and walk with the Spirit, we are walking in truth and righteousness. Without truth we cannot enter the Kingdom of God, for Yeshua said that He was the way to eternal life, and that way was walking in truth (John 14:6). Of course, we know that Yeshua is the Word, and the Word is truth (John 1:14). The middle of our body is the center of gravity to us. We are securely planted when the middle of the body is straight. So placing truth around our middle, which is the center of gravity, means that we will be balanced and we will not fall. It is like the foundation of a building: if the foundation is good then the building will stand straight and tall and will not topple over. This is what truth is to us when we put truth on as our sash around our middle; we will stand straight and tall and not topple over.
Of course, we can’t forget the Scripture that says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7). Again, setting our minds on what is good protects our minds and hearts, and the beginning of that good news is repentance; if we repent, turn from our sins, and take off those dirty garments of the old man and put on the new man, the clean white garments, clothing ourselves in Yeshua, being covered by His blood, living in newness of life which is righteousness, and wearing the breast piece that covers our hearts and putting on salvation on our heads, walking in humility with the Name of Yeshua on our foreheads, with truth around our middle, this will give us a picture of who we are in Yeshua as we stand before God at His altar. This is what the Gospel is all about! These are the shoes that we are to walk in. Without these garments we can not stand before God. If there is something not right in our lives, we must make it right. Yeshua said, “If your brother has anything against you leave your gift at the altar and go make things right first.” (Matthew 5:24). God is a holy God, and we too are to be holy, bringing praise and renown to His Name.
Are you wearing the vestments of the priesthood? Are your garments white and clean? Maybe you did not realize that we are to minister to God daily at His altar. People think that we can come as we are; well, that’s true when you first come to find Yeshua as your Lord and Savior, but then He cleanses you and gives you the garments of the priesthood. Today, if your garments are soiled, quickly stop where you are and repent, turn back to truth and righteousness, and Yeshua, who is our faithful High Priest who lives to make intercession on our part (Hebrews 7:25), will take those filthy garments off of you and give you the clean garments of the priesthood, the garments of service. He will welcome you to His altar where you can come and minister to Him in His presence once again.