Exodus 28

The Clothing of the Priests

Some modern scholars find this and the next chapter too elaborate for the wilderness experience. To most of them this reflects the later Zadokite priesthood of the writer’s (P’s) day that was referred to Mosaic legislation for authentication. But there is no compelling reason why this should be late; it is put late because it is assumed to be P, and that is assumed to be late. But both assumptions are unwarranted. This lengthy chapter could be divided this way: instructions for preparing the garments (1–5), details of the apparel (6–39), and a warning against deviating from these (40–43). The subject matter of the first part is that God requires that his chosen ministers reflect his holy nature; the point of the second part is that God requires his ministers to be prepared to fulfill the tasks of the ministry, and the subject matter of the third part is that God warns all his ministers to safeguard the holiness of their service.
“And you, bring near
The verb is the Hiphil imperative of the root קָרַב (qarav, “to draw near”). In the present stem the word has religious significance, namely, to present something to God, like an offering.
to you your brother Aaron and his sons with him from among the Israelites, so that they may minister as my priests
This entire clause is a translation of the Hebrew לְכַהֲנוֹ־לִי (lekhahano-li, “that he might be a priest to me”), but the form is unusual. The word means “to be a priest” or “to act as a priest.” The etymology of the word for priest, כֹּהֵן (kohen), is uncertain.
– Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.
You must make holy garments
The genitive “holiness” is the attribute for “garments” – “garments of holiness.” The point of the word “holy” is that these garments would be distinctive from ordinary garments, for they set Aaron apart to sanctuary service and ministry.
for your brother Aaron, for glory and for beauty.
The expression is לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְארֶת (lekhavod uletifaret, “for glory and for beauty”). W. C. Kaiser (“Exodus,” EBC 2:465), quoting the NIV’s “to give him dignity and honor,” says that these clothes were to exalt the office of the high priest as well as beautify the worship of God (which explains more of what the text has than the NIV rendering). The meaning of the word “glory” has much to do with the importance of the office, to be sure, but in Exodus the word has been used also for the brilliance of the presence of Yahweh, and so the magnificence of these garments might indeed strike the worshiper with the sense of the exaltation of the service.
Heb “And you, you will speak to.”
are to speak to all who are specially skilled,
Heb “wise of heart.” The word for “wise” (חַכְמֵי, khakhme, the plural construct form) is from the word group that is usually translated “wisdom, wise, be wise,” but it has as its basic meaning “skill” or “skillful.” This is the way it is used in 31:3, 6 and 35:10 etc. God gave these people “wisdom” so that they would know how to make these things. The “heart” for the Hebrews is the locus of understanding, the mind and the will. To be “wise of heart” or “wise in heart” means that they had the understanding to do skillful work, they were talented artisans and artists.
whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom,
There is no necessity to take this as a reference to the Holy Spirit who produces wisdom in these people, although that is not totally impossible. A number of English versions (e.g., NAB, NIV, NCV, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT) do not even translate the word “spirit.” It probably refers to their attitude and ability. U. Cassuto has “to all the artisans skilled in the making of stately robes, in the heart [i.e., mind] of each of whom I have implanted sagacity in his craft so that he may do his craft successfully” (Exodus, 371).
so that they may make
The form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive; after the instruction to speak to the wise, this verb, equal to an imperfect, will have the force of purpose.
Aaron’s garments to set him apart
Or “to sanctify him” (ASV) or “to consecrate him” (KJV, NASB, NRSV). It is the garments that will set Aaron apart, or sanctify him, not the workers. The expression could be taken to mean “for his consecration” (NIV) since the investiture is part of his being set apart for service.
to minister as my priest.
Now these are the garments that they are to make: a breastpiece,
The breastpiece seems to have been a pouch of sorts or to have had a pocket, since it was folded in some way (28:16; 39:9) and contained the Urim and Thummim (Exod 28:30; Lev 8:8).
an ephod,
The word “ephod” is taken over directly from Hebrew, because no one knows how to translate it, nor is there agreement about its design. It refers here to a garment worn by the priests, but the word can also refer to some kind of image for a god (Judg 8:27).
a robe, a fitted
The word תָּשְׁבֵּץ (tashbets), which describes the tunic and which appears only in this verse, is related to a verb (also rare) of the same root in 28:39 that describes making the tunic. Their meaning is uncertain (see the extended discussion in C. Houtman, Exodus, 3:473–75). A related noun describes gold fasteners and the “settings,” or “mountings,” for precious stones (28:11, 13, 14, 20, 25; 36:18; 39:6, 13, 16, 18; cf. Ps 45:14). The word “fitted” in 28:4 reflects the possibility that “the tunic is to be shaped by sewing, … so that it will fit tightly around the body” (C. Houtman, Exodus, 3:475).
tunic, a turban, and a sash. They are to make holy garments for your brother Aaron and for his sons, that they may minister as my priests.
The artisans
Heb “and they.” The word “artisans” is supplied as the referent of the pronoun, a connection that is clearer in Hebrew than in English.
are to use
Heb “receive” or “take.”
the gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen.

“They are to make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twisted linen, the work of an artistic designer. It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so it can be joined together.
Here the Pual perfect with the vav (ו) consecutive provides the purpose clause (equal to a final imperfect); the form follows the use of the active participle, “attached” or more Heb “joining.”
The artistically woven waistband
This is the rendering of the word חֵשֶׁב (kheshev), cognate to the word translated “designer” in v. 6. Since the entire ephod was of the same material, and this was of the same piece, it is unclear why this is singled out as “artistically woven.” Perhaps the word is from another root that just describes the item as a “band.” Whatever the connection, this band was to be of the same material, and the same piece, as the ephod, but perhaps a different pattern (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 301). It is this sash that attaches the ephod to the priest’s body, that is, at the upper border of the ephod and clasped together at the back.
of the ephod that is on it is to be like it, of one piece with the ephod,
Heb “from it” but meaning “of one [the same] piece”; the phrase “the ephod” has been supplied.
of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twisted linen.

“You are to take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel,
Although this is normally translated “Israelites,” here a more literal translation is clearer because it refers to the names of the twelve tribes – the actual sons of Israel.
10 six
This is in apposition to the direct object of the verb “engrave.” It further defines how the names were to be engraved – six on one and the other six on the other.
of their names on one stone, and the six remaining names on the second stone, according to the order of their birth.
Heb “according to their begettings” (the major word in the book of Genesis). What is meant is that the names would be listed in the order of their ages.
11 You are to engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel with the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a seal;
Expert stone or gem engravers were used to engrave designs and names in identification seals of various sizes. It was work that skilled artisans did.
you are to have them set
Or “you will mount them” (NRSV similar).
in gold filigree
Or “rosettes,” shield-like frames for the stones. The Hebrew word means “to plait, checker.”
12 You are to put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod, stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron will bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial.
This was to be a perpetual reminder that the priest ministers on behalf of the twelve tribes of Israel. Their names would always be borne by the priests.
13 You are to make filigree settings of gold 14 and two braided chains of pure gold, like a cord, and attach the chains to the settings.

15  “You are to make a breastpiece for use in making decisions,
Heb “a breastpiece of decision” (חֹשֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט, khoshen mishpat; so NAB). The first word, rendered “breastpiece,” is of uncertain etymology. This item was made of material similar to the ephod. It had four rows of three gems on it, bearing the names of the tribes. In it were the urim and thummim. J. P. Hyatt refers to a similar object found in the Egyptian reliefs, including even the twisted gold chains used to hang it from the priest (Exodus [NCBC], 282).
the work of an artistic designer; you are to make it in the same fashion as the ephod; you are to make it of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twisted linen.
16 It is to be square
Heb “four.”
“when” is added for clarification (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 375).
doubled, nine inches
The word זֶרֶת (zeret) is half a cubit; it is often translated “span.”
long and nine inches wide.
17 You are to set in it a setting for stones, four rows of stones, a row with a ruby, a topaz, and a beryl – the first row; 18 and the second row, a turquoise, a sapphire, and an emerald; 19 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row, a chrysolite, an onyx, and a jasper.
U. Cassuto (Exodus, 375–76) points out that these are the same precious stones mentioned in Ezek 28:13 that were to be found in Eden, the garden of God. So the priest, when making atonement, was to wear the precious gems that were there and symbolized the garden of Eden when man was free from sin.
They are to be enclosed in gold in their filigree settings.
21 The stones are to be for the names of the sons of Israel, twelve, according to the number of
For clarity the words “the number of” have been supplied.
their names. Each name according to the twelve tribes is to be like
The phrase translated “the engravings of a seal” is an adverbial accusative of manner here.
the engravings of a seal.

22  “You are to make for the breastpiece braided chains like cords of pure gold, 23 and you are to make for the breastpiece two gold rings and attach
Heb “give, put.”
the two rings to the upper
Here “upper” has been supplied.
two ends of the breastpiece.
24 You are to attach the two gold chains to the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece; 25 the other
Here “the other” has been supplied.
two ends of the two chains you will attach to the two settings and then attach them
Here “them” has been supplied.
to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front of it.
26 You are to make two rings of gold and put them on the other
Here “other” has been supplied.
two ends of the breastpiece, on its edge that is on the inner side of the ephod.
27 You are to make two more
Here “more” has been supplied.
gold rings and attach them to the bottom of the two shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the juncture above the waistband of the ephod.
28 They are to tie the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod by blue cord, so that it may be above the waistband of the ephod, and so that the breastpiece will not be loose from the ephod. 29 Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of decision over his heart
So Aaron will have the names of the tribes on his shoulders (v. 12) which bear the weight and symbol of office (see Isa 9:6; 22:22), and over his heart (implying that they have a constant place in his thoughts [Deut 6:6]). Thus he was to enter the presence of God as the nation’s representative, ever mindful of the nation’s interests, and ever bringing the remembrance of it before God (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 306).
when he goes into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.

30  “You are to put the Urim and the Thummim
The Urim and the Thummim were two objects intended for determining the divine will. There is no clear evidence of their size or shape or the material of which they were made, but they seem to have been familiar items to Moses and the people. The best example of their use comes from 1 Sam 14:36–42. Some have suggested from the etymologies that they were light and dark objects respectively, perhaps stones or sticks or some other object. They seem to have fallen out of use after the Davidic period when the prophetic oracles became popular. It may be that the title “breastpiece of judgment” indicates that these objects were used for making “decisions” (J. P. Hyatt, Exodus [NCBC], 283–84). U. Cassuto has the most thorough treatment of the subject (Exodus, 378–82); he lists several very clear rules for their uses gathered from their instances in the Bible, including that they were a form of sacred lot, that priests or leaders of the people only could use them, and that they were used for discovering the divine will in areas that were beyond human knowledge.
into the breastpiece of decision; and they are to be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord. Aaron is to bear the decisions
Or “judgment” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV). The term is מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), the same word that describes the breastpiece that held the two objects. Here it is translated “decisions” since the Urim and Thummim contained in the breastpiece represented the means by which the Lord made decisions for the Israelites. The high priest bore the responsibility of discerning the divine will on matters of national importance.
of the Israelites over his heart before the Lord continually.

31  “You are to make the robe
The מְעִיל (meil), according to S. R. Driver (Exodus, 307), is a long robe worn over the ephod, perhaps open down the front, with sleeves. It is made of finer material than ordinary cloaks because it was to be worn by people in positions of rank.
of the ephod completely blue.
32 There is to be an opening
Heb “mouth” or “opening” (פִּי, pi; in construct).
in its top
The “mouth of its head” probably means its neck; it may be rendered “the opening for the head,” except the pronominal suffix would have to refer to Aaron, and that is not immediately within the context.
in the center of it, with an edge all around the opening, the work of a weaver,
Or “woven work” (KJV, ASV, NASB), that is, “the work of a weaver.” The expression suggests that the weaving was from the fabric edges itself and not something woven and then added to the robe. It was obviously intended to keep the opening from fraying.
like the opening of a collar,
The expression כְּפִי תַחְרָא (kefi takhra’) is difficult. It was early rendered “like the opening of a coat of mail.” It occurs only here and in the parallel 39:23. Tg. Onq. has “coat of mail.” S. R. Driver suggests “a linen corselet,” after the Greek (Exodus, 308). See J. Cohen, “A Samaritan Authentication of the Rabbinic Interpretation of kephi tahra’,” VT 24 (1974): 361-66.
so that it cannot be torn.
The verb is the Niphal imperfect, here given the nuance of potential imperfect. Here it serves in a final clause (purpose/result), introduced only by the negative (see GKC 503-4 #165.a).
33 You are to make pomegranates
This must mean round balls of yarn that looked like pomegranates. The fruit was very common in the land, but there is no indication of the reason for its choice here. Pomegranates are found in decorative schemes in Ugarit, probably as signs of fertility. It may be that here they represent the blessing of God on Israel in the land. The bells that are between them possibly have the intent of drawing God’s attention as the priest moves and the bells jingle (anthropomorphic, to be sure), or that the people would know that the priest was still alive and moving inside. Some have suggested that the pomegranate may have recalled the forbidden fruit eaten in the garden (the gems already have referred to the garden), the reason for the priest entering for atonement, and the bells would divert the eye (of God) to remind him of the need. This is possible but far from supportable, since nothing is said of the reason, nor is the fruit in the garden identified.
of blue, purple, and scarlet all around its hem
The text repeats the idea: “you will make for its hem…all around its hem.”
and bells of gold between them all around.
34 The pattern is to be
The words “the pattern is to be” are not in the Hebrew text, but are supplied in the translation for clarity and for stylistic reasons.
a gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe.
35 The robe
Heb “it”; the referent (the robe) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
is to be on Aaron as he ministers,
The form is a Piel infinitive construct with the lamed (ל) preposition: “to minister” or “to serve.” It may be taken epexegetically here, “while serving,” although S. R. Driver takes it as a purpose, “in order that he may minister” (Exodus, 308). The point then would be that he dare not enter into the Holy Place without wearing it.
and his sound will be heard
God would hear the bells and be reminded that this priest was in his presence representing the nation and that the priest had followed the rules of the sanctuary by wearing the appropriate robes with their attachments.
when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he does not die.

36  “You are to make a plate
The word צִּיץ (tsits) seems to mean “a shining thing” and so here a plate of metal. It originally meant “flower,” but they could not write on a flower. So it must have the sense of something worn openly, visible, and shining. The Rabbinic tradition says it was two fingers wide and stretched from ear to ear, but this is an attempt to give details that the Law does not give (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 818).
of pure gold and engrave on it the way a seal is engraved:
Heb “the engravings of a seal”; this phrase is an adverbial accusative of manner.
“Holiness to the Lord.”
The engraving was a perpetual reminder of the holiness that was due the Lord (Heb “Yahweh”), that all the clothing, the furnishings, and the activities were to come under that description. This corresponded to the symbolism for the whole nation of binding the law between the eyes. It was to be a perpetual reminder of commitment.
37 You are to attach to it a blue cord so that it will be
The verb is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive; it follows the same at the beginning of the verse. Since the first verb is equal to the imperfect of instruction, this could be as well, but it is more likely to be subordinated to express the purpose of the former.
on the turban; it is to be
Heb “it will be,” an instruction imperfect.
on the front of the turban,
38 It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron will bear the iniquity of the holy things,
The construction “the iniquity of the holy things” is difficult. “Holy things” is explained in the passage by all the gifts the people bring and consecrate to Yahweh. But there will inevitably be iniquity involved. U. Cassuto explains that Aaron “will atone for all the transgressions committed in connection with the order of the service, the purity of the consecrated things, or the use of the holy gifts, for the declaration engraved on the plate will prove that everything was intended to be holy to the Lord, and if aught was done irregularly, the intention at least was good” (Exodus, 385).
which the Israelites are to sanctify by all their holy gifts;
The clause reads: “according to/by all the gifts of their holiness.” The genitive is an attributive genitive, the suffix on it referring to the whole bound construction – “their holy gifts.” The idea of the line is that the people will consecrate as holy things gifts they bring to the sanctuary.
it will always be on his forehead, for their acceptance
This clause is the infinitive construct with the lamed preposition, followed by the prepositional phrase: “for acceptance for them.” This infinitive provides the purpose or result of the act of wearing the dedicatory frontlet – that they will be acceptable.
before the Lord.
39 You are to weave
It is difficult to know how to translate וְשִׁבַּצְּתָּ (veshibbatsta); it is a Piel perfect with the vav (ו) consecutive, and so equal to the imperfect of instruction. Some have thought that this verb describes a type of weaving and that the root may indicate that the cloth had something of a pattern to it by means of alternate weaving of the threads. It was the work of a weaver (39:27) and not so detailed as certain other fabrics (26:1), but it was more than plain weaving (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 310). Here, however, it may be that the fabric is assumed to be in existence and that the action has to do with sewing (C. Houtman, Exodus, 3:475, 517).
the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen, and make the sash the work of an embroiderer.

40  “For Aaron’s sons you are to make tunics, sashes, and headbands
This refers to a band of linen wrapped around the head, forming something like a brimless convex cap, resembling something like a half egg. It refers to the headgear of ordinary priests only (see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 310–11).
for glory and for beauty.

41  “You are to clothe them – your brother Aaron and his sons with him – and anoint them
The instructions in this verse anticipate chap. 29, as well as the ordination ceremony described in Lev 8 and 9. The anointing of Aaron is specifically required in the Law, for he is to be the High Priest. The expression “ordain them” might also be translated as “install them” or “consecrate them”; it literally reads “and fill their hands,” an expression for the consecration offering for priesthood in Lev 8:33. The final instruction to sanctify them will involve the ritual of the atoning sacrifices to make the priests acceptable in the sanctuary.
and ordain them
Heb “fill their hand.” As a result of this installation ceremony they will be officially designated for the work. It seems likely that the concept derives from the notion of putting the priestly responsibilities under their control (i.e., “filling their hands” with work). See note on the phrase “ordained seven days” in Lev 8:33.
and set them apart as holy,
Traditionally “sanctify them” (KJV, ASV).
so that they may minister as my priests.
42 Make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked bodies;
Heb “naked flesh” (so NAB, NRSV); KJV “nakedness.”
they must cover
Heb “be.”
from the waist to the thighs.
43 These must be on Aaron and his sons when they enter
The construction for this temporal clause is the infinitive construct with the temporal preposition bet (ב) and the suffixed subjective genitive.
to the tent of meeting, or when they approach
This construction is also the temporal clause with the infinitive construct and the temporal preposition bet (ב) and the suffixed subjective genitive.
the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they bear no iniquity and die.
The text has וְלאֹ־יִשְׂאוּ עָוֹן וָמֵתוּ (velo-yisu avon vametu). The imperfect tense here introduces a final clause, yielding a purpose or result translation (“in order that” or “so that”). The last verb is the perfect tense with the vav consecutive, and so it too is equal to a final imperfect – but it would show the result of bearing the iniquity. The idea is that if they approached the holy things with a lack of modesty, perhaps like the pagans who have nakedness and sexuality as part of the religious ritual, they would pollute the holy things, and it would be reckoned to them for iniquity and they would die.
It is to be a perpetual ordinance for him and for his descendants
Heb “seed.”
after him.
So the priests were to make intercession for the people, give decisions from God’s revealed will, enter his presence in purity, and represent holiness to Yahweh. The clothing of the priests provided for these functions, but in a way that brought honor and dignity. A priest was, therefore, to serve in purity, holiness, and fear (Malachi). There is much that can be derived from this chapter to form principles of spiritual leadership, but the overall point can be worded this way: Those whom God selects to minister to the congregation through intercessory prayer, divine counsel, and sacrificial worship, must always represent the holiness of Yahweh in their activities and demeanor.

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