Lesson 14: Exodus chapters 27:1-28:43
Instructions for the Holy Sanctuary Part II and
Instructions for the Liturgical Vestments of the Priest

Beloved Father,
You created a cosmic center of worship for Your covenant children in the desert Sanctuary and later in the Jerusalem Temple on Mt. Moriah. In the same way, through the mission and ultimate sacrifice of Your beloved Son, You brought Your New Covenant people to a new cosmic mountain where heavenly and earthly liturgy are joined in the celebration of the holy Mass. In the Mass we begin our journey in the Introductory Rites, where we are cleansed of sin in preparation for our journey. In the Liturgy of the Word we hear the very words of God calling to us as we progress half-way up the cosmic mountain, and in the Liturgy of the Eucharist we make the final ascent. As we move forward to receive our Savior in the thanksgiving communion of the Eucharist we finally reach the summit and the cosmic union of liturgy in the presence of saints and angels, where space and time are suspended and Your faithful become what we consume "we become temples in whom the presence of the Godhead dwells. Guide us in our study, Lord, of Israel's first cosmic Sanctuary and help us to understand the promise of redemption it held for future generations. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

Yahweh, who can find a home in your tent, who can dwell on your holy mountain? Whoever lives blamelessly, who acts uprightly, who speaks the truth from the heart... Psalm 15:1-2

He raised up Aaron, a holy man like Moses, his brother, of the tribe of Levi. He made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him the priesthood of the people. He adorned him with impressive vestments; he dressed him in a robe of glory. Sirach 45:7

During his forty days on the mountain of God, Moses received instructions on how to duplicate the heavenly Sanctuary on earth, creating a focal point for worship and liturgy that not only mirrored the heavenly reality but held the promise of an eternal future, living and worshiping eternally in the heavenly Sanctuary in the Presence of Yahweh-God (Ps 61:4).

Please read Exodus 27:1-8: Yahweh's Altar of Burnt Offerings
27:1 You will make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar will be square and three cubits high. 2At its four corners you will make horns, the horns must be of apiece with it, and you will overlay it with bronze. 3And for it you will make pans for taking away the fatty ashes, and shovels, sprinkling basins (chalices), hooks and fire pans; you will make all the altar accessories of bronze. 4You will also make a grating for it of bronze network, and on the four corners of the grating you will make four bronze rings. 5You will put it below the ledge of the altar, underneath, so that it comes halfway up the altar. 6 You will make shafts for the altar, shafts of acacia wood and overlay them with bronze. 6The shafts will be passed through the rings in such a way that the shafts are on either side of the altar, for carrying it. 7You will make the altar hollow, out of boards; you will make it as you were shown on the mountain.'

The altar of sacrifice stood in the courtyard of the Sanctuary which was the open space between the entrance and the Tabernacle. It was circa 7.5 feet square and c. 4.5 feet high. The altar of sacrifice, like the ark, table, frames of the Sanctuary and the incense altar was to be made of acacia (shittim) wood overlaid with metal.

Question: What was the metal that overlaid the shittim wood of the courtyard altar and what metal was used to make the vessels and other implements associated with the altar?

Answer: In the case of the altar, the metal was to be bronze and all the vessels associated with the altar were also to be made of bronze (Ex 27:2-4).

The altar was a wooden box without top or bottom overlaid with bronze. It had projections at each of its corners, which the biblical text describes as "horns." The horns of the altar had an important function in the priestly ritual of blood sacrifice (i.e., Ex 29:11-12; Lev 4:7), and in the future, when the sanctuary was built to cling to the horns of the altar was to plead for mercy (1 Kng 2:28).(1) A grating of bronze was to be made that would fit inside the square bronze frame of the altar so the ashes from the fires that consumed the sacrifices would not collect on the top. With its raised meshwork the grating fitted into the box of the bronze covered wooden form of the altar. The bottom of the altar was the packed earth of the ground. A ramp probably allowed access to the top of the altar which also had a ledge on which the priest stood when officiating in offering sacrifices (Ex 27:5). This would explain the expression "going up and coming down" connected with the priestly service in offering sacrifice (Ex 20:26; Lev 9:22, etc.). Four bronze rings, two rings on two opposite sides, were attached to the altar and two wooden poles covered with bronze were slid through the double rings so the altar could be transported. Everything made for the Sanctuary had to be easily disassembled for the wilderness journey to the Promised Land, and those furnishing and the structure of the Sanctuary and its Tabernacle had to be just as easy to reassemble at each stop along the way.

Question: When the Sanctuary is built and the altar in the Sanctuary courtyard is constructed, how will it be designated and what is its function? See Ex 38:1.

Answer: It will be designated the "Altar of Burn Offerings" and it will be the altar upon which animal sacrifices can be offered to Yahweh in atonement for sin and for reestablishing fellowship with Yahweh.

Please read Exodus 27:9-19: Instruction for the Sanctuary Courtyard
27:9 Then you will make the court of the Dwelling. On the south side, the curtaining of the court must be of finely woven linen, one hundred cubits long (for the first side), 10its twenty poles and their twenty sockets being of bronze, and the poles' hooks and rods of silver. 11So too for the north side, there must be a hundred cubits of curtaining, its twenty poles and their twenty sockets being of bronze, and the poles' hooks and rods of silver. 12Across the width of the court, on the west side, there must be fifty cubits of curtaining, with its ten poles and their ten sockets. 13The width of the court on the east side, facing the sunrise, must be fifty cubits, 14with fifteen cubits of curtaining on one side of the entrance, with its three poles and their three sockets, 15and on the other side of the entrance, fifteen cubits of curtaining, with its three poles and their three sockets; 16and for the gateway to the court there must be a twenty-cubit screen of finely woven linen embroidered with violet-purple, red-purple and crimson, with its four poles and their four sockets. 17All the poles round the court must be connected by silver rods; their hooks must be of silver and their sockets of bronze. 18The length of the court must be one hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits and its height five cubits. All the curtaining must be made of finely woven linen, and their sockets of bronze. 19All the accessories for general use in the Dwelling, all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, must be of bronze.

Question: How many poles/pillars were to be used to construct the Sanctuary enclosure? Are the corner pillars counted once or twice?

Answer: 56 pillars if the pillars at the corners are counted twice; the 20th pillar on the north-east side being the first pillar on right side of the entrance.

Older commentators counted 56 pillars (20 pillars on the north and south sides, 10 pillars on the west end and 6 pillars each on either side of the entrance on the east). However, more recent commentators suggest the count was 60. Scholars debate the spacing of the pillars and the placement of the entrance to the Sanctuary in the construction of the Sanctuary enclosure. Some scholars suggest that each pillar was spaced exactly five cubits apart and that each pillar was counted only once, while other scholars suggest the corner pillars were counted twice. There is also the possibility that there were double pillars side-by-side at the corners for increased stability. If there were 56 pillars it has also been suggested that it was possible that the entrance was recessed and consisted of four pillars covered with panels (Davis, Exodus, page 273).

This is another of those little details that are not included in the written text, like the confusion over whether the Tabernacle was constructed of solid wooden boards placed one next to the other creating a solid wooden structure or if it was constructed of open wooden frames that permitted a view of the beautiful inner embroidered curtain. One explanation may be that the details that were left out were not necessary because Moses actually viewed what he was to copy and therefore he saw the curtain and the open framework or he saw that there were (or weren't) double pillars at the corners of the Sanctuary enclosure.

Question: What is noteworthy about the metals Moses was told to use in constructing the Courtyard, the Sanctuary enclosure, and the Tabernacle? Is there a pattern?

Answer: There has been a pattern in the use of metals: pure gold for the Holy of Holies and the Holy place with the use of silver for the foundation sockets, and bronze for the courtyard altar with sockets of bronze with silver rods and hooks to connect the frames with the curtain panels; the more holy the space the more precious the metals.

Question: In which direction does the Sanctuary face "where is the entrance? See Ex 27:13-15.

Answer: The Sanctuary and its entrance must be situated to face toward the east.

Question: What is the significance of the Sanctuary facing toward the east with the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the western-most part of the Sanctuary?

Answer: Coming to worship God the people enter the Sanctuary from the east with the focus of their worship toward the Holy of Holies in the western most part of the Sanctuary. They leave the Sanctuary moving toward the east. Since the Fall of man in Genesis, movement toward the east symbolized moving away from God.

Question: What were the instructions for the entrance to the Sanctuary? What part of the instructions for the entrance has been repeated throughout the description of the Sanctuary?

Answer: The entrance to the Sanctuary, facing the east where the sun rises was to be covered with 20 cubits of embroidered linen textiles in hues of blue, purple, red and finely twisted linen threads. These are the same colors used throughout the Sanctuary.

Exodus 27:18: The length of the court must be one hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits and its height five cubits. All the curtaining must be made of finely woven linen, and their sockets of bronze. These dimensions equate to the Sanctuary being about 150 feet long by 75 feet wide with the height of the frames and their curtains being about 7.5 feet.

Question: According to Exodus 26:16 the frames for the Tabernacle were 10 cubits long (high), or about 15 feet high. Compare the height of the frames for the Sanctuary enclosure with the Tabernacle's curtained walls. What does that comparison suggest? What did it mean to people who saw the Sanctuary?

Answer: The Tabernacle's c. 15 foot high walls could be seen above the shorter c. 7.5 foot walls of the Sanctuary enclosure. Outsiders could see part of the Tabernacle that was the dwelling place of God but they couldn't take part in liturgical worship and have access to God's presence unless they were members of the covenant.

Please read Exodus 27:20-21: Oil for the Menorah
27:20You will order the Israelites to bring you pure pounded olive oil for the light, and to keep a lamp burning all the time [tamid]. 21Aaron and his sons will tend it in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain handing in front of the Testimony, from dust to dawn, before Yahweh. This is a perpetual [tamid] decree for all generations of Israelites.'

The "tent of meeting" refers to the Tabernacle "the meeting place between God and man. The Menorah was to be kept burning in the Holy Place outside the curtain that hung in front of the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Testimony (Covenant) was to be kept. The Hebrew word tamid literally means "standing," and like the word "standing" in English the Hebrew word has a double meaning. In this passage the word is used in "standing" as in continual or perpetual "of the seven lamps of the Menorah at least one is to be kept burning perpetually.

Question: Who was to be responsible for tending the Menorah lamps?

Answer: Aaron and his sons "the chief priests.

Verse 21 is a precursor to the instructions for ordaining Aaron and his four sons as chief priests who serve in God's holy Sanctuary (Ex 29:1-35). The lesser ministers who were the first-born sons were intended to serve under the direction of Yahweh's chief priests.

Chapter 28: The Instructions for the Priestly Vestments

Please read Exodus 28:1-5: Instructions for the Vestments of the High Priest
28:1 From among the Israelites, summon your brother Aaron and his sons to be priests in my service: Aaron and Aaron's sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2For your brother Aaron you will make sacred vestments to give dignity and magnificence. 3You will instruct all the skilled men, whom I have endowed with skill, to make Aaron's vestments for his consecration to my priesthood. 4These are the vestments which they must make: a pectoral, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered tunic, a turban and a belt. They must make sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons, for them to be priests in my service. 5They will use gold and violet material, red-purple and crimson, and finely woven linen.

For the first time the children of Israel are to have an ordained priesthood. In previous ages the designated priests who built altars and organized worship to Yahweh were the firstborn heads of the various families. Special men, filled with God's spirit, will make the vestments for Yahweh's priests (Ex 36:1-4).

The High Priest was called in Hebrew the Kohen Gadol ("Great /High Priest"; kohen/ cohen means "priest").

Question: How many pieces comprised the vestments of the High Priest? See Ex 28:4-5 and the additional clothing listed in Ex 28:40-43; 29:5-9; 39:2-4 and Sirach 45:6b/7-13/15.

Answer: There were to be eight items that comprised the liturgical vestments of the High Priest: the linen tunic, a robe that was a blue/turquoise one-piece garment with a neck opening, a sash/belt, a golden head-plate, an ephod, a breastplate, a miter, and linen underwear.

The four inner garments were the worn by all priests: the tunic, the breeches, the girdle/sash and a headdress (Ex 28:40-43). Four over-garments were to be only worn by Aaron and succeeding High Priests: the robe, the ephod, the breastplate of judgment, and the golden diadem/head-plate.

The Vestments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)

  1. Ketonet (tunic): A tunic made of white linen that reached to the feet. It was woven all of one piece with a boxlike knit. It was worn under the other liturgical vestments next to the skin and was tied with a sash (Ex 28:40; 29:5; 39:27; Lev 6:3/10; 8:7, 13; 16:4).
  2. Me'il (robe): a one-piece blue garment reaching almost to the feet with only a neck opening. It was similar to a chasuble or a poncho. The Hem of the me'il was of alternating pomegranates and bells. The pomegranates were made of blue, purple and scarlet wool, and they were alternated with gold bells (Ex 28:31-35; 39:22-26).
  3. Ephod (priestly ephod): garment with shoulder straps and stones on the shoulders [avnei shoham = onyx stones? ] with the engraved names of the sons of Israel according to birth order, six on each shoulder, with a tie belt made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet wool and twisted linen (Ex 28:6-14; 39:2-7).
  4. Abnet (waistband): A girdle or sash woven of fine linen with embroidery work in blue, purple, and red (Ex 28:4, 40; 39:29).
  5. Choshen/ hosen (breastplate): The breastplate of judgment was a folded pocket worn on the breast with 12 stones in 4 rows of 3, one stone for each of the 12 Tribes of Israel engraved with the name of each tribe and in which the Urim and Tumim [Thummim] were carried. The chosen [breastplate] is attached to the Ephod with straps/ties (Ex 28:15-30; 39:8-21).
  6. Misnepet (head-dress): A turban/ miter made of linen to which the golden head-plate, the symbol of consecration, was attached on the front with an embroidered blue ribbon (Ex 28:37, 40; 39:31).
  7. Tzitz (head-plate): This item also called the nezer (diadem or crown). It was made of pure gold, inscribed with the words "Holy to YHWH" and was tied with a blue ribbon to the miter (Ex 28:36-39; 39:27-31).
  8. Miknasim (underpants): Breeches made of linen, extending from the waist to the thighs and secured with a cord (Ex 28:42-43; 39:28; Lev 6:3/10).

Question: It is interesting that there are eight sacred vestments for the High Priest instead of seven. What is the symbolic meaning of the number eight in Scripture and why is it significant that the vestments of the Kohen Gadol reflected the number eight?

Answer: Eight is the number of redemption, salvation, and re-birth. As Yahweh's High Priest, Aaron was to stand before the people as the image of redeemed man.

It was the High Priest's role to serve as Yahweh's chief minister, as the people's intercessor, and as a symbol of redeemed man "the symbol of man fully restored in God's image and therefore an image of the living sanctity the people were to strive for in their lives. The inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom wrote of the intercession of Aaron as Israel's holy High Priest when the people were threatened with annihilation in the desert: Experience of death, however, touched the upright too, and a great many were struck down in the desert. But the Retribution did not last long, for a blameless man hurried to their defense. Wielding the weapons of his sacred office, prayer and expiating incense, he confronted Retribution and put an end to the plague thus showing that he was your servant (Wis 18:20-21).

Question: Does God approve of beautiful vestments for His priests?

Answer: Apparently He does since Moses was specifically commanded to have certain skilled men produce liturgical articles of clothing were both beautiful and costly.

Question: Why was it necessary to have such costly liturgical vessels, altars and vestments? Wouldn't simple wood furnishings and plain clothes have been more reasonable?

Answer: In Exodus 27:3 God stated that these were to be "sacred vestments" and that the requirement for beautiful vestments was to give the High Priest dignity and magnificence. Everything associated with the liturgy of the people was to reflect the glory of worship in the heavenly Sanctuary and to impress upon the people awesomeness of the experience of worshiping in God's presence. Everything associated with the Sanctuary and with worship of Yahweh was intended to separate the people from the mundane and to elevate them to a divine encounter.

Please read Exodus 28:6-14: The Ephod of the High Priest
28:6 They will make the ephod of finely woven linen embroidered with gold, violet-purple, red-purple and crimson. 7It will have two shoulder-straps joined to it; it will be joined to them by its two edges. 8The waistband on the ephod to hold it in position must be of the same workmanship and be of a piece with it: of gold, violet-purple, red-purple and crimson materials and finely woven linen. 9You will then take two cornelian's and engrave them with the names of the sons of Israel, 10six of their names on one stone, the remaining six names on the other, in the order of their birth. 11By the stone-carver's art "seal engraving "you will engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You will have them mounted in gold settings 12and you will put the two stones on the shoulder-straps of the ephod, to commemorate the sons of Israel. In this way Aaron will bear their names on his two shoulders, before Yahweh, as a reminder. 13You will also make golden rosettes, 14and two chains of pure gold twisted like cord, and will attach the cord-like chains to the rosettes.

Included among the garments of the High Priest was an ephod. The designation "ephod" in Scripture appears to be applied to more than one type of religious garment:

The High Priest's ephod was sleeveless garment shaped something like an apron with shoulder straps and a waistband. On the shoulder straps were two stones engraved with the names of the twelve sons of Israel. It is unclear what stones were used. According to the Septuagint the engraved stones were emeralds. Josephus identified them as "sardonyx" which is the best grade of onyx (Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.5).

Exodus 28:12: and you will put the two stones on the shoulder-straps of the ephod, to commemorate the sons of Israel. In this way Aaron will bear their names on his two shoulders, before Yahweh, as a reminder.

Question: In what way were the two stones with the twelve names a "reminder" before Yahweh?

Answer: They served as a reminder to the High Priest that when he ministered in Yahweh's Sanctuary that he represented all the covenant people of Israel who were the descendants of the twelve sons of Israel.

The beautifully colored and embellished ceremonial High Priest's ephod was one of the more sacred parts of the priestly vestments and came to be an identifying emblem of the High Priest's sacred office: How splendid he was with the people thronging round him, when he emerged from the curtained shrine, like the morning star among the clouds, like the moon at the full, like the sun shining on the Temple of the Most High, like the rainbow gleaming against brilliant clouds, like a rose in springtime, like a lily by a spring, like a branch of the incense tree in summer, like fire and incense in the censer, like a massive golden vessel encrusted with every kind of precious stone, like an olive tree loaded with fruit, like a cypress soaring to the clouds; when he took his ceremonial robe and put on his magnificent ornaments, when he went up to the holy altar and filled the sanctuary precincts with his grandeur... (Sir 50:5-11). Also see 1 Sam 2:28; 14:3, 18 ; 22:18.

Please read Exodus 28:15-30: The High Priest's Breastplate of Judgment
28:15 You will make the breastplate of judgment of the same embroidered work as the ephod; you will make it of gold, violet-purple, red-purple and crimson materials and finely woven linen. 16It must be square and doubled over, a span in length and a span in width. 17In it you will set four rows of stones: a sard, topaz and emerald for the first row; 18for the second row, a garnet, sapphire and diamond; 19for the third row, a hyacinth, a ruby and an amethyst; 20and for the forth row, a beryl, a cornelian and a jasper. These must be mounted in gold settings. 21The stones will correspond to the names of the sons of Israel, twelve like their names, engraved like seals, each with the name of one of the twelve tribes. 22For the breastplate you will make chains of pure gold twisted like cords, 23and on the breastplate you will make two gold rings, putting the two rings on the two outside edges of the breastplate 24and fastening the two gold cords to the two rings on the outside edges of the breastplate. 25The other two ends of the cords you will fasten to the two rosettes, putting these on the shoulder-straps of the ephod, on the front. 26You will also make two gold rings and put them on the two edges of the breastplate, on the inner side, against the ephod; 27and you will make two gold rings and put them low down on the front of the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod, close to the join, above the waistband of the ephod. 28The breastplate will be secured by a violet-purple cord passed through its rings and those of the ephod, so that the breastplate will sit above the waistband and not come apart from the ephod. 29Thus Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment, on his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, as a reminder, before Yahweh, always. 30To the breastplate of judgment you will add the urim and the thummim, and these will be on Aaron's heart when he goes into Yahweh's presence, and Aaron will bear the Israelites' judgment on his heart, in Yahweh's presence, always.

Question: Aaron and the High Priests who succeeded him wore the names of Israel's ancestral fathers, the names twelve sons of Isaac who were the physical fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel on the ephod in what two places?

Answer: The names of the twelve sons of Abraham were engraved on two cornelian stones, six names on one stone and the remaining six names on the other. These two stones were mounted in gold and worn on each shoulder strap of the ephod. Twelve different precious/semi-precious stones were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes and were mounted on a piece of cloth that was attached to the ephod.

Question: What was the name of the cloth pouch covered with the engraved stones?

Answer: It was called the "breastplate (breast-piece) of judgment."

The breastplate or breast-piece of judgment square linen pouch that was opened at the top and covered with twelve stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was to measure a "span" which was about 9 inches or 23 cm. square. The pouch encrusted with the twelve beautiful engraved jewels was carried over the priest's heart, secured to the ephod by gold rings and threads of gold and blue. Jewels were valuable to men, but Yahweh's valuable "jewels" were the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 19:5; Mal 3:17).

Question: What cultic objects were carried in the breastplate of judgment and what was their function? See Num 27:21; Judg 18:6; 1 Sam 10:20-21; 14:41-42; 23:2, 10-12; 2 Sam 2:1; 5:19.

Answer: The urim and thummim were apparently objects similar to lots(2) which were cast to determine a "yes" or "no" answer according to the will of God.

Etymologically the Hebrew words urim and thummim mean "lights and "perfections" (Davis, Exodus, page 285; Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 22). These objects were a mysterious gift of God intended to illuminate Yahweh's divine will. When used by the High Priest they functioned as an oracle (also see Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; Dt 33:8; 1 Sam 14:41; 28:6; Ezra 2:63 and Neh 7:65) giving answers to "yes" or "no" questions posed to God by the High Priest or the King. These objects were last mentioned as being used during the reign of King David (1 Sam 28:6). Their loss was lamented after the return from exile in Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65, but Josephus recorded that the oracle functioned into the Hasmonean period (Antiquities 3. [218]). (1)

Please read Exodus 28:31-35: The High Priest's Robe
28:31 You will make the robe of the ephod entirely of violet-purple. 32In the center it will have an opening for the head, the opening to have round it a border woven like the neck of a coat of mail, so that it will not get torn. 33On its lower hem, you will make pomegranates of violet-purple, red-purple and crimson, and finely woven linen all round the hem, with golden bells between them all round: 34a golden bell and then a pomegranate, alternately, all round the lower hem of the robe. 35Aaron must wear it when he officiates, and the tinkling will be heard when he goes into the sanctuary into Yahweh's presence, or leaves it, and so he will not incur death.

Question: How was the robe worn in the order of the vestments?

Answer: It was worn immediately under the ephod and over the linen garment and breeches.

The priestly robe was woven without any seam (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.5.7[228]). It was longer than the ephod, reaching a little below the knees almost to the feet but not quite as long as the linen tunic. According to Josephus the priestly robe had a neck opening and no sleeves but was opened and flowed over the arms like a Catholic priest's causable or a poncho.

Question: What color was the robe and what was its distinctive feature?

Answer: It was dyed blue and along the hem there were blue, purple, and red pomegranates and golden bells.

Exodus 28:35: Aaron must wear it when he officiates, and the tinkling will be heard when he goes into the sanctuary into Yahweh's presence, or leaves it, and so he will not incur death.

The purpose of the bells is debated. Josephus wrote that they symbolized thunder and lightening (experienced in the Theophany on Mt. Sinai), but it has also been suggested that the sound of the bells helped the worshippers to follow the progress of the High Priest as he performed his duties in the Tabernacle. It is not clear why the sound of the bells would prevent the High Priest's death other than the sound of the bells may have reminded the High Priest of his required sacerdotal garments "to enter the Holy of Holies on the feast of Yom Kippur the High Priest had to wear only the white linen tunic, the waistband, the breeches and his miter; to dress improperly was to incur death (Lev 16:2-4). Another explanation was that since no one was to be in the Tabernacle when the High Priest went in on Yom Kippur, the bells were to warn anyone hearing them to leave at once before the High Priest entered the Holy Place and took off his outer garments before entering the Holy of Holies (Lev 16:17; 23-24).

Please read Exodus 28:36-39: The High Priest's Miter and Symbol of Consecration
28:36 You will make a flower of pure gold and on it, as you would engrave a seal, you will engrave, "Consecrated to Yahweh." 37You will put it on a violet-purple cord; it will go on the turban; the front of the turban is the place where it must go. 38This will go on Aaron's brow, and Aaron will thus take on himself the short-comings of the holy things consecrated by the Israelites, in all their holy offerings. 39It will be on his brow permanently, to make them acceptable to Yahweh. The tunic you will weave of fine linen, and make a turban of fine linen, and an embroidered waistband.

Josephus described the High Priest's miter as a head covering similar to a bishop's miter which is almost conical and covers the top of the head: Upon his head he wears a cap, not brought to a conic form nor encircling the whole head, but still covering more than the half of it, which is called Masnaemphthes: and its make is such that it seems to be a crown, being made of thick swathes, but the contexture is of linen; and it is doubled round many times, and sewed together: besides which, a piece of fine linen covers the whole cap from the upper part, and reaches down to the forehead, and hides the seams of the swatches, which would otherwise appear indecently: this adheres closely upon the solid part of the head, and is thereto so firmly fixed that it may not fall off during the sacred service about the sacrifices (Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.3 [157-158])

The miter of the High Priest was not like the soft folded contours of a turban but it was made full and stiff by the many thick swathes of linen which gave the miter its shape when covered by a single layer of linen. The golden head-plate with the words "Consecrated to YHWH" was attached to the miter with a blue ribbon.(3)

Exodus 28:38-39: 38This will go on Aaron's brow, and Aaron will thus take on himself the short-comings of the holy things consecrated by the Israelites, in all their holy offerings. 39It will be on his brow permanently, to make them acceptable to Yahweh. The tunic you will weave of fine linen, and make a turban of fine linen, and an embroidered waistband.

As God's anointed who stood before God as the image of redeemed man, the High priest expiated unintentional ritual lapses in his own person.

Question: What was the purpose of the High Priest's beautiful miter with its attached golden head-plate and the other richly appointed sacred vestments? See Ex 28:2.

Answer: They were to reflect the High Priest's magnificence and dignity as Yahweh's priestly representative to His people.

Please read Exodus 28:40-43: The Vestments of the Other Chief Priests
28:40 For the sons of Aaron you will make tunics and waistbands. You will also make them head-dresses to give dignity and magnificence. 41You will dress your brother Aaron and his sons in these; you will then anoint them, invest them and consecrate them to serve me in the priesthood. 42You will also make them linen breeches 43reaching from waist to thigh, to cover their bare flesh. Aaron and his sons will wear these when they go into the Tent of Meeting and when they approach the altar to serve in the sanctuary, as a precaution against incurring mortal guilt. This is a perpetual (tamid) decree for Aaron and for his descendants after him.'

Question: What were the four garments worn by all priests?

Answer: Tunics, waistbands, head-dress, and linen breeches.

The miter/ mitre of the High Priest (misnepet: Ex:28:4, 37, 39; 29:6; 39:28, 31; Lev 8:9; 16:4; Sir 45:12/14; Zec 3:5) was different from the head-dress of the other chief priests (migba'ah: Ex 28:40; 29:9; 39:28; Lev 8:13).

Verse 40 announces God's intention to establish an ordained priesthood "men anointed and consecrated to serve Yahweh in His earthly Sanctuary.

Question: God's command that clothing must be made to cover the priest's genitals is a reminder of when God Himself took action to cover His exposed children. When did that happen and what was "covered" physically and spiritually? See Gen 3:10, 20-21 and Ex 28:43b.

Answer: In Genesis Adam and Eve feared God in their naked condition after the Fall. Their fear was because they were no longer "clothed" in God's grace. God covered their nakedness with the sacrifice of animals, clothing their physical nakedness and their spiritual nakedness.

God's priests' modesty in service God in the Sanctuary by covering their nakedness not only shows reverence for God but is a symbol of their spiritual condition, standing blameless before God and clothed both physically and spiritually so as a precaution against incurring mortal guilt.

The liturgical vestments worn by all the priests were described by Josephus: There were peculiar garments appointed for the priests, and for all the rest, which they call Cahanaeae [priestly garments], as also for the high priests, which they call Cahanaeae Rabbae, and denote the high priest's garments. Such was therefore the habit of the rest; but when the priest approaches the sacrifices, he purifies himself with the purification which the law prescribes; and, in the first place, he puts on that which is called Machanase, which means somewhat that is fast tied. It is a girdle, composed of fine twined linen, and is put about the privy parts, the feet being to be inserted into them, in the nature of breeches; but above half of it is cut off, and it ends at the thighs and is there tied fast. Over this he wore a linen vestment made of fine flax doubled; it is called Chethone, and denotes linen, for we call linen by the name of Chethone. This vestment reaches down to the feet and sits close to the body; and has sleeves that are tied fast to the arms: it is girded to the breast a little above the elbows, by a girdle often going round, four fingers broad, but so loosely woven, that you would think it were skin of a serpent. It is embroidered with flowers of scarlet, and purple, and blue, and fine twined linen; but the wrap was nothing but fine linen. The beginning of its circumvolution is at the breast; and when it has gone often round, it is there tied, and hangs loosely there down to the ankles: I mean this, all the time the priest is not about any laborious service, for in this position it appears in the most agreeable manner to the spectators; but when he is obliged to assist at the offering sacrifices, and to do the appointed service, that he may not be hindered in his operations by its motion, he throws it to the left, and bears in on his shoulder (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.7.1-2 [151-155]).

Josephus provided a detailed description of the priestly garments in Antiquities of the Jews, 3.6.1-3.7.7 [152-187] and Wars of the Jews, 5.5.7[228-237]. Compare his description of the liturgical garments worn by all priests to the description of the High Priest's vestments: When he officiated, he had on a pair of breeches that reached beneath his privy parts to his thighs, and had on a inner garment of linen, together with a blue garment, round, without seem, with fringework, and reaching to the feet. There were also golden bells that hung upon the fringes, and pomegranates intermixed among them. The bells signified thunder, and the pomegranates lightening. But that girdle that tied the garment to the breast was embroidered with five rows of various colors of gold, and purple, and scarlet, as also of fine linen and blue; with which colors, we told you before the veils of the temple were embroidered also. The like embroidery was upon the ephod; but the quantity of gold therein was greater. Its figure was that of a stomacher for the breast. There were upon it two golden buttons like small shields, which buttoned the ephod to the garment: in these buttons were enclosed two very large and very excellent sardonyxes, having the names of the tribes of that nation engraved upon them: on the other part were hung twelve stones, three in a row one way and four in the other; [..]. upon every one of which was again engraved one of the forementioned names of the tribes. A miter also of fine linen encompassed his head, which was tired by a blue ribbon, about which there was another golden crown, in which was engraved the sacred name [of God]; it consists of four consonants. However, the high priest did not wear these garments at other times, but a more plain habit; he only did it when he went into the most sacred part of the temple, which he did but once a year, on that day when our custom is for all of us to keep a fast to God (Wars of the Jews, 5.5.7 [231-326]).

The priests did not wear sandals on their feet when ministering in the Temple.

Question: Why were the priests not allowed to walk into the Sanctuary or later the Temple without their feet being bare? See Ex 3:5 and Josh 5:15.

Answer: They were walking on holy ground.

The instructions for the sacred priestly vestments is a precursor to Yahweh's instructions to Moses on how to consecrate Aaron and his four sons to be God's holy ordained ministerial priests: You will dress your brother Aaron and his sons in these; you will then anoint them, invest them and consecrate them to serve me in the priesthood (Ex 28:41).

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Compare the Old Covenant altar of sacrifice with the New Covenant altar. What is the function of a New Covenant altar? What does it represent and why? See CCC 1181-82, 1383.

Question: Our separated brethren often criticize Catholics for their beautiful churches and the costly vestments of the priests. How would you use Scripture to explain to them why the Catholic Church has altars, incense, statues, beautiful vessels for worship and priests dressed in special vestments?


1. Altars with projections on four corners have been discovered at Megiddo and Gezer that resemble the description of the "horns" of Yahweh's altar.

2. The Mishnah mentions these cult objects in Mishnah: Sota 9.12 and in Mishnah: Yoma 21b. Prior to the second great Pentecost when the Holy Spirit took possession of the New Covenant Church (Acts 2), the selection of Judas' replacement was determined by casting lots similar to determining God's will in the urim and thummim (Acts 1:26). After Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit filled and indwelled the Church the old covenant method of determining God's will was no longer necessary. In the New Covenant in Christ the Church and individual believers discern through the ministry of the Holy Spirit God's will for His people.

3. The High Priest's golden plate is sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Petalon. Josephus wrote that this sacred item was preserved to his time in the 1st century AD (Antiquities 8.3.8 [93]). According to Christian writers/historians like Origen, Epiphanius Bishop of Salami (Cyprus) and Eusebius Bishop of Caesarea in the Holy Land both St. John and St. James wore a petalon on their miters where they served as bishops of Ephesus (Turkey) and Jerusalem respectively. Some scholars believe this is evidence that the Mosaic Petalon was preserved into the early Christian centuries (Whiston, The Works of Josephus, page 90 note b). However, I doubt this is the case. There would not have been two such sacred high priestly sacerdotal plates. It is more likely that both St. John and St. James, understanding that the old priesthood was abolished and the authority as God's priestly representatives rested with the New Covenant successors, adopted their own head-plates as signs of their priestly authority. Such an emblem would have been especially meaningful for Jews who converted to Christianity (see Eusebius, Church History 24.3, page 242; also see page 163 n. 10; Epiphanius, Haer. 77.14).

Catechism reference for this lesson.

Ex 27:1-8

1181-82, 1383.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.