Moses continues to receive instructions on Mount Sinai for Yahweh’s special tent for dwelling among his people. We’re still in the first of seven speeches, but the subject has shifted. While the first few chapters were about furniture and structures, the next few are about the people who will serve in the tent, along with some of their duties.
Observation of Exodus 27:20-28:43
Most repeated words: make (21 times), two (19x), Aaron (17), gold (15), ephod (12), sons (12), breastpiece (11), Israel (10), name (9)
- This section has slightly less focus on materials (though “gold” abounds, and “blue” and “linen” will each come up 7 or 8 times) and more focus on the people who will use what is made: Aaron and his sons.
Last week, I initially intended to include 27:20-21 with the rest of chapter 27. But as I studied it, it increasingly seemed to go better with the chapters following it.
- Ex 27:20 issues a command to bring olive oil for light—not just when the tent is built, but perpetually (“regularly”).
- Ex 27:21 introduces “Aaron and his sons,” who shall tend the lamp placed inside the tent (Ex 26:35) by burning this olive oil “from evening to morning,” “forever,” and “throughout their generations.”
- Aaron was a major player through the plagues on Egypt (Ex 7:2, 7:10, 7:19, etc.). He played an intermediary role between Moses and the people when God sent manna (Ex 16:9, 10, 33, 34). He has been singled out during the stay at Sinai (Ex 18:12, 19:24, 24:1, 24:14).
- But this is the first time we’re told explicitly that Aaron and his sons will have a special, ongoing role among the Israelites. However, it was foreshadowed in the unusual genealogy of Ex 6:14-25, where it served to highlight the fact that even Moses needed a great high priest to overcome his disappointing failure.
Most of chapter 28 then describes the priest’s (Aaron’s) uniform.
- Ex 28:4 functions almost as a table of contents, except the order will be changed slightly in the following verses.
- Aaron (and his sons to a lesser degree) are to serve as priests (Ex 28:1).
- The purpose of the uniform is “for glory and for beauty” (Ex 28:2). Glory has to do with importance. Beauty has to do with attractiveness.
Parts of the uniform:
- Ephod: the top piece that lays over the shoulders – Ex 28:6-14
- Breastpiece – Ex 28:15-30
- Robe – Ex 28:31-35
- Turban’s metal plate – Ex 28:36-38
- Coat, turban, sash – Ex 28:39
- Additional garments for Aaron’s sons: coats, sashes, and caps – Ex 28:40-41
- Boxer shorts – Ex 28:42-43
Instead of observing the details of this chapter in writing, let me refer you to this marvelous 7-minute video, which visualizes the full priestly uniform while a narrator reads the chapter.
Interpretation of Exodus 27:20-28:43
Some possible questions:
- Why does the priestly section of tabernacle instructions begin with the perpetual need to bring oil for the lamp?
- What does it mean for Aaron’s uniform to be “for glory and for beauty”?
- Why does the uniform have all these pieces? What do they each mean?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- The text of Ex 27:20-21 doesn’t give us much to go on, other than that the lamp must burn regularly. This short paragraph serves as a prologue to the set of priestly instructions, and it sets up the priest’s fundamental job as keeping the lamp of Israel burning. This perpetual light becomes an important metaphor later in the Bible (2 Sam 21:17, 2 Chr 29:6-8). The Apostle John sees the Lord Jesus, clothed as a priest and standing in the midst of the lampstands of his churches (Rev 1:12-13, 20). He threatens the removal of the lampstand for churches that do not repent (Rev 2:5).
- In wearing this uniform, Aaron is to be both important (glory) and attractive (beauty). He is to stand out. He is just like one of the other Israelites, but he will also not be like the other Israelites. He has to do a job (keeping those lamps lit), which not just anyone is authorized to do.
- As with the tabernacle structure, it is tempting to look for deep symbolism in each color and choice of thread. But the text gives enough explicit meaning without us having to look for extra. The ephod is for remembrance (Ex 28:12), so Yahweh will remember his people when the priest comes near. The breastpiece is for judgment (Ex 28:15), so Aaron can bear the judgment of his people on his heart when he goes before Yahweh (Ex 28:29). The robe is for the priest’s life, so he doesn’t die in the presence of Yahweh (Ex 28:35). The metal plate is for holiness (Ex 28:36), making Aaron someone special, who can bear the guilt for the holy things dedicated by the people (Ex 28:38)—in other words: nothing they offer will ever be good enough, but Aaron’s holiness will have it covered. The robes, sashes, and caps are for importance and attractiveness (Ex 28:40). The boxer shorts are to cover nakedness (Ex 28:42) so the priests won’t have to bear their own guilt and die (Ex 28:43).
Train of thought:
- Bring perpetual supplies so the right people can keep the lamps of Israel burning.
- Dress these special people in the right uniforms, so they can:
- represent the people before God
- represent God before the people
- cover the unworthiness of both people and their gifts
- not die themselves by bringing their own guilt too close to Yahweh
Main point: For God to dwell with his people, there must be an authorized person to perpetually represent these people before him.
Connection to Christ: Jesus is the only truly authorized representative of the people. He did not take this honor upon himself, but he was appointed to it by God (Heb 5:4-5). He need not cover his own weakness, but he remains a priest forever by his own obedience (Heb 5:9). Jesus keeps the lamps of our churches burning before his Father (Rev 1:12-13, 20), as long as we remain united to him as branches to a vine (John 15:1-9).
My Application of Exodus 27:20-28:43
Besides Jesus, I need no other high priest. I need no other source of life, no other avenue for judgment, and no extra payment for my sin. It is enough that I turn from sin and cling to Christ. And it is enough if I can influence others to do the same.
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.