The dress of the high priest consisted of eight articles – the breeches, the coat, the girdle, the bonnet, the blue robe, the ephod, the breast-plate, and the mitre according to Exodus 28. With the exception of the breeches, all the other garments were visible either in whole or in part. Some of them were partially covered by other garments, but at least a part of everything could be seen but the breeches.
The priestly robes were far more splendid than you would think unless you determined to do a detailed study of them. The Scriptures indicate that the robes were ‘for glory and for beauty’. Even at their magnificent beauty, there may have been heathen high priests who wore robes that were just as beautiful or even more beautiful. The distinguishing factor for the Jewish High Priest, though, was the spiritual significance of each piece of clothing or adornment he wore. The ordinary priests also wore clothing that was made of beautiful materials and woven just as the directions had been given to Moses.
The inscription that was written on the mitre – “Holy to the Lord”, was no doubt the reason that the people called them the “holy garments”. Since direction was given by God on how to make each piece, it took on the character of God just by the priest wearing it and working in it. The priest had to wear each of the garments and put them on in a certain order. This, no doubt, signifies what we must wear (the spiritual armor) if we are to walk in the ways that God would have us to walk.
The whole 28th chapter of Exodus – all 43 verses – is taken up with the divine directions that God gave Moses for making the priests’ robes, and 31 verses of the 39th chapter give an account of the making of them. This shows without a doubt about the great importance of each piece.
The white robes consisted of the breeches, the coat, the girdle, and the bonnet. These articles were worn by all the priests, with the high priest wearing additional things on top of these that were peculiar to His Office.
The breeches were a kind of short drawers made of fine twined linen. They reached from the loins to the thighs. They were symbolic of purity, and were to remind that one should not go about their duties unless all impure thoughts were banished from the mind and all carnal desires from the heart. This duty was not one to be taken lightly, as the sons of Eli found out in I Samuel 3 & 4.
The coat was made of fine linen, which was so fine that it resembled silk. It was a gown with long sleeves that reached from the neck to the feet. This material was woven, not just the cloth, but the robe itself was woven in the loom. (EX. 39:27) The Egyptians knew and practiced the weaving of whole garments without any seams, so the Israelites would have known how to do it. The coat was a seamless garment like that of Jesus worn on the night of His Crucifixion.
The King James Version speaks of the coat as being embroidered, but the actual Hebrew text does not indicate to embroider, but “to weave in chequer work”, or to weave in squares.
The pure white dress reminded them also that they were to be pure and spotless as they carried out their important work for the millions of Israelites so that they could be atoned for their sin.
The girdle is spoken of in the King James Version also as being made of needlework, and in Exodus 39:39, it is called “a girdle of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, or needlework.” There must have been needlework involved in the process, but the original Hebrew rendering says “thou shalt make a girdle, the work of the embroiderer”. Another version says “variegator”. So it could have been either by the needle or the loom – probably some of both.
According to Josephus, the girdle worn by the priests of his day was about four fingers broad, and wound several times around the body at the waist, where it was tied, and hung down to the ankles when the wearer was not engaged in the more heavy duties of his office – then it was thrown over the left shoulder.
It was an article of eastern dress, and bound the loose garments to the body. It seems to have held up the skirt when the wearer was engaged in walking and running so that he would not fall down. Hence the phrase “to gird the loins” came into being. The girdle helped them to have their garments bound tightly so that they would not be constricted in their important work. Without this, their large-flowing garments would have gotten greatly in the way.
The bonnets of the common priests had a fine and attractive appearance. They were called “goodly bonnets”. Josephus describes the ones worn in his day as “bands, or swaths of linen, wound round several times and sewed together, and shaped so as to fit close to the head, that they might not easily fall off”. They resembled a crown in shape.
With white garments on the head and body, the priest would constantly be reminded of staying pure before God before performing any of his extraordinary duties. The fabrics were beautifully woven of the finest fabrics and duly reminded him to be holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
Below is an example of what an ordinary priest may have looked like working in The Tabernacle. This drawing is in black and white, so the checks would be shown as the weave of the pattern of the cloth, not the actual color. As we have just studied, these garments below were all white. The detail is just shown so that you can get a word picture of the intricate weaving that went into these clothes.
The colored garments were worn by the high priest over the white robes that all the priests wore. They consisted of the blue robe, the ephod, the girdle of the ephod, the breastplate, and the mitre.
The blue robe reached from the neck to a little below the knees, and was one entire piece of woven work that was all of blue dyed linen yarn. It did not have sleeves, but arm slits at the sides. In the midst of it was a hole large enough for the passage of the head. Around the inner rim of the hole was an ornamental border of woven work so that the material would not tear.
Along the hem of the skirt was a very rich and splendid ornamental fringe. It had golden bells and tassels in the form of pomegranates, made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. Thus there was a bell between every two pomegranates, and a pomegranate between every two bells.
When the high priest moved, the bells made a tinkling sound. This was intended for the people to hear the high priest as he went in and out of the Holy Place. That way the people would know when the atonement had been made for their sins, and that God had accepted it.
With the white articles standing for purity, the blue robe was an emblem of active holiness, reminding him that he should be constantly aiming and striving after heavenly attainments. Numbers 15: 38-40 – Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.
God told Moses to do this with the Israelites. If just a ribbon around the bottom of their garments had such significance, how much more an entire blue robe.
The Ephod and Its Girdle
The ephod reached from the shoulders to a little above the knees and consisted of two equal parts: one for the front and one for the back with these two being united at the shoulders by shoulder pieces, whose ends were joined to the corresponding ends of the ephod. The material is not mentioned, so it is thought that it was made out of the same cloth as the ephod itself.
The material of the ephod was very rich and splendid – made of gold; and of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and fine twined undyed linen. They beat the gold into thin plates and cut it into wires, and then worked it into the dyed and undyed linen.
It was woven in the loom by “the cunning workmen” and the ornamentation probably consisted of figures of flowers, and other lovely, delicate things.
The Two Onyx Stones
Two large and magnificent onyx stones were set in sockets of gold and were placed on the shoulder pieces. We are not told exactly how they were fixed to the shoulder pieces.
The names of the sons of Jacob were engraved on the stones “with the work of an engraver, like the engravings of a signet”. The six oldest sons were engraved on the stone on the right shoulder, and the six younger sons on the stone that rested on the left shoulder.
The stones with the names on them emphatically showed that the high priest was the representative of all the children of Israel as he ministered before the Lord in the sanctuary. They were to be “stones of memorial” for the children of Israel. This way it would ever be before him that He was the people’s substitute acting for and in their stead.
The girdle, or band, of the ephod was of the same material as that of the ephod itself, and seems to have formed a part of either the front or back part of the ephod. Its use was to bind the ephod, both before and behind, close to the body. Its chief design appears to have been to bear up the onyx stones. With the names of all the twelve tribes engraved in the large onyx stones resting upon his shoulders, he very significantly, figuratively, bore the people on his shoulders. By this he was constantly reminded that it was his duty to care for the children of Israel and strive after their welfare. This could very well be where we get our phrase “the weight of the world is on his shoulders”.
Below is a diagram of how the tribes would have been listed on the huge onyx stone. In the next text, we will continue the description of each other aspect of the high priest’s garments and what they meant. Then at the end of the next text, I will put a picture of how he may have looked during this time to give you a picture in your mind.