Garments of the High Priest

©1992 The Donelson Fellowship (less the Ark image and the many edits throughout)

Aaron, the older brother of Moses, was appointed by G-d to be the first High Priest of the nation of Israel. Three chapters in the
Torah (the first five books of the Bible) are devoted to describing his clothing, the elaborate regalia that he wore on official occasions.

• In Exodus 28, his priestly garments are described.

• In Exodus 39, his priestly garments are manufactured.

• In Leviticus 8, his priestly garments are fitted and worn.

There are five different garments that make up the High Priest’s garments. The first is the ephod. “Ephod” isn’t a word or a garment we’re very familiar with, but it was quite important in the Old Testament where it is mentioned many times. It was the outermost garment, and it resembled an
elaborate apron. It came to represent the priesthood itself. Its materials were white linen interwoven with threads of solid gold. Its colours – blue, representing our Lord’s heavenly origin; purple, representing his royalty; scarlet, representing his shed blood. It had onyx stones, which
held the garment together at the shoulders. On these stones were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, reminding us of how our Lord bears us on His shoulders day and night.

The Blue Robe:

Underneath this ephod was a blue robe, which is described in Exodus 28:31-35:

31 Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, 32 with an opening for the head in its centre. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear. 33 Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. 34 The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. 35 Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die.

As mentioned previously, the color blue represents our Lord’s heavenly origin. But the most intriguing aspect of this blue robe is that along the hem at the bottom were attached little ornaments: Pomegranates made out of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and little bells made out of gold. These bells represent the fact that even when the people could not see him, they could hear him. Even when he was in the Holy of Holies on the Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and out of their vision, they could still hear him and be reassured.

What do the pomegranates represent? Pomegranates in the Bible are often a symbol of fruitfulness. As taught in the Fellowcraft’s degree, the pomegranate is full of seeds. It has a rough, leathery shell on the outside, and when you split it you find inside a mass of hundreds of edible seeds. When the twelve spies ventured into the Promised Land, they returned with armfuls of pomegranates to show how verdant and fruitful the land was. It was described as a land of fig trees and pomegranates. When
King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, he had pomegranates carved into the tops or the capitals of the massive columns.
This indicated the fruitfulness of the ministry of the High Priest.

The White Tunic:

Beneath the blue robe was a white tunic. It was a spotless white robe of woven fabric, made of the finest quality.
Hebrews 4:15 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

The Breast Plate:

The breastplate worn by the High Priest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem is described in Exodus 28:15-30:

15 And thou shalt make a breastplate of judgment, the work of the skilful workman; like the work of the ephod thou shalt make it: of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.  16 Four-square it shall be and double: a span shall be the length thereof, and a span the breadth thereof.  17 And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones: a row of carnelian, topaz, and smaragd shall be the first row; 18 and the second row a carbuncle, a sapphire, and an emerald;  19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst;  20 and the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be inclosed in gold in their settings.  21 And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names; like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name, they shall be for the twelve tribes.  22 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate plaited chains of wreathen work of pure gold.  23 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.  24 And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold on the two rings at the ends of the breastplate.  25 And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt put on the two settings, and put them on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, in the forepart thereof.  26 And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate, upon the edge thereof, which is toward the side of the ephod inward.  27 And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and shalt put them on the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod underneath, in the forepart thereof, close by the coupling thereof, above the skilfully woven band of the ephod.  28 And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a thread of blue, that it may be upon the skilfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.  29 And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.  30 And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.

The breastplate was nine inches square and folded double with four rows of three precious stones, attached at the corners with gold rings and blue cords. Each of the twelve precious stones represented one of the tribes of Israel; thus, every time the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he would have the children of Israel on his heart. What does this speak of but the love that the High Priest and, by extension, G-d himself, has for His children? Think of what a poignant and perfect picture this is. We are His jewels, and He has us on His heart. A representation of the breastplate is the central central element of the jewel of a past high priest.

One of the great mysteries of the Bible is that we do not know for certain how the ancient High Priests used the stones called the Urim (in Hebrew: אוּרִים) (representing light and excellence) and the Thummim (in Hebrew: תּוּמִים) (representing perfection and completion). When not in use, the Urim and Thummim were kept in a pocket behind the breastplate.

Some scholars think that the two stones were alike and bore words or symbols for “yes” and “no”. When a decision had to be made on a binary question such as “Shall we wage ware against the Philistines?” the High
Priest would pray and then draw one of the stones from the breastplate’s pouch and it would indicate the answer from G-d. A variation on this theory holds that the Urim and Thummim were two diamonds and, when the answer was affirmative, one would glow in an unusual way, and the other dimmed.

Another hypothesis involves the interaction between the breastplate and the Urim and Thummim. As afore-stated herein, the breastplate featured twelve precious stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. G-d could communicate to the High Priest by causing air currents to flicker the light from the High Priest’s candle onto the two sacred jewel stones, and thence reflected upon the breastplate where they would cause flashes upon the breastplate stones. A flash from each of the two sacred jewel stones onto each of the breastplate stones indicated the particular Hebrew letter engraved upon that respective stone, thereby spelling out words and instructions.

While the Urim and Thummim are very mysterious to us, their meaning is clear: G-d wants to guide His people. He wants to lead and guide you thorugh this time in your life. The first verse of Georg Neu­mark’s 1641 hymn, “Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten” (translated by Catherine Winkworth as “If You Will Only Let G-d Guide You”),
reads:

If thou but suffer G-d to guide thee,

and hope in Him through all thy ways,

He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,

and bear thee through the evil days.

Who trust in G-d’s unchanging love

builds on the rock that naught can move.

So the ephod tells us of our High Priest’s majesty, his dual nature, his heavenly origin, his royalty, and his blood. The onyx stones tell us that He bears us on His shoulders. The blue robe with its pomegranates and bells tells us that our heavenly Saviour has a ministry that rings with the Gospel and bears fruit. His white robe tells us of His underlying sinless perfection. The breastplate tells us that we are constantly on His heart, and the two mysterious stones tell us that He wants to guide our lives.

That leaves only one garment for us yet to consider: the mitznefet.

The Mitznefet or Mitre:

The High Priest’s mitznefet (usually translated into English as ‘mitre’) is described in Exodus 28:36-39:

36 And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: Holy to the Lord.  37 And thou shalt put it on a thread of blue, and it shall be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.  38 And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity committed in the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow, even in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.  39 And thou shalt weave the tunic in chequer work of fine linen, and thou shalt make a mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make a girdle, the work of the weaver in colours.

The words, “Holy to the Lord” (in Holy Royal Arch ritual, “Holiness to the Lord”), mean that the High Priest was devoted and dedicated exclusively to G-d. The Lord looked upon the High Priest as holy. If a man who was a sinner brought an offering to the Lord, it could not be accepted because the man was riddled with sinfulness. His motives were thus sinful; his whole life was sinful. However, he could give the offering to the High Priest and, as G-d looked upon the High Priest, He saw someone who was proclaimed as holy in His sight. Accordingly, the man’s offering was accepted; not in his own name, but in the name of the High Priest.