Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryExodus 28
on the Whole Bible
Orders being given for the fitting up of the place of worship, in this
and the following chapter care is taken about the priests that were to
minister in this holy place, as the menial servants of the God of
Israel. He hired servants, as a token of his purpose to reside among
them. In this chapter,
I. He pitches upon the persons who should be his servants,
II. He appoints their livery; their work was holy, and so must their
garments be, and unanswerable to the glory of the house which was now
to be erected,
1. He appoints the garments of his head-servant, the high priest, which
were very rich.
(1.) An ephod and girdle,
(2.) A breast-plate of judgment
in which must be put the urim and thummim,
(3.) The robe of the ephod,
(4.) The mitre,
2. The garments of the inferior priests,
And these also were shadows of good things to come.
|The Priests' Attire.
||B. C. 1491.|
1 And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with
him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto
me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar
and Ithamar, Aaron's sons.
2 And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for
glory and for beauty.
3 And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I
have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's
garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the
4 And these are the garments which they shall make; a
breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a
mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron
thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the
5 And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet,
and fine linen.
We have here,
I. The priests nominated: Aaron and his sons,
Hitherto every master of a family was priest to his own family, and
offered, as he saw cause, upon altars of earth; but now that the
families of Israel began to be incorporated into a nation, and a
tabernacle of the congregation was to be erected, as a visible
centre of their unity, it was requisite there should be a public
priesthood instituted. Moses, who had hitherto officiated, and is
therefore reckoned among the priests of the Lord
had enough to do as their prophet to consult the oracle for them, and
as their prince to judge among them; nor was he desirous to engross all
the honours to himself, or to entail that of the priesthood, which
alone was hereditary, upon his own family, but was very well pleased to
see his brother Aaron invested in this office, and his sons after him,
while (how great soever he was) his sons after him would be but common
Levites. It is an instance of the humility of that great man, and an
evidence of his sincere regard for the glory of God, that he had so
little regard to the preferment of his own family. Aaron, who had
humbly served as a prophet to his younger brother Moses, and did not
decline the office
is now advanced to be a priest, a high priest to God; for he will exalt
those that abase themselves. Nor could any man have taken this
honour to himself, but he that was called of God to it,
God had said of Israel in general that they should be to him a
kingdom of priests,
But because it was requisite that those who ministered at the altar
should give themselves wholly to the service, and because that which is
every body's work will soon come to be nobody's work, God here chose
from among them one to be a family of priests, the father and his four
sons; and from Aaron's loins descended all the priests of the Jewish
church, of whom we read so often, both in the Old Testament and in the
New. A blessed thing it is when real holiness goes, as the ceremonial
holiness did, by succession in a family.
II. The priests' garments appointed, for glory and beauty,
Some of the richest materials were to be provided
and the best artists employed in the making of them, whose skill God,
by a special gift for this purpose, would improve to a very high
Note, Eminence, even in common arts, is a gift of God, it comes from
him, and, as there is occasion, it ought to be used for him. He that
teaches the husbandman discretion teaches the tradesman also; both
therefore ought to honour God with their gain. Human learning ought
particularly to be consecrated to the service of the priesthood, and
employed for the adorning of those that minister about holy things.
The garments appointed were,
1. Four, which both the high priest and the inferior priests wore,
namely, the linen breeches, the linen coat, the linen girdle which
fastened it to them, and the bonnet or turban; that which the high
priest wore is called a mitre.
2. Four more, which were peculiar to the high priest, namely, the
ephod, with the curious girdle of it, the breast-plate of judgment, the
long robe with the bells and pomegranates at the bottom of it, and the
golden plate on his forehead. These glorious garments were appointed,
(1.) That the priests themselves might be reminded of the dignity of
their office, and might behave themselves with due decorum.
(2.) That the people might thereby be possessed with a holy reverence
of that God whose ministers appeared in such grandeur.
(3.) That the priests might be types of Christ, who should offer
himself without spot to God, and of all Christians, who have the beauty
of holiness put upon them, in which they are consecrated to God. Our
adorning, now under the gospel, both that of ministers and Christians,
is not to be of gold, and pearl, and costly array, but the garments
of salvation, and the robe of righteousness,
As the filthy garments wherewith Joshua the high priest was clothed
signified the iniquity which cleaved to his priesthood, from which care
was taken that it should be purged
so those holy garments signified the perfect purity that there
is in the priesthood of Christ; he is holy, harmless, and
6 And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of
purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work.
7 It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the
two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together.
8 And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it,
shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of
gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.
9 And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the
names of the children of Israel:
10 Six of their names on one stone, and the other six names
of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth.
11 With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings
of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of
the children of Israel: thou shalt make them to be set in ouches
12 And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the
ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and
Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two
shoulders for a memorial.
13 And thou shalt make ouches of gold;
14 And two chains of pure gold at the ends; of wreathen
work shalt thou make them, and fasten the wreathen chains to the
Directions are here given concerning the ephod, which was the outmost
garment of the high priest. Linen ephods were worn by the
1 Samuel 22:18.
Samuel wore one when he was a child
(1 Samuel 2:18),
and David when he danced before the ark
(2 Samuel 6:14);
but this which the high priest only wore was called a golden
ephod, because there was a great deal of gold woven into it. It was
a short coat without sleeves, buttoned closely to him, with a curious
girdle of the same stuff
the shoulder-pieces were buttoned together with two precious stones set
in gold, one on each shoulder, on which were engraven the names of the
children of Israel,
In allusion to this,
1. Christ our high priest appeared to John girt about the breast
with a golden girdle, such as was the curious girdle of the ephod,
Righteousness is the girdle of his loins
and should be of ours,
He is girt with strength for the work of our salvation, and is ready
2. The government is said to be upon his shoulders
as Aaron had the names of all Israel upon his shoulders in precious
stone. He presents to himself and to his Father a glorious
He has power to support them, interest to recommend them, and it is in
him that they are remembered with honour and favour. He bears them
before the Lord for a memorial
in token of his appearing before God as the representative of
all Israel and an advocate for them.
||B. C. 1491.|
15 And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning
work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold,
of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine
twined linen, shalt thou make it.
16 Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be
the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.
17 And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four
rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz,
and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
18 And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a
19 And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.
20 And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they
shall be set in gold in their inclosings.
21 And the stones shall be with the names of the children of
Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings
of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to
the twelve tribes.
22 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends
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 in the
two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate.
25 And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou
shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the
shoulderpieces of the ephod before it.
26 And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put
them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof,
which is in the side of the ephod inward.
27 And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put
them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the
forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof,
above the curious girdle of the ephod.
28 And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof
unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be
above the curious girdle 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
The most considerable of the ornaments of the high priest was this
breast-plate, a rich piece of cloth, curiously wrought with gold and
purple, &c., two spans long and a span broad, so that, being doubled,
it was a span square,
This was fastened to the ephod with wreathen chains of gold
&c.) both at top and bottom, so that the breast-plate might not be
loosed from the ephod,
The ephod was the garment of service; the breast-plate of judgment was
an emblem of honour: these two must by no means be separated. If any
man will minister unto the Lord, and do his will, he
shall know his doctrine. In this breast-plate,
I. The tribes of Israel were recommended to God's favour in twelve
Some question whether Levi had a precious stone with his name or no. If
not, Ephraim and Manasseh were reckoned distinct, as Jacob had said
they should be, and the high priest himself, being head of the tribe of
Levi, sufficiently represented that tribe. If there was a stone for
Levi, as is intimated by this, that they were engraven according to
Ephraim and Manasseh were one in Joseph. Aaron was to bear their names
for a memorial before the Lord continually, being ordained
for men, to represent them in things pertaining to God, herein
typifying our great high priest, who always appears in the presence of
God for us.
1. Though the people were forbidden to come near, and obliged to keep
their distance, yet by the high priest, who had their names on his
breast-plate, they entered into the holiest; so believers, even while
they are here on this earth, not only enter into the holiest,
but by faith are made to sit with Christ in heavenly places,
2. The name of each tribe was engraven in a precious stone, to signify
how precious, in God's sight, believers are, and how honourable,
They shall be his in the day he makes up his jewels,
How small and poor soever the tribe was, it was a precious stone in the
breast-plate of the high priest; thus are all the saints dear to
Christ, and his delight is in them as the excellent ones of the earth,
however men may esteem them as earthen pitchers,
3. The high priest had the names of the tribes both on his shoulders and
on his breast, intimating both the power and the love with which our
Lord Jesus intercedes for those that are his. He not only bears them
up upon his heart, as the expression here is
carries them in his bosom
with the most tender affection. How near should Christ's name be to our
hearts, since he is pleased to lay our names so near his! and what a
comfort it is to us, in all our addresses to God, that the great high
priest of our profession has the names of all his Israel upon his
breast before the Lord for a memorial, presenting them to God as
the people of his choice, who were to be made accepted in the
beloved! Let not any good Christians fear that God has forgotten
them, nor question his being mindful of them upon all occasions, when
they are not only engraven upon the palms of his hands
but engraven upon the heart of the great intercessor. See
Song of Solomon 8:6.
II. The urim and thummim, by which the will of God was made known in
doubtful cases, were put in this breast-plate, which is therefore
called the breast-plate of judgment,
Urim and thummim signify light and
integrity; many conjectures there are among the learned what
they were; we have no reason to think they were any thing that Moses
was to make more than what was before ordered, so that either God made
them himself, and gave them to Moses, for him to put into the
breast-plate, when other things were prepared
or no more is meant than a declaration of the further use of what was
already ordered to be made. I think the words may be read thus, And
thou shalt give, or add, or deliver, to the breast-plate
of judgment, the illuminations and perfections, and they shall be upon
the heart of Aaron; that is, "He shall be endued with a power of
knowing and making known the mind of God in all difficult doubtful
cases, relating either to the civil or ecclesiastical state of the
nation." Their government was a theocracy: God was their King, the high
priest was, under God, their ruler, the urim and thummim were his
cabinet-council; probably Moses wrote upon the breast-plate, or wove
into it, these words, Urim and Thummim, to signify that
the high priest, having on him this breast-plate, and asking counsel of
God in any emergency relating to the public, should be directed to take
those measures, and give that advice, which God would own. If he was
standing before the ark (but without the veil) probably he received
instructions from off the mercy-seat, as Moses did
thus, it should seem, Phinehas did,
If he was at a distance from the ark, as Abiathar was when he enquired
of the Lord for David
(1 Samuel 23:6,
&c.), then the answer was given either by a voice from heaven or rather
by an impulse upon the mind of the high priest, which last is perhaps
intimated in that expression, He shall bear the judgment of the
children of Israel upon his heart. This oracle was of great use to
Israel; Joshua consulted it
and, it is likely, the judges after him. It was lost in the captivity,
and never regained after, though, it should seem, it was expected,
But it was a shadow of good things to come, and the substance is
Christ. He is our oracle; by him God in these last days makes known
himself and his mind to us,
Divine revelation centres in him, and comes to us through him; he is
the light, the true light, the faithful witness, the truth itself, and
from him we receive the Spirit of truth, who leads into all truth. The
joining of the breast-plate to the ephod denotes that his prophetical
office was founded in his priesthood; and it was by the merit of his
death that he purchased this honour for himself and this favour for us.
It was the Lamb that had been slain that was worthy to take
the book and to open the seals,
31 And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue.
32 And there shall be an hole in the top of it, in the midst
thereof: it shall have a binding of woven work round about the
hole of it, as it were the hole of an habergeon, that it be not
33 And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make
pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round
about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round
34 A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a
pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.
35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall
be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD,
and when he cometh out, that he die not.
36 And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon
it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.
37 And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon
the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.
38 And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear
the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel
shall hallow 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 embroider the coat of fine linen, and thou
shalt make the mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make the
girdle of needlework.
1. Direction given concerning the robe of the ephod,
This was next under the ephod, and reached down to the knees, was
without sleeves, and was put on over their head, having holes on the
sides to put the arms through, or, as Maimonides describes it, was not
sewed together on the sides at all. The hole on the top, through which
the head was put, was carefully bound about, that it might not tear in
the putting on. In religious worship, care must be taken to prevent
every thing that may distract the minds of the worshippers, or render
the service despicable. Round the skirts of the robe were hung golden
bells, and the representations of pomegranates made of yarn of divers
colours. The pomegranates added to the beauty of the robe, and the
sound of the bells gave notice to the people in the outer court when he
went into the holy place to burn incense, that they might then apply
themselves to their devotions at the same time
in token of their concurrence with him in his offering, and their hopes
of the ascent of their prayers to God in virtue of the incense he
offered. Aaron must come near to minister in the garments that were
appointed him, that he die not. It is at his peril if he attend
otherwise than according to the institution. This intimates that we
must serve the Lord with fear and holy trembling, as
those that know we deserve to die, and are in danger of making some
fatal mistake. Some make the bells of the holy robe to typify the sound
of the gospel of Christ in the world, giving notice of his entrance
within the veil for us. Blessed are those that hear this joyful
The adding of the pomegranates, which are a fragrant fruit, denotes the
sweet savour of the gospel, as well as the joyful sound of it, for it
is a savour of life unto life. The church is called an
orchard of pomegranates.
2. Concerning the golden plate fixed upon Aaron's forehead, on which
must be engraven, Holiness to the Lord
or The holiness of Jehovah. Aaron must hereby be reminded that
God is holy, and that his priests must be holy. Holiness becomes
his house and household. The high priest must be sequestered from
all pollution, and consecrated to God and to his service and honour,
and so must all his ministrations be. All that attend in God's house
must have Holiness to the Lord engraven upon their foreheads,
that is, they must be holy, devoted to the Lord, and designing his
glory in all they do. This must appear in their forehead, in an open
profession of their relation to God, as those that are not ashamed to
own it, and in a conversation in the world answerable to it. It must
likewise be engraven like the engravings of a signet, so deep, so
durable, not painted to be washed off, but sincere and lasting; such
must our holiness to the Lord be. Aaron must have this upon his
forehead, that he may bear the iniquity of the holy things
and that they may be accepted before the Lord. Herein he was a
type of Christ, the great Mediator between God and man, through whom it
is that we have to do with God.
(1.) Through him what is amiss in our services is pardoned. The divine
law is strict; in many things we come short of our duty, so that we
cannot but be conscious to ourselves of much iniquity cleaving even to
our holy things; when we would do good evil is present; even this would
be our ruin if God should enter into judgment with us. But Christ, our
high priest, bears this iniquity, bears it for us so as to bear it from
us, and through him it is forgiven to us and not laid to our charge.
(2.) Through him what is good is accepted; our persons, our
performances, are pleasing to God upon the account of Christ's
intercession, and not otherwise,
1 Peter 2:5.
His being holiness to the Lord recommends all those to the
divine favour that are interested in his righteousness, and clothed
with his Spirit; and therefore he has said it was for our sakes that he
Having such a high priest, we come boldly to the throne of
3. The rest of the garments are but named
because there was nothing extraordinary in them. The embroidered coat
of fine linen was the innermost of the priestly garments; it reached to
the feet, and the sleeves to the wrists, and was bound to the body with
a girdle or sash of needle-work. The mitre, or diadem, was of linen,
such as kings anciently wore in the east, typifying the kingly office
of Christ. He is a priest upon a throne
a priest with a crown. These two God has joined, and we must not think
to separate them.
|The Priests' Attire.
||B. C. 1491.|
40 And for Aaron's sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt
make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for
glory and for beauty.
41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons
with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and
sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's
42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their
nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:
43 And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they
come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they
come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that
they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever
unto him and his seed after him.
We have here,
1. Particular orders about the vestments of the inferior priests. They
were to have coats, and girdles, and bonnets, of the same materials
with those of the high priest; but there was a difference in shape
between their bonnets and his mitre. Theirs, as his, were to be for
glory and beauty
that they might look great in their ministration: yet all this glory
was nothing compared with the glory of grace, this beauty nothing to
the beauty of holiness, of which these holy garments were typical. They
are particularly ordered, in their ministration, to wear linen
This teaches us modesty and decency of garb and gesture at all times,
especially in public worship, in which a veil is becoming,
1 Corinthians 11:5,6,10.
It also intimates what need our souls have of a covering, when we come
before God, that the shame of their nakedness may not appear.
2. A general rule concerning the garments both of the high priest and
of the inferior priests, that they were to be put upon them, at first,
when they were consecrated, in token of their being invested in the
and then they were to wear them in all their ministrations, but not at
and this at their peril, lest they bear iniquity and die. Those
who are guilty of omissions in duty, as well as omissions of duty,
shall bear their iniquity. If the priests perform the instituted
service, and do not do it in the appointed garments, it is (say the
Jewish doctors) as if a stranger did it, and the stranger that comes
nigh shall be put to death. Nor will God connive at the
presumptions and irreverences even of those whom he causes to draw most
near to him; if Aaron himself put a slight upon the divine institution,
he shall bear iniquity, and die. To us these garments typify,
(1.) The righteousness of Christ; if we appear not before God in this,
we shall bear iniquity and die. What have we to do at the
wedding-feast without a wedding-garment, or at God's altar without the
array of his priests?
(2.) The armour of God prescribed
If we venture without that armour, our spiritual enemies will be the
death of our souls, and we shall bear the iniquity, our blood will be
upon our own heads. Blessed is he therefore that watcheth, and keepeth
3. This is said to be a statute for ever, that is, it is to
continue as long as the priesthood continues. But it is to have its
perpetuity in the substance of which these things were the shadows.