Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Exodus 28

Verses 1-43

The Priest and His Robes

Exodus 28

The hand that sketched the architecture of the tabernacle is plainly visible here, for here we have the same regard for proportion, beauty, fitness, and detail. There are certain Divine ideas here which belong to all ages, and which subtly and with wondrous precision confirm the unity of the whole Biblical plan. There is here something infinitely more than ancient history. Christianity is here as certainly as the oak is in the acorn. Shall we slightly vary the figure and compare this statement to a bud ready to burst into the loveliest flower of the garden? Every detail is alive with suggestion. Beyond Aaron, above him, and round about him is Another, who is feebly adumbrated by this Divinely-attired priest.

We may perhaps collect most of the permanent doctrine of this chapter by indicating a few manifest parallels:—The Jewish priesthood was Divinely instituted. So is the Christian ministry.

"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" ( Exodus 28:1).

Priesthood is a Divine creation. The priest himself is a Divine election. The whole idea of mediation is not human but Divine. Up to this time Moses had represented the Divine sovereignty and purpose; but now we are coming into more delicate divisions and distributions of human life and action, and another kind of man is needed in the unfoldment of that most intricate and pregnant of all germs—the unit which holds the mystery which we call human life. The priesthood is not to be humanly accounted for. The priesthood cannot be humanly sustained. A man would hesitate to go into this warfare at his own charges and for his own self-gratification, in proportion as he feels the agony of the service that must be rendered. Who wants to stand before his fellow-men to speak precepts of virtue, and to call to a supernatural or highly spiritual life, when he knows that every word he speaks is stained by the very breath that utters it? Who cares, being a true-minded Prayer of Manasseh, having some earnestness of purpose, and being anxious to be really healthy in soul, to stand before the people as a living contradiction, unable to touch the sublimity of any prayer he offers, falling infinitely below every exhortation which he urges upon the people? There is a mystery here. This arrangement is not to be accounted for in any off-handed manner. There is a spirit in man—an inspiration leading to office, duty, function, service,—a great marvel not to be trifled with. It is because such forces are behind men, and above them, and on either hand of them, that they go forward to be the offscouring of all people, to be contemned, and mocked, and rebuked, and reminded of the discrepancies which mar the poor union which ought to subsist between their work and themselves. We claim for the Christian ministry a distinctly Divine institution and a distinctly Divine inspiration day by day.

Then reading further on in the story we find that the Jewish priesthood had a double function. So has the Christian ministry.

"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" ( Exodus 28:12).

Is that all? Is there to be a merely external manifestation or testimony? Read the completing statement:—

"And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart" ( Exodus 28:29).

Still pursuing the story, we find that the Jewish priesthood was identified with the people. So is the Christian ministry.

"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 about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about. 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" ( Exodus 28:33-35).

The meaning is that the people were to know what Aaron was about. He was to announce himself; every motion of the body was proved by a tinkling and chiming of the golden bells. Amid all the stir and rush and tumult of the day"s engagement there came a sound—a sweet, mystic sound—of golden bells. What is the meaning?—The priest is interested for us; he is going into the holy place; he is about his sacred work; he is remembering us before God. The priest is not going into the holy place to perform any magical arts of his own, to make up some black art or mystery out of his own invention; he is not stealing away with shoes whose motion cannot be heard, or with garments that do not rustle. We are to know where he Isaiah, what he is doing. He cannot stir without our knowing it; the golden bells report the actions and movements of the priest. If those bells were quieted, and if Aaron stole about his work as if he were a sorcerer, or a magician, who had some little trick of his own to play, the penalty was death. If the bells were not heard, the priest must die. The priest is a public servant; he is not to be concealed behind a curtain working out some black craft or indulging in some Eleusinian mystery. He is a man of the people, he belongs to the people, he is the servant of the people; all that concerns the people he must represent. How completely does the idea of the Christian ministry fructify that seed-thought,—bring to sacred and gracious maturity the opening purpose of the loving Father! The minister belongs to the people. The minister is no conjuror. It is not only a mistake, but a wicked error to clothe the preacher, whoever he may be, with any superstitious quality or charm. We may be able to say—and must be,—"Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." That is right; words of that import may be addressed to every man who vindicates his ministerial vocation; but the minister is the gathered-up people; he represents the common wants of the day. When he folds his hands in public prayer it is that he may speak of the burden and stress of a thousand lives; he must speak the language of the people; there must be nothing whatever about his speech separating him from the great, deep currents of popular life, necessity, and heart-ache. The poorest hearer must feel as the preacher is speaking that the preacher is speaking of him, to him, for him, and is his greater self—his speaking self,—the tongue of the dumb, the eye of the blind, the completing life that takes up the meanest existence and runs it into spheral completeness and beauty. This is the ideal,—how far we fall short of it is another question. We are not now saying how far we meet the standard and satisfy it, we are asking, What is the standard? and magnifying the grace of God in the development of spiritual education.

We find that the Jewish people had a Urim and a Thummim. So has the Christian Church.

"And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim (literally translated: Light and Perfection); and they shall be upon Aaron"s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord" ( Exodus 28:30).

What the Urim and the Thummim actually were no man has been able to find out. Whether they were to be used for the purpose of ascertaining the Divine will in critical and perplexing circumstances has been a question which has excited devout attention; but whatever the Urim and the Thummim were, there can be no doubt as to what our Urim and Thummim are. We are not left without light and perfection; we are not destitute of means of discovering the Divine purpose in our life and progress. Our Urim and Thummim are the Old and New Testaments. Keep these in the heart; be at home with them in all their wondrous variety of speech, of doctrine, of Song of Solomon, of inspiration, and of instruction of every kind; and then you never can stray far from the path providential that makes its own course straight up to the God who started the mysterious outgoing. We have nothing to do with incantation; we do not go to consult the witch of Endor, the sorcerer, or the conjuror; we ask no questions at forbidden places. The whole life-course is mapped out in the Old Testament and in the New. The Testaments are never to be separated; they are to be read together, they explain one another; torn asunder, they lose their unity and their music; brought together, you bring the flower to the root, you bring the noonday to the dawn, you unite things, forces, ministries that ought never to be dissevered. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Scripture given by inspiration is profitable for all the necessities of life. If we stray, it is not for want of light; if we persist in obeying our own perverted instincts and impulses, we must not be surprised that we end in the bog of despair or in the wilderness of destitution. Do not move without consulting the oracle Divine. Let our motto be, "To the law, and to the testimony," and what cannot be confirmed by the spirit of the book is unworthy to be admitted into our life as an inspiring and directing force.

We find that the Jewish arrangement had one supreme object. So has the Christian life.

"And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD" ( Exodus 28:36).

This motto is written in the book in large capitals. The dimmest eye can see the signet. What typography has done for the page the Holy Spirit is to do for the heart and life. There must be no mistake about the language of our prayer, endeavour, study, service, and aspiration. In the beginning they may be poor in expression, they may struggle and halt a good deal and bring upon themselves the vexation of a narrow and mocking criticism; but to the Divine eye they must be Song of Solomon, ordered as to represent the purpose of holiness, the meaning of God-likeness. In our first, humblest, poorest prayer there must be the beginning, which, being developed in God"s providence and grace, shall express the music of the eternal song. In our first Christian efforts there may be much that those who look on could easily contemn and easily minimise into something almost insignificant and trivial; but there must be in them that which is like the grain of mustard seed which God can recognise, and about which he will say, Let it grow in the right soil under the warm sun, let it be nourished and rocked by the breezes of heaven, and even that little thing shall become as a great and fruitful tree. What, then, is the object of all this priesthood, all this ministry, church-building, and church-attendance? What is the mystery of it all? The answer is sublime; no man need blush for it; the object we have in view is HOLINESS TO THE LORD and that is the meaning of every turn of the hand; that is what we want to write. You can mock us; we are making but poor writing of it; at present the work is done in a very feeble manner—none can know it so truly as those know it who are trying to carry it out. We know we expose ourselves to the contempt of the mocker, but if you ask us what we would accomplish, what is the goal towards which we are moving, we take up these words. We do not attempt to amend them; we cannot paint such beauty or add to the glory of such lustre; our motto, our wish, our prayer, our end is HOLINESS TO THE LORD. We are not fanatics; we know the spirit of reason; we pay homage at the altar of reason; we can think, compare; we can bring things together that are mutually related; we can construct arguments and examine evidences and witnesses, and if you ask us, as rational men—What would you be at? name your policy—this is it: that we may be holy unto the Lord. We would so live that everything within our sphere shall be inscribed with HOLINESS TO THE LORD—yea, even upon the bells of the horses would we write that sacred term, and not rest until the snuff-dishes of the sanctuary are made of pure gold, until every breath is an odour from heaven, every action of the human hand a sacrifice well-pleasing to God. This is our object: we do not disavow it, we do not speak of it in ambiguous terms; we would be holy unto the Lord.

And have we no ornaments? The ornament of the meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price. And have we no garments of blue, and purple, and beautiful suggestiveness? We have garments of praise; we are clothed with the Lord Jesus. And have we no golden bells? We have the golden bells of holy actions. Our words are bells, our actions are bells, our purposes are bells; wherever we move our motion is thus understood to be a motion towards holy places, holy deeds, holy character. We are not ashamed of this object. We know what small words can be hurled against us by the mocker and the sneerer; but holiness is an object which can neither be in-validated by argument nor forced down by violent assault; it stands like a mountain of the Lord"s own setting, whose head is warmed with the sunshine of Heaven"s eternal blessing. The priest has gone, Aaron has gone, all the beauteous robes have fallen away and are no longer needed; but they have only fallen off in the process of a philosophical as well as a Christian development. We need them no longer, because we have come into higher services and we represent more spiritual uses. There is a character that is far above rubies. There is a spirit which outshines the diamond. There is a holiness of which star and sun and unstained snow are but imperfect emblems. Do you see your calling then, brethren? There is no priest amongst us now. There is one Mediator between God and Prayer of Manasseh, the Man Christ Jesus. We have a ministry—a human, brotherly ministry—men who explain to us as they may be enabled by the Holy Ghost the meaning of the Word Divine; men who exhort us, and comfort us, and do what they can to make us valiant in the day of danger, and serene in the hour of threatening and evil expectation. We bless God for them. We know their voices. We see God in them, above them, beyond them. They have what they have of treasure in earthen vessels, the excellency of the power is of God. We are no more children, pleased with stones that are precious, and rubies that are lustrous, and bells that are resonant; we are no longer in that infantile place in God"s creation. We have left the emblematic, the symbolic, the titular, and the initial, and now where are we? With Christ in the holy place, living in his Spirit, hearing his word, worshipping at his Cross, and looking straight up to him without a man between us. We are a royal generation, a holy priesthood; we are all kings and priests. The Aaronic line is to us extinct, for the Church of the Living God constitutes the priesthood of believers.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 28". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/exodus-28.html. 1885-95.