Overall Pericope: Exodus 28-30

Reading Passage: Exodus 28

The Priesthood: Set Apart for God

28 1Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor. Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest. These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests. Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.

Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen—the work of skilled hands. It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so it can be fastened. Its skillfully woven waistband is to be like it—of one piece with the ephod and made with gold, and with blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and with finely twisted linen.

Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel 10 in the order of their birth—six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. 11 Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings 12 and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. 13 Make gold filigree settings 14 and two braided chains of pure gold, like a rope, and attach the chains to the settings.

15 Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions—the work of skilled hands. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. 16 It is to be square—a span long and a span wide—and folded double. 17 Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; 18 the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; 19 the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; 20 the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper.[b] Mount them in gold filigree settings. 21 There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.

22 For the breastpiece make braided chains of pure gold, like a rope. 23 Make two gold rings for it and fasten them to two corners of the breastpiece. 24 Fasten the two gold chains to the rings at the corners of the breastpiece, 25 and the other ends of the chains to the two settings, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front. 26 Make two gold rings and attach them to the other two corners of the breastpiece on the inside edge next to the ephod. 27 Make two more gold rings and attach them to the bottom of the shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the seam just above the waistband of the ephod. 28 The rings of the breastpiece are to be tied to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband, so that the breastpiece will not swing out from the ephod.

29 Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. 30 Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.

31 Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, 32 with an opening for the head in its center. 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.

36 Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: holy to the Lord. 37 Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. 38 It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord.

39 Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer. 40 Make tunics, sashes and caps for Aaron’s sons to give them dignity and honor. 41 After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.

42 Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43 Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.

This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.

**Here is a picture of the High Priests garments as they would have been worn.

          In our past two sermons, we have focused on the fact that God gave specific instructions for how and where He was to be worshipped. Now here, beginning in chapter 28, He says He also wants the priests, those who will stand between Him and His people, to be set apart in a specific way.

          It is very easy when we read these chapters about the Old Testament worship and rituals just to skip over them because we think that they do not apply to us. Nothing seems familiar with our experiences or our context. However, as always, we should first understand what these instructions and commands meant to the original hearers if we are going to have any confidence in how we apply the lessons we learn to our own lives and our own contexts.

          What God is saying to the people of Israel here beginning in chapter 28 is that He cares about the priesthood. That is why He gives very specific instructions about how they are to dress, how they are to be set apart, and finally what their function will be. And this is something that relates to us in every way. For example, in chapters 25 through 27 when God is giving the instructions for the tabernacle He says and shows us that it is not going to be permanent (it’s made out of cloth and it’s made out of melted down jewellery things which mold, and rust will eventually destroy).

          The writer of Hebrews when speaking of the priesthood also says they are not going to be permanent because they will have to do these sacrifices every year (there have been many High priests, one after the other, who have done the same thing, year after year after year). 1 Peter 2:4-11 tells us that now we are the house of God and not the tabernacle or the temple, and with regards to the priesthood, we believers are a kingdom of priests.

          Even though in our passage, specifically in chapter 29, God is applying the consecration to a certain section of the Israelites (the family of Aaron), now, thanks to NT books like Hebrews and letters like 1 Peter, we know it applies to every single one of us who are found in Christ. The priesthood is now the entire community of God. We are set apart and consecrated for works of service by the blood of Christ.

          So, let’s take a closer look at some of the verses in our passage and see what they would have meant to the original hearers of these commands from God.

          The first thing God does in chapter 28 is name those who are to be His priests, then, in great detail, he describes, how he wants the priestly garments to look.  The priestly garments we are told in verse 2 are, to give Aaron and his associates, “dignity and honor”. That means even the appearance of the priests is important to God. Let me try to illustrate the reason why in this way. Show my clerical robe. This is the robe I was given to wear at my ordination. That was the time when I was set apart and prayed over to be a member of the clergy.

          Now, there is a reason I do not wear this robe every time I preach. In fact, I only wore it at my ordination, and I have never worn it since. The simple reason is that this robe is given specifically to point us to Christ and take our focus away from the man. I also do not wear it for the simple fact that I am not a priest. I am part of a priesthood that includes all of us. There is no distinction between me and you.              However, when God sets apart the priests in the Old Testament he is doing so because they are the only ones allowed to come into His presence. That is the reason why God instructs the tailors in verse 35 to put pomegranates and bells at the bottom of the Hight priest’s robes so that, 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.

          Another part of the High Priest’s attire was the breast piece which is described in verses 22-30. This breast piece has two purposes. First, it signifies that the priest, when he comes into the presence of God, is acknowledging that he is representing a sinful people. As New testament readers we are pointed to another priest, who, the writer of Hebrews tells us, does not enter the presence of God based upon the blood of bulls or lambs but with his own blood. Someone who is coming, not with this manufactured breast piece, but with the names of God’s people eternally carved into His hands.

          Closely associated with the first purpose is the second reason for the breast piece. It would hold the Urim (Oor-eem) and the Thummim (Thoom-meem) as they are placed over Aaron’s heart. We don’t know much about them, what they looked like or even the main purpose. But remember in chapter 25: 22 of Exodus we are told that, in the Most Holy Place God would give all His commands to the Israelites from the atonement cover which was located in the Most Holy Place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter. The Urim and Thummim therefore would remind the people that the High Priest has the authority to enquire of, and bring decisions from, the Lord.

          In verses 40-43 we then read that the High priest and his assistant priests are to wear undergarments specifically, so they do not bring disgrace on the house of God by exposing their nakedness. Think of what happened in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The man and women recognize they were naked, and they immediately experienced shame because of their sin. That shame is what is being concealed from God. The priests are recognising that they are bearing the nakedness and the shame of the people that came as a result of the curse. Therefore, the undergarment is worn because the priests do not want to expose themselves before God.

          Then beginning in chapter 29, the text starts talking specifically about the anointing, the setting apart, the consecration of the priests. A major part of this preparation process is the undertaking of all the offerings prescribed in earlier chapters. This whole elaborate process of consecrating the priests would take seven days. And then a further seven days of the same offerings would be given just to atone for, and consecrate, the altar of burnt offerings.

          Only after all these preparations have been completed exactly as God has commanded, does God declare in chapter 29: 45-46, “45 Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

 

          Now, as I have promised for the past two sermons, we come to chapter 30 where we are introduced to another piece of tabernacle furniture. (** Here is a picture of it.) This piece was to be located in the Holy Place. It was the altar of incense. It was, of course, made from Acacia wood and overlayed with Gold because it was placed in the Holy Place. Its placement was before the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.
         
In verses 7-9 we read that Aaron was instructed to burn incense on the altar each and every morning and evening, as a regular offering to the Lord. God then commanded that no other incense, but the one that he prescribed, was ever to be burned on the altar. In verses 34-38 we read that God even gave a very specific recipe for making the incense.

          God’s instructions were very exact and even the fire used to burn the incense was always taken from the altar of burnt offering outside the sanctuary. Never was the altar of incense to be used for any of the other offerings: a burnt offering, a grain offering, or a drink offering. Once a year, on a day known as the day of Atonement, one of the things the high priest did was to put blood on the horns of the altar of incense to cleanse it. In verse 10 of chapter 30, the altar of incense was called “most holy to the Lord”.
          We are taught in the Bible that God desires for His people to be holy. This means rather than, burning the proper incense at the proper time with the proper fire with the proper utensils it was more important to have a proper heart before God. This desire of God’s becomes very evident during the time of Isaiah the prophet. Then, even though the people were disobeying God, they were still practicing the temple rituals. God said to them through the prophet in Isaiah 1:13, Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations I cannot bear your worthless assemblies”.
          The altar of incense then can be viewed in two ways. First it can be seen as a symbol of our prayers being offered to God. The smoke from the incense would rise to God just like our prayers do. The continuous burning of the incense on the altar means that our prayer must likewise never cease. This is the teaching of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when he simply exhorts the Thessalonian Christians to, “pray continually”. Just as the altar was considered Holy by God because of the atoning blood so our prayers are holy and acceptable to God because Christ’s blood has been applied to our hearts.

          The second way we can think of the burning of incense on the altar would be as an illustration of Jesus’ role as a mediator in our lives. The placement of the altar before the ark could be seen as a picture of our advocate Jesus before God interceding for us. It illustrates Christ’s intercession in two ways:

One, because of the constant burning of the incense it shows the continuing nature of Christ’s work on our behalf before the Father. And two, Jesus presence before God would be a sweet-smelling aroma, that is pleasing to God.

          These should be very comforting and encouraging thoughts to Christians. To think that we can now come with assurance into God’s very presence because of faith. Our prayers can be offered knowing that Jesus our perfect and faithful High Priest is completely trustworthy.

          Next, we read about the “Atonement money”. This was really just a symbolic gesture because of the same small amount regardless of the person’s station in life. It signified the acknowledgement that a ransom was paid. This was to be used for the tabernacle worship and upkeep. 

 

          Then we read about another piece of furnishing that was to be placed in the courtyard after the Altar of burnt offering. This was the bronze basin. Its purpose is seen by its location in the courtyard. It was placed right outside the tent of meeting. This meant that before the priest could enter the Holy Place to tend to the lamps, to place bread on the table, or to offer incense they would first need to ritually wash themselves. Verse 21 reveals the reason for the need to wash their hands and feet, “so that they will not die”. To have attended to these tasks with dirty hands and feet would have been an insult to God’s holiness.

 

          The anointing oil, which was to be used for anointing the priests is mentioned again from verse 22 of chapter 30. Here the recipe is given. What is significant about the ingredients for the anointing oil is that they are the finest, most expensive, most aromatic spices of the day (at least the ones we can identify). The excellence of this perfumed oil would have made it very desirable and that is why we find the very strict command in verse 33 that, Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.” This is a not-so-subtle reminder that the very best belonged to the Lord.

          Even though in verse 31 this anointing oil is referred to as ‘sacred’ when we come to the incense, that was to be placed before the ark of the covenant it is described in verse 35 as being “pure and sacred”. This is a principle we find with all the instructions and commands in chapters 25-30. Namely, that the closer to the presence of God something is the greater the demand for holiness.

 

          All of these instructions that we find in this section of Exodus, as in the book as a whole, is all about the presence of God.  Through all these symbolic items, rituals, and people, God is revealed, experienced, and remembered. For example, the washbasin reminds us of the need to be cleansed before we can approach God. These chapters we have looked at over the past three sermons now, tell us how we should ‘be’ in the presence of God, how we should ‘come’ to him with the proper respect, and how we should ‘live’ before Him with care and fear.

          Each one of us then needs to examine ourselves in regard to our participation in worship here at UCC.  We need to ask ourselves if we are aware of God’s presence as we come to Church on Sunday. Are you talking to Him, listening to Him, enjoying His presence? If we respond by just saying that God is everywhere, then we miss the point. The Israelites knew that God was everywhere and yet they were aware that when they came to the tabernacle and took part in the worship, they experienced God in a way that was meaningful not only to them but also to Him.

          That is why King David says in Psalm 27:4, One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

          If there was one main point that I would like for you all to get from these past three sermons it is that God wants us, through our worship of Him, to be aware of His presence.

          God’s promise throughout His Word is that the time and energy we spend in worshipping him, no matter the form it takes, will always be richly rewarded. The offerings we give to him of our time, our talent, and our treasures are always pleasing to Him when they are given in faith and sincerity. How blessed is the person whose worship through singing, prayers, and listening to the Word, the Lord loves to hear!

          I would like to also consider one more Application of the teaching of the Tabernacle, the Furnishings, and the priesthood to our context: When we consider the past sermons where we have looked at the tabernacle, its furnishings, and now today the priesthood. I think that it teaches us a lot about how we worship God these days.

          Many who claim to be Christians are living in such a way that we can only conclude that they are not true believers. How can I make that claim? Because they live their lives as if God did not exist and that they will not be held accountable for their sins.                                                                                                   

          Many others go to church only when it is convenient. They may even try to take part in some sort of ministry. They see God as a grandfather who only spoils them and never disciplines those he loves. Even though the Bible clearly challenges that thinking in Hebrews 12:5-8 where it says, And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.                     

          There are even some who are active in worship and ministry, but they approach God in a very casual way. They think of Him as their best buddy. They think that the worship service is where they should be comfortable and enjoy themselves. They only get involved in the things they enjoy and that don’t require that much sacrifice. Their whole worship experience is based upon the thinking that God doesn’t really care how you come to him just as long as you come.

         

          Some of you here today will say but doesn’t God love us while we are still sinners as Romans 5:8 teaches? And doesn’t Jesus invite us to come to him just as we are in Matthew 11:28. These are both truths, but do they mean we can come to God in any way we might want? Do you think God will accept us no matter what our attitude is or how we come to Him? NO! Of course, He won’t.

          If anything, that is what we are learning from all these details in Exodus. We find this same teaching in many other places in the Bible. **For example, 1 Peter 5:5 where we are told that, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Isn’t that the first characteristic that defines those who are part of Christ’s kingdom according to Matthew 5:3? Psalm 66:18 tells us that God will not even listen to the prayers of those who hide their sins in their hearts. Even the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord as it states in Proverbs 21:27

 

          Unlike the Old Testament people of God, it is true that God has not given us a lot of details about how we are to worship him ceremonially. But He has given us some and especially He is concerned by the attitude of those who come to Him.

          In the first case, He has given us two religious ceremonies that are to be a regular part of our worship. They are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper also known as Communion. And although he has not told us that much about the where and the how of Baptism, He has commanded that it be done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

          On the other hand, he has told us very clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 that believers are to participate in the communion regularly in remembrance of [Him]. He reminds us that this observance is to be taken very seriously and should include a time of self-examination prior to taking the bread and the cup.

          However, there are many aspects that are not spelled out for us. Like whether we use a single cup or multiple cups, how big or decorated the cup is to be, whether the liquid we drink is to be alcoholic or not and even what type of bread we are to take. So, we do have a certain amount of freedom to choose what is best for our contexts.

           Unlike the tabernacle, God has also not given us any detailed plans for acceptable worship facilities. We are not given direction on what kinds of clothes we are to wear. Although we are told that as Christians, we should be modest and humble and therefore reflect our godliness.

          We are not even given any specific instructions about where or when to meet. Hebrews 13:24-25 only encourage us to make sure that we do not neglect meeting together. And Ephesians 4:11-16 says that we are to apply all the commands related to being the body of Christ when we do meet. Because, by doing those things, we will grow and mature in our faith.

          Earlier, I quoted 1 Peter 5:5 which says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” This also serves to remind us that even though we can come before God in confidence because of Christ, we still need to approach him with humility. We also need to acknowledge that God is a consuming fire as He is revealed to us in Hebrews 12:28. Therefore, we should only approach Him and offer our worship to Him with reverence and awe.

          As I said last week we are only to come to God on His terms and not our own. If we come to Him in any other way, then we are only worshipping ourselves and not God. The result of that would be just the practice of a religion where the reconciled relationship with God, that we enjoy through Jesus Christ our Lord, is missing.

 

Let’s Pray: