Robed in Righteousness

1 From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

He made the ephod of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. And they hammered out gold leaf, and he cut it into threads to work into the blue and purple and the scarlet yarns, and into the fine twined linen, in skilled design. They made for the ephod attaching shoulder pieces, joined to it at its two edges. And the skillfully woven band on it was of one piece with it and made like it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

They made the onyx stones, enclosed in settings of gold filigree, and engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. And he set them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod to be stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

He made the breastpiece, in skilled work, in the style of the ephod, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. It was square. They made the breastpiece doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth when doubled. 10 And they set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle was the first row; 11 and the second row, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; 12 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13 and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. 14 There were twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. 15 And they made on the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. 16 And they made two settings of gold filigree and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. 17 And they put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. 18 They attached the two ends of the two cords to the two settings of filigree. Thus they attached it in front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. 19 Then they made two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. 20 And they made two rings of gold, and attached them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, at its seam above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 21 And they bound the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it should lie on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece should not come loose from the ephod, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

22 He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue, 23 and the opening of the robe in it was like the opening in a garment, with a binding around the opening, so that it might not tear. 24 On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. 25 They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates— 26 a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

27 They also made the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen undergarments of fine twined linen, 29 and the sash of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, embroidered with needlework, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.” 31 And they tied to it a cord of blue to fasten it on the turban above, as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Exodus 39:1-31 ESV

In this passage, Moses virtually repeats the instructions God had given him for the design of the high priest’s sacred robes. Chapter 28 contains the conversation that took place between God and Moses that set apart Aaron and his sons to serve as priests in God’s house.

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. – Exodus 28:1-3 ESV

Now, in chapter 39, Moses is describing Bezalel’s creation of those “holy garments” for Aaron and his sons. But something significant had taken place between these two chapters. Not long after God had given His blueprints for the Tabernacle and chosen Moses’ brother, Aaron to serve as high priest, the Israelites had chosen to turn their backs on God by demanding that Aaron make them replacements gods.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. – Exodus 32:1-4 NLT

Rather than rebuke the Israelites for their rash and ungodly demand, Aaron obliged them by taking up an unsanctioned offering. He personally collected gold from the people and then hand-crafted it into an idol fashioned in the form of a calf. This “golden calf” was likely crafted in the likeness of the Egyptian god, Apis. The cult of Apis sanctioned the worship of a living bull that was worshiped during its lifetime and then mummified after death. Upon its death, the search began for a new calf that would take its place. The Egyptians believed the dead Apis bull reincarnated as a new calf and perpetuated its own line. They believed this “god” had been created by a bolt of lightning from heaven and by careful study of its behavior, the priests of the Apis cult could divine omens and declare sacred oracles.

Whether Aaron used this particular Egyptian god as the model for his golden calf idol is unclear. But in fashioning this false god, Aaron led the people into idolatry and away from worshiping Yahweh. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and discovered what had happened in his absence, he immediately confronted his brother.

“What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” – Exodus 32:21 NLT

Rather than own up to his role in the matter, Aaron tried to persuade Moses that he had been an unwilling pawn in the hands of the insurgents.

“Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!” – Exodus 32:22-24 NLT

He attempted to absolve himself from any responsibility in the affair. While 3,000 Israelites died for their roles in the rebellion, Aaron somehow escaped with his life. And when God sent a plague among the people of Israel as punishment for their idolatry, Aaron was spared once again. And amazingly, chapter 39 states that Bezalel and his craftsmen “made the holy garments for Aaron” (Exodus 39:1 ESV).

How could God allow this man to serve as the high priest over the nation of Israel? Had he not forfeited the right to wear the sacred garments and enter into the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was to dwell? Aaron had willingly and blatantly violated God’s commands.

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” – Exodus 20:3-5 ESV

And yet, this man would be allowed to wear the exquisitely crafted garments described in chapter 39, including “the ephod of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen” (Exodus 39:2 ESV). On his chest, he would wear the breastplate containing the “stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 39:7 ESV). He would be adorned in a rich blue robe made from fine linen and hemmed with bells of pure gold and pomegranates made from blue, purple, and scarlet yarns. And on his head would be placed a turban with a golden plate that bore the inscription: “Holy to the Lord.”

Everything about this chapter seems wrong. It appears as if God has made an unwise and unjust decision by letting this man enjoy the privilege and honor of serving as the high priest. But God was not overlooking Aaron’s flaws and failures. He was not making concessions or compromising His holiness by appointing this obviously fallen man to such a lofty and sacred position. In a sense, Aaron was the perfect person for the role. He was a sinner who had been shown grace and mercy from God. He had deserved death for his actions but had been allowed to live so that he might offer atonement for the people of Israel.

As high priest, Aaron would serve on behalf of the people, but he would do so as one who struggled with sin just as they did. And because of his sinful nature, Aaron would be required to go through a ritual of purification before he would stand before God. He would also have to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could make atonement for the people. He too would have to experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God before he could serve as the people’s mediator. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that Aaron, in his role, was a foreshadowing of the greater high priest to come.

He [Jesus] is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever. – Hebrews 7:26-28 NLT

Aaron would have to be made holy by God before he could serve. But Jesus was holy because He was God. In his humanity, Jesus was the visible image of the invisible God and His sinlessness made Him the perfect high priest. Jesus needed no purification. He required no robes to make Him holy. He had no sins of His own that demanded atonement. Unlike Aaron, Jesus was robed in perfect righteousness. He was the sinless Son of God who became the perfect high priest.

Aaron’s robes could only symbolize righteousness. But Jesus was righteousness incarnate.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.