The priestly garments worn by the priests of ancient Israel were rich in symbolic meaning and served important practical and spiritual purposes. God gave specific instructions for the design and use of these unique garments, pointing to their divine origin and sacred nature (Exodus 28). By understanding the various priestly vestments and their significance, we can gain insight into God’s holiness, the role of the priesthood, and the spiritual lessons concerning access to God’s presence.
The ephod was an apron-like garment worn by the priests, especially the high priest. It was made of fine linen and skillfully woven with gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarn (Exodus 28:6-14). Attached to the ephod were two onyx stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, indicating the priest represented all the people before God. The ephod also held the breastpiece with the Urim and Thummim, which were used to discern God’s will for the nation (Exodus 28:30).
The ephod reminds us that the priests served as representatives and intermediaries between God and the people. They could approach God on behalf of the nation and make petitions before Him. The elaborate ephod also points to the sacredness of the priestly office and the holiness required of those who minister before the Lord.
The priestly sash or girdle was made of fine linen embroidered with blue, purple and scarlet yarn (Exodus 28:39; 39:29). It was wrapped around the priest’s waist to bind the other garments together. Spiritually, the sash signifies priestly service and readiness. As the priests girded themselves, they were indicating their preparedness to perform their duties and serve the Lord (Leviticus 8:7,13).
For Christians today, the priestly sash reminds us of similar exhortations to be ready for service and good works (Luke 12:35-37; Ephesians 6:14). As we clothe ourselves daily in Christ, we too should be ready to minister to others and serve our High Priest, Jesus.
The robe of the ephod was the innermost layer, worn beneath the ephod (Exodus 28:31-35). It was a long, seamless tunic made of blue material. Pomegranates, bells and tassels adorned the hem of the robe. The pomegranates symbolized fruitfulness, the bells announced the priest’s coming and the tassels reminded them of God’s commands.
The robe was worn under the ephod to cover the priest’s body and provide a layer of modesty. Only the robe’s hem was visible beneath the ephod. This arrangement indicated that though the priests approached God’s presence in a special way, their human frailty still needed covering. It points ultimately to Christ, our perfect High Priest, who sanctifies imperfect people and provides us access to the Father.
The coat, or tunic, was the outermost layer of priestly clothing (Exodus 28:39-43). It was made of fine linen, covering the priest from neck to knees. The coat was plain white, without any ornamentation. White represents purity and holiness, appropriate qualities for those serving in God’s presence (Revelation 19:8).
The simple tunic reminds us that outward holiness comes before elaborate ministry garments. As Christians, we are to first clothe ourselves with Christ’s righteousness before undertaking any service for Him (Galatians 3:27). Following the priests’ example, our outward conduct should match our inner purity as we serve the Lord.
The priests also wore elaborate turbans made of fine linen (Exodus 28:39). Attached to the turban was a gold plate engraved with the words “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36-37). The turban was tightly wrapped in a manner distinct from regular head coverings, denoting the priests’ unique role. The inscription reminded the priests that they were set apart and belonged to God as they served Him.
For believers today, the turban emphasizes our new identity in Christ. Just as the priests were set apart to God as they donned their special headdress, we have been sanctified and declared holy through faith in Christ (Hebrews 10:10). This brings great privilege as well as responsibility to live accordingly.
One of the most important and sacred priestly garments was the breastpiece, which was attached to the ephod (Exodus 28:15-30). This ornate piece was made of embroidered linen folded in half to form a pouch measuring nine inches square. Mounted on the breastpiece were twelve precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes.
Inside the pouch were the Urim and Thummim, special stones used to discern God’s will for His people. The breastpiece symbolized the priest bearing the concerns of Israel before the Lord and mediating His will to the nation. The twelve stones represented all the tribes in the priest’s intercession and reminded Israel of their covenant relationship with God.
For Christians, the breastpiece points to Christ’s work as our great High Priest. Through Him we have access to the Father and receive guidance by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 4:16, John 16:13). He continuously bears our needs before God’s throne as our mediator.
Blue, Purple and Scarlet Yarn
Most of the priestly garments incorporated blue, purple and scarlet yarn in their embroidered designs (Exodus 28:5-8). These colors carried symbolic meaning. Blue represents the heavens, purple royalty and scarlet blood sacrifice. Together, they pointed to the priests’ mediatory role between God and man.
Blue reminded the priests of their heavenly calling to represent God’s holiness to the people. Purple denoted their honorable position as servants of the great King. Scarlet spoke of the need for atonement through blood sacrifice. For Christians, these colors remind us of Jesus Christ – the royal, heavenly High Priest who shed His blood for our salvation.
Bells and Pomegranates
Along the hem of the priestly robe were interwoven bells and pomegranates (Exodus 28:33-35). The bells announced the priest’s coming and jingled as he ministered before the Lord. This served as a reminder of the need to approach God’s presence with reverence and care.
The pomegranates symbolized the fruit the priests’ service would bear in the lives of the people. As the priests fulfilled their duties faithfully, the nation would reap blessings from the Lord. Together, the bells and pomegranates conveyed the need for diligent and reverent service to the Lord in order to bear fruit.
For Christians, this reminds us to approach our God and King with awe and respect in order to reap the spiritual blessings He promises (Hebrews 12:28-29; John 15:1-5).
As a whole, the priestly garments served to honor, beautify and sanctify the priests as they ministered before God. The fine materials and beautiful colors pointed to the glory of God’s presence. The specific design elements carried symbolic meaning about the priest’s privileged role.
By strictly following God’s instructions for the garments, the priests demonstrated respect for His holiness and authority. Any carelessness or alterations would profane their service (Exodus 28:42-43). The sumptuous vestments were a physical reminder to the priests of their spiritual duties and the holiness required to stand before God.
In the New Covenant, these sacred garments find their fulfillment in Christ’s priesthood. As Hebrews 12:22-24 describes, the splendor of the temporal Old Covenant vestments pales in comparison to the glory we have access to through Christ’s eternal priesthood.
Garments for Glory and Beauty
The Visual Beauty of the Priestly Garments
God commanded the priests’ garments to be made with skill and beauty, using luxurious fabrics like fine linen, gold thread, and dyed yarn in blue, purple and scarlet (Exodus 28:5-8, 15, 40). The ephod and breastpiece shimmered with gold and were studded with colorful gems representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:15-21). The long robe was woven intricately with pomegranates and golden bells around the hem (Exodus 28:33-34).
The splendid appearance of the priestly garments displayed the glory, wealth and artistry of the kingdom. Their beauty reflected God’s worthiness to be served with the very best. The gold, gems and rare dyes pointed to the supreme value of the heavenly King. The priests’ visually stunning garments corresponded to the spiritual glory they represented.
As the Christian bride of Christ, the church is also clothed beautifully for the glory of the King (Psalm 45:13-14, Revelation 21:2). Outward beauty symbolizes inner sanctification. Our lives are to showcase Christ through excellence, beauty and holiness.
Garments Marking Sacred Service
God intended the priestly vestments to honor and sanctify the priests for spiritual service. As they were consecrated in their special garments, the priests were visibly set apart for God’s work (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8). Their daily dressing ritual prepared and reminded them of their sacred duties (Leviticus 16:4).
Specific garments also marked varying levels of priestly service. The colorful ephod and breastpiece could only be worn while performing certain priestly functions (Exodus 28:8; Leviticus 16:23). Accessories like sashes and turbans designated priests from other Israelites (Exodus 28:40; Leviticus 16:4).
Likewise in the New Covenant, believers are symbolically clothed in Christ through baptism and faith to perform spiritual service (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:4-6). Our righteous deeds and service in God’s kingdom also act as beautifully adorning garments (Revelation 19:8).
Garments for Access to God’s Presence
The priestly vestments enabled ceremonial access to God’s presence in the tabernacle. As mediators between God and men, priests were consecrated and clothed for special entrance into the holy places off-limits to other Israelites (Exodus 28-30; Leviticus 8-9). Proper garments were required to approach the holy sanctuary and altar without profaning the dwelling of a holy God.
In contrast, the torn curtain and open access believers now have to God’s presence through Christ’s priesthood renders the old temporary vestments obsolete (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22). We can freely, reverently and securely enter the heavenly holy places through Christ’s work on our behalf.
Fine white linen was the predominant material used for the priestly garments (Exodus 28:5-8, 39, 42). Linen was costly and labor-intensive to produce in the ancient world, yet God commanded multiple sets of impeccably-made linen vestments for Aaron and his sons (Exodus 28:39-43). This extravagant use underscores the immense care and resources that should surround holy things.
Linen derived from flax has several symbolic connotations:
- Purity – The white linen represented the holy, unblemished righteousness required of the priests as they served the Lord and entered His presence (Revelation 19:8).
- Simplicity – Plain linen adorned the priests rather than lavish ornamentation for its own sake, reminding them to focus on humility and service.
- Ordinary material, extraordinary purpose – Lowly flax transformed into magnificent garments displays God’s ability to use common things for holy purposes.
- Beauty from affliction – The flax plant endures crushing and refining to extract valued linen threads, foreshadowing Christ’s suffering to redeem and beautify His people (Isaiah 53:5).
For Christians, linen garments represent being clothed with Christ’s righteousness through faith, enabling access to fellowship with a holy God (Revelation 3:4-5, 18; 19:8).
Precious Metals and Jewels
Gold, gems and embroidered decorations accentuated the priestly vestments (Exodus 28:5-30; 39:1-31). The ephod and breastpiece especially featured expensive metals and stones:
- Gold threads were crafted into intricate designs on the ephod and woven into the breastpiece, signifying God’s glory, beauty and majesty.
- Precious gemstones mounted on the shoulder pieces and breastpiece symbolized the 12 tribes of Israel carried by the priest into God’s presence.
- Onyx stones engraved with the tribes’ names illustrated the permanent covenant relationship between God and His chosen people.
These luxurious and weighty elements vividly conveyed the solemnity, significance and splendor of the priestly office. God commanded ornate artistic craftsmanship using the finest materials for objects and clothing surrounding priestly service and worship.
As believers and royal priests in God’s kingdom, our lives are also adorned with true spiritual riches and the beauty of holiness (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). The temporal Old Covenant treasures symbolize the far greater spiritual jewels we possess in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; James 2:5).
Dyed Yarns – Blue, Purple, Scarlet
Many of the priestly vestments incorporated blue, purple and scarlet-dyed yarns in their embroidered designs (Exodus 28:5-8, 15, 33). These colored threads carried symbolic meaning:
- Blue – The blue dye came from rare sea snails, pointing to the heavens and heavenly calling.
- Purple – Purple dye derived from mollusks signified royalty, kingship and nobility.
- Scarlet – Vibrant red spoke of blood, sacrifice, and atonement for sin.
Together, these colors visually reinforced the priests’ divine mediatory role between God and man. Blue aligned their service with heaven and holiness. Purple denoted the royal, honorable priesthood. Scarlet represented the need for blood sacrifice to cleanse sins.
For Christians, blue, purple and scarlet point ultimately to Christ – our royal, heavenly High Priest whose blood atoned for sins (Hebrews 4:14-16; 9:11-14, 24-28). His priesthood fulfills and surpasses the old covenant types and shadows.
The priestly garments God instructed for ancient Israel give us insight into His character, the role of the priesthood, and spiritual truths that find their fulfillment in Christ:
- God is exceedingly holy and due our reverence, best service, and finest offerings.
- Access to God’s presence requires mediation and atonement.
- God dwells with His people though they are still sinful and need intercession.
- Obedience and consecration are required to serve acceptably as priests.
- The symbols pointed to Christ’s person and work as fulfillment of priestly types.
- As royal priests in God’s kingdom, believers now have open access to His presence through Christ.
The vivid object lessons displayed in the priestly vestments offer Christians much to contemplate about the privilege of ministering to our holy God. May we serve Him with reverence, gratitude, and the best of what He’s given us for His glory.