A constant theme throughout Scriptures is God’s requirement of holiness from His people. Sometimes God says plainly, “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be My very own” (Leviticus 20:26). Other times it is by the example in people’s lives such as Abraham. Still other times God shows His expectations through symbolism. The clothing of the High Priest provides symbolic teaching as to the nature of the holiness God expects from His children.
When God instituted the Tabernacle as the place to signify His presence among His people, He also established the priesthood to minister before Him and on behalf of the people of Israel. Part of the priesthood included one individual who was the High Priest, the only one allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on the annual Day of Atonement. All that was entailed with the High Priest’s duties, including the garments he wore, represented how God’s people should conduct their lives before Him.
The first thing that happened in the consecration of the High Priest was a blood sacrifice to atone for his sins (Exodus 29:10-14). In the same way, the first step for us is to be cleansed of our sin by the blood of Christ. This was provided for us through His sacrificial death on the cross. After the cleansing was finished for the priest, he was now ready for service. Not until we have been cleansed of our sin by Christ are we ready for our service to Him.
The first item of clothing to consider was the white pants and long white gown. The purity represented by white is symbolic of the need to be pure in our inner self, the sanctuary of our secrets. Holiness begins in our deepest parts and works its way outward. The High Priest always bathed before putting these on and so we must be clean in our inner parts. An outward show of godliness is betrayed if our hearts are not clean.
The next article to consider is the robe (Exodus 28:31-43). It was one seamless piece of cloth. In the same way, our experience with the Lord must be seamless, whole and without defect. God wants our hearts to be wholly His, not fragmented or frayed.
The robe was blue in color, a reminder of Heaven. When we are in Christ, we are actually citizens of two worlds. We are very much a part of this one with its every day cares, its opportunities and its problems. But we are just as much citizens of Heaven, our hearts always longing to be fully in the presence of God. There will be no impurity in Heaven (Revelation 21:27) so blue reminds us of that.
Golden bells were sewn into the bottom hem of the gown (Exodus 28:35). They served a sobering purpose. If a High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and failed to do so as God dictated, he could be struck down by God. As long as the bells sounded as he moved around those outside knew everything was going well. But if they didn’t sound for a while it was assumed that the High Priest was struck down by God. A rope tied to his ankle was used to drag his body out of the Holy of Holies! The bells, then, were symbolic of our need to approach God with reverence. His holiness demands nothing less.
The robe also had an interweaving of scarlet and purple representative of the blood of sacrifice and royalty. While at first that might seem to be a strange combination, it reminds us of our absolute dependence upon God for our salvation but also when we are made His children, we become His royalty. Revelation 1:5,6 says, “All glory to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding His blood for us. He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God His Father. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen.”
The next part of the High Priest’s garments was the ephod, a kind of chest covering made of two sections joined at the shoulders by two onyx stones set in sockets of gold (Exodus 28:4). On the ephod was inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Four colors were interwoven: scarlet (blood sacrifice), blue (Heaven), purple (royalty) and gold (divinity). The ephod represented responsibility. The holy life is never concerned only for itself. Ours is not a religion that encourages hiding out from the world but living in and affecting it. We carry the concerns of our brothers and sisters in Christ but we also have a burden for those who have not yet received Christ into their lives. We always have a responsibility for others.
Holding everything together was a decorative sash (Exodus 28:8) that held the ephod to the waist. The sash represents service – not always showy but always needed.
Along with the ephod and the sash was the breastplate of gold (Exodus 28:15). It was approximately nine inches tall and eighteen inches wide. In it was a pocket for the Urim and Thummim, the names meaning “light and shadow.” Although we are not certain how they worked, they were somehow used to determine the will of God. They did not work, however, if there was sin present.
The breastplate had twelve precious stones, each with the name of a tribe of Israel, similar to the ephod worn over the heart. The breastplate also represented responsibility to bear others’ burdens and to seek their highest good before God. Worn over the High Priest’s heart, it was there to call to mind the need to keep these things uppermost in our thoughts, emotions and actions.
The final piece of the wardrobe was a white hat or bonnet. On it was a blue ribbon inscribed with the words “Holiness unto the Lord” (Exodus 39:28). On top of everything we do, our priority must be holiness to the Lord.
How are you dressed for the Lord? If your heart was adorned with outward clothing would you look like a beggar or a priest of the Lord? It does not matter what station you are in life. It matters whether you have been made holy by God.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the Editor in Chief and National Literary Secretary