The Garments of the High Priest
(Some of this information is derived from Martyn Barrow’s tabernacle web site and from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash along with several other sources as noted in the text.)
The high priest was required to wear eight vestments while performing his duties in the tabernacle or else his service was invalid. The garments that the high priest wore along with those of the regular priests set them apart from the rest of Israel thereby elevating them in the eyes of Israel for the special and sacred work of Elohim they were doing.
The priestly attire was called the Eight Vestment (Sh’moneh G’dim) or the Gold Vestments since some of them contained gold. Actually, only seven of his vestments were specifically made for his duties as high priest. His linen breeches would have been worn anyway as a part of his regular dress, so they were not special as were the other seven garments. On certain parts of the Day of Atonement, the high priest wore only four vestments all made of white linen. The ordinary priests wore these four white vestments all the time.
As with so many things found in the tabernacle, the high priest’s garments comprised of four colors: sky blue, royal purple, blood crimson woven onto a background of pure snow white linen. Additionally, the high priest’s head plate was of gold, along with the 72 bells sown onto the hem of his Ephod, the golden chains holding the Breastplate to his shoulders, the bases to the shoulder stones and the gold thread woven into the Ephod. The color blue signifies godliness or heaven. Some see purple as signifying royalty or kingliness. Others see an additional meaning. Red and blue combine to make purple. Blue represents the divine while red speaks of the human, earthly or animal aspect of man (and of Yeshua). After all, red blood is the symbol of life and the name of the first man was Adam meaning red (possibly like clay earth) from whom all men are descended including the human aspect of Messiah Yeshua, who in the Messianic Scriptures is revealed as the Second Adam. This blue and red combination to form purple therefore speaks of man’s (and Yeshua’s) dual nature: physical and spiritual. Linen speaks of the organic, earthly and sensual nature of man that must be redeemed and made white as wool or snow (Isa 1:18). Crimson speaks of the redemptive nature of the blood of Yeshua who through the shedding of his blood washed away the sins of men to make them white and righteous before YHVH Elohim (Rev 1:5; Isa 1:18). Pure and refined gold speaks of the highest (divine) and most precious character and nature of YHVH-Yeshua and of humans (the saints) who are, ideally, to be walking in the fullness of the divine nature, character and stature of Yeshua.
The Ephod (containing its sash-like belt) Exod 28:5–14)
This garment was similar to an apron and extended from below the rib cage to the ground. This ornate robe contained five materials. There were five strands of turquoise wool and one of gold was twisted together to make a strand. This was also done with purple and scarlet wool and white linen. Six strands of these were twisted with a strand of gold. Four seven-strand threads were twisted together to make a 28-strand thread. From this the tunic was woven.
The four colors contained in the doors of the tabernacle were also found woven into the high priest’s garments. These colors with the addition of the gold strands point to the work and Person of Yeshua the Messiah. White pictures or points to both Yeshua’s righteousness and his humanity, blue to his divinity, crimson to redemption through his blood and purple to his kingship. Gold speaks of his divine or heavenly ministry as our High Priest and of his precious character. Gold is the most precious and sought after metal and has unique properties unlike any other metal which make it especially easy to work with and exceptionally resistant to corrosion and tarnishing. Again, this speaks of the ministry and character of Yeshua our High Priest, the One who intercedes for us, our King and the Sun of Righteousness and the One who walks in perfect love and peace (Mal 4:2).
The Breastplate (Exod 28:15–30)
This was held onto the priest’s shoulders by two golden chains. The breastplate contained four rows of three gem stones (twelve total) engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This was worn over the high priest’s heart. The urim and tummim were contained in a pouch-like pocket of folded material forming the back of the breastplate. The word urim is from the word ur meaning “light” because it would cause the individual letters of the tribal names on the breastplate to light up. tummim is from the word tamim meaning “completeness” because if read in the proper order these luminous letters presented complete and true answers to the questions of national importance that the high priest would ask YHVH.
As noted, the breastplate with the twelve gem stones engraved with the twelve tribes of Israel was worn over the high priest’s heart whenever he ministered before YHVH. This points to Yeshua’s eternal love for his people (John 3:16; 13:1).
Barrow speculates that the high priest received messages from YHVH through the urim and tummim in conjunction with the stones on the breastplate in the following manner: the high priest would stand before the menorah holding the urim in one hand and the tummim in the other. As the light reflected from the urim and the tummim onto the stones of the breastplate this flash of light provided up to 24 combinations (2 x 12). Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the flashes of light could produce strings of letters. As YHVH “breathed” out of the glory cloud above the ark, the veil would move, permitting a breeze to flicker the flames in the menorah to momentarily alter the angle of direction of the light onto the urim and tummim, and thence to the breastplate. Thus YHVH was able to communicate directly, but not audibly, to the high priest and to answer an inquiry. Adam Clarke in his commentary on this subject quoting a Jewish sage suggests a similar means for receiving messages from YHVH, though he is less specific in describing the methodology. These speculations are interesting, but seem fanciful in light of a passage in Ezra 2:63 which seems to indicate priests being able to consult YHVH with urim and tummim after the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians. If this is the case, then these priests were able to use urim and tummim without the aid of a menorah, breastplate, veil or glory cloud.
Shoulder Stones (set in gold) (Exod 28:9–12)
These gem stones were white (the Hebrew word translated onyx in the KJV is shoham meaning “white or blanched”) and were probably made of onyx (see S. R. Hirsch’s commentary on this), but could have been chrysoprasus, beryl or malachite. They were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and were called the avnei shoham.
The shoulders represent the place of strength and support. Spiritually this speaks of Yeshua’s carrying the burdens of his people when he makes intercession for them (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). Also, as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) he knows his sheep by name (John 10:14) and searches for those who are lost (i.e., the lost sheep of the house of Israel) to carry them back to his spiritual flock (Luke 15:4; Matt 10:6; 14:24).
Blue Robe (Exod 28:31–35)
This was a sleeveless full-length outer garment split on the sides with 72 bells and 72 pomegranates sewn to the bottom hem of the garment. It was entirely sky blue in color. The pomegranates were made of blue, purple and scarlet wool. The golden bells were audible while the fruit was silent. This speaks to the truth what we say (our words) and what we do (our actions) should be the same. The former must be pure and heavenly in nature (no evil words, or lashon hora emitting from our mouths) while the later must be righteous in character and spirit (speaking of the fruit of the Spirit, Gal 5:22–23). Yeshua showed us the perfect balance between the two, for he was mighty or virtuous in both deed and in spirit (Luke 24:19).
White Linen Tunic (undergarment) (Exod 28:39)
This was worn directly on the skin (over the breeches). This all white garment points to the spiritual robes of righteousness that the Scriptures portray a redeemed believer wearing when his sins have been cleansed by the cleansing and sin-atoning blood of the Messiah, by the Word of Elohim and by their acts of righteousness (Isa 1:18; Rev 7:13–14; 19:8; 3:5,18 cp. Isa 61:10; Ezek 16:10; Rom 13:14; Eph 5:27; Ps 132:9).
White Turban (Exod 28:39)
The turban was made of fine white linen which speaks of righteous deeds (Rev 19:8)—in this case, righteous thoughts. The Hebrew word for turban is mitsnepheth which literally means “to wrap, wind up together.” The high priest’s turban was a bulbous head wrap comprised of winding or wrapping fine linen around his head.
Gold Crown or Forehead Plate (Exod 28:36–38)
This narrow golden head plate or crown (tsiyts) was worn over the turban on the high priest’s forehead and was inscribed with the words kodesh l’YHVH (set-apart to YHVH). It was secured to the forehead by means of purple cords. The Hebrew word for head plate or crown is tsiyts meaning “blossom, flower or plate” and according to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, can refer to the flourishing or growth of a plant or to the gleam of a crown worn by a king.
The white turban and the gold head plate reminds us of the helmet of salvation (Eph 6:17) and the need of a righteous believer to take every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah (2 Cor 10:5) and to be renewed in our minds with the mind of Yeshua (Rom 12:2). On the gold crown was the name of YHVH. It is not uncommon for the owner of a possession to place his name on that which is dear to him. Likewise, one who is in love will often place the name of his or her beloved upon their body in the form of jewelry or a tattoo. Similarly, YHVH places his seal of ownership and love upon the foreheads of is beloved saints (Rev 9:4) who are his priests (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:5; 5:10; 20:6). The devil’s counterfeit to this is the famous mark of the beast that will be written on the foreheads of many in the last days who are in rebellion against YHVH Elohim (Rev 13:16; 14:9; 19:20; 20;4).
Breeches (Exod 28:42)
These were like trunks worn from the hips to the thighs and were worn for modesty. According to S. R. Hirsch in his commentary, these were not specially made priestly garments, but were the ordinary boxer or trunk-like breeches worn by all men for common decency. That is why they are mentioned last. Therefore, though the high priest wore eight garments, only seven were specially made to be worn while he was executing his official responsibilities. Seven in Scripture is the number of completion or perfection.
Vestments of Ordinary Priests (Exod 28:40–43)
The sons of Aaron wore white linen tunics with sashes and a headdress “for glory and splendor” and linen breeches for modesty. S. R. Hirsch notes that the sashes were crimson, blue and purple thread in color woven on a white background. He also states that the head covering of the ordinary priest was wound upward to a high point. Some commentators suggest that the turbans of the ordinary priest were pointed to “point the way up” and that the turban of high priest was flattened on top as if to say, “I am at the top.” Perhaps this is a quaint interpretation, or perhaps it is full of spiritual significance. If Yeshua is the ultimate high priest, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews states, and if the saints are to be kings and priests, or a kingdom of priests as Exodus 19:6 states, then indeed the pointed turbans of the regular priest could speak of pointing the way to Yeshua, of which the earthly high priest was but a prophetic foreshadow. Likewise, the followers of Yeshua are members of the royal priesthood of redeemed believers (1 Pet 2:29), and all that they do, say and think should be a reflection of and point to Yeshua their Master, Savior and great heavenly High Priest.
This is really helpful. Thank you so much and God bless you. Shabbat Shalom.