Introduction: After completing the building of the Tabernacle, the Jews made the garments for the priests, just as God commanded in Exodus 28. To stress the importance of obedience, Moses recorded exactly seven times that the Jews made these clothes “just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, 31). Between chapters 39 and 40, this phrase is repeated 14 times (See also, Ex. 40:19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). Fourteen, like seven, is a number of completeness. The message is that a priest for God must be obedient.
These instructions apply to every believer in Jesus. As a believer, you are automatically part of His holy priesthood: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9, 5). “[A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). As a holy priesthood, you are a co-builder in building God’s Church on Earth: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God's field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). From Exodus 39, God gives seven important lessons for serving as one of His holy priests. All of His lessons focus on giving praise to Jesus as your eternal High Priest and keeping your heart pure for Him.
First, through God’s instructions for the priest’s clothes (a symbol of a person’s actions or motives), He reminds every believer to be motivated for Jesus’ glory and not their own. Second, through the symbolism of the two black onyx stones with the name of every tribe that was worn on the High Priest’s shoulders, He reveals that He wants you to be burdened for all of His people. Third, through the symbolism of the breast piece with 12 precious stones worn over the High Priest’s heart, He reveals that you should have a love in your heart for all His people. Fourth, through the symbolism of the ephod, He reveals that He wants you to keep your heart and your thoughts focused on Him. Fifth, through the linen garments that served as underwear, He instructed His believers to always be pure and holy. Sixth, through the symbolism of the head gear for the High Priest, He reminds every believer to keep their thoughts focused on Him. Finally, through Moses’ final blessing on the builders after they built the Tabernacle, He reveals that He wants you to bless others through the power of the Holy Spirit granted to you.
The clothing of the high priest. The Jews began by preparing the clothing for the high priest: “1 Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. 2 He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen. 3 Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman. 4 They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends. 5 The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:1-5). The materials that the Jews created followed God’s instructions to Moses (Ex. 28:4-6). Each of these things pointed to Jesus and what He does for us.
The High Priest’s Garments1
Jesus is our High Priest. The Jews needed the high priest to be pure to be able to intercede for them. While the Jews had a flawed high priest, any believer in Jesus has the High Priest who is without sin: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:14-15). “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;” (Heb. 7:26). On Earth, Jesus wore the clothes of a servant. Yet, the beautiful clothes of the high priest point to Jesus’ exalted role in heaven. The gold symbolized His divinity. The blue symbolized His throne in heaven. The purple symbolized His royalty as the King of Kings (Rev. 19:16). The scarlet symbolized His sacrificial blood (Rev. 7:14; Heb. 9:14; 1 Jo. 1:7). The fine linen symbolized His righteousness and holiness (Rev. 19:8; 3:5). As believers, He “imparts” elements of His righteousness to us (2 Pet. 1:4; Col. 1:22, 27).
Let God clothe you in righteousness. In the Bible, clothing is a symbol of both God’s provision and a person’s outward actions. After Adam and Eve sinned, God gave them animal skins to wear (Gen. 3:21). After the priest sacrificed an animal without blemish, God ordered that the priests receive the animal skins to make clothing (Lev. 1:6; 7:8). When you seek after Jesus’ kingdom and His righteousness, He also promises to clothe you (Matt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31). He further offers to clothe you in His fine clothes in heaven: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Rev. 3:5). If Jesus does not clothe you, your acts will be looked upon as filthy rags to Him: “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; . . . ” (Is. 64:6). The person who tries to show up in heaven without Jesus’ clothes will be thrown out (Matt. 22:11-13). Are you doing things that glorify yourself? Or, are you looking to be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness by doing things that glorify Him?
The shoulder black onyx stones with the names of all the tribes. After preparing the materials for the high priest, the Jews prepared the two black onyx stones that the high priest wore on his shoulders: “6 They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. 7 And he placed them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as memorial stones for the sons of Israel, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:6-7). The Jews followed God’s instructions found in Exodus 28:7-14. The shoulder pieces had seven requirements. These included: (1) black onyx stones; (2) the names of the 12 tribes written in gold to serve as a memorial; (3) gold filigree to hold the stones; (4) gold chains to hold the shoulder piece together; (5) linens of blue, purple, and scarlet; (6) everything made through fine workmanship; and (7) the powerful shoulders of the high priest to carry them. These things all pointed to Jesus.
(1) The onyx stone - We are sinful and in darkness without Jesus’ light. Each shoulder of the high priest had an onyx stone with the names of the 12 tribes (Ex. 39:6; 28:9-11). Onyx is black. The black stones with the names of the 12 tribes symbolized the fact that all of God’s people are trapped in darkness without the light and life of Jesus. Yet, many cannot comprehend His light: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than Light, for their deeds were evil.” (Jo. 3:19). “The Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (Jo. 1:5). Jesus is the Light (Jo. 3:16). If you are still turning to the sinful things of the world, you still love the darkness.
(2) The 12 tribes inscribed as a memorial - Be burdened in prayer for all God’s people. The onyx stones had the names of the twelve tribes inscribed as a “memorial” (Ex. 39:7; 28:12). The names of the people were written in gold. The gold showed that all God’s people are precious to Him. Out of love, Jesus bore a burden for everyone. Because He loves us, He does not want anyone to perish: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). God also meant for all His people to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5-6). This included being a light to the people of the world (Is. 42:6; 49:6). As part of God’s nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), these instructions also apply to you today. You must be a light to the people (Matt. 5:14). You also should never forget the people who are still trapped in darkness, just as you once were. Are you burdened by the sin of the world around you? Are you praying for those who are trapped in darkness?
(3) The gold filigree – Jesus saved you from darkness. The onyx rested “in filigree settings of gold.” (Ex. 39:6; 28:11). Gold is a symbol of Jesus’ divinity. His light rescued you from darkness. He in turn calls you to share His light with others (Matt. 5:14).
(4) The gold chains – Jesus will never let go of you. Gold chains held the shoulder pieces together (Ex. 28:14). The gold again symbolizes Jesus. He is stronger than the enemy and will never let go: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (Jo. 10:28-29).
(5) The colored linens – Jesus will purify you. Woven bands of blue, purple, and scarlet fine twisted linen supported the onyx shoulder pieces (Ex. 39:1-5; 28:8). This symbolized that Jesus in heaven will make you righteous through His blood.
(6) The fine workmanship – God views His people as wonderful workmanship. The building materials were “skillfully” made (Ex. 39:3-5; 28:8). God considers each person to be a work of art: “will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” (Ps. 139:14).
(7) The shoulders - Jesus bears the burdens of all His people on powerful shoulders. In the Bible, the shoulder is a symbol of strength ((KJV) - Lev. 7:31-34; 8:26; 9:21; 10:12-15; Nu. 18:18). Isaiah prophesied in connection with the Messiah that the “government will rest on His shoulders,” the “Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6). All government authority further comes from Him: “there is no authority except from God.” (Ro. 13:1). If all 12 tribes were listed on His shoulder stones, all the burdens of the people and their governments rest upon Jesus’ shoulders. We are also incomplete without Jesus. On each of the two onyx stones, there were six tribal names. Six is the number of mankind. Only with Jesus’ shoulders that supported them, did the number on each side reach seven, a number of completeness. These verses also tell us that Jesus as our High Priest is burdened by people’s burdens throughout the world. He will come again to rule in righteousness and restore joy to those who are suffering. Until He returns, He also wants you to be burdened by the sins of the world. Are you praying and helping those around you in need?
The breastpiece with 12 precious stones over the high priest’s heart. After preparing the shoulder pieces, the Jews prepared the breastpiece with 12 precious stones that covered the high priest’s heart: “8 He made the breastpiece, the work of a skillful workman, like the workmanship of the ephod: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. 9 It was square; they made the breastpiece folded double, a span long and a span wide when folded double. 10 And they counted four rows of stones on it. The first row was a row of ruby, topaz, and emerald; 11 and the second row, a turquoise, 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 set in gold filigree settings when they were mounted. 14 The stones were corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they were twelve, corresponding to their names, engraved with the engravings of a signet, each with its name for the twelve tribes. 15 They made on the breastpiece chains like cords, of twisted cordage work in pure gold. 16 They made two gold filigree settings and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breastpiece. 17 Then they put the two gold cords in the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece. 18 They put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front of it. 19 They made two gold rings and placed them on the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inner edge which was next to the ephod. 20 Furthermore, they made two gold rings and placed them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it, close to the place where it joined, above the woven band of the ephod. 21 They bound the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it would be on the woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece would not come loose from the ephod, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:8-21). The breastpiece matched God’s instructions (Ex. 28:7-14). It had seven components: (1) 12 precious stones; (2) a memorial worn over the priest’s heart; (3) stones set in gold filigree; (4) sealed stones; (5) gold chains; (6) colored linens; and (7) the breast piece of judgment. All of the things pointed to Jesus.
The breastplate with the 12 stones2
(1) The 12 precious stones – All believers are precious stones to God. The breastpiece had 12 precious stones in four rows of three, one corresponding to each of the tribes according to the birth order. The names that correlated with each stone are not specified here. The 12 tribes of Jacob included Levi. Yet, God later removed the tribe of Levi as His priesthood. He then split the tribe of Joseph into two to maintain 12 tribes. Assuming the names reflected the names after Levi was removed and with Joseph’s two eldest sons listed at the end, the order of the stones for each tribe would be as follows: (1) ruby - Reuben, (2) topaz - Simeon, (3) emerald- Judah, (4) turquoise- Issachar, (5) sapphire - Zebulun, (6) diamond - Benjamin, (7) jacinth - Dan, (8) agate - Naphtali, (9) amethyst – Gad, (10) beryl - Asher, (11) onyx – Ephraim, and (12) jasper - Manasseh (Ex. 28:16-21). There stones were placed in three rows of four. Three is the number of the Trinity. Four is a number representing the earth. The number 12 represents God’s perfect government. Together, these things symbolize that God’s love extends to all the people of the earth. These twelve gemstones later appear on the foundation walls to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:19-20). Like the 12 tribes, any person is a precious stone in God’s eyes: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). A precious stone shines when light bounces off of it. Does the light of Jesus shine brightly off your life as a witness to others to follow Him?
(2) The memorial over the heart – Jesus loves all mankind. The high priest wore the breastplate “over his heart when he entered the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.” (Ex. 28:29). The high priest wore the stones over his heart as a memorial to his love for all the people. His job was to be an intercessor to God for everyone. Jesus as our High Priest loved the world so much that He sacrificed Himself at the cross so that all might live (Jo. 3:16). As a priest for God, does your love extend to your enemies and those who hate you?
(3) The gold filigree – You are saved from your darkness only through Jesus. The 12 stones were all set in gold filigree (Ex. 39:13; 28:22). Gold again is a symbol of Jesus’ divinity. It is only through Jesus that we are transformed into precious stones.
(4) The sealed stones – You are sealed with the Holy Spirit. The precious stones had “the engravings of a seal” (Ex. 28:21). Once you were saved in Christ, He sealed you with the Holy Spirit: “In Him . . . you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” (Eph. 1:13). “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30). Being sealed with the Spirit, you cannot lose your redemption.
(5) The gold chains and rings – Jesus will hold you and the Church together. The breastpiece was held together with sets of two gold rings at the ends and two chains of gold. These chains existed at three levels on the breastpiece (Ex. 39:17-21; 28:23-27). Jesus (the gold) holds all things together. Two is a number of confirmation, and three is the number of the Trinity: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:7). “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power . . .” (Heb. 1:3(a)).
(6) The colored linens – Jesus will purify you with His righteousness. Fine twisted linen of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet supported the breastpiece. It was folded twice above the heart (Ex. 39:9; 28:15). Again, only Jesus in heaven will make you righteous through His blood: “It was given to her [The Church and bride] to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Rev. 19:8; 3:5; cf. Prov. 31:22). The fact that it was folded twice above the heart symbolized a confirmation of Jesus’ promises.
(7) The breastpiece of judgment – Jesus will judge all. The high priest’s breastpiece was also a “breast piece of judgment.” (Ex. 28:15). Although Jesus wants none to perish, all nonbelievers will eventually be judged (Ro. 6:23; Ez. 18:4; Heb. 12:29; Rev. 14:10). Are you helping others turn to Jesus to spare them from judgment? (Matt. 28:16-20).
The blue ephod. Underneath the breastpiece, the Jews prepared for the high priest a blue ephod that covered his heart and body: “22 Then he made the robe of the ephod of woven work, all of blue; 23 and the opening of the robe was at the top in the center, as the opening of a coat of mail, with a binding all around its opening, so that it would not be torn. 24 They made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material and twisted linen on the hem of the robe. 25 They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, 26 alternating a bell and a pomegranate all around on the hem of the robe for the service, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:22-26). This again matched the instructions that God gave to Moses (Ex. 28:31-35). Each part of the ephod pointed toward Jesus.
The blue ephod that covered the priest’s heart and body3
Reverence toward Jesus. The blue ephod was to keep the priest’s heart and mind focused on God in heaven (Ex. 28:31-33). There were also “pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem...” (Ex. 28:33). The purple pointed to Jesus’ royalty as the King of Kings. The scarlet pointed to His cleansing blood. The high priest also had to wear bells when he entered and left the holy place of the Lord (Ex. 28:33-35). If he died, the bells would stop, and others would know to pull him out using a rope attached to him. The priest would have had a healthy fear of the Lord. This was all part of God’s plan. The beginning of all knowledge is to fear the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Moreover, to fear the Lord is to hate evil: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; ...” (Prov. 8:13(a)). Are your thoughts and desires focused on Jesus in heaven and away from the evil things of the world?
The pure fine linen garments for the regular priests. For the regular priests, the Jews made fine pure linens that covered their private areas with linen underwear: “27 They made the tunics of finely woven linen for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the decorated caps of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twisted linen, 29 and the sash of fine twisted linen, and blue and purple and scarlet material, the work of the weaver, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:27-29). The garments that they created again matched God’s instructions to Moses (Ex. 28:40-43). The garments also point to things that Jesus has made possible for believers through Him.
Be clothed as the future bride of Christ. The high priest was to wear “linen breeches” or undergarments. No one else could see if the priest was wearing linen undergarments. Only he and the Lord would know. The message was that the priest had to keep even his private thoughts and actions pure. As High Priest, Jesus will one day marry His Church to form a bond of spiritual intimacy with it (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:7-8; 21:1-9). Yet, as a High Priest, Jesus can only marry His people if they are spiritual virgins (Lev. 21:13-14). If He does not do so, He will “profane” His offspring (Lev. 21:14). We are the adopted sons of God the Father (Rom. 8:15, 23). We are therefore commanded to remain spiritual virgins to marry Jesus (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 14:4). Your bond with Jesus should be like your bond with your spouse. We are told to be sanctified and holy (1 Thess. 4:3-8; 1 Pet. 1:14-16). Your body is now the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells (Matt. 6:22-23). Staying pure is also part of the definition of undefiled religion: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Jam. 1:27). Without the purity that Jesus offers, none can enter into heaven: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph. 5:5). Are you keeping yourself pure for Jesus?
The priests created garments to remind themselves to remain pure4
The engraving of praise to God. For the head of the high priest, the Jews created a turban with a gold engraving that praised God: “30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and inscribed it like the engravings of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ 31 They fastened a blue cord to it, to fasten it on the turban above, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Ex. 39:30-31). The crown that they created matched God’s instructions to Moses (Ex. 28:36-39). The engraved gold plated words “Holy to the Lord” were also meant to keep the priest’s thoughts holy and focused on God. To keep your thoughts pure, God tells you to renew your mind each day: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,” (1 Pet. 1:14). “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Pet. 4:2). Through Jesus, are you cleansing your mind on a daily basis of sin?
Moses’ blessings upon the obedient work of the builders. After the Jews completed the Tabernacle, Moses blessed the builders for their obedience: “32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did. 33 They brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars and its sockets; 34 and the covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and the covering of porpoise skins, and the screening veil; 35 the ark of the testimony and its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table, all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the pure gold lampstand, with its arrangement of lamps and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 and the gold altar, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the veil for the doorway of the tent; 39 the bronze altar and its bronze grating, its poles and all its utensils, the laver and its stand; 40 the hangings for the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords and its pegs and all the equipment for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the woven garments for ministering in the holy place and the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests. 42 So the sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses. 43 And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the Lord had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.” (Ex. 39:32-43). “Moses was the leader with the command from God and with the best knowledge of the pattern God wanted the tabernacle built according to (Exodus 25:9). Therefore, it was right and proper for him to supervise every detail of the construction. This was wonderful obedience. No wonder Moses blessed them.” (David Guzik on Exodus 39).5 Throughout the Bible, the last recorded words of many the great men of faith were words of blessings. Here, Moses’ final words in Exodus were words of blessing. Likewise, his final words in Deuteronomy were words of blessing for the 12 tribes (Dt. 33). Likewise, in Noah’s final recorded words, he blessed and gave prophetic words for his children (Gen. 9:24-27). As another example, with Isaac’s final recorded words, he sought to bless his eldest son Esau, but was tricked into giving that blessing to Jacob (Gen. 27:34-41). At the end of his life, Jacob blessed and gave prophetic words to each of his 12 sons (Gen. 49). Jesus also promised a blessing with His final words: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20). From these many examples, God wants you to follow the example of these great men of faith by blessing others. Are you blessing others in prayers?
In Jesus’ name, you have the power to bless. Aaron was also blessed with God’s authority as a priest (e.g., Nu. 6:23, 27). Paul also gave prayers of blessings (called a benediction) to others. In many traditional church services, the priest says a blessing to the congregation and the congregation blesses the priest. Any Christian is part of God’s nation of priests, not just those in the pulpit (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). When you pray in Jesus’ name, you also have the power to bless others: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (Jo. 14:13-14). “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (Jo. 15:16). “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” (Jo. 16:23). The name is so powerful that the archangel Michael was able to drive Satan away merely by rebuking him in Jesus’ name (Jude 1:9). Are you blessing others with the power that Jesus has given you? Or, are your words tearing people down?
We can bless others with God’s peace. Aaron blessed others with peace (Nu. 6:26). Are you willing to bless others with peace?
If you bless with doubt, your blessings are worthless. Much like prayer, if you bless others with doubt about the power Jesus has given you, your blessings are worthless: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jam. 1:6-8). Likewise, mindlessly invoking Jesus’ name in a blessing will be meaningless to God (Matt. 6:7). Do you have faith that Jesus will bless others when you bless them in faith?