Exodus 28-30
(The Role of the Priest)
January 24th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.

- Exodus 28:1 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

God's narrative continues. The main narrative of the Bible began with the creation and is followed by the development of the Israelites who will be God's holy priests. We have been reading many second level narratives that support it, for example, the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, which had pitted God against a hard-hearted Pharaoh. This narrative was followed by the story of the Israelites in the desert where God was guiding them with regard to how to become a nation.

In the previous chapters in Exodus we read how God had instructed the Israelites on the fundamental laws for healthy relationships and then explained how to build a tabernacle. In today's group of chapters God specifies instructions for the role of the priest who will lead worship in the tabernacle. God selected Aaron and his sons to be the first generations of priests. Their descendants and other descendants of Levi would serve as Israel’s priests for many generations. One day, many centuries later, Jesus would become a priest forever, according to God's master plan.

Chapter 28 describes the priestly garments, including the ephod, which was an elaborately embroidered garment with a front piece, like an apron, and a matching back piece (1). The Urim and Thummin that were put in the breastplate were decision-making objects that were put in a pouch and then shaken out to indicate a yes or no answer (2). For example, we shall read in the book of Numbers that God appointed Joshua to replace Moses when he was near death. Joshua was instructed to see the priest, Eleazar when there were important decisions to make. Eleazar would use the Urim to consult with God (Numbers 20:7-15).

In chapter 29, God explains how to conduct sacrifices of two young bulls for the priests and prepare the tent (tabernacle) for worship. When performed properly, the priests and the tent are consecrated and can be assured of God’s presence:

    “So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.”

    - Exodus 29:44-46 (NIV)

In chapter 30, the LORD provides other related instructions for burning incense, proper washing by the priests, and atonement money. He also describes an annual atonement that Aaron would lead on behalf of the people.

Reflection and Application

As you reflect on these chapters remember that the Israelites are still in a mobile mode in the desert – and will be for a while. They would be setting up a temporary tent of worship that can be taken down, moved, and set up in a new location just like a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Although their location is temporary, the LORD gives them long-term instructions for the role of the priest.

The details of the consecration ceremony established a standard for future generations to follow when they finally settle in the Promised Land. The rites of worship also distinguished the Israelites from the practices of the pagan nations that they would encounter. God had intended for the entire nation to be a nation of priests, but then he determined that not all were worthy of this role. Therefore, he appointed Aaron and the other Levites to take on the role of priests and intercede for the people of Israel. The twelve stones on the ephod of the priests were symbolic of their role of carrying the entire nation (all twelve tribes) on their shoulders. The people of the other tribes were instructed to follow the lead of the Levites and provide equal shares of annual atonement. This way, the nation of Israel would be a guiding light for other nations.

The words and descriptions of materials in today's reading may be unfamiliar to some of us. Therefore, it may be useful to understand this terminology in order to help us more fully understand the scripture. For instance, the brocade tunic described in Exodus 28:4 was one of the sacred vestments that God instructed Aaron and the priests to wear. The traditional definition of a tunic is a simple garment that covers the shoulders and extends down to somewhere between the hips and the ankles. The long gowns worn by clergy in our era may be referred to as tunics. The Hebrew word in this verse is ketonet (כֻּתֹּנֶת) which was also the word used to identify the coat of many colors worn by Joseph, son of Jacob. Brocade is a type of fabric that is richly decorated, with an embroidered look and feel. It was considered a luxury fabric and thus was appropriate for use by the priests of the tabernacle.

Another interesting observation is that the annual Day of Atonement described in chapter 30 is not the forerunner of the Day of Atonement that is still recognized on Yom Kippur. Instead, the origin of Yom Kippur is found in the instructions given to Moses that are described in Leviticus 16. We will get to that in about a week.

We read passages today that explain that only the high priest could enter the Holy and Most Holy places of the tabernacle, where he would encounter the presence of God. When Jesus died on the cross he took on the sins of the people who were not worthy of being priests (i.e. all of us) and removed that spiritual separation. Therefore, we no longer need the intercession of a high priest because we have Jesus. We don't have to put on a physical breastplate, but we can put on the armor of God and the breastplate of righteousness to face off against evil, as described by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-17. We also don't need to consult the Urim and Thummin to know God's will because we have his written word in scriptures and we can receive additional instructions through the Spirit, as described in Acts 2:1-40.

The image of God as our breastplate is captured in the traditional hymn, "Be Thou My Vision." A version of this is presented in the YouTube object below:

"Be Thou My Vision", an ancient Irish Hymn,
performed by Van Morrison (31-Aug-1945 to Current)

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What is your favorite garment to wear when you worship God?
    2. When have you felt like you had the weight of responsibility for a group of people on your shoulders?
    3. In what way are you called to be a guiding light today?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to fully carry our responsibilities and serve as the guiding lights that you intend us to be.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Church leaders


    (1) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991 p. 148
    (2) ibid, p.149

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Exodus 31-34 (Rebellion in the Desert)

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