Question: "What was the significance of the priestly garments?"
Answer: Exodus 28 contains a detailed description of the garments God commanded to be made and worn by the priests. These were “sacred garments” to bestow Aaron and his sons with “dignity and honor” (verse 2).
God wanted Aaron to wear the “breastpiece of decision” to symbolize that the high priest represented the people before God: “Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart . . . as a continuing memorial before the Lord” (Exodus 28:29). It was called the “breastpiece of decision” because the Urim and Thummim, which were associated with the breastpiece, were used to determine God’s will in various matters.
Some parts of the priestly garments were worn for safety. The high priest was required to have gold bells attached to the hem of his garment, so that “the sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out, so that he will not die.” (Exodus 28:35).
The turban was plain white, with a gold plate placed at the forehead. On the plate were inscribed the words “Holy to the Lord.” This gold plate “will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that [the children of Israel] will be acceptable to the Lord” (Exodus 28:38). This reminder of consecration, placed so conspicuously on the outfit, symbolized the importance of approaching the Lord God in holiness.
All the garments worn by the Old Testament priests were symbolic of being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin. Compliance with the “dress code” was required. This is noted in verse 43: “Aaron and his sons must wear [the garments] whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.”
While such elaborate garments may seem odd today, God used these distinctive garments to set His spiritual leaders apart from the other Israelites. Each piece of the priestly garments held significance related to the work the priests performed. The Israelites lived with a continual reminder of the importance of the priestly work. They also had a foreshadowing of Jesus, the “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14), who would carry out God’s plan of atonement in true holiness and perfection.
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