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1. Aaron and his sons - Hitherto every master of a family was priest to his own family. But now the families of Israel began to be incorporated into a nation, and a tabernacle of the congregation was to be erected, as a visible center of their unity, it was requisite there should be a publick priesthood instituted. Moses, who had hitherto officiated, and is therefore reckoned among the priests of the Lord, Psalm xcix, 6, had enough to do as their prophet, to consult the oracle for them, and as their prince, to judge among them. Nor was he desirous to ingross all the honours to himself, or to entail that of the priesthood, which alone was hereditary, upon his own family; but was very well pleased to see his brother Aaron invested with this office, and his sons after him; while (how great soever he was) his sons after him would be but common Levites. It is an instance of the humility of that great man, and an evidence of his sincere regard to the glory of God, that he had so little regard to the preferment of his own family. Aaron, that had humbly served as a prophet to his younger brother Moses, and did not decline the office, is now advanced to be a priest to God. God had said to Israel in general, that they should be to him a kingdom of priests; but because it was requisite that those who ministered at the altar should give themselves wholly to the service, God here chose from among them one to be a family of priests, the father and his four sons; and from Aaron's loins descended all the priests of the Jewish church, whom we read of both in the Old Testament and in the New.
2. The priests garments were made for glory and beauty - Some of the richest materials were to be provided, and the belt artists employed in making them, whose skill God, by a special gift, would improve to a very high degree. Eminency, even in common arts, is a gift of God; it comes from him, and, ought to be used for him. The garments appointed were, (1.) Four, which both the high-priest and the inferior priests wore, viz. The linen breeches, the linen coat, the linen girdle which fastened it to them, and the bonnet; that which the high-priest wore is called a mitre. (2.) Four more which were peculiar to the high-priest, the ephod, with the curious girdle of it, the breast-plate of judgment, the long robe, and the golden plate on his forehead. These glorious garments, were appointed,
1. That the priests themselves might be minded of the dignity of their office.
2. That the people might thereby be possessed with a holy reverence of that God whose ministers appeared in such grandeur.
3. That the priests might be types of Christ, and of all Christians who have the beauty of holiness put upon them.
6. The ephod, was the outmost garment of the high-priest; linen ephods were worn by the inferior priests, but this, which the high- priest wore, was called a golden ephod, because there was a great deal of gold woven into it. It was a short coat without sleeves, buttoned close to him with a curious girdle of the same stuff. The shoulder pieces were buttoned together with two precious stones set in gold, one on each shoulder. In allusion to this, Christ our high priest appeared to John, girt about the paps with a golden girdle, such as was the curious girdle of the ephod, Rev. i, 13. Righteousness is the girdle of his loins. He is girt with strength for the work of our salvation. And as Aaron had the names of all Israel upon his shoulders in precious stones, so He presents to himself and to his Father a glorious church, Eph. v, 27. He bears them before the Lord for a memorial, in token of his appearing before God as the representative of all Israel, and an advocate for them.
11. Ouches - Hollow places, such as are made in gold rings, to receive and hold the precious stones.
15. The most considerable of the ornaments of the high priest was this breast-plate, a rich piece of cloth curiously wrought with gold and purple, two spans long, and a span broad; so that, being doubled, it was a span square. In this breast-plate, the tribes of Israel were recommended to God's favour in twelve precious stones. Some question whether Levi had a precious stone with his name on or no; if not Ephraim and Manasseh were reckoned distinct, as Jacob had said they should be, and the high priest himself being head of the tribe of Levi, sufficiently represented that tribe. Aaron was to bear their names for a memorial before the Lord continually, being ordained for men, to represent them in things pertaining to God; herein typifying our great High Priest, who always appears in the presence of God for us. The name of each tribe was engraven in a precious stone, to signify how precious, in God's sight, believers are, and how honourable, Isaiah xliii, 4. The high priest had the names of the tribes both on his shoulders and on his breast, noting both the power and the love with which our Lord Jesus interceeds for us. How near should Christ's name lie to our hearts, since he is pleased to lay our names so near his? And what a comfort is it to us, in all our addresses to God, that the great High Priest of our profession has the names of all his Israel upon his breast, before the Lord, for a memorial, presenting them to God?
30. The Urim and Thummim - By which the will of God was made known in doubtful cases, was put in this breast-plate, which is therefore called the breast-plate of judgment. Urim and Thummim signify light and integrity: many conjectures there are among the learned what they were: we have no reason to think they were any thing that Moses was to make, more than what was before ordered; so that either God made them himself, and gave them to Moses, for him to put into the breast-plate when other things were prepared; or, no more is meant but a declaration of the further use of what was already ordered to be made. The words may be read thus, And thou shalt give, or add, to the breast-plate of judgment, the illuminations and perfections, and they shall be upon the heart of Aaron - That is, he shall be endued with a power of knowing and making known the mind of God in all difficult cases relating either to the civil or ecclesiastical state. Their government was a theocracy; God was their king, the high priest was, under God, their ruler, this Urim and Thummim were his cabinet council: probably Moses wrote upon the breast-plate, or wove into it, these words, Urim and Thummim, to signify, that the high-priest, having on him this breast-plate, and asking council of God in any emergency, should be directed to those measures, which God would own. If he were standing before the ark, probably he received instructions from off the mercy-seat, as Moses did, chap. xxv, 22. If he were at a distance from the ark, as Abiathar was when he inquired of the Lord for David, 1 Sam. xxiii, 6, then the answer was given either by a voice from heaven, or by an impulse upon the mind of the high priest, which last is perhaps intimated in that expression, he shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart. This oracle was of great use to Israel, Joshua consulted it. Num. xxvii, 21, and it is likely, the Judges after him. It was lost in the captivity, and never retrieved after. It was a shadow of good things to come, and the substance is Christ. He is our oracle; by him God in these last days, makes known himself and his mind to us. Divine Revelation centers in him, and comes to us through him; he is the light, the true light, the faithful witness; and from him we receive the Spirit of truth, who leads into all truth. The joining of the breast-plate to the ephod notes, that his prophetical office was founded on his priesthood; and it was by the merit of his death that he purchased this honour for himself, and this favour for us. It was the Lamb that had been slain that was worthy to take the book and to open the seals. Rev. v, 9. The judgment - The breast-plate of judgment: That breast-plate which declared the judgment or mind of God to the Israelites.
31. The robe of the ephod - This was next under the ephod, and reached down to the knees, without sleeves, and was put on over their head, having holes on the sides to put the arms through, or, as Maimonides describes it, was not sewn together on the sides at all. The hole on the top through which the head was put was carefully bound about, that it might not tear in the putting on. The bells gave notice to the people in the outer court, when he went into the holy place to burn incense, that they might then apply themselves to their devotions at the same time, Luke i, 10, in token of their concurrence with him, and their hopes of the ascent of their prayers to God in the virtue of the incense he offered. Aaron must come near to minister in the garments that were appointed him, that he die not. 'Tis at his peril if he attend otherwise than according to the institution.
32. An habergeon - A coat of armour.
33. Pomegranates - The figures of Pomegranates, but flat and embroidered.
36. On the golden plate fixed upon Aaron's forehead, like an half coronet, reaching, as the Jews say, from ear to ear, must be engraven, Holiness to the Lord - Aaron must hereby be minded, that God is holy, and that his priests must be holy. The high priest must be consecrated to God, and so must all his ministrations. All that attend in God's house must have holiness to the Lord engraven upon their foreheads, that is, they must be holy, devoted to the Lord, and designing his glory in all they do. This must appear in their forehead, in an open profession of their relation to God, as those that are not ashamed to own it, and in a conversation answerable to it. It must likewise be engraven like the engravings of a signet, so deep, so durable; not painted, so as it may he washed off, but sincere and lasting.
38. Aaron must have this upon his forehead, that he may bear the iniquity of the holy things, and that they may be accepted before the Lord - Herein he was a type of Christ, the great Mediator between God and man. Thro' him what is amiss in our services is pardoned: even this would be our ruin, if God should enter into judgment with us: but Christ our high priest bears this iniquity; bears it for us, so as to bear it from us. Thro' him likewise what is good is accepted; our persons, our performances are pleasing to God upon the account of Christ's intercession, and not otherwise. His being holiness to the Lord, recommends all those to the divine favour that believe in him. Having such a high priest, we come boldly to the throne of grace.
39. The embroidered coat of fine linen - Was the innermost of the priestly garments, it reached to the feet, and the sleeves to the wrists, and was bound to the body with a girdle or sash of needlework. The mitre or diadem was of linen, such as kings anciently wore in the east, typifying the kingly office of Christ.
43. It shall be a statute forever - That is, It is to continue as long as the priesthood continues. And it is to have its perpetuity in the substance, of which these things were the shadows.
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