Have you ever played Balderdash? It’s a party game where you compete against your friends to create plausible definitions for obscure words. Ephod could very easily be a word for Balderdash. Here are a few made up definitions, but the right one is in there too.

a. An ornamented rod or staff used by royalty as a sign of authority
b. A unit of measurement used in the Ancient Near-East
c. An upper garment worn by a priest
d. A seal or stamp used by a notary to signify the legality of a binding contract.

C is the correct answer. But what specifically was this upper garment worn by a priest? And are there other uses for an ephod? Did the ephod hold any significance?

What Is an Ephod?

The simplest explanation of an ephod is given to us in Exodus 28:6-8.

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen.”

Even though we have such detail, there is still some debate about the actual appearance of the ephod. Some believe it was more like an apron which would cover the chest to the heel, other believe it would have been more like a skirt enveloping the body from the waist down but attached to the breastplate, and yet others view it as more like a jacket with the middle exposed to insert the breastplate.

It should be noted that this was not part of the attire for every individual priest, but was unique to the high priest, or at least this was the case early on. Scripture says that Samuel wore a linen ephod (1 Samuel 2:18) and David also wore one (2 Samuel 6:14).

For the Aaronic priesthood, the ephod was given elaborate detail. This attention to detail and its costly production is an indication that this was one of the most important items among the priestly garments. It was also attached to the breastplate which contained the Urim and Thummim. This made the ephod part of seeking divine counsel. We see this use in 1 Samuel 23 and 30, when David asked for the ephod to “inquire of the Lord.”

This could explain why ephod seems to have a different meaning in other places of Scripture. It’s symbolism, I believe, caused it to take on a bit different form.

What Does the Ephod Symbolize in the Bible?

In Judges 8:27 we read that Gideon “made an ephod of [gold thrown in the fire] and put it in the city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” That doesn’t sound as if an ephod is an article of clothing, does it? Something similar happens in Judges 17 when Micah makes an ephod out of silver as well as household idols and ordained his sons as priests.

Many will say that there are two different meanings of ephod in the Bible. I understand why this is said – it certainly appears this way. But I would contend that there is only one meaning of an ephod in the Scriptures, but the idolatrous version is a distortion of the real intention of an ephod. If you understand what the ephod was to symbolize then you can understand the distortion.

Why was such detail given to the ephod? Why give such intricate details of the clothes of the priest? Does God really care so much about what the priest is wearing? Consider that a priest functions as the mediator between God and humanity. All of these ornaments are meant to display both the majesty of God and the impossibility of humanity coming back to our Creator without a mediator. Our sin has separated us from God. But God has graciously provided the means for us to continue to be connected.

What role does an ephod play in this? The ephod was part of this mediating process. And its connection to the Urim and Thummim tells us that it was specifically part of the communication with God. This is why we see David asking for the ephod when he wanted information. And I believe it’s also why we see Gideon and Micah setting up an “ephod.” Yes, at that stage they are not attempting to recreate a clothing item, but they are attempting to establish a connection to God (or the gods).

Therefore, I would argue that there are not two ephods in the Bible but one. There is the God-prescribed means of access (to which an ephod plays a part) and there is the way in which humanity attempts to wrest control of communication with the divine. This also helps us begin to understand not only the significance of an ephod, but also why we no longer use one.

Why Is the Ephod So Significant?

In the Garden of Eden, our first couple communicated freely with God. However, our communication with both God and each other has been fractured from the moment they partook of the forbidden fruit. Actually, we can trace our break in communication to the moment when humanity listened to the serpent talk. Paul Tripp is helpful here:

“Words that challenge God’s authority, lies, false interpretations of life, accusations and blame against God and man all have their origin in this dramatic moment of change. Satan speaks, and as Adam and Eve act upon his words, the world of talk becomes a world of trouble. No longer do we simply reflect the image of God with our words; we also reflect the image of the Serpent. No longer do we consistently speak up to God’s standard; we often speak down to the Serpent’s. No longer are our words a faithful picture of God’s design; too often they picture Satan’s deceit. Talk is no longer easy or safe. Instead, we live in a world where lies manipulate, angry words wound, falsehood destroys, slander harms, condemnation tears down, and disrespectful words challenge the authorities God has set in place” (Tripp, 25).

Our talk is broken. But so is our listening. The communication lines between God and humanity were broken. But God graciously put things into place by which He would continue to communicate with humanity. One of these was the ephod. Even its symbolism spoke to the people—it spoke of not only our sin but also God’s desire to continue communing with humanity. It had within it a symbol of both mercy and judgment.

It is not shocking, then, that a means by which God would use to communicate with humanity would be distorted by sinful humans once again. This is what happened with Gideon, Micah, and every human since the fall. We would rather communicate with God on our terms rather than His terms. We want to control divine speech. This is the way of the flesh.

Thankfully, the ephod was only a pointer. It would not be the only way which God had planned to communicate with humanity. Ultimately, he would communicate to us through His Son. And in the person and work of Jesus Christ our communication with God would be restored. This is why we do not continue to use things like an ephod (or cast lots). God has decisively communicated to us through His Son.

An ephod is still a pointer to Jesus. It symbolizes the broken status of our communication with God, it shows God’s desire to continue to communicate with humanity, but ultimately shows that it is but a shadow. It points to the greater communication that was to come in Christ. Jesus now serves as an immovable door stop into the throne room of God. We have an audience with the Father because of the finished work of Jesus. We do not need an ephod because of Jesus. This is great news. God speaks through Jesus even still today.


Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Ephod. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 710). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/golubovy

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and his writing home is http://mikeleake.net