Exodus 28 Study Notes


28:1-2 The holy garments of Aaron and his sons marked them as the Lord’s priests. The Lord’s directions provided clothing and food for those who served in his presence (29:28), in contrast with certain pagan rituals, which focused on clothing and feeding idol gods. The phrase for glory and beauty indicates that the priestly garments were much more than utilitarian. They resembled other elements of the tabernacle complex, which featured fine fabrics, colorful designs, precious metals, and specialized workmanship, as appropriate for honoring the Lord, who would reside there. Nadab and Abihu accompanied their father and the Israelite elders who were privileged to take part in the covenant ceremony on Mount Sinai (24:1-11). Their sudden deaths are recorded in Lv 10:1-7. Eleazar followed Aaron as high priest (Nm 20:28). Ithamar directed the Levites, who made an inventory of materials used in constructing the tabernacle (Ex 38:21).

28:3-5 The men and women who would make the priestly garments would use abilities that God gave them. In contrast with Pharaoh, whose heart was characteristically “hard” in rebellion toward the Lord, these people were “wise of heart” and were filled with a spirit of wisdom. Wisdom in this case would display itself in both willingness and skill to do the needed work.

28:6-8 The word ephod is a transliterated Hebrew word referring to a vest-like garment worn by the high priest.

28:9-14 A seal would stamp a distinctive impression into wax or clay, or leave an identifying pattern of ink and act like a signature (cp. Gn 38:18; 1Kg 21:8; Jr 22:24). Exodus 28:12 does not specify who should be reminded by the stones or for what purpose. Previously in Exodus both the Lord and the Israelites received impetus to remember (2:24; 3:15; 6:5; 12:14; 13:9; 17:14).

28:15-30 The breastpiece was folded double, it seems, to create a pocket or pouch for storing the Urim and Thummim (v. 30).

28:29 The high priest represented the Israelites, as symbolized by the double display of the names of each tribe on the two stones on the ephod (v. 11) and also by the name on each of the twelve stones on his breastpiece. Since the Lord’s “remembering” entailed his acting (2:24-25; 3:7-10), to “remind” him is an expression of dependence, faith, and prayer.

28:30 Little is known about what the words Urim and Thummim meant (the Hebrew words are transliterated rather than translated), or how these objects worked. One suggested meaning is that “Urim” had to do with “light” and “Thummim” with “completion, perfection.” Another possibility is that they are associated with words that mean “curse” and “innocence.” They seem to have been familiar objects in the ancient context since there is no discussion about making or obtaining them. Their use included receiving direction from the Lord for decisions (Nm 27:18-21; 1Sm 28:5-6). For the high priest to carry into the presence of the Lord both the names of the tribes and items used in rendering decisions presupposed the Lord’s sovereignty in these quests for guidance. The priest promoted adherence to the covenant stipulations and rendered judgments under the Lord’s supervision (Dt 33:8-10).


Hebrew pronunciation [ee FODD]
CSB translation ephod
Uses in Exodus 29
Uses in the OT 49
Focus passage Exodus 28:4,6,12,15,25-28,31

The ’ephod was a garment worn in cultic contexts. Pictured as an apron-like covering of the lower body or an armor-like covering from neck to waist, it may have included both ideas in a sort of vest reaching the thighs. A feminine form of the word, ’apuddah (3x) means ephod (Ex 28:8) and the gold overlay on an idol or its hammered-gold clothing (Is 30:22). The high priest’s ephod had gold chains, gold thread, finely spun linen, and richly colored yarns. The breastpiece carrying the Urim and Thummim, items for inquiring of God, was attached to it. Later others beside the high priest made and wore ephods: Micah, Gideon, Samuel, regular priests, and David (Jdg 8:27; 17:5; 1Sm 2:18; 22:18; 2Sm 6:14). Samuel and David wore a simpler linen form of ephod. The ephod could become linked with idolatry and divination (Jdg 8:27; 18:18; Hs 3:4).

28:31-34 The colors, precious stones, fine materials and specialized workmanship, and certainly the bells that went into making the priest’s clothing contributed to marking the high priest and drawing attention to his work and movements.

28:35 To wear the specified clothing would show that the priest recognized the sanctity of the holy place because of God’s presence, just as Moses and the Israelites had to do at the burning bush and at Mount Sinai (3:5; 19:10-24).

28:36-37 The phrase Holy to the Lord indicated ownership—“belonging to.” The priest was marked as someone devoted to the Lord for service, representing the Israelites, who were likewise to be holy (19:5-6; 22:31; Lv 11:44-45). The same words are used to describe the Sabbath in Ex 31:15 (cp. Ezr 8:28; Jr 2:2-3; Zch 14:20-21).

28:38 In place of and as representatives of the rest of the Israelites, Aaron and his sons were responsible to care for the tabernacle and present offerings there (Nm 17:12-18:7). The high priest would bear the guilt (or suffer the consequences) associated with failure to observe the requirements of holiness (cp. v. 43). In that process the people needed a high priest marked by holiness to offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord (Heb 7:25-28).

28:39-40 Aaron’s sons refers to other priests besides the high priest. They were not to wear robes but only tunics, sashes, and headbands plus a turban.

28:41 Ceremonial anointing involved pouring oil on a person to designate the start of a new role in life. Among those anointed were priests, kings, and prophets (30:30; Jdg 9:8; 1Sm 9:16; 1Kg 19:16). Objects such as the altar and tabernacle also could be anointed to set them apart for holy uses (Ex 29:36; 40:9-11).

28:42-43 Unlike the Canaanite practices, the worship of the Lord was to have no hint of sexuality (J. Alec Motyer).