Exodus 28-31: Priesthood

Original Publication Date
September 25, 2015
Jan 10, 2023 1:16 AM
ExodusChapter StudyAaronPriesthoodSacrifice
Bible References
Exodus 28-31
Table of Contents
This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on September 25, 2015 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


Much of the Pentateuch gets overlooked as it includes tons of detail about things most Christians don't consider important. Many don't see the importance of learning information about the Temple or the priesthood when we no longer need a temple or priests. However, there is a lot to be gleaned from these passages. The most important information to be understood from these passages is how it translates to Jesus, who takes the place of the sacrifice and the priest in the New Testament—a comparison and realization of this can only occur if one understands these passages. There are other tidbits of information that are interesting as well. For one, we find out what some of God's favorite colors are. We also get a vision of what He called His priests to look like as well as information on how they remained holy. It's interesting to note that in the Old Testament God set apart the priesthood, He called them to preach, and required specific tasks of the people He called. It is important to note the detail taken to describe their attire and installment so that it can be compared to the instructions for our time, found in the New Testament.

At the end of telling

the laws, how to build the tabernacle, and about the priesthood, God gives Moses the stone tablets containing all this information.


When God calls

—along with his four sons (Nadab, Abihu, Elazar, and Ithamar)—to the priesthood, He also specifies how to make the holy garments that were to be their attire. The complete outfit was to include a breastplate, ephod, robe, embroidered coat, mitre, and girdle. Only those with a wise heart were to participate in the making of the garments, and the garments marked their position as God's chosen priests. Just as they were set apart, so were their clothes.

Future me is reading this in 2022, 7 years later and thinking that the garments of the priest are pretty similar to the armor of God. Often literal objects were used to remind of spiritual meaning (think communion).

The Ephod

The word "ephod" stems from a Hebrew word meaning "vest-like garment."[1] The ephod was to be made of blue, purple, gold, and scarlet fine twined linen and was to have "cunning work," which is to say skilled craftsmanship. The shoulder pieces were to be joined at the edges. Two onyx stones with the names of each tribe were to be set in filigree (ornamental wire); each stone was to contain six of the names. These stones were to be placed on top of the shoulders of the ephod. The stone engravings were to be like those of a signet and were to be set in ouches (or sockets[2]) of gold with gold chains fastened to the ouches.

The Girdle

The girdle went around the ephod. It, too, was to be made of blue, gold, scarlet and purple.


In Exodus 28:16, dimensions of the breastplate are given. Twelve stones, each representing a tribe of Israel, were to be placed in a 4 x 3 grid on the breastplate. On the first row was to be sardis, topaz, and carbuncle. The second row was to contain an emerald, sapphire, and diamond. The third row had ligure, agate, and amethyst. The fourth and final row was to have beryl, onyx, and jasper. Some of the stones are obvious to us, but others are debated by scholars; it is also unclear if these stones have special meaning or were just for beauty. Each stone was to be engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel. The stones on the shoulders of the ephod were to be used to fasten the breastplate to the body. Across Aaron's heart, inside the breastplate, they were to place the Urim and Thummim—it is unknown what these two objects were.[3]

At some point I looked in to these stones, attempting to figure out exactly which stones were uses (such as carbuncle and ligure) and why God might have chosen them for the breastplate. I will update the blog with that information eventually.

The Robe

The robe was to be made entirely of blue fabric and its hem was to have pomegranates that were blue, gold, purple and scarlet. Alternating between the pomegranates were to be gold bells.

The Mitre

A mitre is a tall headdress. The priestly mitre was to be inscribed with the words "Holiness to the Lord." Blue lace was to go on the forefront.

Garments for Aaron's Sons

Like Aaron, the son's who would also serve as priests, required garments. Their garments were different than Aaron's, signifying his rank above them. This uniform was to consist of coats, girdles, and bonnets.

Anointing the Priest

To hallow Aaron and his sons for this appointment, God gives Moses specific instructions. The ceremony required 1 bull, 2 rams (without blemish), unleavened bread, cakes (unleavened) tempered with oil, and wafers (also unleavened and anointed with oil). The food was to go in a basket and be taken to the altar of the congregation along with the animals and the new priests. Aaron and his sons were to be washed, then their garments were to be placed on them starting with Aaron. Aaron was also to have his head anointed with oil.

Back in 2015, I just summarized all the sacrifices because I was probably shocked at how intricate and specific these instructions were. Therefore, this section reads more as a summary than anything else. Now, looking back, I think it’s important to point out how deliberate He was with His instructions. Today Churches fight and argue over man made traditions that aren’t even found in the Bible, yet the Most High was very clear about the things that were important to Him.

The Bullock

Aaron and his sons were to place their hands on the bull's head, then to kill it before God. The blood was to be placed on the horns of the altar with Aaron's finger and what was left was to be poured beside the altar. Both the fat and the caul were to be burned on the altar, and the rest was to be burned outside the tabernacle camp. This was a sin offering (which is discussed in Leviticus). It is rather fitting that Aaron, who creates the golden calf, must sacrifice a male cow for as a sin offering.

The First Ram

Like with the bull, Aaron and his sons where to put their hands on the first ram's head before killing it. They were to then sprinkle its blood around the altar. The ram was to be cut into pieces, the innards taken out and washed, then burned on the altar. This was a burnt offering (which is discussed in Leviticus).

The Second Ram

The second ram was for anointing Aaron and his sons. Again, they were to place their hands upon its head before sacrificing it. The blood of this ram was to be place on their right ear, right thumb, and right big toe. The rest of the blood was to be sprinkled around the altar. The blood on the altar plus the anointing oil was to be sprinkled on the new priests and their garments.

Wave Offering

After this, they were to each wave a loaf of bread, cake of oiled bread, and wafer before God. This was to be burned as a burnt offering. Moses was the wave the breast of the ram before God after this as well.


The second ram was to be cooked at the tabernacle and the new priests were to eat the bread left in the basket. This food was considered holy, therefore strangers were not to eat it. Anything left over until the morning was to be burned. This ritual was to continue for 7 days.

Continual Offerings

A bull was to be offered every day to atone for the Israelites’ sins. In addition, the altar was to be cleansed and anointed with oil each day. God tells them that everything that touches the altar will become holy. Also, they were to sacrifice two lambs still in their first year, every day. One was to be sacrificed in the morning, the other at night. A drink offering was to be prepared with the morning lamb. This was considered a burnt offering to please God. It is easy to see from this that even if people are not thankful for Jesus' sacrifice, the animals certainly must be.

Incense Altar

The incense altar was to be mad of shittim wood (like the other things built for the tabernacle). Its dimensions were 1 cubit long, 1 cubit wide, and 2 cubits tall. Like the other altar, it was to have horns. The outer layer was be overlain with pure gold and matching staves were to be made so that it could be carried. The incense altar was to be placed before the vail and mercy seat. At night, when Aaron lit the lamps, he was to burn the incense as well. All other offerings were to be made at the altar in the court.

Atonement Offering

A census was given, placing a ransom on each man's soul (remember this elsewhere when the Bible talks about redeeming). Everyone above 20 was to give a half shekel; the rich could not give more and the poor could not give less. This was to be an atonement.

The Brass Laver

A laver or basin was to be made of brass. Aaron and his sons would wash their hands and feet there before entering the tabernacle (you must be clean in the presence of God). This was to protect them from dying.

Anointing Oil

The oil was to be made of 500 shekels of pure Myrrh (this would have been very costly[4]), 250 shekels of cinnamon, 250 shekels of calamus, 500 shekels of cassia, and a hin of olive oil. The tabernacle, along with everything in it, was to be anointed with this oil (including Aaron). It could not go on the flesh of man and was not to be duplicated for other purposes.

Sweet Incense

Like the anointing oil, the incense was not to be recreated for other purposes; anyone who did so was to be cut off from Israel. It was to be made of stacte, onycha, gallbanum, and frankincense.

Stacte is a type of gum resin.[5] Onycha is suggested to be from a mollusk, but since mollusks are unclean, this seems unlikely.[6] Gallbanum is also a type of gum or resin.[7]

Tabernacle Staff

We are finally told that Bezaleel, son of Uri, of the tribe of Judah and Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan were called to be the tabernacle staff/builders. Bezaleel was filled with wisdom by God.

References and Footnotes

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. The Holman KJV Study Bible. pg 150. 2014
  2. "Ouches". KingJamesBibleOnline.org. 2015
  3. Hirsch, Emil G., Muss-Arnolt, W., Bacher, W., Blau, B. "Urim and Thummim. Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011
  4. Willis, Vanessa U. "Gifts brought to the baby Jesus reveal he was accepted as a king by Gentiles, WFU professor says". December 2004
  5. “Strong’s H5198. נָטָף“. Blue Letter Bible; visited September 2022
  6. “Strong’s H7827. שְׁחֵלֶת”. Blue Letter Bible; visited September 2022
  7. “Strong’s H2464. חֶלְבְּנָה”. Blue Letter Bible; visited September 2022

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